My co-starring role in a grade-eight production of Tom Sawyer has become a bit of an inside joke. I bring up my performance as Becky Thatcher to Derek as if it was my glory-days moment and he uses it to build up my self-esteem. “The woman who triumphed on the Gainsborough Central Public School stage as Becky Thatcher is worried about (insert worry here)?”
This particular life event looms large in my memory because of what was yet to come. I sang a solo that had to be lowered several octaves for my deeper-than-usual prepubescent female voice. I remember the musical director’s annoyance at what turned out to be one of my greatest assets – my money-maker, you might say. Also, one of the shows gave me one of the happiest memories of my Grandma, Dad’s Mom. As I – or rather Becky – demonstrated fear as her candle went out, leaving them in darkness, my candle stayed lit. “Tom, my candle’s out!” I exclaimed, as I held the offending wax with its obvious, high flame. I can hear Grandma’s hearty laugh ringing through the gymnasium/performance hall. She erupted again when I had to blow out the candle when shaking it did nothing, and said my line again. Even now it makes me smile.
When I was fourteen, I had a role in a so-called professional production of Bye Bye Birdie in Grimsby. Mom was one of the make-up artists. My character, Lee, was obsessed with Birdie and desperate to go to his show. I sang in the chorus and had one or two lines. However, during one of the productions a set piece fell apart and while the curtains stayed closed so a crew could quickly fix it, the director pointed to me and the woman playing my Mom and said, “Get out there and improvise!” There was no time for discussion. We ran out in front of the curtain and started to argue about me, Lee, going to Birdie’s show. It got physical with my “Mom” trying to pull me off stage and me getting away from her. At one point I did a fast crawl across the stage with Mom in pursuit. I remember the laughter and feeling like it was the most amazing thing in the world. We were making stuff up and a paying audience was enjoying it. Then the curtain went up and, beaming, went back to our places for the next scene.
If I could sing, really sing, I’d have no problem getting up in front of people to do it. Sadly, I can hear perfect pitch but I can’t hit those notes myself in a reliable way. I had confidence in myself as an actor, but not enough confidence to go all in and compete. But I did love it and if not for my stupid-early bedtime, I’d be trying out for local theatre. It’s something I still plan to do one day, when radio no longer wants me to get up at 3:15 am and go to bed at toddler-time. I took a summer acting class back then with a legit but minor Hollywood director whose name escapes me. While crawling across an imaginary wooden log, worried about falling into the imaginary crevice below, I swept my hair back behind an ear. “STOP!”, he screamed, ending my mime and making me blush in front of the class. “Your life is in danger! One false move and you’re dead! WHY would you be concerned about your HAIR at a time like this?”
“So I could see?”, I peeped.
“Ridiculous!” And then he proceeded to imitate me several times while the rest of the class laughed. Gee, I wonder why it has stuck with me!? And yet I can’t help but notice how many times an actress in a scene will fuss with her hair, and it always seems false to me now.