A river of feet rushed the auditorium. Simply listening to the wild chorus of voices caused my heart to flutter like a hummingbird’s wings. Trying to clear my mind, I went over Mrs. Bauer’s breathing exercises — breathe in for four seconds, hold for six, breathe out for four. The exercises didn’t help. My mind was a twisted, anxious mess of lines. I straightened my costume and went over my lines until they were imprinted. “Don’t worry,” I told myself, “This is your moment to shine. Besides what’s the worst that can happen?”
I’d always liked theater ever since I started Drama Club in fifth grade. It gives me the chance to be someone else: to be bold and charismatic, instead of my normally shy, quiet self. It empowers my self-expression, to let out all the feelings that I keep locked away. Though I love theater, I’d taken a two-year break to focus more on school work. The desire to act and to be free boiled inside, but I set a heavy lid on that pot of longing. I waited for another time.
And my time had finally come, and I was free from the essential obligations that had held me back from my passion. I had the great role of Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Though apprehensive and nervous beyond explanation, I knew that when the curtains rose, I’d sink into the skin of the character. I would dive into Shakespeare’s masterpiece as if returning to a world in which I belonged.
After what seemed like an eternity, the chorus of voices settled and the intro music began. I found I was rapidly tapping my foot against the ground, awaiting my grand entrance in the second act. Beside me was the girl who was to portray the very opinionated fairy. She mumbled her lines under her breath, and I could see that I was not alone in my nervousness. I knew that it was all going to work out in the end. After all, we’d been rehearsing for months.
After an infinite wait, it was time to join the fairy on stage. I climbed the ladder and sat atop our fake tree. I began a swift banter with the fairy. Even though the words that slipped across our tongues were teasing and mischievous, I could see the girl’s eyes light up with joy. I suspected my own eyes were similarly gleaming.
As Puck, I moved sharply and quickly, emphasizing Puck’s mischievous habits with a voice that swung like a lively pendulum. Through the clever banter, I could feel the crowd’s smiles beaming on us like an unwavering spotlight. I schemed with Oberon to put love spells on unknowing mortals, playing both prankster and matchmaker. As I scurried off the stage, with my next scene to come, I searched for the donkey headpiece. It was intended for the guy portraying Bottom. I found the headpiece atop a battered table and sighed, exhausted yet satisfied. Everything was going well so far, and all my worrying had been for naught.
When I returned to the stage, something felt amiss. Judgmental eyes pierced into me. In the crowd, I spied a group of older students in the second row. They were sneering and seemingly critiquing my every move. Self-consciously touching the green paint on my arms, I ignored them. I tried. Nevertheless, I found the unwanted thoughts tugging on me. I thought, “I look ridiculous. Not like someone from another world but rather like a giant cucumber.”
My attention was suddenly drawn back to the stage by an annoyed grunt. Bottom was lying on the floor with eyes darting toward the headpiece. Voicelessly, he signaled me to put it on his head. How long had I been awkwardly standing there distracted by the critical glances? I took a deep breath and carried on, allowing the next lines to flow from my mouth.
As I later walked off the stage, I saw these students in the second row pointing at me, snickering with impish grins on their faces. In my distraction, I walked straight into the model tree, knocking it over. I felt a sharp pain go through me as I frantically tried to set the tree in place. I saw a red blob as a blur from the corner of my eye.
The tomato splattered across my face, ow. “Ow!” I gasped. It was like a caricature from an old cartoon. Instead of marveling over how ridiculous it was, all I could sense was the excruciating choir of laughter. I felt my face turning red like the tomato itself, and I could not escape the bright unwavering spotlight. I halfway expected a hook to whip me from the stage like the shepherd’s crook hauls a wayward sheep. Wanting to escape the torturous humiliation, I turned toward the exit and paused. Running wasn’t the answer. If I ran, I might never be brave enough to again step on stage.
I put on a mask of shock and put my hands on hips and said, “These trees how they quiver, and if their roots so shiver, the forest may lay down in a matter of days.” I could see a girl from the second row caressing another tomato. Looking straight at her, I continued, “Thanks for the tomato spiteful sprites, for with this fruit and a spell, I can set these trees aright!” She greeted me with a speechless glance as I strode off stage.
A thousand feelings brewed inside my head with the audience out of sight. Though I could still feel the embarrassment piercing through me, it was eclipsed by something else. For brighter than the spotlight and anything else was a feeling of accomplishment.
At the end of the show, when it was time for bows, I was surprised to receive a generous applause, shining upon me like a spotlight. And standing firm like a strong forest oak, I did not shy, and I did not waver.