Jetara as "Hello Kitty" posing with the cast members who played "Humans"

Gilded Serpent presents...
Playing Hello Kitty
by Jetara

Where to begin? Alrighty, I guess the beginning is a good place. As a professional dancer, artist, performing artist and single mother, I know that any work when it comes in is great! Ahhhh - it is truly awesome to have the gift of actually enjoying doing something for a living that nearly pays the bills (some months, almost all of them)!

There are, however, those once-in-a-blue-moon gigs which require a major sense of humor, humility and grace, and the following event was one of them!

I received a phone call from my agent, who is quite direct (I often really love that about her). "Tara...how tall are you?" No hello...just how tall are you? "Why do you ask?" I responded, having already learned that my height may help or hinder my getting a job. Silence on the phone...Then, "Ummm, I'm 5"5''." My agent: "Are you sure you're not 5"4"?" Me: "Well, I could be 5"4'...just not stand up so straight, if you'd like?" "I have a potential job for you. It requires three rehearsals in S.F. and then the actual performance." Me: "Okay, sign me up!" Agent: "You'll be a big fur ball, wearing a large head...are you claustrophobic?" Me: "Ummmm...No...I'll be fine." (Knowing that I needed the money, I would just have to get over my claustrophobia!)

Many inquisitive and serious phone calls later (as if I was auditioning for the FBI) I finally was officially hired! Yippee!! I think?? I was told that I got to play "HELLO KITTY", a Japanese Anime character, a gigantic head with a comparatively wee little body. So much for vanity...I'd hit the big time as a dancer and I could kiss my ego goodbye!

I arrived at the first rehearsal at 8:30 am., after having coordinated my own personal dance of arranging, dropping off my two (highly active) little boys at a neighbor's in a wee hour of morning....coffee in hand, water bottle in bag, I was raring to go...both eyes were almost open...stretching out at the "REAL DANCERS" dance studio...Wow! Big mirrors, windows, ballet barres...and with that smell of old sweat! I put on my jazz shoes and prepared to rock. I couldn't believe I'd actually gotten this far! Quite a drama, the whole auditioning process. The other dancers began to filter in, all casually glancing out of the corners of their eyes at each other after friendly "hellos" - sizing up the competition. The choreographer and several executives entered. Parts were announced..there were three Care Bears, Hello Kitty, three girls, Sunflower, Strawberry Shortcake and another hip one (all with the enormous Japanese Anime heads). Then there were the "humans" (six dancers who just got to be themselves/shoppers), Cinderella, Snow White and Spiderman.


big shoes!
This was to be an elaborate show for Mervyn's department store executives at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco - and perhaps an industrial commercial. Smashing Pumpkins was also hired and lined up to go on after us.

We were taught the choreography, a basic bare skeleton, in which we had to hit very fast, very sharp word cues. The "non-humans," as we were called, were pulled out one at a time for fittings. As I entered the fitting room, I noticed the huge kitty head kind of melted down on top of a pile of white fur, with a bunch of pink stuff sticking out. Flashing through my mind was sheer panic, as I thought, "What if I can't breathe in that thing?! What If I can't see or hear? What if I fall down?" I smiled and breathed through it. Working with the dresser, I slipped my pantaloons on. They were attached to the white fur fat kitty legs, with really cute but really big pink Mary Jane shoes attached. I lifted my leg...uh-oh!...My knee was lifted and bent and my foot was totally out of the shoe...and the pink kitty shoe was still on the floor. I thought to myself, with a bit of panic, how could I quickly make my feet four times their width and twice their length? Stuff the shoes with something! On to the next step, a padded fat body - next three: a lovely pink polyester dress with a rounded pink polka dot collar. I looked pretty, but kind of like I'd had an accident with one of those head hunters who used to shrink the heads - but mine was still attached to my body! Reminded me of the poor guy in "Beetlejuice." Uh-oh! Here comes the head! They placed the helmet, which was inside the unbelievably huge kitty head, on my head. Well, now at least my head was more in proportion with my body...however, I was very hot and could only see out of my nose...and my one and only view to the outside world was fogging up!!!


