Thursday afternoon, on a combination of instinct and impulse, I decided to take a giant leap… backward. Sort of.
I was in the midst of doing a partial rewrite of an upcoming review column in Genii Magazine when an interesting status update flashed across the Facebook page: “In need of an accompanist (piano) tonight, Monday and Tuesday.”
The author of that status was a person I have known since 1991. Heidi Bevill was playing Hope Harcourt in a high school production of Anything Goes in Starkville, Mississippi that spring when the pianist quit. I was a student at Mississippi State at the time and was taking piano and voice courses for my own enrichment. I was asked to come to the next rehearsal, which I did, and I played the remaining rehearsals and the show. Heidi was later in my physics class when I student taught at SHS, and later played Amanda to my Elyot in a college production of Private Lives. She also performed in a musical I wrote in college, BankNote$.
So – on a lark, I checked with Heidi to see what was going on. Turns out that the Shuler Hensley Awards are coming up on Tuesday and they were in immediate need of an experienced musical theater accompanist who could jump in at the last minute to play scenes for the nominated productions: Hairspray, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Les Miserables, Oklahoma, and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The big event is Tuesday night at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. (These awards, named for a Tony and Olivier Award winning Marietta native, recognize excellence in high school musical theater in Georgia.)
I checked the calendar. It could work. I’ve got a show Saturday, but they aren’t rehearsing that day. I’m preparing to fly to New York next Wednesday for a convention, but this event would be over Tuesday night and… what the heck! I decided to suddenly jump back in time about 20 years and sit in a pit for a musical theater production. (What’s more, I decided to do it under fire, at the last minute, in front of a theater full of people!)
So, I went to rehearsal last night. I got the music at 4pm for a 5pm rehearsal which I managed to stumble through, essentially sight-reading the scores. I’m familiar with all the shows and have worked on productions of some of them, but generally as an actor, not a pianist. Today I’ve been working like crazy (particularly on the Sondheim!) and I’ll rehearse with the orchestra on Monday. Cue-to-cue Monday night, dress on Tuesday. Show Tuesday night. Oh, by the way, turns out the awards are recorded for television and will be broadcast later this summer. No pressure, eh?
I decided to take this challenge for lots of reasons. Reconnecting with old friends and colleagues. Meeting exceptionally talented new people. Working in a great venue. But most of all, I think it’s important – even critical – to exercise your full range of talents. As I wrote in my last post, your unique combination of talents and experiences holds your key to new ideas and new ways to overcome challenges.
As a speaker and entertainer, I don’t always have the opportunity or need to sit at a piano and rip out “A Weekend in the Country.” My mentalism performances never feature the dance break from “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.” My keynotes don’t feature any would-be French revolutionary anthems. But the experience of collaborating to create live performances at a high level of quality always affects the way you think about your own individual performance. The same is true for high achievers in any field or industry; they want to learn from others who achieve greatness. High achievers revel in the experience of excellence, and generally prefer to take an active role rather than being a passive observer.
What “back burner” skill have you been sitting on? Why not exercise it? It doesn’t have to be in quite the high-pressure situation that I’ve gotten myself into this week, but the excitement and energy that come from taking on an unusual challenge always bleed over into your more usual work.
Think of something you haven’t done in a long time, and go find a way to do it again. Think about the experience. Look for ways to apply what you learn. Take a leap backward, and you may just find yourself taking a giant leap forward as a result.
(Note: Photos copyright Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and Edward Zeltser.)