Thursday, August 20, 2009

My first-first play

Like soap bubbles popping on the water’s surface in a bathtub, random memories appear when I least expect them. So there are times when I must backtrack in my explanations concerning certain things. Several months ago, I had mentioned I had my first part in a high school play. I was the scientist who ended up murdered by my three guinea pig patients (well, they weren’t actual pigs - it’s not like I could bake them in barbeque sauce later).

This, in fact, was NOT my first time walking across the theater boards. My very first time happened in elementary school during the first grade.

“How the Elephant got His Long Trunk.”

This was the name of the play, and all the first grade classes performed it every year. The basic storyline involved an elephant with a stunted nose. All the flamingos and giraffes and hippos made fun of him as they ousted the elephant from playing with them. Then one day, he came upon a crocodile who said he could help the elephant with his problem. The only thing the elephant had to do was lean in close to the crocodile’s open mouth.


With his nose caught in the crocodile’s jaws, the elephant reared back until a long beautiful trunk formed. He freed himself and ran home. Everyone loved him now and treated the elephant normally. The End.

Okay, yeah. As I think about it now, I’m not really fond of the storyline. It teaches young children that to be accepted among the group they must conform to the same ideals and beliefs. Celebrating a person’s uniqueness and individuality seemed absent in this play. Oh, the things done to warp a young child’s mind.

Anyway, everyone was involved in a part. The costumes were leftover from the previous years and patched up on occasion whenever there was a run in the fabric or a busted seam. The teachers handed out parts, although this wasn’t a big Broadway production. We had music played by the piano teacher and a narrator announced most of the dialogue. The kids had one-bit lines. The following paragraphs would have been part of the scene:

The elephant walks up to twenty flamingos standing in a straight line. He stands sideways by the first flamingo.

Elephant: Can I play with you?
1st Flamingo: No!

The flamingo swings its long neck and hits the elephant in the butt. The elephant jumps to the next flamingo in line. This flamingo says the same as the first one and does the same action, smacking the elephant in the butt. Repeat the remaining 18 times.

Okay, we can also gripe about how the play is teaching kids that it’s all right to smack each other if the person is different from you. I think I’ve established that the play had some major flaws.

Moving right along . . .

The teacher handed me a script, but she also said that I might not actually BE in the play. For this school year, they simply had too many actors/actresses and not enough costumes. I was going to be an understudy along with three other students.

Understudy? I scratched my head, wondering what that meant and thinking some big burly student would be sitting on top of me while he read his spelling lessons. I imagined all types of noxious aromas against my squashed head as everybody went on stage and did their parts. Was I disappointed? Well, if you knew all your fellow 6-year-olds would be in a play shown to the rest of the student body and their parents but you couldn’t be in it, how would you feel?

Yes, that’s exactly how I felt.

So the big day approached. The auditorium was packed. The lights dimmed. The stage curtain rose.

I leaned against the wall at the rear of the auditorium. Although quiet sighs rolled from my chest, I watched with interest each part everyone had practiced. Then the curtain lowered during the beginning of the first intermission. I felt a tugging on my sleeve.

It was one of my fellow students named Stacy. “C’mon, Michelle! We need you.”

She dragged me to the back of the stage where the teacher informed the three understudies that they would be in the final act. EVERYONE would have a chance to perform on stage.


Those students playing the parts we had studied took off their costumes as we got dressed. Then we took our positions. The two other students were giraffes and stood at the far end of the stage. I stood at center stage right next to a fake cutout of safari grass and blue fabric depicting a large lagoon.

Oh, I’m sorry. Haven’t I mentioned what my part was? I swear; these random soap bubble memories pop at the oddest of times. My part was the ELEPHANT and the scene was the most pivotal moment.

The curtain rose. Hands clapped. The music played as the narrator directed the little actors about. I took my cue as I strolled up to the alligator and placed the folded crepe paper into his mouth.


I pulled the elephant head back with the paper unfolding like a wrinkled accordion. I swished the giant head until I was free. Then I bopped the crocodile in the head with my now gorgeous trunk and strolled to the front of the stage with the rest of the actors/actresses. I took my bow.

And this was my first-first time in the theater.


  1. Michelle,

    I agree with you - the stories we grew up with were, on occasion, worse than terrible. I mean, who comes up with this crap? If you don't meet the physical ideal, stick your head in a crocodile's mouth!!! Nice.

    But I love the way you wrote about it... too bad your school didn't adapt Sneetches by Suess - it had a much better moral.

  2. Oh! You're not going to believe this, but when I was a kid, I had all of these things called "Little Golden Books". They were these tiny (2"x2" maybe) books, and one of them was "How The Elephant Got His Trunk"! I think it was made nicer for your play. As I recall, the crocodile wanted to eat the elephant, but instead the elephant got a nice trunk from the deal when he escaped the crocodile's evil clutches.

    You just reminded me, also, of my first "starring" role, and I'll have to write that up.

    Thanks, all around, for the cool memories!

  3. Michelle! your back! *smiling*

    everything going okay?

  4. Merry: the stories we grew up with were, on occasion, worse than terrible

    Truly. I find it more prevalent in the fairy tales and nursery rhymes than anywhere else. I grew up with this big book of Mother Goose fairy tales. This book was ancient, and there was no holding back any punches in its pages. Some of the rhymes even talked about death - like the one "Who killed Jack Sparrow?" (the bird, btw, not the pirate in the movie)

    Suldog: It sounds like the EXACT same story. My memory about it is still splotchy, so I might be missing particulars that those Little Golden Books had mentioned.

    Oh, please! Do write up about your first starring role! I'm itchy to read it!

    Kat: Hey, girlfriend! Yes, I'm hanging around. Can't kill the writing bug even with a case of RAID. :-) I'm doing swell. Have no worries.

  5. Nice story, Michelle. Of course, if we look at most of the stories/cartoons/etc we were exposed to as children, we'd be amazed at how well adjusted we are (speaking for myself, of course).

    My most memorable time on stage was ... hmmmm, maybe I'll toss it on my blog instead. Thanks for the idea. Don't worry, you'll get full credit.

  6. Eric: Dang! You and Suldog got post ideas from this. I should start charging a nickel for each idea. By the end of the year, I'll probably make 10 cents.

    True. Some of what we saw and read as children would make most people think we would be seriously deranged as adults. But you don't see any of us going out and dropping anvils on people's heads. I don't know. Life is strange.


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