December 17, 2005

Family Tales: Coming of Age. Gradually.

This morning the Vampire awoke with a scratchy throat and a hoarse voice with which he announced in deep yet Cassandra-like tones, "This does not Bode Well."

The prediction of doom might have had its intended dramatic effect, had it not been dropped into a room full of parents who had suffered from stress-related insomnia for much of the night and were at that point stubbornly determined to remain as inert as possible. The Vampire, professional that he is, was not deterred by eyes tightly squinched shut or by protesting moans and covers pulled over greying heads.

"I don't think I can do justice to my part today. Today. The last day of performance. The day that we have our biggest audience. In just a couple hours."

There's a reason he's an Actor. This kid has never once missed an opportunity for a dramatic entrance. Arriving nearly two weeks after his due date,
and having survived my third trimester cancer surgery and an excruciatingly long and painful labor, he stopped breathing and wound down like a little neglected clock ten minutes after his birth. Of course, he did it in such an aesthetically beautiful manner that we almost missed our chance of stopping the impending Exit.

I was less patient with the theatrics this morning, but I made the mistake of blearily peering at my son's wilting form. He took it as encouragement. Ten minutes later his father was hotfooting it out the door to purchase fresh ginger, lemons and cough lozenges, and I was boiling water and getting out the honey.

The kid's voice and throat were well enough during his final performance of this particular run (see the group reprise their performances in the Twin Cities Fringe Festival next summer).

He couldn't let his dire prediction go unfulfilled, however.

He forgot whole stretches of lines/action. Enough to cut out around 15 minutes of a one-hour show, much to the dismay of several of his fellow performers, who missed their own lines and scenes as a result. This wasn't deliberate - the bits he forgot were among the most funny and original bits he'd developed for his part, and the funniest.

He’d psyched himself into the dreaded Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

You wouldn’t have known anything was wrong from his performance – he handled the whole thing very professionally. When he exited the stage, however, his hand was thrown over his eyes and he announced in sepulchral tones, “I Suck.” He hid somewhere until his next entrance, at which point he again performed with aplomb.

Even when he again forgot some lines.

Flashback: The last time he forgot his lines was two years ago, when he had a solo that led into a chorus by nearly the entire cast.

He got through the first verse, but in the middle of the second (similar to the first, but just dissimilar enough that...) he forgot which version of the words came next, and...

Froze. Completely, on the spot, mouth open, facing the dismayed and frozen faces of his castmates. There was a LONG moment of horrified silence, eventually filled with the Vampire’s soft (but audible to all the little kiddies sitting up front), "Oh, Shit..."

The Vampire doesn’t publicly swear. Other parents often comment on his rather formal and mannerly demeanor. But this was a moment of extreme duress.

Senior thespian Andy (bless his generous and quick-thinking heart) sang out the Vampire's next line, and the song went on. We in the audience who knew the play and song were very aware of what had happened, but I doubt that anyone else had noticed that there was anything out of the ordinary going on.

Except for the delighted kiddies up front...

The Vampire, however, was devastated. He had never before forgotten a line. This might seem a small thing for an adolescent actor under normal circumstances, but the Vampire has been performing publicly since he was in preschool, and he'd never missed a line or a mark during an actual performance. It had never occurred to him that such a thing was possible.

The first thing he heard backstage was harsh criticism from one of the oldest (and most talented) boys in the group. He immediately burst into tears and fled to the green room.

(Note: to be fair, the older boy in question apologized the next day)

Luckily it was time for the intermission. The rest of the cast very kindly gathered to comfort their comrade, recounting stories of the times that they, too, had experienced similar disasters. By the beginning of the next scene, the Vampire had recovered his composure and soldiered through the rest of the play.

But it took a long time before he was able to go back onstage with a fair degree of confidence, and he’s never quite lost the resulting pre-performance jitters. Before that night he’d never had a moment of stage fright. He’ll likely never have a performance without, again.

Flash Forward: After the play was over, the Vampire stopped by our seats to say hello and never once mentioned either the forgotten lines or his sore throat. There were no excuses and no theatrics. We wouldn’t have known about his feelings on the matter if his director hadn’t approached us during strike and asked us to convey her reassurances and empathy to him. When asked, his castmate and Lady Fair told us that he’d been “a little upset, but now he’s fine.”

Even accounting for his desire to appear manly for his Lady Love’s sake (and the sake of his own dignity), this is a significant advancement in maturity for our Vampire. An inkling of the man that he will be.

We’re proud. And a little dismayed. We don’t feel prepared for his next Big Exit…


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