Finish What You Started & Embrace Your Inner Playboy Bunny

My Mom and Gal Pals as Bunnies

My Mom and Gal Pals as Bunnies

 There may be one or two of you who noticed that I took some time off blogging. Well, I’m back! And I missed you. But I have a good excuse: I had to knuckle down and finish the book this blog is about. I bet there are a number of you out there who have a book in you or another goal that you’ve either started and put on the back burner or never even started at all. This book has been years in the making. Being a perfectionist, I just couldn’t seem to get it good enough to call it finished. It dragged on and on and on. Gnawing away at the back of my mind. “Finish me already! I’m tired of being in your computer. I want to get in the hands of the people! Let me out!” The incessant nagging of my book wasn’t enough to seal the deal. Exasperated, I said to my husband, “When is this going to end? This can’t take up anymore of my life. I need to move on!” “How about if we set you a deadline? January 18th. That’s your deadline,” he said pulling a random date out of the hat. “I suppose in theory it’s possible I could finish by then.” “And you need motivation,” he said upping the ante. “I’ll give you a shopping spree at your favorite boutique if you have your first draft completed and ready to give to the editor by the due date.” Now he had my attention. “You’re on!” I replied enthusiastically. Even with the holidays, a Florida vacation, other speaking gig deadlines, and a whopping 7 flippin’ snow days this winter in which school was cancelled and much of my writing time was spent making hot chocolate and catering to the demands of house-bound teenagers, I still did it! So if you have a lingering goal, there’s nothing like setting yourself a reasonable deadline and offering yourself an enticing reward for finishing. Imagine how good you’ll feel when you’ve accomplished what your heart desires.

Know what else feels good? Embracing one’s inner tigress (or bunny in this case). The picture above is my beautiful mom (second from the left) and her college gal pals dressed to resemble the infamous Playboy Bunnies. I’m sure when she posed for this photo she never dreamed she was foreshadowing her future daughter’s career. Hop along for the ride and read what happened below.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

Final Scene: New York City, August 10, 2002
Buddy had been good to me. The Rockettes had been good to me. Showbiz had been good to me. I wandered down the 6th Avenue “skyscraper alley” toward my destination: 1260 6th Avenue—Radio City Music Hall, “showplace of the nation.” When I finally arrived near the famed Music Hall, the sight of the massive marquee sent a chill down my spine. It covered an entire city block. The luminous appearance of this uberglamorous New York icon, world’s largest indoor theatre, and home to the Radio City Rockettes, took my breath away. I snapped a photo from across the street, but it couldn’t capture the magnificence and magic of what this place meant to me. Seeing Radio City Music Hall felt like a reunion with a close relative I was meeting for the first time. I was an alien returning to the mother ship.

Taking a deep breath, I headed over to the stage door on 6th Avenue and 51st Street. I loved stage doors as they always made me feel like I was going through a secret entrance privy only to the V.I.P.s. Today I felt even more privileged than usual. A security guard manned the entrance from his booth. “I’m here to teach the Rockette Experience,” I announced to him, trying to sound confident, despite being certain my heart was beating out of my chest. After checking his notes to make sure I was the real deal, he phoned the person in charge. Shortly an enthusiastic man arrived to escort me. He gave me a special badge to wear. Whoa…I’m in!

The nice man walked me through the building to show me the pertinent spots. “Here’s the green room where you can hang out before the workshop starts,” he said as we approached the first open door on the right. I stepped in for a brief look around. The green room had beautiful wooden furniture, leather chairs and sofas, drink dispensers, a refrigerator, and a coffee maker. I read the notices on the bulletin board, envious of all the girls who danced here.

The nice man walked me down the hall, past a couple of rooms where the Rockettes could relax with professional massages.” Finally we stopped by a brightly lit dance studio with mirrors covering an entire wall. “Here is the small rehearsal hall, and over here is the large rehearsal hall where you’ll be teaching. Any questions?” I was so impressed as I soaked it all up, imagining what it would have been like to be a Rockette here. “I do have one question. If it’s all right, I want to take the Radio City tour before I have to teach. Can you tell me where to go?” He kindly took me to the lobby to wait inside with the tour guides for the tour to begin.

None of the tourists knew I was an undercover Rockette. We all took photos of ourselves standing on the great stage. I pictured what it would be like to dance there, to look out on the audience of six thousand people, to ride the elevators and run through the halls backstage to make my entrances.

The tour guide led us to a holding area in front of the dressing room door, which, naturally, had a star on it. “Now we are going to meet a real Rockette! Is everybody ready?” the tour guide asked, as she knocked on the door. “They’ve been walking and talking with a real Rockette for the last half hour,” I thought, keeping the secret to myself. A lovely young lady appeared, decked out in her cute red costume and perma-grin. Acting on her best behavior, she happily posed for photos and answered questions with politeness and sweetness that would have made a Disney princess proud.

While most certainly fine, upstanding citizens and consummate professionals with the best of intentions, the Rockettes couldn’t be expected to be that wholesome and pure all of the time. Could they? I’m sure even Cinderella wanted to let her hair down and let loose now and then. Constantly having to be perfect can drive a person crazy and, perhaps, even call in one’s naughty side to balance oneself out. That perfect, good-girl image required of the Rockettes was the polar opposite of how I was expected to behave in one of my earlier jobs—a member of the “Playboy’s Girls of Rock & Roll.” Oh, the freedom of being the “bad girl” and embracing my inner floozy. If dancing with the Rockettes was my superego, then dancing for Playboy was my id in wild abandon. It was the angel versus the devil in me, and the devil can be very tempting.

 Act 2, Scene 1 Flashback 1993: Playboy’s Girls of Rock & Roll

I wasn’t really Playboy Bunny material, and, even if I were, I hadn’t the slightest clue how to get my buck-naked body on a centerfold nor would I want to bare my birthday suit for friends and strangers alike to critique. Nevertheless, it seems I was destined to be associated with those famous, fuzzy rodents because, like a free lap dance, the opportunity to work with Playboy simply landed in my lap.

(Note: So my Mom and Dad don’t have heart attacks, I’m telling them right now to skip this whole Playboy section and resume reading when the next section begins. That goes for the rest of you who have a low tolerance for talk about breasts and G-strings. I confess this book is no worse than a PG-13 movie, so those who were hoping for some X-rated material should skip it altogether. I’m still a goody two-shoes even if the shoes are stilettos.

*******

It happened like this: A few months after my Branson stint with Buddy Ebsen, I got a call from Celebration Magnifico, as they had recently expanded their operation and opened a West Coast office. Jenny had told them I was living in California and that they should contact me. With reluctance and a bit of nausea, but needing the cashola, I rejoined the ranks of party dancers. I was grateful for the opportunity to make more money but wasn’t all that jazzed about having to ask strangers to tango again. Oh well, I’d make the best of it, and at least I’d be dancing. The downside ended up being less the job itself and more the extensive driving, as parties could be located anywhere from San Diego up to L.A. and its surrounding area. Unlike New York City where we were transported everywhere by the company, here we were expected to have a car and get ourselves to the gig. A party could easily require a two-hour drive up the coast. Still, it was $100 that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Celebration Magnifico actually booked us some decent trips that included transportation, like the one-night gig at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. My first time performing there, I was excited in spite of the fact that I still thought Vegas was sleazy. As we flew into the city, I saw the shiny black pyramid of the Luxor hotel rising up from the desert. We learned a dance to “One” from the musical A Chorus Line and opened for the infamous, brash, insult comic, Don Rickles, who was as entertainingly obnoxious in person as he was on stage. We returned to Vegas another time to dance at an extravagant, black-tie New Year’s Eve party thrown by Caesar’s Palace. Getting paid triple overtime was a terrific way to ring in the New Year, and it was fun to be a part of all the action. My absolute favorite trip was to Maui, Hawaii, where we stayed at the luxurious Hilton Wailea in $500-a-night rooms. The service at the hotel was impeccable: Too hot as you lounge in the sun? A pool boy would spray you with an Evian spritzer. Too sweaty as you run on the treadmill in the open air gym overlooking the ocean? A gym servant would offer ice cold, wet towels and Evian water to drink. This was the life! We ate from sumptuous breakfast buffets loaded with succulent, tropical fruits and rode bicycles into town to shop for chocolate macadamia nut candies. It was heavenly! The decadent setting more than made up for the fact that I had to dance as half of the Brooklyn Bridge.

My enthusiasm for the job had certainly waned since those initial days in New York, but the California dancers were cordial and relatively laid back. The pool of performers was much smaller than New York and, consequently, without the distinct A, B, and Z teams. Here, the Jersey girls were replaced with nipple and navel-pierced, tattooed, vegetarian Valley girls, and I even made a few friends. An aspiring actress, who trained with the famous improvisational group called the Groundlings, invited me for a night out with a couple guys she knew. One guy, Jonathan Elias, a successful movie soundtrack producer, gave us a tour of his gorgeous home/recording studio in the Hollywood Hills and handed out copies of his latest C.D.—a compilation of film scores he had written. His impressive resume included creating music for the motion picture trailers for Alien, Altered States, Bladerunner, Gandhi, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future, scoring scenes for Nine to Five and Still of the Night, writing the title song for 9 1/2 Weeks, and working with such artists as Duran Duran, Grace Jones, and Yes. At the time, however, I had no idea how who this composer was. Call me clueless. Call me naïve, but this is the caliber of amazing person you can run into in Los Angeles.

Jonathan and his buddy took us to chichi Club Tatou, where we were supposedly on the V.I.P. list. As V.I.P.s, we had to wait in line at the “secret” back door entrance with the thirty other trendily dressed “Very Important People” and convince the big, scary bouncer–an ex-con from the L.A. County Prison, no doubt–that we were worthy. The bouncer/security guy eyeballed us up and down, assessing our grooviness. Concerned we might be turned away, my new guy friend assured the man with the requisite name dropping, “We’re friends of So-and-So. We’re cool.” Jonathan most certainly was cool, and finally Scary Security Guy bought it. Mind you, we still had to pay the $25 cover charge. If we V.I.P.s had to beg to be let into a nightclub, I felt sorry for the Very Unimportant People. Maybe you have to be a V.V.I.P. to walk in free of charge and without groveling. On the way to the dance floor we passed Rod Stewart and his model wife, Rachel Hunter, dining with their large entourage. “I bet they never stood in the V.I.P. line,” I whispered to my friend. It bothered me that you had to be somebody famous or know somebody to get into these places. You had to look the part, or forget it. Yuck. Of course, I pretended not to be impressed by Rod and company. I was just that cool.

But I digress. What I’m really getting at is through Celebration Magnifico I also met the super-hot, Italian, dream boy, Gino. With his wavy black tresses and abs of steel, he was as charming as his muscles were solid. I didn’t stand a chance with him, as he was gay, of course. Sigh. But, over time, we became buddies, and he offered me something else I couldn’t refuse. “I’m going to be choreographing a show for Playboy,” he announced, “and I thought you would be perfect for the job.” “Say what? The real Playboy? As in the magazine? As in Playboy Bunnies?” I asked incredulously. He assured me it was the real deal. The next thing I knew, I had an audition with the executive producer of Playboy’s Girls of Rock & Roll.

*******

I must admit, I was nervous walking into Playboy Enterprises for my initial interview. Would this be the last we’d see of a once-wholesome Midwestern girl? Would I suddenly want to throw all caution and clothes to the wind? The success of Playboy magazine made me question the validity of the phrase “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Apparently, men never tired of looking at mammaries, at least not at those resembling full-grown melons. Hugh Hefner—the founder of this fruitful empire—had the money to prove it.

The multi-story glass office building looked perfectly normal from the outside. What did I expect? Giant breast-shaped domes and a phallic tower? It wasn’t until I walked through the hallways past oil paintings of scantily clad women that I sensed any sexual overtones. I suddenly felt a bit overdressed and concerned about what my interview would entail. When I met the producer of the show—former modeling agent Valerie Craigin—I was slightly comforted by the fact that she was a woman. Rumors had it that Valerie was in her mid-sixties but she looked like a well-preserved fifty. She had short coiffed brunette hair, professional attire, a deep smoker’s voice with a nasal, drawn accent, and a nervous laugh. She took the liberty of saying “Hef” instead of “Hugh Hefner” although I don’t know how well they knew each other. Valerie seemed harmless enough and, thank God, had no intention of making me take my clothes off. We chatted a bit and that was it. I had the job! She mainly held the interview in order to get a good look at me and make sure I wasn’t a heifer, so I could be a “Hefer.” (Having parents who grew up on the farm, I personally think heifers are adorable, but that’s beside the point.)

“We’ll be touring all over Southeast Asia, so be sure to get your shots,” Valerie advised. “I’ll be sending you an itinerary as soon as our travel plans are confirmed. We’ll start out in Indonesia and then we may go to Singapore, Malaysia, India, Japan, Australia, Germany, Puerto Rico, who knows? There are so many possibilities, it’s driving me nuts! Plan to be gone for six months.” I tried to remain calm and professional but inside I was thinking “Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!” I was so excited: dancing for Playboy, traveling to exotic countries. Now this was something to call home about. Or not. What would my parents think? “Oh, I almost forgot,” Valerie continued. “Next week we’ll be doing a photo shoot with all the girls to be used for posters and promotional items to be sent overseas.”

I went home over the moon about the job I had just landed. Then the doubts and fears and insecurities set in. I’m not a model. I don’t know how to do a photo shoot. I don’t have a perfect body. I wish I had better abs. I wish I were thinner. I wish I were prettier. I wish…

Did I condone magazines that flagrantly promoted women’s bodies as mere sex objects? No, I can’t say that I did or do, and perhaps, if I had put any serious thought into it or been more enlightened, I would have taken up a feminist stance, stomped my foot, and shouted defiantly, “How dare you even ask me to be associated with a company that is degrading women by shamefully displaying them as play toys!”

Instead, I was eager to get a firsthand look at the debauchery behind this famous furry icon. It was more of a sordid curiosity—like wanting the forbidden fruit simply because it’s forbidden. My inner tigress was roaring and ready to be let out of its cage. This was just too much of an adventure to pass up. After all, I wasn’t going to be doing anything really naughty; was I?

