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Lesson 2: Why Studio See?
Published Date: November 23, 2018
About six months ago I proclaimed that I believed I could write for one year about topics related to the interaction between Christians and Jews. As such, this column begins the second half of that 52-week journey.
Today, I will reluctantly explain the reason behind why I named this column Studio See — you will understand why I say “reluctantly” if you keep reading.
The Young Generation (Official Group Photo)
The Young Generation
In 1976 at the age of 15, I was privileged to become part of a talent group that would go around and perform at various venues in Clearwater, Florida. It was an amazingly good concept with strong execution and organization driven by my friend Joanie Burton’s mom Joan, who had herself been in show business. The group, the Young Generation, would open with a Vaudeville routine with all of us singing, and then we would each get a 5-minute solo act for the total 45-minute show.
Lori did jazz dance, Hunt did magic, Joanie did tap, I played piano, Greg was the MC and worked in some comedy, Kimberly did ballet, Chuck did impersonations including W.C. Fields, and Kim did gymnastics. As far as I know, only two took their performances to the next level: Joanie went on to Hollywood as an aspiring actress and ended up in production, while Greg, if I recall, became an excellent guitarist, and played and sang in a rock band.
While an excellent (adult) pianist played during our singing and dance performance, my act was to come out dressed as that great showman Liberace, candelabra in hand, pompous in all my mannerisms, and then to play. We must have performed at least fifty times at various nursing homes, retirement centers, and community centers on weekends, sometimes three shows in a day. It was all done as an act of charity and the older people absolutely loved our performances. Three of the more unusual performances, however, stand out to me all these years later.
First, I remember playing at an outdoor neighborhood gathering in St. Petersburg, Florida on July 4, 1976, on the 200th anniversary of the USA. I was part of something much bigger than “our performance” that day. The stage floor was way too small and way too high in the air — with a big metal railing on all sides to keep us from falling off. It felt like we were performing on a raised postage stamp. Other than the gymnastics routine — which was smartly and quickly relocated down to ground level — I think everyone else managed to get through their acts OK on that tiny up-in-the-air stage.
And speaking of how it felt to be me, I also recall the day we performed at Disney World in Orlando. Disney didn’t really book us — I think our director must have pleaded until they finally gave us free admission to the park in exchange for a couple of shows on a big raised platform, completely exposed, with no seating anywhere. Had there been folding chairs, it would have made no difference, because nobody would have been foolish enough to sit in metal chairs, in the sweltering heat with the direct overhead sun of a midsummer July day in Florida. They told me not to light the 16-inch-tall white candles, but it didn’t matter. They had already begun to melt in the hot Florida sun, even as I walked towards the waiting upright piano, and they began to melt even more quickly once the whole candelabra now rested on the black piano’s blazing, baking-hot surface. The guests walking between park attractions, usually ignoring little performances such as ours, now stopped in their tracks, not for any interest in what I was playing, but to stare at the sight of a 15-year-old boy playing the piano in the hot summer sun while his two giant white candles began to slump over, each leaning in a different direction, before their very eyes. The growing audience was now fixated on my act, standing motionless, waiting to see if the little “Liberace boy” on stage would finish his piece before the first of his drooping candles would break free, falling off the candelabra onto the even hotter surface of that piano, or falling down onto the boy’s lap. While sweat poured down my face and all inside my costume, I was playing against the clock, trying to play my piece ever faster, hoping to finish before my serious musical selection devolved into utter comedy.
Later on that day, when we were regrettably required to perform a second time, the little “Liberace boy” managed to play his piece in much more relaxed fashion, without any candelabra or candles present. Nearby, a waste bin had been fed two miserable, melted candles.
The third memorable performance was memorable because it wasn’t supposed to be a performance at all, but rather a practice. A little non-profit PBS show had been funded in those years to try to keep kids watching PBS after they became too old for PBS children’s shows like Sesame Street. The new show was called Studio See. One of our group managers had written to them to propose that they do a story on our Young Generation group for one of their shows. They agreed and traveled down to Florida for filming. I was told that they would film us at a nursing home on Sunday (which they did) but that on the prior Saturday they wanted to see us practice. What was not clear to me was that the goal on Saturday was not to talk to them about the event on Sunday, but to film our practice on Saturday.
While the other kids wore nice, smart clothes, I wore a sloppy T-shirt of the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs, a team that was in the process of setting an NFL record for most consecutive losses. I was aghast when I walked in and saw all the cameras and realized my misunderstanding. But I quickly got over it and was soon cheered up.
Bob gets ready to play for the Camera
More than cheering me up, the story would turn for me that day in a good way, when they heard what I played. For rather than play a piece from Liberace, the ‘wow-factor’ of all my performances in the Young Generation was that my feature piece was self-composed. It was called Illusive Flight, a name that my mother of blessed memory came up with as she heard it being often-practiced at home. The producers really liked my little piece, liked me and my story within the group, and when our episode was eventually released, they gave me more than my fair share of coverage.
My Greatest Regret
And now I tell you my greatest regret and the reason for the name of this column.
One of the producers of the show called me a few weeks after filming and asked me if I would be interested in allowing them to use my piece as background music on another episode. She explained that they were working on a show where they filmed a girl taking her first parachute jump, and they needed a minute-and-a-half of music to accompany footage of the jump. She said she thought my Illusive Flight would be perfect for that. They would pay me $50 to sign a release form to allow them to use the music. That was a lot of money in 1977, and a lot for a kid. But, I must have surprised her in my response.
My greatest regret was how I handled myself in the ensuing days, in front of them and my parents. I suppose that I thought I was “somebody now”, and that this was a sign of my potential as a musician. (It really wasn’t a sign, it was just a gift). Rather than be grateful for a bit of exposure for my music, I kept stalling and trying to figure out a way to negotiate a price that would be “more in line with its true value” and would “not be taking advantage of me.” Eventually, after they flatly said “take it or leave it,” I signed, and they used it as promised. Studio See was cancelled after two seasons of 26 episodes each. But over the years, I have remembered, and been reminded again and again, how I treated those kind people who were trying to bless me, and fill a small need of their own. I took their interest in me, and used it against them, thinking that their interest proved my work was worth more than they were willing or able to offer.
Why The Name “Studio See?”
Here was the thing. I had no idea about their world. I had no understanding of what it is like to pull together a show in the world of non-profit television. Because TV cameras were present I assumed about them what I did not know.
I needed a different perspective.
And so, when I asked Gidon what he thought of my writing a column for about a year, I decided to name it Studio See in memory of that show.
When it comes to Jewish-Christian relations, I think we all need to have an enlarged perspective. Nobody can say they see everything at once. Even while writing the column, I’m continually learning as well. (I just learned, for instance, that this column is intended to have as many articles as Studio See had episodes).
The topic of Jewish-Christian relations is big and expansive enough that it deserves at least 52 different perspectives, more than just my own. I have liberally borrowed from the words of others in the first 26 columns already.
We all need to come into a place, an attitude of being willing to “receive the bigger story” — the Studio — and then being willing to look at these topics from multiple vantage points — the See.
But the name Studio See does something else for me personally. Every time I start a new column, it is a big fat reminder for me “not to think of myself more than I ought to.” (Romans 12:3). That painful memory serves as a shepherd’s rod keeping me in continual check.
Today, that memory is no longer sad, but redemptive.