Friday, March 28, 2014

growing up a mermaid

Recently Abigail Green over at Abby Off The Record was posed a question by her 7 year old son:

"Mom, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

It's a natural question but one that can be hard to answer, especially when 1) you can't remember, or 2) you're still disappointed that you aren't what you wanted to become!

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

When I was young, a lot of little 7 year old girls dreamed about being a princess or a ballerina or a fairy.

Not me.

I dreamed about being a mermaid.

In the 1970s, my family took annual vacations to Florida. Back then, there was no Disney World or Harry Potter World, no Universal Studios or Wet'n'Wild. We visited the original attractions that featured tutu'd waterskiers and dolphin (porpoise) shows, glass bottomed boats and pressed wax souvenirs. It was all awesome, and I thank my parents for giving us such wonderful experiences.

But there was one very special place my parents took me that changed my life forever.

Weeki Wachee Springs: Home of the live mermaid show.

Even though I couldn't swim a lick, couldn't hold my breath for more than 10 seconds and refused to put my face underwater, I wanted to be a mermaid.

They moved like poetry. They were magical, like fairies under water. They were lyrical and beautiful and strong. They were the mythical made real.

Although I have moved on - fear of water kept me from ever seriously thinking of strapping on a tail and jumping down into a long, inescapable tunnel - I still love my Weeki Wachee mermaids.

About 13 years ago, on a trip to the Gulf Coast to visit friends, I told my husband, "We have to go to Weeki Wachee."

"What the heck is a weekiwachee?" he asked.

Stunned, I replied, "Only the home of the most amazing underwater show of all time - live mermaids! I haven't been since I was little but you have to take me."

He rolled his eyes and speculated that the same women from the 1970s were probably still working there, but he steered the car down I-10/Hwy 301 until we found US-19 and the Weeki Wachee entrance I remembered from childhood.

The park was looking a little peaked, more than a little worn around the edges. But the mermaids were still there. And to our pleasant surprise, there were mermaids of various ages, sizes and abilities.

In addition to putting on several shows a day, the mermaids were working very hard to bring the park into the 21st century. They had added a rustic water park with slides and a swimming area, taking advantage of the cold, crystal-clear fresh water spring. They were sprucing up the costumes and the shows, training new mermaids from all over the world, and making necessary renovations.

We gave them a donation, thanked them for the entertainment, and promised to spread the word. After that trip, my husband told everyone he knew about Weeki Wachee. I was thrilled that he enjoyed it so much, and that he was helping me spread the news. 

And it surprised me how few people had heard of Weeki Wachee. It's been around since the late 1940s, but since the advent of the Interstate system, few people travel down the back roads that run by the attraction. And the small, vintage amusement parks just don't have the marketing budgets to vie with the Disney Worlds and Universal Studios.  

But Weeki Wachee will always have a special place in my heart. We have taken several more trips to the west coast of Florida in the past ten years, and every time we make a beeline to my favorite spot. Our daughter has been several times, and last trip we even took one of her friends. It was an amazing treat for all of us.

I hadn't thought about mermaids or Weeki Wachee in a while. Then yesterday, I learned something amazing. 

My Weeki Wachee mermaids are coming to the SC Aquarium in Charleston!  In April 2014, the Great Tank will have not only sharks and sea turtles and amber jacks and volunteer divers, it will have!

It is such a brilliant publicity move, I wish I had thought of it myself. Gotta hand it to these savvy mermaids: Don't just sit on US-19 and wait for the people to come to Weeki Wachee - take Weeki Wachee to the people!

While getting ready for bed last night, I turned to my husband, "Oh! Oh! Oh! Guess - just guess! - who is coming to the SC Aquarium?!?"

A grin spread across his face. "Mermaids...mermaids are coming, that's who!"

I love that man. 

Some people might think it's a little silly for a 50 year old woman to be so ga-ga over mermaids, over trained swimmers wearing fake tails. Especially since, despite my childhood dream, I'll never be one. 

Truth is, I don't want to be a mermaid now. I'm not sure I ever really did. 

I think what I really wanted to be when I grew up was to be like a mermaid: Beautiful. Strong. Mystical. Unpredictable. Free. 

In my own way, I've achieved that. Not by donning a tail and performing underwater, but by creating my own fantastical stories, by becoming different characters on a stage, by tapping into the supernatural current that fuels my imagination.  

