Saturday, April 03, 2010
Thespians Do it On Stage
High school was rough. I was 14 and my parents were going through a nasty divorce, one of the nastiest ever recorded in the history of the world. Ok, that's my high school dramatic girl talk taking over. But I felt ignored and neglected. I was ripped in two, with each parent holding one piece of me. I had responsibilities at home that most high school kids didn't have. I wanted to protect my little brother from all of it and couldn't. I had no clue who I even was most days. I felt tall and fat and hideous. Everything was a drama, a chaos, an overblown fiasco. I thought it would never end. I would never be old enough to get out on my own. I was the only one in the world with these thoughts and feelings. Everyone else in high school was blissfully happy and popular and loyal pep rally attenders. No one understood me and no one knew the self consciousness and self loathing that I fought through everyday. And that was just freshman year. But I found something that year that got me through it all, brought me friends, role models, success, pleasure, skill, a brazen confidence and a bold glee, and that was theater.
I fell in love with theater, hard. You could get away with being weird and different in the name of theater. A glorious group of like-minded misfits and creative souls, with the occasional rare jock joining in. Unabashed theater nerd, I had a bumper sticker on my little white Camry that said "Thespians do it on stage." I had found my people. Plays, musicals, auditions, drama classes, being the drama teacher's assistant, after parties involving midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I worked behind the scenes, I performed on the stage, I read plays, I directed plays, and I was in heaven. And the extension of that love was competing in forensics competitions.
National Forensics League. Students compete against each other in tournaments held at high schools all over the city, and perform in front of judges who rank them and provide constructive criticism about their performances, then the highest scored students move on to the the final rounds, where the top finalists receive medals for their performances and the chance to compete on a state level. I never got excited about the debate side of things, but the speech and drama events were perfect.
Students can choose between a variety of performances including poetry or prose reading where you are allowed to use a book to prompt you, dramatic or humorous interpretation either solo or duet which is completely memorized, some improvisational acting and then the original and extemporaneous speech events which I rarely did. I was a drama girl and I dabbled in all the drama events. I won 6th in the state of Kansas for my improvisational duet performance. Oh yeah, I still have the medal.
I found something I was good at. I got up in front of strangers and talked in accents and yelled and cried and laughed and jumped around like a fool and acted my ass off. And sometimes I won medals and most of the time I didn't, but I loved every minute of it. And it changed me. It saved me. It trained me to speak in public, it allowed me to laugh at myself. It taught me the value of tapping into my creativity. It showed me that taking risks, even in the face of frequent massive failure, is still worth something. And so when my favorite high school teacher, Mr. Max Brown, asked on Facebook for forensics tournament judges for this weekend's tournament at my old high school, I signed up with alacrity! (Forensics taught me fancy words, too.)
God, it was fun. I hadn't been back to my old high school in about fifteen years. Because even though I live in the same town, why would I go back? But going back as a judge was a seriously entertaining experience. I got to have coffee in the teacher's lounge, the forbidden territory. I got to say hi to Mr. Brown. And the kids, man, these kids are talented and brave and funny and loud. They are babies, but they are talented babies. I had the luck, or maybe Mr. Brown just knew what I would like, but I got to judge poetry, humorous solo interpretation and dramatic solo interpretation. There were some bold choices, pieces about being Catholic and gay, pieces about slavery, murder, school shootings, death, revolution, and of course wizardry. I loved seeing the kids all scattered around the hallways rehearsing, watching their anxious faces, hearing them tease and praise each other. I gave each performer my complete attention, I judged as fairly as possible and I filled up the comments section. Because I remember standing up in front of that old lady judge, praying to make her laugh, see her smile, guess what she was writing about me, working to see a tear in her eye, and hoping, just hoping, to be good enough to win a medal. Now I'm that old lady judge. And I like being on this side of it so much better.
High school is brutal. Kids can be dense and cruel. Hormones and body chemistry wreck havoc on your teenage brain. The sheer pressure to figure out the world, make decent choices and the constant emotional upheaval can be exhausting and exhilarating and nauseating all at the same time. But it doesn't last, and that's the good news and the bad news. It's over so quickly, you turn around and you are 34, married, mortgaged, working. But if you do it right and you're lucky, everyday after high school graduation just gets better.