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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Artist as Impresario

For some reason one morning, I thought of my beloved David’s Shushy-Cats, an imaginary troupe of young performers he modeled somewhat after the wholesome Young Americans but without the nonprofit educational slant. In a long-running soap opera of ad-libbed episodes, his story unrolled between the two of us over the years – never publicly or even with friends, just between us. If only those episodes had been recorded! I don’t even remember the first, unexpected “Opening Night,” but the Shushy-Cats put on stage shows at an Up North resort, much like Boyne Mountain, musical reviews with choreography (their signature number was “Hooray for Youth”), even as years went by and many of the cast became long in the tooth. (Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Think horses.) Once the Shushy-cats came into our life, they never went away. We might be riding in the car or sitting over coffee somewhere or lying in bed of an evening – I never knew when another episode might come my way or what outlandish schemes and revelations it would entail.


Whenever I overheard the Artist leaving messages on a friend’s answering machine, I was always amazed that he sounded so conversational, as if he were really talking to another person. It was hard to realize he was only recording. Similarly, when he launched into a tale of the Shushy-Cats, making it all up as he went along, he managed to make those stories sound like real life. “I’ve got an idea for a new number,” he might begin, just as he might start to tell me he had a new idea for rearranging his art gallery, and I could see in my mind the "new number" as he described the staging and named the roles each key performer would fill. Because the cast members all had names and personalities, like the members of the old Micky Mouse Club, personalities built up over months and eventually years of unscheduled, impromptu installments. Sometimes I jumped in to make an observation or protest that the stage number he had in mind was doomed from the start. “You have to consider your audience,” I would remind him, or “How are all those costume changes going to be done so fast? You’re asking a lot of the kids.” 


Because he always referred to them as “the kids.” The company had its ups and down, of course, and times only seemed to get harder and harder as time went by. Brian had back pain and trouble lifting girl dancers over his head. The girls – I should say “girls,” maybe – had complaints about their costumes, and it was true that they didn’t look as slim and lively in their cheerleader skirts as they had years before. Younger audiences expected different kinds of entertainment, too: more special lighting effects, a faster pace, sexier moves. The Shushy-cats were “old school,” good, clean family entertainment.


Not that “the kids” were angels. Oh, far from it! All believed, in principle, the adage, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” but naturally there were rivalries and jealousies, and one female cast member in particular was never happy if not the star. That was Brie – or Bree – we never wrote down anything, so I never thought about how it might be spelled. Brie (or Bree) could be counted on to complicate every situation, personal or professional, in which she played a part. She even followed us out West, settling in a New Mexico town with a little boy she tried to convince people the impresario had fathered! Can you imagine that? We could! We knew that little vixen Brie! There was nothing you could put past her!


Once at a party -- in real life-- a young man commented to me, “Now that we’re living together, it seems we don’t have as much to talk about, because we already know everything the other has been doing.” I told him, “Just make stuff up! That’s what David does,” and I told him about the Shushy-cats. He was delighted and enthralled. I wonder if that young couple ever developed an imaginary life to live alongside their real one.


After a while the Shushy-cats disbanded, gone their separate ways, but the story continued, and the impresario couldn’t give up the dream of a reunion. Onstage, of course. It seemed unrealistic to me. They had families now and lived all over the country. How could they afford the time to travel back to Michigan to put on a show together? And would anyone come to see it? 


Ah, but now, wouldn’t I give anything to have the whole gang together again, even that little trouble-maker, Brie? I miss them all. 


Dawn said...

Wonderful! My mom did something similar on long car trips to entertain us. Not as intricate as David's, and not using the same cast members. Still weren't we lucky to experience such imaginations.

Anonymous said...

Delightfully fun.

Deborah said...

Wonderful. I can hear David's voice. Of course, I also hear the voice of Bushy in the Bushytail stories.

P. J. Grath said...

Sorry for my tardiness in moderating these comments. They don't come in e-mail to me for this blog, and sometimes I forget to look. So, only about two weeks late! But glad you liked the post.