There comes a time in every young actress's life that you realize that maybe your current path might not be your long-term goal. Mine happened in Act one of the musical South Pacific as I battled the apple box that would be my undoing.
I have always been a dancer. I studied ballet from a fairly young age and while I was lanky and probably too awkward and unfocused to ever merit any real potential, I have always loved to dance. From forcing my sister to do choreographed routines to the Rocky soundtrack to writhing on the floor doing 'interpretive dance,' I have always had a mind towards movement.
Fast forward a decade. I'm now in college, a junior. After losing out on the favored role of Nellie Forbush, the Little Rock native navigating the ins and outs of an interracial relationship in the midst of WWII, I was cast as one of her singing nurse cronies. If you're familiar with the musical, this gaggle of female stereotypes is basically one kick line away from a Rockettes gig. There's not a lot of emotional depth and little in the character to distinguish yourself. At least, that's what I thought.
During the number, "There is Nothing Like Dame," our chorus line of nubile nurses was supposed to run through the scene, distracting the earnest sailors singing of their loneliness. The stage was scattered with what theater folk call apple boxes, or crates that are painted to resemble actual set pieces. (Side note: to show how much attention to detail there wasn't, all the apple boxes were painted with the phrase 'US Army,' even though it was clearly a Navy unit.) We lined up in the wings, ready to trot across the stage, giggling and flirting with the men that were forbidden to us.
We awaited our cue, thinking that this would be just another eye candy scene, over and done with in three minutes. I was the last girl out of the wings and I took off with gusto. Our direction was, "skip or jog through the scene, waving and flirting in time to the music."
Friends, I've apparently never taken a direction so closely to heart. I'm out there, waving, giggling, flirty my little culotted butt off and as I'm jogging backwards to wave at a sailor, it occurs to me that I might be running out of stage. As I turn around, an apple box jumps (I swear it wasn't there a second before and this clearly couldn't have been my fault) in front of me.
I crumple like a dampened tissue over the box. My entire body makes contact, forming a human tablecloth over the set piece. I stopped. The sailors stopped. I swear that the music stopped like a scene from a sitcom, complete with scratching record sound. Looking back, I actually hit it so hard that a piece of the box flew off and across the stage. But, like the true professional that I was, I jumped back up and kept waving and played it off as if it was a part of the show. As I trotted/limped off stage, I could hear laughter reverberating through the audience.
As an audience member, you can never grasp the amount of activity that is going on backstage. There is a hive of people that make any theatrical performance work and at that moment, all of them were focused on seeing if I was okay. I was, sort of. I was bruised, my ego battered and my hipbones, which had come most directly in contact with the box, were skinned. But I was okay. However, when the director, after being assured that I wasn't seriously injured, asked if I could do the fall in five more shows, I declined.
Talent and willingness are two very different things. I will always be willing to dance. What I learned in South Pacific is that maybe I shouldn't, at least not without a floor cleared 20 feet in all directions. But as they say, the show must go on!