I actually don’t like riding the Carousel because I get too dizzy. But I do have fond memories of the musical, Carousel. That was the show that solidified my love of performing and, at a tumultuous age, offered me some much needed direction.
I participated in all sorts of activities as a kid. My siblings and I all took piano lessons. I also twirled the baton- that was super fun- except for getting bonked in the head when I missed a throw. I also did gymnastics and tennis for a while. I was a tomboy and happiest outside running, throwing a ball, or doing any kind of physical activity.
But in middle school, I moved away from sports. (A blog for another time.) I was lost, hurt and confused; even cutting my long, beautiful, blonde hair in an attempt to ‘grow up.’ It was a very uncomfortable time in my life, adjusting to my body as it shifted through puberty and feeling a general lack of self worth- you know, typical teenage problems. Luckily, I found choir. I’d always loved singing and was happy to find others who felt the same way. And getting to sing for a class in school was a huge bonus!
Jump to high school. Singing was still my thing so I continued with Chorus. But my sister, who was a Senior at the time, seemed to be having a great time in the Drama Club. So I decided to join.
My first show with the Drama Club was “Fright Night,” a talent show that was presented on Halloween. I didn’t audition for the show because I couldn’t imagine performing with such talented upperclassmen. So when I was asked to be the curtain puller for the show, I was thrilled! (Really, I was so excited!) I had the best time opening and closing those curtains for each of the acts, getting to watch the performances up close and meet so many of the very talented performers. It was great! As a bonus, along with the rest of the cast and crew, I was allowed to participate in the finale of the show, “The Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I felt so honored and privileged to be on stage with all those gifted performers. It was the best!
Several months later, when the school musical was announced, I decided to audition. I didn’t know very much about Carousel, but I didn’t care. I was just interested in being part of whatever the Drama Club was doing. When the cast list was posted and I saw my name listed as an Ensemble member, I was over the moon happy! Wow, my first musical and I got to be in the ensemble!
I had so much fun learning the musical numbers. I was surprised at how quickly I picked up blocking and choreography. And I loved being with the drama people. We were all misfits and quirky, and I felt right at home.
But there was drama in the Drama club. The actress playing the role of Carrie Pipperidge was slacking- showing up late to rehearsals, not learning her lines and blocking. Our director, Mrs. Sheila Taylor (pronounced with a very dramatic Taaaaaaaylor) was quite a character.
Side bar: Mrs. Taaaaaylor was very strict and held us to the highest standards. We were expected to behave like professionals. She taught us that being on time to rehearsal meant arriving ten minutes early. Speaking through a cigarette and holding a beverage that smelled suspiciously like alcohol, she’d direct us with precision. Slight in stature, but strong in demeanor, she’d yell out directions and guide the actors in developing their characters. And the result was always an amazing production. She was intimidating, loud and abrasive. And I loved her. Never letting on that she cared, I could just tell how much she really invested into her students and productions.
Mrs. Taylor gave the actress one last warning: “If you show up late again, you’re cut.”
That was a great threat, but the musical was opening in three days. Certainly Mrs. Taylor wouldn’t jeopardize the show by cutting the actress this late in the game. There were no understudies. It would be a disaster.
But when the actress wasn’t at rehearsal on time the next day, Mrs. Taylor stepped on to the stage and dramatically announced that the cast should “take ten” and then she abruptly exited stage left, marching off to her office in the green room. Several Seniors, including my sister, (who was also begrudgingly in the ensemble of the show- I mean, she was a Senior for crying out loud and deserved a better role!) followed her into the room. The rest of us congregated- excited to witness such drama!
After a few minutes, someone came out of the green room and called out, “Sarah, Mrs. Taylor wants to see you.”
Me? (Shoot, did I do something wrong. I really didn’t want to get on Mrs. Taylor’s bad side!)
I made my way through the smokey room to Mrs. Taylor’s table. My sister was close by. I looked at her with question- what’s going on? She stared blankly back at me.
Up until then, the only conversations I’d had with Mrs. Taylor were questions around pulling curtains or stage directions. She scared me, but in a good way.
She looked up at me and announced to everyone in the room, “Sarah Altman will now be playing the role of Carrie Pepperidge.”
“Wait, what? Me? I’ve never acted before in my life. And it’s my sister’s Senior year- shouldn’t she get the role? She’d be great.”
Mrs. Taylor put down her cigarette and glared. “You will be playing the role.”
Oh. My. Golly.
The next three days were a whirlwind. I had to learn lines, songs, blocking! Not to mention, my sister was really hurt, angry and upset. How would this be ok?
Well, it wasn’t. My sister dropped out of the show all together. I never wanted to hurt her. I have always, ALWAYS, looked up to my sister. She’s part of who I am. This was hard.
But there was no time to think about it. I jumped right in, learning the blocking, writing furiously as Mrs. Taylor barked orders and I moved from one spot on the stage to the next. I was excused from my classes during school so that I could work on the music. The cast was so supportive, helping me every step of the way. We all came together to make sure the show would go on.
Opening night came and I found myself on stage with all those upperclassmen that I admired - the most talented people I’d ever known- in a beautiful, new red dress that my mom had magically found in a minute’s notice. And I did it. I performed each show like a pro. I did all my blocking. Sang all my songs. Got all my lines right. I even experienced my first kiss while on stage. (Not nearly as exciting as I’d hoped, but still!)
And during the curtain call, it was my sister who walked on stage with a bouquet of flowers for me. She was ok with me. We were ok, thank goodness! It was all so incredibly fantastic.
And that’s when I got bit by the theatre bug. From that point forward, I knew I wanted to be an actress.
That dream led me to completing an undergraduate degree in theatre, spending seven years in New York before heading off to San Diego, where I earned a Masters Degree in Musical Theatre Performance. It also affected the trajectory of my personal life because, after swearing I’d never date an actor, I ended up meeting my future husband in a professional production of a musical in San Diego. All because of Carousel.
Occasionally I wonder what Mrs. Taylor saw in that young girl, one who had never had a solo line in a show before, that led her to believe I could handle such a big responsibility? And did she have any idea of how her one, simple act would affect my future? Questions I’ll never have answered, but I’m certain she’s smiling down from heaven, toasting us all, proud that I kept acting until that dream was replaced with another.
Quite a ride. You think the carousel just goes in circles, but my experience was filled with challenges, opportunities, lots of fun and a future that was brighter than anything I ever imagined.