 No need to be naughty. Hop to it and finish that project that meant so much to you. You deserve it. Thanks for reading.

Bunny-hop on,

Kristi

Wedded Bliss: Come and Listen to a Story About a Man Named Jed

Buddy Jed Close-Up

Buddy Ebsen as “Jed Clampett”

I’m back! Took some time off of blogging to get married to The Best Guy In The Whole Wide World. Good times! Certainly, getting hitched involves passion and romance, but holy matrimony also involves taking a vow and making a commitment. So does accomplishing your dreams. It’s all enthusiasm and infatuation at the beginning, but what about when the going gets tougher? What if you’re tempted with an all-expenses-paid vacation in Hawaii when you should be at home following up on your business plan? (Find out what happened to me below.) What if you truly vowed to stay committed to fulfilling your dreams no matter what obstacles and enticements came your way? Maybe it’s time to stop just flirting with your dreams. Perhaps it’s time to take the plunge and get serious about your goals.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

It’s all about who you know. Being the cow’s rump without complaint, must’ve won me points with our Gypsy choreographer, because when Buddy Ebsen phoned her looking for two singer-dancers for his stage show, I was on her list of recommendations. Buddy Ebsen was a showbiz legend, hoofer, and star of the silver screen having played opposite such leading ladies as Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. On television he starred in the miniseries “Davy Crockett” (1954-1955) as Davy Crockett’s sidekick, as detective Barnaby Jones in “Barnaby Jones” (1973-1980), and most recognizably as ultra-rich hillbilly Jed Clampett on that hilarious hit, “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962-1971). I absolutely loved The Beverly Hillbillies. Working with Buddy would be my first brush with real fame, and I desperately wanted to perform with him. Still, I didn’t want to get too excited about the possibility for fear that I wouldn’t even be called let alone chosen. The golden carrot dangled in front of my nose. I tried to forget about it and went about my daily business.

Unfortunately, I also went on vacation to Hawaii with my boyfriend, and that is where I was when the call came. (These were the olden days before cell phones.) I returned home golden tan and a little plump from one too many pina coladas by the pool and found this message on my answering machine: “Hello. I am calling for Kristi Davis on behalf of Buddy Ebsen. Mona Lynn recommended you for his upcoming show, and we would like you to audition on…” I nearly had a heart attack, as I reached for my calendar. It couldn’t be! The audition date had already passed. I had missed my big chance.

I was sick with grief at having missed the audition and phoned back right away, my voice shaking. A woman answered the phone. “Hi, this is Kristi Davis returning your call. I am so very very sorry that I didn’t call sooner, but I was in Hawaii. Is there any chance I could still audition? I was so excited about performing with Mr. Ebsen.”  “Oh, I’m afraid not,” the woman replied sounding sincerely compassionate, “We have already cast the show.” “Oh, no!  Really? Oh, that’s terrible. I really really wanted to do it. (Sigh.) I…I hope you’ll accept my apology for not responding earlier. Please, please feel free to call if anything comes up in the future.” I was devastated. Why was I off gallivanting around Hawaii with my boyfriend when I should have been home, available for auditions? What was I thinking? Why hadn’t I taken my career more seriously? I could have kicked myself for leaving town when such a prime job was at stake. “This kind of mess up will never happen again,” I vowed.

Miracle of miracles, the mess cleaned itself up. As luck (or destiny) would have it, a week later I received another phone call. “I’m Buddy’s wife, Dorothy. I’m calling because one of the dancers had to back out, and you sounded so disappointed on the phone that I called you first to fill her spot,” the kind woman explained. I could not believe what I was hearing. “We would like you to come audition at our home this weekend,” she continued. Not at some studio or theater, but actually at his home! I was beside myself with excitement. This was too good to be true!

On audition day, I drove north from San Diego to Buddy and Dorothy’s home near the Pacific coast. My mind was awhirl with “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, I am going to Buddy Ebsen’s house!” I couldn’t believe when I actually rolled into the driveway of his mansion. So this is how the other half lives! His beautiful brunette, decades younger, German wife, greeted me at the door. “You must be Kristi. I’m Dorothy,” she said warmly and with a slight German accent. I stepped into the foyer beyond which stood a grand spiral staircase leading to the second floor just like in The Beverly Hillbillies t.v. show. “And this is Darla,” Dorothy said, introducing me to the one remaining dancer who had already been cast from the first audition. I wondered where Buddy was and half-expected to hear trumpets blaring, announcing his grand entrance down the magnificent staircase. Or maybe he would shoot off his rifle and say, “Weeeeeell, Doggies!”—his famous Jed catch phrase.

Instead, this spry, white-haired eighty-four-year-old, who could have easily passed for my grandfather, casually sauntered out of his office, shook my hand, and said a kind hello. I immediately recognized him as a vintage version of Jed Clampett. The whole experience felt surreal. He was no longer just some fantasy television character and show biz veteran of over sixty years, but a real live person who was talking to little ol’ me, Kristi Davis. Buddy shared that he had always dreamed of creating his own, live stage show. Branson, Missouri was the perfect place to welcome an old hoofer, and when famous country music star, Roy Clark, invited him to perform at his theater there, Buddy responded. “What could possibly be in Branson, Missouri?” I wondered.

“So, do you know the shim sham?” Buddy inquired as he took off tapping right there in foyer. Stomp brush step, stomp brush step, stomp brush ball change, stomp brush step. “Yes,” I replied, and Darla and I began to imitate his feet as he skillfully demonstrated a few standard tap steps. We stayed in our street shoes so as not to scuff his floor.“Good. Now this,” Buddy instructed as he continued to throw fancy footwork at us.

“Let’s have you try singing some back-up vocals,” Buddy said as Dorothy produced the sheet music to the song “Davy Crockett.” “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
. Greenest state in the Land of the Free. 
Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree. 
Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three. 
Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!” I was considerably more nervous about the singing than the dancing, but it wasn’t anything too difficult, and Debbie was singing with me. I faked it as best I could. This was beginning to feel much more like a rehearsal than an audition, and it soon became clear that I was going to be in the show.

Finally, it was time for a break. I was stunned when Dorothy ushered us into the kitchen where she had prepared a German feast for lunch. It happened to be Buddy’s birthday, and he loved German food. We all sat there devouring the tasty vittles. I was in absolute heaven! Getting my PhD in psychology would have been great, but how can you beat dancing, singing, and eating German food with Jed Clampett in his very own mansion in California? Life just doesn’t get much better than that. I was overwhelmed by the Ebsens’ generosity. What a day this had been.

Subsequent rehearsals were held at a local dance studio during the day, when it was empty and free of potential paparazzi. The show was essentially a series of songs, skits, and dances. It highlighted the various roles Buddy had played during his television career, including Jed Clampett, Barnaby Jones, and Davy Crockett’s sidekick. Some songs Buddy had written himself. Darla and I practiced our part of the act with Buddy, which consisted of 1.) a “Beverly Hillbillies” skit with Buddy playing Jed Clampett and Darla and I taking turns playing “Bonnie Sue”–cousin of the character Ellie Mae (Jed’s daughter in the show),  2.) singing back up for many of Buddy’s songs, and 3.) a little soft shoe dance with Buddy. “I also need you two to do a dance number by yourselves to give me time to change costumes. I want it to be some type of dance challenge where you try to outdo each other,” Buddy declared. “Can you do that?” Darla and I assured him we could, and we set off choreographing our dance duel to the “St. Louis Blues.”

Buddy observed and often interjected with pearls of showbiz wisdom—old tricks of the trade. “Ya gotta leave the crowd wanting more!” “Do this with your hands on the exit. This always gets them,” he said as he put his hands out to the sides with palms to the audience and, fingers spread, shook them like crazy. “And put a move on the “button” (an accentuated beat at the end of a song) to drum up even more applause,” he added as he did a sharp body pose mimicking the emphatic musical finish.

“Now we’ve gotta get you gals some costumes, because we want to take some publicity photos before we leave for Branson,” Buddy decided. Darla announced, “I think I can get us these gorgeous costumes that we wore when I was a Love Boat Mermaid.” “You were a Love Boat Mermaid?” I squealed, thoroughly impressed. Love Boat Mermaids were a group of sexy dancers that performed weekly on the hit t.v. series The Love Boat, which ran from 1977-1986. As a teenager, I adored The Love Boat and was even more enamored when they brought on dancers. “As far as shoes are concerned, we’ll need the silver, open-toed, t-strap, ballroom dancer-type shoes, with two-and-a-half-inch heels. And we definitely must have rubber on the soles and braces under the arches,” Darla strongly advised, espousing exactly what was required to make our legs the safest and the sexiest. I certainly concurred on the rubber.

Kristi & Debbie & Band Guy

Darla & Kristi in Costume
with Band Guy

True to her word, Darla delivered the goods—high quality, handmade costumes from The Love Boat. They were white and silver rhinestone-studded spandex leotards, low cut in the chest and high cut in the legs with spaghetti straps that crisscrossed in back. Over the leotards we wore matching silver-sequined, waist-length jackets that opened in front. The costumes were appropriately sexy, and Buddy and I approved. The ballroom shoes were beautiful but took me a while to get used to, as I was accustomed to dancing in frumpy character shoes with only one-and-a-half-inch heels. I was glad Darla had taken charge, because, being a more seasoned dancer than I, she really knew the business. I liked her a lot and looked up to her as a mentor of sorts.

Darla’s expertise was even more obvious when we finally had that professional photo shoot Buddy mentioned. The publicity shots were taken at the dance studio and consisted of several poses with the two of us flanking Buddy on either side. “You ladies kiss Buddy on the cheek,” the photographer directed. I never in a million years would have dreamed I’d be smooching Buddy Ebsen. Upon seeing the developed photos, I noticed how Darla angled her body to look great for the camera, while I was in one unflattering pose after another. I had no idea how to bevel properly (i.e., a special way to place your foot so your feet and legs look pretty) or pose for photos to maximize my assets.

Dorothy and Buddy flew to Branson ahead of us to get settled, as Buddy was also preparing for an art exhibit of his paintings in St. Louis (he was an artist, too). Darla and I didn’t fly in until the day before the show opened. We landed in St. Louis, Missouri and then boarded an eency, weency, super-bouncy, nearly-make-you-throw-uppy commuter plane to Springfield, Missouri, about a forty-five-minute drive to Branson. The Springfield airport was small and very manageable, but if you arrived at 11:00 p.m., there weren’t a lot of folks there to help you. The place was absolutely deserted, and when Darla and I realized our luggage had not made the trip with us, we had no one to turn to for help. Our first show was the very next afternoon, and if our luggage didn’t arrive we’d be dancing without costumes. (Note to self: always carry your costume on board with you in case of such a mishap. It’s luggage you can’t afford to lose.)

Driving through the hills into Branson, we noticed all the billboards advertising a myriad of shows featuring old country stars: Anita Bryant, Glen Campbell, Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton, Jim Stafford. As we entered the main drag on Highway 76, we saw theaters sporting the same names. “There’s the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater!” I shouted, a chill of excitement running down my spine, having spied the place we’d be performing and staying. I remembered the banjo-picking Roy Clark from the country music and corn-pone t.v. show Hee Haw my family and I watched when I was a kid.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep in our very own rooms with kitchenettes (yes, folks, this was the lap of luxury), Darla and I headed to the theater to prep for the show. Upon entering the backstage door, we couldn’t help but notice that the walls were covered in graffiti—signatures of the many, famous musical acts that had played there. “That is so cool!” I exclaimed, in awe of our predecessors. We then met the band that would accompany us. They eagerly presented us their headshots, which they signed of course, as well as their demo tapes. These good old country boys all had their own individual musical projects and dreams. There was a lotta talent in them there halls and more musicians than you could shake a stick at in Branson. Luckily, while we were introducing ourselves to the band and getting settled in our dressing room, our costumes arrived from the airport. We hadn’t really come up with a good back-up plan, so Darla, Buddy, Dorothy, and I were relieved, to say the least.

Buddy & Kristi 1

Buddy Ebsen and Kristi Davis
doing Hillbillies skit

We performed two shows daily (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday following the popular “Jennifer in the Mornings” show—a post-breakfast production for all those earlier risers and/or theater maniacs who wanted to squeeze in as many shows as they could in one day. A spunky blonde singer-dancer, Jennifer woke up the crowd with her high-spirited clogging. She was a tough act to follow, but Buddy was a well-loved t.v. and movie celebrity who knew how to work an audience, milking every last bit of laughter and applause. Plus, at eighty-four, he could still tap dance circles around the best of them. After each show, Buddy stood in a little booth where he signed autographs and greeted his adoring fans (a must in Branson). The whole experience was such a hoot.

During our shows, we noticed a mysterious, shady, skinny, acne-faced young guy slinking around and taking pictures. Later I discovered he was a reporter from Star Magazine. Star Magazine ended up running a one-and-a-half-page story on Buddy, which was, surprisingly, quite complimentary and well-written. The best news was that Darla and I were in one of the photos. We didn’t look too shabby either. Buddy, in a long-haired wig and holding an electric guitar, was featured on the cover with a decent-sized photo and caption which read, “Buddy Ebsen turns rock star—at 84.” Although he was trumped by a much larger picture of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and the headline story “Fergie bought pot from palace guard,” it still wasn’t bad for an octogenarian. We three were pictured in The National Enquirer, too, which noted that Buddy was “definitely still alive and kicking!” I never dreamed I’d end up in the tabloids without birthing a three-headed alien baby or spotting Elvis at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kalamazoo. An article in a local Branson newspaper mentioned how Buddy’s act “will feature two new dance partners, adding to Ebsen’s extensive list of renowned leading ladies including Shirley Temple and Judy Garland.”  Judy Garland and I both danced with Buddy Ebsen! It was almost incomprehensible.

One night, after our show, the band kindly invited Darla and me to a spontaneous cast party. “Why not?” we thought, game for some fun. The grand festivities consisted of a case of beer and a pick-up truck parked in the parking lot, doors open, country music blasting on the radio. Nothing was too good for us Los Angeles girls. We partied Branson style. “You gals are the most professional people we’ve ever worked with,” the guys agreed. Well, shucks. I could toast to that. This wasn’t your typical showbiz shindig, but it seemed fitting, all the same.

