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ActorQuest: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bway 3

This November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company.  The actress continues her collection of stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

As a performer, I have been really lucky to have a side gig, like private teaching, that I can do when I don't have a show to occupy my time. For 15 years I have taught private voice and piano lessons to pay the bills when theatre didn't. But as Anna says in THE KING AND I, "There's a true and ancient saying.....By your students you'll be taught." I couldn't agree more and I am not even sure I'd be on Broadway today if I hadn't learned so much from them!   Here then is a story about the youngest kids in my crew!

YOUNGER CROWD

Being in a Broadway show, like COMPANY, is certainly a dream come true, but it was never a guarantee. So even though I knew I wanted to be a performer upon leaving for college, when my mother suggested I get a music education degree to "fall back on" I thought it sounded like a good idea too.   Yes, I was certified K-12 in college. Yes, I did my student teaching with both high school and elementary students. Yes, I have many high school and college age voice students.  But did I ever really think I would be teaching the very youngest children? Not on your life. So how was I "blessed" with 5 little piano students all under the age of ten to teach while awaiting my big Broadway break?

When we moved to Pond Street in Connecticut, my neighbors saw enough teenagers coming and going from my house to suspect that I was either a drug dealer or a music teacher. Luckily, from the tonal noises coming out of my house I was dubbed the "neighborhood" music teacher and many sent their young ones to me for piano lessons.

After fifteen years of teaching teen and adult private voice students, I needed a strategy to deal with the pint-sized prima donnas. To accustom myself to the younger crowd infiltrating my studio, I decided to place a few young piano students in between the older ones to kind of pace myself. Unfortunately this week, colds and flu and busy schedules conspired to give me ALL the younger piano crew on the same day! So from 3pm on I had Melina, Rachael, Julie, Sydney, Sandy and Sadie. Looking back on it I should have recognized this as some kind of a test.

THE LINE-UP:

Melina, eight years old, came in with a bad cold and coughed and hockered all over the place. Poor little thing. I had to frequently Lysol off my piano and the surrounding air because it seemed she was bent on sharing her cold with me. Since I often go into NY for auditions during the week I found the "better safe than sorry" idea overriding my "don't offend the eight year old" sensibilities.

Rachael is only seven, but quite articulate for her age. Today she played the piano for about 10 minutes and talked for 20.  In the course of events she said, "I have to apologize for my stinky feet".  When I told her that they weren't bad, she said, "Yes they are, because I have an awful habit of not changing my socks". I told her that sometimes we all forget.  She finished, "...for weeks at a time".  I told her if that was the case, she should definitely try to remember for next week. This was the first time the idea of being "tested" popped into my head.

Julie is ten and very bright --brother at Yale, parents are scientists.  Being so bright, she tends to get very frustrated if she doesn't understand something right away. Today was a banner day as she didn't understand anything.  Luckily, I keep a dish of candy on my piano and I just kept feeding her those.  Her mom must've wondered why she was bouncing off the walls when she got home.

Sandy, eight, and Sadie, six, are sisters and they already had their allotted candy by the time they arrived at my house.  At one point, I told Sandy that if she kept swinging her legs under the piano I was going to chop them off.  She looked at me for a second to see if I was serious, or carrying a sharp object, and then continued to swing.  Sadie actually had a very good, focused lesson which totally threw me off since I usually have to work to keep her entertained.  At one point she said, "You just said that was a D but it's really a C" ...and she was right. Now I knew I was somehow being tested.

Sydney is one of my favorites. At nine years old, she is one of those children that when you introduce them by age you say...."going on 35".  Today she told me her teacher in school said that her class was very "sophisticated" in their reading level.  I asked her if she knew what that meant, and she not only defined the word "sophisticated" for me, but she also spelled it on her notepad in print and cursive.  The WHOLE lesson was like that.  By the time she left I was trying my best just to use words with more syllables than hers.

That was my "kid" day. Instead of the "Breaking in Slowly" version I got the "Trial by Fire" edition.  They are such individuals at that age!  And if I ever thought that I could get away with anything less than my most authentic work for them, I rethought that today!  It may not be the "performing" I thought I wanted to do, but it sure keeps me "in the moment" and real.  That is the lesson I learned from my "test". After focusing so much on myself, as a performer often needs to do, to be forced to focus fully on these young minds really puts it all in perspective!

And to be honest, I can now say from experience that they can sometimes be JUST as exhausting and rewarding as a Broadway career!



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