The day before the show Angelina from Chelan calls me and says, “I spent all last night having Southern Comfort poured down my throat. I’m still drunk!”
“Where are you?”
“We’re driving home.”
“What!? I thought you were in Seattle already.”
Maybe it was her cell phone or maybe it was the Southern Comfort, all I know is she wasn’t making sense, she wasn’t in Seattle, and she wasn’t sober.
“Don’t worry,” she says. We’ll be there in plenty of time for the two o’clock show.”
I don’t believe her, but I can’t will her car to turn around.
It will be what it will be.
An hour later I call another performer to tell her we still need her bio.
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” she laughs. “I’m going to try to make some time tonight to write my piece and I can send you my bio then.”
“You haven’t written your piece?” I try to hide my panic, but am sure I fail.
I hang up the phone, lie back on the couch, and try to tell myself the tightness in my stomach is due to the past two phone calls. When I run to the bathroom to throw up, I tell myself it’s nerves. Even though I’m the one that reserved the sites and convinced the others to perform for a large audience, I am horrified by the notion that in less than twenty four hours I will actually have to read aloud to someone besides my cat. I broke out in a sweat when I tried to read to my mom and the kids, how the hell do I think I’ll be able to read for a room full of strangers?
As the day progresses, the drunk Angelina, unwritten piece, and fear of crowds subside and in their place are the chills, more puking, and all over body aches. Twenty hours until show time and I’m out cold with the flu.
I sleep for sixteen hours and awake feeling somewhat better. Just as I’m strategizing my “puke anytime EXCEPT for while on stage” tactic, Angelina calls.
“How mad will you be if I’m late? The car broke down and we got a late start and the kids have to get dropped off in Marysville...” I’m not sure all of what she’s saying, all I know is I’m starting to feel as if I’m going to throw up again.
Twenty minutes before show time I get another call. The belly dancer needs a boombox and she’s lost. She’s the opening act. We’re so screwed.
I apologize to the audience, tell them this is a dress rehearsal of sorts, and reassure them that we’ll be starting shortly. An elderly woman scolds me for listing the wrong address on our press release, and says she is already disappointed. “I chose this performance over the evening one because I thought you’d be fresher, but you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.” I give her a fake smile and try not to puke on her.
We adlib and I introduce the first reader. I can barely hear her due to a noisy, incessant fan. Our second reader bursts into tears and can’t finish reading her essay. The words “Fuck” and “Shit” are forgotten to be omitted and all children present look up and finally notice the crazy women reading aloud. We’re almost through with all of our pieces and still no sign of Angelina and the belly dancer.
During the final stanza from the final reader, Angelina and her seven children and hubby arrive, doubling our audience. She jumps right in and begins her piece. We see the belly dancer pull up outside, so Angelina adlibs a second piece, giving the belly dancer time to change and set up her music.
Somehow, we make it through our first show and I can’t wait to go home and lie down. Just as I’m leaving, I hear a couple of the writers say, “Let’s go get a drink. Or two or three.”
It will be what it will be.
The evening show has an MC, full bar, troupe of belly dancers, stage, lights, sound system, and microphone. Someone is actually able to show us how to set up and use the equipment and the troupe of belly dancers is present and ready to perform an hour before show time. All of the readers show up on time, the microphone is set, the lights are dimmed, the chairs are arranged, and people actually begin to fill them. By seven o’clock we have a full house and the first introduction is made.
We read and dance for two hours and no one seems restless, no one leaves, no one pukes. Some pieces make me cry, several make me laugh, and all of them touch my heart. It is an incredible show. People praise us on their way out and thank us for an amazing evening. I ride an emotional high for days, exuberant that it went so well. I bask in the cathartic nature of facing a fear and moving through it and look forward to rewarding myself by resting.
The telephone rings again. It’s Angelina planning our next performance in Chelan. “I’ll set us up for two shows in Chelan and a third show in Wenatchee. And then I want to do a Portland show this summer. It’s mama writer land, we’ll draw a huge crowd there. Want to help me set it up?”
I think I have the flu again.