How Shakespeare made me feel thin

Check out others’ musings on William Shakespeare’s impact on their lives, as bloggers around the world chime in in celebration of his birthday

I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birth place, a few years ago.

[attempt to conjure up story about how while I walked down the cobblestone paths that his lyrical feet pitter-pattered upon and while I stood in front of his childhood home, a bolt of inspiration struck and was the impetus of my now best-selling, award-winning novel]

Nothing of significance happened.  I bought an apricot jam for my mom and for myself, a British flag knit-cap that I wear to and from the gym, ate an expensive lunch, meandered in a musty-chapel, and took the train back to London.

My Shakespeare Moment occurred not in England, but in Evanston, Illinois at Chiaravalle Montessori School, where in second grade, I was cast as Titania, the queen of the fairies in Midsommer Night’s Dream.

I have no recollection of the actual play – rehearsals, fellow actors, lines, audience reaction, any of the story beyond a mischievous elf? named Puck.  What I do remember is that I wore what in my seven year-old mind was the most breathtaking dress in the entire world (probably more appropriate for a 1973 disco-queen than for a 1593 fairy-queen – full-length, billowy, A-line, with silver sequin along the top, and made of the brightest fuchsia material known to mankind) and that I felt important and girly and beautiful.  And that I haven’t had that feeling many times since in my thirty-two years.

I started growing, upward and outward, in third-grade, so the feminine roles always went to Ashley, Jessica, and Jennifer.  Leading roles always went to, well, those who could act.  Acting is not one of my skills; the Fear Experiment audience members a couple of weeks ago witnessed that train-wreck as I attempted to challenge myself by doing something that I’m bad at [improv] in front of many [700], and I opened the three-hour show with a scene in a gynecologist office when the crowd suggestion was “optometrist.”  So needless to say, I have not been a part of many theatrical performances in my life, let alone cast in a lead role.  But there I was, Titania.  Queen.  Someone with a name.  Someone with servants.  And because I have no memory of tears or running off stage or peeing in my pants, I can only assume that I rocked the role.  As Titania, I was appropriately-sized and oscar-worthy.

I’ve achieved many things and have a lot to be proud of and thankful for.  Graduating from a good school [Boston College], celebrating six years of self-employment, living in a wicked cool converted toy-factory, belonging to a supportive family, dating a Southern boy with cute cheeks and a sweet heart.

But a second-grade play of which I remember little is what I point to as a life highlight because it made me feel like a pretty girl.  That’s weird.  Sad.  Makes me take pause.

It is a powerful force how we feel about ourselves physically and how we see ourselves fitting [or in my case, not fitting] into stereotypical gender roles.  Powerful enough to make us lose perspective and become a tad irrational.  But oh how lovely I felt.

Thank you Sir William for allowing a big-boned Midwestern girl to feel like a tiny-boned pink princess, even if that sounds superficial and really not that important in the grand scheme of things.  Queen Titania curtsies before you.