Oct 14, 2006

Rota Day 2: "Saturday Night Fiasco"

Saturday, October 7, 2006

A scene from our Fiesta performance Saturday night. A night filled with fiascos but also with miracles.

Sabbath morning dawned exhausted. I'd stayed up late the night before, first dealing with a team disciplinary issue that had arisen late Friday night, and then discussing religion and philosophy with my friend Gina Rankin.

Our first order of buisness was to convene a directorial tribunal--Grant, Bono Girl,the Diva, and Britni to deal with the disciplinary issue. For the first time in seven seasons an actor had broken one of the core rules of the team (he'd been caught smoking) and we had to decide what type of punishment would be meted out. I’d worried that we might not be able to find the balance between upholding the standards of the team and upholding his spirit as a person. I didn’t want to crush him, or make him feel that he was a “bad person” beyond redemption. After all, a big part of our “mission” as a team goes beyond the performances, to the members of the team itself. We want our team to be a place where the members can find grace and experience the love and power of God in their lives. At least half our ministry is in working with the teens on the team and I didn’t want to fail in that. Thankfully, I believe we were successful and I thank God for that.

Our meeting did make us late for church though. And we were responsible for the church service!

The SDA church on Rota is tiny. It’s actually held in the large living room of a private home so our being late wasn’t quite the disaster it might have been. Pastor Gidson Ondap was an enthusiastic booster for our team. He drove us to all of our shows on Friday (something we later found he had not planned to do, but by the time we left the airport we had five minutes to make the 25 minute drive to our first show and he realized we wouldn’t have time to drop him off at the church before taking the van to do our shows), and took tons of pictures for us. Most of the pictures on these blogs were taken by him. He was very patient and understanding of our perennial lateness. So while the team conducted the Sabbath School program, I drove over to the airport to pick up our last two team members, the Rock and the Gentleman.

The Man, all spruced up for church, reads the scripture during Sabbath morning church services.

CK Girl and Jeane sing special music

By the time we got back, the main church service (which our team also conducted) was in full swing. Of what I saw, it was good. Grant preached, and did an awesome job. Public speaking is like water is to a fish for it. He thrives on it, lives in it.

G-Rant preaching it to the people. His topic: How we can find certainity, acceptance, and value.

Sabbath afternoon we made the kids rest for an hour and a half (many of them had been dozing off in the morning, and a couple were getting cranky. Which made me cranky. If you’re going to stay up long after we tell you to go to bed then you better suck it up, dig deep for some energy, and most of all don’t get all sour-faced, and cranky and whine). I needed the sleep too and quickly nodded off on the hammock on the Rankin’s patio.

After the mandatory rest period, we took the kids to one of Rota’s many white sand beaches. Rota is called “Nature’s Treasure Island” and with good reason. Even with the gloomy skies and frequent rain squalls, the island is gorgeous. The drive from the church (were the boys stayed the rest of the weekend) in the village of Sinapalo, to the Rankins’s home in the village of Song Song is idyllic. On one side are verdant fields, tropical forests, and dramatic cliffs and on the other rows of tall, graceful coconut palms lining pristine white sand beaches. The water, even on a cloudy day, is crystalline, a bright aquamarine blue. Even the waves are bright blue, capped by frothing foam.

Oh, and about the waves. They were magnificent. The reef in Rota is very close to shore and as a result the waves break just yards away from the beach. The tropical depression bringing all the rain had also stirred up unusually high surf, and the waves were enormous, awe-inspiring, and reminiscent of the Oahu’s North Shore. If it hadn’t been for the reef right in front of the breaks, the curls would have been perfect for surfing. The waves were one of the most beautiful things I saw in Rota, and the irony is that while I will always associate Rota with massive waves rolling and crashing in magnificent slow motion, these waves were atypical and the locals were just as amazed by them as we were.

The power of the sea
Anyhow, the water at the beach itself was relatively calm since the waves broke on the reef and the kids enjoyed swimming and relaxing for a little while. As for me, I took a few photos and promptly fell asleep on the sand.

At the beach Sabbath afternoon, October 7, 2006

Around 4 we headed back to the Base Camp Rankin for another round of rehearsals before our Saturday night performance. We had so many performances and so much material to cover that the once a week rehearsals back in Saipan in the week leading up to the show had been insufficient. Granted we were doing mostly “old stuff”, last year/s material that most of the team members knew. But we had some new members and the old members were rusty. With so little time we were often rehearsing sketches for the first time this season only hours before we were to perform them. And in at least one case, we developed a brand new sketch Friday afternoon and planned to debut it that Saturday night. Acting stalwart, the Man, and Grant would perform it, so I wasn’t too worried. Both men were quick studies.

