The other week I was at a party hosted by this newspaper, when a message appeared on my phone. It was someone from the Sydney University Recreational Circus Arts Society (SURCAS). They asked me to perform at their show, Spaceship SURCAS. Originally, they wanted me to perform using staff (pole or stick spinning), but upon hearing I had colour guard flags, they thought it would be amazing if I did colour guard instead. The show was two days away—I didn’t have a routine ready, and I had an essay due the day before. And yet, despite it all, I said yes.
Colour guard incorporates flag, rifle and sabre work along with dance to add a visual element to a marching band. During high school, I was a colour guard in the NSW Public Schools Millennium Marching Band (MMB). While that sounds impressive, the reality is far different. We only rehearsed around one weekend each month and had to make up most of our routines and techniques on the spot. We had a teacher who taught us some useful skills, but she was not a professional flag spinner.
The combination of disorganisation and lack of time meant we frequently had issues with timing and memorisation. And yet, despite our questionable execution, we got booked for football games, performed at the Opera House, in the United States and the NSW Schools Spectacular.
The Opera House
The Opera House stage is not large enough for an entire marching band with the colour guard. The space limitation meant we were set in the seating area behind the stage—right with the children’s choir. What a marvellous idea. Not only did we have to ensure we remembered our routines, but now we had to worry about hitting children. The rehearsal was unfortunate. I was hitting seats left and right. To this day, I still do not know if I hit a child.
In 2015, I had the thrilling opportunity to go on tour to the United States with the MMB. We visited Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, performing at high schools and the University of Washington. I want to say we were prepared and knew all our routines well, but we simply were not ready. That is not to say we were lazy. We ended up spending much time learning our routines on tour but we still managed to continually mess up.
In Washington, we performed at a high school football game with the marching band from John F. Kennedy Catholic High School. We had a drill performance which involved making formations on a field. It was not terrible, but it was messy, partly as we had to ensure we marched to the correct spot while performing. It was also the time I denied being gay. Overall—not one of my proudest moments.
After the tour, we had one of our highlight performances, the Schools Spectacular. If you have not realised a trend by now, then I will repeat it. We were not prepared. This wasn’t new, but this time our failure made it onto TV. During the Friday night show, we were supposed to be moved from the sides to the bottom area in front of the stairs. However, we were incorrectly told to stand on the middle step—close to the singer who we, luckily, did not hit.
When I accepted the invitation to perform at Spaceship SURCAS, I really hoped I’d succeed. It’s not that I was blind to my past failures, it’s that I imagined the failures would help me achieve. I practised frequently; I learned my entire routine. I felt confident, ready and secure. On the night, I ended up improvising about half of it and hit the ceiling and the panels behind me. I was wrong. My previous failures did not put me on a pathway to my success; they taught me how to fail. How to fail spectacularly.