Adira Amram is the kind of performer you want to see when the show turns into a party. It gives me great pleasure to present our first Nightmare Gig at a children’s party. The kids will grow up to appreciate Amram. -ed.
When asked to reflect on the gigs that brought chills to my bones, inspired heartstopping nausea and sleepless nights there are just so many gems to choose. Do I write about the time I flew to Chicago, five months pregnant on Spirit Airlines, to perform at a private event where 300 people were expected to attend and roughly 12 people showed up and then not getting paid until my son was 3 days old? Or do I write about performing in LA and backstage in a room full of my comedy idols a very famous comedian’s girlfriend said something so cutting and cruel that I broke down in hysterical tears in the adjacent green room? Or when I performed at a benefit at a middle school in NJ and one of our male dancers forgot his underwear, had to go commando, and his penis jangled like a janitor’s keys through his spandex costume? The question remained, do I reminisce about how audiences made me sob? Instead I decided to travel down memory lane and remember the time I made one special audience member bawl her eyes out.
I wrote a song I perform with my fabulous dancers and my life partners in crime, Jessi and Maresa aka The Experience, called “Pizza Party”. It’s basic premise is about how pizza is the greatest thing in the world and how everyone wants to eat it and of course there’s lots of choreographed dancing to express that message. A message I know that everyone can get behind! As fate would have it, my friend Sarah saw this song and had an inspired idea. Her daughter was about to turn five and she was having a pizza party in the basement of a music venue in Brooklyn to celebrate. She wanted to know if I would come and perform the song for the kids.
My gut told me this was not a good idea. Like most people, I often get myself into trouble when I don’t listen to gut. Like when I performed at a rave in South Williamsburg and after my set thought it would be a good idea to try their homemade absinthe, which in retrospect was probably licorice flavored roofie juice. Just say no, y’all!
In my gut I know I’m not a children’s performer. Kids like Raffi. Actually kids love Raffi. In general kids like most soft spoken folk singers who play acoustic guitar and on occasion break out an egg shaker and sing songs about green speckled frogs and of course the mighty beluga whale. If asked most any day I’d say I don’t think my work aligns very much with that world.
But I thought, maybe I did have some sort of secret talent as a children’s performer that I didn’t realize and all I needed was someone to see that gift inside of me. Like in the movies when they find out the scrawny kid with glasses and a lisp is actually the best competitive ice dancer the world has ever seen and all it took was the one down on his luck coach to recognize he had something deep inside him no one else could see. I started to convince myself that maybe Sarah was onto something, maybe I could be Raffi 2.0 and the children of the world were just waiting for me.
I said yes. And so it was that I arrived on a Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., not exactly showbiz time, to a pizza party in full swing. The kids were appropriately stuffing themselves with pizza, candy and any other forbidden treats they could get their tiny paws on. The parents looked exhausted as they nursed babies and/or beers and gobbled down pizza slices half eaten by their kids while chatting over the musical catalogue of Katy Perry.
I was introduced to the sweet birthday girl, who I had only seen in pictures and of course was even more adorable in person, as kids tend to be. She was dressed in many shades of pink and purple and with her long braided hair was reminiscent of a tiny Coney Island mermaid. Predictably she was indifferent to meeting another of her Mom’s friends, but was very polite and shook my hand. I met Grandma and some other very kind Aunties who were very excited to meet “the entertainah”. They asked me how long I’ve been performing at kids parties. I sheepishly told them this was the first one but maybe this was my new calling and was met with apprehensive glances. They must have sensed what was to happen next.
The master plan was that I would sing “Pizza Party,” the kids would lose their shit because OMG! THEY WERE AT A PIZZA PARTY, HOW FUCKING META. Then they would go wild, maybe some spontaneous crowd surfing would irrupt, singing along with me while swept up in the hot jams I was laying down. In short, I would rock their tiny bodies like a fucking hurricane. Immediately after I’d go into a snappy “Happy Birthday,” they’d bring out the cake, she’d blow out the candles, make a wish that I, her favorite singer, would perform at all of her birthdays for the rest of her life and all would be right in the world. But things went a little differently.
Back at the party, I was stuffing my third tiny slice of pizza into my face because I’m an adult woman who does what she wants with her body, when Sarah came over to me to tell me it was showtime. I went backstage, peeled off my jumpsuit to reveal one of my gaudy but fabulous costumes and waited to hear the music start. The song started, too loud for young ears and made louder by the small audience of tiny people, and I came out guns blazing.
As I began to sing, I looked around for our birthday girl but she was was nowhere to be found. The music was pumping and I was giving these preschoolers my all. They finally found her, she was hiding with the bartender behind the bar. Her mother took her reluctant child by the hand to the front. Foolishly I started to sing right at her with full on, unbroken, direct eye contact. To make it even worse, I began singing her name and telling everyone to sing along as I improvised a verse for her. She looked at her mom for help, her mom smiled back, encouraging her to have fun and a moment later I could see her starting to really crumble. It was all too much, too loud, to bright, too much sugar, too many eyes on her at once and a crazed stranger sing-shouting at her. She burst out in tears. And not just a little crying, a full on meltdown. Her loving family immediately came to comfort her. But I was only half way through the song, and with the motto “the show must go on” so firmly implanted into my psyche I forged ahead while the audience averted their attention to crisis situation on the dance floor. She was in shambles.
The song ended, I was met with a spattering of applause from well meaning parents, and I abruptly jumped off stage. I nervously fumbled getting my things together as the Katy Perry began to blast once more. I tried to sneak out but her mother caught my eye to sweetly thank me and I awkwardly apologized to her for ruining her daughter’s party. I felt terrible. I walked out into the Park Slope daylight with a new respect for children’s entertainers and reminded myself that I should trust my gut, not just fill it with pizza.