The faces in the crowd swirled into a colorful mass, and I felt great trepidation. I could not see her, but I listened for her. Her distinctive dry cough was always a great comfort to me in crowds. That involuntary sound was discernible to me and meant nothing to anyone else. From the presence of my mother I knew everything would be all right. She’s here. I can do this. I am so happy this is real.
I had written a play. In my room upstairs, all alone, I’d had an idea for a take-off on “The Night Before Christmas” and wrote it up, working late into the night. The next day, I presented it to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Carpenter. He was busy, but he took it and when the school day was over, asked me to remain after class.
He asked me a few questions about why I wrote it, and what I thought should be done. I came to life, explaining how every single person in our class could have a role, and it came to a point when he said, “That’s type-casting,” and he laughed. I had to ask him what type-casting was, and he explained it. My response was, “It makes it easier, as the kids will not really be acting.” He laughed again, yet I did not really see the humor.
“If I can get permission”, he continued, “would you allow it to be put on for the school?”
“All right, then. You go on home and I will see what I can do.” He gathered my pages into a stack, giving them a straightening bump, and I left, completely unaware of what it all meant. In my imagination, I could see the entire play completed. I can do this. I am so happy this is real.
I told my mother about it after school, and she looked very pleased, interested, and asked a few questions, probing for more. There was no more.
The next morning, Mr. Carpenter opened the day with my pages in his hand, and announced, “Tandy has written a play, and I have permission to put it on for the other 6th grade classes. Would everyone like to participate? We only have a month to get ready, and it will be a lot of work, but everyone will have a part.”
To my shock, every hand in the room went up, waving wildly, generating a palpable wave of enthusiasm.
Even then I was unaware of anything unusual occurring. I was confident of my ability to lead the play into production.
“If she is willing, Tandy will be the director. This means each of you will listen to her, and do what she says.”
All eyes shifted to me, and I smiled back, never doubting they would gladly follow. Oh, for that blissful innocence of knowing one is omnipotent, and will never die or be disappointed. I was twelve. Immediately I assigned myself the “lead” part, and one by one, everyone in class eagerly approached me to learn what parts I would assign for them. It was easy and gratifying. I felt important.
Each step of the process, from costumes, to selection of music, to individual consultations with various actors, and rehearsals was given to me, and I “just did it.” We were all having fun, and Mr. Carpenter must have been a brilliant teacher because we barely felt his supervision. He met with each of us privately, reminding us of gaps that needed filling, and phone calls from actors and dancers each evening were all part of it. The mother of the “dog” even called me to ask what could be done to transform her son into a dog. I was pretty surprised a grown up would seek me out for advice, but I cheerfully told her how to do it, and went on with my life.
Mr. Carpenter called our class to order one day with an announcement. “We are going to have a dress rehearsal” he claimed and explained it would be like any other rehearsal, but it would be in full costume, and there would be no interruptions. It would be just like the real thing, only the audience would be limited to “just the administration.” He told us there would be “no messing around” and put a special glare onto a couple of boys in the back. “The Principal will be there,” was his final threat.
Oh, man! I cannot tell you how excited we were to be opening our play, finally. I put on my “old lady” costume, and took a seat at the edge of the stage. I was the “moderator” who was reading the actual unadulterated lines of “The Night Before Christmas” to the audience, as various crazy scenes would erupt onstage, just out of my line of sight. I did not need to see it. It was all in my head anyway. I was the ultimate straight man. How did I know just when to read and when to stop for each scene? The actors had no lines. It was all broad comedy. I reveled in the fact I was writer, director, and playing the lead, yet I had no idea of my own narcissism, and nobody called me on it.
The play ended, and the small audience had about died laughing. I was happy and surprised by the jolly face on the principal as he congratulated me. “I will be at every performance,” he declared and walked away.
Mr. Carpenter was glowing and gave everyone his best congratulations on a great dress rehearsal. It was then it happened.
The metal folding chair I was seated in had worked its way to the edge of the stairs, and one of the legs went off, tumbling me head over heels all the way down the steps and onto the floor. I sat up in my long dress, my old lady glasses half off, and my old lady wig beside me. The entire class erupted into laughter, and so did I, but Mr. Carpenter helped me to my feet, and hugged me, and admonished the class for their insensitivity. “She could have been hurt!” he thundered. “Every single one of you owes her an apology. She has done all of this for you!” I was stunned. I was not hurt, and it had been hilarious. I even thought of adding it to the play, but was too embarrassed my dress might fly up again.
We did the play for the sixty 6th graders the next day and they laughed at all the points they should have. At the end, they were on their feet, clapping and yelling. Well, that’s done. It was fun. Back to class. They filed out, and we began to organize clean up.
Mr. Carpenter was talking to the principal, and the two of them approached me to ask a question. “Since it went so well for the sixth grade classes, would you be willing to do it for the entire school tomorrow?”
We all looked at one another thinking the same thing. If we can get out of class to put it on again, we will. Duh.
Parents were invited, and every class from first to sixth attended. The auditorium was packed. We felt even more secure the next day, and the actors laid it on real thick. In the end, the entire audience was on its feet, clapping and cheering. Mr. Carpenter made me go to center stage and take credit. We all lined up and bowed and they went on clapping. There were announcements, and credit given, and it was done. I felt really happy about it all.
Later, at home, Mom said, “I can’t believe you got three standing ovations!” I was perplexed. “What’s a standing ovation?” She explained, and I felt pretty humble about it. I said, “I thought they were just standing up to leave, and clapping on their way out.”
“No,” she said. They were telling you ‘thank you’ for the play.”
As I sit typing today, I think back to Mr. Carpenter, and how amazing he really was to allow it to happen. Those ovations really belonged to him. He is long dead, and life has gone on for us all. In our minds, we were just playing around, not really working. We had no idea at all how much we were learning. We had no idea how much we were loved.
To this day, whenever I hear “The Nutcracker Suite” I see two ballerinas dancing while a boy dressed like a dog with paper ears and brown pajamas nips at their feet. One was actually a great dancer, and one was not. The one who was not very good concentrated on the music and dance staring seriously into the audience completely oblivious to the counterpoint of her graceful partner kicking at the dog. The paper ears flapped up and down and the boy transformedplayed his part brilliantly. He chased them off the stage, barking furiously.