punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

High School Drama - Act 3: "Peeking from behind the final curtain"

The last play we did was "Up the River," which was a musical based on the Mark Twain book, "Tom Sawyer." This play was a disaster. First, we were so short of actors in general, no one had an understudy, and many people had to double up parts. I, for example, played Doc Robinson in Act 1, who gets murdered by Injun Joe, and then, in a moment of irony that I am sure was premeditated, play the judge who tries Injun Joe in Act 3. The second issue was that the play was supposed to be a musical, but Mr. Duncan didn't want to deal with the music, musical cues, and dancing. So he took out all the musical numbers, and replaced them with speeches and monologues. Trouble was, he was slow to get going, so the last scene of the last act wasn't written until the day of our first live performance. This upset me because it was the trial scene, my big part, and I had to memorize a monologue in about 3 hours. There was no way. Luckily, no one showed up to our first performance except a few of the parents of the various people onstage, so my complete and total screw-up went unnoticed among everyone else's hasty bumbling and made-up lines.

The big memory associated with this play came a few weeks earlier, though. Mr. Duncan was so apathetic by this point, his roster of who had to show up for rehearsal stopped being selective, and he just left everyone's names up. Problem was, 80% of the people who showed were never called to rehearse. Sure, it was a different 80% each time, but rehearsals last from the end of the school day (2pm) until almost 10pm at night. I hated walking home in the dark, because I have very poor night vision, and half of my fear was not that I'd get mugged, but I'd fall onto something and impale myself. I'd say 30% of my walk was in what seemed to me to be pitch black, using visual clues of distant street lights and the glow of DC. True, I never did get hurt, but it was annoying. It was also annoying doing my homework in those uncomfortable wooden seats, and we had no tables, so we had to write on the sloped floor of the theater.

One day, I got sick. I felt really bad. I showed up to rehearsal, getting sicker and sicker. One actress, a girl named Debbie, said I looked horrible, and suggested I go home anyway. Finally, around 6 or so, I dragged my fever-fogged body to the stage manager, a girl named Ashley Beusing. She was really intense into the stuff onstage, and I asked for the signout sheet. The act they were on, and had been on for days, was really presenting some problems, so Ashley's attention was focused on Mr. Duncan, who kept going, "No, no, NO!" I finally got the clipboard, signed out, went home, and was sick at home for the next 3 days.

When I got back on Friday, it was no surprise I was supposed to show up. Everyone was. But this time, when I got there, Mr. Duncan chewed me out. He tore me a new one up and down, saying I was irresponsible to leave early without telling him, and how I screwed up everyone's rehearsal, and now he was 2 days behind. When I said I was sick, I took his drama class, didn't he notice me missing for the last few days? he said the office didn't know where I was, which was a lie, my mother was sober enough to call me in sick. I had to go to a doctor and everything (it was a flu). He didn't care. He made the argument my fault again. This sudden shock of being yelled at, the fact I was still weak from being sick, the fact I was sick of showing up every day and never getting called, and added to the fact my home life wasn't so hot in general... I snapped. I beat him within an inch of his... ...just kidding. :D

I put on a play of my own. In a moment I am not that terribly proud of, I completely snapped into some sarcastic martyr thing. Hey, I was 15. A post-punk, semi new wave drama queer. I stared at him for a moment, and suddenly (I was onstage when this happened), belted out for everyone's attention. I called everyone to come around the stage. Everyone kind of paused for a moment, and then kind of shuffled in my direction. I am suspecting some were curious what I was doing, and some didn't want to witness what probably sounded like a prelude to an outburst. What follows next may not be the exact speech I gave, but it had the same feeling.