No matter how "grown up" I might be, I still grin at the thought of seeing my beloved mermaids swimming in the salty water of the South Carolina lowcountry. 

In my mind, I'll be swimming right beside them. 

Read more about the Weeki Wachee Mermaid visit to the SC Aquarium here and buy your tickets here

Friday, March 21, 2014

here comes the sun and the bluebird of happiness

I'm so excited! We're in Wedding mode in our family, and few things will make you as crazy busy and as crazy happy as helping two amazing people get ready to say "I do."

Especially when the bride is your cousin, sister, girlfriend and sweetest cutie-patootie all rolled up into one

My cousin Dawn and I grew up together. I was nine when she was born. I couldn't decide whether to sister her or mother her. I guess I did a little of both.

Through the years we shared homes, shared family, shared secrets and laughter and tears. We were kids together. Then we were roommates. We went through seasons of separation like sisters will, but we always came back together.

And now she is about to be married. To join forces with a man she loves dearly. They knew each other in high school but have spent the past four years rediscovering who they were and who they are. And figuring out who they want to be.

We never expected it would take this long to attend her wedding. She's beautiful, smart, witty, talented, a catch. But sometimes crap happens. Life and the people in it throw you curve balls. Things don't happen like or when you expect.

A long time ago, my mother gave me a glass figurine, a bluebird of happiness. Shortly after, I met the man who eventually became my husband. A few years later, I passed the figurine on to Dawn when she felt ready to find "the one" and settle down.

Apparently it was a one-use-only bluebird. Nothing good happened.

Many years later, after traveling several roads and then graduating from chiropractic school, Dawn moved back to Charleston and stayed with us for a while. Via friends, she found out her old school chum Eric was in town, too. They connected on Facebook. They decided to meet up. They both love hockey, so what could be a chummier place to meet than at a hockey game? Pretty innocuous, right?

They're the only two people I know who went to a hockey game and fell in love. (I'm sure there are lots of others in colder climates, but this is the south....)

A few years and a lot of water went by. Then finally it happened. They decided to get married.

Last November, Dawn told me she was planning to get married in March. Outside. Hmm...

Even though we are in the south and on the coast, March is a very unpredictable month weather-wise. I raised the obvious questions: what if it's cold? what if it rains? what if.....?

Dawn looked at me very matter-of-fact. "Everything will be perfect for my wedding. It will be sunny and 72 degrees. God and I have this all worked out, don't worry."

I wasn't sold, but I sighed and shut up. What was the point in arguing? Like the rest of the women in our family, when Dawn makes up her mind about something, that's it, end of story.

The past few weeks have been very sketchy - temperatures in the 30s, wind, lots of rain. Up to this past Wednesday in fact. Then, lo and behold, the clouds cleared and the sun came out and the temperature started going up! I think I literally said "Hallelujah."

I immediately texted Dawn. Yes, she knew the sun was out, she had already gone outside and twirled around in thanksgiving. Sounded like a good idea.

I went outside in my backyard to feel the warmth on my face. Just as I walked on to the porch, I saw a flash of blue fly by. I stopped.

There was a brilliant bluebird sitting on my fence.

All I could think was, "Took you long enough!"

Guess there are some things you can't rush, some things worth waiting on. Like family. And partners. And spring. And of course, that darn bluebird of happiness.

Welcome, my friend. Let's go have a wedding.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ready to play the role of a lifetime

I have terrible stage fright. The kind accompanied by butterflies, nausea, diarrhea, amnesia, cold sweat, self doubt, blindness, shortness of breath, and beet-red flushing of the neck.

It isn't funny.

Unless, of course, you know me well enough to know that I have been performing in public in one forum or another most of my life. That makes it pretty funny.
Annie at Charleston Music Hall - Richard Futch, Cindi Carver-Futch, Caroline Hamrick (c)2012 Gamil Awad
I became a church pianist at the age of 12. Yes, 12. I chose hymns, played them, and led the congregation. I was terrified, but there was no one else to do it. I have continued to play piano and lead worship in churches across the state, from small Protestant congregations (12+) to great Catholic cathedrals.

I played the saxophone in high school and college. Tenor and the great deep baritone sax. Marching band, symphonic concerts, pep band, jazz band, solo and ensemble competitions. I did it all. I even performed in the opening day parade of the 1982 World Fair.

