I entered school at Moscow but consolidation in the early 1960’s got me into the Felicity school where I eventually graduated. I say this because my sister and my brother both graduated in Moscow. As the youngest it is common to look up to and try to follow in their footsteps. I was not the exception by any means. It was difficult for me as both excelled in lots of ways and they achieved high by my standards.
They both were in their junior and senior class plays. Ben had the lead part both years and Peg had important roles too. They did plays in a school half the size in students as Felicity so the competition for roles would be twice as much for me.
When Grace Allen, the English teacher and director of the class plays, posted that there would be tryouts after school the following Friday I decided that I wanted to be in the play and I might as well try out for the lead part. I went to Mrs. Allen and asked her if I could get the lines that the lead part would have. She said all the parts were available to anyone to have if we wanted.
The play was titled “Grandad Goes Wild”. It was a three act comedy about a family with a troublesome grandfather as best I can recall. This play was not one that ever hit Broadway or probably nowhere else other than Felicity, but was funny if those acting carried out their parts as the writer had desired. This is a huge part of a play being successful and entirely out of the writer’s hands.
I studied those lines every day and at night before I went to bed. I thought how my grandpa Benton, who was in his 80’s, walked and talked and tried to recall some of his mannerisms. When the tryouts came the room was full with kids who wanted a part and five after that lead role. I somehow got to go last in the group and they were all pretty good and didn’t miss their lines. Uncertainty gripped me as I was called to come forward and audition.
As I walked to the front I told myself that this was the time to show Mrs. Allen just how good I would be for this part and prove to my siblings I could do them one better. I looked at the script and as I spoke I spoke steady and with volume. As I said the lines I moved a few steps as my grandpa would have done. When I was finished, I went back to my seat knowing I had given it my best. The parts weren’t assigned officially until after everyone had auditioned. Mrs. Allen began to read the names and said that everyone had done so well it was hard to decide (my heart sank) but the role of Grandad went to Rick. I know I must have grinned from ear to ea,r but tried to control myself and congratulate all the rest.
For four weeks on weeknight evenings for about an hour and a half to two hours we practiced. For the most part everyone involved took presenting a successful play seriously. Of course we had fun as we got to be away from home on weeknights without parental guidance. Of course with Mrs. Allen in charge there was little worry of any of us getting out of control, but we were out on a weeknight. As rehearsals went on I continued to enhance the part of Grandad to make it more believable that a 16-year old was an octogenarian. I went so far as to borrow one of Grandpa’s suits and a cane. I let my hair grow from a flat top (Mrs. Allen said Grandpas didn’t where flat tops) to where it could be combed over and they could powder my hair to look white. It seemed the entire cast, no matter the size of part, tried more to make their roles believable.
Finally, the day of the presentation came. The plays were presented on a Friday afternoon to the student body as kind of a dress rehearsal. We all went to the stage dressed in our costumes and talked to each other trying our best to sound calm and confident so the rest would. I’m certain it didn’t work as I had butterflies in my stomach. I had never had this before and really didn’t think they were real but believe me they are. Mrs. Allen said the words, “Take your places and good luck.”
Now my part had me on stage for all but three minutes of the one and a half hours. The curtains opened and there was a gym full of students and teachers looking at us. I had the first line I think and with butterflies close to nausea and a mouth as dry as the desert I delivered a somewhat weak line. I said to myself, “you have come too far to screw it up now, too much to prove.” With the next line and all the rest I was on target and as the play progressed my confidence let me even ad lib as there is a little “ham” in my personality. The entire cast was awesome and when the play ended and the curtains closed we could hear what we had worked so very long and hard for. The audience was clapping and cheering and when they pulled back the curtains we saw many were standing. The only word for the effort was success. That night we did the play for the community in front of a truly packed gym and I say this as honestly as I can, we were even better the second time.
When the curtain drew closed that evening, Mrs. Allen addressed us all and told us we were maybe the best group she had ever had the pleasure to work with. This from a lady who only said what she felt was the truth. I was also happy as my sister and brother were in the audience and got to see me do this. But a big thought entered my mind that brought me back to reality. Wait! What about the senior play next year? We will have to do better, won’t we?
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at email@example.com.