My parents drove all the way from Michigan to see me perform and to see Branson for the first time. I was thrilled to have them in the audience and to be able to introduce them to Buddy and Dorothy. Afterall, I was on a first name basis with somebody famous, and that was too extraordinary not to share. To top it off, on our last day in Branson, Buddy and Dorothy invited my parents and me to have breakfast with them. I just about flipped. They were such kind, gracious people and a joy to be around. I felt privileged to be giving my parents this rare and exciting experience.

During our minimal time off, Darla and I were able to see a couple of the other shows in town. Amazingly, we were allowed in for FREE when we told them we were performing at the Roy Clark. There was some sort of generally accepted reciprocity agreement whereby performers of the various shows could see the other shows without charge. How fabulous! First, we saw the Osmond Show, which was very exciting, as I was a Donnie and Marie fan as a youngster. While I was disappointed that my favorite duo weren’t actually in it, the remaining brothers had enough vocal talent and pizzazz to get by without their superstar siblings. The second show we saw featured a man the Osmonds can thank for discovering them—Andy Williams. Andy was an old pop star well known for his rendition of “Moon River,” and he now performed at his very own Moon River Theater. As a kid, I was especially fond of his cozy Christmas specials which were as heart-warming as a hand-knit sweater and a cup of hot cocoa.

Cowboy Buddy w:K&D

Darla, Cowboy Buddy Ebsen & Kristi

Branson was, without a doubt, like no other place I’ve ever been. Praise God if you were a white, heterosexual, patriotic American Christian. If not, you may have been more comfortable elsewhere. This was the Bible Belt and Ku Klux Klan country, and we felt the influences. I was shocked to see a sign on the side of the highway stating that the KKK had sponsored that portion of the road. Being more or less a white, heterosexual, patriotic, American Christian, I was treated like royalty.

This little town in Missouri, I learned, was a viable growing family entertainment destination. Who knew? Set in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, its beauty was unrivaled in the fall when the leaves changed to vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues. Chock full of road-kill paraphernalia, down-home cooking, and old country music stars, the city drew in busload after busload of tour groups looking for some good, clean fun in a small town atmosphere. It was the one place in the country where roadkill was big business and you could create and star in your very own show. The whole place comforted you like a bowl of Grandma’s homemade chicken soup and buttermilk biscuits—good old Southern hospitality at its finest.

Branson could feel like a nursing home where antique country stars performed out their final days. Instead these luminaries brought vitality and a passion for their art to busloads of senior citizens who loved to meet and greet the stars of their day in person. The stars were old, but the audiences were older. With many celebrities, it was popular to have their family join them on stage for a number or two, and if they didn’t include a patriotic song in their finale, why they were missing the standing ovation they deserved. A “God Bless You!” at the end of the performance was nearly a prerequisite for everyone as was shaking hands and signing autographs. They aimed to please, and it seemed to be working. Branson was a show factory with many of its stars performing six days a week, two to three shows a day—a heavy schedule for even the most hardy of the bunch. But they got to keep doing what they loved, and that’s what it was all about.

Buddy, too, did what he loved, for well over sixty years, and had plenty of stories to share about his adventures in the world of entertainment. Not only was he a versatile performer and artist, but he was a writer, too, and the following year his autobiography was released. He entitled it “The Other Side of Oz,” because he had actually been the first Tin Woodman cast in The Wizard of Oz film. Sadly, while filming he became hospitalized from the silver aluminum dust make-up he had to wear, which made him seriously ill. After inadvertently poisoning him, the movie studio didn’t even wait for Buddy to recuperate before hiring another guy to play the part. The rest is history, and Buddy’s final words of the epilogue beautifully sum up what he learned over the years:

“I wanted to tell this story for the millions of young men and women—and the grownups, too—who start out bravely every morning prepared to sell something, whatever it may be.  I wanted them to know the story of someone, like themselves, who has been confronted by negative people who are secure behind polished desks, and who listen doubtfully as your pitch flops.

So what do you do then? Ring up “no sale” and walk out of the office defeated? Never! Refuse to accept it! Just call it a temporary postponement of success. The difference between success and failure is often no wider that the thickness of a cigarette paper. Just as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Woodman stood up to the Wizard and won—so can you! Life’s a brand-new ball game every day!

Remember that of all the elements that comprise a human being, the most important, the most essential, the one that will sustain, transcend, overcome and vanquish all obstacles is—Spirit!

Now those are words to live by, spoken by a man of triumph over adversity. As soon as Buddy’s autobiography came out I bought and mailed two copies to Buddy’s home. He signed one for me and one for my uncle who loved the “Beverly Hillbillies” and was going nuts about me working with Jed Clampett. In my book he wrote “To Kristi—with great affection from Dorothy and me and a strong belief in your future—Buddy.” For several years following the gig, I received Christmas cards from Buddy and Dorothy. One was a photocard of Buddy’s original artwork. I really cherish them and my time with the legendary and memorable Buddy Ebsen. “Weeeeellll, Doggies!”

Buddy made a vow to himself to persevere until he was successful in his career. Do you commit to doing the same? If so say, “I do!” and prepare to enjoy wedded bliss. Thanks for reading.

Shim-sham on,

Kristi

Finding and Keeping Your Camelot

Camelot K & Merlyn

Merlyn the Magician and Me

As many of you already know, “Camelot” is the name of a debatably fictional medieval castle where the legendary King Arthur held his court. Today, if one described somewhere as “a Camelot,” the dictionary would deem it “a place associated with glittering romance and optimism.” For me, as you’ll read below, the theater was my Camelot, my place of glittering romance and optimism. What is your Camelot? Why not make it your quest, your life mission, to live in that state of mind where you are healthily optimistic? Where the promise of your dreams coming true glitters and sparkles? Where you awaken with a sense of romance, excitement, and mystery about the day? Don’t let yourself drift into the Dark Ages. Be your own knight in shining armor and protect your personal Camelot. Keep love, hope, and dreams alive!

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

The summer was winding down and those of us who had done the entire season were both exhausted and sad to see it end. We finished off with Camelot—that romantic tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot, Lady Guenevere, and Merlyn the Magician. The Watts were back at the helm for this knightly pursuit. Yes! I was extra excited to get cast in Camelot as it was really a singer show, not a dancer show. You could pretty much be a “singer who moves well” (a show biz classification term) and do all the choreography without a problem. Unfortunately, I had one grande battement (i.e., high kick) to do in the show, so I still had to stretch every night. Even more unfortunate was that I pulled my hamstring by overstretching or stretching incorrectly or stretching when my muscles were too cold. Whatever the case, I was in pain and didn’t know enough to rest my muscles and give them time to repair. It was a good thing this was our last show of the summer, because my legs needed a siesta.

Camelot 2 Damsels

Damsels (not in distress)

In Camelot, I also learned one of the greatest show biz secrets of all time: “underdressing”–hiding one outfit underneath another. Sometimes, costume changes were so quick, portions of our costume for the next scene had to be worn underneath our costume for the current scene. Of course, it felt bulky and uncomfortable, but it was the only way to make the fast change in time. More importantly, in an effort to get home (or to the bar) in record time, performers also underdressed their “street” clothes. That is, they took off as much of their costume gear (e.g., tights, socks, g-strings) as possible and replaced it with as much of the clothing they want to wear home as possible. Oddly, while everyone was dying to get cast in the show, once actually in it, after the show ended for the night, they couldn’t seem to get out of that theater quickly enough. Those ladies really in a rush to leave removed false eyelashes and all their hairpins except for the bare minimum required to maintain the hairdo, and some even scrubbed off some of their makeup. Because the costumes in Camelot were floor length gowns covering our arms, legs, and feet, the women could underdress their t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers. Fantastic! I’d never seen anything like it. Once the curtain went down, it was a race to the finish (i.e., the parking lot). Entertainers turn into Olympic sprinters after a show and can reach their cars faster than most audience members.

Camelot Poophead

Dressing Room Doo-Doo

Over the course of the summer, I became fast friends with two castmates who did all five shows with me: Ronnie, a manly straight guy with a steady girlfriend and Marty, a charming gay guy. Neither of the men were dating propects, but the three of us bonded beautifully and hung out together. For some reason, Ronnie ended up calling me “poophead.” For the duration of Camelot, it was his mission to play poophead jokes on me. I’d find notes in my shoes, on my costumes, and taped to my mirror calling me a poophead. I even found a rubber turd under my wig on my styrofoam wig head. Before going on stage, I had to search my costumes to make sure they weren’t carrying some sort of fake crap on them. The mischief and camaraderie of our unlikely threesome was a highlight of my time at the Starlight Bowl.

Even more exciting than the doo-doo shenanigans, was the baby shower the female ensemble threw for one of our newly pregnant cast members. We welcomed any excuse for a party. This was no ordinary baby shower, however. It was a high-speed extravaganza held during the show’s twenty-minute intermission in (What better place?) the dressing room shower! (Water off, thank you.) There were gifts and cake and snacks, and then we hurried back to stage to finish the show. Power shower! More and more, the backstage fun was rivaling the onstage fun.

Camelot May Maids

Merry Maids

Summer stock really propelled me into the world of show business, showed me the ropes, and dug me in deep. My New York experiences got my foot in the door, but summer stock left me fully living in the house. I felt connected to, enthralled with, and enchanted by entertainers. I fell in love with the theaters, the dressing rooms with mirrors edged by light bulbs, and with the whole process of putting together a show. I thrived on the quick learning curve and getting to do so many different types of musicals in such a short time. I adored the costumes and how they instantly changed me into someone else. I lived for the dressing room camaraderie and conversations and the social events, like opening and closing night parties and all the gathering for drinks in between. Leaving this fairytale existence behind would be tough. As King Arthur sings at the end of the show, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot,
 for one brief, shining moment
 that was known as Camelot.” This was one summer full of shining moments that wouldn’t be forgot.

Camelot 6

Squires and Maidens

In the musical Camelot, the wise Merlyn the Magician tells young King Arthur that he has to learn to think for himself. Why not think optimistically? Romantically? Passionately? Glittery? The choice is yours.

Sparkle on, Fair Maidens & Squires!

Kristi

Paint Your Wagon: Speaking Up is Better Than a Kick in the Head

Paint Wagon Wo-Men

Cross-dressing Prospectors
(I’m on the left.)

It’s not always easy to stick up for myself and my well-being. It was especially hard when starting out in show business, because I really wanted to keep my job and not make waves. But, as you pursue your passion, there will inevitably come a time when you are going to have to speak up and stand your ground. As you’ll read below, my lesson was learned the hard way while wildly cavorting in the musical Paint Your Wagon. Don’t paint yourself into a corner like I did. There are times when you might have to kick up a fuss.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

Game over! With our Chess match complete, we moved right into Paint Your Wagon—a show about the California gold rush back in 1853. It opened on Broadway in 1951 and featured the famous ballad “They Call the Wind Mariah.” Clint Eastwood starred in the movie version. Along with this new endeavor came yet another new director and choreographer.

You can’t have a gold rush without prospectors, and since there weren’t enough real men to fill the bill for the opening scene, all the ladies got a lesson in cross-dressing. Our transformation from females to males generated uproarious laughter, as we donned scruffy wigs, beards and mustaches, ratty old clothes, hats and boots in an attempt to disguise ourselves as male miners. It was the best gender conversion we could muster without a mega-dose of testosterone. There was much guffawing from the guys in the cast. “You look like Michael Landon!” they told me. “Oh, really? Well, he was very handsome, so I’ll take that as a compliment,” I replied remembering that Michael Landon made a pretty sexy “Pa” in the t.v. show Little House on the Prairie.

Every night, we prospectors embarked on what felt like a secret reconnaissance mission. About ten minutes prior to show time, after most of the audience was seated, the stage manager gave us the “Go!” to head to the hills. In order to avoid being prematurely discovered, we crept and crawled, tip-toed and snuck, stationing ourselves behind bushes, trees, and hills immediately surrounding the theater. I crouched behind a shrub and tried not to attract attention for what felt like an eternity. Waiting there was as boring as watching paint dry. Once the opening number began, we popped out of our hiding spots and journeyed to the stage as if we were really traveling to California. I mustered up my manhood as much as possible, but I could feel the audience eyeballing me and doing a double-take. It was all I could do to keep a straight face and not burst out laughing. 

Paint Wagon Adage

Dream Ballet Adage
(Kristi & Fred)

The most annoying part about being a man was that we couldn’t wear any make-up, except for perhaps a little base until the opening scene was over. Then we had to hurriedly metamorphasize into beautiful women. I yearned for my pre-performance hour of make-up time, as that was when I’d relax and get my mind out of my day and into my role. It was my calming period which gave me the opportunity to switch gears from normal life to entertainment mode.

As surprising as it was to see myself transgendered, the real shocker came at rehearsal when the choreographer announced, “Kristi, you will be doing the dream ballet adage (i.e., slow partner dance) with Fred.” My jaw dropped to the floor. Now you would think that I would have been thoroughly elated, especially since 1.) Fred was a strong, tall, handsome, straight, blonde guy, and 2.) the previous director didn’t seem to notice me let alone choose me for a featured spot.

However, getting selected for parts can be bittersweet. I was worried there might be people who thought they should have been chosen instead of me. I was afraid that every cast member would scrutinize my performance. I was also a bit nervous, because it had been over ten years since I had done any partnering or serious ballet, but I was determined to do my best. Even so, I was an unsettled settler, never feeling completely confident about the adage and always wondering what the cast thought of my dancing. Plus I found out that Fred was married. Another one bites the gold dust.

Paint Wagon Can-Can6

Saloon Girls

No Wild West is complete without a bevy of raucous dance hall girls in a brothel-esque saloon setting. Naturally, I was one of them. While kind of fun at first, after a while too much Can-Can can do a girl in. It required so many kicks and jump splits that I wondered if I’d permanently stretch my inner thighs to the point where they’d stay in the splits and never go back. I liked kicking well enough and was good at it, but it certainly took its toll on my body.

