Friday, February 27, 2009

The pinnacle of my success

The Story In My Head:

I was at the pinnacle of my acting career, on a meteoric rise to stardom, in 1987, when I was offered my dream role. The lead in the 500-year celebration play of Bartholemew Diaz. Although I was a young girl, I was not only a limitlessly talented actress, but also had the presence of mind to know that playing a man would stretch my acting skills to the sinew, possibly earning me an Oscar (I, obviously, had a premonition of what would happen to Hillary Swank years later). And, it included a solo aria, something I knew I could do.

So I took it, and rehearsed and rehearsed, burning the midnight oil, perfecting my pitch, embracing the emotion of being a Portuguese explorer discovering Africa - the highs, the lows, the drama of scurvy. I read all the books to really 'get into' my part, spending days 'in character'. Until it was perfect.

Opening night arrived, and I meditated out of nerves, shutting myself in my dressing room to ready myself for the packed house I'd be playing to. My supporting cast and I took our places behind the velvet curtains, listening to the sounds of the people in the audience taking their places, feeling the thrill. The place was packed, the stalls filled with important people. The house-lights dimmed and the audience subsided into whispers, the anticipation palpable.

The curtains opened, the stage lights came up and I was Bartholomew Dias for an hour and a half. The audience were stunned into silence by my talent, my voice reducing many to tears. The play ended and the audience jumped from their seats, yelling with wild abandon, a standing ovation to beat any other. The stage filled with roses as I returned for my second encore and the press cameras flashed.

The Reality:

It was 1989, small-town South Africa, at my small town South African primary school. It was also the 500-year anniversary of Bartholomew Diaz's rounding our shores so what better story to use for the end-of-year play? But who to cast in the role of the man himself? No normal auditions for this school, nosiree. They just picked Shiny. Why? Because she has a nice little bob hairstyle, as all good explorers of the 1400's had. Oh, and she sings in the choir so she'll be okay to sing one verse of "Guide me, Oh thou Great Jehovah" on her own, before being joined by the chorus.

We practiced for at least two weeks before, on a Monday and Wednesday, during the half-hour period that should've been Health or RE (Religious Education - this was the '80's), I can't remember which.

The end of year concert night arrived and my mother fed us early dinner of fish fingers after blow-drying my bob into perfect 1400-explorer style. We all bundled into the car for the two minute drive to the school and I rushed off to Mr van Niekerk's class (our very sweet, vaguely alcoholic, Maths teacher who had a knack of recognising extraordinary children for their extraordinariness, something that was not common those days, in a conservative small town) which was closest to the school hall, and was thus the Dressing Room for the evening.

It was filled with twittering, over-excited 12-year olds like myself and we worked ourselves up into bursting excitable nervousness while Kerry's mom (the local beautician) 'did' our make-up (read: gave us mascara and some eye pencil and, in my case, a moustache drawn on with said eye pencil). And then we trooped off to the school hall which was packed to capacity with familiar faces.

It was filled with our families and friends, people we'd grown up with in this small town, people who knew our names and, many of whom knew our birthdays, shoe sizes and best friends. The seats were filled, the floor between the stage and seats was overflowing with the smaller kids, cross-legged, and chewing on rustling packets of Simba chips. A mad hum of chatting filled the hall.

The hall lights were switched off and there was sudden darkness, except for the stage lights and we began. Our 20-minute tale of a brave Portuguese sailor charting unknown waters, played by a pre-adolescent Shiny, singing her heart out for the first verse and then joining the choir.

I can't remember if there was actually a standing ovation (probably though, small towns are, well, very community-orientated and supportive) but there was definitely applause, and plenty of "Woohooo, Shiny" and "Woohoo, Peter" and "Woohoo, Gabi". You get the picture. Our families loved us.

And there really were press flashes. Two. We were in the next week's Herald, on page 3, all 25 of us on stage, bravely looking 1400-explorer-ish.

Delusions of grandeur, me? Never.


Frank J said...

Hiya, me again

I've tagged you in my blog.

The silly games we play....

Anyway - if you wanna, toddle over and have a lookey at it.

(I'm really just trying to get more people over to reading your blog- 'casue it's sooo damn good!)

Kristin said...

I'm not sure if I'm posting this twice, but I did want to say that I'm sure you were the perfect explorer!

Though, there is something to be said for the goodwill of a small town. You probably could have fallen off the stage and they'd still cheer.