I don't really care to remember that evening. The weekly drama class. Subject: "auditions."
Weeks earlier, Ian, the teacher, had told us to prepare an audition piece. At the class, I assumed, he'd give us gently helpful coaching.
Only 6 out of 20 of us had turned up. A quicker wit might have grasped the significance of this. And fled.
What were we? The most courageous in the class? Or the idiots? To such questions there are no easy answers.
We were to pretend we were before an "auditioning panel." Now I wanted to flee. Now I should have fled.
Other evenings, when Ian asked us to make public examples of ourselves in the interests of theatrical art, I was usually picked first or second for some reason. Tonight, I was last.
I watched the others. Not a pleasant sight. They clenched their teeth as Marie Antoinette must have en route to the guillotine. Ian advised we give a brief introduction. Then we should launch straight in, to keep the panel interested, he implied. "And quite often," he said, "they have decided before you even speak." Not very encouraging, I felt.
The others were truly terrible. Hadn't really learned their pieces. Mumbled. Hesitated. One was too quiet. Another even quieter. Their words stumbled over themselves. They apologized. Stopped and started.
Ian, playing the director, was tough. He made them do it again. Sometimes they were slightly better. He asked the rest of us for our opinions. We said little.
Then there was a break, to be followed by my execution. "Are you off the book, Christopher?" Ian asked. I sensed he hoped for a creditable performance from me. Nobody else had been "off the book."
"Well, not completely," I admitted. I already felt his disappointment. One of the others, who'd arrived late and without any audition piece prepared, now exited the classroom with a sheepish grin. Coward.
My time had come. I grasped my large roll of white paper. My speech was Astrov's from "Uncle Vanya." This rather tired doctor is boring the sides off the beautiful young Yelena by showing her a map he has made of the district.
Not a particularly sensible piece to select in order to keep an auditioning panel awake, I now thought. But I hadn't realized they were so short of sleep.
First I had to secure my "map" to a shiny classroom table. Thumbtacks and a card table are Chekhov's directions. But I employed a rubbery substance used to fix paper to walls. It was like papering a ceiling. Attach it one place, it comes away in another. The roll sprung at me like several nervous cats. So I began telling the pointedly throat-clearing "panel" about the play.
I'd scarcely begun to warm to the subject, explaining in detail the subtle relationships of Chekhov's characters, when Ian interrupted: "I'm going to stop you right there!" It seemed he felt the panel would have gone home already.
"And just put something heavy on the corners of the paper," he said brusquely.
THINGS went from bad to worse. I forgot every line. Grabbed sheets of text in the wrong order. Stuttered, gasped, looked in every direction for the disinterested Yelena. Arrived at the final sentence melting with sweat and shaking. The Titanic was a honeymoon cruise by comparison.
Ian was not what you'd call kindly. "He's a bore, right, this character? But that doesn't mean he must bore the audience to distraction! He'd surely be interested in his own map! And do fix Yelena in one place."
All six feet of me stood there crushed. Shortness must be such an advantage.
"Right. Try again!"
I would have preferred a dramatic earth-swallowing. But - somewhat peeved yet also kind of determined - I had another go.
This time, at least, I remembered the lines. And nobody cleared his throat.
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