High school musicals are kind of a big deal in the suburbs. For many residents, it’s the only time of the year when they attend the theater. For the students, it’s a time for big dreams, big fun and even bigger dance numbers.
I love the theater. In fact, I love it so much that I spent four years at Duquesne University studying it as my major.
My first experiences with the theater came as a student at Montour High School.
As hard as it might be to imagine, I was somewhat shy during high school. To my close friends, I was outgoing and possibly insane. However to strangers I came off as “shy and too serious” or at least that’s what some classmates told my older brother during my middle school years.
Anyway, I never felt comfortable singing. I knew I was the world’s worst dancer so I never auditioned for our high school musicals. Frankly, it just seemed pointless.
It was especially frustrating for me because I desperately tried to start a drama club during each of my four years of high school, but I was never able get enough kids to enroll to have a full class.
I knew that I always wanted to be an actor and a playwright, but I just could not see myself singing and dancing. I wanted to stage Neil Simon comedies and obscure plays written by Woody Allen.
Sadly, these dreams were never realized during my time at Montour.
At our school, if you wanted to be an actor, you only had one chance and that was with the big spring musical.
My first two years of high school, I sat in the auditorium coveting the kids onstage. Wishing that I could carry a tune or do a little soft-shoe. Alas, I was doomed to be a spectator.
That is until a very popular girl in my grade name Lauren stepped in. Lauren was a very talented young person. She had been singing solos in the choral concerts since elementary school. As a freshman she was cast in the lead role of the musical. In high school terms, she was a big deal.
Anyway, Lauren and I had become friends because we were in all the same honors classes. (Yeah, she was smart too. Girl had it all.)
One day during our junior year, Lauren asked me why I never auditioned for the musical. I explained that while my dream was to be an actor, I just had no interest in singing or dancing.
She suggested that I reach out to the professional director that the school hired to see if he would allow me to come on board as a “student director”. That way I could still be involved with the theater and I wouldn’t have to sing or dance.
Having never considered this as an option, I ran with Lauren’s idea and I got the gig.
Thanks to Lauren I was the student director for Montour’s production of Guys and Dolls during my junior year and I was the student director of Grease during my senior year.
As luck would have it, while working on Grease, the actress playing the part of Ms. Lynch (the only non-singing part in the show) had to dropout. We were so close to opening weekend that there was no choice but for me to take on the role.
Our director wanted me to play the part like Rosie O’Donnell had on Broadway. So he had me ad-lib the entire opening of the show as though it were a high school assembly and I was picking on all of the students.
Looking back, it was my first attempt at stand-up comedy.
It was that exact moment that both my parents and I realized that this is what I should be doing for the rest of my life.
The good news? I’ve been performing ever since.
Thank goodness for local high school musicals! Oh, and for Lauren!