Our big dance hall dance number was a 911 call waiting to happen. It was organized chaos, with multiple partnering tricks happening simultaneously in close proximity to one another. As I dutifully cartwheeled holding onto my partner’s thighs with my head in his crotch, other duos whizzed and whirled around me, their spinning, kicking bodies too close for comfort. Yikes! “I think my partner and I are too close to the couple next to us. Would you mind moving us?” I pleaded with the choreographer. “You look fine to me. Just stay where you are,” she rebutted. Easy for her to say. She wasn’t the one trapped upside down with her face exposed, vulnerable to the flailing feet. Still concerned but too shy to push on, I chose to trust the choreographer and not make a big stink about it.

Paint Wagon Julio K

“Julio” & Kristi

Sure enough, one night, in the midst of all the hootin’ and hollerin’, I put my head down toward my partner’s privates in preparation to cartwheel, and the guy next to me spun around and kicked me right in the temple with his heavy boot, like a football being punted toward the goal posts. Somehow I finished the number, then ran off stage and burst into tears. I cried all through intermission and then miraculously pulled myself together enough to finish the show, even with what was surely a mild concussion. One of my best friends in the cast was the culprit. “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry, Kristi!” he apologized profusely. But really the choreographer should have taken me seriously.

I was too clueless to know about accident reports or to have stage management take me to the hospital. Had I suffered permanent injury from the incident, I would have needed the accident report in order to claim disability or file a law suit. I should have insisted that the choreographer move my partner and me to a safer spot. But it’s hard to pull rank when you are a newbie.

Although Paint Your Wagon was my least favorite show to perform, I had the most fun in the dressing room and got a reputation for causing people to laugh soda pop out of their noses. A couple gals made Paint Your Wagon-themed backstage activity books (word games, crossword puzzles, hangman, etc.) for everyone. It was becoming apparent that backstage is where much of the best entertainment happens.

Your welfare is worth hollering for. Speak your peace, then paint the town red. Thanks for reading.

Act like a banana and split,

Kristi

Chess: Bouncing Back to Win the Game

Chess Arbiter

The Chess “Arbiter” and Ensemble

A few winters ago, when my son was about 11, he tried to teach me how to play Chess. We’d snuggle into our p.j.s and spend about a half-hour before bedtime playing part of a game with his hand-painted, collector’s edition, Super Mario set. I was terrible. Couldn’t even remember which pieces were allowed which moves. “What did you say a knight does?” I’d ask for the umpteenth time. My son would sigh and explain once more. Time and time again, his Princess Peach (bishop) would push over my Goomba (rook) and his Luigi (queen) would overtake my Bowser (king) to win the game. Over and over, I got knocked down. But I got up again and kept playing. Eventually, one cold, snowy, winter’s night, I won! Neither of us could believe it. Game on!

When I was dancing in the musical Chess, as you’ll read below, I also got knocked down. The important thing is, I didn’t stay down. In the course of pursuing your dreams, you, too, may topple, tumble, and suffer some hard knocks. You may feel bruised and battered, but you can still bounce back. Dust yourself off and get right back in the game.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs and Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

The second show at the Starlight Bowl was Chess—a rock musical about American-Russian relations, illustrated metaphorically through a competitive professional chess match between an American and a Russian chess master. Also thrown in was a love triangle between the brash American, his female manager, and his Russian competitor/nemesis. I had seen the show in London and was blown away. I absolutely loved the music, which was co-written by two of the singers from the famous pop group ABBA. “One in Night in Bangkok” was a radio hit dance tune from the eighties, and I knew it well. Rock musicals seemed to move me more than any other type of musical. Music was this show’s strong point.

This was the first show of the season not directed by the Watts. Instead, a silver-and-gray haired, forty-something guy named Roger Morone directed with his gorgeous sidekick choreographer, Hanna Hyde. It appeared that I didn’t leave a big impression on Roger; he paid me little notice. I never had an inkling what the backgrounds of the directors and choreographers were until the showbill came out, at which point I would eagerly flip through to find their biographies. It turns out that Morone had starred on Broadway in “Cats” and had directed and choreographed in many theatres around the United States and in London as well. Hannah had been in the original cast of “A Chorus Line.” Now I was impressed.

Our two male leads–the Russian and American chess competitors–were both very handsome, sexy men. The American guy looked like a smokin’ hot rock star with streaky, spiky blonde hair and tiny, gold hoop earrings in his ears. Boy, could he wail. I stood mesmerized as I watched him sing his solo, gyrating like a true rock star and ending dramatically on his knees, his back arched, head facing heavenward. I wished I had an ounce of his vocal talent. He was jaw-droppingly captivating.

Yet again, I was thrown for a loop when I heard a rumor that another super cute guy from the ensemble who had been dating one of the female cast members dropped her like a hot potato and hooked up with one of the other babe-alicious dudes instead. Hold on! Not fair! That took two of the prime dating possibilities out of the running in one fell swoop. Figuring out who to flirt with became confusing, because these guys did not look or act like stereotypical gay men. But really, was it fair for all the gorgeous, talented guys to play for the other team? I was partially disappointed that the women’s team had lost two good men and partially excited by witnessing what may have been my first bisexual in action.

Along with our amazing superstar talent, we had the perfect set for a show entitled Chess—a giant chess board, of course! Ours covered most of the stage. What made it particularly interesting was that its squares could be lit in different patterns and the whole thing could be tilted on an angle or rotated. Very cool and very effective visually. The set was so treacherously slick, however, that it was more like an ice rink than a game board. I had been slipping in rehearsal and asked wardrobe for some help. They gave me these rough-surface stickers to adhere to the soles of my shoes. The stickers were cheap and ineffective and peeled off when I danced, but that’s all wardrobe would offer.

Chess Bangkok3 1

“One Night in Bangkok” Dancers

On opening night, during our big dance number, “One Night in Bangkok,” I proved just how inadequate those measly stickers were. The choreography included this exuberant Indian war-dance step where we hopped on one leg and punched one arm in the air. Of course in all the opening night excitement I gave an extra-high-energy punch, which was too much for the slippery floor. The resulting unfortunate occurrence I witnessed in slow motion like a movie special effect: leg sliiiiiiiiiiips out from under meeeeeeee, faaaaaaaaaallll baaaaaackwaaaaaaaards onto elbooooooows, leeeeeeegs appear in front of faaaaaaaace and over heeeeeeaaaaaad, skirt of very short dreeeessss in eyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeees. The spill seemed to last an eternity as each detail was etched into my brain. In reality, it all happened in a fraction of a second. The next thing I knew I had resumed the pow-wow with the rest of the cast. Like a shot, I popped back up and punched and hopped, punched and hopped.

The humiliating experience reminded me of those Olympic ice skaters who, in a failed attempt to do some gravity-defying quadruple-turn jump, end up landing smack on their bellies, sprawled all over the ice, legs spread-eagled. A couple seconds later they are back skating with a smile on their face as if nothing happened. Let me tell you, it’s embarrassing. And, after the initial shock and embarrassment wear off, it hurts, too.

Murphy’s Law: Your biggest mistakes and mishaps will happen when you have the most important people in the audience. Of course, my catastrophic collapse had to happen the night my entire family had flown in to see my performance. “You bounced back very quickly,” Mom said reassuringly. But I was still horrified, and with my (literally) bruised tail between my legs, I finally mustered up enough courage to confront the director before he beat me to the punch. “So…how about my accident in ‘One Night in Bangkok’?” I asked, dreading his response. “What accident?  I didn’t notice anything,” he replied off-handedly. Maybe it wasn’t the tragedy I made it out to be. Or perhaps I was simply still invisible.

Had I had the proper rubber on my shoes to begin with, the disaster probably would never have happened. It wasn’t until our Equity female lead fell during the show and ended up with a bloody knee that stage management did something to rectify the situation. They mopped the floor in Coca-Cola to make it stickier, and I was given permission to get my shoes properly rubbered by a shoe cobbler under wardrobe’s threat that “nothing had better happen to those shoes.” Thankfully, nothing did happen, and I finished the remaining shows on my feet.

Chess Russians3

Russians
(I’m center & that’s my crossword buddy on the left.)

Slippage aside, I enjoyed this “game show,” which was made even more interesting by playing some games of my own. In particular, one of our highly intelligent male dancers and I tried to finish a crossword puzzle by the end of each show. After each of our numbers, we would race downstairs to the dressing rooms as quickly as possible, change into our next costumes, and rush to rendezvous at my dressing table so we could figure out what to write for seventeen down. “Hurry! What’s an eight-letter word meaning “puffed out; full?”  “Um, um, um…bouffant?”  “Yes! It fits!”  “We gotta go, that’s our cue!” Then we’d run up the stairs just in time to make our entrance. Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to stay focused on the show, but it definitely helped the night go by faster.

Bounce some new ideas off a good friend. Bounce off the walls if you need to release some anger or frustration. But whatever you do, keep right on bouncing back. Before you know it, you’ll be at the top of your game. Your dreams are a game worth playing. Thanks for reading.

Bounce right back on track,

Kristi

No, No, Nanette: I Want to Be Happy

NanetteHappy

I Want to Be Happy

Why are we pursuing our dreams? We want to be happy. But sometimes in the midst of trying so hard to do it right and make it work, we forget to relax, have a ball, and enjoy the sensational ride we set out to take. We don’t trust ourselves to make good decisions. We stew about making a mistake. I went through a time, as you’ll read below, when I lost sight of my happy place and fretted about flubbing up. Ironically, it happened during the happiest, snappiest No, No, Nanette number of all, “I Want to Be Happy.” Agonizing over outcomes sucked the joy out of the journey and created unnecessary problems. Worry and self-doubt turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. What a waste of good pleasure and merriment. Trust yourself to take the right steps and intend to be happy even if you don’t give a perfect performance. Remember, it was happiness you were really after in the first place.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales: 

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

Shortly after Gypsy opened, we returned to the rehearsal hall to begin work on our next show, No, No, Nanette. For about ten days, we rehearsed Nanette during the day while continuing to perform Gypsy at night. It was a busy time of round-the-clock rehearsing and performing. After completing our thirteen-show run of Gypsy at the Civic Theater, we moved to the Starlight Bowl outdoor amphitheater for technical rehearsal, followed by dress rehearsal, and, finally, performances of No, No, Nanette.

The Starlight Bowl was located in Balboa Park in San Diego and would be home to the final four shows of our summer season. Balboa Park, which claimed to be “the nation’s largest urban cultural park,” was an incredibly unique place in which to have a theater, as its 1,200 acres also housed fifteen museums, the San Diego Zoo, and many other attractions all set amidst lush gardens and beautiful Spanish Revival Architecture.

Moving from the rehearsal hall to the theater was exciting not only due to the lovely change of venue, but also because we got our own dressing table and could settle in and make the place feel like home. The phrase “home is where you hang your hat” could never be more true than for performers whose gypsy life forces them to become adept at making wherever-they-are-at-the-moment feel like home. In a flurry, everyone’s mirror above their dressing table was taped with photos of friends, family, lovers, and pictures of themselves in other shows. We could even leave a few non-valuable items there; I left my Gumby slippers, a water bottle, a coffee mug, and some make-up.

Performers also make whomever-they-are-working-with-at-the-time feel like instant family. If you look at performers’ photo albums, every photo shows them with their arms around people in big bear hugs grinning from ear to ear like they are best friends. In reality, they may have only met the people the day before. An actor can be sent on assignment to Boondocks, Idaho to perform with a group of completely unfamiliar cast members. “Okay,” she (or he) says, “This will be my family for the next four months, and this will be my home.” The assimilation happens that quickly.

One of the first things I did on the day we relocated to the theater was run to the box office to reserve tickets for my friends and family and purchase a souvenir show shirt for myself. So exciting! The shirt became the uniform I’d wear to the theater on show nights.

With tickets and the latest show shirts in my possession, I was ready to focus on the task at hand: tech rehearsal–the time when the crew, lighting designers, and sound engineers work their magic. Prior to this, I had no clue about tech crew and very little contact with them. For some reason, during this particular rehearsal week, I suddenly noticed these Men (and Women) in Black roaming about backstage. They weren’t hunting aliens like Will Smith’s Men in Black, but they did seem to be awfully busy doing something important. So self-absorbed and in my own little world was I, that I couldn’t have even identified our stage manager in a line up or accurately described what a stage manager does. Did I think the show could just run itself? All I knew was the Men in Black were the ones who screamed at you during tech rehearsal when you were about to be killed by a heavy set piece zooming in like a locomotive.

I came to hate tech rehearsals, which consisted of endless hours standing around under the searing stage lights while the lighting designer and director worked out all the lighting cues as we proceeded through the show “cue to cue.” The incessant glare of lights in my eyes gave me a migraine, which I learned to counteract somewhat by wearing a baseball cap. The process became so boring that it was nearly impossible not to whisper and joke around with the other actors; we were all entertainers, for goodness sake. To the delight of the cast, a dancer overrun with ants in his pants might finally break out into a Michael Jackson impression doing the moonwalk and grabbing his crotch. We would all bust up laughing until the director shouted, “Stand still and be quiet, please!” It was like kindergarten when the teacher tells the whole class to sit and wait quietly, but after a while the kids just have to say something or do something goofy, because they can’t stand all the silence and boredom.

Tech rehearsal was also a likely time for injuries, because some directors required us to dance full out until the next change in lighting. Then we’d stop and stand there for so long that our muscles would freeze up, especially on cold days. After waiting forever for the lighting to be worked out, the director would have us resume dancing at performance level once again, but our muscles would still be in a deep freeze or completely asleep. Riiiiiiiip. Tear. Snap!

The schedule was particularly grueling, because we were there for several “ten-out-of-twelves”–ten hours out of a twelve hour day. Ugh. It wasn’t as bad being outside, but when you do this inside in a dark theater, you begin to feel like a mole stuck deep underground. Moles, of course, seem perfectly happy with this arrangement, but I needed sunlight and some fresh air once in a while.

