April 1, 2015 § 9 Comments
It was 1983. I was 14, in Standard 7 (Grade 9 in new money), and hopelessly in love with my English teacher, Mr Sharman. And then, oh happy day, he announced in Assembly that he was going to produce and direct Paint Your Wagon as the next school play.
I was overjoyed. I may actually have swooned. I was a keen actress in my youth and this was my chance both to begin my certain trajectory towards an Oscar, and have a legitimate excuse to hang around him more often.
I sidled over to the noticeboard and cast an eye at the character list. Hmmm. Not a lot of female roles. This was even better than I thought – I always did prefer hanging out with boys.
And then I saw it: the fine print. Only the seniors were allowed to audition. You had to be in Standard Eight or higher. Terms and conditions apply.
But I was not in the habit of taking ‘no’ for an answer. I was also a bit of a suck-up. After all, Mr Sharman had been very impressed when I read the matric setwork in Standard 6 (okay, I was a big suck-up). Perhaps if I asked very nicely, he’d let me audition.
I sought him out at break time, and begged and pleaded. He was a softie, so it didn’t take much. “Okay,” he said. “I’m not making any promises, but you can audition. Come and show me what you can do and I’ll think about it.”
I didn’t get the lead part, but I got a part: none of that chorus girl stuff for me, oh no! Fortune – and the handsome Mr Sharman – had smiled on me, and I was cast as one of two wives to Jacob Woodling, the Mormon. Not the young, pretty wife, though. I was cast as the older, grumpier (and, I suspect, uglier) wife of the two.
And then I discovered that the stars were truly aligning for me. Because not only was my stage husband a matric, and one of those boys that all the girls were in love with, but his best friend – also a hunk – was in the play too. (I was 14, okay? Multiple objects of drooling were permitted.) I was completely in my element, and it was never a hardship to have to go to rehearsals. After all, the scenery (ahem) was always pleasant.
I remember very little about the rest of the play. I do remember blushing furiously when either of those two boys spoke to me, and of course, I hung on Mr Sharman’s every word. Never was an actress so obedient to a director. Never was a Std 7 girl so envied by her friends.
I remember having to sing a song with my stage husband and the other wife in a very funny scene, and how hard it was to keep a straight face, especially when one Mr Havenga, one of the Afrikaans teachers who’d been roped in to playing the guitar for the show, collapsed into guffaws at one of the performances.
I remember learning that baby oil was one of the best ways to remove stubborn mascara when faithful cold cream would not do the trick and you had school the next day.
But most of all I remember how much fun it was, and how my breath caught in my throat each night as the curtain started to rise, and the opening song boomed out in a glorious bass voice that I felt in my sternum: “I… was born… under a wand’rin star…”