By Joscelyn, Apr 11 2017 01:32PM
As I approached my evening destination, I opened the theatre's large glass door and stepped into the bustling entry way. Concession stands and ushers lined the open hall leading to the main theatre. Around me, people were nicely dressed and mingling in clusters. Taking in the energy and excitement, I leisurely made my way to my seat. Taking an evening to watch a musical was a first for me…something that seemed fitting to experience of this good news journey. Having made the decision three months prior to leave a successful reporting career to embark on this mission, I found myself feeling right at home being present for the opening night of a musical entitled Call Me Crazy.
The energy of the nearly full house was electric. I felt the buzz resonate throughout the theatre. The hum of the crowd gained momentum as the opening curtain drew near. Settling comfortably into the plush red seat, I watched as the lights began to dim and the audience silenced, sitting wide-eyed in anticipation.
The piece was captivating right out of the gate, a masterful musical display. The storyline was riveting, yet humorous. As the characters unveiled the obscurities found within everyday life, I burst out in stitches of laughter. With their unique attributes, each character seemed to outwardly portray the real struggles within their individual minds. As the show went on, from behind a humorous and outrageous cast of characters was revealed a powerful message, one of a crisis of humanity, from the standpoint of the instability of personal emotion. Taking time to immerse myself in the minds and outward struggle of each character, it became very apparent that their radical and crazy behaviors were presented as a means of protecting their own fears and self-interest. The show portrayed the duality created when life lived from a crazed self-protective state was vigorously imposed upon attempting to live with compassion and open communication.
The musical's opening night concluded with a standing ovation and an encore salute by the entire cast. As the crowd slowly shuffled their way out of the theatre debriefing on the show, I set forth on a mission to find an usher with the request to speak with the production's director. To my great surprise, my wish was granted. I was welcomed to take a seat in a comfortable oversized chair located in a small room adjacent to the main theatre. There, I awaited the director. The walls were painted a deep blue, which offered a sharp contrast to the bright red furniture. Both the atmosphere and my anticipation had me abuzz.
It wasn’t more than ten minutes later when a spunky woman walked in through the door to greet me. Her attire was funky, raw and made an artistic statement. Her curly hair was delightfully wild. She reminded me not as much of a director, but more so of a rock star...a musician.
"Sam, I'm Kadence." Her voice was rustic and her handshake firm. "I was told you wanted to speak with me, and I heard that you come with good intentions," she said with a wink.
As we sat down, I brought Kadence up to speed on the good news journey, and how her production resonated with me on many levels, given my recent life choices. She offered me a drink, as she grabbed one for herself from a small fridge in the far corner of the room.
Cracking open her beverage, she said, "So, if you're traveling the country discovering why people live as they do, I'm guessing you'd like to know why I wrote such a production?"
Kadence was upfront and firm, yet open and genuine. I simply smiled, gently nodded and allowed her to continue.
"Sam, this piece is a compilation of the absurdity of my forty-five years of experience on this earth. It was inspired by everything from the harshness of my upbringing, to the fanatical man I watched have out at a coffee shop owner one day for no seemingly good reason. I am inspired by craziness as much as goodness."
As she imparted some of the tales and occurrences that led to the creation of each scene and character within her musical, Kadence revealed that she herself was the voice and instrumentalist behind the grippingly diverse musical soundtrack. She had the innate ability to sing everything from soft melodic notes to deep brash tones, and proficiently played eleven different instruments.
"I absolutely must know how you came to find your talent! Did it come easily to you?"
"Easily in terms of naturally picking up anything musical, yes…but not so easily in terms of finding my way to a life where I was free to express myself through music," she said.
In a real and raw a tone as I had perhaps ever heard, Kadence took me back to a childhood filled with abuse. She depicted times of fleeing from dangerous situations and spending hours caged in within the frigid pitch black of her basement, where should we consider receiving a meal to be a blessing. She was abused on a daily basis and felt fully insignificant.
"I found solace in song Sam. I sang quietly while lying in my bed before my mother would grab me from it in the middle of the night. I would walk through the woods to get to school and rewrite the lyrics to the songs we all knew as kids. I sought out safe surroundings and went to a place within myself where I was free to be expressive by making a song different by adding a new beat. Those times were few and far between in my childhood, though they were my saving grace. My early life was about trying to sift through the abuse and chaos to think about who I was. There was no opportunity for concern about who I would become. My life was about survival."
