Harand Camp of the Theater Arts is now in its third home in Wisconsin, but when I attended, it was in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Cabins were named, in the most part, for musicals: South Pacific (older boys); Plain & Fancy; Camelot; Brigadoon; Carousel; LaMancha. Our athletic field was Green Pastures; the main building was Wonderful Town. We swam On the Waterfront. (Okay, not a musical.) As for theaters, we had two — Carnegie Hall, inside Wonderful Town, and the Forrest Tucker Theater in the town of Elkhart Lake.
Put Forrest Tucker aside for now, difficult as that might be. Carnegie Hall was a bit odd, as stages go – bilevel, with a pole at the center that had to be incorporated into every number. And because parents paying to send their kids to summer camp want to see their darlings perform, there was one immutable law of choreography at Harand: In every number, there was a moment when FRONT LINE GOES BACK AND BACK LINE GOES FRONT.
And then there was Nancy Goldman, the most gifted dancer in our age group and my best friend. Nancy was such a natural stage presence that she was known as Front-and-Center Goldman. When they called the wind Maria, she embodied the dancing breeze. When Sky Masterson petitioned luck to be a lady, she was dancing in the center of all those gamblers down in the sewer. She also danced Louise in Carousel, Dream Laurey in Oklahoma. And if Sulie and Pearl, the Harand sisters, had ever given our age group West Side Story, Nancy would have danced the Somewhere ballet.
Front-and-Center had a birthday this week. Two days later, I found myself front and center, on a stage, a place I hadn’t been for a long, long time. It was the inaugural session of Baltimore’s Stories from the Stoop, a pretty cool storytelling event. Our theme was failure, with seven Baltimoreans telling seven-minute stories about their own failures. But I chose to define true failure as mediocrity, not being good enough. Max Weiss, a Baltimore writer (and a woman, by the way) who told a killer story about being tortured by Jamaica Kincaid while in her writing class, asked me if I knew “Amadeus,” and if I had ever found any other works about people who know themselves to be mediocre. I brought up Jon Colapinto’s ABOUT THE AUTHOR, although I’m not sure it’s exactly in that vein.
Today, I remember, that I had also long ago recognized my own mediocrity as a performer. In part, because I was surrounded by people who were so good. Not only Front-and-Center Goldman, but also Caryn Lindinksi and Cheri Butcher and Betsy True and Jim Traber, an outstanding singer who was also a pretty good athlete; he played for the Orioles for a couple of seasons.
So, tales of mediocrity. Is there something you love to do, but concluded you’ll never be good at? Do you still do it? Does anyone ever realize they’re mediocre? Or is it the flip side of good taste and a sense of humor, the two qualities that we all insist we have?
Stories of woe from the children of Lake Woebegon, after the jump. But also Cornelia’s starred Kirkus review. Because some of us really are above average.