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Staff Stories: DCA Weekend!
Marlan Smith, Visual Staff

When I was around 5 and asked where babies came from, my parents decided to answer my question by showing me 8mm footage of my own birth. It's hard to say what scarred me more: the viewing of my own mother's vagina on a movie screen, or my small, wrinkled, lizard-like head emerging from it. The only thing I can say for certain is that I decided at that moment that I didn't ever want children.

You're probably wondering where I am going with this. Trust me, it will all make sense.

The DCA weekend starts at about 8:30pm on Wednesday after a painfully long day of recounting my underwear for about 4 hours. I immediately hit the bar and consume enough alcohol to ensure that I will pass out on the flight as soon as I board. This is pretty easy to do and my flight is mostly a jumble of random images and something about Josh Powell asking me to wear a blonde wig and talk to him in a British accent.

I wake up in Chicago wearing Josh's neck pillow; a consolation prize for being too drunk to fight for the window seat. I decide that I will not rest until I have one of these for my very own. Done and done. I don't think the cashier is quite as excited as I am about the pillow.

The trip to Scranton is pretty uneventful and the drive to rehearsal even more so.

Upon arriving at Hanover Area High School, the horn line begins to unload and warm up. I go to inspect the field to find that it is in fact a soccer field, a football field and a field hockey field, each one superimposed upon the other. We eventually figure out that the football portion of this field is in fact 15 feet too long and the hash marks are missing. No problem. We get some white paint and a measuring tape that looks as though it has been submerged in said paint. After doing the hashes, we measure off the back sideline and I do one of my "let me eye-ball it" jobs at painting an accurate back sideline. I'll let you use your imagination about how that turned out.

We warm up and do a quick run-through before retiring to the hotel. That evening, Crunchy Frog meets in Lee's hotel room to discuss the show and decide what we'll be wearing and playing. As we go around the room, the image of the ensemble begins to take shape:

"I'll be dressing like a cheerleader and dancing." "I'll be dressed as Hamlet and smashing two irons together." "I'll be dressed in drag and playing a gock block." "I'll be dressed as death and playing a tambourine." "I'll be wearing a suit made from puppies and playing a live manatee."

We wrap up the rehearsal after memorizing the feet song and all retire to our rooms where I pass out watching an HBO special on strippers.

Friday is a huge rehearsal day, lots of production runs and too little time to clean the stuff we want to. Angry custodians accuse us of ruining their field. Sorry pal, it was broken before we got here.

We focus on the first rotating block in Halloween and some other exposed portions of the drill before it is time for lunch. Lunch and dinner are provided by the school and is in the cafeteria. We line up like a bunch of enormous 6th graders and I notice the chalk propaganda on the sidewalk: "School is good. You like school. Ignore the man behind the curtain."

The cafeteria acts as a time gate through which all entering immediately regress to age 15. Rachel begins bitching about her algebra homework and I keep looking over my shoulder making sure that the cool kids don't roll me for my lunch money again. On the way out I catch a pair of legs sticking out of a garbage can. Ah, youth.

We wrap up rehearsal and have dinner. I notice that the smokers in the corps are all trekking about 5 miles to smoke legally up on a hill outside of campus. Must be worth it. Maybe I'll take it up. Taste the adventure.

The evening block is Renegades family day. We get to see the Hanover Area High School Marching Band (they shall now be known as the Renegades C Corps) perform. The band consists of roughly 10 wind players, 5 color guard, one snare, one tenor and a bass drummer that is wearing a bass set the size of a VW beetle on his head. On top of the bass drum scaffolding is a large stuffed goblin. The performance is absolutely the most charming thing I have ever seen and the kids all get a standing ovation that lasts about as long as their show. We are also treated to SoCal Dream arriving and playing their show, along with a contra bass trio playing Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne. Need more drugs.

The full corps lines up and performs their show and I notice a CorpsVets member in the audience slowly pick his jaw up off the ground. Everyone is completely blown away by the performance and I think I may have actually fought back tears at one point. The show is simply nothing short of amazing. After the mini corps performs we go back to the hotel. After a long season the corps has matured a great deal. The Renegades have grown up.

