A Job I Never Thought I’d Have

A Job I Never Thought I’d Have

Every year The Calgary Stampede puts on the Grandstand Show.

It’s a part of every evening over the 10 days of Stampede that includes Chuckwagon Races. The Grandstand portion is the huge stage show. Huge is actually kind of a small word, given the show.  Yes, those are cows, that you see below.

There are 132 Young Canadians (a group of Calgary singers, dancers, and actors from eight to 18 years old); there are five special acts that are brought in from South America, Vegas, Hollywood and New York; there are musicians from across Canada; and a star performer, who this year happens to be from Calgary and who happens to have been a Young Canadian 15 years ago. Her name is Onalea. We’ll come back to her.


The man who runs the Grandstand is Emmy Award-winning composer, arranger and producer named Dave Pierce. A few years ago, Dave saw one of my plays and asked if I’d come on the creative team as the writer. 


Essentially my job is to give the main host words to say that fit the show. I help a little bit with the overall shape of the show, but mostly I focus on the words that the host says. This year that’s Onalea, the one I was telling you about.


Now, Onalea might be from Calgary, but she’s performed everywhere from Broadway to, well, places that aren’t Broadway. In this show, she is speaking to 20,000 people at any given time. And she’s doing it for 10 days. I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure that adds up to a lot of people.


So I have to come up with words for her to say while she’s in the air.
This is her in rehearsal:

And the words have to fit when it’s showtime, like this:

I have to come up with words for her to say here:

And I have to come up with words for her when there’s fire, like here:

Now there’s a time in my life when I’m at a loss for what to say or what to write. But fortunately, Onalea is a tremendous performer who understands writing and has a lot of her own great ideas. So we work a lot together to make it happen. Yesterday afternoon, we were on the phone and she said, “Hey, when I’m up in that plane what if I say, ‘Look – my own private jet!’” Good line. 

So if I were really honest, I’d say my job is to make her say the lines that she would have said anyway, and then stay out of the way. 

And if I had all the power, I’d just have her say this:

“Dave Kelly wrote this, and even though he can’t believe it, he’s so grateful for this crazy experience. See you at the show.”

See you at the show.