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January 10th, 2007

whistle a happy tune

When I was eight years old, I auditioned for a part as one of the children in a nearby town's community theater production of "The King and I". I lived in a town of two thousand people, and the play was to be held in a town sixteen miles away, with sixteen thousand people.

"The King and I" features an inordinate amount of children, who appear, in the main, in one or two inordinately child-filled passages of the musical. With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder that any audition at all was required; in fact, though, the number of would-be children exceeded the number of allotted children by a sum which escapes me but was not zero.

I remember that other people, including grown-ups, were auditoning for roles. I also remember going to someone's house--perhaps the nice people who owned the funeral home--to practice our audition songs. I remember doing the actual audition, in a high school cafeteria. My song was "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from the musical Mary Poppins, which had been released as a film, I suppose, only some three or four years previously. I remember that I stood at the mike and sang with a lot of confidence, causing the windows to rattle, and earning me my place in the line with the other chosen children.

A role in a chorus of children is arguably less demanding than being the principal voice at an opera. I seem to recall that one sings "Getting to Know You", a jaunty waltz-like thing, and something else, but I cannot remember what else, because in fact I memorized every word to every song, having heard all of them so many times in practice. I still am apt, when on a long drive, to burst into "hello, young lovers", although, as is my way, my rendition owes more to cinderblocks painted pastel in a physics department than to Frank Sinatra.

When we drew lots, my piece of paper had an "x" on it, which meant I was one of the dozen or so children who got to drive to Little Rock to appear on the noontime television program "Eye on Arkansas". I remember riding in the convertible Mustang driven by the woman from my home town who later proved a wonderful benefactor for central Arkansas, setting up a "wildwood" performing space which featured "anything but rock". The spray paint they used to dye my hair black was really pretty cool, even if it had an aromatic peroxide immediacy.

Perspective is such a funny thing. The drive to practices--of which there were far too many--was all of sixteen miles, but seemed to me to take forever. I vaguely remember being bratty in a more-or-less charming way, peppering everyone with trivia questions about world wars and with made-up-on-the-spot jokes that now all escape my memory.

I don't remember much about the actual performances, other than that the lights were bright, and there was a bit of waiting about offstage. I never had any desire to take drama classes in high school, although it would have been fun to take animation or film-making classes had my high school offered them. Yet I remember being an eight-year-old bit player in a tiny community theater production of what was even then a rather old-fashioned play with a lot of fondness, and perhaps that fondness is enough to make up for a world of lack of further experiences of the thespian kind.