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Fights, on stage and off - a memoir

Scene 1. After the first night


Lounge room of an outer suburban timber house, well past bed-time for year 11
students who should be studying. Mother and daughter are drinking hot chocolate.

“You have no IDEA how embarrassed I was – no idea at all. Here was I sitting next
to the Shire President’s wife, right up there in the third row as you know, and here is
my lovely daughter coming on stage looking like a hag. A REAL HAG .... no teeth,
all bent over, with a lined face!” My mother was livid. I was exhausted after our first
performance. But I was also pumped right up, having really got my teeth into my
very first ‘character’ part (well, those teeth not blacked out by the brilliant mother-of-
one-of-the-minor-characters who did the make-up.)

Discussions about appropriate ‘dress’ and ‘looks’ and ‘impressions people may have’
and ‘careers suitable for girls’ were quite common between the two of us during my
senior high school years. I chose to let it all wash over me. After all, her emotion
indicated that I had really got into character well.

But I could sympathise, after all I was her only daughter. She explained her angst
further “Most people I know have daughters who would want to look their best on
stage – dress in flowing feminine costumes, curl their hair, make themselves look as
pretty as possible. BUT WHAT DOES MY DAUGHTER DO? She chooses to look
like a HAG and make me ashamed of her in front of the Shire President’s wife!”.

But I didn’t care, as I never cared. It was the best performance of my life; and I still
had another 5 nights to go. Anyway, I was just a little preoccupied with a much
bigger fight in my head, which involved tackling some tricky calculations about
radioactive decay for an uncompleted physics assignment that was due in before the
final performance at the end of the week.

Nevertheless, I went to bed smiling. Mr M would be pleased with my


characterisation.

Scene 2. Back in time – the auditions


An ordinary English classroom in an ordinary high school. Imagine that the science
club’s Tardis has taken us back nine months in time, to the arrival of young Mr M as
the new drama teacher.

Within two weeks of the school year, Mr M had gathered together the remnants of our
‘drama society’, which had hung together more-or-less since we had been in year 7,
when it had been mentored by a beloved older English teacher. Mr M explained that
he had a new and vibrant approach to teaching performance arts, and that one of the
senior texts this year, “Romeo and Juliet”, was a perfect opportunity for him to try out
his ideas. Although this play was often performed by older actors, he said, it was
really a play for young people like us. Not only that, if we could learn to be more
professional with our acting (and he could teach us that), then we could take the
initiative and kick off a new tradition at the school to complement that of the
renowned, traditional annual Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) performance.
Little did he know (because there wasn’t REALLY a Tardis), that within the next 18
months, ‘our year’ would have broken nearly all the systems and rules that had been
in place for yonks in conventional high schools. This was the mid-60s, after all, and
we were VERY serious in trying to embody all the idealism of that time. Although
the school management may not have always seen our attitudes and actions as
‘improving society’, I think Mr M understood. He was idealistic too, and was to be
more than just a catalyst in the changes that occurred later.

When Mr M called for auditions, he had selected speeches only from those of the
hero and heroine even though, of course, not everyone would be assessed for those
characters.

I was totally uninterested in being Juliet .... but nevertheless, I did my best to work out
where I thought that Shakespeare thought that she was coming from; and I spoke nice
and slowly and dramtically, just like the Rabbi had taught me when the Sunday
School conducted occasional Friday night Shabbat services for the parents

Mr M was very coy and apologetic when he asked me to talk to him, to review my
audition.

“Oh no,” I thought as I inexpertly tried to read his non-verbal cues. “I don’t have a
part.”

Then he started his obviously well-rehearsed explanation: “I know young ladies of


your age like to dress up and look pretty,” he said.

“OH YES”, I thought, “I have a part, but at least it isn’t Juliet”.

I refocussed my ears. HE WAS OFFERING ME THE NURSE.

OOOHHHHH YESSSSSS !!!!!

But Mr M was still talking: “The nurse was an older lady. We can research how she
would have dressed, I want you to dress that way - it will be drab – not glamorous.
The nurse was also from the ‘lower classes’ and she sometimes acted and spoke in a
very rough way. These bawdy interactions are not in the copy of “Romeo and Juliet”
you have bought from the school bookshop. You will be throwing those books away,
and I will supply you with a full, uncensored version.”

I was nodding, as I was becoming more and more excited by this challenge. I was
probably going bright red.

Mr M fell silent and, again, I couldn’t read his thoughts. Then he turned quite
abruptly and looked right into my soul. “I don’t want to insult an attractive young
person such as yourself .... but....” He was redder than I was. “Of all the girls who
auditioned, I think you are the only one who can carry off this characterisation. I
hope you are not upset.....”
“NO, NOT AT ALL MR M. Thank you for the opportunity ... WOW .... this is just
the sort of part I love to do.”

I saw him breathe again.

He then mentioned that Maggie would be Juliet. PERFECT. Maggie had been my
inseparable ‘best friend’ and co-conspirator since about week 3 in year 7. Maggie had
blue eyes and long blonde wavy hair. She was a shy but effective flirt. Maggie and I
could do the ‘bosom buddies’ scenes of Juliet and her nurse to perfection.

But more importantly, as close friends, we could also do the ‘big argument’ scene
better than anyone else.

And so we did.

Scene 3. The dress rehearsal.


The school hall on a Saturday morning, one week before First Night. The whole cast
is dressed in its finery. Parents and helpers are flitting around ensuring the newly-
built, Shakesperean-style prodruding stage is safe; or fussing about final fittings for
costumes.. Mercutio and Tybalt are exhibiting the bravado of 17-yr-old males as they
admire the borrowed fencing foils, while Mr M is endangering his life ensuring the
leather buttons are firmly attached to the ends of the blades.

The characters assembled upon the new stage.


The director barked out an order for calm
As he consulted the Big Red Book’s correct page.

The cue was given, the protagonists began


Their speeches and actions so well rehearsed
That they slipped easily into the overall plan.

“A plague on both your houses” was shouted with force


As the clash of the swords was unnervingly metallic
...Then... ‘BLOOD’ ... shouted someone ... and everyone paused.

Next, Tybalt was carried like a soldier in war,


By an army of helpers who rushed to his aid,
To a car that was revving, prepared, near the door.

The atmosphere was heavy, no-one knew what to do;


No more rehearsal, no more laughter or fun
Until the awaited phone call came through.

“OK, just a cut on the arm – he’s OK.


The play can go on, he just needs one day’s rest.”
So with great relief, we continued our way.

However, Mr M sitting silently and upright,


Was heard to utter some words from his lips:
“Why couldn’t he have waited until the First Night?”