In elementary school, I had four hobbies: reading1, drinking Dr Pepper1, playing softball, and participating in school plays. My interest in the latter began with my starring turn as the eponymous rabbit in my second grade class’s production of Bunny Sue (a performance that required a great deal of hopping and not much else) and did not wane until high school when I realized that being in possession of a booming speaking voice and having the ability to easily memorize lines did not necessarily make one a great actress2. Over the years I performed in a number of theatrical masterpieces ranging from Old King Cole (I was the King himself and got to wear a crown!) to The Twelve Dancing Princesses (another crown!!) to some weird fantasy nonsense called The Evil Eye of Gondor that involved a bunch of townspeople standing up to some giant eyeball3 (I got to wear…a really boring tan tunic), and while I certainly preferred to be the star of the show, I always had a great time no matter what my role.
(As a sidenote, considering all the confidence and self-esteem issues I had as a child, my enjoyment of these plays and particularly my desire for leading roles is surprising to me in retrospect! It seems incongruous with everything I know about my former fragile emotional state. I’ll make a note of it for future analysis.)
By the time eighth grade rolled around, I was a seasoned veteran. When the local children’s community theater program announced that they’d be staging a production of The Wizard of Oz, I was beside myself with excitement: the chance to be in a play that was actually a real famous story and not just some inane drivel someone wrote specifically for schoolchildren to perform4! And surely it would provide the opportunity to wear some fantastic costumes! I could not wait for rehearsals to begin.
Now, while I mentioned earlier that my usual goal was to have the biggest part possible, I knew that in this case I’d have to be satisfied with some background work. Unlike all the other plays I’d been in, The Wizard of Oz is, of course, a musical. And musicals, obviously, require singing, and preferably by someone who can carry a tune. I am not that person. I know this. I have always known this. I had no delusions about my lack of talent and certainly had no aspirations of playing Dorothy or Glenda or any of those exciting roles, so when casting was announced and I saw that I’d been tasked with playing the Mayor of Munchkin City, I was perfectly happy. I had some fun lines to say and got to be in a number of major scenes — how could I complain?
And I was right about the costumes. My then-toddler cousin summed up my Mayor ensemble thusly: “Mo funny hat!”
above: greeting my family after one of the performances. My older sisters look like they thoroughly enjoyed the show, but the twins — especially Jamie there on the left — were clearly unimpressed; I can only assume they were jealous of my costume. Unfortunately for all of us, I was not permitted to keep the hat.
The best part about my experience in The Wizard of Oz wasn’t actually the lines or the hat or the performances themselves, although those were all quite exciting (especially that GIANT SILVER HAT5). About a week or so into rehearsals, the director pulled me aside during a break and asked me if I was happy with my part. Confused, I replied that of course I was pleased to play the Mayor (again, THAT HAT!) and was having a great time. He went on to inform me that I was virtually the only castmember who hadn’t come to him to complain about their role after casting — apparently, everyone was angling for better parts or more lines while I was just relieved that my complete lack of singing talent didn’t preclude me from participating altogether. He told me he appreciated my maturity and graciousness (direct quote!) and that I was doing a great job as the Mayor, then sent me on my way. The whole interaction lasted less than ninety seconds, but even 17 years later I remember it more vividly than I remember the play itself. There was something so validating about being complimented for simply being me (it had honestly never crossed my mind to complain or to be anything less than happy with what I was offered) — it’s a rare thing to have your disposition or temperament acknowledged, and I still count it as one of the best compliments I’ve received.
Seriously, though: who would complain about getting to wear that hat?
1My love of literature and sugary carbonated beverages persists to this day. Put them together and you’ve got my ideal Saturday afternoon! PARTY TIME!
2That said, I would kill to participate in a high school play right now. I’m pretty young-looking, right? I could totally pass.
3I am not exaggerating when I say that I literally have NO IDEA what that play was about. And I was in it! And played a principle role! No clue.
4I’m looking at you, Evil Eye of Gondor.
5It was really heavy.