There I was, waiting and praying for the cast list to go up. Seven year old me, anxious to get my first starring role, the one I’d tell my grandchildren about or talk about on some talk show. The play was called Bugz- a nonsensical children’s musical that I was thrilled to be a part of. This was my discovery of art, creation, of my passion. The cast of characters included the most popular and pretty bugs out there. Lady Bugs were like the popular, cool girls. They were the epitome of class. The Dragonflies played second fiddle but were totally bohemian chic. All the girls wanted one of these roles. I was no exception. My name just had to be next to Lady Bug 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. Five whole chances existed, my odds were good. I looked around the room eyeing the other girls, thinking, who is my real competition here? I thought it would be helpful. It wasn’t.
“Lady Bug Number 1 will be…”
It was finally happening. The director was announcing the roles so we wouldn’t trample one another on our way to read the fine print. After about five minutes of shuffling, smiling, and high-pitched giggles I realized my name had not been called. Before shock could set in, we moved on to Dragonflies.
Okay, so maybe I’m not classy enough to be a Lady Bug, that’s cool. We’re cool. Surely I can live up to the Dragonfly standards, I thought to myself. I crossed my fingers and let the heartache of one missed role fall over me quickly. In this business, there was no time for self-pity.
“And that’s it for the Dragonflies!”
What the actual fuck? I get not being cast as a Lady Bug but no Dragonfly?
I was the last remaining girl in the room without a role. We had moved onto the boy roles and I stood up to go to my cubby- you never let them see you cry. I walked over to feign grabbing my sweater only to hear my name being called out. I looked up at Ms. Anderson and she proudly bequeathed me as the Stink Bug. The Stink Bug was the single character with no friends, no dance number, and a desperate, dismal disposition. He just wanted to be liked and accepted. Talk about life imitating art.
I was pissed. The girls snickered and I was left alone to snuggle in my sweater and sulk in my role. You’re full of shit, Ms. Anderson. I hid my Snack Pack in my sweater and grabbed the bathroom pass to cower until my mom came to get me. My parents helped me come to terms with my role with the novel there-are-no-small-roles-only-small-actors speech. Alright, if you want me to play Stink Bug, Ms. Anderson, I am going to look fabulous doing it. That was my thought, at least until the director told me what I’d be wearing. My high lasted about a day.
A week prior to the big performance, we were fitted for costumes. The damn Lady Bugs and Dragonflies had gloves and tutus and beautiful sequined patterns. I waited patiently for my turn, as I envied the pretty girls from afar. Now, by this time I’d shifted my attitude a bit and tried to be positive. I hopped up on the platform to see what funky cool costume I would be put in. Maybe I’d get fun glasses or cool socks! I was to portray the outcast, the invisible one, the lone ranger making my way through the world- I had to have a cool costume. The volunteer PTA momager handed me a black t-shirt, black pants, and a black antenna for my head and said, “Next!”
You have got to be shitting me? The lack of effort too comical. I was moments away from shutting the whole thing down and giving up on my dreams of stardom. Was it worth it? Risking my personal and artistic integrity isn’t something I’d be driven to do. Then I heard some douchebag kid suggest taping trash onto me so that I actually appear to stink. All the kids in the cast giggled. The creative team ate that shit up and so my plain costume developed into trash, thanks to the mind of a candy cracked out six year old. My world was crashing down around me.
The entirety of the rehearsal process was regimented and allowed no time for fun. I used negativity as fuel. Prove them wrong. Prove Ms. Anderson wrong. For three weeks I stuck to a strict diet of healthy fats, energy producing carbs and sugarless juice. My energy was at an all-time high and I didn’t fuck around during play time. One day during snack break at rehearsal, Andy handed me a pixie stick. Amateurs don’t understand how awful processed sugars are to the human body. Actors must take their craft seriously.
The night of the performance is one that would change my life. I hadn’t made friends with the cast or developed bonds through the music or the characters. Stink Bug was a loner, so I was too. Method acting before I even knew what it meant. Fifteen minutes until places. Clean trash- paper, food, anything nonperishable- was being taped and stapled all over my black garment. I looked like a perfectly curated city sidewalk. As I turned around for them to cover my back, I noticed the bland cast. Lady Bug 3 and 5 looked exactly the same. The rest of the lady bugs had slightly different haircuts but the costumes were identical. The Dragonflies were clones. Suddenly, I felt good about the wad of gum on my shirt.
No one else in this room looks exactly like me. I have a name. I am a character with a purpose. I am a star.
My role was minute, my brief time onstage didn’t come until much later in the show. I had one monologue and some character interaction, but the audience? The parents and forced-to-be-present family members ate every second up. The minute the clip-on lights hit me, I became a different person. Every moment leading up to that one didn’t exist. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember what I said onstage. All I remember is the laughter, applause, and hollering for yours truly. I had to pause for laughs. No one taught me that. I didn’t even have many people come to see me. So those were real fans.
For months, people would remind me of “that funny bit” in the show and how it “killed them.” I never knew how to respond except to perhaps smile and nod. That’s what the greats always did- humbly agree about how awesome they were. A taste of validation and praise I would never let go. I’ve been chasing that high ever since.
I peaked at the age of seven.