Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In a Closet

The morning of our performance day whirled in a chaos of green-T-shirted children bubbling with excitement and jitters. Rachel gathered the group for a concentration game involving numbers and memory while I did my own tally.

Every time I started a count of all our kids, up popped a question, or a last minute prop problem...or something. One, two, three...where's Calvin?


Four, five, six...Lizzie?

Water fountain!

Seven, eight...where's Oliver?

We don't know!

I checked outside and scouted the schoolyard...nope.

Oliver successfully portrayed Macbeth for the club last year and many folks were looking forward to his Demetrius this year. But Oliver had been having a tough time in fifth grade. I think pre-teen hormones had his motherboard on the fritz.

The boy seemed dismayed by the simplest of schoolroom tasks, like keeping his desk neat. Then he'd break out in a physical mania that perplexed adults, who observed him as one might study a crazy person. Oliver would fling himself to the floor and spin on his butt or fall over in boisterous laughter for no apparent reason.

He told me before spring break that he would be away for two additional weeks because his dad was taking him on a cross-country trip.

"What, Oliver? You mean you're going to miss Shakespeare Club for two weeks?"

Yeah, I guess.

I called his mother to confirm. Oliver's parents are divorced and as she explained it, his dad was going to take Oliver and his sister to Tennessee and Michigan to meet aunts and uncles for the first time.

I didn't want to put the kibosh on family time, but....

I reminded her that she had agreed Oliver wouldn't miss any meetings. That we only had a couple of rehearsals left, and that he seriously needed the time because he was having trouble remembering his lunch, let alone Shakespearean text....

In the end, the trip was postponed only because the airlines suddenly raised their rates.

Oliver used our final rehearsals well and I could finally see his Demetrius as a full-blown character. Today was the day for Oliver, but he was AWOL.

In a desperate move, I opened the walk-in closet next to the stage, where I'd asked the kids to throw their backpacks.

Oliver. There he was, wading amidst a pile of colorful bags. He was on a cell phone.

I just need the belief, Dad....I just need some of that. I need the faith.

I watched Oliver. He didn't notice me. He was intent on his conversation.

Oliver. My name is Oliver. Oliver. My name is Oliver.

He pressed the phone hard to his ear. His face was serious.

Thanks, Dad. Thanks for the belief.

He turned the phone off and looked at me.

"Ready?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Come here, my friend."

I put my arms around him and whispered.

"You're going to be great. You know what to do out there. You're going to have the best day."

And we walked out of the closet to join mad mechanicals, lovers and fairies.

I learned that I can overcome my fear and act silly and funny. I loved these years in Shakespeare Club it has been great. I will miss everyone here and you too, Bottom. I have reached my goal for now! I'm on way to my big goal to New York theaters. My experience will live on in Shakespeare Club.
—Dominick, 5th grade

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