Parenting & Playwriting
The Pageant, part II
This post is the twelfth column of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. Find the previous columns here. Here’s what my advice column will offer you: a place to ask questions and share grievances about juggling life as theatre artists and as parents. Here’s what my advice column will not offer you: much actual advice you can use. For those of you masochists longing for some truly crappy advice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @ctrieschmann.
My dear readers,
Well, Hanukah has come and gone, New Year's Eve is nigh, Twelfth Night only a hop and a skip away, and here I am at my Mother's house with five children, my sister, brother-in-law, and one very grumpy Grandfather with a bad cold who emerges periodically from his bedroom to announce, "Call the funeral home, I'm dying."
An ice storm hit Little Rock with a vengeance, we lost power Christmas day, and it hasn't been seen since. Yet we managed to charge my laptop in the car, so I might type this missive to you, because I know you're just dying to know what happened with my little pageant situation. Based on your encouragement, I once more submitted myself for consideration to direct St. Gabriel of the Bleeding Heart Divine's Christmas pageant. I wasn't rejected exactly. It was much, much worse. I was asked to be Assistant Director.
The actual director is an older woman I'll call "Yvette." Yvette doesn't wear a turban exactly but her floral head coverings give one the impression. At first I think she may be battling cancer and the assignments a pity job, but she removes the scarf once we're in rehearsal, revealing a head full of blue-white hair. She's slow to move, slow to talk, slow to do much of anything at all, and although she's directed "hundreds" of pageants I'm told, it's pretty clear that while she may have once known stage right from stage left, she doesn't now.
Based on your encouragement, I once more submitted myself for consideration to direct St. Gabriel of the Bleeding Heart Divine's Christmas pageant. I wasn't rejected exactly. It was much, much worse. I was asked to be Assistant Director.
The first thing I'm asked to do is arrange refreshments for the parent volunteers. Now I think of myself as a straight shooter, someone who says what's on her mind, diplomatic when necessary, but essentially straight forward. This little assignment, however, reveals a whole new me. Apparently, I possess unknown depths of passive aggressiveness. I hedge on the refreshment request. Hasn't everyone just had dinner? Do we really need refreshments for a one-hour rehearsal? And when that doesn't work, I play the ace card: Too bad we're out of coffee!
Yvette tells me, "your job is to write down everything I do or say, in case I'm hit by a truck,"—clearly, oblivious to the more likely and natural causes of death just around the corner. So I sit in the back of the sanctuary, chewing gum and doodling on my steno pad. It's just like being fourteen again, stuck at a youth group event led by a youth director who somehow missed the memo that fourteen is way too old for musical chairs. The worst thing about being assistant director, however, is not playing second fiddle to Yvette. It's having to sit through hours of the script, which is a real stinker:
Angel: Greetings! I bring you tidings of good news!
Shepherd: Good news? You want some good news? My Dad just saved money on his car insurance!
We've reached a whole new low in liturgical drama with this one.
As I sit in the back, scowling and drawing pictures of the librettist laid out on the guillotine, it does not escape my attention that nobody else, not a single solitary body in the entire sanctuary other than me thinks this script is bad. When the six year old wearing a hand-made polyester tunic spouts, "My Dad just saved money on his car insurance," the parent volunteers crack up, Yvette beams, the accompanist chortles. They think this crap is funny. And I wonder: how many assistant directors have drawn pictures of me on the guillotine? It gives a girl pause.
Why don't I just quit, you may be wondering? Come down with a stomach virus, measles, or the bubonic plague? Surely, I can come up with something; clearly, St. Gabriel's Bleeding Heart Divine doesn't need my help with the pageant. But I stay put for one simple reason: Lizzie is playing an angel. Shy, retiring, five-year-old Lizzie who refused to sing in front of the church this past summer; Lizzie who hides her head in school assemblies lest she be called on, this insecure child has summoned the courage to participate in the Christmas pageant, so long as I am there with her.
So I endure. And as we prepare for the first show, I admit, the excitement becomes a touch infectious. It's hard to remain cynical when the bespeckled nine-year-old playing Mary practices her lines backstage with an adorable, nasal lisp. I can't scowl when seven-year-old Joseph wants to run lines with me; it's hard to squash the pleasure that emerges when he takes my gentle direction. And as I sit on the floor of the sanctuary, playing prompter in front of the kids, it's hard not to smile at the stupid car insurance line, because the kid lights up when he hears the laughter. Yes, my dear, it's addicting.
But the real breakthrough occurs nears the end of the pageant, when the kids sing "Go Tell it on the Mountain." Clear and strong over the multitude, one little kid in the front row belts out the number like she's Patti LuPone. She's really into it too, swaying, lifting her hands, and singing with her eyes closed. It's shy, little Lizzie. And even if her voice isn't exactly melodious, it's robust and pure and proud. Director? Please. Who wants to be a director when you can be a Stage Mother. I had a dream, a dream about you, Lizzie. It's gonna come true, Lizzie...