When I was a kid, summers were glorious, especially the daily summer program at my elementary school, a supervised playground with games, crafts and activities. We loved the daily play but lived for the end of summer program and a chance to have a role in the play.
Each year we spent a good deal of time working on the presentation—auditioning for parts, learning lines and fighting over costumes. One particular year, we presented a play about a Mexican grandmother (the “arbuela”) who gathered the local children to read them the story of a prince in search of his princess.
I auditioned for the princess role and landed it — excited to beat out my best friend and get to wear the dress with all the petticoats and glitter. My friend became my understudy and ultimately got the role and the rights to the pink princess dress) because I went off to summer camp for two weeks and didn’t spend any time learning my lines. I was reassigned the role of the arbuela, complete with poncho and scratchy head scarf.
Janice, from down the street, was the prince, I’m supposing because she was tall and skinny and could do the costume justice. My sister, Libby, and our neighborhood friends, Mary, Becky, Jack and Barbara, all got non-speaking parts as “children,” a real stretch that required they sit on the steps of the stage quietly while the arbuela read to them. With players in place, the curtain rose and all signs were good for a huge success and much fame and applause. As these things go, however . . .
The prince’s drawers kept sliding down her butt so she took to tugging them up regularly while she pranced around the stage looking for her princess. The princess, once found, was so paralyzed with stage fright that her lines could barely be heard. And, the Grandma had not bothered to learn her lines assuming that “reading” the story meant just that. The book in front of me was blank and so was my memory. I had to be fed my lines one by one, prompted repeatedly from just behind the curtain. Still the performance, with an audience comprised of mostly parents and friends, seemed to be well received.
At least until near the end, when, while being prompted with my latest line, I noticed that Mary was getting restless. “Quiet, children,” I scolded them as I couldn’t hear the lines being fed me. Suddenly, Mary barfed on the stage steps followed immediately by Libby, who managed to hit the arbuela as well as the stage.
Seizing my chance to be the hero and save the show, I kept delivering my lines, hollering to be heard over the commotion. And, you know, we might have recovered at that point had Jack, one of the charming children at the arbuela’s feet, not chosen that moment to stand up and shout at his mom in the audience, “Mom! Libby threw up on Emma!” His sister Karen, seated next to him on the steps, immediately peed her pants and began to cry.
From this experience I learned some important life lessons that have served me well:
~ Always learn your lines (If you want to wear the princess dress you’ve got to study/work harder than the next guy, even if that guy is your best friend.)
~ Be true to yourself (If you are busy being the arbuela instead of the princess you really are, you will always be wearing a scratchy scarf on your head instead of that pouffy pink dress you belong in.)
~ Stay the course (You signed up for the job, do it. But have a backup plan for everything; someone is sure to barf and spoil your show.)
~ Children will be children (The little buggers, never include them in anything that requires a certain decorum.)