By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Yes We Can

Part of the enjoyment of opinion columns is the opportunity to be a little more personal with our Gazette readers, and share stories and observations about ourselves. As some friends have known, I was out this last week, having been in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Academy of Country Music Awards. What most people may not realize is I’ve been part of the production (and several others) since 2008, and after the pandemic shut things down for a few years, I was invited back.

While I’ve shared stories in the past, I still get asked one regular question: “What is it that you actually do there?”

The most simple answer I can provide is “I do the show before the show.” Whatever viewers see on their television screens, I’ve seen everything an average of four to six times. Seven, if I decide to attend the show for fun. I’m part of the production team known as a rehearsal actor, or a “stand in.”

When I say I “do” the show, I step in for scenes and act like I am either a show presenter, an award recipient, or one of the talent acts. The show treats my role like I am the actual person, so I have to do my part with the same level of care and attention and play it serious. In years past, I’ve “hosted” the show as Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley, and I work with the team to make sure the lighting looks good, the camera angles are set properly, and the dialogue flows smoothly. Sometimes, I stand in as a member of the band.

Do I sing and dance during a performance? 99.9 percent of the time, I’d say “No,” as that’s a whole other talent pay rate. There was one time I actually did during the 2010 Daytime Emmy Awards, where I performed with Marie Osmond, Tony Orlando, and Chubby Checker (yes, I understand that’s an unusual combo. Try standing on stage and realizing this is what you’re being asked to do for your day). Sometimes, I’ll get handed a guitar and told to “go along with it,” save that I can’t play a musical instrument to save my life.

What are performances like? Normal sometimes, surreal for others. When asked how many country and other musical genre artists I’ve encountered over the years, I usually just reply with “Yes.” To date, I still haven’t met or worked with Willie Nelson, so that’s an eventual goal one day.

The behind the scenes are as quickly paced as the show itself, sometimes down to the second. You can’t miss cues. When I do a prompter reading, I have to present as though I’m doing it during the actual live show. I introduced Dolly Parton’s performance this year, and it’s one of those moments that does admittedly give a brief pause. That’s another aspect: You have to be constantly “normal” around some of music’s biggest names because in that moment, you’re co-workers (I will say being around Prince during Billboards 2013 gave me more than a brief pause).

Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum) has been one of the most constant groups attending the show, and I’ve watched them grow from newcomers to regulars.

And I have to present awards, normally to my colleagues, but sometimes to actual performers, and giving an acceptance speech isn’t “Thanks, Mom and Dad! Bye!” I have to fill an acceptance time slot, and I can’t “goof” it, so I’ve come up with quite a few “winning” speeches. Yes, I’ve held the actual award, which I didn’t realize was a cowboy hat until a few years back. I feel better in realizing none of my other colleagues did, until my discovery that day.

This year was different due to the pandemic. There was no regular show for 2020 or 2021. I hadn’t seen some of my production people in about four years, so there were definitely a lot more hugs and less than dry eyes. COVID protocols kept us masked during production, and testing was regular. It wasn’t that bad, but I had to be at Allegiant Stadium far earlier for call times.

Also, do I know in advance who is going to win? No. I find out the same time as everyone else during the live performance, though sometimes, you can get a pretty good idea.

For me personally, I drove out to Vegas this year, an 20-hour average drive (I’m “good” on driving for a while, especially with gas prices exploding mid-trip). Having lived out there for about a decade, I surprisingly fell very comfortably back into old routines. And I will say I missed 24-hour everything, because a few work days were 12-hours long, and grabbing a late dinner without having to worry about a closing time…. that’s something I could get used to again.

The final rehearsal.

Driving there meant driving back, and it’s only this weekend where I felt somewhat “normal” again (though I recognize I’m still in need of about two more days of sleep).

Overall, the ACMs are an enjoyable show to work, and it really is fun seeing fans get excited, because they haven’t yet seen what you’ve been working on for four days. I don’t ever get tired of this, and my production group is another family to me. I look forward to seeing them again next year.

Who knows? Maybe Willie will finally be there.

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