My started high school this year, continuing at the prestigious private school he’s attended since he was three. For his electives, he selected drama and stage crew, so all week he is engaged in the theater. He is also on cross-country track, which has practice from 3:30-6pm every day. When they announced the first performance of the year, with a corresponding rehearsal schedule conflicting with track at 3:30-6pm daily, my son was forced into his first “serious” decision. Drama or Track. [Note: I actually think this is a flaw in academic scheduling because a student should be able to do both, and both activities have tremendous educational and health benefits.]
For me, it was a no-brainer. We are an artsy family, obsessed with theater, for one. Furthermore, he is finally surrounded by a social group which is encouraging and supportive. After years of struggling with bullying in elementary school, he found his gateway drama drug in middle school through a play called, “Everything I learned from a Zombie” where he crushed it as Zombie # 2. In theater, he found a camaraderie with the fellow thespians at an otherwise academically-heavy school.
This summer he attended a Shakespeare-intensive for a week, where he bonded with a group of fellow drama nerds and was able to channel his natural inclination to speak loudly on a stage. [NOTE: I have no idea where he gets this from despite the recent article which revealed that children get their intelligence from their mothers and unmentioned is evidently they get their acting bug from their stepfathers.]
Wednesday was the final read-through where the dramaturge (I had to look it up) and the director assigned roles. My son called me in the evening and from the first “Hey,” I heard it in his voice. My heart sank thinking he got the smallest role, or else a non-speaking one, or else they asked him to just work the sets. I instantly thought, “can he get back on track?”
“Hi honey,” I say trying to sound reassuring before I know what I’m cheering up. “What happened?”
“Well, you know how I said there are plenty of parts and I would have been happy with any part…”
“Yeah, sure,” I interrupted him. “You didn’t get a part?”
“Oh, I did.” He sounded annoyed, baiting me.
“Oh great, I say tentatively. “So what’s wrong? Is it a small part?”
“No. It’s a lead role, but it’s the ONE CHARACTER I said I DIDN’T want to play. Armstrong!” He is angry, incensed at Armstrong, whoever he is.
“That’s amazing. You got a lead role as a freshman?” I’m so proud I don’t understand what he can possibly be upset about.
“I REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO PLAY HIM!” He repeats. “He’s the villain and a pervert. I always play the villain and I’m OK with it, but not this time.”
“I thought he was a scientist,” I say, remembering the description of the play. All I recalled was it took place in two time periods, 1799 and 1999 and had to do with ethics and science.
“He’s disgusting. I can’t believe I have to be him. I mean, I’ll do it.”
“What’s so disgusting about him?”
“You’ll just have to read it for yourself. Everyone was very supportive of me.”
My heart warmed thinking about the mature, upperclassmen who felt bad for the freshman cast in the pervy role. I went into a therapeutic, yet encouraging and complementary rant, focusing on how flattered he should be that he was selected for such a prominent role, about how it would be a challenge. His school respects and values the arts and has four different stages. They work with professional Broadway choreographers, directors, and set designers. Past years’ playbills are framed behind a glass display case and my son’s name and face will grace this place in history. (Cue Hamilton’s “History Has its Eyes on You,” which I ironically wrote on his middle school graduation card in June.)
The next morning my son woke up with a fresh perspective as if a grand realization came to him in the night. I am grateful for the positive attitude. He gives me a copy of the play, An Experiment With An Air Pump, and I quickly flip through it, looking for Armstrong’s lines.
I’m impressed by the strong writing but also surprised by the adult themes. I keep flipping through the pages looking for a line which I know is in there; a line which tainted (or defined) the whole character for my son. First I discover he has to have a kiss on stage (with a senior); his first kiss – and it’s broadcast in front of an audience. [Note to son: Future life story alert!] I keep turning the pages after my son confirmed it had nothing to do with the kiss.
I see the line. The character is a scientist who is more in love with his work than women and in an effort to see a hunchback on a woman up close, he seduces her. He says, “I make sure she takes them off, that’s the whole point because then I get to examine her beautiful back in all its delicious, twisted glory, and frankly that’s all I’m interested in. D’you know the first time I saw it I got an erection?”
I swallow hard, I take a deep breath and say, “I see why you don’t want to play him.” I spend the next 30 minutes encouraging him until he finally says, “Are you going to write about this on your blog? Can you please?”
My eyes tear up because my boy is proud and I am even prouder.