Monday, September 24, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Hope

Sing for Hope.

The event is annual, has been for 13 years. What started as a something-just-above- “we’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show” has evolved into the biggest fundraiser for Bering Omega, the AIDS-based community service program that includes the hospice where I volunteer. Up to 10 performers from across the U.S. converge on Houston and put together a half opera/half show tunes 90 minute program of excellence – with only two days of rehearsal.

A couple of years ago, the organizers heard me when I mentioned I had some backstage experience. Since then, I’ve headed up the crew that ensures props are where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there. We stand in the wings, invisible in our black-on-black attire, and wait for cues to act. However, our performance is best if no one ever knows we’re there.

Since we are volunteers, total cloaking isn’t usually the case. We are also human and on occasion a chair can be dropped, a prop misplaced, or some other slight. But for the most part, we run a smooth operation and I’m proud of the continuing emphasis that Bering places on the value of volunteers working alongside professionals. I’m not a nurse but I assist with resident care. I’m not a stage director but I keep my crew alert and ready.

This year, I added a couple of other duties to my responsibility list (since rounding up props and keeping up with changing scripts wasn’t consuming nearly enough of my time) by being part of the hospitality team.

Brian is our captain and he’s a wonder. He orchestrates all airport pickups and extracurricular requests from the artistic folks. He guarantees that some form of transportation will be on hand when needed and he sincerely puts forth every effort to make the artists happy they’ve come. I drove for him last year. This year driving and massage therapy were on my agenda.

The therapist who usually gives his time for the event was getting married. My massage therapist was happy to give of his services but he was only available on Friday night. Still he enlisted a couple of other guys and they handled that night with ease and compliments.

But no one was free on Saturday. So I said yes to two massages and then added another half before my morning was over.

The first was a hoot because the New Yorker wasn’t accustomed to all our air conditioning and took the opportunity while in her room to avoid the cool blasts by not turning on her unit AT ALL. I walked in to what felt like a sauna. Fifty minutes later, I looked like I’d been in one. She had had her eyes closed throughout the massage and actually gasped when she finally saw how badly I was sweating. I began the second massage with an explanation since I was sure my next “client” would be frightened by my appearance. She laughed when she saw me and, quite reasonably, asked why I hadn’t mentioned the heat. I told her my basic philosophy about giving massages – I may not be a professional but what I can do is give you my best and allow my time with you to be totally about you. As a mother and wife and performer, she really liked that idea!

Two of the women tried to tip me. I thought it was a sweet gesture but as an amateur I didn’t think it was right for me to accept it and, really, I wanted them to know it was a gift. While I don’t hit a high C or know a major from a minor chord, I do know how to help a person relax. Put a bow on it and call it my contribution.

We raised more funds this year than ever before. After the stage was clear and the champagne had been poured, after all the artists were safe in their rooms or wherever they chose to unwind after the show, Brian opened up his home for some of the volunteers to finally breathe. And we did. Hot tubs are good things, you know?

I actually wasn’t completely through however. I had an airport run the next day and I still needed to get the U-haul truck back to its location. But the sun was shining a bit brighter on that Sunday morning and the breeze was definitely cooler and the company was most excellent so it didn’t seem like work at all.

When my friend Fiona who made an excellent U-haul driver and I returned to Brian’s for a final goodbye he was preparing a Sunday brunch to rival our city’s best restaurant’s. We stayed and chatted and finally parted about mid-day.

The women I massaged commented on how they were grateful for my gift of time throughout the weekend and how they hoped I was being taken care of as well. No worries. Between Brian, my most excellent crew, and my dear friend who gifted me with a kicking hairstyle on the night of the performance, the pay-it-forward theory was definitely being realized.

Sing for hope . . . even though I can’t carry that much of a tune . . . I do sing with my hands, my connections, my car. And I do hope, waiting with expectation for the day to come when the songs will be only those of celebration.

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