Eyes closed, earphones in, I am alone. Whitney Houston whispers in my ear: ‘if I should stay…’ in this secret world only I alone can access. The light tap on the snare drum unlocks something, I take a deep breath, and belt out like I never would sing again.
‘I will always love you…’
Eyes closed, earphones in, except I am not alone. I’m pretty sure I’m singing out of tune, but whatever. I am standing on the Memorial Auditorium stage, singing to a full house of Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On. (Please go watch it on YouTube if you haven’t already) My ITALIC classmates sit at both sides of the audience, professors too – usually I would be red with embarrassment, but for the moment I do not care.
So to put this performance into context, let me tell you a little about my amazing talent in the performing arts. In high school, my physics class decided to prepare a dance number to a K-Pop song for our senior prom, and we officially determined that my motor-coordination skills were worse than dismal. Coming to Stanford, momentarily inspired by the acapella groups during O-show, I decided to audition for one of them, but never plucked up the courage to actually attend the audition. My Latino friends have been trying for the past 6 months to teach me the basics of bachata and salsa, but I think they’ve given up. Bottom line: I don’t sing, and I don’t dance, and I simply can’t perform.
One last shot, I decided when I joined ITALIC, Stanford’s residential arts immersion program, and an experience that promised me a crazy freshman year filled with art practice, philosophy and history. An email came looking for performers, “no experience required”, for an upcoming production sponsored by the ITALIC program. No auditions required too! Yay. Sending in my photo and a short bio about myself, I expected to hear nothing but the sweet sound of silence and ‘no-reply’.
Who knew, by some mysterious force of the universe, I was chosen to join the cast! Yay! It turns out that we were a crew of 20-odd Stanford affiliates across a 50-year age gap. Some, like Diane Frank from the Dance faculty and Robert Moses, were big names in the Bay Area dance scene, while others, like myself and a 70-year-old SLAC physicist, were the complete opposite. In hindsight, this was a classic example of “being thrown into the deep end”, without having much of a life buoy near you.
So how did we get from shy 19-year-old Sherlock-loving sofa-loving nerd to don’t-really-care-about-singing-out-of-tune-to-audience-of-700 me? To be honest, the 8 weeks in between were quite the blur (I read somewhere that post-trauma people’s can deliberately force their brains to forget things). Vague fragments include:
Thinking of 5 million ways to shake my hand for a full 4 minutes to the song “I like to move it” that we know so well from the Madagascar franchise
Contemplating the meaning of life as I stood off-corner of the stage during rehearsal 3 seconds before my “I will always love you” line
Trying not to spoil the surprise for my classmates during a ‘sneak preview’ workshop during ITALIC class
Learning at some point that my role in this performance was to be that sincere, try-hard individual whose futile efforts to perform well elicit tears of endearment
Being the Stanford student that you are, you’re probably already plotting how best to maximize your Stanford experience, for whatever outcome you hope to optimize for. (There’s a reason terms like FOMO exist.) You probably already know you want to join that acapella team or do that life-changing research in some lab with some Nobel Prize winner, or that you’re going to create the next Snapchat for puppies. I did too, but some part of me decided to go the complete opposite direction. And boy was it fun.
Class of 2017