|Heidi Beeler (left) posed with the Elvis impersonator and Sue Leonardi from the Gay & Lesbian Freedom Band in San Jose. Photo by Judith Sealy.
It’s not like I thought we were appearing on the Charlie Rose Show. I’ve done public-access TV before. I’ve been interviewed by emcees with stage names like Chablis and Judy Joy Jones, been upstaged by burlesque dancers in red bustiers, and had my face done by volunteer makeup artists who clearly believed in Tammy Faye Baker as the gold standard in face painting. I’m not entirely green.
But I did think it was a talk show when I accepted Delicia Niami’s email invitation to promote the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band’s Dance-Along Nutcracker® on her show in San Jose and arranged for the President of the Board, Julie Williamson, to appear with me. I did think that actual talking would occur. So shoot day, last Monday, when Delicia called me at work to clarify that talking about the Dance-Along wouldn’t fit the show’s format since Do the Hustle is a 70s Gong-Show-style game show, I’ll admit I was stunned. Couldn’t you just play some Nutcracker music, she asked?
Let me pause a moment here to say that event planners and audience members always ask us that sort of thing. “Can’t you just play [fill in the blank here]?” The ready availability of prerecorded music going back to the malt shop jukebox has led folks to believe making music is as simple as pointing to a number and clicking a button. It’s like ordering a hamburger - you forget when you pick the #3 that somebody somewhere had to raise an entire cow first. This misunderstanding is perpetuated by programs like Glee, where excited singers bound onstage as the psychic horn section pops out harmonized backups without knowing what song was going to be sung. This is not the real world.
In the real world, most musicians, I’ll call them the 99%, don’t play by ear. We need sheet music, music that needs to be arranged for the instruments performing it. For example, you can’t take an orchestral arrangement and throw it at a Band because we don’t know what to do with the violin and viola parts. I explained this to Delicia – told her that playing Nutcracker music on her show was completely impossible.
Our music was arranged for a 50-piece wind ensemble, and we had confirmed for her show one flutist (Julie), one trumpeter (me) at around 6 hours before showtime.
Delicia told me the show would air through December and the emcee would make sure to plug the Dance-Along. I said fine, we’d make it work (December 10 and 11; www.DanceAlongNutcracker.com).
I called Julie, and we did what anyone does in an emergency situation: we emptied our pockets and pooled resources. I had a collection of giant Nutcracker heads our trumpet section had worn at past Dance-Alongs. Julie tossed into the pot her partner, Sue Leonardi. Luckily, she had the foresight to live with one of the Band’s best trumpeters, and she also had the number for Taka Aoki, one of the Band’s lead flutes who lives in San Jose. Two trumpets, two flutes, four giant heads – our hand was looking a little better at 5 hours, 45 minutes before the show.
As we entered the CreaTV studio facility that night, I expected our giant Nutcracker heads would stand out in the crowd, but eyeing the other contestants, I realized we’d landed on Calvin and Hobbes’ Planet of the Weirdos and we just blended right in. Those who say Vaudeville is dead haven’t been paying attention to public-access TV. Wikipedia says Vaudeville includes “popular and classical musicians, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies.” From what I saw, that largely summed up the talent pool lined up outside the studio. A little pirate girl skipped around. A long-haired guitarist in a Christmas sweatshirt and elf ears strummed a warmup. A Sarah Palin double in a flame cocktail dress practiced reciting a Charlotte Bronte poem.
A professional Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit walked over and started talking shop. He referred to his costumes with names that sounded like car models. He was wearing the White Concho that night, and he confided you can’t make a living in Vegas as an Elvis, because you can’t throw a stone without hitting one.
Around 10 pm, we were finally waved into the studio. Emcee Riko Bay wearing a foot-high afro wig, introduced us. My head bounced off the door frame, which made the judges laugh, and I had to squat to get into the studio. A giant mirror ball hung above a psychedelic dance floor. We ran up to the microphone and played the Reed Pipe dance, the flutes playing a duet on the pastoral theme and the trumpets coming in in duet on the center section. We took turns spinning and dancing when we weren’t playing, because that’s what you do at the Dance-Along Nutcracker.
Then the judges – Jeremy Koerner in aviator glasses, Samantha Bartholomew in a red gown and Mona Lot Moore, looking an awful lot like Cher – closed their open mouths and in reality-TV-style, took turns laughing at our performance. We were relieved we weren’t “Hustled” off the show, and in the end, we placed second! And we danced the Hustle with the dancers and all the crazy contestants. Groovy baby!