Talent Show

By Jean R. Webster
The scene was so familiar. Sitting in a middle school auditorium in a small Missouri town with a couple of hundred parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren. Waiting for the blue curtain to open, and the 2011 Talent Show to begin. Waiting for Grace, my 13-year old granddaughter, to sing. It could have been 30 years ago at Tri-Valley School in Grahamsville, N.Y. waiting for Grace’s mother to perform.

In Kirkwood, kids from 11 to 14 were in charge, operating stage lights, the mixing board and the plush curtain. The results were interesting.

The program listed everyone in the show, including Grace, whose name was listed as “Grade.” An omen, I thought.

Seven o’clock. Show time. But instead of spotlights on the stage, we were plunged into darkness. No lights. No emcee. The audience grew quiet. Expectant.

Finally, the curtain opened to reveal a boy seated at a bright blue drum set. He seemed bewildered. Without a word of introduction, with no help from offstage, he played his drums. After a few minutes, the curtain unexpectedly closed. Still, the audience applauded and whistled and called out his name.

Minutes later a girl appeared in front of the curtain, stage left. When the spotlight found her, she sang her song to canned music. Then she too looked offstage. Had she forgotten the words? She left without finishing.

Again the audience applauded. Supportive. Cheerful. The sounds of small town America. We’re with you, no matter what.

A man in a gray suit came on stage, a microphone in his hand. “I’m Mr. Grady, and I’m the emcee,” he said. A math teacher who doubled as baseball coach. He welcomed the audience and brought on two eighth-grade boys, carrying mics. They wore long gym shorts and clean t-shirts. “They’re in their Sunday best,” Mr. Grady said. “They’ll introduce the rest of the acts, and maybe tell a few jokes.”

The show continued. The “best dressed” boys dragged their mics and told some groaners, like the one about the zucchini who goes into a bar, and is told, “Sorry, we don’t serve food here.” We all laughed. The boys then introduced three performers at a time. The audience loved these boys.

A garage band with three guitars and the boy on the blue drum set thumped out a Nirvana song. Their singer sang, the bass player maintained a bored look and his counterpart downstage tried to pretend the audience wasn’t there. Keeping the beat, the drummer seemed to be the only one having fun. That was another throwback, this one to our son’s band rehearsing in our garage. We usually escaped to a friend’s house.

One of my favorite acts was the juggler with another guitar-playing kid. To me, anyone who can juggle is a winner. But performing to an audience of his peers, teachers and parents raised his success close to miraculous.

In spite of all the quirky things that happened – curtains, lights, introductions – I found myself laughing, smiling, keeping time to the music.

A dozen girls sang a Taylor Swift medley. Some sang better than others, but they all finished together – sometimes the most you can ask as a group of singers. Two solo dancers performed. The couple in front of us recorded one of the girls on their IPhone.

And Grace? First her friend and accompanist Bianca played the Beatles’ song “Blackbird.” Then, Grace sang Katy Perry’s “Firework,” from the “Teenage Dream” album. It was going well until Bianca’s amp rebelled. It was the dreaded feedback. But, they went bravely on, and finished the song.

At the end, the techies dashed on stage for a bow, along with Mr. Grady and the best dressed boys. The audience gave everyone a final cheer.

The evening ended as quickly and un-dramatically as the ones I recall. The mood was upbeat, positive. People were satisfied with what their kids had done.

I’m happy to report that small town America is still out there.

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Guest writer Jean Webster is a poet, and has reported for the Times Herald-Record. She lives in Maine where she and her husband operate Orne’s Candy Store in Boothbay Harbor. She can be reached at http://guestwriter@zestoforange.com


2 Responses to “Talent Show”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Jean’s always been about small town America covering village and town meetings and slices of life in Ellenville and beyond. Another great piece of her writing captures all that’s grand about America and ironically on the heels of this week’s major news covered by Jeff.

  2. Anita Says:

    A lovely piece, Jean. I found it very moving, maybe because, as Jo says, it’s such a contrast to the news we deal with every day. I remember those concerts, too, with toddlers scooting around until a parent grabbed them and made them sit down.

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