I hope you can forgive my bringing up Christmas in the springtime, but there was a news item this week centered around a kid in 1st grade (a subject for another post, I promise) that allowed a memory from my own days as a 1st grader to resurface in my mind. It was December of that year, and our teacher, Miss H., had our class take part in a Christmas play. The premise of the play was this: Our classroom was a toy store store where the dolls and toys all came to life after the shopkeeper leaves for the night. Yeah, it’s the whole “magic of Christmas” thing.
Miss H. cast me as the toy store’s shopkeeper, and my costume was the cutest lil’ businessman’s outfit you ever did see: Fedora hat, oversized coat, tie, dress shirt. You may think even all that’s a little too classy for a shopkeeper, but I’m not sure where Miss H. found the clothes for my outfit; well, at least I think it was Miss H. who provided my outfit. Compared to the rest of my class, though, my outfit wasn’t too elaborate; the girls wore ballerina or princess outfits, while the boys’ outfits ran the gamut from the G.I. Joe type to scarecrows to astronauts. Yeah, it was a time (1975) and a locale (Wisconsin) where gender roles weren’t as gender-blind as they are today.
How did us 6-year-olds memorize our lines, you ask? Well, Miss H. gave each of us our own specific portion of the script, and we had to do only two things with them: Remember them (of course) and know when to say them. Luckily for all of us, the lines, the stage directions, and the cues from Miss H. were not complex. Perhaps that’s why I can still remember most of what I did in the play:
- Walk in to the scene at the beginning
- Proclaim out loud, “Time to clean up!”
- Take a broom and sweep up the stage… okay, it was just the floor of our classroom
- Walk out of the scene for the bulk of our little play, while the “toy” ballerinas, astronauts, etc. gave their lines and did their dances or whatever
- Yell “What?!” when returning near the end to see the “dolls” not in the same spots I had left them in at the beginning
- Say “Merry Christmas” to everyone at the very end (or so I want to think)
Perhaps it was the simplicity of it all, but as I remember it, I pulled off my performance almost perfectly, remembering my lines and doing everything when I was supposed to. The only mistakes I can recall were during rehearsals, where at one point I read out my second to last line way too early. Guess I forgot my cue. But then, that’s what rehearsals are for: To get the mistakes out of your system before the big day.
So, you’re probably wondering, did our audience warmly applaud our performances, you ask? Well, yeah, because they were our parents. The best audience is your first audience, and as proud parents are prone to do, they gave us a positive ovation at the very end. Unfortunately, my mom wasn’t part of the audience. As I recall, Mom couldn’t get that Friday afternoon off from her dental assistant’s job, and the audience full of my classmates’ parents were strange faces to me. I don’t recall feeling any disappointment in Mom not being there. I suppose it was a mix of my being accepting and understanding, as well as my getting used to not being with Mom every single waking hour of the day (hard for even for a 6-year-old who’s well into 1st grade to get used to). For sure, though, I told Mom every little detail when I returned home; yes, she was proud of me.
You may think that my good performance that day propelled me to the life of a master thespian… and you’d be so wrong. A big reason was that our elementary school didn’t have anything for budding actors in its school-wide curriculum. Sure, we had musical assemblies that our music teacher put on once or twice every school year. But acting was perhaps too costly for the school as a whole and the individual grades.
Perhaps that lack of nurturing of budding actors at our elementary school had a mental impact on me, intentional or otherwise. The next opportunity to act in school came in the high school senior class play — eleven years and three school districts from that day in first grade. And by then, I knew the actor’s life was so not for me. Why, you ask? Consider:
- I couldn’t (and still can’t) memorize lines of dialog if my life depended on it. My mind can be going in a zillion different directions at any second, meaning any line of dialog I’d have to memorize would go in one ear and out the other.
- My acting that day had an extremely limited if not nonexistent emotional range. Well, I couldn’t afford to exercise any emotional range since I was a 6-year-old trying their darndest to remember their lines and cues and not fall flat on their face. To be fair, though, the rest of my class were probably in the same boat.
- Speaking of emotional range, I was a feisty, fidgety child back then, one who cold throw a tantrum one moment and be remorseful and apologetic for throwing said tantrum the next. Being high-strung and excitable does not look good on a 6-year-old actor.
- Plus, I was never the type of kid who wasn’t really comfortable with the spotlight all to myself. I think that could have influenced Miss H. in her casting me as the shopkeeper; it was a rather simple role, and I was in the peripheral for the bulk of the play… which, luckily for all of our class, was no more than 10-15 minutes tops.
- More important than all of that, my main goal in every year of my schooling (1st grade and otherwise) was to get good grades. So, yeah, any sort of extracurricular activities were pushed to the back burner. (Well, there was that one year or so I was in Scouting, but I don’t really want to talk about that here.)
With all that being said, you probably think it’s amazing that I, as slightly mature and somewhat well-adjusted adult, would even venture out as a character such as Allison, let alone present myself as Allison on a poetry stage or even in a homemade video such as, say, this one. And you’d be so right. In a way, I’m acting every single time I present Allison to the general public, and I think it’s due to being much more self-aware, and also in part to having at least a little bit of self-confidence, or at least more self-awareness and self-confidence then I had as a kid. Had I had a lot of gumption and self-confidence back then, and if I had the opportunities and parental backing to do so… and, oh yeah, if I had the mental capacity to actually memorize lines, who knows what actor I could have turned out to be?