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Curtain Up! - My Life As the Neighborhood Choreographer

[I'm still pissed that my parents wouldn't take me to audition for ZOOM.]

For our latest Banzai Retro Club podcast we were asked about a hobby we were into in the '70s, '80s or '90s. Not sure if this is actually a hobby, but ...

I remember sitting in the bedroom I shared with my brother when I was five years-old and making a placard to tape onto the boxed-in screen that hid the radiator. The box had a curved mesh insert that looked a little like… a proscenium. A stage.

Or maybe like the tacky backdrop from Mike Douglas’s talk show set.

The placard said, “The Irene G. Show!”

I decided I wanted to be a TV talk show host, and had heard that big stars changed their names. Some of them used their middle names. My middle name is Irene.

Nobody understood how a five year-old living with her family in a cramped two-bedroom apartment next to a hardware store ended up aspiring to be a talk show host. Yet there I was, introducing myself to the non-existent studio audience in my best Don Pardo announcer voice, then singing an opening number for the crowd.

In kindergarten, I memorized all the lyrics to my Jack Wild album and spent recesses getting my best friend Cheryl to act out the songs with me on the playground.

It didn’t stop there. My family moved to a little house in a low-end neighborhood with lots of kids, and I was constantly drafting plans to get them all to do elaborate musical productions with me. I cast them all. I wrote up script material. I choreographed. Sometimes, I gave my friends stage names.

Most of the time I only got as far as getting them to practice with me before they got cold feet and backed out. But man, until then, you should have heard how cool Theresa and Diane from down the street sounded when I made them sing back-up for me to a Hall and Oates song, insisting they snap their fingers at special times and instructing them when to change direction and face the opposite way. I had it all down. Eventually, they quit on me, dashing my plans to commandeer the PA system at our neighborhood block party.

At least they backed out before I built the sets.

Or the time my brother—who was so much more talented than the other kids in the neighborhood—did a whole backyard performance with me when we were gifted a magic kit, including a finale that I orchestrated myself. I made him disappear under a set of wooden folding chairs and a plaid blanket, having tricked-out the chairs by setting a false cardboard bottom across the two seats. My brother Jimmy squished himself noisily past the cardboard and under the folding chairs. Abracadabra, he vanished. We pulled it off.

Special kudos go to my best friend Lori, the only one in the neighborhood who stuck with my plans and did my choreography. This typically involved Jackson 5-like dance steps to the lesser known B-side of one of my favorite 45s, performed on my backyard picnic table, which as far as I was concerned was a stage. Lori even bought into the stage name concept. Because when you’re famous, I told her, you can call yourself whatever you want. You can be anybody. She chose to name herself Kara. I decided on Jenny. If I recall, I christened our girl group The Rainbow Sisters.

Come on, I was eight.

This has become one of my favorite BRC podcasts. Give it a listen, and find out where the hell Lori disappeared to the one time I turned around on the picnic bench—all in-the-zone and mid-routine—to find that she had disappeared.

Listen. Reminisce. Rename yourself. Be a star. You can do it. Just follow my lead ... it’ll be great!

Banzai Retro Club podcasts

Episode 153 with Suzanne: “The Show Must Go On”

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