"I would like to PERSONALLY apologize to each and everyone one of you! John Duncan, our director, has informed me that on Monday, I did not alert him to my leaving. I signed out and everything, but that was not good enough. My SENSELESS act of self-indulgence cost all of you a severe disservice. I have been sick for the last three days with the flu, but that is NO excuse for my APPALLING behavior and my selfish act of cruelty to you all, my friends, my fellow Thespians. I am deeply, tragically embarrassed at my actions, humiliated by my gluttonous ways, and I am forced, by sheer dignity and honor to this who cast, to quit. There is no EXCUSE for what I have done, and I have to leave now before I damage any more of you, waste any more of your time, compromise the honor and integrity that we have tried so hard to build. I am deeply grateful for your indulgence in my senseless and immature behavior up to this point, and rest assured, none of you, least of YOU, Mr. Duncan, will have to tolerate the burden any longer!"

I was holding a roll of masking tape at the time, and I tossed it down at Mr. Duncan's feet, grabbed my backpack, and walked out of the theater. I made a statement, buddy. I was rock-steady. I was ... crying.


I wandered the high school halls for about a minute, and then sat down in a little-used hallway, wiping away my tears, grumbling to myself. I wasn't mad I had quit, at all. I wasn't having a second thought or regret. I felt free. I sat with my head between my legs and calmed down.

Then Ashley came around the corner. With a .44 magnum pointed at my head. No, no, joke joke. Actually, she slowly walked up to me, said nothing, and sat down next to me. We sat in silence. Truth be told (and I am so sorry if you are reading this Ashley), I had the biggest, stomach-wrenching, heart-palpitating, giddy-eyed crush on Ashley. She was so ... pretty. So witty and funny, with a great smile, perfect hair, and even though she was a bit skinny, she looked squeezably soft. But she just sat there, not looking at me.

"Greg," she finally said. "I am so sorry. I knew you were on that list but Mr. Duncan was upset I didn't tell him, and then at 9 o'clock, your set came up, and you weren't there to be murdered, and he just lost it."

I didn't say anything, because I didn't think it mattered. It was over, I had quit, but now I regretted it because ... well, Ashley was upset. I didn't want Ashley to be upset.

"Sorry you got sick," she said. "People missed you and wondered if you were okay in class."

Liar. Then I realized that she was manipulating me. Okay, maybe she wasn't, I don't know, but I couldn't imagine anyone missing me in anything, so that set off a red flag. But her voice was soft and caring, and I was weak and vulnerable ... and had that crush, ugh...

"Come back, it's okay. No one will say anything, and we'll act like this never happened."

I shook my head. "No, don't want to go back. I am sick of Mr. Duncan, I am sick of 5 days in a row of 8 hour rehearsals where I am not even needed, week after week. Get some girl to dress up, how hard can it be to find someone who can stumble around in a badly fitting suit, act drunk, belt out some lines of "No, AIIIIEEE!!!" while being stabbed in pantomime.

"We still need a judge for Act 3. Come on, I know you're mad. You have every right to be, but no one thinks you're a burden, or that you acted cruel. We understand, we're all stressed out. Please? Please come back?"

Oh, it was the "please" that did it, Ashley. It was how you said it, and I am sure you knew. I don't think of this as you being evil or wrong, I am sure you were being nice and thought that you were doing everyone a favor. And, really, you did. I don't know if I really was important, but you made me feel like I was, and that's why I came back. That and the crush.

I came back, and actually, everyone acted like it never happened. No one was awkward or paid any more or less attention to me than they did before the outburst. But the whole experience had made me realize that I had made a decision, and my acting days were over.

That was the last production play I ever did. Well, until 1990 and the Prune Bran players, but that's another story. Actually, that was only 5 years later (it seemed longer....). But even then, I hated being onstage, forced to memorize stuff, even my own works, which I still think was really hypocritical of me. I don't regret my drama days; the biggest skill I have kept from this whole escapade was a total lack of stage fright. I literally don't have the sense that thousands of people are looking at me, or whatever sets off that fear in other people. I mean, I am nervous, but only in preparation issues, and I am the same nervous in front of one person doing that as well, so a crowd is no different. I can't picture any situation where being in front of a crowd would be any worse.

Oh, and to this day? I still can't say the name of what we called "The Scottish Play." I still say, "break a leg," too.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000552.html
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