Separated by Ten Feet and a Curtain

I wasn’t planning on doing it.  I had mentally practiced “No” a bunch of times so that I wouldn’t feel awkward because I don’t like saying “No.”  I like saying “Yes” so I can make people happy and help them in their daily lives.  But this task, I wasn’t ready for it.  I had no experience.  No knowledge.  No real background.

And then I was asked.  And I was all ready to say “No” but I looked at my student and saw hope, this powerful and beautiful emotion and I couldn’t do it.

I bent.  I agreed.  With conditions.  And that was I wouldn’t be the lead director of the spring play.  I would assist my supervisor who would be the lead director of the play.  I have been on stage, once, and I was HORRIBLE.  Therefore, my knowledge of directing was….nothing.

My supervisor was elated.  He wanted to do the play but wasn’t sure that he had the time or energy to get everything done.  He needed someone who could be there if he was unavailable.  And he has years of experience.  I needed someone who would patiently help me see how to do everything.  We were a perfect drama-match.

Auditions arrived.  My son, who had been in one play with no lines other than howling like a wolf-man, was invited to audition.  He politely turned me down.

On the second day of auditions, though, he came to support a friend.  Needing more participating in a scene, I asked the Boy to take a script and participate.  After one reading, he asked my supervisor for permission to audition.  The Boy filled out an application, continued doing readings, and was cast as an extra.  With no lines.

After initial disappointment, he chose to commit himself to the play, even if he wasn’t going to have anything to say for two hours, and attended the read-throughs.  However, one of the actors who was in a supporting role stopped attending, claiming he had other commitments.

Patiently, my supervisor asked the Boy to read for the missing actor, to take notes on the blocking so that when the actor fulfilled his prior obligations he would have all the information needed to be successful.

But he didn’t return.  He was warned that one more absence would result in his role being re-cast.  That afternoon, even though he had been told not to miss, he didn’t appear at rehearsal.

That afternoon, after another round of blocking, my supervisor (the lead director) pulled the Boy aside and asked him to take on the speaking role.  Happily….all right, enthusiastically, the Boy accepted.

Rehearsals began in earnest.  However, the play’s hours wore on the Boy and his grades dropped.  Ninth grade transition has been awful, and that is putting it lightly.  So many nuances are in that one word, but I will not go into detail about it.  Don’t ask.  Just accept my points and follow my story, if you will.

I did my best to give the Boy distance.  And it took at least two weeks for the students to realize that the Boy was my son…or, rather, that I was the Boy’s mother.  At first, he always sat apart from the cast and crew, would only participate when called upon.  He shyly navigated around the stage, around the dozen strangers surrounding him.  All of the other actors knew one another, having either been in previous plays together, or were members of the specialty center in the building.

Weeks wore on.  The Boy’s acting style, initially, was wooden.  He would go where he was supposed to when he was supposed to.  But his voice wouldn’t change.  Everything he said was in monotone and he sounded a bit like William Shatner.

“Words words word—pause–words words words–pause–words words words.”

And it’s not like his lines were filled with punctuation.  He just paused.  For effect?  Because he was taking a breath?  Because he wanted to pause?

So many times, I wanted to face palm myself.  I had tried to help him with his lines, but giving the Boy advice about acting was hopeless.  I was his mom, not his director.  I had no real acting experience, and he knew that.

My son’s role is a former World War Two pilot whose plane was shot down.  His character suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which has caused him to suffer from memory loss.  In addition, his character is convinced that his face is horrifically dis-figured (even though it isn’t).

In one scene, the Boy’s character is confronted by another character to give up on his delusion and to accept his life.  But the Boy’s character instead has an anxiety attack and starts shouting…no screaming at the other character.

No William Shatner pauses.

No monotone.

Pure emotion.  Pure grief and sadness and pain for a loss that he doesn’t understand didn’t happen.  The Boy shouts at the other actor with the same intensity that I have seen when we have fought.  The same grief and anguish that I have seen on him when he has had a horrible day is sketched on his face.  He grabs at his hair, tugs furiously at his bands, runs his hands along the sides of his face, covers his eyes.  His mouth is peeled backwards in a grimace of grief.

And my heart breaks.  This is my son.  My beautiful son.  His name is etched across my heart and every time he does this scene, I hold myself in my chair and watch, watch as he throws out his hand in despair, as he cups his un-damaged face with his right hand, as he paces back and forth in an excruciating attempt to find normalcy.

But it’s not real.  It’s just an act.  And I know it’s just an act.  But I still find myself torn a little more when he shouts at the other actor every day, every night.

Last night, I stood behind one of the curtains used as an entrance/exit to ensure that the actors were hitting their cues.  And I stood there and watched my son as he went through the scene yet again and I wanted to put my hands up on the cloth and wrap my son in comfort.

He has had such a hard year and I feel like he is purging his sadness every time he shouts.

In some respects, the play has been almost life-saving.  The Boy has made friends with the cast and crew.  He doesn’t sit apart from them.  He is there, with them, helping with the improv warm-up activities.  He is there, sitting still, while one actor rests her head against his leg, using it as a pillow.  He is there, adding his own style of mirth to the silly practical jokes they play on one another.

And I am still there, ten feet away, on the other side of the curtain, watching it all unfold, proud, happy, and even a little sad.  My son is growing up.  In six months, he will start learning how to drive.  I celebrate how beautifully he is growing up, how he is changing for the better.

And I kind of miss him too.  But not enough to want to do anything more than fold my hands together and take a step backwards from the curtain and let my son be the young man he is meant to be.

Or at least is acting like he will be…..


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