Allison Page sends us a story from the frozen north.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop in my home town – um, the only coffee shop in my home town – and I see someone familiar. I nearly choke on my Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. I know that hair cut. I know the tick-tick-ticking of her high heels. Her glasses, her clear sense of self-importance – yes, it has to be her. My high school drama teacher. Ohhhh shit.
Flashback o’clock. Suddenly I’m thinking about the first play I ever auditioned for, which would have been Peter Pan when I was about 10, but I showed up to the audition and they wanted me to sing which I didn’t know about in advance, and so I cried and left without ever auditioning. (which is still how I feel about singing)
So the actual first play I ever auditioned for was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is when I met the woman who would be my drama teacher. Let’s call her Lemon Drop. I read sides of the script with some other awkward teenagers, and Lemon Drop told me that I had “promise”. This I found very exciting and assumed meant I would be playing an important part in the following production. The cast list goes up – I can’t wait, I’m so pumped to find out which AMAZING role I’ll be taking on. And who am I? Who will I fully embody, causing the audiences minds to explode, the tops of their heads to detach and shoot into the stars because I’m, like, SOOOOOOO GOOD?
Allison Page – MENTAL PATIENT and ASSASSIN
What? I don’t even have a name?! COME ON! Look at me, over here! I have promise and shit! You said it, not me! MENTAL PATIENT? THAT’S MY ROLE? I didn’t read for that! I didn’t read for either of the parts I was given because they don’t have any lines. I was unbelievably depressed. I must have been awful, if she didn’t even give me any lines. I must have been a horrible freak and she just said those nice things to make me feel better. That had to be it. Instant misery set in. I’ve always had a terrible memory. I forget things all the time. But I remember how destroyed I felt by that. All of my 14 years of living, at that point, had been leading up to this moment for me.
I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I mean – always. I think I even wanted to do that before I knew what it was. I “wrote” my first play when I was in second grade. I somehow convinced the teacher to make the class watch my rendition of FERN GULLY LIVE. It was magnificent (it probably wasn’t). I loved it.
But this was the first time I’d been at the mercy of someone else’s choices…and look where that landed me: the non-speaking Mental Patient and the non-speaking-and-is-only-on-stage-for-30-second-before-she-dies Assassin. I cried a lot about it for more than one day. I didn’t give a shit about Santa Claus not being real, but this was my version of being told that the jolly bastard with the presents wasn’t comin’ around. Naturally, I got over it enough to perform in the play and see all the juniors and seniors do the fun parts while I watched from my deceased position, lying on the stage.
The depression at the thought that I might not be perfect and amazing as a teenage performer wasn’t enough to dissuade me from taking drama classes, which I did. Lemon Drop was a tough teacher – to me. I think, perhaps, other people had an easier time. It was hard because I so wanted to please her, and she was sparing with her compliments, but never her criticism. Her philosophy was “If I don’t say anything, then it’s good.” but that was hard for me at 16 and 17. I wanted someone to tell me I was blowing the roof off the place and I wasn’t going to get it from her. There were times that other people would mess something up, and I would end up getting the blame, which I strangely just sort of…took. Again – CRYING HAPPENED A LOT. (Which is hilarious for people who know adult Allison because crying is incredibly rare for me. Unless I’m laughing really hard, but I don’t count that.) The parts I was given got bigger and better and became more work – which is exactly what I wanted. I love working hard when it’s something I care about (and only then).
Lemon Drop gave me a thick, thick skin. How do you get a callous? Usually it’s after you’ve irritated and rubbed and poked and prodded that sore part of you until it learns how to protect itself. At the time I often wanted to kick her in the shin and run away, but I’m quite thankful for it now. Though I freely admit that the thought of her still kind of makes me nervous. Which is silly because what could she possibly do to me now – scowl? Who cares?
I’ve talked before about how I took over directing at my high school the year after I graduated. (And only for that year because it kind of made me crazy.) Lemon Drop had decided to stop directing after my class graduated. I remember some sentiment of us being the last class who seemed to really care about it, so she didn’t feel the need to go on. Who knows if that’s true. She showed up to the play I directed; brought me flowers and everything, but didn’t talk to me. I don’t recall ever speaking to her again after that. This was 9 years ago. I had wished that she had said something to me at the time. “I’m proud of you.” she would say, and then we’d hug or some shit. But I never got that moment. And actually I think that’s sort of appropriate. On some level that would make me feel like I’ve already achieved whatever I set out for – which I haven’t.
She was a hellion, but gave me an appreciation for all the work that goes into what previously seemed like play time. She is the single biggest influence on my work ethic and and attitudes about production. There have been many other people I’ve gleaned things from, but she’s the one who set up who I’d be as a performer from the start. She gave me parts like The Artful Dodger, Antigone (that one was tough), the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present, and Thorin Oakenshield.
I spent time and energy convincing her that certain parts could be as convincingly played by women as men (which was partially for gender equality but more because I WANT THOSE ROLES, DUH.) Should I approach her in this coffee shop? What would I say? What if she didn’t even remember me – this person she had such an impact on? I think she was disappointed that I didn’t go to college and major in theater…or go to college at all. What if she hates my guts?
My friend at the coffee shop turned around to see the woman I was staring at.
“Oh, that’s not her. She just looks like her. I’ve seen her around here before.”, she said.
“Really?” I continued to stare.
“Yeah, but from the back they look identical.” she said, sipping her coffee.
“Huh…weird. I could have sworn that was her.”
“Nope, not this time.”
I guess I have some more time to figure out what I’d say to her. Or maybe I’ll never get to say anything. I doubt she knows she made such a lasting impression on who I am as a person and a performer. And that she’s the reason I don’t require praise to know I’m doing a good job. That’s a pretty solid quality, I have to say. So thank goodness for that. It’s gotten me through moments of potential insecurity for the last decade.
Now I’m sitting in the same coffee shop (again, there’s only one) finishing up this blog, sipping another Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. She hasn’t wandered in this time either, in case you were wondering. But with all this reminiscing, she might as well have.
Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian on her way back from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, just tryin’ to make good. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.