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Sunday, November 7, 2010

brave or stupid

So here we are.
Recently, I had a tough call to make, and as I was deliberating, I came to the realization that I was teetering on the high wire between bravery and stupidity.
(I would say that there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity, but once you sing a certain lyric that is captured on an album, you can never say it without someone giggling and pointing and telling you, “hey - you said that thing you sang!” So thus I have to be a little more creative in my phrasing... and I am aware that the high wire thing may not be the most accurate metaphor. Apologies to all circus employees.) 

One little thing that irks me ever so is the fact that whenever I step out of my abode to appear at a benefit or concert or what have you, it would seem that I have automatically agreed to allow everyone to display still and moving images of myself in all forms of media, both current and yet-to-be-invented, throughout the universe. But I don’t remember checking off any little boxes that say, “I agree to the terms” or cashing any giant checks to justify it.
Granted, I know that when a photographer from any of the theatre sites comes up to me and snaps, I’d better hope I’m not retaining water, because it’s going to wind up online. The sheer act of not running away implies permission. But when you do these one-nighters, these benefits where you gladly donate your time for a good cause, and where you may not have had much rehearsal or a sound check, or where you are singing something you have either just learned or have not performed very often, and nobody even tells you that they’re taping it to begin with, well, finding it on YouTube is often an unpleasant surprise. Because sometimes you are, shall we say, less than perfect. 
And y’all can be mean sometimes, people.
Back when I was doing eight shows a week, I’d tell myself, if I’d had an off night, that the beauty of theatre is whether it be good or bad, a performance floats out into the ether and is captured by nothing more than memory, and I would still be left to climb the mountain anew tomorrow. That was, of course, before camera phones and tiny mp3 recorders and a forum in which to share their bounty. 
The Internet is filled with tons of schadenfreude** aimed at singers sharp and flat, mostly provided by bootleggers, but also by some just naive to the realities of permission and fair use. Plenty of people mean no harm when they throw a video online without asking. They can’t even imagine why you would have a problem with it.
I guess they never read the comments. 
And having been a few times bitten, I am multiple times shy in this regard. So recently, when a producer of such a benefit was kind enough to inform me that he had posted the show, I gulped. 
Because I knew when I was on that stage that I had hit a clunker. I felt the bad note come out, passing my teeth and lips, and saw it go into the microphone and heard it bounce off the back wall and splat back onto my forehead. Just one note in a sea of good notes, but it was enough. Not quite Peter Brady, but still, an overreach that fell right between those piano keys. At the time, I surged onward as though it never happened, like a good soldier. Keep singing, keep dancing, keep ‘em drinking and no one will be the wiser. That’s why I wear lots of cubic zirconium at these things... shiny things are a great distraction. 
But hey, I thought. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Maybe it was nothing. The rest of the song seemed to have gone well, so why be rash?
I clicked on the link.  It was fine, maybe even good... until...
Until that note. 
I heard Scott Hamilton make that sucking sound and go “OOOOooooooo,” as though I had just lost my chance for the gold by tripping on that toe loop and blowing the triple salchow. “That’s gonna cost her” echoed in my head. Neither the Romanian judges nor the chat board kids would be kind. 
And just as NBC would do, I replayed it, to double-check. It didn’t get any better. This time, the bad note was freeze-framed and circled multiple times by the telestrator.
I began to compose an email to the producer requesting that the clip be taken down. And then I thought, dammit, why am I here?
Hang on... I’m not going down Existential Lane. 
We all wonder why we’re here, and if what we do matters. We try to live lives that provide some sort of fulfillment, to ourselves and others, and if you are lucky, you recognize when you have the opportunity to pay it forward. 
And that’s when I realized that maybe I should be brave. That maybe, in a world of auto-tuning and the cocked heads and furrowed brows of judgmental sorts who have co-opted the word “pitchy,” I could be an example of being human, being real, being fallible and vulnerable and letting the importance of genuine heart in performance supersede technical perfection (or in my case, lack thereof).
That’s when it hit me: there’s a fine, fine line between bravery and stupidity.
(I know. Go ahead. Say it. Track 13 on the cast recording.)
Anyway, it’s true. I could be brave and put all my faults out there. I could go without makeup or wear something sleeveless, just to fight back at the conventions that demand constant, even unattainable perfection, and to let the young ones out there know that it’s okay to be imperfect as long as you are honest and true to yourself...
...only to be met with, “What was she thinking?”
See what I mean? Is it brave, or is it stupid to display the things you would otherwise airbrush or edit? Is it brave, or is it stupid to lend logs to the cruel ones who will surely throw them on your career’s funeral pyre? 
Well, whatever I am, I guess I’m both. Because it’s still out there.
Be kind. Don’t rewind.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.
** I didn’t sing “Schadenfreude” in AVENUE Q. Don’t giggle and point.

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