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Friday, July 29, 2011

Running Away Into the Night

When Mrs. Apron and I go to see shows, as soon as the cast takes its last company bow, we outtie.

I clutch her hand, we make a mad grab for our jackets, and we're flying down the aisle to get the fuck out of there. This is especially true if we've seen a show downtown and the car's in a parking garage and we just can't seem to remember if the lot is a 24/7 dealie or if it's open 24 hours a day. Once, we gambled and lost. The parking lot gates were locked, with our car inside. Had to call a friend who lives downtown to pick us up and drive us home. Had to pick up the car the next day. Had to feel retarded.

When we go downtown to see a musical, or an opera, or an offering of that charming in-between genre, an operetta, we jet quickly, as is our custom. Most normal people, I don't think, exit theatres like we do, as if they are engulfed in flames. They stand up, they stretch, they gather up their things, they take one last glimpse in the program to see where the hot girl who played the maid went to college so they can stalk her on Facebook, they use the bathroom, and they amble out of doors into the crisp, confident night.

We flee.

Other folks flee the theatre after a show, but they don't look like us. They're not holding onto playbills or ticket-stubs, they're not glowingly praising or cattily slashing the performance that just ended. They're dressed in black from head to toe, and they've either got large, black cases strapped to their backs, or they're wheeling impossibly huge silver or black cases in front of them. They're the pit orchestra members, and they're getting the f outta H.

And, I guess, why wouldn't they? It's not like they've got to hang around to be showered in adulation and approbation after a show. They may have done their part exceptionally well, providing soul-stirring music and they may have been a deft compliment to the onstage performers, but, when those lights go down, that's it. There's nothing for them.

And they know it. And they run.

Sure, in days of old, they got a perfunctory round of applause after the eight or nine minute overture, and the markedly shorter entr'acte, and they get acknowledged when the company indicates the pit during curtain calls, but, really?

I feel for the pit. I do.

The closest people care to get to most pit orchestra musicians is not after the show, but during intermission, where there's always three or four awkward-looking men in Dockers and/or plaid button-down shirts who wander aimlessly over to the pit and peer down there. I like to watch these people during intermission-- I call them Pit-Gazers, and they do gaze, in this slightly ambivalent, slightly interested, slightly dazed manner, craning their necks ever so slightly as they peer down into that musical abyss with a look on their faces that suggests they are casually regarding a moderately interesting zoo exhibit.

Ah, giraffes. Mm. One's sleeping. Mm-hm.

I got to thinking about pit orchestras yesterday when I came home from work and my wife was watching "Ellen". There was some blonde country-ish performer singing some vaguely twangy song that somehow mainstream America has decided it likes for whatever reason. She was just singing, not playing anything-- because anybody famous enough to be popular enough to be on "Ellen" can't possibly sing AND play an instrument. So, she was accompanied by a guitar player, a mandolin player, a fiddler, and some guy on a drum set. All the band members were vaguely lit, while the singer was bathed in Heaven's stage lights. When she finished singing, the audience went absolutely bucking fananas. Ellen stepped onto the stage and hugged and kissed the performer like they had gone to grade school together, and what followed was particularly embarrassing-- the guitar player standing to the singer's left stepped forward and offered Ellen his hand. And it was so awkward because, for a split second, she looked at him like he was crazy, like-- why would I shake your hand-- who the fuck are you? All you did was rock out on the guitar like a really talented musician. Anyway, she looked incredibly puzzled, and she hesitated, but then shook his hand limply, and I sat there on the couch and shook my head.

That poor bastard, I thought-- he doesn't get it. The only person who gives a shit that he was on "Ellen" was his wife or his girlfriend or, if he has both concurrently, both. I felt so ashamed by our culture that refuses to accept and reward talented musicians in favor of those who are "supposed" to be "featured", and I felt embarrassed, too. It kind of made me want to go running away into the night.

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