Performing arts

Helen Reddy and the cabbie from hell

I am happy to see that Helen Reddy, who popularized the anthem for the women’s movement in the 70’s, is coming out of retirement to resume her singing career.

I had an interesting encounter with Ms. Reddy, a long-time idol of mine, in 1996. My husband and I headed a community concert series in the 90’s and we chose Helen Reddy as our very first act to introduce our series to the community. We wanted someone with a big name and reputation to let the community know we were a legitimate group. We got more than we bargained for when we booked Ms. Reddy. She had a big name and a big reputation, at least among entertainment producers. She had a reputation for being a diva and difficult to please.

Preparing for opening night

We began months in advance making all the preparations for opening night. We plastered the town with posters; we rented a Lincoln Town Car for the weekend to chauffeur Ms. Reddy; we had a large welcome basket in her room with snacks and an assortment of teas since she would be arriving late; and the stage was decorated with plants, twinkling lights, and borrowed props making it look like something to rival Vegas.

A welcoming committee, which consisted of my husband, myself, and Frank the driver (who was a member of the concert series board), met her at the airport. Before arriving at the airport we nervously reviewed the plans. (We desperately wanted to make a good impression and hoped we didn’t look like the neophytes which we were.) After greeting her we would then escort her to the baggage claim area and wait for Frank to bring the car around. All he had to do was meet us at the exit nearest the claims area. It isn’t hard to miss because everyone gathers there to catch their rides or a shuttle bus. This sounds simple enough, but beware of simple plans. Ms. Reddy traveled with a single carry-on bag and did not need to go the claims area. This added a few extra minutes to our wait time so we took advantage of the time to get to know each other.

Beware of simple plans

We waited and waited (and waited and waited) but Frank never showed up. When more than enough time had passed John said he would go out to the curb to look for Frank leaving me to entertain Ms. Reddy alone. What do you say to a recording star, movie star, and multiple-award winner? After we had exhausted the small talk I notice her expertly manicured nails are impatiently tapping the handle of her suitcase. Meanwhile, John is avoiding the gathering storm clouds by waiting on the curb looking for Frank. I go out and tell him that she is nearly at the end of her patience and we need to do something—quick!

We decide to hail a cab for Ms. Reddy and John will look for Frank and meet us at the hotel. I tell her the good news/bad news that we have given up on Frank and will take a taxi. We crawl into a cab with a driver who barely speaks English and tell him we want the hotel that is nearest the airport. At this he shouts something, jumps out of the cab, and runs down the middle of the street waving his hands in the air.

The cab driver from hell

Ms. Reddy and I look at each other and she says, “Is he coming back?” I see the scene developing out the back window and have a sinking feeling. “I don’t think so,” I reply. Now what do I do? I have a travel weary diva on one hand and a crazed cab driver on the other. At that moment I see a security officer and run to tell him what has happened. He looks at the driver running down the middle of the traffic flow and says he’ll be back.

The cab driver finally returns mumbling unintelligent sentences. He gives us a lecture all the way to the hotel telling us we should have taken the airport shuttle bus. I tell him, in no uncertain terms, we didn’t want the shuttle but he totally ignores me. This episode has taken quite a bit of time and I expect to see John pacing the lobby of the hotel when we arrive but instead they pull into the parking lot just ahead of us.

While I was dealing with the crabby cabbie, John searched the parking garage for Frank the chauffeur. John found him standing beside the parked car with the trunk lid open waiting for Ms. Reddy to haul her luggage to the car. John was surprised to see us arriving at the hotel so late and asked what happened. “You won’t believe it,” I said. “We had the cab driver from hell.”

You learn from experience

Everything seemed to be working against us that night. Both drivers must have gotten into the same batch of spiked juicy-juice which made them a little crazy.  Our patience were tested but Ms. Reddy saw we were trying hard to keep her happy and make a good impression. She couldn’t have been nicer. She gave us a splendid performance the next night and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

 After this difficult beginning all other shows were easy. As they say, “you learn from experience”.




A 1933 audience to a Gilbert and Sullivan perf...

Image via Wikipedia

I recently received a flyer in the mail for the upcoming summer season at an outdoor amphitheater. After looking over descriptions of the acts, I noticed on the last page subscription information and, at the bottom of the page, a section on Theatre Etiquette.

How sad, that in today’s world we need to inform the audience on how to act. The last sentence says, “In an effort to be considerate of our performers and other audience members, we request that you refrain from any unnecessary talking during the show.” This should be such a part of our accepted standards of behavior that it shouldn’t be necessary to include in an etiquette guide. Every child, from a very early age, should be taught by his parents and teachers that we don’t talk while others are talking. In addition, every school child should know how to show respect to the performers on stage. We are quite and attentive during the performance and show appreciation by applauding at the end of the performance.

I might also add that the audience remains seated until the entire performance is completed. I have attended too many live performances, whether a concert or play, where the audience jumps up and runs for the exits before those on stage have taken their bows. This is the height of rudeness to the performers who have just spent the last couple of hours putting all their energies into a production to entertain us. Whatever it is that is pulling the audience members out of the theatre at that moment, can wait for a few more minutes while we give the performers our thanks and appreciations. And, if the adulation is enthusiastic enough the performers might honor us with one more song or chorus in the form of an encore. If we truly loved the performance, then the audience may rise to give the performers a standing ovation. Please note, again, this is not the cue to run for the cars.

The etiquette guide also reminds us to turn off cell phones and pagers. This should also be a given fact of life, but I have noticed that all too many people are playing with their PDAs during a performance or show, which distracts the performers and audience members.

A live performance is not the time to run up and down the aisles or change seats. I once attended a concert by a contemporary artist where there were many young adults in attendance. These people were old enough to know better but from their actions I can only assume they were not accustomed to attending a concert in a theatre as opposed to a stadium or outdoor venue. Before the show began they were ushered to their reserved seats but then decided they didn’t like where they were sitting. We watched in amazement while a large majority of the audience members ran about the theatre testing various seats. Once they settled into a new seat, then the person holding that seat ticket arrived and the process started again. Even after the show began many continued to run up and down the aisles.

Perhaps it is a good idea that the producers of this summer stock theatre decided to publish a guide to theatre etiquette but it is a sad state of affairs that it is needed.