I have been an actor, starring in church Christmas programs in my early teens, working with community theater after college, and performing with various professional troupes in my 20s. I even performed a one-woman show at the Gibbes Museum of Art, portraying the 18th century artist Henrietta Johnston. I was so convincing the children in attendance asked if I was a ghost.

You would think after all this performing, the stage fright would resolve itself. Or, you would think that with such debilitating stage fright I would never step foot in front of an audience again. I wish it was that easy. But while the stage fright doesn't go away, I just can't seem to stay off the stage.

And here I go again.

In May, I will once again tread the boards at the Footlight Players on Queen Street, this time as a member of the inaugural cast of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: CHARLESTON.

So what is LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER, other than a phrase you've unwisely tried to ignore your whole life?

LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER (LTYM), the brainchild of blogger Ann Imig, began in 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Now a national program, LTYM productions will be mounted in 32 cities across the US in 2014. Each production is directed, produced, and performed by local communities for local communities, and each production donates a percentage of ticket proceeds to a local charity.

The LTYM shows feature live readings by local writers on "the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood" in celebration of Mother’s Day. While the show is performed live in each community, all readings are recorded and available on the LTYM website and YouTube channel for the entire world to enjoy.

Yikes. The world is a big audience.

As soon as I heard about the local production, I knew I wanted to audition. I have a mom. I am a mom. I am also a writer and have some stories that I think are worth sharing. I was confident going into my audition. After all, this isn't my first rodeo. My last role was just two years ago, when I played the worst mother figure imaginable, Miss Hannigan in Annie.

But here's the big difference: this time, I am not going to be a character in a play. I can't hide behind an accent or a costume piece, toy with an instrument or a bit of staging. I can't razzle-dazzle them by belting out a song. I can't be the comic relief or play the straight against another actor.

The person on that stage? It will be me, Cindi Carver-Futch. And the lines? They will be my story. If the audience doesn't laugh, doesn't cry, doesn't applaud, there will be no one else to look to but me. I can't blame the dramatist or the lyricist, the choreographer or the director.

I should be scared out of my wits.

Maybe on May 4th I will be. But right now I am not worried. And I don't think I will be then, either. Because for the first time in my life, for better or for worse, I will stand in front of an audience in the role I was born to play.


There's not another person in the universe who can play me like I can. I think I'll do ok.

Monday, March 17, 2014

shamrocks and sock glue: some lessons from Irish dance

There are only two kinds of people in the world, The Irish and those who wish they were. - Irish proverb

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone pretends to be Irish. Across the US, Irish-wannabees celebrate by wearing green, eating corned beef, drinking Guinness, and kicking up their heels.

While St Patrick's Day is a celebration of Ireland, Patrick wasn't Irish. As a boy, he was kidnapped from Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave. After escaping back home, he chose to return to Ireland as a missionary. He evangelized the island for Christianity and became the patron saint of Ireland. It didn't make much sense, but even Patrick couldn't stay away from Ireland.

The Irish themselves don't wear green on St Patrick's day. They don't eat corned beef and cabbage, either. But the Irish are definitely known for drinking Guinness and dancing the jig, and that is not confined to St Patrick's Day.

Our younger daughter is an Irish dancer. Although our Irish blood has become thin over the years, Ireland has my heart and I was thrilled when MM developed a passion for dancing the reel and jig.

The first time she saw Irish dancing, she looked at me with passion flaring in her eyes and said, "Mom, I HAVE to do this!" That was four years ago. At 8, she was late to the game. Most kids start when they're 3 or 4. But age should never keep you from doing what you love. Especially when you have red hair and an Irish-sounding name like Mary-Margaret.

Irish dance gets a lot of publicity at St. Patrick's Day, but it is a year-round sport. It takes an amazing amount of athleticism, grace and endurance to compete in Irish dance. We spend many weekends throughout the year taking our daughter to competitions known as feis (“feysh”) in our region and through the US. School breaks are spent at Irish dance camps honing skills and preparing for the Oireachtas (“o-rock-tas” or regional competition).

Irish dance is intensive work. But it is also fun, beautiful, and very rewarding. In three years of following our daughter around for parades and competitions and performances, I have picked up a few things that I think are helpful in general life.

