In early January I was gifted the most beautiful role. Penelope Pennywise was the best thing I could’ve received, the first role I felt my stage confidence reopen with; not what I had expected, but exactly what I needed. But let’s go back a little bit.
In August of 2018 I entered Advanced Drama as a scared little sophomore, experienced on a stage in front of an audience, but not much more prepared than that. This is something I put, to my dismay, on full display.
It started with little assignments here and there, scenes and situations to play out so that our director could place us correctly for the fall play. I was hopeful, sure that, because I’d caught his attention in Beginning Drama, I’d do the same here and get a big, juicy role. Long story short: that confidence was not well earned. At. All.
We auditioned, I sucked, and ta-da, I was cast as the cop. It hurt my ego, and I didn’t know how to handle it. It wasn’t until we were a month into rehearsal that I stopped asking and started answering.
Why did I not get a bigger role? Simple, I sucked. What could I do to prove my ambition and will to work hard? Do the best with what I had. Memorize and fine tune what lines I had, go to every rehearsal -needed there or not- and help out wherever I could to actively charge toward perfecting my craft.
I answered my list of questions, kept it at the front of my mind, and checked off every single thing as I went along. Though I’m still working on that last one, and probably will be for the rest of my life, I picked me up from the ground and threw myself into battle.
I memorized and practiced my scenes every chance I got. I went to every single rehearsal and filled in, helped with blocking and set, or ran tech. I did everything that I could on stage to show the director what I was capable of. And honestly, it paid off big time.
Before winter break, our director got in front of the class and stood at the very edge of the stage to confirm that we’d be doing Urinetown for our spring musical and that auditions would start as soon as we got back from break. Most of us moaned and groaned, because who wants to perform a show about human bodily functions? But I saw it as an opportunity for redemption.
For the rest of the semester we did short monologues, each one I did a product of careful crafting – though still not very good. Once winter break started, I went to work. I scoured Spotify for the perfect musical theatre song to audition with and found “Superboy And The Invisible Girl” from Next To Normal.
It was a beautiful song, one I knew I could sing well, so I claimed it right away. I picked the perfect cut, sang it once to see how it sounded, and rehearsed it at every chance available.
We came back, and switched tracks to the spring show. Auditions began and went by character, and I waited until the director called for auditions for Hope. I had picked to audition for the lead, with full knowledge that she was not my casting type. I went first, and many of my close friends followed me.
The class didn’t know I could sing because I’d always been to nervous to sing in front of them, especially in that instance. I took a deep breath, did my slate, and started singing. I heard just about anything a musical theatre kid could hope for, all of it positive encouragement. I had done the best I could, and it felt well received.
I sat back down next to Chloe and our director said the words that I prayed he would. “Who wants to follow that?” It was the best compliment you could receive in his class, right after “I have no notes.” For me, that was the first time I’d heard it, and I felt electric to the touch.
After a few callbacks auditions and the director’s long struggle with casting I got the news: I would be playing Ms. Pennywise. After he said that my hearing kind of went out, I could really hear what he was saying. I heard bits and piece that made me happy, “We need to get you out of that tech booth” and “Your voice is incredibly powerful, this is role was made for you.” They were all beautiful compliments, but I felt a twinge of sadness. But, once I learned that my friend had earned the role, I was absolutely static that we’d have beautiful duets, powerful scenes, and emotional plot twists together.
I was absolutely thrilled to get such a great role as a sophomore, especially one that would challenge me vocally and emotionally, but would still allow me to put my all into it. And boy did I put my all into it.
First thing I did after school was come in to the house and tell everyone who was home. My grandma, my siblings, my dog. I was so proud and excited, still running around completely electric.
Every second of my time was spent absorbing Urinetown. If I was doing homework, I was blasting the OBC Recording. Same if I was working out or taking a shower. Everyday after school I made a beeline to the garage to practice all the songs that I was in, belting because I thought no one could hear me.
I brought my A-game in rehearsals and asked questions about blocking, choreography, and vocal tweaks that I could. Every idea I had, I told my director about it, and he let me run free with every single one. I worked with scene partners and absolutely destroyed my script by making aggressive hand gestures while holding it and scribbling excessive notes.
I felt like I had become comfortable in all areas, except one thing. I complained about it one end for three months, even a few days after closing night. It became incredibly annoying to my family, my friends, my cast mates, even me. That one thing happened to be the last note of my song, It’s A Privilege To Pee, the “wah”.
It became a huge source of insecurity for me. After each rehearsal of the song, I asked my cast mates how I did. “How was the wah?” “Was the wah good today?”, and each time they said “it was good” or “yes, it was great”, because they were great friends, and because my incessant nagging was excruciatingly annoying.
Opening night rolled around, and we crushed it. The director care to the green room and told us we had a full house out there. The nervous energy in the room shot up. We got onstage, went to places, and felt the music coming from the speakers. It was go time. Our nervous energy ended up being the perfect fuel for our performance, and the applause thundered in the Little Theatre.
But it was certainly short lived, because our next night felt like a crash-and-burn case for some of us, me especially. Some of us had fading voices, myself included, and our director came back right before places to inform us that there were eight people were in the audience.
While we were thankful for those eight, it threw any ounce of confidence we still had right out the window.
We went out, put our heart into the opening number, and had it broken by the silence once it ended. Now it was my turn to do it on my own. It’s A Privilege To Pee.
I was off to a great start, hitting every note that I could, keeping my timing trim and neat. But then came the wah. I let my nerves drag me by the throat, attempting to lower the note in the moment, and failing miserably. I went backstage after the scene change and cried.
I hid myself away, crouched down on the floor, and let myself cry. I let myself fall apart for two scenes. For two long scenes I went through all stages of grief, our Bobby, my friend Odin, helping me through it the best he could. I was along for the last five minutes of those scenes, and in those five minutes I pulled myself together.
I dried my tears, careful not to smudge my mascara or eyeshadow, took some deep breaths, and rolled my cart right back out on stage. I still had a show to put on, after all.
We finished the show, in almost high spirits, and I vowed to dedicate my whole week to resting my voice and allow it to repair for the upcoming shows. So I did, and it did, and the shows came up, like clockwork.
My friends, grandparents, godmother and sister, and my brother came to that show, as well as the first director who ignited my passion for performing. I saw them in the audience and gave them the best wah in the history of wah’s that I had ever wah’d. I felt completely electric for the first time since auditions.
Closing night was the night after, and we gave Urinetown the best farewell we could. My parents came that day, my godfather, siblings, and my grandma as well. They all greeted me at the door after the show and told me that they were extremely proud. A second day of electric.
We all piled into cars and drove to our favorite Denny’s, a closing night tradition. I was there until about 12am, most of my cast mates staying until 2, and as soon as I got home I wiped the makeup off and knocked out.
Afterwards, my siblings wouldn’t stop singing the songs for weeks and the cast expected to have more shows. It took us a while to get out of the three month routine, but once we did, we weren’t hit with the usual post-show depression we usually faced.
It was like that for a while, and after our trip to Disneyland, all that was left to do were senior final scenes and preparations for the senior showcase, our last performance with our lovely seniors.
It’s now that it hits us. Only when you realize what you’re losing do you appreciate what you have. But that’s for another time.
For now, we’re still growing. I’m challenging my voice, and putting to use everything that Ms. Penelope Pennywise, certified badass, taught me, in every which way that I can.
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I’ll be back with another post on Saturday, a reflection on my time with my favorite senior buddies, a type of reflection on our beautiful time and all that they’ve taught me!
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Until next time, folks!!
Writer’s Cup Of Tea