A Humble Beginning
by Lisa, founder & director
In life, one can never prepare for a moment that is truly magical and almost mystical, one in which you are provided with a vague glimpse into what lay beyond this world. Every so often, we are left in the wake of a storm that seems to unhinge our normalcy in life and leave us stranded as if in the aftermath of a tornado: unprepared and frightened. From these experiences, we are left perhaps being inspired, motivated, challenged to move forth, and--most importantly--suddenly reminded of the delicacy of life. Keeping up with the everyday humdrum and activity of life, all too often one gets caught up in routines and fails to stop and reassess those things that are the most precious: family. Whether by blood or by choice, family is the gift of each other that makes life bearable and worth living. Please allow me to share the story of Earth Angels with you.
I started Earth Angels as a young teenager, my first summer in Michigan after moving here from Florida. That first show had only 3 songs and a skit to share with our audience. As it was performed, summer-end in a neighbor’s backyard, the young performers appeared to be dwarfed by the towering trees that seemed to poke the sky and leave us amid a jungle scene. There was a constant whisper in the air that day as the wind, time and time again, lightly tickled the foliage, setting them constantly in motion, as if in time with a beat heard only in nature. Our sound system, a small silver and gray boom box, turned up to the maximum volume, seemed to be challenged as it competed for its song to be heard as well. The finale consisted of all five members performing the song, “Earth Angel”. The three girls and two boys danced and pantomimed to the melody with extreme attention given to the idea that all right feet crossed over the left in unison and all left feet crossed over the right at the exact time as well. Snapping on beat was a challenge and an expectation no one was held too. It was a humble beginning.
Summer productions continued on for the next five years, improving year after year. Vivid memories of our ticket booth (a picnic table) and attempts at curtains, props and stages fill my mind. And through much work, dedication, time and a better understanding of the tips included below, the group grew into quite a local sensation.
Never use shower curtains as a stage curtain for when there is the slightest bit of breeze, they become sails that snap at performers like wet towels in a locker room.
A refrigerator box as a “stage door” tends to stick. Trying to battle it opens makes it looks like it is being instantly vacuum-sealed with sides collapsing inward at odd angles.
Those empty plastic milk crates outside the delivery doors of grocery stores are not free!
A toy putter, toilet paper tube, paper towel tube and plastic cup duct taped together and covered with aluminum foil make a realistic looking saxophone.
The wooden pallets used to ship large deliveries to K-mart do not make good stage floors. The wood planks are staggered just enough to result in sprained ankles.
When making stage mics, make sure the marker is dry on the wooden dowels or members end up looking like they’ve been fingerprinted and may leave marks the audience.
Painted cardboard boxes might be a good idea inside but used as scenery outside they become flying projectiles.
Garbage bags make great wigs and costumes for jungle savages.
Before we knew it we were being hired at festivals, fairs and occasions throughout the area. It was easy to lose our focus as to why we were performing. We were used to backyard shows with Kool-Aid and cookies, and performers netting $2.00 that paid for admission to the cast party at the local skating rink. Now we found ourselves being paid for something the members really enjoyed doing. Although the idea of securing real shows for more than just our parents and neighbors was something we only dreamed of, I was left with the predicament of what to do with the money. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of the kids being compensated for something that they true-heartedly enjoyed doing and were doing because they loved to entertain others. Thus, it was decided that the money we earned would be put into an account for costumes, props, expenses and travel expenditures with any money left at the end of the season being put towards a group trip.
As we continued our trek into the showbiz world we performed at banquets, Boy and Girl Scout events, special occasions, fairs and festivals. Each was a new discovery, kind of like biting into a chocolate to see what hidden inside the thin, brown walls. However all of these blurred together in comparison to a show that we performed a couple of years later around 1991.
Earth Angels was asked to perform about an hour and a half away from the Livonia area at a camp for children with disabilities. Setting out for the show, we soon encountered a problem: the road north was under construction and down to one lane. With no GPS to provide an alternate route, we crept ahead toward the camp which were knew was located on a dusty, dirt road secluded from the rural town. As we eventually pulled in the well-worn dirt roadway, we noticed the small cottages encircling a large grassy area. The driveway led like tire spokes to each individual cottage as well as the main cottage.
