Drama drama drama
I always had good roles in the plays my friends and I produced in elementary school. I was the villainous Captain Hook, the bumbling Scarecrow, the manic Mad Hatter and soft-spoken Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables. It’s less impressive than it sounds as I was the only boy.
We created the shows ourselves with no teacher supervision. The one time we had a teacher we undermined his authority every chance we got. We even wrote our own scripts, although the terms ‘write’ and ‘script’ are misleading as our lines were never put down on paper. We would just start rehearsing one day and whatever we improvised would be set. We performed our plays for the younger grades, which the teachers always supported. They must have thought we were adorable, and besides it took at least half an hour from their day. Not surprising, given our communal mode of creation, there were some fights along the way. But the show always, as it must, went on. My experiences performing drama taught me valuable lessons about dealing with drama.
The word ‘drama’ traditionally referred to the theatrical arts. It brought to mind solemn soliloquies, epic tragedies and the immortal lines of Ibsen and Chekhov. In recent years the word has taken on a new connotation, one which threatens the primacy of the first. In everyday parlance ‘drama’ now refers to scandals, fights and gossip, usually between friends. Arguments escalate into screaming matches and trivial slights are met with the exaggerated gap-mouthed shock of reality TV characters. While often linked with young women (one curt entry for ‘drama’ on urbandictionary.com defined it as “something girls say they hate but really are all about”) it can apply to everyone, hence the term’s popularity.
I enjoy only one of the two kinds of ‘drama’. I am allergic to nasty gossip, backstabbing and passive aggressive games. I get a sick feeling in my stomach. As someone who has gone periods with few friends, I am bewildered that someone would throw away relationships over petty squabbles. But I was lucky enough to have worked on these issues at a young age. By 12, I was already involved in a co-operative team which accepted differing opinions, nurtured everyone’s strengths and worked around our weaknesses. When my voice changed my cast mates encouraged me to ‘talk-sing’, ala Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, rather than cut my songs. And we stuck together, no matter what transpired on stage.
Don’t think there weren’t skirmishes along the way. As I recall, we had scriptural difficulty with the scene in Alice in Wonderland in which the cards are painting the roses red. The issue has been lost in time, but I remember that nobody agreed with my point of view and I may have stomped my little foot. An even longer fight erupted on the set of Oliver! due to costuming: I wanted a top hat for my Artful Dodger (“Because it’s essential to the character!”) while others thought that the one hat we had should go to our Fagan, to better disguise the fact that she was a girl. I believe that ultimately a second hat was procured.
We got upset. We threw tantrums. The four or five of us with the most artistic vision were utterly convinced of our ideas and often refused to budge. But no one quit and no play was ever abandoned. All the drama was forgotten when we’d reach the play’s end and hear the applause (even if it was coming from pudgy little Grade 1 hands). We’d clasped each others’ hands and bow, proud of what we had created and grateful that drama had not stopped it.
At the climax of our Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, played by my friend Jane, was to throw a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch, played by Julia. We were in the school library, with a smattering of cross-legged Kindergarten and Grade One kids as our audience. Jane tossed the bucket of ‘water’ (blue and white tissue paper) on Julia and she began her dramatic writhe to the floor, reciting those familiar lines: “Oh, I’m melting! I’m melting! O what a world! To think that I could brought down by the likes of you…!” And then, for some unknown reason, a bad word came to Julia’s lips. Although she only got out the beginning, we recognized it as a B-word rhyming with ‘witch’. “You little bi…bi…” Julia stuttered and, catching herself before it left her lips, replaced it with another B-word, its masculine equivalent. “You…bastard!” And she collapsed on the ground, hiding her shaking shoulders and giggling under her black cape.
The children gasped and laughed, and the teachers glanced at each other. Jane momentarily broke character and stammered “Julia!” After a moment’s pause Dorothy and her companions regained composure, announced “Now let’s take her broom to the Wizard!” and ended the play like professionals.
When something goes wrong, remember your line, keep the ending in sight and help out your friends.