When I was in high school I was very involved in our drama club. I did just about everything for our school theater group—built and painted scenery, ran spotlights and sound, props manager, stage manager, house manager, and even assistant director. In other words, I was busy BEHIND the scenes.
When our drama teacher announced that our spring production my junior year would be Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, I was determined to step out from behind the curtain and participate onstage. By then, I had established a reputation for being organized and dependable—characteristics important for the backstage team. I knew what beverage our director liked in the afternoon (orange juice over ice), I knew all of the shorthand notations for blocking scenes, and I knew every inch of our theater—from the basement green room to the followspot booth. So our director was hesitant to “waste” my talents as a lowly actor.
After some begging and promises to be the director’s personal gopher (the assistant to the director), she allowed me to try out with the understanding that I would have a small part, literally small because I would be a child. The King of The King and I has a slew of kids so that was the part I was aiming for, but when I checked out the audition form, I saw that the princesses had to be 5’3” or shorter. Being that I was 5’4” at the time, I lied on the form and said I was shorter so I could get that part. That was the one and only time I’ve ever lied about my height because I was too “tall”!
Once I had wowed them with my average talent, they stood all of us potential princesses and princes in a line. Some at the audition were actual children, so my lie became evident. I was not 5’3”! Gasp! The director rolled her eyes at my obvious attempt at deception and consented to giving me a part, although now I would be a prince instead of a princess.
When I think back to that production so many years ago, the things I remember most didn’t actually happen onstage. I remember hunting all over town to find enough black hair spray for all of the actors. I remember having to tell the director about the accident involving the huge ceramic panther statue we had borrowed from a local store and my dad’s pickup truck. Yikes!
In the end, I realized I wasn’t made for acting. That just wasn’t my gift. But the beauty of being involved in a team as large and as complex as one which puts on a play is that I began to understand I didn’t have to be good at acting to be involved. I just had to be willing to play my part, even if it had nothing to do with memorizing lines.
Last weekend, I saw The King and I at TPAC. It was gorgeous and moving and I loved every minute of it. I get teary every time I’m in the audience during a standing ovation, and that matinee performance got me, too. I know just a tiny bit what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that kind of applause. It produces a smile from ear-to-ear that seems to say, “Thank you for recognizing how much work it took to do this thing we love and overlooking all our imperfections along the way. And thank you for not noticing that gaping hole in the neck of that giant ceramic panther.”