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Growing up I was a competitive roller skater. My mom used to drive us out to practice six days a week with us doing our homework in the car while cramming in an after school dinner. Twelve years of my life went to lessons, dance classes, and choreography. At the end of it all, I wasn’t able to go to the Olympics, get a scholarship, be a paid professional, or even have my face on a Wheatie’s Box. Roller skating never did anything more than to give me the ability to enjoy dance and various rhythmic styles.
You know what though… I’m Ok with that. I learned to dance like no one was watching.
Skating led me to appreciate all forms of musical performances. As a kid I knew all the lyrics and choreography in musicals such as Cats, Annie, and Phantom of the Opera. It is only natural that when I am Busch Gardens, I get to reconnect to that little part of my life again.
In my heart I sing along and dance with those on stage. Inside I sing like no one is listening.
Since my life has made it more difficult to ride rides like I used to, I find that I now gravitate more to the various shows at Busch Gardens. Luckily, the park offers more than thrilling coasters.
Despite the lady that ran the red light and changed my life, it’s helped me to love like I was never hurt.
So you see, this has brought me to reflect on the “theme park” entertainment profession in a deeper, more artistic level. For example: What kind of person spends their days practicing and going through a mountain of trials, just to get to be on stage at a theme park?
My educated guess:
Years of training, tons of auditions, call-backs, failures, successes, and then working a bunch of crazy hours in extreme conditions with an unknown rehiring status; all for a few months out in the spot light with a mere hope of the crowd appreciates what they do. No matter what, they perform like it’s heaven on earth.”
Musicians, singers, dancers, technicians, and stage hands have to work hard as a team to pull it all together. It takes fast learning to pull off learning the lyrics, choreography, lighting and sound cues, all within a few weeks before putting it all out in front of a packed theater. The competition is tough and the stakes are high. The directors, producers, and stage managers have an ever watchful eye; mostly for mistakes.
Yet, I look back to my life with all of those tedious hours of skating; my coach barking “Arch your back, point your toes, head up, one-to-three, on-two-three! AGAIN!! AGAIN!!”
It was like Abbey Lee Miller on Roller Skates. Much of it was rather tough for a kid my age but I honestly loved every minute of it. If you asked me now: “Do you want to go skating?” My answer will always be yes! It is in my blood forever.
You see, the people out there put themselves through this daily grind for the dream of it all. To make a living using what they love more in life. It is noble. It is inspiring and I wish from the bottom of my heart, that they all make it big.
I’ve spoken too many of the performers from various decades. They all share similar stories of “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” The job is hard. No matter how talented, young, or nimble you are, the schedules are grueling. Don’t forget that any profession has its fair share of politics and drama as well. I’m sure there is a TV spin-off that is just waiting to be made.
I’ve never performed at any theme park, but I imagine it is much like skating was. You work all year for a single performance (aka audition or competition) to either: 1) blow the judges away or 2) just go home with your tail between your legs. Either one opens the door for even more psychological drama. Even if you win… the pressure is on!
For example: I once ran across an old guide for entertainers back in the Old Country days. It was for a street performer and it was for a complete improve role in the 1980s. In a very “round about way” the job was summed up to this possibility: Congratulations for making it. Expect to be heckled and ridiculed, worst yet… ignored! Any stand up comedian, dancer, or performer will tell you this is so true no matter where or when they work somewhere out in the public.
I’ve witnessed the last one first hand.
In France, I watched these extremely talented musicians out playing for the crowds. People began walking in front of standing audience instead of going through the obvious pathway because they could care less.
There is also that awkward stare of “Whaaa?” And then they kind of shuffle off like the sight of a guitar is something never seen in this world. There is also the occasional (thankfully rare) individual that shouts out a rude comment now and then. Just like the booklet from the 80s said, it is all part of the game.
However I see that most people, regardless to how long they did stay, pause, listen, and smile before moving on. There are also those that sit and remain for the whole performance. That of course, is what keeps those in the field going. That mutual respect of performer and the audience. God bless them.
My hope is that this little story may change a few minds about those on stage working hard for your applause and praise. They pull on those hot, sweaty costumes every day to showcase their talents in hopes to forward them in life and to have that glorious sound of applause.
Even if you don’t like a show, consider it like going to a restaurant where you may have a bad meal, but the server is good. Tip the server! If the performers are out there giving 100%, even if you find the show droll, clap after they are done; don’t be shy. I promise they won’t bite! All of their hard work in life has led up to this moment of entertaining you. In fact, those working behind the counters and rides that smile and wish you a great day, even when the weather is miserable, are doing it for you as well.
Just remember that if you see something that makes you want to clap and sway in your chair:
“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
Oh, and some applause would be nice.