Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Was Peter Pan But Didn't Fly

Well, I was almost Peter Pan. This was way back in the day. The day that I was young, skinny, and hitting the boards as a would-be actor. I was still in college, still taking classes and working full time. I had great ambitions in those days, and a lot of drive. If you ever watched the TV show Glee, then think of the character Rachel Berry. That was me. All drive, all seriousness. When others fooled around backstage, it just put me on edge. Why aren't they taking this seriously? I griped.

But this wasn't to be their careers. They were just having fun. And I did, too. There is nothing quite like the camaraderie that develops in a cast. You work long hours together, emote together, and produce wonderful work together.

One of my last stints on the stage before I started going to real auditions and had my head handed to me, was a production of The Comedy of Errors at Cal State Dominguez Hills. I played Adriana and got to perform my two loves: Shakespeare and comedy. And I had the most gorgeous Italian Renaissance costume that I got to wear. We had a blast in the production. I got a boyfriend out of it, too...not the man I married, though...and the eye of the director for a particular role. His next production was to be the musical Peter Pan.

I loved that play, at least the non-musical one. I was a big fan of J. M. Barrie's work, including The Admirable Crichton and others. And I really wanted to play Peter. I was the tom boy who wouldn't grow up, so it was only fitting.

During The Comedy of Errors, the director told me of his plans to stage Peter Pan, and he asked me if I could sing and dance. First rule of the stage is always tell the director "yes" (get your mind out of the gutter!) But actually, I can sing and I can move gracefully, or could, anyway. He liked the physicality of my performance and I felt I was a shoe in.

And besides. I wanted to fly! The wires looked like so much fun, and the director was going to play Captain Hook and I knew it was going to be a blast. All summer I practiced for the audition. In those days, there was no internet. Heck, in those days, there were no VCRs. So there was no renting the movie and watching it. No watching Youtube videos on the internet. I had to track down the Mary Martin record and play it over and over, memorizing the songs and "flying" here and there about my bedroom. I was going to play Peter Pan, and I knew it would be a turning point performance.
And then I got the news. Sandy Duncan was reviving the play for Broadway. And when that happens, Samuel French, the one and only place to get the rights and the scripts to do plays, pulled the plug. When an equity house was producing it, no one else could. I was devastated. My chance to be Peter was suddenly snatched out from under me.

And as the years past, and I grew older and dumpier, I knew that the chance was gone forever. But as they say, when one door closes, another door opens. I gave up the dream of the stage (and anyway, unlike Rachel Berry, I didn't have a plan past college. I didn't have the slightest idea how to proceed.) But I did see a future elsewhere; in all those posters and programs I was designing for plays over the years. I realized I had other talents and changed my major to art and left with an art degree and became a graphic artist in Los Angeles for the next fifteen years. It was somewhat later that I switched careers yet again to that of a novelist.

But I never forgot the career that could have been. And whenever I see a poster for Peter Pan--Cathy Rigby is performing it again here, where I live--I think of that lost chance to fly, that may or may not have amounted to anything at all. I don't think there is room today in Barrie's play for an overweight Jewish mother, flying around over the stage, chasing after Peter, telling him to wear a sweater because it sometimes gets cold in Neverland.

That just wasn't going to fly.


lil Gluckstern said...

I'm sorry for your disappointment, but you always make me smile.

Jeri Westerson said...

I fly in different ways now. :)

Sheila Connolly said...

My mother took me to see the original production (I think I was four), and of course I came home much impressed with the flying part. So impressed that I wanted to spread the word to my friends and encourage them to fly, which is why my mother discovered a group of us standing on the edge of the shed roof in the back yard. It's important to note that I was the director--I didn't try it myself.

But I can still sing all the songs!

Julia Buckley said...

"older and dumpier," haha. I have the same reality.

But nothing should stand between you and your desire to fly. Never say never. Maybe you could work it into your next book tour. :)

Jeri Westerson said...

I like that, Julia. Swinging a sword *and* flying? That's an event worth going to.

Kath said...

I am so sorry you lost your opportunity to be Peter Pan. But selfishly, I am so glad that you Fly with your pen. What a gift you give to even more people forever.
Thank you.

Jeri Westerson said...

And thank you, Kath, for that sweet assessment.