I felt my heart sink. The three hours musical that I had just witnessed was raw, funny, and delightfully real. Never would I have imagined it being rooted in a time of such pain and struggle.
"How did you pull yourself up from the impact of such an early life?"
"It wasn’t easy. It happened because I was able to develop my early abilities to find creative ways to express myself, and because I found some very supportive people along the way," she replied.
Kadence went on to share a story that began her leap into a more confident and expressive existence. In grade one, her class had choir practice as a part of their regular schooling. Her music teacher was a very scary, rigid and cranky man. In spite of a home life riddled with the threats of frightening authority figures, Kadence allowed herself to cast away her fears and simply sing with everything inside of her during their practices.
"I'll never forget the day that he halted our entire practice with the words, ‘Stop! Who did that?’" Her voice imitated that of a rigid old man. "He finally singled me out. As it turned out, having my teacher identify me wasn’t a bad thing. He said I had something called vibrato, a rich tone that he heard amidst the voices of all the other children."
Within a matter of days, Kadence was placed with students six to eight years older than her and asked to be a part of a special presentation of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Every day, she would walk through the woods and practice. When it came time for the actual recital, a kind teacher surprised her with a navy blue skirt, a white blouse, panty hose and brand new black patent leather shoes so that she could be dressed just as nice as all of the other kids in the show.
"I was always poorly dressed, and my hair a tangled mess. I hardly knew what to do with a brand-new pair of patent leather shoes! I wore that outfit and felt so proud singing my heart out during the show....and I then quickly gave all of the clothing back to the teacher after the performance, for fear of what my mother would do to me if she found out what I had done."
“You had to hide from your own mother? I can’t even imagine Kadence.”
She nodded, as tears brimmed over her eyes and silence filled the room. “I was nine years old when I finally managed to escape from home.”
The day she fled, her mother nearly tore the snowsuit off Kadence's back. Her clothes shredded, she ran as fast as she could to her best friend’s house. “She opened the door to find me standing here, bruised and in tears. I remember her parents helping me get cleaned up. After they fed me dinner, my friend and I sat down together. She asked if she could pray with me. Religion was far beyond anything that I knew, but I remember sensing goodness in the world when her family welcomed me to stay with them for the weekend."
Fleeing the brutality of her home life was the initiating factor in a very transient life for Kadence. Within a single year, she was shuffled amongst nine different foster homes. It wasn’t until she was twelve years old that she was finally taken in and adopted by a family. "They taught me morals and the values of family...and they opened up the musical possibilities in my life. They had instruments all over the house, everything from drums to bongos. Their two kids had no interest in touching them…I had every interest. When I was thirteen, my adoptive family bought me a guitar for Christmas. Shortly after, I added a harmonica to my collection. Over the years came the bass, drums and mandolin became a part of my musical life as well. When no one was around, I taught myself how to play. Other musicians inspired me along the way. When I was seventeen, I passed a busker playing in the city market. His song inspired me to move past the life I had known and begin to experiment. As soon as I turned nineteen, I left my foster home and I tried to find my way with schooling in various facets. I got my own car, and even found success in selling real estate! However, I learned the most from becoming part of a band and touring the country.”
Kadence was brave, fearless. She shared her riveting story with such confidence. Sitting back with my drink in hand, I sat wide-eyed and welcomed her to carry on.
"For several years, I got to learn about the business side of booking gigs, and I found momentum and inspiration from every experience of being in front of those crowds, night after night. That was where I truly began to find myself."
"Incredible. How is it that you found the strength to build a sense of confidence in yourself after all those years of having been beaten down?"
"It happened gradually, with time. As I hit the road and started to play more gigs, I came to realize that I wasn’t an outcast because I was an insecure artist. For many, there is a fear associated with getting up on stage. The stage is the physical representation of a platform for self-expression. But once you get up there and realize people like what you do, you feel a sense of acceptance. The experience fuels you. You go back home and begin to compose and practice that much more."
"The musical equivalent of building toward cadence."
"Ha. I suppose so!" she replied with a big smile.
"What's your cadence, so to speak?"
"What's my point of pause in the melody of my life? That's an easy one Sam. My daughter is my cadence.
She is bright and driven. She helped me become independent and realize what I was truly capable of in this life. She grounds me."
