Fantastic, I thought, as I watched them performing. These kids are fantastic!
It wasn’t just their performances – some of those were definitely less than fantastic. It was their creativity, their confidence, their palpable joy at being on the stage.
I remember feeling that way.
Piedmont High School’s Bird Calling Contest is exactly that: high school students behaving like birds, flapping and chirping and squawking and doing weird things with their throats and their eyes and their hands, on stage, in front of hundreds of people – competing for the prize of best bird call.
The contest has been around for 49 years – it’s received national acclaim as the top three flocks fly to New York City and appear on The Late Show with David Letterman, where they do it all again. This time in front of millions on national TV! It’s pretty fabulous to sit at home in Piedmont and watch kids you know or have seen around town strut their stuff with David Letterman.
But before their west-east migration to NYC and Letterman fame, the wannabe-birds have to prove themselves on stage in the wilds of Piedmont. And they are great. Every last one. They are funny, and talented, and determined. They perform in flights of two or three, and part of their challenge is to present facts about their birds creatively and dramatically. Some are, of course, better than others. Some skits are more artistic, some birds have killer comic timing, others are more imaginative or have feathers to die for. But every single one of them loves being on that stage. I can tell.
And I remember that feeling.
I haven’t been on a stage, in a performance, for over 20 years. Probably since I played a hippo(potamus) in Rhodes University’s production of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories: How the Elephant Got its Trunk. Definitely not a role that stretched my acting abilities any which way, but still. It was a play, on a stage, in a theater (a few theaters – we toured it to a bunch of schools in the Eastern Cape), in front of an audience, with costumes and set and crew and cast parties and all the elements that I love about a theater.
At the impressionable age of six, my very first drama teacher ignited in me a passion for the dramatic that burned way beyond the stage of the Piet van der Walt Theater in Pretoria West. I was headed for Broadway. Or Hollywood. Or Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Or sitting in the audience at the Alan Harvey Theater in Piedmont.
The first real play I was in was Carmel Primary’s all-school production of Bible Bonanza – each grade performed a biblical tale from the first grade suns and moons until Moses told Pharaoh “Let my people go” and the Red Sea majestically parted. My third grade class honored heroic Samson – and I played his mother: “No razor shall touch my baby’s head,” my little eight-year-old voice rang out clearly, as I stared into those spotlights, unable to see a single human form but knowing the hall was packed with proud parents and they were all watching me. It was fantastic.
It’s a rush, being on stage. Thrilling and terrifying and awfully amazing. My brain always, always goes blank right before I start speaking – but somehow the words find their way back. And then… lost in the magic. Until it’s over. And there’s applause. And the blood rushes in my ears, and I know I’m smiling the biggest smile ever because even my heart is smiling. Smiling and soaring.
I remember that feeling.
I felt it again while I watched those fabulously feathered friends on the stage at Piedmont High School’s 49th Annual Bird Calling Contest. The young man who played his guitar and sang like he was at the Bluebird Café, all kinds of charm and charisma at the age of 16. The girls who were a little off-key but so brave, so confident, so happy. The hosts who could give Ryan Seacrest a run for his money, with their impromptu one-liners and perfect timing every time. And the Snowy Egrets and Owls, Goldfinches and Cockatiels who took flight in that theater. I soared with them.
Hippo or Athol Fugard or The Crucible or Puck or some crazy sex-crazed character in a play called The Well of Horniness… (stay tuned for W).
Fly is my favorite OPI color and is on my toes right now. It is fun and fabulous and lifts me up when I’m looking down.
*This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.