My first word was ‘no’.
As a toddler, I wouldn’t let me mother hug me – I would squirm and squeal and try to get away, to the point where she could use a hug as a sort of ridiculous form of punishment. I was a difficult child.
Come elementary school, not too much had changed. I was miserable, with a childhood belief that everyone was out to get me, everyone a potential threat. I would wander around the school at recess, dreaming up scenarios of ‘if that person picks a fight with me, I can do this, and run there.’ Not that I was actually bullied much, but I believed I was, and imagined a grand social ladder with me and a couple of other people right at the bottom of it. And I felt it was better for people to know me and dislike me, than not to know me at all (my ‘rep’, as I would say).
Well, one innocent day in grade three, the opportunity came up to audition for the school play, The Littlest Christmas Tree. To this day, I still don’t know why, but I felt an urge to go audition. So I did. The audition consisted of going into a classroom where music was playing, and to dance to the music.
Apparently I had quite the moves (which I don’t), or the teachers just liked me (which they did), or I was the shortest kid there (which I was), but regardless of their reasoning, I got cast as the lead, title character. I became The Littlest Christmas Tree.
In the play, the older, larger trees taunt and tease The Littlest Christmas Tree, tell him how worthless he is, how he can’t do anything for anyone. Then, of course, the Littlest Christmas Tree gets picked. It wasn’t much of a stretch to act as though I felt persecuted. My only memory of actually performing the piece is the older trees walking in a ring around me, singing an insulting song about how mediocre I am, with me sitting in the centre of the stage, looking up at them with a mixture of grief, fear, and dejection.
What came at the end of the show was the biggest surprise of my young life. See, I hadn’t even thought about it – about how the play might be received. So I was taken aback when it ended… and the whole school, hundreds of students cramped into a small gymnasium, applauded. And cheered. All the way up to the grade sevens in my elementary school, WHO GOT TO SIT ON BENCHES AND CHAIRS. Yes, those ancient gods.
And as I stepped off the stage, they held out their hands, these BIG KIDS, like a row of welcome branches to either side of me, lining the walkway to the gym’s exit. So as I jogged out of that gym, I high-fived dozens of strangers, all so much cooler and more notable than I was. For that one moment, I was known, I was liked, I was… better than I thought I was.
Reflection? This means my theatrical ambitions grew partly from a desire for fame and recognition, which is not an ideal reason to be an actor. That said, it also came from that inexplicable urge to audition, to act.
And I am grateful.