Throughout middle school, I was involved with the after school drama program. This foray into entertainment was short-lived: once I arrived to high school I was too cool for the chubby theater dorks and abandoned my dreams of Broadway altogether. In hindsight I wish I had allowed myself to dork out to the maximum, which would have allowed for a more accurate demonstration of who I actually was – a big, strange, sort-of-funny nerd. But, c’est la high school.
My drama teacher was a large woman with crumpled paper skin and short brown hair. She wore the same polyester shirts over polyester pants that my grandma wore. I am quite sure her shoes were orthopedic. Her half-moon glasses were forever perched at the end of her nose, alternating her gaze from a screenplay to her “talented” young actors and then down once more.
Auditions were held sitting cross-legged in a circle, something along the lines of theater Duck Duck Goose. The process allowed for the upmost transparency: you could not hide how talented or untalented you were and if your voice wavered and cracked it did so in front of everyone. Thus the goal was to not suck publicly and, if you could do it, blatantly out-act your fellow peers.
The first play I ever went out for was Little Women. Oh, how I longed to be Jo, the spitfire writer torn by love and her personal feminist movement. She was the star, that Jo. If I had an agent at the time I would have fought tooth and nail for the role. “A career launcher!” I’d insist, probing him to call the director and set up a meeting at the Chateau where I would woo them with my charms.
I remember looking on the chart posted on the drama room door after the audition process was through, eagerly anticipating my ticket into middle school fame. I would blow the audience away! Every parent, sibling, and teacher would be moved to tears by my portrayal of Jo. Alas, it was not my time, not my destiny. My current skill set and awkward temperament only won me the role of Meg.
“Meg?!” I thought to myself, “MEG”
I despised Meg. She was a wet blanket! A handwringing, pining wimp! A shadowy, sad character! How could I be Meg? I knew my teacher was vision impaired, but I was not aware she was blind! Not to mention Meg was most likely a Capricorn, being as sensible as she was. So trepidatious, so utterly lacking of urgency. Jo and I were fire signs for Christ’s sake!
But I took my lumps like a champ. After all, one must develop a well-rounded repertoire of characters to really excel in the school play circuit. I read and studied my lines. I diligently tried on my frilly, dust-laden Victorian costumes during our fitting sessions (as the drama teacher served dual role as director and stylist, I can assume that there was only one fitting that probably took ten minutes). And when opening night came around, I played Meg to the best of my ability.
The play took place in the school cafeteria. Nasty, vicious popular girls were replaced by blue chairs set up in rows with Xeroxed copies of the cast list. Our stage was elevated on platforms and we changed behind blacked out lattice dividers. Beyond the audience my drama teacher stood the entire time, silently reading the play along with us to make sure we weren’t ruining all of her hard work. No matter how prepared we were it still had the vibe of a dress rehearsal. We were never left on our own to really crash in burn in front of a paying audience.
In a showbiz moment that will haunt me for the rest of my live long days, Jo and I are getting ready for a party, trying on gloves or doing something along those lines. I say my first line while playing with the buttons on my hand then pause for what I believe to be dramatic effect, expressing the great trepidation of this sad little character. To me, this was my moment to demonstrate a natural acting instinct. It was not rehearsed or put upon. Right then, Meg was waiting for the words she came up with next. But my artistic reverie was broken when – from the back row, with her half-moon glasses catching the light from an office lamp and her screenplay in hand – my drama teacher yelled my next line out to me, thinking I had forgot.
I am sure this moment was remember during the audition the following year for a roaring 20s play, The Women. I wanted to be the ballerina. I booked the role of “backup dancer.”