The finale consists of the band being assimilated by the rest of the corps and fitted with their implants to perform the closer once or twice. I'm pretty sure the flute standing in the soprano line was playing?

That evening is Crunchy Frog dress rehearsal? "Dress" being the operative word. Had someone not known what was going on (and I?m sure there were a few) one might have thought that it was Mardi Gras that evening. We had a French Maid, a cheerleader, a drag queen and a 7-foot chicken just to name a few. I received a lot of compliments on my 3-inch high heels as Bill Gallimore gives me a crash course in how to walk in them with out looking like cheap hooker... ok, a clumsy cheap hooker.

(FOOTNOTE: Now, I don't know what it is about a guy in drag, but I got more attention from the women in the corps while wearing a dress and heels in that one night than I had all season in shorts. I'm still not sure what secret of the universe I stumbled upon that evening but I am pretty sure that that secret comes in size 11 high heels.)

Zion fills in for the five year old cymbal player and he moves with a chimp-like gait that really makes me want to get Lee to write him into the show somehow. Rehearsal goes well and we decide to break it up as a cop pulls up and starts staring at us in the parking lot.

Back in the hotel, I change out of my dress and watch South Park. It's the episode where the Romanian quintuplet gymnasts defect to America. Kenny is singing "Conte Partiro" by Andrea Bocelli while Stan's grandfather has sex with the grandmother of the gymnasts. It's disturbing to say the least.

Saturday is perhaps the most surreal day of my life. We get up early and go to the school for a fast run through. I finally get a chance to listen in on one of Jim's freeform arc warm-ups. He begins with Ave Maria and then begins playing the horn line like some enormous instrument. I am simply stunned. I have goose-bumps covering my body for a solid ten minutes. The corps does a quick run through and we head to prelims.

For once the warm-ups for prelims are drama free. No broken busses. No rushing to make it to the gate on time. What it lacks in drama it makes up for in water. Lots of it. It's a good thing DCA said they would cover the bases on the field. Glad I can get that load off my mind.

We pack our dripping selves onto the busses and head out to the stadium. At the gate, Watrous and I grab all the megaphones from the middle horns to set them up. We catch up to the pit and look at the field. The bases are uncovered and have devolved into quicksand pits. Several members of the corps performing have significant mud stains over large portions of their uniforms. I exchange a long glance with Dave and he says, "I'm not even going to say anything. They're smart. They'll figure it out."

Luckily as we set up the pit, a field crew arrived and dumps fresh sand onto the bases. It's certainly better than it was, but I'm nervous about it.

Now all I have to do it set up the megaphones. After all, how hard could it be, it?s only been a month since I've done this. It goes from the 2 steps inside the forty to the other forty? Or was that the other forty-five? Let's start at the other forty and see if they fit? hmmm? The corps is entering the field. It must have been from the forty to the forty-five. All the megaphones are behind the pit. Lets just assume I got it right.

I race up the first flight of steps and grab onto the railing as the corps warms up. Dear god, please don't let anyone slip. Toccata begins. Oh for the love of Christ, please no one slip. Halloween begins. Please, please, please in the name of all that is holy, don't let the drums slip. I see people tense up as they cross the mud, but no one slips.

For the entire show no one slips.

I am going to slip though, because the entire audience just crapped themselves during our show. In fact, it was as if the entire horn line all had big ACME boxing gloves in their bells and had physically punched the stadium in the face. People's reactions ranged from laughter to gasps to cheers to screams to just stunned silence. About four measures before the show ends the entire crowd is on its feet displaying what can only be described as mass hysteria. Dave and I are both wiping tears from our eyes and we exchange an "I'll take it" nod. If this show were a child, this would have been the equivalent of graduation or prom or some other life-changing milestone.

I am overcome with pride as I run down the stairs to get the megaphones. I'm too late. The color guard has already collected them without us even asking. Chaz is using one megaphone to yell back up at the stands as the audience continues to throw babies onto the track.

Cool. Maybe we'll make finals.

I head back up into the stands and eventually out the back of the stadium towards the busses. As I am walking I hear that they are about to announce our score: "Nine." "Three." "point." "Eight." "Five."

