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Atlanta Magician – Mentalist – Speaker Joe M. Turner | News and Comments from the Chief Impossibility Officer

Impulse, Excellence, and Leaps of Faith

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on April 23, 2011

Thursday afternoon, on a combination of instinct and impulse, I decided to take a giant leap… backward.  Sort of.

I was in the midst of doing a partial rewrite of an upcoming review column in Genii Magazine when an interesting status update flashed across the Facebook page:  “In need of an accompanist (piano) tonight, Monday and Tuesday.”

Heidi Bevill, Production/Stage Manager for the Shuler Hensley Awards

Heidi Bevill, Production/Stage Manager for the Shuler Hensley Awards

The author of that status was a person I have known since 1991.  Heidi Bevill was playing Hope Harcourt in a high school production of Anything Goes in Starkville, Mississippi that spring when the pianist quit.  I was a student at Mississippi State at the time and was taking piano and voice courses for my own enrichment.  I was asked to come to the next rehearsal, which I did, and I played the remaining rehearsals and the show.  Heidi was later in my physics class when I student taught at SHS, and later played Amanda to my Elyot in a college production of Private Lives.  She also performed in a musical I wrote in college, BankNote$.

So – on a lark, I checked with Heidi to see what was going on.  Turns out that the Shuler Hensley Awards are coming up on Tuesday and they were in immediate need of an experienced musical theater accompanist who could jump in at the last minute to play scenes for the nominated productions: Hairspray, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Les Miserables, Oklahoma, and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  The big event is Tuesday night at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.  (These awards, named for a Tony and Olivier Award winning Marietta native, recognize excellence in high school musical theater in Georgia.)

I checked the calendar.  It could work.  I’ve got a show Saturday, but they aren’t rehearsing that day.  I’m preparing to fly to New York next Wednesday for a convention, but this event would be over Tuesday night and… what the heck!  I decided to suddenly jump back in time about 20 years and sit in a pit for a musical theater production. (What’s more, I decided to do it under fire, at the last minute, in front of a theater full of people!)

So, I went to rehearsal last night.  I got the music at 4pm for a 5pm rehearsal which I managed to stumble through, essentially sight-reading the scores.  I’m familiar with all the shows and have worked on productions of some of them, but generally as an actor, not a pianist.   Today I’ve been working like crazy (particularly on the Sondheim!) and I’ll rehearse with the orchestra on Monday.  Cue-to-cue Monday night, dress on Tuesday.  Show Tuesday night.  Oh, by the way, turns out the awards are recorded for television and will be broadcast later this summer.  No pressure, eh?

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

Last year's awards at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. This year is also sold out.

I decided to take this challenge for lots of reasons.  Reconnecting with old friends and colleagues.  Meeting exceptionally talented new people.  Working in a great venue.  But most of all, I think it’s important – even critical – to exercise your full range of talents.  As I wrote in  my last post, your unique combination of talents and experiences holds your key to new ideas and new ways to overcome challenges.

As a speaker and entertainer, I don’t always have the opportunity or need to sit at a piano and rip out “A Weekend in the Country.”  My mentalism performances never feature the dance break from “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.”  My keynotes don’t feature any would-be French revolutionary anthems.  But the experience of collaborating to create live performances at a high level of quality always affects the way you think about your own individual performance.  The same is true for high achievers in any field or industry; they want to learn from others who achieve greatness.  High achievers revel in the experience of excellence, and generally prefer to take an active role rather than being a passive observer.

What “back burner” skill have you been sitting on?  Why not exercise it?  It doesn’t have to be in quite the high-pressure situation that I’ve gotten myself into this week, but the excitement and energy that come from taking on an unusual challenge always bleed over into your more usual work.

Think of something you haven’t done in a long time, and go find a way to do it again.  Think about the experience.  Look for ways to apply what you learn.  Take a leap backward, and you may just find yourself taking a giant leap forward as a result.

(Note:  Photos copyright Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and Edward Zeltser.)

5 Responses to “Impulse, Excellence, and Leaps of Faith”

  1. Lauren said

    wow, the cosmos opened and you walked thru!!!

  2. Joe M. Turner | said

    After a good bit of stress, the production came together last night and I think you’ll all be pleased with the televised version (although at least one broadcast of the show will be chopped down to fit in an hour).

    I ended up playing on all the numbers except the overture. For a few of the numbers I read the chart of the musician playing about 4 feet in front of me. I sat center on two production numbers and conducted while playing; one number was with the band, another with a string quartet.

    A couple of interesting notes:

    – At one point, there was a suggestion that the grand piano be placed on stage during “A Little Night Music,” and that I’d play from there. This was nixed due to lack of time, but that would have been really cool.

    – At another point, it was suggested that the Leading Actor and Leading Actress medleys be changed to have piano accompaniment only! Since there were some difficulties getting time to rehearse those 12 individual singers with the band, the road to getting those two medleys ready for performance was, shall we say, a bit bumpy. I would have been happy to help, but we had finished the run-through and were maybe 2 hours from showtime. I’m a good sightreader, but that just wasn’t the right thing to do at the last minute. We managed to get some time to rehearse the singers – briefly – and it was just enough to get the job done.

    The theatre is an amazing and wonderful world. It is full of personalities and sometimes people with different experiences and goals can have… umm…. competing interests. It can be difficult to get all of that to work out, but fortunately Heidi and Courtney (the director) were up to the challenge!

    As for me, I think I made a good impression and I expect other opportunities to come out of this experience.

  3. Beth said

    Joe, thanks for helping out at the last minute! Heidi’s good at getting people back into theatre. I did theatre in high school. Now, thanks to Heidi, I’m involved in the Shulers, and I choreographed a production of Carousel at the high school where she teaches. It’s fun getting back into that work!

  4. Joe M. Turner | said

    Nice rehearsal photo from Camila Riso:

  5. […] in April I wrote about the importance of being willing to jump into unexpected opportunities. I thought about that post as I considered this offer for a few […]

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