This past weekend was an extremely busy one. On Saturday I hosted a burlesque revue for the Nashville Horror & Comic Fest, performed at the Bikini Tiki Luau in Bowling Green, KY, and then Sunday presented a “different” version of Swing Magic for the first Nashville Fringe Festival.
Let’s start at the top: The Comic Festival. Most of you know that I am a comic book freakasaurus. A big part of me and the character of BDC was shaped by comic books. However, I never go to these conventions. Just not my clique, dig? However, I go anywhere I am hired, and I was hired to host the burlesque revue for the convention. Don’t ask me why or what the connection is – I just took the gig.
So I was told by the producer to get there between 2 & 4 for the show at 5 PM. I get there at 3:30 and I am the first there. No producer. No performers. Just me, the MC. Everyone else is lost. Wonderful. So what do I do? I get ready to perform and to stall if the rest of the cast don’t arrive on time. On top of this, the performance space is in flea market “hall way” with no sound – just a boom box to play CDs, no lighting other than the overheads, no stage – just concrete floor, no backdrop. You know, every performer’s “Dream” venue! The producer did a great job on this one!
The rest of the cast all arrive with only minutes to spare, but at 10 minutes til showtime we have bigger problem. We have no audience. No one. To make matters worse, the convention guests are streaming out of the con like water through a sieve. It is dinner time, after all. SO, again BDC comes to the rescue. I step out onto the main convention floor, and do a bally hoo to draw people in – I mean, these people crawled out of their parent’s basement and they are turning down to see chicks? Talk about social malfunction. But my gambit works and within 10 minutes the seats are filled and it is standing room only.
Show goes off without a hitch (despite the staging challenges) and the audience responds accordingly. Success! My client (the producer) is happy and tips me generously above my fee, and her client is ecstatic!
Then my partner Ginger Lee and I jump into the car and race up to Bowling Green, KY for the Bikini Tiki Luau, and the subsequent BDC Challenge. The organizer King Dado greets me and says “man, there are about 500 people her to see you do this” (official reports indicate 200 – 300 people). I didn’t stop to count, but there were a TON of people there. It was packed! We are on right after the Rebel Surfers and I repeat the set I did at the comic con. A note about that – I developed the material I did specifically for these burlesque, rockabilly, and custom culture audiences. There’s an entire essay right there!
So we finish the show and it is time for the challenge for the World Heavyweight Magic Championship. I invite any challengers to perform first. There are none. But I had come prepared to do an Underwater Chain Escape, and I wasn’t going to let this crowd of people down! We moved to the pool. A couple of the rockabilly greasers “helped” chain me up. Believe me, they did me no favors! They inspected every link of chain and the four locks meticulously. It was fantastic.
So, I’m chained up, I’m standing at the edge of the pool, and I jump in. But something goes horribly wrong. I’ve been practicing the escape and can get out in about 20 seconds. I’ve spent my entire life underwater and can hold my breath for a solid minute. But I hit the water and every bit of breath leaves. I don’t know why, but I got nothing. I’m underwater with chains pulling me down and I got nothing in my lungs. Not good. I had to work FAST or I was going to drown, for real. 10 seconds. I escaped in 10 seconds. I couldn’t believe it. It was an insanely stupid thing to do. I can’t wait until the next time.
That was Saturday.
Sunday was a different show. On Sunday I presented a 30 minute version of my 3 person ensemble show Swing Magic at the Nashville Fringe Festival. This was the first year and crowds were smaller than I would have liked, but the organizers were very happy.
About an hour before the show I decided to do something I had never done before. I took off the mask and talked to the audience as the creator John Pyka. I talked about the real reason I got into show business, quoting from my book Theatrical Magic:
“Have you ever closed your eyes and wished you could be someone else? To live in a different place and time, to live a different life?” I went on to talk about being picked on and bullied as kid, because of my weight. I talked about how music, and magic, and theater set me apart and made me special. About how I was able to create my own reality. That was the how.
Then I told the story about Amanda. I’ve written about it many, many times but never spoken about it. It struck me that I had never publicly told the story. That was the why.
And then I shocked myself by publicly admitting my disability for the first time, and how being onstage makes it vanish and that performance is pain therapy.
In all three cases I shared with the audience, albeit briefly, about the power theater has to impact lives. My friend Jason Michaels told me later he was inspired. One of the audience members Robert Stone shock my hand with a tear in his eye and wrote me later that that segment was the best part of the entire festival and well worth the weekend pass.
So now, a few days later, I can step back and evaluate. I have a lot to think about.