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Ed Smith: No business like show business


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. How? Turn the page. Close your eyes. Stop reading — if you haven’t already done so. If you get to the end of this semi-autobiographical material and discover that “I knew that!” you can stop then.

Ed Smith column head

This column is about humiliation. Most of us have had occasion to taste this bitter little pill from time to time. However, from listening to others recount harrowing life stories of their own, I have come to the conclusion that I have had slightly more than my fair share. I’m not sure if this is partially due to the fact that I have lived slightly more than my fair share of years, or to the undeniable fact that on occasion I have had a distressing tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread.

Not being overly concerned about being ridiculed by my adoring public, I have admitted to some of these incidents in the past. It is not necessary to repeat any of them here. I am certain I have not been stun enough to tell you about what is probably the greatest humiliation of my young life to date. Perhaps I have just blocked it out until now. Thank you for your understanding.

I saw the poster on the Dalhousie bulletin board within moments of it being placed there.

ATTENTION! Students with acting and/or singing stage experience: auditions will be held Saturday evening in the English theatre at 6 p.m. for the Dalhousie Players production of the Broadway Musical “Finian’s Rainbow.”

Wow! Was that intended for me, or what! I mean, I could sing, man! Spent my adolescence learning the vocal stylings and tonal quality of Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger of Grand Ole Opry fame. And stage experience? Didn’t my father sometimes let me bless the collection in church? People would comment on my “pulpit presence,” even as a small boy. This stuff was made for me! I was a shoo-in for a major role in this production.

I was late getting to the auditions — missed the bus on Oxford Street. Don’t know what I was expecting to see inside the theatre but it was sure not what I found. Several dozen people were sitting in front of the stage in various little groups. Central among them, by the deference everyone else was showing him, was the professional director the university had hired to do the show, a.k.a. TGM (The Great Man).

TGM, surrounded by a bevy of clipboard-clutching assistants, was very much in charge, calling people to the stage to do their thing for three or four minutes and then dismissing them after notes had been made with no parting comment — a kind of separating-the-sheep-from-the-goats exercise. I watched all this with great interest and supreme confidence. Not one of them sounded the least like the Singing Ranger.

Then suddenly there it was: “Ed Smith — is Ed Smith here?”

“Yes, sir!”

And I strode up to that stage like “Casey, Mighty Casey, advancing to the bat” (Google “Casey at the Bat” — you’ll get the idea). I turned to face the auditorium and TGM himself, entourage, hangers-on and all, and launched into my rendition of that Hank Snow classic, “Down the Trail of Achin’ Hearts.” The first line came out smooth as silk — and then I died.

I realized two things at once. First, I was one grade level and a few months removed from a one-room all-grade school, with elocution skills to match, and second, my hands and arms felt like they belong to someone roughly five times my size. So I stopped dead.

The silence was deafening. TGM was looking at me as though he not only expected an explanation but deserved one, too. So I gave him one.
“Sorry, Sir, but I don’t know w’at to do wit’ me ’ands.”

The combination of a strong dialect with the nasal twang of a country song no doubt made quite an impression. The Great Man’s response to me and his appreciative audience was almost immediate.

“If I were you,” he said, “I would put them over my mouth.”

A dark curtain is drawn over the rest of the session. Just let me say this: partway through rehearsals for that show, the university fired TGM. And the year after that, I got the role of third deputy sheriff in “Paint Your Wagon.”

Talk about vindication!

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

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