Thursday, October 20, 2011

Once Upon A Time

The summer before college.
Eighteen years ago, I had long, curly giant 1990's hair and I had never fulfilled my dream of having the lead role in a play.  Growing up in a small Christian school, time and budget rarely allowed for a full-length production, but in my 7th grade year, our ambitious English teacher pulled together a production of Annie, Get Your Gun. I was cast as Jessie, Annie's little snot-nose sister. Annie was played by Amber, a senior, whom I adored...largely because she noticed my existence. During one scene of the performance, I was suppose to lose a set of keys through a hole in my skirt pocket. Instead, they got stuck.  That was a memorable moment for me.

Two years later, we put on A Man Called Peter. I was dying to play the role of Catherine. But my brother...who wanted a bit part as a guy who joins the army...was cast in the lead role as Peter Marshall. And obviously, I couldn't play my brother's wife. I was annoyed. I was in  9th grade.  I was told there would be other plays.  There weren't.  Our ambitious, single English teacher moved away and got married and no other plays were produced from then on.

In 10th grade, Amber was in college now and her parents were going across the wide state of Pennsylvania to see her perform in her college production as the lead in The Little Foxes.  It was one of those delicious, villainous roles that actors love to play.  Her parents offered to take me and some other drama geeks along in their big baby blue Chevy van which only had one bench seat.  The Geeks and I were in the back on the floor.  On the way there, her kid brother threw up. That was a moment too.

As we pulled onto campus, I was surprised to see a real building...a collegiate looking building, with a clock tower chiming the time.  It was pretty much that moment that I knew where I was going to attend college.  It looked like a college. It wasn't too big. It didn't have "pink and blue sidewalks" like some of the colleges kids from our school went on to attend. They put on plays.  That's all I needed to know.  I was sold.  I never even applied anywhere else.

The year was 1996.  I had been on campus for 48 hours. I had no roommate, so my RA offered to go with me to find out about play try-outs. I didn't know anything about the play. I didn't know anything about how much time it would take out of my schedule. But I didn't have a job yet, either, so what difference did it make?

"I came to see what being in the play would involve."  I said to the enormous 6 foot 6 inch man with curly hair who was leading the event.  He smiled warmly...I recognized him as Brian Maxwell, the director that Amber had told me about.  "Come in and you will find out."  Which didn't answer my question at all.

I was handed a script with a snippet of a scene in it. Told the gist of the story.  A Greek tragedy.  I wanted to pronounce it "ante-gone"  but I remembered that Amber had told me the name of the play was pronounced "antig-ony."  She had preformed part of it with a friend for a class or something.  We did some acting exercises. Played drama improv game.  I read with a taller-than-me boy with dark hair and an appreciative smile.  He seemed strong in the role...confident but not cocky.  We had some chemistry.  It was interesting reading for a part with a boy who really wanted a part in a play.  I read from another scene with another boy.  Very tall and thin, deathly serious about getting the part.  He seemed to be urging me to do well so he would look good in the part.  A day later, there were call-backs.  A day later the cast list was posted.  I had the lead role.  

A mere seventy two hours on campus and I had the lead in the play, a boy to hang out with, and I was elected class treasurer.  I thought I had died and gone to popularity heaven.

On a Bible college campus, time is warped. You live together, eat together, go to chapel together, go to class together, go to church together, do the play together, eat dinner together, and talk on the phone until lights out.  If you are in a relationship, it's like light speed to whatever the next level is because instead of dating once a week, you are together constantly.  And for Freshman, it's the worst.  You recognize it for what it is as a superior Sophomore.  Freshman Insanity.  Your first time away from your home and family.  You latch on to whoever is closest and go head first into a heavy duty relationship.  So it was with the dark haired boy and me.  Cast as my villain, we spend our time learning lines and making eyes at one another.  Breaking the no-kissing rule.  Spending every waking minute together.  On our way to dinner one night, standing in line at the cafeteria, a couple of those superior sophomores were watching us like Statler and Waldorf. 

"Dude. Are they dating or brother and sister?"
"Dude, no clue." 
"They are together constantly."
"Freshman insanity."

And then they laughed like they hadn't paired off with a couple of girls in the first ten minutes of their Freshman year.

