I've never even been to the opera.

(originally posted January 12, 2010)

Last October I auditioned for an acrobat role with the San Francisco Opera. That’s right, I took BART to the City on a torrentially rainy Tuesday, was admitted through the North Stage Door and directed up to the 6th floor ballet studio where I tried to imagine I fit in with the dozens of leotard-clad dancers, most of whom appeared to have done this many times before in their lives which had obviously been shorter than mine.

A subset of those folks were staying for the acrobat portion. We stretched and warmed up, and then showed Larry what we could do. He was looking for back handsprings (preferably 8 in a row), arial cartwheels, and handstands, mostly.

For about 2 1/2 years now I’ve been teaching kids’ karate classes at a dojo in Berkeley. One of the practice areas there is this enticing mat space. Sometime in 2008 it beckoned me to pull some of my old gymnastics tricks out of the bag where they’d been packed up since around 1984. Cartwheels, one-arm cartwheels, and after a month or so: arial cartwheels (no hands). Back bends, walkovers, front handsprings, and after about 8 months: back handsprings. Handstands. Walking on my hands. Handstand pirouettes. Every Monday from 4:00 - 4:15 I practice, then I go over to the floor and teach class. It’s become a ritual. I did it again this week.

In September, Rita, a parent at the dojo, told me about this audition and encouraged me to give it a go. she had performed with the Opera herself and was planning to try again for a dance part. I thought: Ok, what the heck? The worst that can happen is I’ll come away with a good story.

Larry needed 3 female acrobats plus and alternate. I was one of 3 who got a call-back for a second audition, this time on a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon before Halloween. Now, obviously the perfect ending of this story would be: I got a part! Come see me in Aida next fall! The true story is that several younger, more nimble, circus-acrobats-in-training-type of gals showed up at the next audition, and I didn’t get a part.

However, I DID find out in the process that my 44 year-old body can still do more than I would have ever imagined (ok, not 8 but 7 consecutive back handsprings, and tumbling combos I hadn’t busted out until audition time). My ego is no worse for the wear, because the thrill was certainly in the experience—and in the random purposefulness of those 15-minute practice sessions, which still make me feel like a kid in the best way. Plus I got two cool backstage Opera House guest badges to add to my stash of collage materials.

I had been formulating a big lecture for this blog entry about setting New Year’s goals that are measurable and achievable—until I realized that one of my favorite accomplishments of 2009 was completely unplanned and unintentional, not to mention unsuccessful by standard measures. So instead I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Harold Thurman Whitman

I challenge you to call back your kid spirit this year. You never know what backstage doors are waiting to open for you.

above photo credit: Erik Giske