Teri Booth pulls a canvas bag out from between a handful of instrument cases in the trunk of her car. Peering inside, it’s apparent this is her bag of tricks — there’s a clown nose, a couple of puppets, novelty disguise glasses, a metallic tinsel wig and a mini red plastic cowboy hat, to name a few. She puts all of them on at once and attempts a stern-looking face, but her fun-loving nature is apparent.
Booth explains that if she’s playing woodwinds for a musical-theater production in the pit where the audience can’t see her, she’ll often don a costume or prop during curtain call. Or, sometimes she’ll convince the musicians to have a theme night — such as “Under the Sea” — for which they wear floaties and goggles.
“I just have this inherently playful nature that has to come out somehow,” she says. “I work really hard at what I do, but it’s fun. I like to have fun and make things fun for other people.”
Booth’s degree is in engineering. But, after climbing the corporate ladder for 10 years, she realized she’d rather be playing music. Instead of potentially making six figures, she’s instead wielding six instruments: flute, piccolo, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax and oboe. She learned flute in elementary school; oboe in high school because the band needed an oboist; and started dabbling in the others after high school. Even though she has to work part-time doing inventory for RGIS, for Booth, it’s worth it to do what she loves full-time.
Her current gig is “Noah Racey’s Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance” at Asolo Repertory Theatre. It’s an interactive production during which the musicians are on-stage and part of the performance. Although she can’t wear a clown nose, she’s excited to be a part of the musical because of the level of passion, talent and commitment among the cast and musicians. As she speaks about “Pulse” and the other 10 productions she has played in this season, it’s hard to imagine she’d be happy in any other career.
She’s at ease sitting on a bench along the bayfront as she explains how it all started. Booth is a Sarasota native who attributes her love for musical theater to Connie Sharp, her 15-year-senior sister. Sharp taught her to sing “I Feel Pretty” when Booth was 2 years old.
In high school, Booth attended The Players’ production of “Guys and Dolls,” after which she declared: “That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll play in the pit.” The following year, in 1982, she played her first show. It was “Paint Your Wagon,” at Sarasota Players.
She played for productions throughout college and played in about one a year while she was working as a non-musician.
Thirty-one years after her first show, she’s still playing in the pits at The Players, in addition to the Manatee Players, Venice Theatre and Asolo Repertory Theatre.
The musicians join the production when casts begin their technical rehearsals. Each theater has its own feel, and each cast its own personality.
“On Friday nights when a lot of people are getting ready to go to dinner or go out, I’m getting ready to go to work, and I couldn’t be any happier,” Booth says. “I love that. I love what I do, and I love the people involved.”
In addition to new casts, there’s always a new score or a new style of playing. And, because there are about five woodwind parts but only one woodwind player, Booth transcribes the important sections for each instrument into one score.
But those aren’t the only things that keep her on her toes: At the Manatee Players Riverfront theater, a suitcase flew into the pit — Booth think’s it’s why there’s a grate covering a pit at the new theater. In a production of “Oklahoma,” a prop knife came flying toward her. During a preview performance of “Anything Goes” at Manatee Players, two cast members accidently danced right into the pit, and they had to stop the production.
Booth tries to describe her worst day, but struggles. She is living out her dream.
“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Why is it OK for me to live the way I want to?’” she says. “I see so many people who don’t. They do things because they have to do them.”
Five things that inspire Teri Booth:
Nature — I’m connected to it. I can’t be removed from it or life starts draining from me. That’s the hard thing about matinees, I have to go inside these dark walls (when it’s nice out).
Talent — Being around talented people inspires me. It inspires me to work and develop talent.
Laughter — It makes everything better.
Food — I like sharing meals with people because it builds a sense of community. There’s something about sitting down and breaking bread with people that’s more intimate.
Spirituality — Even though I believe people have a choice, I also believe there’s a plan. I believe that if you’re in sync with the plan, then things work.
Teri Booth on Broadway:
Your favorite musical: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Musical you’d like to spontaneously combust: “Oliver”
Production you want to see but haven’t: “Once”
Most recent production you were ‘wowed’ by:
“Noah Racey’s Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance”
Production you haven’t played in but would like to:
“Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”
If You Go
“Noah Racey’s Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance”
When: Runs through June 16
Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets $24 to $71. Use ticket promo “Dance20” at Asolorep.org to receive 20% off.
Info: Call 351-9010 or visit asolorep.org