It goes without saying that the rehearsals were a little stressful but we got done what we needed to, and I felt reasonably confident that with the extra boost of the Holy Spirit’s power we’d be able to put on some great shows. So far we had. Our shows on Friday had all been excellent.

Our show was set for 6 P.M. and really, this was the centerpiece of the weekend, our reason for being there. Rota was having it’s annual Fiesta. A week of nightly Catholic masses followed by feasting and celebrations in honor of Rota’s patron saint, San Francisco De Borja. This is THE event an Rota and people come from all over the Marianas to be a part of it. On the bill with us for the night were island dancers from Guam, local bands,and other entertainment acts. It was the final night of the Fiesta and we would open the evening. (The fact that the Vice President’s grandfather is the Mayor of Rota certainly helped here. It was the VP’s mom’s idea for us to perform at the fiesta and her gramps made it happen).

So we showed up at the Fiesta grounds at 6:00 P.M. and the fiasco began.

We went to a large pavilion called the Roundhouse where we understood we would perform. No one was there. There were no chairs. No lights. No sound. Nothing but a few sullen teens lurking about and the whole place stinking of urine. There couldn’t be a worse place to perform. (Remember that. This place will make a reappearance this weekend).

After about 20 minutes of panicked and unsuccessful attempts to reach the VP’s various relatives on Rota including the mayor, someone discovered that we were actually supposed to be performing at a specially built stage about 100 yards across the Fiesta grounds. How we missed the glaring stage lights illuminating the grounds is beyond me.

We hustled over to the stage and found lights, a full sound system, and nothing else. No one was there either, except the guy at the makeshift sound booth who informed us that the performances were delayed because “the processional” was still going on. (I never saw the processional so I have no idea what that was). Until “the processional” was over no acts could begin performing. They couldn’t even play the warm-up music very loud.

So we waited. The seven o clock group scheduled to perform after us showed up, and still no go. We waited. The team wandered the fiesta grounds for awhile, inspecting the various food and drink and handicraft booths set up. We were told a rosary was now in progress and we would have to wait until that was finished. We waited. Little Sister was feeling dizzy and we decided to cut most of the sketches she was in. We knew there was no way we could do the hour-long show allotted us anyway with the other acts piling up behind us. We waited. We were instructed to have the team backstage and ready to go on the MINUTE they got the go ahead. We waited. And waited. And waited.

And finally, close to two hours after we were scheduled to hit the stage we got the signal. Go. Now. I bounded on to the stage and greeted the crowd. Inexplicably the audience gathered in a great semicircle what seemed like a mile from the stage. They were well behind the sound booth and when I looked out through the glare of the lights all I could see was the tiny faceless silhouettes of our audience. The stage felt a lonely a place. Still, I gamely charged ahead and introduced our first piece, the pantomime “The Creation” performed to the gospel stylings of Yolanda Adam’s “The Things We Do.” The music began with a majestic keyboard swell, and a clip of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” as the Rock swept onstage in his white robe and began creating the world, his image projected on to the big screen, larger than life. The show was on.

The Rock depicting the creation. The six day literal creation is just so much more interesting than evolution, from a theatrical perspective!

We followed the pantomime with an old South American street theater improve called “Mine Games” where only one word is spoken: “Hey.” As Bono Girl and Harry communicated with their “heys” various tipsy hecklers chimed in with shouts of “hey” as well. As the two actors tried to fill the huge performing space, the sketch dragged on, long. The crowd grew restless.

The next sketch was “The Hospital.” This time we’d done this sketch with audience volunteers portraying the various sick patients (if you skipped over my lengthy explanation of our sketches two entries back, you may want to go back and read about this one so you understand how the sketch works) with our own actors portraying the healthy patient and the receptionist. It had worked well in the schools where there were eager volunteers. But on this night, with the crowd a million miles away, no one wanted to volunteer. Except for one little boy about six years old, and. . . the drunks. The first guy we got was still pretty much together. The second gentleman though was a different story. I first saw him when he stepped into the middle of the lighted area in front of the stage and shouted “You want a volunteer? I got one for you,” as he extended the middle finger in my direction. He then approached the foot of the stage and made a lewd invitation. “Don’t pick him,” my team hissed at me from the wings, “He’s drunk!”

