ONE of our granddaughters was in the one-act play contest, so you know where I was that night. I was impressed with the strides made in classroom dramatics since my time. The year my ship went down to great applause the taxpayers were far from convinced they should pay for certain cultural advantages since subsidized, and we didn't have a drama coach. We didn't even have a cafeteria, and our English teacher, who supervised the lunch-bucket nooning, also did the annual senior class play. She was good at about anything, and she could mumbletypeg so you wouldn't believe it.
Playacting was not then a letter sport, and the annual senior play was really to raise money for our senior class picture. It was staged on a night when there was nothing else to go to.
In preparation for the play, the English teacher would first ask for a show of hands to find out how many pupils wanted to be in the thing. One year the senior class turned up enough cast for a monologue, because ours was a small school and we had small classes, and as the monologue didn't draw too many, they borrowed from the junior class after that.
Once the teacher knew how many actors she'd have, she sent to Walter Baker for a play with that many characters. You could get Walter Baker plays with whatever number you wanted. Except that there was another Walter Baker company in a Boston suburb that made chocolate, and if the postal service got mixed up the play books wouldn't come for weeks.
We had neither a theater nor auditorium in our school, so we rehearsed in what we called the library. This was the front end of the ``main room,'' by the piano, and we called it the library because the library was on the windowsill. The dictionary and 10 volumes of Stoddard's Lectures. That didn't give us any great feeling of being on a stage, but it didn't matter because the Nordica Theatre didn't really have a stage.
It was a movie house, and in front of the screen was just a ramp giving access mostly for cleaning the screen. So we had to pick plays that didn't call for chariot races and mob scenes, and anything much that moved, such as a lawnswing.
Movies were shown Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, so we could hold our school play on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Those were silent days, so the movies were helped by piano music, and that the music might serve double there was a dance floor on the other side. Beyond the dance floor, separated by a beaver-board partition, the management had a bowling alley.
The piano would be silent when we presented our annual play, but we did have to compete with the candlepin alleys. Even so, we gained effects for our dramatics and made out. We could hang things on the movie screen and make a woodlot or a railroad station, and one year we got the Parthenon, except that our parents thought it was Grant's Tomb. Our play, my year, was called ``Ruth in a Rush'' and it had 14 characters and a dog.
The dog was lost at sea in a pitiful scene of disaster, but the rest of us made it to shore and waded in from offstage wet and bedraggled to huddle in misery before the movie screen, which we had decorated to look like a Pacific atoll with palm trees, a blue horizon, and clouds.
The terrific typhoon which claimed our ship was adequately portrayed by Nelson Cummings of the school committee and Tootles Bradbury, who kept a dairy farm on Hardscrabble Road - one with an oboe and the other with a tuba.
We had to be offstage because there wasn't room in front of the screen to hold a shipwreck. The whole thing was amazingly effective, and if they'd had regional play contests then I think we might have scored.
Because we were offstage, those of us with shipwreck lines had to yell, and just as the ship went down Nelson and Tootles eased off on the wind so Lloyd Towle could bellow his lines:
``We are lost! All is lost!''
There was no dancing that night, so the piano was silent. But beyond the partition in the bowling alley they were holding the playoffs for the town league, and in the nigh alley the Knights of Pythias were struggling to catch the Shoe Shop Shippers. It was down to the wire, and the only way to pull it out was a strike in the last box. Benny Stilkey stood ready to bowl.
Lloyd Towle shouted, ``We are lost! All is lost!''
Benny Stilkey got the strike.
The tumultuous cheer by the Knights of Pythias hardly suited our tragic moment.
But, so what of it?