As neither President Bush nor Scott McClellan can comment on the Rove scandal "until the investigation in complete" (even though we all know already that he is guilty as hell), and as I am a good loyal American who follows our President in awe of his keen intellect and mastery of the language, I have decided to forego any further comment "until the investigation is complete" (which I assume will occur sometime in the year 2050, if ever). So let us for the moment turn our attention to more serious matters.
I wish to discuss a ubiquitous, indeed, probably universal childhood experience – the school play – a minor form of child abuse that has received far too little attention up to now. I suspect that virtually all people, when they were helpless, gullible little children, were asked, tricked, cajoled, bribed, bullied, or otherwise forced into participating in some kind of class or school play. I suggest that while parents, particularly mothers, think these childhood attempts at thespianism are “cute,” (no one could seriously consider them educational) the participants themselves are most often embarrassed, mortified, humiliated, terror-stricken and traumatized. It is not far-fetched to believe that in some cases they may be damaged for life. The fact that I can still remember my own experiences in this enterprise after SEVENTY YEARS testifies to the lingering effects. Oh, I know there may be an occasional child (most probably a girl who has been brainwashed by her mother) who actually enjoys these events and the spotlight, but I am pretty certain these children are rare and unusual. I speak from experience.
I don’t wish to boast, but I am not without this type of theatrical experience myself. I was introduced to thespianism (kicking and screaming) at an early age. In the first grade, for example, I played the part of a court announcer. I was dressed in a rather feminine costume with lace cuffs and baggy trousers (I suspect they may have been a cast-off pair of some dowager’s bloomers). My role, which I had been assured was an important one, was to come onstage at the very beginning and announce the queen. I was to sound a loud clear clarion call and then recite my one and only line. Unhappily it was a toy bugle, and unpredictable, so as might have been expected, it did not work the first time, although I grew quite red in the face with repeated attempts to make it perform. Undaunted, I returned to the wings to make the entrance once again. The second time did not go much better. I walked out, timidly, knees shaking, hands trembling, and idiotic expression of sheer terror on my face and again, the recalcitrant instrument refused to sound a loud clear clarion call. But by this time I had had quite enough, so rather than make the entrance once again, I simply uttered my line with all the forcefulness a shy, confused, frightened, nervous resentful six-year-old could muster. I announced in my loud but squeaky and trembling voice, “Her Queen, the majesty.” Needless to say this brought down the house and my future career was beginning to take shape. My parents, bursting with pride, had to be pried out from under their folding chairs. This did not, however, prevent my mother from selling me down the river again the following year.
In this second production, no doubt believing they could outwit me, they gave me no speaking lines at all. Instead I was made up as a character in a famous painting. I have successfully repressed what painting it was but I think it was a Rembrandt. I had on some kind of medieval lace collar over a blue blouse of some kind (to add insult to injury it was a girl’s blouse!). I was made to pose, straddling a chair, behind a large picure frame, and instructed not to laugh or smile (who could laugh or smile at such a moment?). As I was totally embarrassed and blushing heavily I’m sure I must have looked rather like a ripe tomato wrapped in satin and lace. While I was unwillingly and uncomfortably posing in this absurd manner a little girl named Sarah Jean (whom I detested as my worst enemy in the whole world) with bangs, freckles and long sagging white stockings, screeched a violin solo in my ear. I have never forgotten it. To this day the sounds of “Just a Song at Twilight” sends me into convulsions resembling an epileptic fit. Although I had no lines I managed by clever pantomime and my naturally comic face, to upstage her quite effectively. Again, I was the hit of the evening.
Then, in the third grade, I played “Man With a Hoe” so forcefully and with such realism that my father was subsequently obliged to repair the hardwood floor in the schoolroom, to say nothing of the teacher’s shoes. This effectively ended my career as an actor. When fourth grade came around I stubbornly, adamantly, belligerently, uncompromisingly refused to cooperate. No amount of pleading, begging, bullying or trickery worked. My mother was forced to capitulate. To admit defeat. I was ecstatic. My father was relieved although he could not say so.
I confess that even now, much more than half a century later, the thought of being in a play or going on stage threatens to bring on a nervous breakdown. I still have recurrent dreams in which I am being forced to perform in a play. I wake up in a cold sweat. I suggest that the one way to end this abominable school custom quickly would be to insist that only volunteers could participate. While you might conceivably succeed in having a school play once in a while, the odds would be somewhere in the vicinity of a million to one. Hundreds, thousands, probably even millions of children would be saved each year from the threat of this unwelcome and unnecessary parent/teacher conspiracy. They could lead happy, carefree lives, as children should, free of the worry and embarrassment that accompanies these tyrannical and traumatic events. So how about it? No more cries of “aren’t they cute,” no more frilly home-made costumes, paper wings and halos, papier-mache, cardboard castles, wooden swords and forgotten lines. Let the curtain go down!