Friday, January 12, 2007

The Importance of Being Earnest

It continues, sorry, this is helpful to me. If you want to read anything worthwhile, check out the Disability Blog Carnival #5 should be up at The Life and Times of Emma shortly.

Boys, I thought, were all a bit rubbish. I would occasionally meet a boy who I found attractive, but disillusionment was usually crouching close by in the bushes, ready to leap out as soon as the object of my desire opened his beautiful mouth. I guess I did tend to pick the maudlin romantic types who were only after one thing... being to confide in me their deepest darkest, most tedious and pathetic secrets.

Heartless bitch, you say? Please. The most notable example of what I’m talking about was a lad whose appeal was sustained for some considerable time on account of the fact we hardly ever spoke to one another. Lysander (who wasn’t called Lysander at all) was a wonderful guitarist and resembled a very young bleached-blond and slightly better-looking Tony Hadley, sixteen years old to my thirteen. He was drop dead gorgeous; I was very much taken with him and very pleased about it. This, I felt, was a good sign.

When finally we had a proper conversation, within the space of that single conversation, he managed to confide his desire to end his life when he was twenty (what would be the point of living after that?) but only, of course, after he had become a very famous actor whose loss the entire world would mourn.

This was fairly typical. Once I had placed enough physical distance between us to stop me banging his head against the wall in frustration, I fell into despair. You must understand that it wasn’t that I wanted anything to come of this – I knew very well that Lysander was way out of my league; he was very much the sort of young man that my peers were busy blue-tacking to their bedroom walls. However, I longed to feel the way about boys – any of the them - the way I had felt about Bathsheba.

Another thunderbolt was on its way, but not the one I wanted. Angela (whose name was not Angela) was a few years older than me and good at all the things I wanted to be good at. She was a great artist and an exceptional actor. And it happened before I knew it; I was turning up where I knew she would be, I had joined the choir and I was spending even more time in the beloved Art Block than previously.

Then our school decided – in their rather finite wisdom – to put on a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Our school had a purpose built theatre on site but seemed determined to choose the most inappropriate productions a person could dream up for a school of girls. I was in loads of plays and the only time I wasn’t in drag was when I was the most inappropriately cast Anne Frank you’d ever seen (Anne being by far the tallest person hiding in the annex). Notable productions included the Hobbit, where there were no feminine parts at all and The Beggar’s Opera where the only feminine parts were ‘whores’. Dido and Aeneas had a few more ladies it in, but everyone has to sing well, nobody knew what the heck it was about and the title to which the girls inevitably referred to it lead me to looking up yet another word in our doorstop dictionary.

The Importance of Earnest has a cast of nine, including the minor roles of the butler and manservant. One of the teachers took the part of Lady Bracknell – which is, of course, the best role by far (and in case she's reading this, by far the most charming and astute character in the plot). Casting for the eight remaining parts was restricted to sixth-formers. All of which I considered terribly unfair – and still do. I mean, it was all very sophisticated and amusing as an advert for the school, but it didn’t benefit very many of the students; the best choices for school productions and those that allow armies of extras so that everyone can be involved.

Anyway, Angela was a sixth-former and got a part, an important part. And what had started off as irritation at being excluded became a mission. I insisted on being involved in the play. Well no. I offered myself up, in a very pathetic and desperate manner, that the production could do with me whatever they wished.

So I made bad coffee. I moved scenery. I made scenery. I helped put people into costumes; I bound breasts. I sprinted up and down the aisles of the auditorium with messages and more bad coffee. I quietly vexed about the presence of fresh lillies on the stage (did these people know nothing?). I made myself very useful. So useful that I was excused from lessons throughout the dress rehearsals so that I could provide yet more bad coffee. The theatre at school was even more beloved than the Art Block and most especially beloved when I could sit and watch Angela do rehearse her lines over and over and over.

And Angela was nice to me. Everyone involved was pretty nice to me, since I was useful and sweet and prepared to bend over backwards for the sake of this production (unfortunately they cut that famous contortionist scene from The Importance in the end). But Angela was a genuinely lovely person, so much so that I don’t feel the need to disguise her too thoroughly; I don’t think she would be deeply upset to know she was the object of a teenaged infatuation. I couldn’t possibly have been the only one.

At the same time, this stuff was happening away from my peers in an environment where I was already marked out as a bit odd since I was younger than everyone and had so eagerly embraced and mastered the role of everyone's skivvy. I didn’t have anything to conform to, so I wasn’t afraid of standing out of line. I wasn't so afraid of being outed as a deviant. There was still the shame, terrific shame. During the short period I was involved in The Importance, I twice allowed myself to get hurt. Not badly, I’ve never been beaten up and was very rarely hurt at all, but there were two instances during this time when I didn’t shut up or run away when I really ought to have. I'm still not sure whether that was increased courage, shame or coincidence.

In any case, the theatre was beginning to play an important part in this story elsewhere...

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