Monday, December 13, 2010

My First Ice Show; What I Learned

Pageants are fun. I know it's all drama and fuss and wails of, "But Muffy needs a spotlight/more sparkles/better shoes/another photo session, etc." I find it funny that I fell into the Stage Mom trap, when Stitch himself was having an utter blast. At the end of the day, they're fun.

They're fun because of the screw ups, the mistakes, the drama and the tragedy. This is where the stories come from, the really good ones that you share with late night friends after a few too many rounds.

One of my favorites comes from The Living Nativity back when I was a teenager experimenting with stage managing. I was assisting Stage Right, and I was in charge of Pagoda/Wise Man Exit, Camel Entry and Exit, and keeping the curious out of pee range of the Lion. I got peed on. This is where I learned to add an extra fee for working with animals.

What Nativity doesn't have shepherds and sheep? The sheep, of course, were the charges of the shepherd handlers, who didn't watch over them by night but instead herded them into a heated tent after each show. One night it was particularly cold, and it had been a rough show. Cues missed, children crying, there had been a mombrawl over who was playing Gabriel, and the lion almost knocked down his stage cage, scaring the bejesus out of the lamb who peed on his handler. (I don't blame you, little lamb.) We were all done. Just done. I was putting away the pagodas, the Wise Men and their entourage of children and pigeons. Everyone was crabby and cold and hungry.

All of the sudden I hear a loud shout. Over the headset I get garbled chaos. I look out over the field and see four men dressed as shepherds chasing three runaway sheep over the snow. The sheep make a break for it over a busy parkway and into a neighboring subdivision of townhouses. The shepherds are screaming, cars are honking, and woe betide the poor soul coming back from a party with one too many eggnogs under his belt that night.

You hit a point in any given rough production where you stop caring. I mean, you care, but you're punchy and goofy and it hits you just how ridiculous all of this is. I was laughing so hard, the tears were freezing on my cheeks while batshit mothers were howling at me that their darling Muffy didn't get to carry the stupid pigeon cage.

The sheep run onto a frozen retaining pond and realize that the crazy men have stopped following them, so they stop as well. There they sat, baaing and shivering as the shepherds debated how to handle this funundrum. No one knows how thick this ice is, and no one is heading out there to rescue some stupid sheep.

One of the rules for working with animals is that you never place yourself in danger. There are two classifications of animal people, a handler and a pro. If you're a handler, and an animal starts freaking out, back off and call a pro. Don't be a hero, because you endanger yourself, the animal and others around you. (The pro will just step in with a dart and end it. It seems like some of the pros this weekend would have enjoyed that option.)

I think an ice show is a lot like that. Once the sheep are on the ice, there's nothing you can do. You're cold and hungry and tired, but there they are, and there they will stay until they come off and by then it's too late. If you try to intervene and "save the day", you'll end up pissing off or endangering someone. So just go with the flow, let a pro handle it. It's okay to admit that a situation is bigger than you.

Back to the sheep. How did it end? The shepherds and a pro laid down and made a human chain across the ice. The pro at the end nabbed a halter, and all it took was one sheep being led calmly away. The rest of the herd animals calmly followed. The pro calmly led them back to their heated tent. It was really anticlimactic, but it's still one of my favorite stories.

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