Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Miracle Worker

In high school, CrafterKat encouraged me to participate in the after school drama program. "You don't have to be on stage," she explained, "there's lots of stuff to do behind the scenes." So I took a chance, stepped out of my comfort zone, and joined the zany group that routinely performed. My first production was The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller. CrafterKat played the role of Aunt Ev and I, not being a seamstress or mechanically inclined to stage craft design, assumed the role of Properties Manager.

It was my job to make sure that the furniture got moved on stage for different scenes, that the actors had their walking stick or suitcase, and that the table was set for the big food fight scene when Annie first arrives to teach Helen. I remember that the bassinet used in the opening scene was mine, an antique that my parents had kept for me for my future children. The doll that Annie brings Helen was my own, a Raggedy Ann my grandmother had made. And the food fight? I cooked up a batch of food before every performance that the actors would secretly eat when they were supposed to be "frozen" on stage.

Helen's parents were played by the high school drama redhead--a statuesque singer with a charisma streak that was off the charts--and a somewhat portly young geek who was new to our school. The contrast between these two was quite acute. Everyone knew the redhead was going to continue in the drama arena after school--she could sing, act, she was humble, and very nice. The new guy was a bit harder to read--he could act, yes, but he had this very subtle, quiet humor that could leave us in stitches if his comment was above a stage whisper. Our redhead became a stage actress back east (Chicago?) and we wouldn't be surprised if our young geek had a writing role on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There's a part in the play where Annie takes Helen to a summer hunting cottage off the Captain's vast estate to teach. As the main stage represented the house--the dining room, Annie's bedroom, and the infamous water pump in the front yard--we had little room to represent this important spot. The theater had two aprons, little bits of stage that jutted into the audience and cradled the orchestra pit. The front of the apron was perhaps eight feet wide but the part that attached to the main stage had to share space with the stage exit, so it tapered to only three feet.

We outfitted the apron with a little table and chair, and one rather large potted tree to represent that it was a summer house. The spot worked fine for Annie and Helen--there was plenty of room for the roughhousing that occured when lessons were portrayed--but it was tight for everything else. And it was not much better with a director who kept changing his mind about set design, lighting, entrance cues, and placement of props. That stupid potted plant moved to all four corners of the apron and the actors would adjust their stance and position each time.

At last, the director made a decision--place the plant at the cottage "entrance", the part attached to the main stage. The audience would be able to see Annie and Helen and the plant would be out of the way. Never mind that it was an obstacle to the Captain and Helen's mother. The Captain would battle the foliage with his walking cane, and keep one hand on the redhead to keep her from falling into the orchestra pit.

As the director paused rehearsal--yet again--we heard the Captain casually sum up his existence in the scene. "This is my wife. This my plant."

CrafterKat and I busted a gut. From that day on, we've used this simple statement in tight quarters when something else keeps interfering, usually a home improvement project when something isn't going quite right. Stuck under a leaky sink or moving a heavy bookcase? This is my wife. This is my plant.

As Bill Cosby says, "I told you this story so I could tell you another."

E-mail to CrafterKat:

From: JewelGeek
Sent: Thursday, April 03, 2008
Subject: JewelGeek's Day

8am Ask MS Dean if the chalkboard on the drama stage is magnetic. She was to check yesterday afternoon.

10-noon E-mail Evil PXE about not finding magnetic boards and who should I talk to about ordering one.

2pm Per Evil PXE's e-mail, check Athletic Center for floater board used in coaching.

2:15 Discover that there are mounted boards in the Weight Room. Wrinkle nose at smell.

2:30 Discover that the other boards are cork bulletin boards. Not magnetic.

2:45 Find a white board with past principal's old schedule in the Athletic Storage Room!

3:00 Laugh at the names of people who don’t teach here anymore. Haul board back to office.

3:05 Discover that it is not magnetic.

3:06 Cry a little on the inside.

3:15 Go back to Storage Room WITH magnets. Find chalkboard on wheels.

3:16 Pray

3:17 Rejoice. Chalkboard is magnetic

3:18 Worry about yanking board without talking to Athletic Director.

3:25 Find Academic Dean and tell her about Board, explaining that the coach diagrams look to be from football season.

3:30 Ask where to get money to buy magnets.

3:35 Head to Athletic Cent-- Wait. Bathroom

3:37 Think to self. It’s a good spot, you know?

3:38 Wonder if there is a White Board already in the Conference Room…?

3:40 Nope.

3:42 Enthusiastically walk towards Athletic Center, heading for stairs.

3:45 How am I gonna lug the thing up stairs? Elevator is too small…

3:50 Cry a little on the inside.

3:55 Pray and head to back boiler room, down the hall from the conference room.

4:00 No broken chalkboards on wheels.

4:05 Behind fake stage foliage, one white magnetic white board.

4:06 This is my plant. This is my magnetic board.