Life isn’t fair. I realized this after watching my niece and her homeschooling group perform for the residents of Rosewood’s Seniors’ Home.
When I got invited to the first show I walked in expecting it to be a depressing place, like the one my grandparents lived in at the end of their lives. A place where fifteen minutes seems like a small eternity. On Sundays we’d go with our pasted-on smiles, saying said stupid things ‘Watcha been up to Grandpa?” How about nothing? But when I walked into Rosewood Seniors Home, it didn’t feel sad. In fact, it felt homey.
As the residents walked and wheeled in before the show, I started asking myself the really important questions. What kind of hairdo will I have when I get old? Will I be the woman who gets her hair set weekly by the visiting hairdresser? The type of gal people call doll up and looks impeccable no matter what? Will I be that lady who curls her hair and then just leaves the curls sitting there like snails? Then I look around and see my future. My doplleganger, if you will A wild looking woman whose hair has been brushed in the front but is flat as a pancake in the back. I can imagine a loving personal support worker likely said to her, “Let me brush the back for you.” And this wild woman of Borneo would have brushed her hand away,
“Leave me alone. I don’t give a fig, about how I look.”
As the actors backstage got ready, a sweet, albeit confused woman bounced up and down on her feet in the front row. A small frail man who was seated in front of her begged her to sit down. This guy was her husband. Bed-head woman yelled, “Sit down.” Turning to her companion she carped, “She wrecks everything. Last week she put peach juice in her closet and now we’ve all got ants.”
The lights lowered and the children started speaking in iambic pentameter. This was no amateur sing-along around the piano. This is a large scale production of Hamlet. Complete with costumes, and musical and sound effects, and wind. Lots of wind.
Let me say when you see a piece of theatre in a nursing home, there are two shows to watch. The one on stage and the one in the audience. Things went for a wobbly for a moment, when Bedhead Lady yelled from the back, “Speak up for God sake.” And then the sweet dementia woman got out of her seat and stood next to the 13 year-old Hamlet as he did his skull speech. The young actor soldiered on as if she wasn’t there and an eight-year darling came out and gently shepherded the woman back to the director, my sister. Karen, put her arm around the confused woman “You stay with me, okay?
As the play went on I looked at my sister and how happy she looked. She loves homeschooling and putting on shows. Although this elaborate production was nothing like the kind of simplistic skits she and I put on when were growing up, she had a lot more control. And with six kids we had a built in cast. Being the oldest I was the self-appointed director, producer and star of these productions. I called it being a leader. My sister called it being bossy. I was a lot like Francis Ford Coppola, in his Apocalypse Now phase. The rehearsals were fraught with a diva’s emotions. Many a night we were down in the Rec room rehearsing with me screaming, “If you guys don’t get this right, Mom and Dad will walk out.”
To which my sister Karen would say in her self-smug way “ They live here. Where are they going to go? Upstairs? ” She almost got recast as the Third Wiseman for that crack.
The productions were mostly done at Christmas and even though I gave her the lead as the Virgin Mary she didn’t seem to appreciate my creative staging of the nativity scene. In my opinion there had been too many productions where the virgin just sat there looking beatific so I rewrote the stable scene from a feminist point of view. As the plastic shower curtain opened my parents gasped as my sister acted out a homebirth complete with labour pains while Alice Cooper crooned, Only Women Bleed on the cassette tape deck. When she was about ten centimetres dilated she pushed the baby Jesus out from between her legs. The Messiah role was being played my two year old brother who crawled out from her skirts and said “Me no like sandals.” The he went and sat on my mother’s lap. My parents laughed and laughed and didn’t walk out. But I almost did. I began crying screaming that everybody was wrecking my vision. And then my mother in her loving way, said “For god sakes stop your blatting ( which by the way many directors after her said)
After Jesus was sleeping and Mary worn out I once again took centre stage with bangs in my eyes, sucking a piece of hair, strumming the guitar, singing “Someone’s Dropped a Bomb Somewhere.”
All this to say, I couldn’t handle producing children’s shows like my sister. She is all Sandlewood and patchouli oil about it as she lets it all unfold like its all an educational experience or spiritual journey or something.
At the nursing home the kids and the audience loved it. At the intermission they all ‘oohed and ahed’ at the performances. Saying,
“How do those young people remember all those lines?”
“ Aren’t they clever?”
My sister beamed but I was perplexed.
I couldn’t help but note he injustice of it all.
How the serious kids delivered their lines perfectly. They had the intent, right, perfect elocution, and then one little two year old scene stealer stands there pulling her skirt over hear head and says in some garbled patois, “Hail, the Queen is dead.” And everybody applauds like the kid was a genius, while the talented kid’s fifteen minutes of fame was cut to about two and half seconds.
I also noticed that ,despite the fact they were acting their little hearts out, by the second act most of the audience had dozed off and the confused woman with dementia was back on onstage flashing her panties at the crowd in the front row. Which triggered Ms Bed Head to start yelling again.
After that afternoon I went away knowing two things for sure. ” If you pull your skirt over you head when you’re a kid, it’s cute. If you do it when you’re old they tell you to get off the stage and go back to your room. ”
My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you – to keep this a community-driven advertising-free collective space. If you like what you read each week, if you find solace or inspiration in these words, or if you just appreciate the occasional pep talk, consider making a small contribution to keep the art alive.