Low-level drama productions from the past
December 13, 2010
From early childhood on, I’ve been interested in plays, skits, and other forms of drama, but never gained fame from any of these, and have long ago given up hope that I ever will.
My first experience of any acting came with our country school Christmas programs. Every year the program began with the same cutesy little piece spoken by a beginner, but if I took my turn at that I don’t now recall it. Maybe it was my only classmate, Warren Kunze, who got that assignment. In the lower grades, along with the “piece” each student had to say, I had bit parts in plays, and by fourth grade moved into major roles. We practiced so much that by the time of the program, I knew everyone’s part, and was disgusted with those who forgot their lines.
In the upper grades I was given a monologue to recite, and when I say “a” monologue, I mean it was the same boring one about three years in a row. The title was “Leg or a Wing, Please” and it was a supposedly humorous telling of a meal being prepared for a small family group. The narrator learns gradually of more and more people coming for dinner, necessitating changes of plan in how to serve the turkey to feed them all. They end up with turkey hash.
Speaking of turkey, I can picture even now the turkey used for dinner in one of our plays. We were hard-pressed to come up with suitable props, and the turkey wound up being a football on a platter. It was hard to perform our parts because we were giggling about that.
When I was in seventh grade and we moved to another school we had similar Christmas programs, but what I remember more clearly was the summer production my sisters and I put on in our haymow. We looped blankets over ropes for curtains, and dragged some old chairs up there for the audience which consisted of neighbor girls and their mothers. We had a play written by Margaret and me, something about a burglar in the house. Our brother Lawrence turned out the haymow lights as the play began, and our cast of sisters did the dialog in the dark, pretending to bump into things and screaming when we thought we saw the burglar. As often happened with our home productions, something went wrong. Lawrence didn’t turn the lights back on when he was supposed to. We did a few other things, but for me the big part of the evening was my vocal solo, “Some Enchanted Evening,” sung without accompaniment. Margaret’s was “Cruising Down the River.” I don’t recall the younger kids Evelyn or Helen singing solos, but they were in group numbers. It’s a good thing we had nice neighbors. They clapped enthusiastically for everything, and the mothers commented to Mom that she really had talented kids.
In high school I was given no chance at all to act, and after shining in the Christmas plays, it was a real disappointment to never be chosen. The drama opportunities in those days consisted of the junior and senior class plays each year. I didn’t win a part either year. The English teachers who directed the productions were pretty obvious about using only popular kids and I wasn’t one. When I went to the director of the senior play for a play book to study for tryouts, he informed me he had actually decided already on the cast, based on their personalities, but I could still try out if I wanted to. Of course I didn’t want to anymore. My skills were appreciated only for designing printed programs for school events.
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I taught one year of rural school following my high school normal training course, and it was good to be the one in charge. I arranged for our students to perform a musical piece for Palmer’s Turkey Days talent contest. In blackface they pretended to play crude instruments as they sang “The Missouri Waltz” accompanied on the piano by my sister Margaret. Surprisingly, we won a chance to perform again in a competition at the Grand Theater in Grand Island. That kind of skit would, of course, be politically incorrect today. For our Christmas program, I wrote one of the plays myself, and found other pieces the students enjoyed doing. At age 17, I was almost one of the kids myself, and we all had a great time together.
In college it was fun to participate in our house skits for campus competitions, one of which we won. But it was later, as a mother and 4-H leader, that I found some degree of success. Year after year I directed my girls in the county song contest, and our group was chosen three times to go on to the state fair. The very last time we won a coveted purple ribbon at the state fair.
Also at that time we had a county 4-H Share the Fun contest, and I wrote the skits for my club. I have to laugh remembering one of our numbers. It was, admittedly, kind of silly. It was a 4-H takeoff on “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” I thought it would be entertaining for the audience, even if not destined for the state fair, but I guess it fell flat. One of our mothers, Sylvia Senkbile, told me afterward that the woman sitting next to her was highly critical of our efforts. She told the woman, “That’s our club,” in case she didn’t realize she was talking to a member’s mother, but the lady’s reply was, “I know it.”
The lesson I’ve learned from all these years of drama attempts is that I’m a writer, not an actor. And I’m content with that now.