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 , 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.
I come from a long line of tall women cast in pants roles. Then I got cast as Jocasta in Oedipus at Wisdom Bridge theatre and the reviewer said “the petite and demure” Nancy–now that’s some major acting! Thanks Fred Applegate for making me look petite.
Great post, Saya, thank you for sharing that perspective and that story. And thank you *so* much for being a part of this project, we truly appreciate it. 🙂