I stop. Did he just say ninety-three? Ninety fucking three?!? We've been worried about breaking 80. Now we broke ninety?? I pick up my pace and run to the busses. It has to be a mistake. They said "Five Three" not "Nine Three." That has to be it.

I arrive at the busses to see everyone in the same stunned state that I'm in. At this point all I remember is a bunch of laughing and hugging and joking that the judges are waiting for us to get comfortable before they announce that they really gave us a "Five Three." We head up into the stands to watch the other shows. I celebrate with a beer and a funnel cake while we watch the remaining corps and try to defend ourselves from some form of mutant flesh eating wasp that has decided to harass us for the remainder of the afternoon.

As each corps finishes it' show and leaves, Brian and I look at each other and one of us announces "Ok, there's no way we beat them. We'll get 8th." Another corps goes on. "Ok, we'll definitely get 6th."

By the time Bushwackers go on we stop trying to guess.

Minnesota Brass takes the field and we begin to watch. About half way through, I notice their ballad sounds familiar. I look at Brian and he has the same look on his face. Suddenly it occurs to me. They are playing "Conte Partiro" by Andrea Bocelli. Brian looks at me and all I have to say is "South Park. Last night" for the realization to sweep across his face. Neither of us can hear this song now without seeing the image of Stan's grandfather having sex with a 90 year-old contortionist. I begin thinking of a way to interpret that into MBI's field show until they leave the field.

A show or two later we figure it out. 24 hours ago we were a 10th place corps. Tomorrow we go on as a fourth place corps. We will get our second night performance all season.

Right as the Brigadiers arrive on the field we begin making our way down the stairs. I pass Mejia and Zion and say hey. Suddenly and without warning, Mejia grabs me and says, "You're warm." The next thing I know she has sequestered my corps jacket with me still wearing it. It's hard to describe the thoughts going through my mind at this point. There is a Mejia strapped to my chest, feeding off my body heat. There is Mejia's boyfriend standing next to me with an amused grin as I try to stand as rigid and indifferent as possible while at the same time feeling like Han Solo's Tauntaun after it has just been flayed open to be used as insulation. Oh, the humanity.

We all head back to the hotel in a semi-euphoric state of mind. At about 6 p.m. we arrive at the hotel only to be told that the busses leave again at 6:30 p.m. for I&E. That gives me 30 minutes to get Lisa Johnson to do my makeup. I run to Lisamomeesa's room and sit cross-legged as she does my makeup. She works quickly, pausing only occasionally to stop, take a look at me and say to herself, "I love me!" When she's done I hop into my dress, grab my high heels and gloves and then run back to the hotel room for my wig.

As the bus leaves, I'm told that there was a drag contest in Scranton last night. Looks like I missed my calling.

Now, I never got much of a chance to even look at myself in a mirror while all this happened. For all I know Lisa could have painted "Kick Me" on my forehead. Either way, as I get on the bus I'm pretty sure that roughly half the bus doesn't recognize me except Danny. Danny pauses for a full minute in the aisle, staring at me. He continues staring at me for most of the ride to I&E. I am fairly sure that by the end of the trip I have caused Danny to question his own sexuality. Mission accomplished.

Once we arrive at I&E and the Crunchy Frog members welcome their newest members from other corps.

"Hi, I'll be dressed as a goth bee and playing the bongos."

"Hi, I'll be half dressed in uniform and playing my girlfriend's ass."

"Hi, I'll be five and refuse to play the cymbals when I am asked to."

"Hi, I'll be the five-year-old's father and play a trash can while yelling at my son."

You get the idea.

I do my best to stay with the pack and try to stand near Jim Jackson in the chicken suit while Jim tries to simultaneously act indifferent toward me and at the same time, put as much distance as possible between us. I guess he is afraid I'll make him look conspicuous.

We finally walk down to venue 5 where we will be performing. Randy is nice enough to "give a girl a hand" as I try to navigate the rocky slopes in 3-inch heels. A woman who just got done looking at the 7 foot chicken sees me and gasps.

