Monday, January 18, 2016

Stage Presence

Originally published in the Miami News -Record on January 10, 2016.

When I was a Junior, our school got a speech and debate program. I was no stranger to the stage what with me reciting Luke 2:12 proudly on the stage at Hudson Creek Baptist Church at the ripe old age of five and other church plays, skits, and the occasional special on Sunday morning. I was SO in when Mrs. Enoch and Mrs. Sharbutt suggested I be part of the team and went to state competition both years I was on it. I was also a busty Bertha Beaumont in our production of “Greater Tuna” my Senior year. I may be an introvert, but I have always LOVED being on stage.  

So when the pastor’s wife stood up in front of the church one October Sunday and said she’d be in the foyer after the service with a sign-up sheet for the church Christmas play I nearly got filled with the Spirit right there before the offering was ever taken up. I was down the aisle and had pen in hand before the last strains of the invitation hymn faded. I think the poor woman was a little taken aback at my excitement and was probably thinking, “What on earth have I done?” when I did a kick ball change and yelled “FOSSE!” while showing her my best jazz hands. I enthusiastically told her I had stage experience and would help out any way she needed. She just smiled and nodded and patted me on the shoulder.  

The next Sunday she approached me with script in hand and I was nearly light-headed. She smiled and said, “Here you go. You’re Anita.” And ohhhhh the thoughts went through my head as I clutched the script to my chest.  Anita! It sounds like a female lead’s name. Ohmygosh she gave me the LEAD! Stop shaking and for heaven’s sake, don’t cry. Okay, cry. It will help when Anita has to decide whether to have the surgery that will save her life or spend her last days courageously fighting alongside her long-lost twin sister against the savage guerillas in the jungles of Alaska.

Turns out, Anita was not the female lead, but rather the heinous and evil, self-centered department store manager who got what she deserved in the end. It didn’t involve guerilla warfare or even a life-saving surgery, but I did manage to scare every small child in the church with my evil antics. One week at practice a sweet little girl sat down next to me, gave me a sideways glance, then quietly asked, “You’re not really mean, are you? You don’t look mean now, but….you sure are up there….” I asked her what she thought as I raised an eyebrow and looked over my glasses into her tiny face. She didn’t come to practice much after that. And when she did, she sat on the other side of the sanctuary.

But the true test of my acting skills came when a mere week before the play, we found ourselves without our male lead. The original “Barry” and I had finally managed to conquer the scene where I flirted rather aggressively without him quivering in fear and suddenly, I was going to have to swiftly break in another poor soul. Turns out, that poor soul was my son. My 17-year-old son. The first run-through with Sam as lead was….awkward. At best. We muddled through the scene with red faces and giggles, but managed.

As I walked off stage after the scene, one of the deacons approached me and said, “I know y’all are new to the church and all, but I had no idea y’all were from Arkansas.” Once again I found myself with a raised eyebrow giving an evil stare over my glasses.

When we got in the car after practice that night Sam said, “Soo….that was weird.” I said, “Yes, weird indeed. But here’s the positive: at least we don’t have to kiss.” The poor kid nearly fainted. 

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