Thursday, August 7, 2008
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
-Antoine de Saint Exupery
When I was sixteen my classmates staged a performance of 'Oklahoma.' All fifty students in my year were involved, and practice was a regular occurrence for six months- most of the school term: dancing, singing, acting the given parts until the show was perfected to a reasonable level.
Each student had at least one dance to implement even if their spoken lines or their singing routines happened to be few. Each student had their opportunity to beam their bright talents to an expectant audience.
I, however, was the exception: I was not assigned a single dance- solo or group- in the entire production. Instead I was placed in the wings; I was a costumed extra, a nameless character charged with the bland task of looking on at the various scenes as they unfolded. I was to do rather a lot of looking on during the course of the three evenings that the show would run for. In retrospect, I was rather like a privileged member of the audience- I had a bird's-eye view of all the activities and could observe the cast at close range, reacting accordingly with a hand or an open mouth to particular lines and cliffhangers.
I was, I have to admit, the bearer of a single line in the play. My words and character were both concocted at the last minute by a teacher who noted after half a year that I was standing idle.
My line was this: "it sounded like a gunshot."
My appearance on stage was limited to one minute, three quarters of which were filled with the speech of other cast members.
I bellowed my line when the grand moment came; I put forth all my vigour and energy into the role in spite of acute awareness that it was merely a scene inserted to kill time, a superfluous addendum to the play. Before the event I considered not turning up at all, not playing my minor part.
I was able to trumpet my one line because I believed this: even when we are inclined to underrate the usefulness and impact of our smallest actions, we ought to do what we can where possible. We might do better to put whole heart into all that we do- into small kindnesses and minute assignments and seemingly insignificant things. People always notice such things, be it a member of an audience or a passing stranger on the street.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:21 PM