While reading the Old Testament book of Esther last week with my Bible study group, my mind traveled back many years to an experience I had at the little private Christian school where I attended seventh and eighth grades. That this school was the smallest school in the city would not be in question. Grades one through four met in a small cottage across the playground from the sponsoring church and, in a room at the back of this church, grades five through eight had classes. As I recall, there were eight students in my classroom and one rather rigid teacher.
Skipping the details concerning required theology readings, all day prayer sessions, and campus rules, I’ll go directly to the reason for this post, to tell you about my short-lived career in acting.
Seventh grade came and went with no mention of an event for our parents. But in the spring of my eighth grade year, we were informed that we would be performing a play, and our parents were to be invited. The play had been written by the primary grades teacher, and the entire school would comprise the cast. It was a play based on the story of Esther.
The story of brave Esther saving her people was one of my favorite Bible stories, so to be able to perform in a play about that story should have peaked my interest. It didn’t. I had learned to dread performances. Every year at Christmastime, our church presented a program with recitations by the younger kids and a pageant performed by junior and senior high school students. How special to get up in front of a church full of adults who laughed at our mistakes while we stood, knees knocking, trying to remember our lines!
Upon hearing the news about the play, I immediately started trying to discover the path to non-involvement. Since the play was to be performed on the same night as the mid-week service at our church, I figured I’d get an automatic exemption. Missing mid-week service happened only in cases of dire illness or providing a death certificate. Well, I had only tried the illness excuse, but I always assumed a death certificate would also work. At any rate I was sure mid-week service was my ticket out of the performing arts.
To my dismay, mid-week service was quickly eliminated as an excuse. Miss Rather Rigid was way ahead of the game. She called all parents to get permission for us to participate and, for reasons unclear to me, performing in a play at another church became an acceptable reason for a mid-week skip. My father, the pastor of our church, would not be attending the play. And, although Miss Rather Rigid had no idea, my knowledge that Dad and his high expectations would not be present on performance night did not bode well for her as the director.
With the non-participation option out, my second choice was to snag a non-speaking part. But the cast had been pre-selected. I was Esther. Not only did I have the most speaking parts, but now, after having spent seventh and eighth grades dismissing a certain young fellow by tossing my head and rolling my eyes, I now had to bow down to him.
Rehearsals should have been Miss Rather Rigid’s first clue that the play should be cancelled prior to opening. My close proximity to the “King” meant ad-libs through clenched teeth. HRH pronounced me not pretty enough to be Esther. Esther responded to King Shrimp that he was not tall enough to be a king. All the while, the cast of extras giggled and Miss Rather Rigid made threats, one of those being the aforementioned all day prayer session.
During rehearsals, Esther’s bravery lost standing with the cast as their favorite part of the story. Now we all cheered when Haman was sentenced to hang on his own gallows. Okay, it was the junior high kids who cheered.
On opening night, the cast, dressed in curtains, bathrobes, assorted scarves, and two cardboard crowns, stumbled through a poorly rehearsed performance for the little audience of parents. And when I think back to that play and being cast opposite King Shrimp, I now know how clever Miss Rather Rigid was and how well she knew her class. Following the closing of the one night run of our play, she must have smiled to the heavens and shouted, “Yes!”