My youngest daughter, Becky was very involved in drama in high school. She was in numerous plays which included musicals (she was Aunt Em in Oklahoma), comedy/drama (she was the TV boy’s mom in Willy Wonka) and lots of others. These were the full-blown plays – but unless you have a child who is in the dramatic arts you have had very little experience with the ‘One Act Play’.
Every year all of the high school drama clubs have a competition which entails putting on the best ‘One Act Play’. It is a very cut-throat competition starting at the local level and progressing to the state champion – and just like the Oscars, awards are given for best performance by the school and individuals. The plays are judged on acting, set and other criteria – including timing. The play can only last exactly 30 minutes – and that includes set up time!
If you have never been to one of these competitions, it is a very grueling day because there is a general consensus that the only play which can win is one which is very emotional, very dark and despairing – and definitely not humorous! I asked Becky if a comedy had ever won the competition and she couldn’t remember if it had ever happened – this gives you an idea of the general mood of the audience at the end of a day watching murder, mayhem and generally the dark side of mankind. The only people who tend to be upbeat during this day of despair would be the kids in the play – who are having a great time – as all drama kids do!
As good drama parents, we were required to watch the school’s entry at least twice – once for the general audience and once for the competition. Our school had not had an entry for a couple of years – and now it was time – and Becky had a part! She was always excited to be involved in a play and worked hard at her craft. All of the kids spent hours practicing and helping build the set – which must be movable so you can get it off and on the state within the time allotted.
The night of the premiere was at hand, so Pat (proud dad) and grandma were going to attend. Unfortunately, I had a class that evening and was going to have to miss the production. Becky decided that since we had never been to one of these types of plays, she should prepare us by telling us about the play so we would know what to expect – especially her grandmother, whom she didn’t want to shock into a heart attack. So, Becky told me about the play, ‘The Machinal’, so I could prepare the others. In retrospect, I don’t think there was anyway to describe the play which would have softened the impact of the play. It is one thing to describe the play and another to see a play which entails a woman having an affair, stabbing her husband, giving birth and then being electrocuted – all within the span of 30 minutes – and being performed by teenagers! I tried – but I know that it just wasn’t enough to prepare Pat and his mother for the show.
The night of show, Pat and his mom sat in the front row – because they were the only seats available and because grandma sometimes has a hard time hearing the play. The set was quite elaborate – a giant machine made of cogs and wheels which turned and exposed different scenes for the play. Very, very ingenuous and quite impressive. Then the play started.
Pat and his mother sat in the front seats and witnessed performances which made them cringe, squirm and cover their mouths in horror – not because the acting was bad – but because these teenagers had made the entire thing so realistic – even being executed in the electric chair at the end! As the cast came out to take their bows, Pat and his mother sat in the front row and just said to each other, over and over – ‘That was HORRIBLE!’ – not meaning that the acting was horrible, just that it was such a gruesome story and obviously the kids had done an excellent job of making people LIVE the story. However, the only thing our daughter saw and heard from the stage as she took her bow was these two individuals clapping and telling each other how horrible the play was!
This led to the second act of the One-Act Play which I enjoyed when I returned home after class and found Pat and his mother being lectured by Becky on proper etiquette when sitting in the front row of this type of play. When I say I enjoyed this second act – it wasn’t because of the obvious discomfort of my hubby and his mother – but rather I enjoyed the fact that for the first time in a very long time – Becky was angry at someone other than me for not understanding the drama world! As her father and grandmother tried to explain their actions at her play, Becky wanted to know why they had not listened to my description of the play so they would be prepared for the performance. While Pat and Grandma tried desperately to tell her that no amount of preparation would have helped, I sat quietly and tried not to show my excitement at not being the target during the foray!
Finally, after a performance worthy of an Oscar (by me, for keeping my mouth shut and showing great sympathy for both parties) – all parties calmed down and as usual, her father was able to make Becky understand that if everyone hadn’t been so good, he and grandma would not have been so traumatized by the end of the play! Surely, that was a good thing and a sign that they would do well at the competition. Becky agreed with her father and went on to the after-play party to explain to the cast the great significance of this reaction. Once again, all was right with the world.
When we saw the play again for competition, we sat towards the back of the auditorium and prayed for the people in the front row. And how did the play do? It was beat out by a play where an entire tribe of American Indians was massacred – I just hope the cast’s parents weren’t sitting in the front row.