Monday, December 11, 2006

a wandering minstrel I, part 1

When I was in the seventh grade I got to play a Japanese maiden in my junior high's rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's brilliant operetta, The Mikado. I remember trilling, "Miya sama, miya sama," and shuffling along with all the other kimonoed maidens. I did not realize then that we were essentially extras - earnestly aspiring thespians deemed less talented than the curly-haired, rosy-cheeked drama teacher's pet who got cast as Yum Yum, the female lead who wins Nanki-Poo's love. (What, me? Bitter?) Well, I suppose I shouldn't assume that all the maidens were deemed less talented. If memory serves, there was only one maiden who essentially stopped rehearsal when the drama teacher, Mr. A., screamed for everyone to hold it, stop the music, and pointed to where I stood. Mr. A: "You!" Me: "Me?" Mr. A: "Yes, you. What's your name?" Me: "N-Nicole." Mr. A: "Do you always walk like that, so pigeon-toed?" Me: "No..." But we had been told to shuffle as if our feet had been bound since birth, and I was doing my best to imagine the agony of that. Apparently, I more closely resembled a duck who'd gotten its legs tangled in one of those plastic six-pack ring thingies. Anyway, once I got the hang of authentic, stunted-foot shuffling, I discovered that I had a real love for drama. In high school I spent three years getting actual academic credit for singing, dancing and monologuing my way through variety show numbers - everything from "Hair" (Good morning, Starshine!) to "A Chorus Line" (Goodbye, Twelve! Goodbye, Thirteen! Hello, Love!) It was great. I was never that girl with the voice or the dance moves (clearly) who, when you saw her on stage, made you think, "Wow. Someday I'll get to say I knew her back when." I had friends who were that girl - still do. But I was the girl who loved to be up there on stage so much that I'd get lightheaded with nervous excitement before the house lights dimmed. I loved being part of a cast that - despite the different rungs of the social ladder we occupied outside of drama class - had worked together for weeks, sometimes months, on a show ...and now here we were, ready to show it to the world! There's nothing quite like being part of a group artistic endeavor, even if the end result is never quite as dazzling as you imagined it could be. I kept it up in college. I took Indonesian dance from a woman who I recently saw featured on a PBS special about Java Gamelan. I studied a little bit of film and a little mask making. I starred as Jesse the suicidal daughter in the ultimate euphoria-killing play, "'Night Mother." When it came time to choose between Writing and Drama as my choice of major, I agonized for a long time before ultimately pledging my allegiance to the English Department. While I've never deeply regretted that decision, I have often wondered what might have happened if I had chosen the life of a performer. I have missed it.


  1. Lorelei2:40 PM

    OK, two things. One: Who would want the love of a man named "Nanki-Poo"? Am I the only superficial gal out there who would NOT BRING Nanki-Poo to the 20 year high school reunion? And what would Nanki-Poo want to name the kids?

    Two: You may forget that I SAW the performance you did of 'Night Mother and you absolutely took my breath away. I can feel the heaviness in my chest and tightness behind my eyes just like I did when I saw you do that riveting performance of Jesse. I've seen the movie version (Sissy Spacek?) and it didn't have the same impact. I remember wanting to jump up on that stage and hug you and take the gun away...

    Don't do it, Booboolina!!!!

  2. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I have the drama thing in my past, too. Must be the whole writer as artist, as actress deal. Although it's not clear from this comment that I can even speak English.