Allison Page brings us another startling tid-bit of wisdom gleaned from her years of serving the Muse.
Nearly 10 years ago, the woman, (let’s call her Ms. Bonnie Rockingham) who had been directing all the plays at my high school, decided to quit directing right after my senior year. There were murmurs that there would be no more plays, which wouldn’t be that surprising considering the diminishing arts programs basically everywhere, and certainly in small towns like mine. Ms. Rockingham had been directing for quite a few years (someone would have to give me the right amount, but I’m going to make one up…so it’s 20 years.), and it seemed that without her, there would be no theater to be had. Sad, yes, but she was waiting until I graduated, so I was happy. Her staying for that last year meant I got to play the title role in “Antigone”, wear a giant hoop skirt and be saved by a guy with a cape, have an excuse to read scripts and generally forget the desolate wasteland of my teenage angst existence in the frozen tundra of small town northern Minnesota.
Then I started getting some phone calls. Some of the remaining students were upset at the prospect of losing their outlet. That whole time I guess I thought I was the only one who cared but apparently, as in most things, I was wrong. The incoming seniors thought I should be directing the show, naturally my mother found out and she added her nod to the other nods and suddenly I was marching to the high school to confront the Activities Director (a hilarious title they gave to a guy who really only cared about sports and couldn’t hear out of one ear) to tell him that I was there to save the play. What do you wear to an occasion like that, you might ask…I wore a zebra print, fake fur, spaghetti strap party dress and a floor length, fake fur, Dalmation print coat, complimented beautifully by my platinum blonde, painstakingly curled hair with a little strip of brown in the front, because I wanted to be taken seriously. I looked insane. I clomped in with my knee-high pleather platform boots and said, “Uh…I want to…direct the uh, the play. The fall play. Here. I have a script picked out. And…and that’s what I want to do.”
“Alright, kid.”, he said. And that’s how I became a director. I had no idea what I was doing. I was always desperately trying to keep my composure. I felt like a non-prostitute version of Pretty Woman that everyone could spot a mile away. It didn’t help that we dressed pretty similarly. It was hard. It was really fucking hard. Why, for my first directing excursion, would I choose a show with 22 characters in it?! WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?!? Because I was young. Because I didn’t know any better. Because all I wanted was to take risks and have someone tell me that I could take risks. Even if that someone was a half deaf guy who didn’t understand me in the slightest, and introduced me to large groups of people as “The Kid”. Did I cry several times? Ohhhhh yes. Did I suggest we should all hang ourselves because there’s no way we could get it together in time for opening night? Yeah, I did that. (I regretted that part. I apologized.) Did I choose a script with a portion done as a silent movie with strobe lights and giant cue cards and a Frankenstein monster? Yup. Was the cast just as terrified as I was? Probably. Did we pull it off?
Why am I talking about this? Because sometimes, as we get older, we lose some of that, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but let’s DO THIS!” instinct. We get careful. We get cautious. We get lazy. We get tired.
We get scared.
I try to constantly remind myself that Allison from ten years ago would jump in platform-boots-first and go for it in every way. That Allison ten years ago started her own theater company that she was so passionate about that she did medical studies to get the cash to put up the shows she wanted. That Allison ten years ago would be really proud of Allison now, but would always want to take everything to the next level, even if she didn’t know how; especially if she didn’t know how. No matter what facet of the arts you participate in, I think it’s important to think about what Old Artist You would say about New Artist You.
It’s been a decade, but I still remember the excitement I felt traipsing into that office. It really did change my life, and it’s a testament to the power of the arts, the power of passion and the power of giving someone a chance to do something, when it would be easy to say “Go ‘way kid, ya bother me. And I can’t hear out of my left ear.”
Keeping that drive can be a struggle for lots of artists (see also: Humans), and I’m mostly writing this as a little reminder to myself: “It’s okay if you’re tired. You’ll be tired sometimes, but it’s worth it.”
Pass the espresso, I’ve got some creating to do.
The first show I ever directed was Lysistrata. Cast of 20.
Wow… the first thing I directed in school was a series of scenes from literature (most of which I adapted myself). The largest number of characters we had in my “Lord of the Flies” segment, which I topped off at twelve (six speaking roles, plus others).
Clearly my vision wasn’t grand enough (they wouldn’t let me use a live boar or drop a giant boulder on anyone).
I directed a 1 hour, 40 character version of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS a few summers ago. Summer camp insanity.
Loved your piece, Allison. These days I’ve also been thinking a lot about my high school self, whether she’d be pleased with where she ended up 10 years later. The answer is wholeheartedly YES, but it’s also true that I have downsized my ambitions and live in a more limited way than I did in high school. When you’re in a teenager, everything feels SO dramatic and important, which can drive you crazy, but it can also be very good for your art!
And I, also, would love to know what this 22-character play with strobe lights was.
The play was called “Done to Death” and it was suuuuper fun. I mean, I’m a sucker for mystery and TV, and writers, and murders. Actually, I think you might enjoy it. (According to the website it calls for 16 characters, but I added some additional silent film portion cue card holders and whatnot to accommodate all the peoples, which worked really well.)
Thanks! Definitely sounds like fun.