Up at the Barn last weekend my show was sold out early and there was a waiting list of nearly 50 people by noon on the day of the show. The Barn (Celebration Barn) is kind of in the middle of nowhere – unless you’re there, in which case it’s the center of the Universe – and I didn’t like thinking that people might drive a long way and then be stuck outside with the mosquitos. So I reminded Mandy Huotari, who runs the Barn, that I didn’t really need the whole stage, and told her that when I used to tour Germany and shows sold out, we’d often seat people right on the stage itself.
So when I entered the Barn for a final line-check before the show, I wasn’t surprised to see four extra rows of seats right on the stage, creating a kind of “Theater in the Round.”
What I WASN’T expecting was the two adorable little red-headed kids sitting nearly center stage, the lights glinting off their hair. They were wiggling. And hands-down, they out-adorabled me.
Great. I thought. How could I have forgotten the “No cute wiggly kids on stage” rule??
I moaned about it to Mandy, and she said, “Do you want me to tell them to move?” Oh, argh, I thought … “No,” I said, “Let’s just wait and see how it goes in the first set. If it’s a problem, we can ask them to move after intermission.”
So I started my set. Around the third song, I decided to do “Under the Bed,”a kind of musical scary-story — but not really scary, more like funny-scary — about all the things that live under your bed, and what they do to keep you awake at night. It includes a lot of strange sounds and special effects you can get from a harp – the kinds you never hear in Tchaikovsky.
It didn’t occur to me that, to a 4- or 5-year-old, the idea of dancing dust-bunnies at midnight with creaky voices might not be funny. About half-way through the piece, Little Red was out of the front row and in his father’s lap.
That was gratifying. Nice to know the song was convincing.
A few songs later, I was moving towards intermission via some childhood songs, including a gruesome old upbeat English ballad about a serial killer who gets his comeuppance. Little Red was back in the front row. I looked over and he poked his sister in the chest and lifted up her dress.
I want to point out that I’d just spent a very intense week teaching about 12-hours a day. Without thinking much about it, I kept vamping on the tune, looked at Big Red and said, “Just whack him.”
She giggled. The audience laughed. Little Red giggled too, and pulled up his sister’s dress again. And I said, “No, I really mean it.”
Little Red was back on row two.
So far, so good, but I knew that the last song in the set would be “The Nightingale,” a lullaby about my mother’s voice as she sang me to sleep. I love the song. I love to lose myself in it, and somewhere in unvoiced dreams I believe that if I can enter the experience of that song enough, I’ll really be there again. The idea of a disruption in that song is painful. So what made me do this, I don’t know, but I walked over to Big-Red, knelt down on the floor and sang it right to her. She watched, completely unself-consciously – enough to take me there myself, and when the song was over, her mother was in tears behind her. Me, too.
Nobody asked them to move after intermission.