I lived and breathed Antigone. It was the topic of my English composition term paper. It was assigned reading for World Civilization, where we were required to discuss it in what could only be described as a fourth credit hour with the terrifying 26 year veteran professor who it was whispered had attended "Edinboro University" for his education.  I found this baffling too.  Edinboro was a small public college just north of my hometown.  I don't know how long it took for me to realize they meant The University of Edinburgh, Scotland.  When it was time to discuss the play, however, I argued with the professor passionately over the sanctity of humanity themes and pressed him hard on his unwillingness to protest at an anti-abortion rally with church denominations he did not approve of.  He smiled. Changed the topic. He could have destroyed me.  But out of a class of over 150 students, I had distinguished myself by interacting with him.  It would not be the first time we would clash and he would smile.

The relationship with the boy, however, burned out like a sparkler.  One minute he was fun and exciting.  The next minute, he was claustrophobic.  All that fast-forward time in the Bible college bubble had sped up the demise of our romance.  It was all over for least for me... just as daily afternoon and evening play practices were ramping up to the nearing performance.   Instead of fueling our chemistry onstage, our onstage interaction was flat and dull.  He was sulky and uninterested in the play anymore.

My cast mate, Sue worked in the kitchen.  She in fact, had the rather news-anchor-like job of counting how many students came to a meal.   Everyone knew her.  She was ideal in the role of the Greek Chorus.  When play practice ended at 4:30, it was time for her to eat her dinner ahead of time, and be ready to count heads at 5 p.m when the cafeteria opened for the rest of the student body.  "Come and eat dinner with me."  she said one night.


The summer before we met.
"This is Robb.  Robb, Vanessa. She's in the play with me."  Sue introduced me to the guy who set his tray down next to us.  He said hello.  Left his tray behind and went back up front to fill two short glasses with Coke from the beverage center.  While his back was to us, Sue quickly filled in..."We work in the kitchen together. He's fun.  I wouldn't want to marry him or anything, but he would be fun to go out with. "

Robb's 1996 Doppleganger
He was wearing a black Micheal W. Smith concert t-shirt.  The Go West tour.   Baggy jeans with the cuffs rolled up.  Plain white tennis shoes....Nikes. His hat was backwards. It looked as though his hair was cut crew-cut short, but when the hat came up, a thick flop of hair was revealed under the cap, parted down the middle, looking pretty much like Steven Curtis Chapman. So he liked Christian music, apparently.  He was thin, not much taller than me.  He had a long neck. He looked nobody else I'd ever met. He had a funny smile as though he was constantly amused by whatever he was quietly observing.

Sue was great. Fun. Quirky. Artsy.  If Sue wanted to date Robb, then, gosh darn it...Sue should get to date Robb.  Somebody should date since I was done with boys for my entire foreseeable future. My Freshman insanity was OVER. So the conversation moved quickly, easily in an ironic direction. The topic was "What Kind of Girl is Robb Looking For."  I was very bold.  Much bolder than I would ever be if I was interested in dating him.  But I was just there for Sue. For her benefit.  So he would think, "Gosh, darn it...I should ask Sue out."

I would be in Sue's room later than evening, when the doorbell rang and a boy asked for Sue to come to the door.  It was Robb.  When Sue returned to her room after speaking with him and announced he had stopped by, I felt nothing but satisfaction.  I had handled that little situation pretty well.  Pretty well indeed. 

Wasn't it wonderful that I was finally in a play, so I could help this little romance?



Love it! When I was in the 7th and 8th grades, there were these two boys I couldn't keep straight -- Eric Panzer and Mark Coppock. Mark, on the other hand, had "known" from the first moment he saw me in 7th grade. I guess I was a little slow. It's fun to look back knowing now what we didn't know then! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Roller said...

I loved seeing a pic of Robb from back in the day. This is so real and funny and cute. Love you guys!

Jonathan, Lyndsy and Heath Manz said...

OH goodness! I grinned through this whole post- knowing the exact small college bubble and also the desire and landing of a lead in a play. What a great recap of the early days and LOVE the pics! I see a grown up Calvin all over that photo of Robb.

Life with Kaishon said...

Boys never liked me. Not in high school. Not in college. Not ever : ) I am glad you had that fun freshman experience though : ) Delighted.

I am going to send a link of this to Mr. Maxwell. He was one of my favorite teachers ever in the world. LOVE him!

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