My Return to the Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl sign September 8th, 2013

Photo credit: Courtney Paige

I never thought returning to the Hollywood Bowl would happen so quickly! Last night, My name was on the marquee of the Hollywood Bowl as a special guest at their ABBA Fest for their first ABBA-Capella competition. It’s now been two weeks and three days and I’m still waiting to wake up from this dream. The sense of awe of singing with Kristin that night and the whirlwind that has nearly swept me off my feet since then has still not quite settled into a believable reality for me.

I was so excited Saturday night that my body woke me up at 1am Sunday morning. At first, I wasn’t too happy about that but half an hour later, I checked my email. I knew that the original host for the evening had dropped out the week prior, that the Hollywood Bowl was looking for another host, and that I was their backup plan if all else failed. I opened an email from them which began, “Please take a look below at the run down and script for tomorrow! We are moving forward without another host as nobody has worked out….Sorry this is so late but I figured you could get it in the morning and take a look. Thanks for all!!!!”

Hosting. At the Hollywood Bowl.

I had to let that sink in for a couple minutes before I actually read the rest of the email.

I have never hosted/emceed anything before in my life. I sing; I don’t talk. Sure, I’m a theatre person but I usually have weeks/months to memorize a script, not hours. Eventually, around 4am, I was able to go back to sleep for a bit, waking up surprisingly rested considering my bundle of nerves.

The morning went by in a whirl, simultaneously preparing for my night at the Hollywood Bowl as well as my very full teaching day the next day. The fact that I was returning to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl hadn’t really set in until this moment. Sure, I had been absorbed in the two songs I was going to sing for days but I memorize new music all the time and nothing I did in my preparation ritual was any different for any other venue.

I am so glad Eric drove. Eric Belvin, friend and accompanist extraordinaire who has nerves of steel, seemed unshaken by the fact that he and I were about to go from performing in a choir room together a year ago at my graduate recital to performing in front of thousands of people at the Hollywood Bowl. Does it really get any bigger than the Hollywood Bowl? I’m trying to imagine but I’m not coming up with anything at the moment.

This was about to be one of the biggest, most uncomfortable (in terms of my mild phobia of public speaking), but exciting personal stretching moments of my life.

I read over the script a couple times in the car before I remembered I get car sick.

When I got to the Bowl, I was greeted with the angelic sounds of the a capella groups warming up. Carlye, a friend I know from doing the Sound of Music at the Redlands Bowl this summer, greeted me with a very welcomed hug. She’s a part of the SoCal Vocals at USC. I almost laughed as she walked back and I saw the look on her friends’ faces; they seemed to read, “You KNOW her?!” In a way, it does feel good to be known, to not be a stranger. In a different sense, it’s very weird to be known and not know those who know me.

Sound check went well and we ended with For Good. The vocalists of the three a capella groups came up with background vocals on the spot! We only sang through it twice. The third time was at performance and I was told that it sounded like a professional arrangement. Way to go, SoCal Vocals, Sound Check, and Scattertones! Not only did I have the opportunity to sing at the Hollywood Bowl (on purpose) but three of the best of the best a capella groups in the nation backed me up on a song. I am loving my life right now! It’s still a bit difficult to accept the reality of things that are happening to me because, after all, it’s only been two weeks.

Ooh! My name was on the dressing room door! Dressing room C. The last time I was in that hallway, I was having my picture taken with Kristin Chenoweth. Before I stepped into the dressing room, I looked down the hallway to the two spots on the carpet where she and I stood for pictures that night.

My time in the dressing room was spent with me holding the paper with the talking points in a death grip. I had never done anything like this before. I’m a singer; I don’t do public speaking. Ever. I rarely ever open up my mouth to speak in groups of friends, much less on stage. I had one speech class in college. Easy A? Not for this chick.

Dinner was a much needed relief. I’m so glad it was catered! My measly snacks of sandwich meat and a fruit cup I’d brought would not have sufficed. The Scattertones invited Eric and I to sit with them. They seem like really cool people!

The time between dinner and going on stage passed in a blur. A close friend of mine who was out in the audience (who I think would prefer to remain anonymous) texted me and asked if I needed a hug. YES! I all but ran to meet him at the stage right door. He wrapped me in his arms for I don’t know how long, prayed for me, and just let me hold on until my trembling stopped and my nervousness began to melt down to a manageable level. Gosh. My stomach is in knots just thinking about where I was at that pre-hug moment.

Next thing I knew, I was quickly pacing the other end of that same hallway near the stage curtain, pacing about three steps in each direction, shaking my hands. The performance with Kristin was racing through my mind at breakneck speed and I was trying to slow it down at that one moment when Kristin grasped my arm and made all my nervousness vanish that night. Paul Geller awoke me from this pacing trance and asked if I was ready. I said the same thing then that I did that night with Kristin, “Ready or not, here we go!”

me alone onstage

Photo credit: Carol Koplan

When I came offstage after my first time out there, my knees gave way. After that first time stepping onstage to speak, the rest was easier but still faaaaar outside my comfort zone. It was so fun to watch the a capella groups on the monitors backstage, watching them thrive in their element. Before long, it was my turn to sing. Finally, something I knew I wouldn’t suck at! For my ABBA song, I chose Thank You For the Music. Why say thank you when I can sing it? Music feels like my first language. After the nerves of having to speak in front of a bowl full of people, I had no nerves when I started to sing. Eric played wonderfully. I feel so at ease with him at the piano. Due to our time spent making music together in college, we musically read each other so well that performances morph into more of a duet than an accompanist-singer relationship.

After I announced the winner of the 2013 ABBA-Capella Sing-Off (congratulations, Scattertones!), it was time for For Good. I felt an empty void without Kristin standing next to me but as soon as I started, I felt the encouraging presence of the a capella groups behind me. When they came in with their ahs, I just felt wrapped in a musical hug. I blinked, and it was all over.

Eric and I stood backstage and greeted the a capella groups as they came offstage, congratulating them on their stellar performance. After a few intermission interviews, I felt my adrenaline about to come crashing down so I found my way back to the dressing room before allowing myself to relax.

What a night!

Here’s to hoping there’s more to come….

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