Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 12, 2013

Age 14: theater camp at Choate.

When I was a child and young teenager, from about age 8 to age 14, I wanted to be an actress.  I wanted to be “dramatic.”  Believe me, I was.  My parents, in an effort to help me cultivate my skills and further my chances of getting into a “top” college, sent me to theater camp at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut the summer I was 14.  Along with learning a fair amount about the art of performance, I also learned that I disliked the other aspiring actors around me, who seemed vain and competitive, and that as usual, the others found me weird.  I was fiercely lonely and depressed, and was nearly kicked out of the program for lack of engagement (I had taken to curling up on a mat in the corner during rehearsals, watching the others apathetically rather than leaping in with energetic charisma)– when given a warning about this behavior, I was horrified that anyone had even noticed, and then out of guilt I quadrupled my efforts to “perform.”  This seemed to satisfy my teachers.  However, the chasm between my “act” and how I felt was jarringly enormous.  I was not deemed talented or attractive enough for any lead roles.  Still, I was determined to nail the song I would sing in recital, which I still know by heart: “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.”  Singing the words to myself, now, still makes my heart plummet.  The lyrics are absurdly optimistic, just “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” over and over, and the melody is chirpy beyond belief.  I remember plastering a smile on my face, following the choreography I was given, belting it out, and all the while hating myself, hating my body, hating my face, hating the judgment I perceived all around me, hating that I had to be alive.  The lyrics:

The second I saw it, I knew.
I said to myself: “Aha!”
I could tell at a glance
That it wasn’t by chance
That we happened to be where we are.

From the moment I woke with the lark,
We were both of us singing away,
And the sky was so blue
I instinctively knew
We were in for a wonderful day.

As I told you before
When I saw what I saw,
I was terribly tempted to say:

On a wonderful day like today,
I defy any cloud to appear in the sky,
Dare any raindrop to plop in my eye
On a wonderful day like today.

On a wonderful morning like this
When the sun is as big as a yellow balloon;
Even the sparrows are signing in tune
On a wonderful morning like this.

On a morning like this I could kiss ev’rybody,
I’m so full of love and good will.
Let me say furthermore, I’d adore ev’rybody
To come and dine — the pleasure’s mine —
And I will pay the bill!

May I take this occasion to say
That the whole human race
Should go down on its knees,
Show that we’re grateful
For mornings like these
For the world’s in a wonderful way
On a wonderful day like today.

The choreography included me shaking my fist upwards while singing, “I defy any cloud to appear in the sky,” and literally going down on my knees while singing that the whole human race should go down on its knees.  I was on my knees, alright, but not in gratitude.  I was pleading wordlessly, desperately, blindly, without knowing how or why.

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Responses

  1. God, that sounds like one painful memory. Just brutal. Your description of your teachers makes me angry for 14-year-old you. What on earth were they thinking, when they saw you curled in a ball during breaks and saw it as refusing to join in??? Since when did being a good actor involve being in a clique???

    Ugh.

    Your writing, and the contrast you create within it, is very, very powerful. I’m just sorry you had to live through situations like this.

    Love you.


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