Never would I have imagined that such an authentic and inspiring person, or such a painful past, lay behind a production that showcased an abundance of rawness and purposeful humor. Even as a reporter, it was almost difficult to mentally craft questions to relay the incredible depth to Kadence’s messages. I felt grateful for having taken the chance to ask to speak with her.
"How it is you are able to look back on the brutality of your childhood and use it to contribute to a masterful piece such as Call Me Crazy?"
"There is irony in the production's title that best explains the answer Sam. The term crazy can be used to loosely describe how we feel without the mental toughness to endure everything that life throws our way. Craziness can also be how people perceive us when we are willing to risk big and strike out on our own, defying the limits of our past.”
“Obviously, you had the mental toughness.”
“I was lucky to have intelligence on my side during everything I went through. It allowed me to be strong enough to not have my spirit crippled. I could see the way out, and I kept moving toward it. In my heart, I knew that I had to find a place where I had the freedom to fully express myself. Without that mental toughness, who knows what may have become of me. I am thankful for having enough strength to choose empathy and kindness, two traits that are key to me. Being a director allows me to musically showcase the life that I have come to know, and the crazy life that I averted.”
Kadence went on to share how her decision to only accept a life of freedom of expression led her to find her way not only to expressing on a stage as grand as one of New York's most respected theatres, but also in a home life that supports and promotes open communication. Through her years on the road playing, she had fallen in love with a fellow musician.
"One of the best things in life is waking up to someone feeling as though you look absolutely wretched and having them tell you that you look beautiful. I'm so lucky to be loved and supported every day, in every way that I chose to express myself."
Kadence smiled as she shuffled her wild curly hair back out of her face.
Smiling back, I asked, "Where you do wish to take your life going forward?"
"Actually Sam, I've recently founded a new purpose in my life, which I feel ties every part of my experience and existence together. With the profits from this production, I will be funding a new charity. The group will support the purchase of instruments and music lessons for children who cannot afford those luxuries…those modalities of artistic expression. I want to create opportunities for the less fortunate, for those who have to go to school with unkempt hair and tattered clothing, just as I did. For all the children who come from homes that may be broken or lack support. My sole wish is for youth to be able to find solace and themselves through music, should they so desire to do so.”
"That's a cause I would happily support!"
"I thank you Sam."
I sat back in reflection. The first instrument that found its way in to Kadence's life had been the drums. All along, in spite of every physically and emotional beating she had seen and attempted diminishment of her spirit, she chose to beat to her own drum. Deep within, she knew who she was all along. She knew that she had to cut through the woods on the way to school to find solace and sing. She attracted a foster home filled with musicality. She left the schooling that was expected of her to pursue a life as a musician and radio broadcaster. And she put together every beat within her heart and the tones that spelled out her life to create a masterful piece of work that brought the crowd to their feet on opening night.
"Has anyone ever called you crazy Kadence?"
She let out a hearty laugh before composing her response. "I left a perfectly good broadcasting role to write this musical. There were plenty of times where I wondered if I was crazy for wanting to express myself and how I uniquely saw everyday life. Here's how I see it Sam: If there isn't anyone who sees us each as crazy, then we're probably not fully expressing ourselves. To be true to our unique absurd nature is to be an individual that some people will think to be crazy. It took a lot of time and effort, but at forty-five years of age, I can say that I fully accept myself as a person and an artist. I can reflect back on the life I lived and not feel angry. I believe that as long as we can grow from our experiences, there is hope. Sometimes what we learn makes us wiser, sometimes it makes us a bit crazier…but no one ever said that a little crazy was a bad thing. It's all about how we chose to express it."
Rising from our seats, we exchanged a warm hug. Kadence was so raw and real. She was evidently the kind of person who could sit with you and tell you countless crazy stories, bringing the characters within each one fully to life. Our time together felt as though it had brought me more fully to life. As we parted ways, Kadence returned backstage, and I headed back out onto the streets of New York.
Light snow fell from the sky as I made my way from the theatre. Walking along, I found myself humming “Snowflakes are falling on my head, they just keep a falling on my head.” Picturing Kadence as a young girl walking through the woods singing at the top of her lungs, I added my own rap beat and belted the tune within my head aloud, without any concern as to whether passers-by thought me crazy.
The Good News Report ©Joscelyn Duffy, 2013-2017
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