When I was ten years old, I came down with pneumonia on a camping trip with my parents. I remember very vividly what happened. We took a walk in our campground in a rain storm which was an uncommon experience for us. My parents were older, they had me when they were forty years old (which back in the 50’s was really old) and they allowed me to play in the mud puddles. I was thrilled!
The next morning I had a high temperature and I was coughing like my lungs would fall out. My dad, who was a Radiologist, took me to a small health clinic to have some x-rays done. Sure enough. I had pneumonia. And thus, my life as a play director began.
Well, not quite. Our trip had just begun and my parents weren’t too keen on going home early. So, they bedded me down in the backseat of the Oldsmobile, shoved a HUGE antibiotic pill down my throat and hoped I would recover soon. I slept the entire trip in the car.
Touring Colorado on that vacation, I had very little to do to occupy myself, except my huge imagination. Of course, there were no fancy hand held computer thingies or glitzy cell phones. But I do remembering bringing two things with me– my Big Red Chief tablet which I drew in religiously and my beloved book of Mary Poppins. Before our trip, I had seen the movie. I think we traveled to Kansas City and attended the movie in a massive theater with a theater screen just as massive. I was simply mesmerized. I loved movies. In fact, they were the catalyst for my passion for theater.
I wasn’t much of a player with dolls, but I did order my Barbie doll through an advertisement on a cereal box. Even though I didn’t play with her much, I dragged her along with me. I liked the Mary Poppins outfit I bought for her and dressed her in that most of the time…of course!
With not much to do but eat, sleep and live in the backseat of our car and bored out of my skull, I decided to direct Mary Poppins in my backyard when I returned home. Now understand that I had NO experience acting in a play (I mean, I was only ten) much less directing and hadn’t even read the book! I just owned it. (As I recall, I thought the book was boring). It was pink with a photo of Julie Andrews on the front cover. I loved Julie Andrews–she was so everything I wasn’t–pretty, slim and British.
So back to my play debut. It seemed simple to me: I would have my dad rent a helicopter (?) for my first entrance as Mary as she floats through the clouds with her umbrella. My neighbors, Tammy and Kirk would play the Banks children and all my friends would be in it, too. I don’t know if I figured out where the costumes, sets, props would come from, but I imagine I didn’t think that would be a big deal to accomplish. What’s the problem with that?
I don’t remember much more about my plan. I know that for my birthday party in August, I recall my mother telling my friend Cindy Byrd that she shouldn’t cry because I would make a place for her in the play. I guess I had announced my plans to my birthday party guests. Gosh, even my mother appeared to believe I would direct it! My mom wasn’t very involved in my life and so for her to even show any interest in something I was doing made a great impression on me.
Soon school began and I rummaged around in the basement and found an old pair of roller skates and decided I would become a professional ice skater. Like most children of that age, my intense love for my Mary Poppins play idea went by the way side just about as quickly as I got over the pneumonia that summer. I continued putting on little plays with my cousin, Sharon but I never revisited the Mary Poppins play idea.
I grew up and attended Stephens College and pursued my BFA in theater. I had so much to learn, it never occurred to me that I could direct a play. In fact, I didn’t direct my first play until I was twenty-two and it was The Phantom Tollbooth. When I was ten, I liked that book much more and actually read the whole thing. To this day, it is still one of my favorites along with Charlotte’s Web.
Over time, I kept volunteering to direct because well, someone had to do it and I had the most experience (you know….one show under my belt). The rest of my directing history is a slippery slope to present day. Right now, I am finishing directing four musicals at once (all school shows, mind you). That’s with kids, ages ten to seventeen with about one hundred different levels of skills and abilities. This summer, I’ll direct sixty-five more. Sometimes it’s like herding cats–no joke.
You would think I tire of directing. Nope. I tire of the stresses of directing in community and youth theater. I deal with issues such as finding a venue in which to produce the show, volunteer parent committees who dodge their responsibilities, students playing lead roles who come down with laryngitis the day before the show, lack of money, losing rehearsals to snow days, shortened classes, etc. And from what I hear from other drama teachers around the country, in some respects, I have it easy.
What I love about directing is that I fall in love with theater arts all over again. I get a real thrill out of watching my actors as they find their characters and begin to understand the power of the word within the script. I am very touched when one of my actors discovers he is good at something he never even thought of doing before–like dancing or singing. It’s fascinating to watch a person grow in their understanding of a concept or idea.
Theater is a magnificent art form. If you really understand it, you know it’s value to everyone. Obviously, it is an important part of humanity because it’s been practiced for thousand of years. Even the cave dwellers told stories. I like knowing what I do has a historical significance and is embedded in our DNA in some form.
So, that’s it. We’ll blame all this directing falderal on Mary Poppins. I’ve never touched Mary Poppins again. I don’t re-read books and if I don’t like a book, my husband would tell you that I am known to throw the disliked book across the room and exclaim a “Yuck!” as I do so. I don’t admit to that myself. But I do love a good story or a movie. They get my creative juices going all over again.