I acted in a play when I was 3,
adapted drama built of Gingerbread.
The coach had to create a role for me
so I played silent Heifer. On my head
he set a giant mask he’d painted black.
I wobbled onto stage and held my mark
and waited for the cue to wobble back,
and no one heard me speaking in the dark.
Around my head that cavern echoed speech,
so privately I voiced my favorite word:
I whispered “precious” over and again.
I’m sure that class was organized to teach
us all, but I obtained what no one heard –
a love of language harkening back to then.
I think it was my first enrichment. Either acting or else ballet, in New York. Later in California came horseback riding and art classes. I was bright, my parents were suburban, and it was the 1950s in the USA.
We put on two “plays” that summer. The littler kids did “The Gingerbread Man” and the older children performed “Peter & the Wolf.” I was one of the youngest of the littles. They made a role for me (daughter of the cow the Gingerbread Man chats with in his run), and I had no speaking part.
I remember my costume: black tights and leotard with a tail pinned on my butt. I may have worn gloves. Over my face and hair the grownups placed a big black papier-mache cow head, with eye holes so I could see and a screen over the open mouth, for breathing I guess, since I didn’t get to speak aloud. In fact the inside of the head was so roomy I’m sure there was sufficient air in there even without the mouth screen.
I followed my cow mother on stage. The director had us walk on hands and feet, which was awkward and made our backs slope wrong, but I guess it looked more authentic than hands-and-knees.
It echoed inside the head. I discovered that early and had nothing better to do than play with it. So I began whispering in my mask, savoring the reverb. I liked the sound of the word “precious” then. I still do. So my big memory of that performance was my mantra-like chanting, in whisper, of “precious, precious, precious.”
I didn’t get to see much of the “Peter & the Wolf” production, but my parents did. They attended the full double bill at the end of our season. Peter was played by a young lady. I remember one part of that play required Peter to skip around the front yard. My father told me after the performance that there was a mishap during the skipping scene. Some of the little picket fence fell over. He described how the girl playing Peter took the fence-tip in stride, stayed in role, and righted the fence while making her next skipping pass by it. My father told me that girl exhibited “poise.” It was my first exposure to the word.
Precious and poise. Those are what I learned from acting class.