Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, August 7, 2008

One Line

"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.


Beth said...

What a poignant lesson. I enjoyed the message of your story but had to smile at the image of little Irish children belting out Rogers and Hammerstein "O------klahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet....."

Pauline said...

to learn that at a young age would certainly allow you a healthy perspective. Actually, to learn it at any age...

Pappy said...

I'm glad you weren't some petulant star character. It could have changed your whole demeanor and we would not have enjoyed this delightful look backstage. Pappy

polona said...

i love your attitude towards these things many would consider trivial... indeed, everything matters.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, oh, yes, I can still hear the song. That doesn't erase from one's memory- six months, five days a week, an hour every day. I know the song well. I'm glad you got a good image of it ;)

Pauline, well it was either that or wonder why I hadn't been given any part. I did learn from it, indeed. I did consider not showing up but in the end it was better to go.

Texican, thanks! I'm glad too. I might have been completely different had I been given a starring/singing/dancing role. Not necessarily worse or better but I'm also glad I wasn't the main attraction.

Polona, everything does matter, even when we think it doesn't. At least, I tend to believe that.

Jaime said...

Funny...our school did Oklahoma too. I think I was 16. And I chose not to have any part in it, except to be an audience member. I loved it, and still love live theatre to this day. But you would never catch me on stage...especially singing!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Jaime, If I could have chosen, I'd have been out of it but I was really neither here nor there which was the worst. I could have spent my time doing other things while everybody was practicing but I had to be involved yet not really there. I wouldn't have wanted to be the lead but they took that to another extreme. I think my mother has a video of it somewhere- someday it might surface ;)

julochka said...

i really love the quote you started this one with. and the story is wonderful, tho' it seems to have taken far too long for anyone to notice that you didn't have a line!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Julie, I was a bit of a - not so much a wallflower as more part of the wallpaper, and was not really seen. That was useful in some ways- I'd rather not have been in a big role on stage- but it is still amazing to me how teachers can let anybody slip under the radar. You're right- six months is an impossible length of time to not notice we're not all participating equally but who knows how it happened.

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