Looking Good is Important
As much as I disliked it at first, to be competitive in Irish dance you have to look good. It’s not exactly Toddler’s and Tiaras, but it does mean buying the curly wigs, makeup, spray tans, expensive dresses, expensive shoes…..

Ok, it sounds similar, but truth is, if you want to win, you have to look good. Success in dance and in life often requires having the best tools and training you can afford, even if you have to sacrifice something else.

On the other hand, Bobbi Brown could personally do your feis makeup and you could wear a $5000 dress hand embroidered by blind Irish nuns - if you don’t dance well and dance hard, you and your priceless dress will go home disappointed. 

“Cute Don’t Last, You Better Learn How to Dance”
Even though looking good is important, very few people can successfully coast through life on looks alone. Everyone needs to learn to do something well, to take pride in a job well done, to contribute to the greater good.

One day my daughter used the phrase “cute don’t last, you better learn how to dance.” I laughed and asked her where she learned that. She explained her Irish dance teacher told them that all the time - people might be impressed by cuteness when you’re young, but you’d better work hard and learn the steps because one day “cute” would be gone. Yep, ‘nuff said.

Sock Glue
Irish dancers wear a bubbly white sock known as a poodle sock. At my daughter's first competition, she lost points when her poodle socks fell. Then I learned about something called sock glue. It is literally a glue you roll on a dancer's legs to keep socks (and points) in place. At her second competition, my daughter's socks stayed put all day.

I don’t know why they don’t sell this stuff in department stores! Have a wayward bra strap? Roll on a little sock glue and that strap will stray no more. Stretchy boots losing their grip? Use some sock glue. Need to stop your blouse from flashing unsuspecting co-workers? Sock glue, baby! We now have two bottles - one in my daughter's dance bag and one in my dressing table. Seriously, if I can figure out how to market sock glue to Macy’s, I will retire early.

Never Quit
Irish dance isn't just about what you do on stage. It's about all the preparation you do beforehand, about all of the performances and classes and stretching. It's as much about conditioning the mind as conditioning the body.

At competitions, a dancer has to have her game face on from before she lines up to go on stage until after she is out of the sight of the judges. This requires discipline and self assurance that goes back months or years before a dancer gets on stage. It means you look, act, and feel like a winner when you’re standing in line-up, when you and another dancer collide, when you slip and fall on stage, when the music is disrupted, when someone in the audience is talking, and when you just don’t feel like dancing. You don’t give up on yourself before you start, while you’re dancing, or after the scores come out. Good advice for work, marriage, family, etc.

Do Your Best and Cause No Harm
Irish dance is competitive and the dancers work very hard to get to the top.  At competitions there are multiple dancers on a stage at a time. Because they all have different choreography, it is difficult to know where one dancer is going to high kick and another is going to leap. They do their best to keep their steps and maneuver around each other. Even then, collisions and mishaps are part of the game. Usually they are accidental. Sometimes, unfortunately, they are not. The quickest way to get banned from competition is to sabotage a competitor. Just remember “cute don’t last…” and don’t do it. Ever.

Do What Moves You, Even If It Doesn't Make Sense
We have very little Irish heritage. Yet our daughter loves Irish dance and we are totally committed to her success. We've become a part of this Irish dance family and love it.  And we have found out we aren't alone in celebrating a heritage that isn't ours.

We have met dancers and families from all walks of life and cultures – African, Asian, Latino, Dutch, etc. And not one of us has had to take an Irish DNA test to see if we qualified to be a part of this family. We just accept each other where we are. Whether we are Irish or not, we celebrate the dance.

And to that we say "Rince Gaelach go Brach" - Irish Dance Forever!

Friday, March 14, 2014

happy Pi day

Today is Pi Day. You know, "pi" as in the Greek number  π = 3.141592(etc), the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Celebrated in certain circles (haha) on March 14th, as in "3.14"

Next year, will be even MORE exciting, because it will be 3.14.15. Just imagine how excited everyone was in 1592.

I'm not big in math or Greek. But I respect the pi. Pi is powerful

And yummy.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

the he(art) of the matter with Will Smith

How do we define "artist"? Who is an artist? Why do artists do what we do? And does it matter how we do it?

Regardless of the medium we use, be it paint or performance or prose, in the end I believe it comes down to one thing. 

It comes down to heart.