Ninth grade has been a whirlwind. It's my first year as an official high schooler, and I've figured a few things out. I'm not even talking about history or science; it's the important stuff like, well, life. Many of my old friends from elementary school vanished into the halls of my memory while new companions surfaced to the top of the pond surrounding MCHS. It's no one's fault; it's how life works, and that's alright.
Playing football was never my dream, but I made the most of it for two years. Coach Horsey managed to convince me to stick it out with these wise words, "You have enormous shoulders, son, you need to play football." He may have been right about the width of my frame, but my heart wasn't in it at all. Some of those guys like Matt, Fred, Curtie, Russell, and David played the game since they were in diapers. My passion belonged somewhere else, and thankfully the sport at least taught me that.
Mrs. Brown gave me my first small part last year in a play called Arsenic And Old Lace. In eighth grade, I was happy to get whatever I could and did my best working with the older high school kids. After giving it one hundred percent throughout the year, tryouts for Harvey were just around the corner, and I wanted that lead part. Of course, doubt was easy due to my lack of experience, but I had hope, which was more valuable than skepticism any day.
Jimmy Stewart was always a hero of mine, from his personal life to his roles in cinema. He portrayed the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, in Harvey on Broadway and the silver screen. My goal was not to be James Stewart but to honor the man who'd entertained me for as long as I can remember. He was sincere and warm in every role he portrayed on screen and off, and that inspires me.
My nerves were on edge all day, wondering when Mrs. Brown would announce the cast. Each time I'd see my buddy Deb around campus, I'd ask if she'd heard anything. Neither one of us was patient, and we both constantly checked for the list in between classes. She auditioned for the character of Myrtle and was equally as excited. Silently I prayed the director wouldn't award the part to a junior or senior in place of my freshman inexperience.
Finally, the news was out, and I couldn't contain myself as I rushed to the little theater to check the results. A crowd huddled around the tiny sheet of paper taped to the wall, but I succeeded in breaking through for a look. Placing my finger at the top, I began to scroll down intently, reading the names, "Myrtle Mae Simmons - Debby, Veta Louise Simmons - Teresa, Elwood P. Dowd - Chris Sherron!" Jumping around and yelling was never my thing, but I did read the list three more times before stepping away from the wall to make sure. Plopping down in a chair, stage left, a genuine feeling of accomplishment forced my chest to swell with pride as I watched the cast form before my eyes. "Now the work begins," I thought as a smile emerged on my face.
Each day for the next five, I devoted about six hours to studying lines at home. A three-act play is no joke, especially with speaking parts every time I turn the page. The thirty-plus hours of memorizing were plenty, along with the rehearsals after school five days a week. Getting the words down early on was vital so that I could focus on character development over the next thirty days. My peers deserved my best, and there was no way I'd let them down.
While most students couldn't wait for the sixth period bell to sound so they could escape, I was hype for an entirely different reason. It meant that it was time to rehearse with people I'd grown to love. A week into practice, it didn't matter what grade we were in or what click we may have been part of because we were family. Guys like Rick and Chip were undoubtedly cooler than me, but all of that stuff faded away like the end of an act. Deb had me on experience, but she never hesitated to help out when I needed her for anything, and that's something special. What a team.
The two Teresas, I'd have to say, were a bit intimidating in the beginning. They were both seniors and on the extreme side of bodacious. I recall reading through the script for the first time to discover a kissing scene with Nurse Kelly played by one of the Teresas. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't look forward to rehearsing that each day. Okay, it doesn't technically count as my first kiss, but it sure gave me lots of experience before the magic moment happened more than a year later. Maybe more football players would have switched over to drama had they known about the benefits.
We had a packed house both nights. The audience was full of folks from all over the community, family, friends, and fellow students. Everyone knew what to do, and we were ready to put on a show no one would forget. The stage glowed as each character who'd evolved from the pages of a script came to life. We were spectacular.
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Several weeks earlier, my friend, Billy asked me why I put so much effort into performing. Aside from telling him that I loved doing it, there was no clear answer. It was something inside I couldn't shake, but beyond that, I didn't have a clue. Once the crew was on stage and we took our final bows, I knew why I'd worked so hard.
I will never forget the enchanting sensation of gazing out into an audience as they rise to applaud. Hand in hand, we occupied the stage soaking up every ounce of energy thrown from the patrons. Roaring claps echoed all around as we stood under the bright lights from the catwalk overhead. Only one thing can top that exhilaration, and it happened simultaneously. A look to my left and then to my right exposed my people. The message behind Harvey is the value of friendship and loyalty. I understood that message working with my friends after school each day for a few weeks.
**I can still recite the longest two monologues from the play thirty-five years later. I'll never forget these experiences and the lifelong friendships that grew from each one. It didn't matter if you were a jock, a band geek, or a nerd because we all came from the place. These were the first steps toward who we'd eventually become. If you have time, give my podcast a try on the ChrisTopProgram.com. Thank you for reading my memories.