Tech rehearsals were not only pure hell for the aforementioned reasons, but were also by far the most dangerous point in the theatrical process. The entire theater should have been wrapped in yellow police caution tape. If we did venture into the danger zone, it would have behoove us to wear a hard hat with a miner’s lamp attached and steel-toed shoes and preferably flame retardant clothing. Backstage, there were black cables running everywhere underfoot. They were supposed to be taped down and marked with glow tape (tape that glows in the dark), but inevitably we’d end up tripping over a wayward cord while running to make an entrance. Stairs were also supposed to be marked with glow tape so that when the lights were off backstage we’d be able to see the edge and avoid tumbling down to our death or, worse, embarrassment. Glow tape was our friend! Even more scary, sometimes “pyro” (pyrotechnics) was used for special effect, so we needed to be prepared to “stop, drop & roll” to put ourselves out should we get too close to open flames.

The most hazardous safety issues, however, commonly involved the set pieces and overhead drops flying in and out at rapid pace. These scene changes could be so perilous for those in their path, that the backstage “choreography” became every bit as important or more so than the on stage choreography. If we didn’t know where to be and where not to be backstage at every moment in the show, we could get bowled over by a massive set piece or have a seven-hundred-pound drop dropped on our head. We had to be alert and have heads up at all times. We hoped, should we find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, that the crew would yell or push us out of the way in time, but it was really our responsibility to steer clear. This was the first time it dawned on me that tech rehearsals could mean the end of my life if I weren’t vigilant and careful.

Back to the show: No, No, Nanette was a 1920’s, glitzy, cheesy, tap dance extravaganza first performed on Broadway in 1925 and famous for the songs “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy.”  The show features Nanette—a young lady who wants to go to Atlantic City to indulge her wild side, but everyone advises “No, No, Nanette” in an annoying attempt to keep her wholesome and respectable. (Kind of reminded me of how my Midwestern friends implored me not to move to kooky California.) It’s a crazy comedy of romantic entanglements and misunderstandings all set in that silly, early twentieth century musical theater world where everyone acts like a doofus.

Lucky for me, this was a huge dance show with a chorus of eleven guys and eleven girls. It was so sugary sweet and sappy it made your teeth ache to watch it. The Los Angeles Times said that while the show technically had a plot, it was really about “spangles and beads, tap dancing, dancing through hoops (literally), dancing on beach balls and glorious candy store colors that drape its chorus from hats to spats and be-ribboned feet.” An accurate assessment.

I especially loved the exuberant group tapping in “I Want to Be Happy” and the soft-shoe partner dancing with frilly parasols in “Tea for Two.” There was even a number called “Peach on the Beach” where we all dressed in old-fashioned, colorful bathing suits, and some of the girls had to walk atop giant wooden beach balls. That was one balancing act I’m glad I wasn’t chosen for, because I certainly didn’t have the balls to do it, and I wanted to stay injury free for the three remaining shows.

The bane of my existence was “Two Many Rings Around Rosie”—a song about how having too many boyfriends will “never get Rosie a (wedding) ring.” In this number, we danced with giant hula-hoop-like hoops to represent the ring theme. The hoops weren’t my problem, however. It was the blasted hat toss. Although never very good at Frisbee, I was somehow chosen to Frisbee-toss a barber-shop-quartet-style hat to one of the leading men all the way across the entire length of the stage. The rest of his choreography involved the hat, so it was imperative that he catch it. Talk about a pressure position! Every night, I’d wind up and watch that hat fly across the stage, praying to the theater gods to let it land somewhere within his reach. Sometimes it would arc over the orchestra pit threatening to decapitate the conductor. Amazingly, I never missed once, but my nerves were on edge every show.

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No, No, Nanette Finale

“Two Many Rings Around Rosie” seemed to be the directors’ downfall as well. They rechoreographed it over and over and over. We finally had to quit and go with what we had only because the show was opening, and we were out of rehearsal time. The directors weren’t getting what they wanted and were frustrated. So was I; I had a hissy fit every time the number was changed. What’s the lesson? Don’t marry the choreography. Expect changes up until and sometimes after opening night. Even directors and choreographers have writer’s block, so to speak. It doesn’t pay to get all worked up over it.

Fortunately, the vivacious finale more than made up for the “Rosie” debacle. It was a dazzling dance party made all the more spectacular by the barrage of bubbles spraying out of bubble machines a la Lawrence Welk, as we tapped our way to the end of the show in our colorful, sequined flapper dresses. It was a delightful, effervescent champagne finish.

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Peach on the Beach Ball

Due to the abundance of dance numbers, the ensemble had loads of costume changes, including hats and bows and wigs. In between numbers we all stampeded en masse down the stairs to our dressing rooms to quickly change clothes. Between the onstage dancing and the offstage sprinting, it was a great overall workout—better than interval training at the gym.

We also had a ton of choreography to learn. I panicked one day when I realized my head no longer knew what steps came next, especially for the tap numbers. Before each show and before each number, I tried to review the choreography in my head, but it was pointless; the choreography had already migrated from my brain to my muscles.  At first, when performing, I’d have to make a concerted effort to remember the step sequences. After enough rehearsals, however, I danced on auto pilot and couldn’t tell what came next if my life depended on it. If another performer asked me, “What comes after the ‘kick ball change’?” I’d reply, “I don’t know. Let me find out.” Then I’d have to do the dance in fast forward and let my body show me, because the show had settled in my muscle memory.

My brain seemed to have delegated the job to the muscles, thereby freeing up precious space for new information. My brain was then free to think about other things, like what to buy my friend for her birthday, where to go out for drinks after the show, or whether there were any cute guys in the audience. The process resembled how driving a car becomes second nature. Once you’ve done it enough, you can listen to the radio, talk to passengers, drink a smoothie, make phone calls, and fix your lipstick while the car seems to drive itself.

The problems came when I got nervous, distracted, or second-guessed my muscles. If I started to consciously wonder what came next, then I wouldn’t know what to do. Thinking about the choreography too much sabotaged my performance. If I trusted my muscles and let them do their job, everything went fine. I was so nervous about goofing up. The shows would have been a lot more enjoyable had I simply relaxed, loosened up, not worried, and had myself a good ole time.

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Kristi and Friend with Alan Young (far right)

The lead actors in No, No, Nanette awed me, as did anyone who could really sing, act, and dance, for that matter. Alan Young was one of the leads in our production, and he had been a real, live television star! From 1961-1966 he starred as Wilbur Post in the popular Mister Ed series–a show about a talking horse by the same name who only talked to Wilber and liked to cause trouble. I couldn’t wait to introduce my parents to him, as they used to watch his t.v. program back in the old days. Alan was very kind and said to me, “You should keep performing. You have what it takes to make it.” I was flabbergasted and honored to have his seal of approval.

Two of our other leads were none other than the directors’ son and his wife. Sure it was nepotism, but they were both incredible talents and well suited to their parts. The daughter-in-law had given birth to two children and was still able to wear shorty shorts and wow the cast with her perfect legs. I was inspired. Maybe having babies wouldn’t ruin my figure forever. If she can do it, why can’t I? Eventually the couple went on to star in Crazy for You in London’s West End. One of the other young female leads in our show went on to star as Eponine on Broadway in Les Miserable. At least two of the ensemble members went to Broadway as well. So I was thrown in the midst of a group of very talented people with bright futures ahead of them.

The Starlight Bowl was an incredibly unique place in which to perform, not only because of its setting within Balboa Park, but also because it sat smack in the middle of the San Diego Airport flight path. As the story goes, some time after the Starlight Bowl was built, the San Diego airport ended up redirecting all incoming flights directly over the theater. I’m sure the musical theater directors were none too thrilled. Of course, the deafening jet noise was no match for a few singers and an orchestra. It was impossible to perform as airplane after airplane roared overhead. I could picture the lead couple starting to sing their tender, romantic love duet only to open their mouths and hear nothing but jet engines.

The ingenious solution was a stoplight system visible to performers at the back of the orchestra pit. As long as the light was green, the show proceeded normally. A yellow light warned that a plane was approaching, and we should prepare to stop. A red light signaled that all performers were to “freeze.” We watched the orchestra conductor for the exact cut off point. Whenever possible, he tried to pick the end of a musical phrase or an appropriate moment in the dance, hopefully not while our partners were holding us up in a lift or something.

We’d be frolicking around stage, singing and tap dancing and catch a glimpse of a plane in the distance. Oh boy, here it comes. The jet noise would become audible, “I want to be happy…” (triple time step right, triple time step left). The yellow light would come on, “but I can’t be happy…”  (triple time step right, add arm swing, triple time step left, add arm swing and move one spot to the left). We’d try to discreetly take a peek at the conductor without breaking character “till I make you happy…” (triple time step right, bigger arms, triple time step left, bigger arms, and move one more spot to the left). The conductor would bring his baton to sweeping halt. “…too!” We’d strike a pose using whatever dance move we were in at that moment.

If we remained there for an inordinately long amount of time, things could get pretty harry, depending on the pose we were in. After a while our muscles began to quiver with fatigue. (Try lunging deeply on your right leg with one arm up above your head and one straight out to the side with your head and eyes looking skyward. Hold for it a full minute or more.) And we’d have to remain frozen with whatever goofy face or toothy grin we had plastered on at the pausing point. If I got stuck gazing directly into the eyes of another performer I’d feel like I was in a childhood staring contest in which whoever blinks or laughs first loses. The entire wait we’d have to watch the conductor with our peripheral vision to see when he waved his baton and the green light “Go!” signal returned to resume the show. We’d try to remember where we’d left off, but the lag time could seriously disrupt things if we were already dancing on autopilot.

The whole affair was quite tricky and some nights we stopped and started again and again. It seemed like every few bars of music we’d have to freeze, like someone was constantly hitting the video pause button. It was a unique situation, to be sure, but a definite downfall and annoyance to audience members–perhaps a reason they struggled with patrons. It kept things interesting for the performers, as we never knew what compromising position we’d be in when the light turned red.

The other challenge had to do with dancing outdoors and braving the elements and all the accompanying variables including bugs. In June, San Diego was loaded with, appropriately named, June bugs. They were half-inch long, brown, winged, hard-shelled beetles that looked pretty scary the first time I saw them. They’d fly in our faces while we were dancing, but we couldn’t swat them away, or we’d distract the audience and mess up the choreography. Those insects seemed to know that we were helpless and took advantage of our situation. Accidentally, I got revenge on plenty of those creepy-crawlies. When tap dancing, I’d hear an awful crunching sound beneath my feet and know another one bit the dust. Or I’d do a cartwheel, my hands crushing their brittle shells. Yuk! Believe me I tried, but I couldn’t always avoid them. The temperature outdoors was also out of our control; we might sweat to death or freeze to death. There wasn’t much we could do about it.

Working at The Bowl definitely offered its pluses as minuses, one big plus being the live orchestra, which of course is better than working with a dead orchestra and infinitely better than working with recorded music. Dancing and singing to that full, rich, magnificent sound was a real treat. As performers, we relied on a competent conductor for the right tempos and on competent musicians for a clean sound. A change in tempo either faster or slower than what we practiced with in rehearsal made a considerable difference in the ease or difficulty of performing the choreography. As such, the orchestra could really enhance or botch up the show. Regardless, the first rehearsal with the orchestra was always a big day. The glorious sound infused us with much energy and excitement.

Opening night was also a thrill, not only because it was our first night to perform for a real audience and hear their response, but because opening night meant lots of presents, flowers, and a party. The performers really got into it and passed out cards and small gifts to the other cast members. For closing night, we all chipped in to get nice gifts for the conductor, director, choreographer, and stage manager. I could barely afford to pay my bills, but that didn’t stop me from making cutesy little trinkets for everyone. For No, No, Nanette, I filled plastic champagne glasses with party streamers and bubble gum balls to look like glasses of bubbly champagne. Many cast members received bouquets of flowers from friends, family, and lovers. It almost didn’t seem fair that we got gifts just for doing our job—a job we LOVED to do—but that was tradition in the theater world.

Things in Southern Cali were moving along splendidly, until something unexpected shook me up. One day around five a.m., I was awakened by the alarm clock from hell: an earthquake. Good morning, Mother Nature! The sound was that of a train, and my entire two-story building was grinding back and forth like we were being carried on ocean waves. My heart beat wildly as I phoned my sister in L.A. “Cindy, did you feel that earthquake?” I never slept well after that, always anticipating another tremor. Talk about feeling out-of-control. While California was certainly famous for its entertainment scene, it was also notorious for natural disasters. Earthquakes came with the territory. I was going to have to shake, rattle, and roll with the punches.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Thanks for reading.

Shake, rattle, and roll on,

Kristi

The Cow’s Patootie & Other Embarrassing Parts: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

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Caroline the Cow

Oh the glitz and glamour of show business! Right? That’s what I thought when I dreamt of life on the great stage. There were certainly many times when I felt like hot stuff in feathers and sequins under just the perfect lighting. Oh the romance, the mystique, and the allure of the theater! What I didn’t realize was that I’d also have plenty of opportunities to make a complete fool of myself, as you’ll read below. When things go haywire and you feel humiliated, there’s no need to have a cow. Learning to laugh at yourself can be a lifesaver and keep you chipper until the cows come home.

Please enjoy the next excerpt of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales: A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

The following spring when auditions came around again for Starlight Bowl’s Summer Series, I was poised, ready, and waiting with a year of voice lessons under my belt and a new song prepared. Happily, Bob and Dorrie Watts were at the helm again. “Your work on your singing has payed off. You’ve improved a lot, ” they announced after my vocal audition, like proud parents giving their nod of approval. Between my audition and my work on The Wizard of Oz the previous year, I must have done something right, because this time I was cast in all five shows for the summer stock season. They even cast me in Camelot, which everyone knew was a singer show not a dancer show. I was on cloud nine, my feet barely touching the ground. I was going to be performing and only performing–no more teaching aerobics or selling art–for the entire summer!  Being one of only three gals and three guys cast for the entire season, I felt like I had won the lottery.

