When Staff Sgt. Kent Powell Smith III auditioned last summer to join this years U.S. Army Soldier Show cast as a performer, the show chose him to serve as a technician instead.
But when push came to shove, fate ultimately opted to put him out on the stage.
The sergeant, who embraced rapping, dancing and performing for audiences at the age of 7, and has stuck with his passion for it ever since, had served eight years in the Army and never had the slightest idea it boasted a travelling song-and-dance show until it stopped off last year at Fort Irwin, Calif.
He almost decided not to even see the production an annually changing cast packed with newly tapped Army talent that he found was right up his alley.
I wasnt planning on going, and then, when I actually saw it and saw what they do, I was like, Wow, how come I didnt know about this earlier, said Smith, a communications specialist and Queens, N.Y., native who applied for this years show as soon as he had the chance.
If Id have known about this when I first joined the military, I would have done it a long time ago. On his application, Smith elected to join the cast but, because of his communications background, chose to be a technician if he didnt make the cut.
So when the group of entertainers hit the road in early May for a four-month-long tour to installations across the U.S., Hawaii and Japan, Smith donned a black T-shirt designating him as a staff member.
He leads the assembly of the productions elaborate stage setup, which now includes a 13-foot-long, 28-foot-high LED video wall; operates sound equipment and a high-tech mixing board; fixes microphones and adjusts frequencies.
But an injury last month to one of the shows dancers changed up the pace a bit for Smith, when the productions stage manager decided to put Smiths experience as a performer to use.
He knew Smith had the dance moves memorized. So, with two hours notice, he told him to pay close attention to the groups pre-performance rehearsal. He would go on stage that night when the cast played for an audience at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah.
Everyone had a long time to train for this, Smith said. Me I had only a couple of hours.
The short notice had him nervous, and a desire to perform well piled on the pressure.
You just want to show that they didnt make a bad choice by putting you in the show, so you want to do your best, he said. You want to give it your best and give it your all.
After five shows as a dancer and vocalist in a collaborative performance blending a rendition of rapper Jay-Zs Hard Knock Life and an original cast song called Army Strong and I Know it, Smiths character was alive and thriving when the show stopped off at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Aug. 10.
For any musician, you have that bug; its like that performer bug, Smith said. When I was teching, it was bothering me that I wasnt out on stage. Now that Im out on stage, its like, OK, full circle, its good to go. Im happy now.
Smith is one of two technicians with the show chosen to perform. A broken foot one of the dancers suffered last month during an onstage backflip put Staff Sgt. Charles Walker Jr. in a rap and breakdance performance called The Show Goes On.
Walker, a generator mechanic stationed out of Fort Bragg, N.C., grew up emulating the dance routines of his idols, like pop star Michael Jackson. Once, he even danced onstage with rapper MC Hammer in 1992.
So when the time came to step up to the plate, he delivered, despite fears that the audience wouldnt respond well to him.
I just put all that to the side and danced with my heart, said the Sicklerville, N.J., native. It was all love out there.
Smith and Walker both agree that technician and entertainer are tough jobs in their own respects, requiring almost 20 hours of work in one day on some occasions. But to wear both hats at the same time, they resound, is nothing short of hectic.
Once I get off stage, I have to jump right back into tech work, Smith said. Im out for three scenes not being back stage. Its double duty.
Jumping from hours of stage setup to rehearsal and from the spotlight to tech labor, its easy to see that the two represent hard work, but, according to Smith, they stand for something else something profound.
For me, being on stage, its just saying that anything can happen, he said. If you stay passionate, and you stay with it, anything can happen.
Ive been rapping since I was seven years old, and now, 20 years down the road, Im doing this. I never thought, ever, that I would be here.
But alas hes there, standing on stage with fellow Soldiers whose talents will write a legacy in Soldier Show history. And he has no problem describing how it makes him feel.
Youre doing a job that you like to do, but doing what you do on the outside, which is music, and then all of a sudden you have the opportunity to do music and your job, he said. Its breathtaking.