Wednesday, November 1, 2006

An Instructional Parable - Meant as a Courtesy

Because the person who writes this blog always responds to comments I make to his posts on posts of my own, causing utter confusion in the minds of people who actually read my comments sections, I am going to comment on this post right here. Do you follow me? You get what I'm saying?

Once upon a time, in a far-away land called New Orleans, a beautiful, hotcha lady came to dance and sing and bring joy to the tired townsfolk of that land.

What I'm saying is, between twenty and thirty years ago, Chita Rivera couldn't land a Broadway gig because of the new thing, British Bombast. So, trouper that she was, she went on the road, doing a national tour of the Blue Room nightclub circuit with an act created for her by Kander and Ebb. I had the profound good fortune of seeing her from the front row of a massive room built to hold hundreds - but on that night hosted only about fifty people.

I remember looking around and wondering if she would even perform when, imperceptibly, the opening bars of her music began. The rest is a whirling blur of colorful memories: songs and dances - incredible dances on a tiny stage - high kicks and jazz hands, hip-pops and elbow jabs.

Until that night, I had believed that if the audience of any given show numbered fewer than the members of the cast, you cancelled that performance. After that night, I knew something deeper.

A born performer - an actor, a singer, a dancer - doesn't drink energy from an audience. That's a myth created by the second-rate who always manage to get into print. The born performer, the gifted performer, pours energy onto an audience; that performer is as profligate as nature in pouring his or her gifts onto any audience, even an audience of one.

And, yeah, we all do it for love - because we never had enough love in our childhood.

But the gifted performer, the star, knows that it never matters who, or how many people, love you. What matters is that you love. What matters is that you care. What matters is that you give everything you've got to give until you think there's nothing left for you to give and then you find it's all refreshed and you have everything to give again - and again.

It's as simple - and as devastating - as that.

And as for Miss Rivera this one night - with only fifty people in the audience - she did her full complement of encores. She even dedicated one of them to Bobby and me on the front row. It was a Kander and Ebb specialty number called Trash.

Make of that what you will.

Nevertheless, ever since that night, in my heart, I have striven to live up to that one standard of hers: always leave 'em with the encores.


  1. Boy, you just never know when you'll find the gold, do you.

    I just clicked on the word 'here' in the comments section on Stephens ( post on Chita Rivera, and read this gorgeous essay on the meaning of talent and performance. Thank you so much for such a concise document.

    Then I read about you and was so delighted, that I'm now 'following' you.

    Thank you again.


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