Debbie On Stage

What we remember from childhood we remember forever — permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. ~Cynthia Ozick, American writer

I’ve long been fascinated by the theater.

The excitement of opening night, the pageantry, the costumes and props, the music — all of it struck me as a mystery that somehow came together to please both audience and troupe.

When I was a working journalist, part of my “beat” was reviewing local theater productions.

Realizing that these were amateurs doing plays strictly for enjoyment, I couldn’t bring myself to pan even the most awful performer. And seeing the productions first — before opening night — made me realize how lucky I was to live in a community that valued the arts.

Going back farther, when I was in high school, many of my friends were involved in drama club. I was far too shy to appear onstage, but I volunteered to be part of the backstage crew.

Helping paint backdrops, selecting accessories, and moving furniture between scenes satisfied my need to be with my friends and gave me a sense of belonging.

And that was enough.

Until one summer, when I went to band camp out of state. Every evening’s activity was scheduled with an eye to entertaining and educating youngsters from junior high through high school age.

One night, we kids were to perform a series of one-act plays for each other and our counselors, and I was chosen to appear onstage.

How it happened, I don’t recall. I do know I didn’t volunteer.

Our skit was taken from a long-ago ad for Shake ‘n Bake chicken, and I played the little girl. The one who “helped.”

Looking back, I imagine it had a LOT to do with my (then) Yankee accent being such a foreign thing to my fellow campers’ Southern ears.

We rehearsed over and over, making sure I had just the right twang. That we all were enunciating clearly so folks in the back rows could hear.

And that night, we were seated at a table, just like in the ad. The “mom” said her line about only using Shake ‘n Bake, I shook my pretend bag, and we sat down to dinner with the “dad.”

He bragged on the fried chicken, and just as I started to say my one line, the electricity went off.

We froze in darkness.

Counselors scrambled for flashlights and tried to keep the littler kids from panicking.

Just like in real theater, the show must go on, so with flashlight in hand and upturned toward my face, I finally got to say my line.

It got the giggles it was intended to, too.

17 thoughts on “Debbie On Stage

  1. Given the realities of a certain virus, we’re in a “show must go on” situation, aren’t we? The only problem is, we don’t even have assigned lines for our current show — we’re going to have to improvise! Your little tale is amusing, but it’s got a lot to say to us as we try to do all the behind-the-scenes work that’s necessary.

    Beyond that, I’d forgotten completely about Shake’n’Bake, but I think I remember exactly the line you’ve linked to. Now, I’m off to see if my memory is right!

      • It was supposed to be funny, and I guess it was. Not sure they could’ve gotten away with something like that today. It certainly prepared me for the teasing I’d get when I was the “Yankee in the dorm” at college though!

    • I’m chuckling over the idea of improvising, Linda. Yes, perhaps that’s exactly what we’re ALL doing! Nobody seems to know how to handle this virus-thingy, but they keep making suggestions/edicts anyway. We were fortunate to have lines, I suppose.

  2. “Just like in real theater, the show must go on, so with flashlight in hand and upturned toward my face, I finally got to say my line.”

    OMG…that was BRILLIANT!!!

    Debbie, being someone who was a stage actor for many years, I SO enjoyed this post! And I had no idea that you worked as a journalist reviewing theater productions!? That’s awesome!

    “The excitement of opening night, the pageantry, the costumes and props, the music — all of it struck me as a mystery that somehow came together to please both audience and troupe.”

    Yes, and that’s why many theater actors call it “Magic.” What I especially loved about the theater was the camaraderie, and the feeling of being part of an ensemble who worked together for the good of the show.

    FUN post, my friend! And yes, I remember seeing that Shake ‘n Bake commercial when I was kid!

    X

    • Ron, I so wanted to say something on your post yesterday about how great minds run on the same track! You’ve got so many wonderful memories of your time on the stage. This was my maiden voyage, and Mother Nature tried to spoil it for me, ha! Who knows? If everything had gone swimmingly, perhaps I’d have gravitated to theater, too — no, on second thought, I doubt it. Too nervous!

      I loved reviewing school and community theater. Seeing such talented folks — often at dress rehearsals — was mighty enjoyable. “Magic” is a good description of it, too.

      Enjoy your week. Stay home and stay healthy! xo

  3. Having been involved in community theater I can understand all the emotions that went into your performance. Having the lights go off was so typical, Debbie. Thanks for sharing that story. 😀

    • Funny, but I barely remember that commercial (except in connection with our skit, of course). Perhaps Shake ‘n Bake fried chicken wasn’t something the advertisers felt would appeal to Midwest housewives??

  4. I kind of remember the commercial. Do they still make shake and bake? Anyway, I played in the orchestra pit for our high school musicals, one of the highlights of my high school years. Can’t replace experiences like that. I wish every kid could have something similar to remember.

    • They do — it’s made by Heinz (though honestly, growing up with a mom from Mississippi, we never used it!) How I’d have loved being in a pit orchestra! Those awesome little lights on your music stands, everybody kind of hidden in darkness — so very cool. What a great experience for you — but how sad that some kids never choose to participate in anything. Maybe they can’t for one reason or another, but it’s still sad.

  5. Haha! You’re a star! That little girl sounds just like the girl who plays Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Please tell me that’s what your accent is like now… :D

    • Well, it’s not quite as twangy, but yes, I do indeed still have a Southern accent! I was saying ‘y’all’ before I went to kindergarten, thanks to parents who grew up in Mississippi; then I went to university in Mississippi and lived in Texas at least a decade. My accent is kind of a conglomeration of Southern, Texan, and a bit of Midwest (but only when I’m on the phone or reading aloud, ha!)

  6. There are no words to learn and not even a general idea of the storyline yet. So we are all in this one-act play that will go on for as long as necessary. And we become the star, with no supporting cast. So we are forced to play all the parts. An interesting brave new world. Take care: keep safe.

    • Thank you, Judith — you, too! We’re absolutely on shaky, unfamiliar ground now with this virus pandemic. And the fear and anxiety are rising. At times like this, I’m glad I don’t live in a huge city, tightly packed in with others!

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