Monday, February 18, 2008

Oh, Yeah? Watch Me.

Yesterday my husband turned on a show he thought I might enjoy: Fiddler on the Roof.

He was right; ever since I performed in a community theater version of the play in my teens, I’ve loved that show. The fact that I grew up with a mother fascinated by all things Jewish probably helped.

Watching the film again brought back a flood of memories and emotions connected to the production I was in, the vast majority positive (the touching Sabbath scene, the practical jokes the cast pulled on each other, the fatherly friendship that our Tevye brought to the youth in the cast), and a few negative things as well.

I remembered the audition process, and the never-ending call backs in particular. In the end, several of my close friends were cast in leading roles. I was cast as a towns woman, one of the mamas. I became the choreographer’s assistant and helped teach some of the dance numbers.

I also used my dancing skills during the particularly poignant "Chavala" scene, where I danced in silhouette as Chava while Tevye sang the sad and somewhat tragic "Little Bird" number. I think that was one of my favorite parts of the entire show. I loved to dance, and such an emotional moment on stage allowed me to connect to the audience. Dancing was my element.

Aside from that, my role was limited. I had a total of one line. I was assigned two sweet little kids to be my children, and I found myself growing attached to them in a maternal way even though I was only eighteen at the time.

Likely the most memorable moment for me came when, prior to the opening of the show, both of sets of the double-cast daughters were supposed to perform the "Matchmaker" song at a city festival to advertise the upcoming run.

One of the Hodels didn’t show, and even though I didn’t know the dance number, the director asked me to step in last minute for the performance.

Nervous wouldn’t begin to describe how I felt. My voice was shaky, and I was unsure what I was doing, but muddled through, trying to remember what I had seen in rehearsals.

As we left the stage, the director came over and put her arm around me. She was an extremely talented lady, and well-meaning, I’m sure. I doubt she intended to wound me when she said, "When I was your age, I was just like you. I could act, and I could dance, but I just couldn’t sing."

Stunned, I just stood there, floored. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if I said anything at all.

What I do remember was trying my best to hold back tears until I got home.

I knew that my friends—those insanely musical people I’ve talked about in previous posts—had more ability than I did. Okay, a lot more ability than I had. They were musical freaks of nature. But to have someone tell me flat out that I simply couldn’t sing? At all?

Okay, then. Thank you for your support . . .

Halfway through the run, one of the Hodels started showing up late and otherwise causing the director grief, and I heard the director admit that she wished she had cast me in the role. Which of course made no sense, because I couldn’t sing. But I was punctual.

When Fiddler ended, rumors surfaced that the director’s next play would be Into the Woods, which is essentially an operetta: almost the entire show is sung. I remember sitting in a car heading home after hearing the news, determined that I would show our director and make it into the cast. I beefed up my efforts with my voice teacher, practicing harder than ever before.

Auditions arrived the following summer, and I made it to call backs. At one point, the director went to the back of the room and asked an assistant to point to each of the actresses randomly to sing the melody that Rapunzel does frequently during the show—a tune that begins at a high b-flat.

Since Rapunzel sings as often offstage as on—and the first time you are introduced to her is by her voice when she’s offstage—it’s safe to say that her voice is important. The director didn’t want to be swayed by what she saw; she wanted to judge solely on the sound.

She covered her eyes and listened as one by one, each of us sang the part. Then she consulted with her assistant as to which ones she liked best and who they were.

I was cast as Rapunzel.

If you know the play, you’re surely aware that Rapunzel isn’t a big role. She’s not even almost a lead. But she has to be able to sing, and sing high.

I almost cackled with glee at the irony.

Oh, so I can’t sing? I thought.

My joy was increased when some of those friends who were born with an instrument one hand a score in the other (and arrived singing) came to see the show. One friend who came with them reported that when they first heard me from off stage, their jaws dropped. "That’s Annette?!"

Tee hee.

So it was with a bit of pain—and a bit of triumph—that I watched Fiddler yesterday. The cut that director made to my heart still stings a bit.

But there’s also the stubborn side of me that always comes back with, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

It’s that part of me that is largely responsible for my success in publishing. I’d get yet another rejection, file it away, and think, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

I made it into Rapunzel’s tower, and, eventually, I made it into print.

I got a little revenge with my first book, Lost without You; I used Into the Woods for part of the story and described the audition scene, including the part with Rapunzel’s tune and how difficult it was. I made sure my poor heroine, as much as I loved her, couldn’t hit the high b-flat.

I can’t hit it anymore, either.

But I did, once upon a time, when I proved to the director that she couldn’t write me off.


Dapoppins said...

Ammette this is a great story! I love to sing, but I am a terrible singer, and I loved to act, and looked at all musical productions with bitterness. I need some of that great "character" you have, to push harder instead of giving up easily when someone says "You can't do that!"

Tamra Norton said...

What an inspiring post, Annette!

Jenna said...

Fantastic post! Good for you, Annette. Your 'watch me' attitude no doubt has been such a huge part of your success. What a great characteristic to have. I liked when you said you had a mother who loved all things Jewish. Me too! What a weird thing to have in common! I watched Yentl and Fiddler many, many times as a child. I was just thinking of Yentl the other day on my walk. "Papa, can you hear me?"

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Beautiful inspiring. The children are sleeping and I feel a sudden urge to sing...

Shanna Blythe said...

TO LIFE! You know how to live it!

Cheryl said...

A great story! I can relate. I have a degree in vocal performance from a prestigious, hard-to-get-into program. I've sung leads in shows and at huge venues such as the Hollywood Bowl. Yet I was once told by a friend (who managed professional singers) when I was auditioning for a professional ensemble, "But you have to be able to really SING to get into that cast!"

Um. Yeah. Still hurts. And I still have niggling doubts about whether I can sing.

People, especially teachers, should realize how easily they can crush someone with words.

Unknown said...

you rock!

don't forget it.

i love that part about "that's annette?!!" how awesome awesome.

you go girl and don't let anybody talk you out of accomplishing anything you want really bad in life if you are willing to work for and sacrifice for it.

great post.

blessings to you,
kathleeny :)

Luisa Perkins said...

Such a great story! I love it.

Josi said...

I can't sing or dance, but I can say "Oh yeah? Watch me!" This is a great post and such a wonderful example of perseverance. That you were that determined when you were so young is awesome. Love it, and by have you shown them!

Rebecca Talley said...

My kids are all into theater so I've witnessed the whole audition process as a mom. What an emotional rollercoaster! In fact, two of my daughters were just in "Fiddler."

What a great example you are of perserverance. Good for you because you really have shown them!

Unknown said...

hi awesome annette,

thanks so much for your fun feedback over me posting my own "oh yeah watch me" post this week!

it's really cool when stuff we talk about here rubs off on our readers! kathleen

Lara Neves said...

Hi Annette,

I'm sick today. If I stand up, I get all lightheaded and so I'm stuck in bed. I've been doing nothing but reading blogs all day long. I've been on your blog for over an hour, absolutely enjoying your archives and wishing I'd discovered it a long time ago.

Commenting on this particular post because I played Rapunzel in Into the Woods, too! I ended up really enjoying the part, but at first it was a real blow. I had been hoping for Cinderella, but as it turned out, I was the only person who could hit the stupid B flat, LOL! The director said I might have been cast as Cinderella if he could have found someone to do Rapunzel decently. Oh well...I really did have fun with her character, and it's the only time I've ever been blond in my life.

Off to read more of your blog!


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