Despite our two-hour tardy arrival, in the distance we could see the campers waiting patiently and strewn around the green, lakeside lawn behind the antiquated house that we were to perform in. Over the years, the house had been turned into the main cottage for visiting campers. Our performance area was to be the living room that had been extended and built on years before. As we were waiting to go on, the counselors started to bring the kids into the performance area. Walking to the stage, the members noticed that many of the kids were in wheelchairs, had walkers, crutches, braces or needed assistance in walking. Peering in the room, we viewed children jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, walker-to-walker, and wheelchair-to-wheelchair around the perimeter. Others, who could sit on their own, nestled in or sat around the wheels and steel bars of those needing the wheelchair and walkers. Little room was left for us to perform as bodies spilled onto the stage area. In spite of the room logistics, we ran through the set and gave one of our best shows ever. The Earth Angels constantly involved the kids in their songs by singing to them, touching them and bringing up to the stage area those who could. The energy was infectious. The audience loved the interaction and music that accompanied our show. The noise level after a song was deafening. When we took our last bow, the kids cheered even louder and we finished with an encore.
Afterwards, while cleaning up, the camp director walked in to thank and compensate us for the show. As she handed me a wad of bills, the room grew quiet. The normal chaos and activity that usually accompanied a cleanup seemed to be instantly silenced like a caged bird. As the camp director exited, once again thanking us for our time and performance, members quietly turned back to their costume clean up. Breaking the confused silence, one member suggested that perhaps we could return the money. Looking around the room, I think each and every member fully realized just how fortunate we were. Here we were walking, talking, and a little earlier dancing with these campers. The dim murmur of the campers outside seemed to pull our attention to the window. As we looked outside, we could just see the silhouettes of the many campers on the lawn, for the night was thick and dark with the moon provided little illumination to the party that was going on outside. They were just like us--playfully laughing and excitedly chatting over the music that played lightly in the background.
because life is a beautiful thing
and there's so much to smile about.
We took a vote as a group on what to do with the money. Hands were slowly raised around the room as the magnitude of the situation and compassion for the campers was realized by each member. I handed the money to one of the captains, knowing he would be able to put into better words what was in our hearts. The entire group followed him out in silent procession. I trailed behind as they wound through the dark hall and towards the door that led out to the large, grassy cul-de-sac. I remember hearing the sharp sound of the aluminum door closing as the last member trailed out. Watching the group walk one by one to the camp director, I was overcome with emotion. Trembling and trying to control my emotions, a surge of mixed feelings coursed through my skin. Tears ran down my face in upmost compassion and joy for the campers, and at the same time profound admiration and pride for these Earth Angels members who had so graciously put into action the message behind Earth Angels. Watching the silhouetted exchange between the kids and counselor still remains a vibrant image that will forever remain in my memory.
As I slowly walked back down the hall towards our changing area, eyes filled with tears, a shiny object near the window slowly caught my eye. The reflection of the moon on the lake made it seem like fingers of light were reaching across the tranquil lake pointing to this particular corner of the dark hallway. Underneath the windowpane and wedged against the molding something seemed to sparkle. I bent down to pick up what I thought was a lost costume piece and realized it wasn’t that at all. Holding it in my palm, I walked closer to where the porch light was to see what I held. It was a small, tarnished charm. It seemed to float above my hand as I tried to focus on the miniature object. “Lisa?” I heard someone say as if from another dimension. Being pulled back to reality, I secured it in my pocket.
It wasn’t until later that evening, when I carefully examined it in the light, that I made the most delicious discovery. The small charm turned out to be a worn, inexpensive, gold-plated angel that appeared to be flying sideways with her wings outspread at her side. It had one small imperfection--an imperfection that was magically unnatural and profoundly unintended. One of her wings was bent in such a delicate way that it gently touched the angel’s heart. The angel’s eyes were closed and she wore a satisfied and kind smile. While it may be easy to dismiss this as an accident, it was no coincidence that I found her.
To this day, I still encourage the members of Earth Angels to “pass it forward” for the chain will certainly circle back one day. It is our choice to make and one that I hope continues to shine over the group.
The simple gift of yourself is
one of the most unique and precious gifts
you can share with someone else.
I knew more than ever that Earth Angels was meant to continue what I had begun so long ago. Someone had given me a gentle reminder of what Earth Angels was and is supposed to be and I hope that I never lose sight of that spirit. It reinforced the idea that we have the amazing capability to extend love, kindness and, most importantly, a smile to all we come in contact with. The best part being it’s the gift of you that you give others and you can do this rich or poor. One can never know how an action, smile or touch will impact another as I was so eloquently reminded of by those special Earth Angels from long ago.