When I was growing up, I wanted to be an actress. Actually, it wasn’t until High School that I got bitten by the acting bug.
In Jr. High (middle school to you youngsters) I joined Chorus and LOVED it. Before chorus, I was an athlete, training several hours a day to be a gymnast. But when I retired from that sport, I tried several other sports, looking to find something that gave me a similar buzz to the one that I’d gotten from gymnastics. I had very little luck until Chorus.
Music was always a part of my life. I’d taken piano lessons since I was six years old and there was always someone practicing an instrument in my house. But something about Chorus pulled me in more than the piano; maybe it was the harmonies or being part of a group with a shared goal. But without a doubt, Chorus made my Jr. High years much more enjoyable and memorable.
In High School, I auditioned for the Performing Singing group, the Killian Singers. They were famous around town; well, at least to me they were! I didn’t get accepted, but was allowed to take a regular chorus class as my elective. My sister, who was a Senior, was involved in the Drama Club. I really didn’t feel drawn to the whole acting thing, but she seemed to have such a great time with her friends in this club. And out of all the ‘groups’ in school, I found myself most comfortable with the Drama group. So I joined Drama Club after school also. The first show of the year, a Halloween review of some sort, found me cast as the curtain puller! Some may have been disappointed with that role, but I had a great time pulling the curtain for each act. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know everyone really well. I had a blast!
Later that year, I auditioned for the Spring musical, a production of Carousel. I was so thrilled to be cast in the chorus. But a few days before the show opened, the girl who was playing the second lead, Carrie Pipperidge, got kicked out of the show for not being prepared at rehearsals. We were all shocked that the Director, Ms. Taylor, would go to such lengths in a High School production and we had no idea who would replace her. Someone told me that Ms. Taylor wanted to speak with me in the green room. When I got there, I found my sister and a couple of the other Seniors standing around Ms. Taylor. I was shocked when she asked if would take over the role!
“But what about my sister? She’s a Senior and she’s really good.”
“No, I’d like you to play the role.”
I had never played a role before. Ever. And somehow I was supposed to learn all the blocking, all the lines and all the songs in three days.
To this day, I have no idea what Ms. Taylor saw in me that led her to believe I was capable of taking on such a daunting task. But that decision changed the trajectory of my life. It also caused a great deal of friction between my sister and myself. She had also been cast in the chorus, much to her disappointment. And when I got handed the lead, well, it just wasn’t cool. My sister dropped out of the show and I don’t remember us talking a lot in the following days.
In retrospect, I’m unsure how my little 15 year old brain dealt with all of this. The next three days were a whirlwind. I was excused from all my school classes so I could focus on learning the show. I went from working on all the songs with the Musical Director, to learning my blocking with Ms. Taylor. And any free time I had was used to learn my lines. All my friends were very supportive. My mom even ran out and got me an extra special dress for the show. I remember it was red.
The production went off wonderfully. It was an event full of many firsts: my first role, my first stage kiss and my first taste of success as a performer. But more than that, I felt an excitement and aliveness I’d never felt before. And just like that, I was hooked.
I remember Michael Jeter winning the Tony Award years later. During his acceptance speech he shared that the theatre is the only place where all emotions are not only encouraged to be expressed, but also welcomed and accepted. For a girl going through the challenges of adolescence, the theatre provided a wonderful outlet to express myself and feel accepted.
How wonderful that the theatre life found me. Little did I know it would take me to New York, San Diego and eventually Los Angeles and impact the rest of my life.
But first, I’d have to face the Backup Plan trap.
To be continued next week…