"How's it going?" I say in my deepest baritone voice. Laughter erupts and I figure I'll be using this line a lot more throughout the night. It doesn't seem to stop people from grabbing my ass all evening, however.

As I am waiting to perform with Crunchy Frog, I get several make-up, posture, hair and shoe tips from passing guard members and a video interview from Lesa Barker. I had no idea drag queens were so popular in Pennsylvania.

Finally the cymbal ensemble goes on before us, however a confused crowd begins chanting for Crunchy Frog and screaming "No frog, no peace!" As I watch the cymbal line get escorted out to the field by the seven bald bodyguards, I am reminded of my place in the bodyguard team last year at I&E. Anthony was disappointed that I couldn't do it again this year. "You are dead to me" were his actual words, I believe.

I think there is a children's book there somewhere. I'll call it "The Prettiest Bodyguard." It's about a young bodyguard who discovers cross-dressing and is disavowed by his father. It will star Hal Sparks and Jack Palance. We'll see it on the Oxygen network next fall. Have your TiVo and Kleenex handy.

After the cymbals perform we are up, which is good because my feet are killing me at this point. As we enter the field of competition, we seem to have a snowball effect on the crowd and end up collecting about 8 more members including Jeff DeMello who simply marches back and forth behind the lesbians. Needless to say, we get disqualified. The interesting part is that if you take away our DQ and 20 penalty points we come in only half a point behind the real cymbal ensemble. We also score first in content. I guess seven-foot chickens and transvestites equal content.

The crowd reactions vary from amusement to heresy and I think one judge said that he "got it with perfect clarity." I hear afterwards that one woman was constantly muttering "Only in California."

That's right honey, that's why we choose to live there and not Scranton. Enjoy your fever dream while it lasts. Tip the veal, try the waitress. We'll be here all week.

I walk back to the bus to change and get out of my costume. It was the longest walk ever in those damn shoes. Good lord. I can't figure out why women do this to themselves. Note to self: Burn all of wife's high heels when I get home.

I grab the markers for the mini corps and sit through some really good and really bad mini corps performances. I am somewhat amazed at how good some of them are and how amazingly bad others are. Finally the mini corps comes out and kicks ass. Murray plays drums like the right hand of God. It is said that he arrived from a pod, fully formed with tenor drums strapped to his chest.

Among the other winners was Rich Atcheson of the contra basses who apparently kicked everyone's ass that night. I make a note to try and get him to perform for us later in the weekend. Also the cymbals walk away with a medal as well as Anthony in individual cymbal competition. Overall we end up nabbing something around 27 medals.

The evening winds down and we head back to the busses. As we drive out of the parking lot someone yells something about the Contrabago and points out the window. I look out the window to see Morgan trying to do doughnuts in the RV through the parking lot. The fever dream continues and I pass out.

Sunday starts at the high school around noon. The day has a much more somber tone it seems. Jim warms up the horn line and then plays Ave Maria for the arranger who is weeping afterwards. The horns sound simply incredible. I've never felt more pride in a group of people. This is one of the more profound days of my life. The corps is all grown up.

We hand out member patches and watch the color guard perform the show for us. This experience is completely new to me. Normally I am looking at the horns and drums the entire time with my brain in Instructor Mode and have never really spent a lot of time watching the guard. I have to say that I have never seen so much talent in such a different way. It was also one of the first times I got complete chills just watching work being done. It was as if the guard had transcended to a level of perormance that I wasn't quite sure I even comprehended.

I watch in awe as Rich plays his contra solo. I had no idea contras could even do some of the things he was doing. The rest of the corps is equally impressed and I hear people looking at each other and mouthing "What the fuck?" as he plays some of the most complicated music I have ever heard for a contra bass.

Finally we set up and do the final run through. Suddenly I realize that this is it. I'm done. There is nothing more I can do. It's a very strange feeling and I am suddenly overcome by an overwhelming sadness. After tonight I will never see the show again live. I'll see it on tape, but it won't be nearly the same. Again I am fighting back tears as it occurs to me that this is the best field show performance I have ever been a part of and now it's over. My hands are tied.