Summer stock–a series of plays performed over the course of the summer, mostly outdoors–served as an intensive musical theater immersion course for me. Once the first show was up and running, we’d started rehearsing the next show during the day while performing the current one at night. Talk about a way to learn the ropes lickety-split. My salary–$200.00 a week per musical–didn’t get me far even then, but with paychecks from working two musicals at a time overlapping, I could get by. It was enough dough to afford moving into my own studio apartment in a little two story, eight-unit building in Hillcrest–a fashionably funky neighborhood in San Diego close to where I’d be performing. Hillcrest was a charming town chock full of cute shops, swanky restaurants, and throngs of gay men. Hence the charm, cute shops, and swanky restaurants! I adored it.

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Herbie with Madame Rose’s Toreadorables

Every morning I’d cheerfully make coffee and put on my leotard, aerobics shorts, and terry cloth head band, channeling Olivia Newton John from her 1981 hit, “Physical.” I’d juice some apples, carrots, and celery in my juicer–a healthy California practice I had adopted–to take along with my sack lunch. I’d load up my large duffel bag with every type of dance shoe I owned plus a book, magazine, small tape recorder, pencil, notebook, and water bottle and joyfully head out to WORK at the rehearsal hall. I was happy to get up in the morning, to be able to dance and sing and hang out with outrageously fun people. I felt so alive!

Our first show of the season, Gypsy, was performed at the San Diego Civic Theater in downtown San Diego. Gypsy is the true story of a famous stripper named “Gypsy Rose Lee” and is based on her memoirs from 1957. It tells the tale of the obnoxious stage mother, Rose, who pushes her two daughters to become famous vaudeville performers during the depression.

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The News”boys” and Baby June

One daughter, Louise, is very shy and always takes a backseat to her outgoing sister, June, who is the highlight of the act in which they sing “Let Me Entertain You.” Eventually, June has enough of Mama Rose’s demands and runs off with a boy. Now all Rose’s dreams of stardom fall upon poor Louise. Pathetically, Rose sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” to convince herself and Louise that they’ll be okay without June. “Curtain up! Light the lights!
 You got nothing to hit but the heights!
 You’ll be swell. You’ll be great. 
I can tell. Just you wait.
 That lucky star I talk about is due!
 Honey, everything’s coming up roses for me and for you!” sings Mama Rose.

Everything comes up more thorns than roses, as vaudeville venues fade away and Louise’s act ends up at a burlesque house. Herein lay Louise’s introduction to the seduction of stripping. When one of the main strippers is arrested, Rose makes one last, desperate attempt to turn Louise into a star by making her fill the vacant stripper spot. It works, and Louise, who takes the stage name “Gypsy Rose Lee,” becomes famous for baring her body.

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Hollywood Blondes

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Hollywood Blondes in PJs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an uncanny similarity to my real life situation, I got cast as one of the Hollywood blondes–an entourage of peroxide blondes attempting to become starlets in Hollywood. In one dance number, I was asked if I could possibly hold my leg over my head and jump around in a circle. “Are you kidding? That’s my specialty!” I replied, this being the very move that had garnered me adulation as a kid in the dance recital at Josie’s. Unfortunately, this time my costume consisted of pajamas and a hideous hairpiece rolled up in curlers–not exactly the glamour-do I would have preferred.

Unfairly, I also got cast in every other embarrassing part in the show. At rehearsal, our choreographer Mona Lynn called Dana (the gal with whom I’d flapped around as a big bird in The Wizard of Oz) and me over. “What have we done?” I wondered. “I want you two to be Dainty June’s cow, Caroline, for the farmboy number,” Mona announced. “Dana, you will be the head and Kristi will be…”  “The cow’s behind?” I blurted out in horror. My excitement about the show suddenly took a dump. I had to bend over and hold onto Dana’s waist, my head resting inches from her rear end, underneath a cow costume, and do a dance number with June. I could see the entire cast snickering, the cow and butt jokes formulating in their brains, and the relieved looks on their faces that they were not chosen to be bovine buttocks.

Staying crouched beneath a sweltering cowhide, into and out of which we had to be snapped by wardrobe, was extremely uncomfortable. My part was certainly easier—Dana had the tricky job of maneuvering the animal’s mouth and blinking eyes while dancing—but far more dangerous being in such a precarious face-to-fanny position.

Mona was apologetic and tried to ease the pain by promising to never make us be animals again. In spite of her asinine assignment, she became one of my favorite choreographers of all time. She was talented, kind, and respectful. I was thoroughly spoiled with my bosses. The funny thing is, being the cow’s caboose was the highlight of my show in the end. The part garnered us so much attention from the rest of the cast that it was quite the ice breaker. I received a cow related gifts from cast members, and, in return, I made everyone cow-shaped cookies for opening night.

As if being the udder half of a cow wasn’t bad enough, Dana and I were also chosen to be Roman gladiators. Set in a burlesque house, we were no ordinary gladiators, however. We were strippers dressed loosely as gladiators, wearing little more than a feather-bedecked helmet and knee-high lace-up heels. As does any warrior worth her weight in gold, we carried a shield and spear for protection. Other than that, we were fairly vulnerable and exposed to the elements.

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Glamorous Gladiators

When the wardrobe mistress handed us our costumes, I butted in, “Where is the rest of it?” The top was a shrunken, pseudo bikini top with clear plastic straps, so we would appear nude behind the shield. For the bottom, we were to wear a gold G-string, which consisted of a one-half inch strip of fabric that went around the hips, embellished with a few, miniscule, dangling sequined decorations, connected by another half-inch strip that went under the crotch and butted up against a tiny triangle of fabric concealing the front. I’m no astronomer, but I’d say this was about as close to a full moon as one should ever get. During the show, we walked across stage safely hidden behind our shields until we turned around to exit, at which point the audience caught a view of our bare backsides. Great. Once again, I was the butt of jokes. Why me? Why was it always me? Shouldn’t the degrading bits have been doled out a little more fairly? It was amazing how many crew members managed to show up in time to see us strut across stage every night. We fought them off left and right.

Herbie–the lead male and Mama Rose’s love interest–had to wait in the wings for his cue at the same time we were there for our gladiator cross, so he always got an eye full, too. He was a sweet, sexy, blond guy close to fifty who had done soap operas and t.v. shows. I thought, ‘Wow! Here is a real star!” To counteract our embarrassment, Dana and I would try to embarrass him instead. One night we each drew a heart tatoo on our tush with black eyeliner and red lipstick that read “Herbie, TLA (true love always).” I was mortified at prancing around half naked to be leered at, but eventually I learned to make the most fun out of an embarrassing situation as possible. Everyone else was having a good laugh at our expense; we might as well join them.

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The French Maid & Gypsy Rose Lee

In addition to the cringeworthy roles, the directors were kind enough to offer me several tasty bit parts including that of Gypsy Rose Lee’s French maid. Although I had only one line which consisted of two words, “Oui, Madame,” I agonized over how to say it. “Should I use a French accent? Should I put the emphasis on the ‘Ma’ or the ‘dame?’ Should I use Method acting and did deep into my previous travels in Paris, recalling all my conversations with Parisians?” When I was fifteen and visiting a McDonald’s fast food joint in Paris while on vacation, I tried ordering dinner for my family in French, being the most proficient speaker of the bunch with two years of middle school français under my belt. My request for “deux Big Macs et un cheeseburger” received the response, “That will be 75 francs,” spoken in perfect English by the French cashier. I felt incredibly stupid. The real question is, what on earth were we doing eating McDonald’s while in one of the greatest culinary cities in the world?

I had two, simple words to say in the show, and I struggled with how to perform them. What a disaster. Acting did not come naturally to me at all. Maybe I should have stuck with stirring fake coffee and trying not to attract attention. In any case, I was too shy to ask the directors how to perform my line, so I just said the words as fast as I could and got it over with. “Perhaps I should take some acting classes,” I advised myself.

Besides turmoil over the dialogue, the French maid bit presented another challenge–the quickest fast changes I had ever experienced or witnessed. In a matter of seconds I had to get out of one costume, into the maid costume, dash on stage, and say my line. Then I had seconds to rush off stage, get out of the maid costume, into another costume, and return to the stage for the next scene. And all the costumes included a change of wigs. To save precious time, these transformative miracles had to be performed in the wings as close to my entrance as possible. As such, modesty was not an option. With a team of five dressers poised to strip me down and build me back up, I was like an Indy 500 race car running off stage to take a pit stop where my pit crew descended upon me, fixed me up and sent me off in record time. I was amazed and completely dependent upon their skills and “presets.” I held my arms out like a scarecrow while they unzipped, unsnapped, unhooked, and unpinned. One group yanked off the costume, while another disassembled the wig and hat. They’d signal me when to step out of and into shoes and pants or skirts. Shoes were preset directly under the leg holes of rolled down pants or skirts, so all I had to do was step in, and they’d pull up and zip up the next costume. It was a masterful process.

After the quick change, I would run to the stage, my heart beating wildly, hoping I was fully clothed and that my wig wasn’t too far askew, which it occasionally was. What an adrenaline rush. Missing my entrance meant leaving the star, Gypsy Rose Lee, on stage in a deadly, awkward silence. Talk about pressure to be on time for work! As soon as I opened the set door and walked into her boudoir, I had to act calm, cool, and collected and smoothly deliver my line, “Oui, Madame,” regardless of whether or not my hairpiece was hanging off the side of my head. Actors need to have complete control over their autonomic nervous system.

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The Garden of Eden

Our costumes were from the original Broadway production, and I felt like a star simply wearing the same clothing as the talented performers who donned them before me. As far as I was concerned, it was the next best thing to being on Broadway. Our “Garden of Eden” scene get-up caused me consternation, however, being that it was yet another miscroscopic bikini. This time it was adorned in cloth apples and leaves, but there was no shield to hide behind. The long, bleach blonde wavy wigs we women wore provided more coverage than the entire rest of the outfit put together. I was far too modest for the theater but was relishing my first opportunity to be seductive, nonetheless.

The guys in the “Garden of Eden” scene were also nearly naked–the effect desired–except for a pair of small, nude trunks–like skimpy underwear–and a stuffed cobra in Mardi Gras colors that wound all the way from one ankle, around the midriff, and ended with the reptile head atop their human head. It was hard not to stare at these young, serpentined, hot bods and easy to see why Eve gave in to temptation and ate the forbidden fruit.

Lesson learned: When signing a theater contract, one never knew exactly what one might be getting oneself into (the back end of a cow costume) or out of (nearly all manner of clothing). It was painfully obvious I needed to be prepared for anything if I planned to stay in show business. This career was stretching me out of my comfort zone, indeed. Unlike Gypsy Rose Lee, however, I hoped my future shows would be far less revealing.

There’s nothing like dancing as a cow’s patootie or showing off your birthday suit to help prevent you from taking yourself too seriously. But don’t try this at home, kiddos. You can find much less dramatic ways to stay humble. Thanks for reading.

Moooooooooove on,

Kristi

The Voice Teacher & The Agent: Taking Steps Toward Your Goals

SD Model headshot 1

Kristi Davis

You know you want to move forward. But you don’t know what to do. You know (sort of) what you want. But you don’t know how to get it. Time to take steps. My favorite question to ask myself is, “If I did know what to do next, what would it be?” Calm down, get quiet, and listen. Your Wise Self will have an answer for you, and it will be a good one. In any case, taking some sort of reasonable action will get the ball rolling. My path for getting into show business was anything but smooth and sure. It was as bumpy as rocky road ice cream, and I felt like I didn’t have a clue how to proceed. But I did, as you’ll read below. And so do you.

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales: A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

After The Wizard of Oz ended, I got more serious about show business and decided to take some steps to move my career forward. Step #1: It was clear I would benefit from finding a voice teacher. I figured that by the time I was thirty-five, I could have ten years of voice lessons under my belt and possibly become a singer. Plus, if I wanted to get anywhere in this business of entertainment, I needed to be able to sing for auditions. My boyfriend Adam, who loved connecting people, knew some local women who sang in an all-female quartet called “The Fabulous Earrings.” One of the women in the group—Marcia—was also a voice teacher. Perfect.

My first lesson with Marcia was unnerving, because I was still self-conscious about singing solo in front of someone. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I asked myself. “I could make unpleasant sounds, and she’d know my singing stinks.” I answered. I could live with that. Using the same karaoke cassette tape of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” that I used for Funny Girl, I pathetically, meekly, eked out the lyrics atop the canned, background music. I was relieved when it was over. ”Okay, so you can see where I’m starting from,” I said. She nodded. So began my vocal training.

Marcia was a pretty, single woman in her forties who dressed in comfy, worn beach clothes and wore her wavy, blonde hair long and natural. She played the acoustic guitar to accompany me except when she plunked out scales on her small, portable keyboard. Singing with the guitar was heavenly. We’d do Linda Rondstadt songs, Bonnie Raitt, and Janis Joplin. Her borderline hippy/folksy bent was not exactly ideal for musical theater coaching, but if I lived near her now, I’d still want to sing with her.

My lessons were held in La Jolla in Marcia’s small studio apartment built atop the garage of a large house that she watched over while its owners were out of town. Her apartment had windows running the entire length of the back, which overlooked the ocean. I would sing while gazing out at the waves coming into shore. The room had a tiny bathroom and a little kitchenette where a mini coffee-maker was always brewing in case I wanted a cup. Her sleeping area was a bed-sized loft, reachable by ladder. A small t.v. sat on a shelf, but I doubt Marcia watched it much, because it had a sign taped across the screen announcing “twenty-four hours notice needed for lesson cancellations.” I’m not sure the set was even functional. Sometimes she had a vase with a few flowers sitting on the counter. Sometimes her sewing machine would be out, so she could stitch costumes for her quartet. Besides teaching voice lessons and performing with The Fabulous Earrings for private parties and shopping mall celebrations, she played guitar and sang standard, tropical vacation repertoire at oceanside restaurants. In the winter, her large family convened at a California ski resort where she would sing in the chalet to pay for her vacation. Her life seemed so serenely simple. Marcia herself took lessons from a famous teacher all the way up in Los Angeles and would come back and share the skills she had learned with me. Thanks to Marcia, my singing improved by leaps and bounds. I cherished my weekly lessons with her.

