When I was about 20, through a series of complete flukes, I got a job working as a costume assistant for the U.S. tour of a small Russian ballet company. This was before Glasnost, Russians were exotic creatures in those days. We had the FBI come and ask us questions, it was all very interesting.
I didn’t know anything about dealing with costumes, but my friend K who got me the job did. We were traveling with the ballet company across 21 U.S. cities in 10 weeks. As it turned out, we didn’t have any of the union waivers we needed to actually work on costumes, so mostly we screwed around and chased boys and drank too much.
We did occasionally get a task to do, mostly photocopying or selling t-shirts. Finally, about 17 weeks in, we got the chance to work on a costume.
A red twill tutu needed new hooks and eyes sewn on it. The union wardrobe master ceremoniously gave this task to K, whose chief aim in life was to work on costumes professionally. But K had a pretty hot date, so she foisted it off on me.
“Er,” I said.
I’m actually fairly handy with a needle, if you’re talking about a little light hemming or even some embroidery. But this was a different animal altogether.
“Do it,” said K with a little pissed-off growl.
I figured what the hell. Since I didn’t have a hot date, I did it.
A few things to understand
First of all, there is nothing smellier than a pre-Glasnost ballerina. From the audience you see an ethereal smiling stick insect floating around like gravity didn’t apply to her. From backstage, you realize she’s sweating like a racehorse–and these costumes get cleaned maybe once a quarter.
Plus, these were burly, deodorant-disdaining Soviet ballerinas. It was bad.
Second, those costumes are made out of buckram, which as near as I can tell is canvas stiffened with concrete. I just about needed pliers to get a needle in and out of this thing. There was clearly a smart way to do this–but I didn’t know what that was.
I can still remember what it was like, eight sets of hooks and eyes, and me trying to line these stupid pieces of metal up properly, jamming the needle into my thumb trying to get it to go through the buckram.
I did manage to get all eight attached in a roughly straight line to this stinky red costume, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t do a very pretty job of it.
Weeks passed, not much happened. K and I continued to chase boys and drink too much. One of the dancers actually defected, which, looking back on it, was a complete non-event, although we all thought it was very serious and important at the time.
As we were wrapping the tour up, I had a drink with the union wardrobe master, a sweet and funny guy who I liked a lot. We started talking about K’s burning desire to work on costumes professionally.
The wardrobe master snorted. “I don’t think so. I gave her a simple job to do to see how she handled it. She’s a total incompetent. She has no idea what she’s doing.”
I had no idea if it was worse to say nothing or to admit that she’d ditched the job and let me do it. I didn’t say anything, which was probably wrong. But there wasn’t much I could do for her at that point.
The person who could have opened many, many doors to the profession she wanted had given her an audition. Which she failed, because she didn’t show up.
When’s your next audition?
You’re getting more chances than you realize to strut your stuff for someone who could help you.
(I’m convinced that this is how the “Law of Attraction” really works. Great stuff doesn’t show up because you focus on it. You’re just able to suddenly perceive all the great stuff that’s always been right in front of you, because you focus on it. )
You’re distracted by trivia. You’re working on what’s easy because you’re scared to work on what matters.
Maybe you’re afraid of looking dumb, so you don’t show up at all. Maybe you’re watching performers audition on reality TV, instead of getting ready for your own audition.
You have an audition coming. It might be tomorrow. It might be this afternoon. What do you need in order to ace it? More courage? More stubbornness? Just more practice?
What could you do today to get ready?
Flickr Creative Commons image by Andrew_Baron