I start to draw a similarity to raising a child in my head. I never wanted kids. Still don't. Yet, here is a project that you work on and work on, and become frustrated with. Some days you feel great feelings of accomplishment. Some days you feel like you've failed miserably. Either way you just keep teaching and pushing and hoping that it all comes together. Now as I look at the show it's as if this child that we tried to teach and help and encourage is now leaving home into it's one last performance in the world and then I'll never see it again. Never feel the stands shake in the Matrix. Never feel the same goose bumps in Ave. Never feel that moment before the loudest chord at the end of the show as the middle horns throw down the megaphones then proceed to punch me in the face with a wall of sound. Never feel this energy again. All we'll have left will be memories.

The final run through is fantastic as I stand in the bleachers, helpless but to watch and cheer and cry.

We load up and leave to warm up at the State Farm building. The marching block is scary how focused the horns are. They look incredibly fierce and hungry and fantastic. Other instructors from other corps are wandering by to look. Get a good look, fuckers. Next time you see these guys they'll be tearing down the stadium. Enjoy your show.

At last we walk down to the stadium and to the gate. We hear the drum line finishing their warm up all the way to the stadium and realize that they never really got quieter. Scary.

We get to the gate and wait, and wait. Finally it's time. Dave and I grab the megaphones and head down to meet the pit. A really hot Buccaneer guard member is dancing maybe 10 yards away from us on the back of the field. Nobody says a word, but then, who needs to? I wish I had my high heels.

We move out to the field and set up the megaphones and the rest of the pit, then run upstairs.

Before I know it, the show is over and I remembered almost nothing from it. I know it was clean, but I don't remember anything else. I remember loud and good and the crowd losing their minds. Somehow I feel numb though. It's over before it even began.

I leave the stadium as the corps waits for retreat lineup. Everyone asks me what I think and I try to be positive but something is bothering me and I don't know what. I explain why I think the crowd was quieter. I explain that it was a much better marching show and that the drums and horns had a much cleaner show this time through. Everything should have me feeling terrific, so what's bothering me?

After the corps set up on field for retreat we sneak down behind them. Something is definitely up, because the judges are really taking their time in releasing the scores.

Finally Jim McFarland comes by and tells us. We got sixth because of a 1 point penalty, otherwise we would have gotten fourth. My heart breaks for a moment and then I go about my mingling. As I think about it, my spirits lift, however. We had a fourth place show. Those 4th and 5th place corps will go home knowing that. They just got to have their names announced later.

The scores start being announced. The contra section wins again. They are now the undefeated contra bass champions of DCA.

And then, it comes. The score.

Last year we placed tenth in finals and the crowd booed the judges, which was cool. We have people who marched Madison and have heard their share of judges being booed. Tonight, the booing was louder and angrier than any of us have ever heard. It was what happens when 3000 people all agree on something and are equally outraged. Rumor has it that people even threw items at the judging booth. I was stunned by the crowd response as I think every other person in the corps was. I don't think I will ever forget how good that booing felt.

The placements finish out. The Cabs won. A Brigadier was crying because of the scores. One corps turned and left in what looked like a fury because they didn't score like they felt they should have. Scores this, and scores that. Blah blah scored a blah blah point blah blah.

We move back to the State Farm lot and proceed to play the show 3 feet from the face of a crazy drunk guy that paid us a grand to make him deaf. I listen in disbelief to the show once again, almost uncomprehending how far the corps has come.

People talk a lot about scores, and I never understood what people meant when they said scores don't matter when I was in Junior Corps. But I think tonight I finally get it. We made 3000 friends tonight. I had the privilege of working with the finest drum corps I have ever been a part of, performing a monumental, history-making show that will be talked about for ages. I cannot remember feeling more pride in a group of people as I do tonight. While these other people were angry with scores and placements, we walked away knowing that we came in, kicked ass and walked away with the DCA world turned firmly upside down, spinning and begging us for more.

As far as I am concerned, they can keep their scores.

We fucking won.


Editor's note: Marlan, a Freelancers alum, is a member of our visual staff, a professional video game tester, and Photoshop guru.

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