In high school (a very distant memory), I was a dancer. I was a good dancer. As a senior entering my second semester, I was applying to colleges with dance teams and even began planning a trip to try out for the Killgore Rangerettes (which are a huge big deal if you're from Texas, not so much if you're not). When meeting with a counselor before school started the second semester of my Senior year, she said that she'd overlooked the fact that I needed another elective. Evidently my 500 dance hours didn't count towards fine art.
She said that I could take art (okay...), theatre (hmmm, maybe), or, inexplicably, homemaking (definitely NOT). I am still unsure how homemaking fit this criteria.
Anyhow, at 18 I had absolutely NO desire to learn to sew (who SEWED any more, REALLY!), so I sighed heavily, and decided to take theatre. I didn't really know much about it. I'd taken speech in Jr. High and won an award, but that was mostly public speaking. Anyhow, I, as a Senior, was put into Theatre I, a VERY grown up Senior with a group of giggly, immature Freshmen. I liked my teacher very much. I could tell she was smart. And patient. We shared some eye rolls over how silly the younger kids were, but she never made fun of them. I did my little Theatre assignments... a gesture monologue, a memorization project, all easy and all fun, and I met each with great success.
One day, on a whim, I walked down the stairs to her desk and asked if I could audition for the spring play. I could tell she was caught off guard. She was quiet for a moment, then smiled and said, "Absolutely. I don't usually let Theatre I students audition, but I think I'll make an exception for you." I was excited. I'd never even thought about being in a play before, but found that I was really anticipating this one. She said, "Go rent The Philadelphia Story. You'll be reading for Tracy. Once you see it, you'll want it."
I watched the movie. Several times. And oh, how I wanted to be 'Tracy'. Katherine Hepburn played her in the 1939 movie. She was funny, smart, and got the right guy at the end of the play. Unfortunately, the week before auditions, I got a very nasty case of the flu. I was sicker than I'd ever been in my whole life up to that point, and the Monday that auditions were to be held, I wasn't up to going to school still. My mother had a hard and fast rule that, "If you were too sick to go to school, you're too sick for anything else." I was disappointed, but I didn't even ASK mom if I could go and try out, simply for her rule alone... (coupled with the fact that I still felt absolutely horrible). I had even almost forgotten about it.
At about 3:40 that afternoon, The phone rang. It was a girl that I knew, albiet not very well, so I wondered what she was doing calling me. I soon found out.
"Carrie. Hi, it's Priscilla."
"Montague wants to know if you're still coming up to school this afternoon to audtion."
I paused. Montague? (That was really her name, I swear.) Ms. Montague, my theatre teacher. Why would she care if I were there? There were tons of people audiitoning... "No, Pris. I'm sick. I didn't come to school today and my mom has this rule..."
She laughed. "Yeah. Mine too."
"Tell her I'm sorry, and I'll probably be at school on Wednesday."
She made symathetic clucking sounds, and hung up. At this point, I was in a snit. I didn't care if I HADN'T kept any food down in three days, I wanted to do this. I absolutely HAD to go. My mom had just come home from picking up my sister from school. Oh, well. It couldn't hurt to ASK.
She came into the room and sat on the edge of the bed feeling my forehead. "Good. Your fever's down. Up for some soup? Or scrambled eggs?"
My stomach flip-flopped. Dear heavens, no. No scrambled eggs. "No, Mom. Actually, I want to ask you for a favor."
So I went throught the story, how I was so excited about this, and "did she remember me telling her" and how I'd be okay; then I listened to her go through all of the reasons I shouldn't, and then, miraculously (literally, here folks, when Mama says "no", she MEANS it), she relented. I got dressed (in sweats), pulled my hair into a french braid, and drove myself to the school. I remember being SO sick that I almost threw up in the parking lot. I had to sit down once I got inside so that I didn't fall down. I finally made it into the auditorium, and over to where my teacher was.
She took one look at me and paled. "Oh, my. You really are sick. Oh, Carrie. I thought you were just chickening out of auditions. I had no idea you were actually feeling badly. I would have NEVER had Priscilla call you."
My response to this was, "I don't have a fever anymore."
She said, "Sit down. Do you need anything?"
After assuring her that I was fine, (and I wasn't even an actress, yet!) she went through all of the guidelines, rules and paramenters for the auditions. They consisted of a a reading from the script that you had time to prepare, and then a cold reading (pages we'd never seen) at the end. I audtioned. And then I went home and collapsed.
And I didn't go to school the next day.
Finally, Priscilla called the house again.
"Carrie? Are you ever coming back to school?"
I eyed the pile of makeup work on my bedside table. "Yeah, I should be there tomorrow."
"Good," she said. "You got a part in the play. You need to go see Montague before school tomorrow."
I hung up the phone after pleasantries were exchanged and thought to myself. I got a part! Yay! I got a part!
The next morning, I got to school late (blame it on Big 80's Texas Hair), and before I dashed off to my first class (I was already late - what's 5 more minutes?), I ran by the auditorium. Montague wasn't there, but there was an envelope on the door with my name on it. It read:
Play it humble today, but BY NO MEANS play it lucky. You earned this. I can't wait to see the life you breathe into 'Tracy'. You'll be brilliant! Congatulations!
I went to my very first play rehearsal that afternoon.
Sometime during the rehearsal process, Montague came up to me and said, "Do you know the play A Thousand Clowns?"
I assured her I did not.
She said, "There's a line in it that fits your life, Carrie. You should read it." She gave me a copy, and dutifully, I read it. And I had NO idea what she was talking about. A Thousand Clowns is about a little boy and his uncle, and it has ONE woman in it, I think.
I came back the next day, and she sent me off to memorize my lines in the prop room. When I walked in the room, written on the chalkboard was this message:
"THIS is the sneaky, subtle reason that you were born a human being, and not a chair."
I recognized that line as being from the play I had read the night before. Montague knew that this, the theatre, was what I was supposed to do with my life. And at that moment, I realized that I knew it, too.
Six weeks later, I starred in a play for the very first time. I had a ball. It changed the direction of my life, and the reason was all because a woman cared enough about ME to call me at home, guide me through the leading part in a play, and nurture the artistic side in me. This extraordinary woman took me to New York City (twice), to "Open my eyes". She believed in me when others didn't. She even co-wrote my first play, The Purple Brick Road, which has never even been produced, to my knowledge, but still hods a dear place in my heart. She gave me my first theatre teaching job, under her, as her apprectice, 5 years after The Philadelphia Story. I learned an immeasureable amount from this woman, and will never be able to repay her. Without her encouragement, I would have NEVER earned a bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts degree at UTA (where I met my husband and the father of my sons), been in over 35 plays, written 3 full length plays and a ton of one-acts, become a high school theatre director, or taught playwrighting and acting at a private academy. I would never have known the sheer joy and elation of performing in fromt of a packed house, or the thrill of a standing ovation. I would have never been as happy as I am today, if this woman hadn't felt compelled to encourage a Senior student that she wasn't likely to see again after that semester. She was the one that ended up being "brilliant".
Oh, and I even learned to sew. "Craft of Costume" was part of my degree. I believe I earned a "C'".
Oh, well. You can't be encouraged EVERYWHERE...