How hard could it be?
Somehow these always seem to be the most famous of last words.
They were the ones that floated through my mind when "Prairie Nutcracker" Director Betsie Andrews asked me if I wanted to serve as an adult player in the biennial Christmas show that takes the Fox Theatre stage tonight.
You see, it all started in August – when I was younger and uninitiated. I had called Betsie for a story I was working on for Hutchinson Magazine about the production's upcoming season.
"You want to be in it?" she asked during our conversation.
"Let me think about it," I replied.
And I did. Flirtations with things to do with the stage were not foreign to me. There were those occasional school productions way back when.
And those college classes:
A giant humanities elective – The Art of Theater or something like that.
An acting class, where we spent 80 percent of the semester down on all fours in the university theater’s basement engaging in breathing and guttural vocal exercises that undoubtedly sent the eyebrows of hallway passersby shooting into their hairlines.
Then there was the emphasis on drama during literary studies in grad school.
So I found myself unable to resist Betsie’s invitation, even though, for some reason, I hadn’t given much thought to exactly what I would be doing in this production.
How hard could it be? Really?
The reckoning came at that first Monday rehearsal back in early October.
I don’t remember if the word was ever actually uttered that first night, but once I fully realized what I had signed on for, it reverberated in my mind, turning it into an echo chamber. It’s a chilling word, one meant to break the chronically double-left-footed and uncoordinated. It’s the one word my negligent brain had somehow failed to consider.
We had to learn – gulp – choreography.
You know, performing a set pattern of steps on cue and to the beat of the music? That kind of choreography.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not like I’m without rhythm or musical understanding or like I don’t know a quality performance when I see it. And in truth, I always wanted to be a dancer. Achieving the ethereal through movement and musical interpretation while defying physics and gravity still looked like fun to me. But alas, aside from that swing dance class in college – the awkward one with the slightly odd instructor that I promptly resigned from midway through the semester after a particularly harrowing man-pulling-the-woman-through-the-legs maneuver ripped out the back of my jeans – dance was never in the cards.
But this wasn’t just the low-stakes bopping to the beat most of us mere mortals achieve.
This was choreography, and I was a Clydesdale among the Thoroughbreds.
Nevertheless, the goal became clear: to not be the thing that sinks a 17-year tradition. And with that in mind, I plunged into my new job as a minuet-dancing officer’s wife at an 1869 Christmas party, a toiling pioneer woman dreaming of the cotillion life while hanging the laundry and a reverent churchgoer.
For someone who’d never had the opportunity to see the production before, well, let me tell you, the internal multitasking required to hear the musical count while performing everything on cue with elegance and agility is harder than it looks.
First came the toe point. I didn’t have any, and I needed it.
Then came the curtsy. Ohh, the cursty. I’m not sure how I would have fared as a debutant making her debut to the sovereign during the aristocratic age. In those days, deep curtsies for one’s first time at court were a thing to be coveted.
Mine were not.
You’d think all those hours spent doing squats and lunges to stay in some form of physical shape might have helped me.
Nope. Harder than it looks.
And then there was the reminder that getting caught up in one’s own success often leads to disaster. Keeping my concentration on the dance at hand rather than on the happy dance in my head every time I successfully performed a step sequence, and remembering to, oh yeah, perform the rest of the dance steps that follow?
Harder than it looks.
To that end, I owe thanks to the tutelage, encouragement and moments of laughter from my fellow Monday Night Club members, many of them “Prairie Nutcracker” veterans: Amanda, Becky, Butch, Cora, Dale, Dee, Jim, Justin, Laura, Marie, Patrick, Ray, Sandy and the other Wendy. Particular thanks go to my party scene dance partner, Henry Blickhahn. Henry, also a “Prairie Nutcracker” regular, shepherded this blunder bucket with a much-appreciated patience and levity.
But over the course of this season, I’ve also learned that even if this Clydesdale flubs it, she won’t sink the show. It’s too filled with talented young dancers who have come from all over to participate – tiny little things just starting out all the way up to breathtaking ballerinas – who have put in countless hours of hard work for which I have a whole new appreciation. Seeing the eagerness of these youngsters at very special places in their lives; getting to know everyone involved with the production; and witnessing the boundless energy, exacting eye and creativity of its director leaves me reassured that the show will, indeed, go on.
Let’s break a leg tonight, everyone.