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Real Things We Learned as a Fake Band

A five minutes break is not enough break.
Sets run from twenty to twenty-three minutes, depending on the combination of unintelligible howlings playing. We only have one working animatronic man, who we call Rusty, left to provide relief for me, Kelly, Rog, and Ryan. Although we're down two band members, and we have more time individually with Rusty, we still have to forage food and attempt to sleep through this infernal racket. Point being, it's extremely difficult to escape when we're only able to plan in five-minute bursts.
Everyone's not cut out for showbiz.
It's easy enough for me because I remember Showbiz, the kid-centric pizza place my parents used to take me to. I tap into my childhood, happier times, and see the animatronic animals jamming on stage. Loved it so much I remember the band name. Rock-afire Explosion. So for twenty minutes at a time, I am Rock-afire, I am the Showbiz bear singing lead. I pretend to jam away on a completely foreign instrument with a long handle and a dozen foot-long strings all housed at the bottom, an instrument I tell myself is not a broom. My eyes do the occasional long, deliberate blink. My mouth moves. My head turns. I survive.
Not everyone's been to Showbiz Pizza, or Chuck E. Cheese's for that matter. You need something happy to tap into, especially those times when your hope for the future runs dry. Elsa couldn't hack it. She went from faking at the piano thingy that looks like a chest freezer, her multi-colored nails dancing about haphazardly, to running off stage screaming.
Stage presence is important
Performance pressure can get to any band, even a fake one. Damien walked off stage once in frustration. That kind of unprofessionalism will lead to ruin. Learn to deal with sucky situations. Here's what helps me:
Ever been to a pit barbecue place and seen cartoon pictures of a pig cooking a slab of ribs? The pig is smiling, maybe wearing a white chef's hat and an apron, and the ribs have little steam squiggles rising off of them and it's all so cute?
Just because the pig's smiling doesn't mean he's happy about it. But he's got a job to do. Do the job with a smile.
It's easy enough to forget where you came from
We've been stars for so long, you see. It's hard to remember a time when we weren't on stage. At this point, how we rose to stardom is a matter of debate. Sometimes the debate takes the full five-minute break.
We all remember our nondescript, unassuming lives before. And, of course, we all remember the holding pen, and our escape, the frantic flight through oddly shaped, dimly lit corridors until we stumbled upon this stage. The sight of it was bizarre enough to stop us in our tracks, which kept us out of the spotlight and likely saved our asses. In front of us, fake people performed herky-jerky in front of an unseen audience. Behind us, the noise of pursuit loomed closer. Then the curtain came down, and with no identifiable exits besides the way back or beyond the curtain, I had the bright idea of swapping ourselves out for the animatronic mockups.
That's the easy stuff to recall. But how we got here, into those holding pens in the first place, none of us remembers.
Poor stage lighting is worse than no lighting at all.
Our lighting is horrible. It's harsh like burger lamps at fast food restaurants. The lights shift to illuminate in neon greens and cobalt blues and lava reds on a particular band member at different times, so the audience can watch that person fake their way through a solo of harsh, shrilly keening no human can truly utter.
This light is just bright enough that we can see tables and seats in a big room before us, but nothing other than darkness beyond. A horde of creatures sits at these tables, staring at us. Some stare with a thousand small eyes, others with one giant orb. Their mandibles click together, their tentacles waver, their course hairs bristle.
While they watch us fake our way through another set, other creatures bring them trays. Some trays have human arms piled high. The skin is crisp and they're often slathered with brown or lavender sauces. Other trays have human legs, which were harder to recognize at first. The foot's removed, the legs are bent at the knees to form a V, and they have a lumpy, golden texture where the leg has been deep-fried.
I have tried many times, countless times, to look beyond the tables to see what lies there. But the lights shift, with their blues and greens and reds. I get perhaps three seconds after the finale, when the lights finally quiet down, as the curtain's slowly descending, to look for some way to escape.
Only focus on the things that matter.
We've stopped wondering about the unnecessary. We don't know if these things are aliens or demons or monsters. We don't know if we're in an intergalactic "To Serve Man" cafe, dead and in hell, or where the wild things are. We've stopped wondering if these creatures know we're real humans acting like fake humans and are only letting us live because we're entertaining, like seeing real pigs wear sunglasses and play the blues in a rib shack. We've stopped wondering because none of that matters. We're pros now. When we saw a tray of arms hosting a pair of hands with multi-colored nails, we kept our game faces smiling. The only way to make it in this business is to keep your focus for things that do matter. Like escape. And until we have a better plan than running blindly from the stage, we never forget the one thing we learned whether we wanted to or not.
The show must go on.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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