I dropped Maggie off for her final performance of The Jungle Book tonight. This is her 2nd mainstage production at the high school and she’s only a freshman. She’s been inducted into the Thespian troupe already. She’s preparing for her musical audition that happens in a little over a week. She’s an actress.
As I watched her walk into the school, I was suddenly overcome with sense memory. I remember those days so perfectly. It all came back. The sound of the door as it opened. The echoy silence of the school hallways with the faintest sound of drama kids squealing far away. The squish of tennis shoes on the clean floors. The way the air changed as I approached Mr. C’s room – becoming charged with energy & excitement. The smells as you turned from the hallway into the room. There was a “hot” smell emanating from the bank of lights over the mirrors at the makeup “bar”. A thick smell of pancake makeup hung heavy with a lighter touch of aerosol deodorant, hair greying spray and AquaNet. You could catch an underbelly of feet and teenage boy if you paid close attention as well.
The noise in that room was almost always deafening. 10-40 teenagers practically vibrated as they prepared to bring that season’s play to life. Inevitably, there was some sort of drama (usually involving romance or sex) unfolding in hushed tones in some corner while one or more girls tried not to cry about something. One or more boys would be involved in stage combat – probably in attempt to impress the girls. The stage door would squeak open and slam shut with a dull thud as the thick towel taped to the top of the door hit the doorframe. People would come and go through that door to check on props, talk with friends or just catch a glimpse of whoever they were crushing on during that show. Techies ran in & out, checking with Mr. C about this, that or the other thing. Actors ran through lines in the room. Dancers ran through dances out on the stage. Lead actors went out to get their mike packs on and do a sound check.
I can remember the sound of the desks being dragged from their school-day positions to a place at the makeup mirrors – jamming the desk portion under the makeup table leaf that dropped to the wall when not in use. Criminy, that was loud. People fought for spots at the mirror – the well-established, “senior” actors having their own special spots that everybody just knew not to encroach upon. Others stood behind the desks doing touchups and checking their hair. More often than not, people would emerge from that mirror wearing makeup a good shade or two darker than they should, but never enough blush or a dark enough lipstick. The number of suburban white kids who looked like Native Americans or as if they were of Latin descent on our stage was too many to count. Without fail, in a valiant attempt to prevent hair from ever moving again, someone would get someone else in the face with a big shot of Aqua Net and the world would end. Someone else would apply horrifying old age makeup and look like a dirty hobo. Someone else would coat their whole head in silver hairspray and, instead of looking old, they’d look like David Bowie from the audience.
As the stage manager crackled instructions over the prehistoric intercom, people would rush to get their costumes on, ignoring the overpowering smell of must, mothballs and thick dust that permeated them. We’d feel beautiful or dowdy or fabulous or weighed down in petticoats and get our final preparations done. All the time, the electricity in the air became thicker and more palpable. Last minute reminders would be given (“Don’t step on me when you walk down the steps”, “Remember…it’s ‘step, step, TURN’, not ‘step, step, step, turn’.”, “I really need you to say that line louder because I don’t hear it”, “If you miss your cue tonight & I have to improv to cover you, I will punch you in the larynx.”), last minute warmups would be done, “Break a legs” would be handed out and the cue for “places” would be called. The lights would go down backstage and a hush peppered with awe, fear, excitement, panic and magic would fall backstage. Then the curtain would open or the overture would begin and we embarked on 2 hours of attempting to create something amazing. Something that would last. Something to be remembered. Something with meaning. Something fun.
I can’t believe that one simple action triggered all this for me, but it did. I guess that school’s front door will always have those memories waiting for me. I hope it’s the same for Maggie – that someday she can look back and remember how amazing it was to be a part of high school theatre. That it will always be as important to her as it is now.
To all those special, precious people who shared this time and these memories with me, I salute you. Dean, Jeff, Kevin, Anne (L. & J.), Tammy, Leon, Tim (W., M. & R.), Jannah, Kristn, Scott (all of you), Connie, Lisa (D. & W.), Mr. Casalino and many others. You all made that time even sweeter and I hope your memories of it are as vivid and special as mine.