I believe that performers, like cats, have 9 lives. And I also believe that I have already used up five of mine. Below, in chronological order, I offer to you the five times I have might have died, or at least been gravely injured, in the line of my performing duty. (but didn't!)
While in college, I performed with CCNY’s Musical Comedy Society. One night, while singing “I Wonder Why”, the Dion and the Belmont’s hit, I was blinded by a strong spot light and stepped right off the stage. This blunder could have snapped my spine or at least broken a leg, but I luckily landed well; dazed but relatively unharmed. I was however only semi-conscious after the fall and remember nothing of what happened next. The cast told me that I continued singing, crawled to the nearest person in the audience and started serenading her. She turned out to be the president of the University’s wife. There was no serious bodily harm to either of us, but one of my nine lives had been used up.
Cut to 1982, when I was in rehearsals for the Tony-Award Winning Musical “Barnum”. We were all working on the teeterboard, trying to see who could learn it well enough, in 4 weeks, to perform it in the show. I was doing so well on the mechanic, (the harness that is attached to your waist with ropes, and secured by a strong spotter) that I decided to try my back layout without the mechanic. The two pushers gave me a great lift and I soared 15 feet in the air, like an eagle. Unfortunately, this "eagle" needed some flying lessons. I didn’t rotate quite enough, and started a head-down trajectory towards the mat. This would definitely have been the end of my short yet non-iillustrious career, if Alexandre (Sasha) Pavlata, our amazing circus trainer, (who was built like a, well, world-class circus performer), hadn't jumped in and basically, single-handedly, broke my fall. Bruises were had by all, but still I continued to live. Life "number two", however, was gone!
During the national tour of the same show, I was continually trying to perfect my flying trapeze swing, since I understudied the guy that did it in the show. I was working with Jeff, the Dance Captain of the show, one day at the YMCA in New Orleans, using the gymnastic rings as a surrogate trapeze. After an hour of practice, Jeff decide I should learn the move called the “dislocate”. (so called because you can dislocate your brain from your head if you do it wrong.) Well, when I regained consciousness, Jeff told me that I somehow whacked myself in the head with one of the wooden rings and hit the very thin mat below like a sack of potatoes. I was out for 10 minutes and ended up getting 13 stitches. Adios life "number three".
The same show took life "number four". While performing in Barnum, at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, I was standing 40 feet above the stage on a small platform, ready to make an announcement as the Ringmaster. I was then to grab a nearby rope and slide straight down to the stage, say another line, and then exit. This feat is accomplished with a simple leather sleeve. This sleeve is about 12 inches long and is sewn onto the rope. When I was ready to slide, I would grab the sleeve and jump. By twisting the sleeve in opposing directions with my wrists, I was able to control my descent. (up to a point.) That is unless the sleeve folds up under itself and jams on to the rope, bringing you to a rather abrupt stop about 15 feet from the stage. At this point one has a choice, and only one second to make it. Leave the sleeve behind and slide down the rope with bare hands, or release the rope altogether and jump. I did a little of both, and managed to escape certain serious injury with just some really nice rope burns on my hands. It being mid-show, a stage hand just sprayed my hands with antiseptic numbing spray and sent me out for my next cue.
My "fifth life" went whizzing by me as I unintentionally flipped backwards off of a rolling globe. A rolling globe is a fiberglass globe, used mostly in circuses, that a person or animal balances on, as they roll around the ring. We were using this rolling globe in one of our many “Dream Collectors” shows, and I had neglected to wet-wipe the globe and the center section of stage I was to perform on that day. As I jump-mounted the globe, the combination of dust on my shoes and more dust under the globe, caused my legs to fly up towards the sky, and my lower back to land squarely on the ball. The sound it made was frightening, and the sound the audience and the other performers made on the stage was worse. Everyone was sure I had broken my spine. But, not only did I not break my spine, I actually rolled on to the ground, stood up, and remounted the globe to continue the piece. I escaped without a scratch!
So, todays lesson is: I you want to "make it" in show business, you have to be willing to bleed a little. Or in my case, A LOT! But I’m not worried, I’ve still got four lives left!