Published in the Meath Chronicle May 30th Edition

When Drama Really Was Drama at the Annual School Musical

My scallywag informs me that she wants to act for a living. I inform her that actors, along with writers, dancers, musicians and painters don’t make a living as a rule. They work in the hospitality industries, usually. In New York and Perth. Illegally. If they’re lucky. But she’s determined, and I’d probably hate my daughter to be an accountant. Anyway, who am I to be giving career guidance? It would be a typical case of “Do what I say, child, not what I do”.
She’s had several years of “improv” drama classes, and I can see how things have changed, and changed utterly, since I did drama. We had no “improv” classes, just exams. We recited poetry in an accent meant to knock the muck-savage out of us. Didn’t work for me. But I remember a poem called Tarantella for one exam. Very scary.
“Do you remember an inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?” You couldn’t just stand there and recite it, you had to act. And we were all too cool to be acting, so it was tough. I just wanted go home to the vinyl turntable and play “”Don’t Fear the Reaper” another thousand times, and read the Albert Camus books I’d borrowed from the library, pretending I understood them, and ponder – gloomily – on Life, The Universe and Everything. As you do.
The school musicals were fun, though. The drama teacher was an exotic creature, all silk scarves flowing in a French-perfumed cloud, a bit like Miss Jean Brodie in her prime. She called us “dahling” just like Zsa Zsa Gabor, although she wasn’t Hungarian. I think she was from Mayo. But she had something that she tried to instil in us; Presence. Sometimes, though, when things went horribly wrong, her Presence was a little too keenly felt.
My friend and I were cast as lovers in a school musical she produced. During the second night’s performance, Kathy and I realized that the fake tree we were standing behind was off its correct chalk marking. Kathy suggested we slide it across to the right spot.
“Are you mad? In mid-performance? The audience will notice and Miss O’Brien will kill us!” I hissed.
“No she won’t. She goes nuts when scenery is out of place, we can just slide it over real slow, come on!”
Kathy was full of great ideas like this, the path to hell being paved with good intentions an’ all.
So – slowly and silently – we slid the tree across the stage to its chalk mark.
The instant wave of helpless, screaming laughter from the audience, as a huge tree in the background gently floated across the garden… there was uproar. Our fellow thespians, caught downstage in a particularly harrowing scene, were stunned. One of them decided to burst into song. Prematurely. A heroic attempt to distract a crowd overcome with mirth. But the orchestra wasn’t expecting this and poor Mags was left singing solo into the darkness, a capella, while behind her a tree appeared to sway nonchalantly to the beat, and the howls from the audience swallowed her whole. My parents were there that night, and I swear I could hear my father’s delighted whoops from down the back of the hall.
Miss O’Brien was waiting for us in the wings. She grabbed us both, Kathy and me, and hauled us into the greenroom. Good God, she spontaneously combusted. Meanwhile the lead soprano was helped backstage in floods of tears and didn’t speak to me or Kathy for at least two days. However, the show must go on. And go on it did, with several other calamities, all equally entertaining, but thankfully not involving me.
Ah yes, drama class is all different now. They’ve taken the fun out of it, I think. No lines to fluff, no songs to burst into, no dark and lyrical poems to destroy in Navanese dialect. And no moving props with which to delight an unsuspecting public. My scallywag doesn’t know what she’s missing.

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