I wept into my Kleenex as I watched the cast of Les Miserables on the Oscars a few weeks ago. They sang a medley of three songs: “Suddenly,” “I Dreamed a Dream, and “One Day More.” I’m always a sucker for Broadway musicals. And I’ll see just about anything live. There’s an adrenaline rush for me in spite of the fact that I’m just an observer. Maybe this heart palpitation can be attributed to my own oft-times disastrous experiences on the stage.
When I was in the second grade, my classmates were set to perform a Christmas program. I was selected to be one of the graceful Sugar Plum Fairies. I won’t say more, but you can read the rest of the incident in my post called “Scars”. (Spoiler: I was neither graceful nor good at remembering my line.)
In the third grade, we performed a play all about Johnny Appleseed. I had the honor and distinction of being the first person to have a line. I was supposed to be one of several grandchildren who runs onstage and awakens their sleeping grandpa. Then I was supposed to say “Grandpa! Grandpa! Read us a story!” They asked the “grandchildren” to wear pajamas for their costumes. My mom made me a looong white nightgown. As I climbed the stage right steps, I stepped on the front of my nightgown. In a split second, I was facedown in front of the entire audience as they awaited my line. Did I run out crying? No! The show must go on, so I mustered up every bit of courage and soldiered on.
In fourth grade, the theme for our play was the life of Thomas Jefferson. We sang songs about the Louisiana Purchase and the Whirligig–the spinning desk chair he invented. We also sang a song about the debate between the Secretary of Treasury (Alexander Hamilton) and the Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson). It was high drama, folks! My part was a narrator/townsperson who explained the importance of the debate while fellow townspeople marched in a circle behind me with protest signs in their hands. I had a fairly long paragraph to memorize and it took a lot of concentration to recite it. This was only made more difficult when I was whacked in the back of the head with a protest sign in the middle of my monologue. Did I falter? I can’t really remember. The rest of the play is kind of foggy from there forward.
In the seventh grade, I tried out for a part in “Friends Forever,” a Michael W. Smith musical full of parents who don’t understand, friends that move away, and a Boys vs. Girls number called “Get Real.” I got the part of Janet, the girl who moved away. I’m pretty sure I gave a heartbreaking performance every practice. It was a real tear-jerker. On a rainy day before the big night, we were asked to perform “Get Real” in front of the student body after Chapel. In the song the girls and boys faced each other on stage, taking turns advancing on the other group while snapping and singing. That was my limit of coordination. We were supposed to wear sunglasses for the song and I had left mine in the classroom. I asked our teacher if I could run and get them. When I returned, chapel was still in progress so I planned to sneak in the front and sit with my fellow actors on a front pew. Instead, when I entered the room my foot slipped on the wet floor and the momentum I had gained while running to the class and back carried me, on my rear and splayed out on the wet linoleum, across the front of the school. Humiliation galore. I wished I were actually moving away like Janet.
I developed an even greater appreciation for the theater when I was in high school. Despite our relatively small school, we had a really active drama group and I was thrilled to be involved in any way possible. When I was a freshman I was scenery, a.k.a. a “bench sitter.” Over the next few years, I helped with props, lights, and sound. I was stage manager and assistant director. I recorded lighting cues and fed lines to forgetful actors. When we put on a performance of Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, I wrote down each move that Helen and Annie made during a silent food fight. They had to recreate this blocking every time they performed it, grabbing handfuls of scrambled eggs and throwing them in the exact same sequence for every performance.
I finally tried to sneak out from behind the curtain and be on stage again my junior year. Our spring musical was The King and I. Our director had already asked me to be Stage Manager but she said I could also have a small part on stage. I auditioned to be one of the king’s daughters. I lied about my height—the princesses were supposed to be 5 feet tall or shorter but I was more like 5’3”—and I got the part. When they stood me up with the other princes and princesses my deceit was revealed and I was told I had to be a prince instead. Was I embarrassed to play a boy? Please read the above paragraphs. I would only embarrass myself if, while playing a boy I also: a) tripped, b) got hit in the head, and c) flubbed my lines. What’s the chance of that happening? I would need to enter the Bermuda Triangle of Embarrassment.
I am a Drama Nerd but I’ve never been much of a Drama Queen. There are a million differences between a “Drama Nerd” and a “Drama Queen.” The most obvious one? A Drama Queen rules her kingdom through revealing, public episodes of high emotion and intrigue. A Drama Nerd is the master of no kingdom; her fiefdom is theatrical information, song lyrics, and internal emotions. When I think back on my high school years with my fellow Drama Nerds, I can’t help but smile. We spent all of our free time painting sets and searching for props and laughing…we did a lot of laughing. I wouldn’t switch to Drama Queen for anything. Who wants to be a queen all by herself when she can be a nerd with a bunch of friends?