SD headshot 1

My new headshot

Step #2: Update my photos. A new show biz friend of mine recommended a good, local photographer for professional, theatrical headshots.

Step #3: Get an agent. “Isn’t that what entertainers do? It would sound so cool to say, ‘My agent this and my agent that.’ But where would I find an agent?” I grabbed the Yellow Pages, located one of the few legitimate talent agencies in San Diego, and bravely called the number.

Surprising to me, joining the agency was a piece of cake—no audition, no rigorous resume examination, no screening for super model status. They didn’t seem particularly selective; I think they took just about anyone with professional photos. I just had to bring in a healthy supply of headshots for them to add to the towering stacks covering the floors of their cramped, tiny rooms. I really didn’t know what to expect of an agent, but what did I have to lose? Apparently, about 15% a gig, that’s what. They gave me agency address labels to stick on my headshots in place of my personal address. I now had “representation!”

My first agency job was serving as an “extra” in the movie Mr. Jones starring none other than the incredibly debonair Richard Gere and alluring Lena Olin. “Now this is going to be exciting!” I was eager to find out what it was like to be on a movie set and, more importantly, to see a sexy superstar in person.

Lucky for me, the movie industry was filming more and more movies in San Diego as they were saturating L.A. locations. I also heard that the Los Angelenos were sick and tired of being regularly inconvenienced by movie studios, the streets often closed off for filming. As a result, this particular scene was being filmed in front of the San Diego County Courthouse. My agent instructed me to dress like a lawyer—a skirt suit and high heels.

As did all the 0ther extras, I spent the day outside in the sun with the “Second A.D.” (assistant director) and “Third A.D.”—a young man and woman wearing headsets and shuffling us around like cattle herders. “Okay, when I cue you, you four walk across the sidewalk to the other side of the building and wait there,” the Second A.D. said. We’d hear the “snap” of the clapboard and the “Take 10!”  Then it was “Back to one!” which meant back to our starting position. The harried A.D.s were constantly running to shove real pedestrians, as opposed to the hired movie extra pedestrians, out of the way or to stop traffic or stop something that was going to ruin the shot. As a consequence, sometimes we had to repeat the same moves over and over and over again: “Take 11!  Back to one!”  “Take 12!  Back to one!”  “Take 13! Back to one!” It was like a real life version of pressing rewind on your DVD remote and then pressing play…rewind…play….rewind…play.

As extras, we were the low men and women on the totem pole and were treated more like props than people. I felt quite subservient and powerless, but I actually had the ability to spoil the shot, thereby wasting time, thereby costing the movie copious amounts of money. Feeling rebellious after hours of slave labor, I was tempted to do cartwheels instead of my quick-paced lawyer stride but decided I wasn’t ready to give up show biz just yet.

Most of the time, I stood way out in the boondocks waiting for something to happen.  Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I kept watching for Richard Gere but was so far from the action that I needed binoculars to see the stars for any positive identification. At one point I got close enough to see the directors and “their people.” They actually sat on directors chairs labeled with their names, just like in the movies. Cool. Later in the day, the extras were all abuzz exclaiming, “There’s Richard Gere!” I turned in time to gaze upon his famous pepper-gray hair. He was extremely handsome. I craned my neck to hear what was going on in the scene and to decipher the directions given by the director, but, alas, I couldn’t hear much. While certainly fascinating to witness the workings of a movie set, it was also a long day which got boring very quickly. Especially since we did a whole lot more standing around waiting than we did acting. By definition, we were extra. What did I expect?

As luck would have it, I got called a second time to film for Mr. Jones, this time in Mission Beach at a casual, little restaurant not far from the ocean. My big acting assignment was to be a restaurant patron who would stir some fake coffee at a table and try not to attract attention. “Pretend you are conversing or eating or drinking but don’t stand out and pull focus away from the stars,” ordered one of the A.D.s. This was a little more fun, because I was right in the heart of the scene and could watch the action. But did I really think my lot in life was to feign beverage mixing while remaining unnoticeable?

The best part of the job was, by far, the free food. There was a food trailer set up that the actors and crew referred to as “craft services.”  An extensive, short order, hot menu was offered as well as drinks, fruit, yogurt, bagels, muffins, and more. There were even tables and chairs set up for dining. I wasn’t getting much in the way of real acting experience, but I certainly was well fed.

Trust that you know what the next step is. You don’t have to figure out the entire route to your dreams, just take the next, logical step. Thanks for reading.

Cartwheel on,

Kristi

We’re Off to See the Wizard

Wiz Oz Leads

Scarecrow, Dorothy & Toto, Tinman, Cowardly Lion

When we feel we are lacking something, life has a way of giving us the opportunity to find it within ourselves. The Wizard of Oz has lessons to teach us about that very situation. Are you, like the Cowardly Lion, looking for the courage to pursue your dreams? Like the Tin Man, have you lost heart? Or are you more like the Scarecrow, wondering if you’ve got a brain in your head? As you’ll read below, I was more like Dorothy, searching for home. Whatever it is you feel you need, look no farther than your own back yard. I bet you have the chance right here and now to discover your own power, courage, heart, and smarts to accomplish whatever your heart desires.

Please enjoy another installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

Upon returning to California, I plugged myself right back into the life I’d left behind almost as if I’d never left at all, with one exception: my intention to follow through on my dream to become an entertainer was cranked up a notch. For in spite of getting bored with my role in Funny Girl, I was even more enamored with the theater and all it’s trimmings.

Alas, I still didn’t have a plan on how to accomplish my goal. So I went back to working at the art gallery, teaching aerobics, and dating Adam. My show biz career had just started cruising along, and on slammed the brakes. Then one glorious day, I got the break I was hoping for. While casually sipping my morning cup of java and flipping through the newspaper, I spotted an ad. It jumped out from the pages, grabbed me by the collar, and pulled me in close. Auditions were being held for Starlight Musical Theater’s Summer Series at Balboa Park in Old Town, San Diego. Five different musicals were being presented at the Starlight Bowl Amphitheater over the course of the summer–practically in my own back yard!

When I laid eyes on that audition notice, I wanted to get into a show so badly I could taste it. I was like a three-year-old begging for a cookie. “I want it! I want it! I want it! I want it!” Unfortunately, I hadn’t been taking dance classes and wasn’t in tip-top shape. Looking at myself in a leotard made me cringe. Since leaving Indianapolis I hadn’t been singing at all either. But I was absolutely determined to be in a show, and there were still several weeks left to prepare. I could picture it so clearly: the thrill of being up on that stage singing and dancing for a live audience. It was almost too much to bear. I had to audition, and, more importantly, I had to get hired.

This time I practiced and practiced and practiced my audition song until I could sing it in my sleep. “I can sing this measly amount of music without making a fool of myself. It’s not that big a deal,” I counseled myself, knowing I needed to be much more emotionally prepared than I was for my last, disastrous audition. I was a woman on a mission. No piddling 16 bars of little, black notes were going to stop me from my dream. I showed up at that audition, danced as best I could, and belted out my song. That Chorus Line catastrophe must have broken the ice, because I sang my solo without incident. I didn’t freeze up, shake like a leaf, hyperventilate, implode, or spontaneously combust. Hallelujah! Victory was mine. Lo and behold, I made it into one of the shows: The Wizard of Oz. It was only one out of the five shows, but I was ecstatic, nonetheless.

The Wizard of Oz was one of those films that I both loved and hated as a kid. I loved the music, the magical Land of Oz, Toto the dog, and glittery Glinda the Good Witch. The Munchkins left me mesmerized, being my first encounter with midgets. I joyfully imitated Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion frolicking down the yellow brick road while singing, “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz…” (step front right, cross left back, ball change right left, cross right back, ball change left right, cross left back, ball change right left). To this day, I find opportunities to exclaim, “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!” or to liquefy, like the Witch, into a puddle on the floor while screeching, “I’m melting!” But parts of the movie scared the pantaloons off me. Who doesn’t recall those terrifying scenes in which the tornado came spinning toward Dorothy Gale’s Kansas farmhouse? How about when the Wicked Witch threatened Dorothy, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” “Not the dog!” I’d protest tearfully as a child. And the Witch’s evil, ultra creepy, flying monkeys were no barrel of monkeys. The show was a recipe for nightmares.

Thankfully, there were no nightmares involving our directors. On the contrary. The Mom-and-Pop team of Bob and Dorrie Watts were a dream to work with. The Watts were a fifty-something, former dance duo who brought the house down in the Catskills. These happy, caring, light-hearted souls played off each other and corrected each other like any married couple might. Their easygoing nature was reflected in their practical, comfy, street clothes—Dorrie in a flowery dress and ballet flats, and Bob in a collared Polo shirt and khakis. They truly cared about the cast and were glad to have us on board. It was like working for doting grandparents. They seemed to enjoy directing The Wiz and held no bitterness about The Biz. Bob and Dorrie were a refreshing introduction to the world of musical theater.

With a mere two weeks to put up the show, the cast rehearsed long days, six days a week. It was like having a real job, only doing something fantastically fun. Rehearsals were held in a brick building on a deserted street near downtown San Diego. The rehearsal room had high ceilings and lots of light. I loved being there. There was a costume fitting room, too, complete with wardrobe people to take our measurements. My favorite was the funky woman in her twenties who wore different wigs of varying lengths and colors. New and interesting people were everywhere.

Many of our leads (e.g., Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard), as well as a smattering of the ensemble, were “Equity” professionals imported from out of town. “Equity” was the nickname for “Actors’ Equity Association”—the labor union representing live theater actors and stage managers in America. The rest of the us were local, non-union performers. The Equity members made about three times as much moolah and got specified breaks throughout the day. It was my first true taste of an actors’ union. “What is this all about?” I marveled at the clandestine union meetings to which I was not privy, their rules and regulations, election of union reps, official breaks at specified times, and higher wages. “I’m working as hard as they are. Why do they get more time off and more money for doing the same job?” I grumbled. Basically, because they had paid their dues, literally and figuratively, and were extremely talented, seasoned professionals. Still, it was easy to get annoyed with the inequity. The theater was required to hire a certain number of Equity performers at full-price, after which they were free to supplement with bargain-priced, non-union, less experienced entertainers like myself. The musical required a large cast, mainly due to all the townspeople needed to populate the Emerald City–capital of the Land of Oz–so it made sense for the producers to cut costs this way. Who was I to complain, when it got my foot in the door?

Wiz Oz Munchkins

Munchkins

A crowd of kids also got their feet in the door, as they were used to play “Munchkins.” The whippersnappers were a lot more prevalent than bonafide little people and easier on the payroll. Toto, on the other hand, was a consummate professional and probably cost a pretty penny. Toto came with his very own trainer who taught Dorothy how to get the dog to follow her by clicking a hidden clicker in her skirt followed by giving him a small treat. The process was fascinating to behold. Animals and children can be unpredictable, so having them in the cast made the show all the more exciting.

While dancing was my forte, I absolutely loved singing. I adored the point in the day when we were all exhausted from jumping about, and we grabbed a folding chair and gathered around the piano. I brought my tiny tape recorder to record our sessions and my pencil and score, so I could circle my harmonies and note any changes from the musical director. It really helped that I played piano and could read music. Plus I was comfortable singing harmony and finding and holding my note while others around me sang different parts of the chord. That can be a real chore for someone who hasn’t done it before. Picking your note out of an eight-note chord can be like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s all too easy to gravitate toward someone else’s note or switch to an easier part.

When the musical director asked what part I sang, I said, “alto.” That’s what I sang in high school, moreso because I could sing the right harmonies than because I had a low voice. “First or second alto?” he inquired. I could have been a mezzo soprano, for all I knew. Those sopranos always had to screech notes so shrill and high only a dog could hear them. I didn’t think I could reach the rafters. “Can you belt a high E in your chest voice? You have a nice blend of head and chest voice,” the muscial director complimented. “Since when do I have two voices? What is he talking about?” I wondered, shrugging. Exasperated, we finally settled on first alto for lack of a better idea. I should have known what part I sang. How embarrassing. I was just relieved he didn’t make me sing solo in front of everyone to determine my vocal range.

Not only was I thrilled to be at rehearsals, but I was ecstatic that I was going to be performing at the San Diego Civic Center in downtown San Diego. For one thing, it was a big theater with lots of seats—about twenty-five hundred. Also, I had seen the Broadway tour of Les Miserable there, so the venue itself overwhelmed me with delight. To top that off, I got to enter through the stage door—the “secret” backstage entrance for cast and crew—instead of out front with the rest of the ticket-carrying crowd.

My main role in the show was playing one the green-clad citizens of the Emerald City. The show didn’t require much of the ensemble, but our most exuberant number was more athletic than an aerobics class. It culminated in thirty-two frog jumps while sustaining a high A note–the kind of note that would make a dog whimper in pain–as part of a magnificent, climactic chord. Thirty-two frog jumps would exhaust even the most athletic frog. I could barely catch my breath, so trying to sing and hold any note, let alone a high A, was worse than having a frog in my throat.

Much more traumatic, however, was my first appearance in the show, near the end of the first act, when Dorothy and her entourage approach Oz. They happen upon a field of poppies that lull them into a drug-induced, sleep-like trance. My big debut was as a giant flower in a field of singing poppies. We poppies wore black, spandex suits with hoods that covered our heads like a bathing cap, over which we clasped enormous red petals around our necks. Our heads were the flowers and our bodies the stems. I felt like a complete moron. When my friends came to see the show, I prayed they didn’t discover me. To add insult to injury, later in the production, a girl named Dana and I had to dress up like giant birds and run across the back of the stage flapping our wings.

Wiz Oz K+3

Scarecrow, Wicked Witch, Glinda, Me

Why we didn’t get to actually fly as birds, is beyond me, because theatrical flying experts “Flying by Foy” flew in from Vegas to rig the cables for all our airborne performers, of which there were many. The Wicked Witch flew, the flying monkeys flew, several people flew inside the tornado, and the Wizard flew off in a hot air balloon at the end. To add to the magic, pyrotechnics illuminated the appearance and disappearance of the Witch; she entered and exited in an explosive flash of fire.

