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The Reality of Fame
guest editorial by Heather Fitzpatrick

Category : Fame, Fame & Fortune

I can’t get into Glee, and for the longest time I’ve wondered why. I should love the show, I love all movies and shows about singing and dancing. I love the music they showcase, but I just can’t get into it. It wasn’t until I re-watched the movie Fame that I finally understood why: Both shows are just not accurate to real life, and I simply can’t get past it.

I realize this sounds ironic, was life ever meant to be a musical? As a child I wanted my life to be like Beauty and the Beast, the Disney version. I would start singing “Little town…” around my house. And a lot of my friends did too, though perhaps they may have dreamed more of The Little Mermaid or Cinderella. We may even have our own life soundtracks. For me, the Black Eyed Peas singing “Where is the Love?” reminds me of Boston; Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” of my thesis. But most of us acknowledge the fact that life is not actually a musical. If it were, the same songs would not be repeated endlessly, like on your ipods or the local hits radio station.

Which brings me back to Glee and Fame, and how glossy they paint life in an arts school. Sure they’ve got their issues; both deal with some pretty heavy topics. Homosexuality, standing up for yourself, finding out what your passion is, being all that you can be (the artistic sense, not the army) are all topics in the shows, along with the rest of the stereotypical teen dramatic components like sex, love and friendship. These are all issues that can inspire the arts; they are part of life. But they are definitely glossed up and over dramatized, and for obvious reasons. The shows are meant for escape, drama, a way out of life for an hour or two. But real arts high schools aren’t like that. How do I know? I attended a high school as part of a prestigious arts program.

I was not the cigarette smoking anorexic dancer, the diva singer, or the drama queen. I wasn’t even the tortured artistic type you see in movies like “She’s all that.” In Fame, I would have been the band geek, always playing in the background to the colourful characters who’s stories you actually want to hear about. When you see twenty second clips of music students rehearsing together for ‘arts school’ ambiance, that was me. I was the supporting cast to life’s show-stopping numbers. While the drama students are digging into their souls’ most difficult experiences, and the dancers are chatting about escapades while extending their plies, I was keeping time in the percussion section, making sure the soundtrack to their adventures went at just the right pace.

I sound cynical. I remember a time in high school when the musical “Rent” first played on Toronto’s stage. All five years of drama students were taken to see it. The show was so powerful and real for them, they bought the soundtracks immediately. For months, every day in the hall, drama students belted out “Rent” classics at the top of their lungs. Given their lack of vocal training, it was usually done horribly. This is what arts schools are like. We find something that moves us, and then we rehearse, train, draw until we can do it no more. We practice scales and the same five difficult bars to a piece of music thirty times in two hours, until people are so sick of listening to us that they beg us to move on to something else. We do it so often in the name of performance that we destroy what inspires us, making us repulsed by our original love. Do you know how often “My Heart Will Go On” was sung at our school on a daily basis by aspiring singers? Probably about the same number of times “Fame! I’m gonna live forever!” in the early 80s. To this day, I still can’t watch Titanic. But who can blame them? Those songs speak about living on beyond some momentary performance.

That’s the biggest glamour gloss-over on shows like Glee and Fame: everything is performance ready, even the rehearsals. Where are all the countless hours of practicing? Where are the faces covered in paint, the broken toes, the aching muscles, the tendons screaming in pain from repetitive motion? Where is the fatigue, the emotional crises of being too involved in your craft, to the point where you can no longer accept constructive criticism? Musicals, dancing, and acting are never as spontaneous as they appear on stage or TV. Anyone who’s been involved in skits, performances or presentations can tell you those two short hours you see, came from days and weeks of preparation. I’m willing to bet the five minutes of screen time in the momentous street dancing scene in Fame took hours, if not days to film. Fame has its price. I suppose knowing this destroys the magic, but it makes me appreciate the performance that much more.

There is one place where Fame, Glee and reality meet up. I had fun and it changed me with amazing experiences like performing in Japan. I was exposed to some of the most wonderful, challenging and passionate teachers and friends a girl could have in high school. Where else would a teacher allow you to skip out on an important OAC class so that you could audition for a musical, a commercial, a TV series or for the arts program of your choice at university? These are the people who inspire you to always achieve your best, no matter the cost. This is a lesson that I will always take with me, no matter where I fly.

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