Duh. No way am I picking him.

But HE was picking him. He staggered over to the side of the stage where we were explaining the gag to the volunteers while “The Fall” unfolded onstage. While the Man was tempting Photobug with a pantomimed apple, we were assuring our volunteer that we were all set. We had everyone we needed. But he wouldn’t be denied. He was GOING to volunteer and if there’s one thing I learned from dealing with many drunks when I lived in Chuuk (where drinking is a national pastime, and mean drunks are the norm) is that you don’t EVER disagree with the inebriated and you definitely don’t make them mad. So I clapped him on the shoulder, grinned a lot, agreed with every profanity-laced thing that came out of his mouth, and explained to him what he had to do.

“Hey, Mister, don’t we need a mike out there,” Bono Girl asked.

“No! No way do we want a mike out there. Who knows what this guy might say.” I hissed back.

Of course, someone put a mike out there.

The skit began, and our volunteer began to come around to my camaraderie, the hostility lessened and he became genuinely interested in his part, especially as he saw the other actors go out and get laughs from the audience. Finally, it was our guy’s turn. He shambled out into the lights, and I whispered one word to Grant: Pray.

And we did. And God answered. Our volunteer hammed it up, got loads of laughs, managed not to swear (in English anyway. I’m not sure what he may have said in Chamorro) and left stage on cue. Feeling very proud of himself, he confided to me that he was someone very important in the government of Rota. And indeed he was. I’m not going to say what position he holds, as I’m still a bit paranoid that he might somehow find out about this entry and be offended.

We breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over. Except it wasn’t. During “The Hospital” the VP’s mom appeared backstage, frantic.

“What are you guys doing?” she demanded “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be at the V.I.P. Party. They’ve been waiting for you!”

WHAT?!? We were performing at the wrong venue? Impossible. I’d seen the schedule for the weekend. I knew about the V.I.P. Party and I knew we weren’t booked to perform there. We were supposed to be at the public event. But now here was the VP’s mom telling us that the mayor was waiting on us and we needed to leave NOW! I was mortified! How had we managed to miss this?

So after “The Hospital” I raced onstage and hastily explained that due to the late start and another engagement we had to get to, we would wrap up our performance with “The Redemption” which we promptly did. The minute the Rock had finished rescuing humanity and defeating the devil, the team smoothly departed the stage and then RACED to the van, and we roared away, burning with embarrassment at having kept the V.I.P.s waiting.

We arrived at the Mayor’s office where the party was in full swing. Polynesian dancers were dancing on a small stage, and there were table laden with local delicacies: red rice, beef tips, fried chicken, kelaguen, taro, breadfruit bathed in coconut milk, coco, not one but two whole roast pigs. There was a dessert table with tapioca, custard and fruit pies and other sweets. A bar had been set up where free beer, soda, water, and juice flowed freely.

On meeting the mayor, I apologized profusely for our lateness and told him we were ready to perform.

“Why don’t you all eat first,” the mayor offered. I wasn’t going to argue with the mayor. So we loaded our plates and ate to our hearts content. I relaxed. We all did. Really, I’d begun to relax right about the time the VP’s mom showed up and the drunken gov. official tottered on stage back at the Fiesta. It was at that point—the point where I realized that I had absolutely no control over anything that I stopped worrying, stopped stressing, and just started enjoying the evening. I told God, “I have no idea what You’re doing, but whatever it is, I’ll just roll with it.”

So we ate and laughed and enjoyed ourselves.

As the time passed, we began to wonder when we were going to perform. I was mulling over my appreciation speech I’d give when we went took the stage, talking about the grace shown to us by the people of Rota, when it hit me. We weren’t going to perform. Perhaps the mayor never had intended for us to perform. I’ve since figured that the Vice President’s mom misunderstood him. I think he’d only intended for us to come and eat. We were correctly scheduled at the Fiesta grounds and I believe the expectation had been that we would go over to the V.I.P party for dinner after our performance. But because of the delay in starting the show, we ended up being really late to dinner. The mayor probably asked the VP’s mom where we were and she jumped to the conclusion that we were supposed to be performing there.

So we didn’t perform. We ate, drank (non-alcoholic-ly, of course), and danced under the stars and it was good.

Grant, Britni, and some of the kids cut a rug at the mayor's V.I.P. party, joining in the "electric slide."

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