by Holly Butler
About a year ago, my boyfriend mentioned this cool NPR series. “Wait, how have you never heard of Tiny Desk?”
He immediately pulled up a few videos on his phone, and I thought, how cool. They have this private room where NPR just lets people make music and hang out, but most of the performers were musicians or recording artists, so I didn’t give it much more thought. Little did I know I would get to be a tiny part of tiny history.
Being a vacation standby is already a strange experience. You are completely entrenched in a community for a set amount of time, and then just disappear until the next time you’re needed. You’re never 100% a part of the company (even when the company is as welcoming and warm-hearted as Come From Away) because you know you’re transient. You don’t expect to be included in show parties or company outings unless you’re in the building. I hadn’t been in the show in about a month, so you can imagine my shock when I got the call asking if I was interested in going to Washington D.C.
We rehearsed one day in the basement lobby of the Schoenfeld Theater. Our music team had put together a selection of songs from the show for us to perform, along with some small speeches to connect them. Our music supervisor, Ian Eisendrath, was on hand to make sure the blend was good for a small acoustic performance. We had five musicians and 11 performers - one of the biggest groups to perform at Tiny Desk!
The day of the performance, we met at Penn Station at 7 am. We took the Amtrak to D.C., and then a bus straight to NPR Headquarters. We were taken to a waiting room and given last minute time to prepare. When it was almost time to start, they took us upstairs to the performance space and… it was in the middle of a bunch of cubicles! It’s open on two sides and all the various NPR workers come out to be your audience for the presentation. After crunching ourselves into the space, getting very close and comfortable, we ran through our material once for them to see what we were doing and to get some audio levels. Then, it was time. More and more people were crowding around the performance area, and we got to do the actual performance for a strangely huge, very excited crowd of NPR staff. When it was over, they applauded and thanked us, and we headed back to the bus. Just like that, our magical day was over.
On the train ride home, we all had drinks, chatted, and talked, and for me, it was like no time had gone by. I had shared another magical day with this magical group of humans, and I was so grateful. Being a part of this special camaraderie made me curious as to how Tiny Desk began. Come to find out, it had its humble beginnings because two NPR music employees went to see a concert at a venue where it was so loud they could barely hear the music. They joked that they should just have concerts at their desk. The heart of Come From Away is echoed in this origin story - it’s about connection to something greater whilst in an intimate setting, away from the noise of the outside world. I love that part of this beautiful show gets to be shared in this way - this tiny, intimate performance for a larger audience. Tiny Desk has a big impact, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.