It felt like a dream, but it wasn’t.
I was told to get into the trailer. It was a vintage 1959 Dalton. Bright pink. Squeezed inside the 12-foot space were 5 of us. 4 men and one woman. One of us would be dead within the hour – at the hands of one of the others.
Garish light came though the small square of window in the door. Strange, lilting music wafted in from outside. Suddenly, the full pane was filled with the faces of the locals – trying to figure out who we were and what we were doing there. They demanded that we show ourselves. The Big Guy stuck his head out the window and shouted at them. The villagers responded by pushing against the side of the trailer, making it shake and tilt. We held on to keep our balance. Outside the door, the locals sang an excited song in a language I didn’t understand.
The Big Guy turned to me, “You got an agent? Cause I’ve got this friend who’s a juggler and he’s really hoping to get an agent.”
Was this really the time to talk shop? I wasn’t in the mood. Preoccupied. I knew that in just a few minutes, I had to try to set fire to a clown.
Without warning, the lithe, acrobatic man next to me flung open the door. There was no turning back. I nervously lit my torch. The woman smiled sweetly, touched my hand and said, “Have fun!” I stepped out into blinding lights – on to the stage of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. The villagers and the trailer? All part of the production. I was appearing in Pagliacci, and my big scene was coming up.
It wasn’t a dream. It was opera.
When I first heard about New York City Opera’s need for a juggler/fire-breather, I figured it was already too late. My wife Kobi had found the notice posted in an online forum for circus performers. She brought it to my attention a full day after it had gone out. Chances were good that somebody on the East Coast would be on that right away. I mean, as specialized as it is to be a juggler/fire-eater, there are thousands of us out there.
Chances were slim, I knew, but the chances would be even slimmer if I did nothing.
I left a message saying, “I hear that you are looking for a juggler/fire-eater. That’s what I do.” There, I cast the die. It was pretty exciting to be able to make the call. But, it was time to get my kid to school, so off I went – even while allowing myself to daydream about the impossible possibility - that I could suddenly (and quite unexpectedly) be performing in an opera at Lincoln Center.
Duty done. Child delivered to school. Home again.
My wife met me at the door. “He CALLED! You have to call this guy back! I think you might have the job!”
The phone call had me breathless. I fumbled for the calendar. I scurried for a pen. My heart pounded in my ears. Questions asked and answered. Was it actually going to work out?
Then came the question I had to ask: “Did you want fire-eating or fire-breathing?”
Perhaps an explanation is in order: Fire-eating is a process by which the performer takes a lit torch and carefully lowers it into his mouth. Upon closing of the mouth, the available oxygen is used up and the flame goes out quickly.
Fire-breathing involves a torch, as well. But this time, it is held at arm’s length. A small amount of combustible liquid is put in the performer’s mouth. With a sudden and explosive aspiration, the liquid travels in little droplets and passes over the exposed flame. A fireball!
Do I eat fire? Yes. Do I breathe fire? NO.
I always thought it was too dangerous and not really worth the risk. But when Lincoln Center calls and asks if you can breathe fire, you say “Yes!”
This was going to be a quick and steep learning curve. I had 24 hours.
(To Be Continued….click to Part Two)