Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My First Improv

My parents enrolled me at a local Kindercare, shortly after my brother was born, when I was four. After a few weeks or months there, the Kindercare was going to put on a "circus performance" for the families by the children. The day that roles were cast, I was so excited! Kids were going to be doing the "acrobatic acts" as well as the "animal acts" and clowning and taming. It was going to be a ball!

Casting day came and roles were divvied up. Molly got bupkus. I wanted to be anything; I didn't care. As an adult, I now suppose there were probably reasons for divvying up the roles the way they did, but as a kid all I got out of it was: "sorry. not even leftovers for you." I'm sure some of the shafted kids didn't care, but as one who's always had a performing bug, this was an insult. (Seriously, it was a circus under the direction of amateurs, at a Kindercare in the Panhandle of Texas. It's not like talent or skill were important.)

During the next few weeks, the kids in the "circus" would break out in their groups to practice their parts. I remembered watching them thinking, "I could do that. Pfft. That's easy," and all those other armchair quarterback observations. I really did watch carefully.

Circus day came - must've been a Saturday - and I had been talking it up at home. I don't know how much my parents knew of it. I don't know if they thought I was performing ... they must've known I wasn't, but ... I was very eager to get to the Kindercare. Dad took me. Mom stayed home with my brother. The show had already begun when we walked in and almost as soon as we walked in, a volunteering mother eyed us and hurriedly waved us over to the entrance of the kitchen which was being used as a dressing room. "We have an extra bear costume," she explained worriedly, "are you a bear?" This was my in. Dad seemed not to know. I couldn't get busted! I nodded. Dad took his seat in the audience and I followed the mother into the kitchen. To this day, I can feel the excitement of vindication that I felt in that flourescent-lit kitchen.

The costumes for the bears were nothing more than brown paper grocery sacks turned inside out and cut with eye - and because we were so little, I believe arm - holes. In retrospect, it's quite clear to me there were extra costumes made because paper bags tear easily, so it would be best to have extra on hand. There was not an extra costume because some kid was a no-show. I remembered watching the bears rehearse quite well. There were three kids. There just happened to be four bags. I knew the routine. When these kids rehearsed, I didn't play with the other stage rejects, I watched them. I knew it.

It was time to go out. The other kids seemed to hardly notice that I was there. It was as if the other bear materializing out of no where was just as expected as anything else. Their non-chalance - and let's face it, lack of awareness - just played into my plans. We bears were called out to "the ring" and the tamer began giving us our commands. We stood on one leg danced or did whatever the hell it was the bears were supposed to do. But something happened that I didn't account for in my rush to get my just performance. The bear routine was crafted for three bears, not four. That meant, if we were supposed to stand on balls, there were only three balls to stand on, etc. The only part of the routine I remember with any clarity was the "bears sitting in chairs" routine. We walked over to the chairs and were ordered to sit. I had none so I sat on the floor. I remember the audience laughing, and feeling simultaneously embarrassed and elated. Embarrassed because my grand scheme at vindication clearly was ill-devised in the prop department, but elated because the audience was reacting to me, not the other three kids. I was both chastened and proud. To this day I don't know if Dad knew I faked my way into the performance.

I long considered that my most embarrassing moment. I don't any more, but yesterday, after years of considering it my introduction to public performance, I thought about it from a different perspective. It's kind of a metaphor for my cycles of depression and feelings of failure: I desire it. I'm denied it. I try it. It doesn't go perfectly and I end up embarrassed and without a proper chair. Sure, that's just life and that's how it goes for everyone, so I should stop complaining. But I've got a good personal anecdote to use as a metaphor.


Sonnjea B said...

First of all, what kind of lame-ass kindercare doesn't have a part in the circus for every friggin' kid? Seriously, the "costumes" were paper bags, it's not as if it would throw the budget out of whack! That's just wrong.

Secondly, though -- yea for you for going for it! I'm one of those people who can speak well in front of groups...when I'm prepared. I can't do the improv thing AT ALL. I will spend hours or days stewing over the perfect comeback for some comment somebody made, never able to react in the moment. So I'm very impressed that you knew how to wing it way back when you were only 4!!

mommanator said...

what a cute recollection of ones past. i wish i had your nerve whenever i was not picked for something! GOOD FOR YOU

The Cube said...

That is hillarious, when you don't have a chair just sit on the floor.

Your story really cheered me up when I needed it, Thanks.

Virginia Gal said...

oh that story is both sweet and sad...I can't believe they didn't cast you!

As far as I see, the moral of the story that in the end, despite attempts by the "man" to keep you down, you in the end managed to win - you got your time on the stage (its the silver lining of the story).

eve's lungs said...

Such presence of mind in a 4 year old is phenomenal - I hope its served you down the years !