“Now remember boys and girls, should you forget a line, keep going. Should you forget the words to the song? Keep going. Should you momentarily forget your blocking, keep going. And even if something happens to your costumes and you spontaneously burst in to flames whilst you are performing on stage, you must keep going! Keep dancing, keep singing, keep the play moving at all costs. Those my darlings are the rules of show business. Now on with the show.“
Those were the final words of wisdom imparted to us by our director Mrs. Faye before we went out on stage opening night of Hawaii Is My Home.
It was my very first play and my first experience with live theater. While others clammed up with fright, I found the idea that all this horrible shit could happen to you while you were onstage in front of all these people oddly exciting.
I adjusted my hula skirt bravely and followed my fellow second graders down the cold school hallway. We had been preparing for this moment for months and it was finally here.
I, of course, had made sure to practice ad nauseam in my bedroom which I shared with my younger brother at the time. He was kind enough to play all the other characters for me until he grew tired of my bossiness and threw a handful of pineapple at me. I reached up and touched my face, pineapple pulp was strewn across it.
Well played, I thought as I licked my fingers. My brother waited for retaliation but was met with none. With the smell of pineapple on my body, I became even more immersed in my character.
“You’re so smart! Now it’s like I’m really there! Thank youuuuuuu,” I shrieked as I leapt with joy, even more inspired to continue.
It was a very Method move on my part and it would be years before I would even know what that was.
One by one we were lined up backstage waiting for the overture to begin cementing our path to stardom. I could hear the audience as they entered the auditorium and found their seats. As they filed in, the sound of gum-cracking and papers ruffling wore on my nerves.
“Shut up,” I mumbled under my breath, unfortunately, a bit too loud.
“Miss Letizia, watch your language!” Mrs. Carter, the art teacher growled, appearing out of nowhere as usual. She was slightly hunched over with a large mole on the tip of her nose reminding me of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. And while I would, in ordinary circumstances fear her, my new life as an actor imbibed me with courage.
“We’re about to put on the show. They need to be quiet.” I said defiantly. Mrs. Carter stared me down, no doubt assessing my potential as dinner. Since I was a horribly thin girl with a ginormous head I figured she wouldn’t really bother to cook me. I’d be gamy and terribly unsatisfying leading mostly to indigestion and the runs.
“That’s live theater, my dear, you might want to get used to it. That’s if you ever grace the stage again after tonight. Now face front and keep quiet,” she snarled.
On second thought, she was definitely putting me in her oven. I faced front and shut-up deciding it best not to tempt fate.
I had been practicing my moves for the last four weeks, to the point of vomiting and I wasn’t about to let some old hag ruffle my feathers. I was also a perfectionist even at the ripe old age of seven so I thought it best to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. I was after all an emerging star.
The lights dimmed and I could hear my favorite teacher Miss Berelson making the opening announcements.
“Ladies and Gentleman please take your seats.”
Finally there was some quiet.
“The second-grade classes of Madison Elementary School are proud to present Hawaii Is My Home.”
Steady applause led to the lights dimming and the overture commencing. This was it! The bright lights of the stage were calling and I was ready for it.
The play went off without a hitch. We all remembered our lines, the songs went smoothly, albeit a bit off key, but the overall sense was that the audience was really into it.
It was the final number, the grand finale. We were lined up in our positions ready to end the show with an epic piece. The energy of the place was infectious. People were clapping along with us, smiling, cheering, and then it happened. The unthinkable, the thing we had been warned might happen but hadn’t so far and yet there it was happening…to me.
My hulu skirt broke free from its safety pins and collapsed to the floor. The world went silent, my heart pounding through my ears. I could feel the blood rushing to my head.
“Damn my boney body!” I thought, a thought I haven’t had since.
Before I had time to be upset I heard a laugh. An odd laugh that could only belong to one man; my father.
As my humiliated self stood there in only my bathing suit for all the world to see with that idiotic biological sperm donor cackling on repeat, I remembered those few precious words, “The show must go on…”
And GO. ON. I. DID. I finished that number with a smile on my face and a pounding heart bursting with embarrassment. As we held our positions for the final number I felt invigorated. I had done it.
The audience clapped for us and as I stepped forward to bow, I kicked my fallen skirt and threw my hands up high and bowed. To my surprise, the audience stood up. It was my first standing ovation.
As my half-naked self exited the stage, a new found joy surged within me. My joy however was short lived, as I bumped right into the dreaded Mrs. Carter.
“I’m sorry, it just fell off.” I began.
Her crooked face twisted into a wide grin.
“Bravo darling. BRA-VO.” She sauntered off into the blinking florescent lights of the school hall. She wasn’t going to eat me after all.
That was the night I fell in love with the theater, and the rest, as they say is history.