Trail of a Heart 14 – Ever Playing Roles
My longest standing extra-curricular activity was drama. I was in plays every year from junior high school until I left school at the end of my junior year. Yes, I did. That story comes later.
In 9th grade we did a theater-in-the-round production that was a lot of fun. I can’t remember the play, but it was exciting to not have a backdrop, but audience all around. Once I was in 10th and in high school, I had access to the state-of-the-art theater our town had built.
With only one high school in town, and being in an oil town, there was money to put into the schools. Our theater was spectacular, and once hosted the Miss New Mexico contest. It was complete with individual dressing rooms, a balcony and a mezzanine outside the balcony that was supported by columns with exotic Italian tiles.
We had a catwalk above the curtain area that lent itself to many a dramatic flying scene in productions requiring such. The place was amazing to see but especially wonderful for those of us who were fortunate enough to put on the productions. It certainly feeds a fantasy life to sit at a dressing table lined with high wattage lights while getting ready to go on stage. That theater was the envy of all of the surrounding towns.
My specific memories include being in a politically charged production about Franco in 9th grade. In that one I had the opening scene on stage alone. I was so afraid I wouldn’t remember my lines, but once the curtain went up, the habit of repetition thankfully kicked in. I sweated that out for every play I was in.
The most fun I had was being a geisha in Teahouse of the August Moon. I remember playing several bit parts in this comedic drama. It was thrilling to be Japanese. I was intrigued by other cultures. We wore kimonos and the wooden shoes that were like dressy flip flops.
Those of us fortunate enough to have long hair had it wound in buns, while the short-haired thespians had to wear wigs. The makeup took white to an all new level. When I looked in the mirror, even I was convinced I was a geisha. One of my best friends, Suzanne, had the female lead in this play. She was great. We had a lot of fun with that production.
We had an amazing drama coach and director, Mr. Lee Coppick. He helped us to have the confidence to take on some major productions. In 11th grade we did The King and I. I did not try out for this show as I was waiting for the following one, which was scheduled to be the Diary of Anne Frank. I wanted so badly to be Anne.
That year would have been about 1960. I remember sitting in the theater watching that movie over and over again. You could do that in those days. I studied the part from the movie standpoint and felt that I could portray the title role. It was excruciating to try out, as I was long on desire, but short on confidence. To my amazement, I won the part.
We were three weeks into rehearsals in the late Spring when a shocking thing happened. Mr. Coppick talked to the cast about stopping the production. He was worried that we had too little time to do justice to the show as the school year was winding down.
I don’t know if anyone else was as disappointed as I. Many of them had also been in the King and I and were frankly worn out, but for me, it was a major letdown. I feigned graciousness, but secretly was very hurt. My insecurities made me wonder if he had stopped the show because I was not good enough. I’ll never know.
Acting was a way for me to get out of myself in a role, I could credit any of my own faults to the character I was portraying, not having to admit to ownership myself. It was very important for my stability, providing a much-needed outlet. As it happened, that was my last production.
Watch for the next installment.