The first time the entire cast saw the staging of the tornado scene, it blew our minds. Everything got swept up by the twister and spun through the air, including the nasty Miss Gulch on her bicycle with Toto in the basket and Auntie Em in her rocking chair. The whirlwind reached a frenzied pitch ending with Dorothy’s house landing on the Wicked Witch, her red and white striped legs extending out, wearing the ruby slippers. The cast cheered and applauded wildly. There is so much about a show that you are in that you don’t know about, as you rarely get to see the show in its entirety. If you ever get a chance to watch it from out front, you are always amazed at how things look from the audience’s perspective.

My four weeks rehearsing and performing The Wizard of Oz were simply enchanting. The theater had become my “somewhere over the rainbow” where “troubles melt like lemon drops.”  There was no stopping me now. I had found me a home, and as Dorothy Gale proclaims, “There’s no place like home.”

Click the heels of your ruby slippers 3 times, and repeat after me, “I have the power to manifest my dreams.” You’ve always had the power. Now use it. And use it wisely. Thanks for reading.

Twist on,

Kristi

 

See I Really Couldn’t Sing: When Failure Is Success in Disguise

Chicago Bean

The Chicago Bean

Remember your first time? Riding a bike? Driving a car? Your first kiss? I could probably safely bet you that it wasn’t as smooth and sexy as it is now. Your knees may have been a bit wobbly, your moves unsure, your confidence shaky. Whatever you are a master at today, there was that awkward first time you tried it. How brave you were! Perhaps you stumbled and fell or “failed” altogether. But you didn’t give up. You kept kissing like a frog until you finally puckered like a Princess (or Prince). As you’ll read below, my first professional singing audition seemed like a fiasco, a flop, a perfect failure. But in reality, it was simply my first time. And, if you keep at it, like I did, your first time will be the courageous, clumsy moment that ultimately drives you smack into success. Pucker up!

Please enjoy the next installment of my upcoming book

Long Legs & Tall Tales:

A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion and the Radio City Rockettes

by Kristi Davis

Word spread that A Chorus Line was being done in Chicago. Auditions were going to be held on a Monday, which was perfect, since that was our dark night. Many of us didn’t have anything lined up after Funny Girl ended, so this was a prime opportunity. This musical theater world was all so new to me; I hadn’t given any thought to what I would do once the show closed. “Do I want to live in Chicago?” I wondered. I decided to cross that bridge if and when I came to it. Actors are constantly looking for work. No sooner than they start one show, and they are already auditioning for the next show, at least with short stints like this one. Who knew how many auditions I’d have to go to before landing a part? It behooved me to get a head start on the process. Our run at Beef and Boards was only three months long. Time to pound the pavement.

“We can drive after our Sunday show and stay with my aunt. Her house used to be a bed and breakfast,” Jenny suggested as she rallied the troops. I was excited and extremely nervous to go. A Chorus Line was the epitome of dance shows, and this was my first professional musical theater audition. The very first. Ever. I was going to audition for the chorus line in a show about an audition for the chorus line in a show. “Rumor has it that they are going to do the original Broadway choreography,” Sandi informed us. “I know it and can teach anyone that wants to learn,” she graciously offered. “I do!” I beamed thrilled to be learning the real Broadway choreography, and before the audition, no less. I could use all the help I could get.

My enthusiasm slightly dampened, however, and a lump formed in my throat when I realized I was going to have to sing at the audition. “You could always be Kristine. She’s the girl in the show who really can’t sing.” Jenny reminded me. The apparently tone-deaf character Kristine spoke her solo (“See I really couldn’t sing. I could never really sing. What I couldn’t do was sing.”), except for her few ear-splitting, painful, failed attempts at reaching an actual note. “Yes, but I really can sing. I just need more training, more practice, and a lot more confidence. I want to sing. I love to sing,” I countered. I got up the guts to ask Belinda—an eccentric, heavyset, jovial, middle-aged actress and voice teacher who lived with us in the theater—if she would give me a couple of voice lessons. She was a gypsy of sorts, traveling with all her personal belongings, including sheet music, from show to show. Thankfully, she agreed to help. I had the right idea but should have started preparing years earlier.

When the time came, the gang piled into the van and drove the 180 miles from Indianapolis to Chicago, immediately following our Sunday evening show. We finally pulled up to Jenny’s Aunt’s gorgeous home about three a.m.. Auntie served us a quick cup of earl grey tea with milk, kept warm in a ceramic tea pot snuggled in a quilted tea cozy, one of her large collection of pretty and unusual tea pots on display. Then it was off to try to get some sleep, each of us in our own room warmly decorated with antiques. The few hours of sleep I managed to get were restless with anxiety about the audition.

Morning arrived all too soon. Auntie gave us the royal treatment and served the big, gourmet breakfast she used to make for her paying guests: Eggs Florentine baked in individual custard cups, sausage, homemade biscuits, and more delicious tea. I had a feeling I shouldn’t eat so much when I had a leotard to squeeze into, but it was all so wonderful. I didn’t want to offend Jenny’s Aunt. Also, I tend to overeat when nervous.

The audition was held at the theater where the show would be performed. The lobby was packed with dancers stretching and catching up on the latest gossip. Many of them knew each other. I felt estranged. My voice needed to warming up, but where? In addition to feeling anxious beyond anxious, that decadent breakfast had left me bloated and uncomfortable. Bad way to start an audition. My stomach was so nervous and full of heavy food that the combination gave me the runs. I kept running to the bathroom to relieve my churning intestines. The bathroom seemed as good a place as any to try singing a bit, especially since I was spending so much time there anyway. I didn’t get much practice in, however, as I was too embarrassed to allow anyone to hear me, and girls kept coming in to primp. “In less than an hour, I will be singing solo in front of the casting people,” I realized. I could have died just thinking about it.

Chicago

Chicago 

After giving up on the vocal warm-up, I joined Jenny in the lobby for some much-needed stretching, my body initially stiff from a night of riding in the car. Sometimes your muscles freeze up from cold and exhaustion. Sometimes the anxiety and nervousness makes your muscles relax to the point of near liquidity, like a guy getting wobbly knees when he asks a girl to marry him. I hoped for the second situation, and, sure enough, I was instant Gumby. I could kick myself in the face or drop to a perfect split on the floor without batting an eye. The price paid would come the next day when my muscles would retaliate from being over-extended. My extreme flexibility reminded me of those miraculous stories in which some poor guy is pinned under a car about to be crushed, and a ninety-pound weakling passerby suddenly turns into Superman and single-handedly lifts the car off, saving the victim’s life. In an emergency situation, the unlikely hero’s muscles are capable of doing something seemingly physically impossible. The next day he has to be hospitalized. “Tomorrow I might be sore as all get out, but today I get to be Superwoman,” I conceded.

My body was ready and so was my resume. This time my resume had a bona fide professional gig on it, one that didn’t require beefing up or disguising as something better than it really was. Jenny said I could hand write in my latest show—Funny Girl—instead of typing up a new resume. “It actually makes you look more professional by showing that you’re currently working and too busy to have had new resumes printed,” she continued. I could even list my character’s name–“Polly.” I was lucky. Usually chorus girls didn’t get an actual name. Perhaps it was only a small step, but I was definitely moving up in the world of show biz.

The choreographer collected our headshots with resumes stapled to the back and handed us each a paper number to pin onto our leotards. I was now a number, not a name. I glanced at some of the other headshots which were much more glamorous than mine. Many girls were skinnier and prettier. “I bet they can sing, too. What am I doing here? I can only do my best and leave it at that,” I reminded myself.

Sometimes you sing first at an audition and sometimes you dance first. We danced first, and I was relieved when the choreographer taught the exact same choreography we had learned from Sandi. At least I was familiar with it, but so was everyone else in that room. It killed my knees, because I wasn’t really in dance shape, having been ages since I had taken classes regularly. Still, I loved to dance and felt fantastic when I got it right.

Then came the moment of truth: the singing audition. I prayed to God that I wouldn’t have to sing in front of all the other auditioners. The first number was announced, and the young man went into the room all by himself. “We are auditioning alone, thank goodness!” But no sooner had the door shut behind him when people began peeking through the crack in the door, craning their necks to hear. The room wasn’t completely sound proof. “Great. The other performers are still going to be able to hear me, but not at least not at full volume.” I couldn’t wait to get it over with, yet every time they got closer to my number, I wanted to run away and never look back. “I could bail and not go through with it. No one is holding a gun to my head. If I am really that distraught, why don’t I just grab my bag and bolt outta here?” Something was making me stay and go through this ordeal I knew would be painful. It just wouldn’t let me back out and quit.

When my number was finally called, I walked into the room and handed the pianist my sheet music properly taped together so he wouldn’t have to fumble with turning pages, the sixteen bars I was performing highlighted. I cleared my throat, greeted the casting people seated at a table with my headshot in front of them, and, trembling, announced, “I am going to be singing, ‘You Can Always Count on Me.'” As the musical intro played, my heart began beating faster and faster. The adrenaline pumped through my veins. A wave of heat flushed through my entire body. My nerves took me over like a hostage. When my entrance cue arrived, it was as if I had been bound and gagged, as I had no breath support and could barely make a peep. After a seeming eternity of awkward silence, by sheer willpower, I broke free and managed to squeeze out a note. The sound that emanated from my lips was like nothing I’d ever heard, my voice cracking and shaking like a mini, oral earthquake. The same nervous energy that allowed me to kick to my forehead had left my vocal chords careening out of control. Nevertheless, I kept right on singing to the very end of the required sixteen bars, all the while horrified at what I was hearing. I knew everyone within earshot was completely uncomfortable and mortified for me.

“This was my first singing audition,” I blurted out apologetically before the casting people had a chance to comment. My statement was a waste of breath, as my inexperience was painfully obvious after they heard, or didn’t hear, my first few notes. (Never apologize or make excuses for a rotten audition. It just makes you look worse and certainly makes you look unprofessional. Ugh. What humiliation.) Fortunately, instead of being appalled and rude, the casting people were compassionate and kind, taking pity upon me. After all, I had just given a real-life performance of the vocally-challenged character Kristine. And I was pretty convincing, if I say so myself.

I walked out of the room terribly defeated and embarrassed in once sense but slightly triumphant in another. Sure I was absolutely atrocious, but I had gone through with it, hadn’t I? I had overcome my fear and lived to tell about it. I resolved to take voice lessons, realizing I required a lot of practice so singing in front of people wouldn’t be so terrifying. I could only get better.

Once everyone had sung, the choreographer came out and, just like in A Chorus Line after a grueling day of auditioning, announced which people they would like to have stay. He shuffled through the deck of headshots naming the chosen ones. Only after his polite dismissal, “Thank you all for coming,” did we know for sure that we hadn’t been called back. I was disappointed, but certainly not surprised that I got cut after that dreadful singing disaster. Still, I was holding out hope that they would consider me for the part of Kristine.

No sooner had we returned to Jenny’s Aunt’s house, foiled in our attempt to secure employment post Funny Girl, when the phone rang. It was the choreographer calling for me. “We accidentally put your headshot in the wrong pile. We’d love for you to come to the callback.” I couldn’t believe my ears. The victory was bittersweet, however, as Jenny hadn’t been invited back. Competing with your friends really stinks. It hurts when you make it and they get cut. It hurts when they make it and you get cut. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s hard to be completely happy for yourself when you are sad for your friend and vice versa.

Cut to the chase: I attended the callback and didn’t make the final cut, but I felt proud of myself having made it that far. As far as I was concerned, my “failure” was simply a step closer to future success. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to live in cold, windy, gray Chicago anyway.  I missed sunny California. I missed my sister and friends.

Back at ye olde Beef and Boards, I started to feel that five weeks of the same show, no matter how fun initally, would be tedious. I had never repeated a show more than three times total in the past, let alone eight shows a week for five weeks. This run was like a watched pot never boiling. “Will it ever end?” Getting settled in a long run–this wasn’t even long by industry standards–was a whole new experience for me. Soon after getting comfortable in the show, I began beefing about being bored. I didn’t know how to relax and enjoy the ride.

FG Brides & Gents

Beautiful Brides & Gents

The restlessness didn’t last long, however, thanks to one especially effective boredom breaker: visits from family and friends. Indianapolis was a drivable distance from Detroit and Chicago, so parents and pals ventured down to witness my professional musical theater debut. Having loved ones in the audience was like a jolt of caffeine giving me just the buzz I needed to perk up my show.

Another monotony savior was mistakes. My first big onstage mishap was a costume malfunction that happened in the “Beautiful Bride” number. The wedding dress I wore had an absurdly heavy, wire-framed skirt a la eighteenth century France which protruded several feet to either side of me and dripped strands of beads and white doves. As my partner paraded me around, the clasp holding the marital monstrosity around my waist broke. I was horrified as I felt it plunge to the ground and quickly grabbed it with both hands. The number was about “taking the plunge,” but this was ridiculous. Instead of holding my partner’s hand and attempting any semblance of choreography, all I could do was try to hold up the awkward, weighty bird-cage and keep my rear end covered until the end of the number. Of course, the rest of the cast found this hilarious. Even I could laugh about it later.

My time at Beef and Boards finally came to a close, culminating in the traditional playing of pranks at the last performance. We ladies opted to abuse the guys with the old “lotion in the hand trick”: put a glob in your palm before going onstage, and when your partner grabs you he gets a slippery surprise. Everything that happens on stage is exponentially funnier, perhaps, because 1.) you know your victim has to keep a straight face in spite of being slimed or whatever you’ve just done to him and 2.) you know you are forbidden to make laugh, like when my sister and I would get the giggles in church during the sermon and could hardly contain ourselves. The boys were so shocked by our gooey gifts that I had a laughing fit on stage for which I could have gotten fired. As a final bonus, we girls put on thick layers of fiery red lipstick for kissing attacks on the guys when they came off stage. Smothering their faces in crimson smooches, I kissed Beef and Boards “goodbye” and my future in showbiz “hello!”

Kiss and make up with failure and first times. By starting somewhere, you’ve already succeeded.

Sing on,

Kristi