January 2, 2011
By Claire Sykes
In the privacy of my own home, I’ve been known to spontaneously sing, dance and lip-sync for select others (and you know who you are!). But I haven’t taken to the boards or a podium much beyond the poetry readings I used to do. Other than those, I’ve been onstage only as an alto in my high school chorus singing things like “Hey, Look Me Over” and Handel’s “Messiah;” and once 17 years ago playing piano in an improv out-there jazz trio.
When I was in the 11th grade, I thought maybe, just maybe, I could act, so I tried out for the school play that year.
Standing in the wings waiting my turn, it was exciting to look onto rows and rows of empty seats and imagine that I could be someone else, someone not me, in front of all those people. It was also utterly terrifying. But not as much as the impromptu scene three of us were asked to do, as friends out at a restaurant for lunch. Somehow, that afternoon, the two other girls cleverly managed to act their way offstage, leaving me all alone—with nothing to say. I blew it. I was really bad. I didn’t even nab a bit part. And I never auditioned for anything again.
Who would guess then that 40 years later I’d find myself back up onstage, footlights beaming into my face—in front of 2,000 people.
What. A. Thrill.
I was happy enough on New Year’s Day this year, sitting in Row N, Seat 1 in Portland’s Keller Auditorium with my friend Ed, watching the touring Broadway musical, Hair.
I used to own the album, part of my coming-of-age soundtrack, and after all these years I still knew most of the songs. This time, they brought tears to my eyes, not so much for their words and music (though that, too) and not for any nostalgia (that I generally don’t do, but how could I not just a little?, given the fringed vests and bell-bottom jeans, long hair and 60s lingo), but because all this singing and dancing were going on live, right in front of me. Up there, onstage with the colored lights and hippie costumes, trippy backdrop and live band, these people were doing something a part of me always wanted to do, but knew I never would.
So at the end, when the cast invited the audience to come up onstage and dance with them—are you kidding?—I didn’t hesitate for one second. This was my big chance.
I danced down the aisle and up the steps right to the front of the stage and shook and shimmied, cutting completely loose and letting it all hang out, man, swinging and flipping my hair around just like they did in that one scene. I danced like I always do, now (at parties or on dance floors)—and like I never did in my shy, uptight youth.
I danced for the music and era of Hair, even if some of the show now was sort of corny. I danced for my quasi-hippie teen years. I danced for the verve and nerve of my middle age. I danced for everyone from the audience dancing. I danced for that hot actor dancing next to me who sang my favorite Hair song.
And I danced for the 2,000 people in their seats watching us dance.
I did it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime (maybe) thing, kind of like skydiving or winning the lottery. I got up there in front of a whole lot of people and did something totally uninhibited, even hamming it up. What the hell, it was all in fun.
Together we danced with Love and Peace—I was sure of it, if only for one song—all of us Dancing As One. And I felt as far away from terrified as that high school day when I trembled struggling for words. I was free. Just like Hair wanted me to be.
© 2011 by Claire Sykes. All rights reserved.