Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!

There's something special about an event that comes only once every four years--and February 29 is less hyped-up than the Olympics and less stressful than the presidential elections. Yes, it's Leap Day! And it always makes me recall Leap Day 2000, one of the more eventful days of my life up till then.

February 29, 2000, was opening night of our junior high school play, The Comedy of Errors. I played Doctor Pinch, a charlatan-conjurer trying to cure some people of their supposed madness. As our production took place in the Wild West, Dr. Pinch became an insane schoolmarm. (I designed the program to read "Dr. Pinch, an insane schoolmarm.")

I was a little annoyed to have such a small role (six lines, one scene) when I felt that I had paid my dues in other drama productions and planned to become a Great Actress when I grew up. Still, I got along very well with the other cast members, and made myself useful by helping people memorize their lines. Thus I became known as a very quick study, memorizing practically the entire play just by virtue of hearing it so often.

At least three of us actors were in the same first-period English (excuse me, Language Arts) class. On the morning of February 29, the two others stayed in the classroom while I went off to the library to work independently. (My teacher was happy for me to go off and do independent projects, which was good, because I couldn't stand her teaching style.) When I came back as class ended, my friend Hannah pulled me aside. "Natalie went home sick," she said.

"Yeah?" I said. "So?"

"No, listen, Natalie went home sick. Someone's going to have to take her part now, and it'll have to be you, because you're the only person who's not in the last scene, and we know you can memorize it."

I sprang into action. Suddenly I wanted the day to be over, all classes done, so I could swoop in and save the show from disaster! I have a bit of a hero complex, which was especially pronounced back when I was an arrogant 12-year-old. I found Natalie's role in my script--she was playing "Balthazar," a merchant, who has some short lines of dialogue and one 22-line speech. Later in the day my drama teacher gave me the go-ahead to take on the role of Balthazar, and for the next several hours I worked on drumming that 22-line speech into my head.

I don't remember how I got word that Natalie actually would be well enough to perform. Did someone phone me when I was at home after school? or did I merely find out when I got to the theater that night? Anyway, everyone thanked me for being so willing to help out; and, reduced once again to plain old Dr. Pinch, I got into costume and performed my one scene.

The cast went out for ice cream afterwards at Baskin Robbins, where we started gossiping, and one girl said that she had a crush on the guy who played Antipholus of Syracuse. When she said that, I suddenly realized that I had a crush on him too, which was perhaps an even more emotionally thrilling moment than what had happened earlier, when I thought I was going to "save the show"... a strange moment of perfect clarity, where I turned away from the rest of the group and something changed within me. One moment, I was sure I didn't have a crush on anyone; the next, I was sure I was madly in love with my fellow actor. Blame it on hormones, I guess? I'm never like that anymore: nowadays, when I have a crush, I second-guess and overanalyze everything. O for the innocent clarity I had at twelve years old!

The following night, another actress (playing the Courtesan) got sick, but I couldn't replace her this time, since the Courtesan and Dr. Pinch appear in the same scene. This disappointed me a little, but since I had gotten my "hero complex" out of my system the day before, plus I was newly in love and thus preoccupied, I can't remember being too angry about it.

Here is a photo of our Comedy of Errors cast, recently posted on Facebook by another person who was in the play. I am the girl wearing the gigantic straw hat.

And now it's eight years later, it's Leap Day again, and I am preparing for opening night of our Dynamo show, There Was No Time Before the War. Just as with Dr. Pinch, my role tonight has one scene and six lines--a nice connection to that eventful day eight years ago. But no one's gotten sick, I have absolutely no desire to "save the show" even if someone were to fall ill, I'm no longer great at memorizing lines, and I don't get those uncomplicated pre-teen crushes. The calendar keeps going on its accustomed yearly cycle, with this one wonky Leap Day thrown in every four years; but meanwhile, I've changed.

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