Believe it or not, in the time before decaf coffee, yours truly ran away to join the circus.
Occasionally, one’s life will pivot on a single encounter and shoot off in a totally unexpected direction. I experienced one such event in college that forever changed the trajectory of my future.
Dream Come True
I was about to graduate as a dance major and had no idea of what I was going to do. A friend of my parents, Hatty, was a professional dancer and lived near my school. Coincidentally, she knew a choreographer who worked for “some children’s show” in New York. The choreographer offered to audition me just before graduation. All I remember is that she was pregnant and met me at a lovely studio in a wooded neighborhood in upstate New York.
Post-graduation, back at home, with no prospects for the future, I finally got a call from her. Would I like to go on tour to Mexico with a Warner Bros/Bugs Bunny show? YES!!! Rehearsals would be in New York City for two weeks and the tour would be for three months. Paid, Equity Contract, and suddenly all my dreams came true!
A Star Is Born
I don’t remember where I lived during that rehearsal period, but I do remember hearing Jennifer Holliday in the rehearsal space down the hall. Her voice was mind boggling, it was so powerful. Dream Girls was about to open on Broadway and she wasn’t yet the star she was about to become.
Just like me! I wasn’t yet the star I was about to become either! As part of the Atayde Circus and Roger Hess’s Production featuring Warner Bros characters in Bugs Bunny Circa Especial, I was about to become the Tasmanian Devil and Bugs’ understudy!!! Yeah, no kidding.
The story line had something to do with Bugs and friends going into outer space, encountering Darth Vadar, Wonder Woman or Mujer Maravilla, and circus acts. There were trapeze artists, baboons, elephants, horses, and a family of midget clowns. Then add Bugs and Daffy, Taz, and dancers. Mix in some Star Wars music and thousands of Mexican children. When two elephants linked their trunks together, I got to hop on in my Bugs costume and swing and wave to the crowd! That was my summer. I think we performed 12 shows per week. Some days were utterly exhausting, three-show days.
We all lived in the Zona Rosa neighborhood in a hotel that doubled as a brothel! We walked to and from the arena, had our daily spots for meals, and did laundry at the local laundromat. I experienced my first earthquake and my first horse race there. Some generous men wined and dined us American show girls throughout our stay. I remember Mariachi music, fancy nightclubs, and delicious meals. I remember that one of the acrobats broke his arm and would not be able to work for months. There was no workman’s compensation for him and no way to make a living during the time he was injured. It seemed acceptable to his family. It was part of his life as a circus performer.
On days off, we toured the ancient pyramids and enjoyed the culture of Mexico. The circus family fed us often and had dance parties after evening shows. Most of us did not speak Spanish and most of them did not speak English, but it never seemed to matter. They were wonderful people and always kind and warm.
Fast forward to our re-entry to New York and a U.S. Bugs tour the following winter. This time, I was Daffy Duck with four or five costume changes per show. We were on the road every few days, driving a van in snow throughout the Midwest. Again, stadiums packed with children watching their favorite Warner Bros. characters dancing on stage and acting out a story line. The show had something to do with Daffy, Porky Pig, and Bugs and their Sports Spectacular! We even performed at Madison Square Garden! Daffy in a jogging outfit, Daffy in a disco outfit, Daffy in a bathing suit.
Of all the fantastic memories and the wild adventures, my favorite story of all time is the moment that my beloved friend fell on her face, on stage. I know it sounds awful, but she was well protected because she was inside the giant shell of her Porky costume. Picture a hard shell Porky head that covers her entire body, only exposing her below the knees. Picture the giant feet we all clomped around in. Then picture her dancing onto the stage and tripping over a cord that probably shouldn’t have been there, and down she went. The show was of course, on tape. So the dialogue between the characters continued and Bugs and I tried to get Porky back up again. She couldn’t roll over and she couldn’t stand up. She could only flap her little Porky hands. Bugs and Daffy have hands with only four fingers and giant heads as well. So, now you have to picture us bending over to try to roll Porky face side up and get her on her feet again. The laughing begins. We are all hysterical and become weak with hilarity. Useless. The scene is going on and we are still fumbling around on the floor. Eventually, we got Porky up and the audience never knew our escapade wasn’t part of the show!
As ridiculous as it all sounds, the opportunity to be part of those shows is what set my adult life in motion. It led me to New York and triggered a dance career that led to a dance therapy career, which eventually lead to moving to California, where I met my husband, had my girls, became a school psychologist, and here I am!
It’s interesting that I can trace these moments back to Hatty. She was a virtual stranger to me and yet gave my life one of those profound nudges we all need. A random encounter with her lit a spark that illuminated my future. Ya just never know.
I suggest you pour a cup of decaf and think back to the beginning of some trajectory in your life. Trace it back and smile for the ways it moved you forward.