In an earlier episode of my life I was an Implementation Consultant in the field of human resources database systems. As such, I worked for three international companies over a span of 15 years, and to this day I still don’t really understand how I got into that line of work in the first place.
At one point during the course of my career as an Implementation Consultant I found myself working on a year-and-a-half long project for the San Francisco Opera, backstage, in the administrative offices, spending most of my time in meetings with people discussing such things as: mainframe applications; ancient COBOL programming; how much supernumeraries get paid; which benefits are taxable for which types of taxes; and the amount of extra pay performers are required, by the various unions, to get paid for appearing naked on stage wearing nothing but body paint or having to transport their own tuba to and from performances on BART. Fascinating stuff. Really. The most interesting part of working there, I found — aside from being invited to sit in the directors box on more than one occasion, thus having the opportunity to do the ‘queenly wave’ to the masses staring up at the box from down below – was listening to live opera every single day, as the entire office area backstage, on all floors was rigged with a speaker system such that rehearsals and performances happening on the stage could be heard in every corner of the building by everyone. Heaven!
During this same period of my life I was invited by some friends to attend a Jimmy Buffett concert at a huge ice hockey arena. Not knowing anything about Jimmy Buffet, his music or his fan base, I dressed myself all in black and planned for an evening of music, of some sort. Needless to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb, or more accurately like the lone “person in black” among 17,496 Margaritaville fans. I was the only one who wasn’t wearing a colorful plastic Hawaiian lei with shorts, a tank top, sunglasses, a grass hat and flip flops. My bad. I didn’t know, but I loved being there in those seats to the rear of the stage, looking at Jimmy Buffett and his band from behind, just the same.
Then my cat died. My sweet, loving, white, fluffy, Himalayan cat with the smooshed-in face up and died on me. It was a very sad day when I had him cremated.
But what, if anything does the San Franicisco Opera, Jimmy Buffett and a dead cat have to do with theater you might ask? Well the answer is e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, at least to me it does.
You see, working all those weeks and months at the Opera House made me realize there were a lot of people doing something much more fun with their days, every day, than I was, and they were getting paid to do something they loved, body paint and all. And the view I had from those seats at the ice arena from behind the stage allowed me to view the other half of the ice arena — it was the same view that the people on stage had of the audience – and it made me realize that I would much, much rather be on the stage, or at least a vital part of the production, rather than just sitting in my arena seat tapping my toes and clapping. And the dead cat, well the dead cat reminded me that life is short and that if there is anything I want to do, I should just go ahead and do it, because I’ve got just one shot at life and there is no coming back from a pile of ashes to give it a second try.
So, after I finished the project at the Opera House, I quit my job and headed into the world of lights, sounds, auditions, music, stage managing, dancing, singing, acting, and production managing, and while there is still much computer work to do here, I think I’ll stay. It’s not Margaritaville, and I like it.
Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.