When I was in the second grade I was cast as Martha Washington in some patriotic play the school put on. I got to wear a wig and an apron and say, "I'm so proud of you, George! Would you like a biscuit?" or something like that. I loved the costume. I loved the lights. I loved the applause. From then on, I was hooked.
I kept on doing plays all the way through college. I was a deaf con-man in Huck Finn, an orphan in Oliver Twist, a nun in The Sound of Music. In high school we did A Mid-Summer Night's Dream and some murder mystery. I landed decent roles in most of them, but in the musicals I always got 'chorus line' parts, and I can tell you why.
I can't dance.
I could belt out my lines with the best of them. I could sing pretty well. But I have no rhythm. I would endure the dance scenes as well as I could, praying I didn't fall over. My poor partners.
Then, inexplicably, the dance director of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" made me an understudy for a lead in a dance. I truly and honestly thought she'd made a mistake. Believe me, I hold no false confidence in my dancing ability.
But no, she really meant to pick me. Maybe it was a comment on the lack of decent dancers in that show, I don't know. But I consoled myself that, as an understudy, I probably wouldn't have to do it anyway.
I was wrong.
I got a call one day from the dance director to be at the show early. The usual girl was sick and couldn't be there. I immediately began constructing an excuse in my mind. I had the flu. I had jury duty. I had typhus. But what I said was, "Ok, sure, see you then." And then I threw up.
Not actually. But I wanted to.
When I got to the playhouse, the director gave me my costume and a my cue. Thankfully I still had to do the rest of my part, keeping me too busy to really freak out. When the time came, I put on my costume. I can't remember it very well, but it was black and there was a top hat and a cane. It was some kind of jazz or tap number, of all things.
I stood in the wings in the dark, suddenly freezing cold. And then I heard my cue.
And then I passed out.
Not actually. But I wanted to.
And then I was walking onstage. In front of a packed house. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Let me pause a moment to tell you that "Joseph" was being put on by our community theater. This was no high-school play. People actually paid money to see it.
I couldn't keep up with the music. I couldn't remember the steps. The only thing that saved me from complete disaster was that another girl was also a lead. I watched her and tried to mimic what she was doing, but it wasn't pretty. There were feet and legs everywhere. At one point I nearly knocked my top hat off with my cane.
Imagine a giraffe trying to tap dance. It was that bad. I kept hoping the guy doing the lights would have mercy and turn my spot off.
Somehow it ended. I probably ran off stage; it's all a blur. I do remember that my next scene was as an Egyptian woman. I've never been so happy to put a sackcloth over my head.
The dance director didn't say anything to me after the show. She just took her costume back.
And I never had to dance a lead again.