Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Down On Skid Row: Or How the High School Musical Saved Me

Lately I've been obsessed with watching high school musical productions on YouTube. I don't know why. Or maybe it's because I like things that are awkward. Maybe it's because the kids are so enthusiastic and having such a great time. I don't know which. Little Shop of Horrors is an especially fun one, because there's a necessary design element that never really works out. And, sure, there's a bit of racial awkwardness in these mostly all-Caucasion productions. Not to mention there's always, like, eight doo wop girls. Still, the kids! They're having such a great time. They believe in the cause.

Sometimes it surprises people to learn that I grew up in musical theater, but I did. What's more, I love musicals. If it weren't for musicals, I never would have found the theater and I'm sure that must be the case with a lot of theater artists.

I started as the dog catcher in Annie- great role for me, as he got to wear a crisp white uniform, say something mean, and then go. I was ten and bright eyed and innocent. God, I must've been such a little shit bag. Anyway. When I as about thirteen I started discovering underground rock music, cigarettes, and sub culture but this did not do anything to lessen my love of the musical. Not right away, anyway. Hell, I had The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I watched every single day after school for years. Years.

I kind of became a mix between a juvenile delinquent and an old show queen. I would go to the Kitsap Mall after school and shoplift grunge CDs and Broadway soundtracks in equal amounts by sticking them in my pants and walking out of the store with my shirt covering them. The Into the Woods CD was especially difficult to gank- it was a double CD. Same with Talking Heads' Sand in the Vaseline. It was the 90's and my kleptomania was in luck, as baggy pants and shirts were in.

This phase was very brief. Maybe two years? I came to view my love of rock and my love of musicals as separate. Rocky Horror was the exception and not the rule. I'm not sure why I felt like I had to be one specific thing, like "punk", or why I felt I couldn't like other kinds of music, but I did feel that way. I ended up quitting the theater for a few years so I could smoke and go to riot grrl shows in Seattle and carouse around the neighborhood with my no good-nick friends. It was a lot of fun.

Then, by 10th grade (yes, all of that badness was before) all of my friends had already dropped out of high school. Lots of them were having babies or wrestling with addictions or heavy things like that. I decided to clean up my act and part of that was auditioning for the school play, The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. I played Moon, the pseudo intellectual theater critic. A natural fit, of course. And then I was in Fiddler on the Roof. And then I couldn't remember why I ever left the theater. And the rest is, as they say, history. I ended up staying in school and graduating and going to college etc. Why did I ever think I couldn't like both Cole Porter and Sonic Youth? I don't know. But I do know I was on one path and being in plays after school got me off of it.

I think there's a part of me that feels sad that theater is so far out of our pop culture. And I don't mean this to say "play should be more poppy" or anything like that. I like a wide range of plays, from the very sophisticated to the not-so-much. I mean "pop" like popular, not like soda. Anyway. All of this was to say, please... no matter what happens... no matter what budgets we cut... let's keep the high school musical. Just... maybe don't do The Wiz if your school is short on racial diversity.


Monica said...

Indeed...the high school musical (Godspell, in my case) changed my life. I played Robin when I was in ninth grade ("Day by Day") and every rehearsal was just intense pleasure, beginning to end...it took me years before I remembered and allowed myself that pleasure again. Ten, to be exact.

All good gifts around us :)

joshcon80 said...

Monica, Godspell is so awesome. The costumes! My god, the costumes ina high school production must've been so delicious.

Claudia said...

In my decidedly middle-age I will still go to a high musical to soak up the sweet energy.