Cranky shortcake, Gingerbread and Sunflower with Humans
Well ....I thought to myself, I've survived many near-death experiences, and certainly if I can endure the pain of childbirth, I can handle this! After all, I am a "professional". I stuffed wads of plastic bags in my shoes and back to rehearsal I went, with big time determination.

This was for my children...I would do anything for my children...apparently, even make a complete idiot out of myself to put food on the table!

More trouble ahead: my partner, "Strawberry Shortcake," couldn't see out of her head and was rather cranky about it...not that I could blame her - I mean, I was lucky! At least I could see out my nose, even though it was kind of foggy. I came to notice that several dancers had a bit of an attitude...but Strawberry definitely had the biggest head. Me...well, I was really uncomfortable, yet laughing very hard at the fine predicament I'd gotten myself into this time.


Choreographer
The enthusiastic and talented choreographer was nothing short of genius...Bob Fosse-esque, fast as lightning moves, hit those cues on time! Yep..that was the challenge...when your feet come out of the costume feet and your head spins around all of its own accord. Quick...get your jitterbug partner! Uh-oh - where was my jitterbug partner? I could rest assured that she never would be where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there. Moving stage left, upstage, downstage, stage right...oh, dear!..where was Strawberry Shortcakes' hand? She was supposed to grab my hand. Alright, so I've come to discover that it is a dog-eat-dog world on the stage, whether you're a human or not. Each dancer was vying for center stage, for that moment to be discovered...a chance for true STARDOM!!! But I just so wanted to save face and keep my gigantic kitty cat head on...and at least have it facing in the right direction - you know - frontwards. Once I was so on! I hit my cue on time, so proud of myself, spun around like a true jazz diva! As I hit the mark facing upstage, both hands reached up and held one count/freeze, but my cat head disobeyed and, as I froze, the "HELLO KITTY" head spun about 180 degrees and wound up facing downstage. I just hate that - when my head spins around all of its own accord! Live and learn. I'd have to tie that head to my head somehow...

The big day finally arrived, and we were all quite serious...it seemed like we must be the Joffrey Ballet...I felt a little confused...wasn't this just a Mervyn's gig?

My agent, playing one of the Care Bears, had rehearsed relentlessly, as had I...we had to be our best! That jingle played over and over, grinding into the recesses of our minds: "MERVYN'S...DAH-DA-DA...TA DAH...MERVYN'S!" I was a bit worried about my partner...would she be there when we were supposed to jitterbug? Or would I again look like a big-headed lost stray cat, as she stood somewhere else as if she was supposed to be there? I looked at my agent and she had a very serious look on her face. With her own wee little head and big fat bear body, she asked me to watch her walk from the back. "How does my tail look?" Yes, that was great, but the tail was moving toooo fast! It needed to go right, left, right, left, because the tail was moving too fast, I told her.(She was choreographing her little bear tail..and I was helping her! We had officially lost it.)


The call we had been waiting for: "PLACES!"

Hold your heads until the cue. Oy vey! Then, to add further insult to injury...with my shrunken head I looked across the stage and saw a foe, a stage hand...but it was tooo late! He had spotted me! He was a dear friend of my not-so-friendly ex-husband. Living this one down was apparently not going to be an option!

The Lights went up and WOW!! The audience was really into it! They were cheering "B... E... S...T...MERVYN'S!" We were on...I hit my first cues..yeah!!! I chased after Strawberry Shortcake - yes, there she was... JITTERBUG... moving... heatwave... box-step... pas-de-beret... conga-line... swaying... move in line... cross step...follow Cinderella... spin, turn... run back...reach it up, step it down, sequence number two: Rast! Fosse! Run down stage, pose and hold, and whap! my head almost fell off into the audience! I looked around, and there she was...Strawberry Shortcake, front and center - she had shoved me out of the way!

Success! Finito...another gig down.....a few bruises to remember it by, along with a monstrous headache, but "the check is in the mail!" It's a living, and I am so grateful that I got to dance!

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