My son’s elementary school variety show took place last night. Every year they bring in a new artist residency, the medium changes, but basically the kids get to learn something new and present it to the community.
This year it was a circus, which is nothing short of awesome. My son was to walk on stilts. There were also The Jugglers; The Plate Spinners; The Globes; the Chinese Yo-Yos; The Acrobats; The Clowns; The Balancers; and The Lassos.
All week long, they had been coached by four gentlemen. And these guys were amazing, with patience bigger than any circus tent. But last night? Let’s just say that our kids were less than cooperative. I’m not sure if it was because it rained all week and they hadn’t seen the sun in over 168 hours. Or because every single recess had been canceled all week long, along with every recreational sporting event. But whatever the reason, these kids were live wires by Friday evening. And when faced with the prospect of going on stage and performing ridiculously awesome circus acts alongside their friends in front of a live audience, well forget about keeping any sort of decorum.
Which is why several parents chose to volunteer in order to help try and keep the kids in line as they waited in the gymnasium for their acts to start.
So back up for a second. Let me try and give you a better picture of the gentlemen running the show. All four of them had big, boisterous personalities. They wore multicolored, decorative suits, some with sparkles. They wore patterned socks, kickass pointy shoes or collectible Converse sneakers. If they wore hats, said hats had a Dr. Seuss type personality. If hatless, their hair was perfectly sculpted (think Johnny Suede). Basically, picture Kids in the Hall meets Tim Burton meets David Lynch meets PeeWee Herman meets John Waters and you get the picture.
It was SPECTACULAR when you combine these four men with a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds. This was like watching a short story come to life, a most spectacular short story.
I LOVE when real life becomes more fictional than fiction.
Anyway, us parent volunteers? We failed miserably at keeping these kids quiet. Within minutes it became a total shitshow. The clowns were taking selfies of one another. The Jugglers kept grabbing the props, which was a big no-no, our rule number 1 not to let them break. The Globes were playing with The Acrobats and The Chinese Yo-Yos were rolling around on top of one another. The Balancers were falling over. It was a circus in that of itself and those of us who had volunteered? We had absolutely zero control over what was happening. I now see how prison guards get overthrown. And if insects ever figure things out, like basic math, we’re doomed.
We tried everything. We tried idle threats, to promising to buy them all iPhones and puppies. I even tried crying. But they would not shut up.
Finally, one volunteer (a friend of mine) just up and quit.
“Screw this, I’m going to watch the show. We lost.” She said.
And we had. And I knew this and was pretty much totally ok with it. But we are their parents. So we are used to kids being little, independent assholes.
But the guys putting on the show, the artists who made it all come together, the ones who worked all week to make it happen? You could see that they were growing increasingly more upset with the lack of control. I wouldn’t say they were losing their cool, but I think it’s safe to say that they were losing their flare for all things that combine tweens with show business.
I snuck out to watch The Plates as one of the guys yelled at the kids for the 60th time to keep it down.
In the front of the house where all the parents were, they didn’t seem to have any clue that after their children were done putting on live circus acts in the auditorium, they were remaking a version of Apocalypse Now back in the gymnasium. They had no idea how bad it was backstage.
So, for the front of the house, there were two presenters, and both wore over-the-ear microphones that then came down around toward their mouth. They took turns presenting each group. So while one gentleman was on stage with the kids, the other was backstage preparing the next group.
So I’m standing way off to the side with another parent volunteer (the same friend) peeking out over the tall wooden wall that separates a hallway from the auditorium, watching The Plate Spinners. The kids finish up and take their bows and one child doesn’t want to leave the stage, he’s enjoying the cheers and the applause and so he takes a few more bows and everyone laughs and the presenter leaving the stage goes back out and ushers him out the door and back down the hall with the others and then down into the gymnasium. The door shuts behind them and the next group is about the be introduced by the other guy also with a microphone. It is quiet in the auditorium and right as he starts speaking, his voice gets drowned out by another much louder voice. That voice is yelling, “STICKS IN THE BUCKET. STICKS GO IN THE BUCKET! PUT THE STICKS IN THE BUCKET! THE STICKS GO IN THE BUCKET! OH MY GOD, KIDS, THE STICKS GO IN THE BUCKET! PUT THE STICKS IN THE BUCKET!”
The voice begins to crack as it grows increasingly louder. It’s becoming more desperate with each request. And the words being heard by the members of the audience don’t match the lips moving onstage so people are confused.
Have you ever seen the movie Se7en? When Brad Pitt is pleading with Morgan Freeman, he’s saying, “WHAT’S IN THE BOX? WHAT’S IN THE BOX?” It was sorta like that. Only louder and it’s being broadcast over loudspeakers throughout an auditorium.
Clearly none of the kids are listening to the presenter backstage and I knew this because I’d been back there for most of the show trying to help out. The presenter onstage is desperately trying to turn that guy’s mic off from the controls on stage. The other volunteer and I are laughing. I’m laughing so hard, I’m literally on the floor. I am not kidding. I am ON THE FLOOR, tears are streaming down my face. I am paralyzed with laughter.
She looks down at me and says, while looking out across the sea of parents who are still trying to figure out what’s happening, she says, as if she’s trying to figure out what it is they might be thinking, “Oh! This next presentation must be called PUT THE STICKS IN THE BUCKET. PUT THE STICKS IN THE BUCKET MOTHERFUCKERS!”
“This gives everyone a perfect snapshot of exactly how it looks back there.” She says.
Someone eventually figures it out and the show continues and aside from all the chaos and insanity the kids put those guys through, everyone put on an absolutely fabulous show. Some kids walked on globes. Some juggled. Some spun plates. Some walked on stilts. These kids did things I couldn’t even dream of doing. And most importantly, they walked away feeling really damn good about themselves. That is priceless. And the four guys who worked with them? I know it wasn’t easy, but I can’t even begin to thank them for all their hard work. I hope they know how amazing it was. Even if it was so damn hard.
I told my friend that I would probably laugh about this every single time I remember it. Life can be absolutely brilliantly funny sometimes. I just have to keep paying attention, I suppose.
Here’s to paying attention.