Today I was working in a primary school on a musical they're putting on with the year 6 and 7's. The costumes had been decided and prototypes made for each role. The point of today's rehearsal was to have the students try them on and find their sizes etc. Watching the teens and pre teens around me struggling with their self confidence and body images took me back to my school days and my first musical experience.
I was incredibly self conscious at school. I wasn't stick thin like the others, I hit puberty before anyone else and I had life experiences that other 12 and 13 year olds couldn't always relate to. Bizarrely enough, drama and music were my escapes. Stepping out on stage was (and still is) like stepping in to another world. What you say and do, how you feel, how others feel about you, is all suddenly OK because it's NOT YOU. You're given permission to feel. And music! Music really is a universal language.
So when my school decided to put on a musical - I wanted in. I auditioned, along with the rest of the school, and I was devastated, along with the rest of the school, when the roles were announced. Playing the lead: 'Principle's daughter'. The four supporting roles: 'Teacher's daughter', 'Son of Parent Committee President', 'Daughter of Dad who's business had donated 20 computers', and 'Kid who didn't even audition but who's parents blackmailed the deputy'.
The rest of us were either 'flowers', 'waiters', or 'wanderers'. I was a flower. Yipee.
Better than nothing, right?
Well, it was until I got the costume. We had big foam flower heads in varying colours of puce. That was the best bit. We were then given fluorescent green, nylon, body suits. "Now off to get changed girls, (added in hushed whisper) and you can't wear underwear under these, either." I honestly thought I was going to die. I know that sounds melodramatic, but imagine for a moment, being the only 13 year old in a group of 40, with breasts and pubic hair. I looked around at the green stalks that were my peers and I was terrified. (It is only now, in my wisened state, that I find the connection between the flower stalks this costume was supposed to represent, and the stalk like figures it were designed for ironically appropriate and amusing.) I picked the largest size there was and locked myself in the toilet. Pulling it on, I became acutely aware of the 10 kilos I had over other flowers. I felt fat, ugly and horrible. I vowed never to eat again.
Being the creative genius that I was, I made up an elaborate story about my mother's, cousins, ex sister in law's grandfather, who was desperately ill and needed someone to spoon feed him. He's absolutely relying on me for his very survival - So I couldn't possibly commit to rehearsals after school and risk him starving to death in my absence. At least, that's how far I was prepared to go to escape this nightmare as I left the toilet, holding the green monster at arms length and trying not to vomit. Actually, I think I just mumbled something about feeling sick and ran home, never to wear green again.
And that was the end of my primary school musical experience.

So this is what was running through my head when the teachers presented the new costumes to myself and the students for the first time. Mostly, they were relatively tasteful and non confrontational. Except for the pixies. (The 'pixies', I had been told earlier, was a role created for the sole purpose of putting the "no hopers" somewhere - because everyone who auditioned was promised a role. Most of the kids knew this, so there were already self esteem and confidence issues in play.) The pixies were presented/assaulted with red lycra tights and a matching red lycra crop top (what is it with lycra and bad costumes?!), and a green mesh, completely see through, vest kind of disaster to complete 'the look'.
Remembering my own nightmarish experience and seeing that terror reflected on the kids faces, I felt like I needed to do something - to protect these young people. Only problem was, I had only been at the school for a few weeks, I didn't know any of the teachers very well, didn't have any political swing to speak of, nor do I have much talent in the delicate area of diplomacy. What could I possibly say to improve the situation and maintain my professionalism and personal distance?
It went something like this... "There is NO WAY in HELL you are going to force these defenseless, impressionable, pre-adolescent girls into these disgusting, inappropriate, DEMONIC creations! They look like hookers outfits, for God's sake!" (Did I mention it's a Catholic school?)
OK, so I failed on the diplomacy, professionalism and personal distance points, but at least the demonic creations were torn up.
Along with my contract.

Do I care?
About the contract - Not in the slightest.
Would I do it again?


jeanie said...

Wow - kudos to you woman!!! I am applauding you from the recesses of my own 13 year old experiences - from another woman who loves what being on a stage can do for your self-esteem.

Lin said...

Ditto! And if they didn't see how wrong those costumes were, subtle diplomacy would most likely not have worked on them either.

Well done, but am sorry about your contract.

N said...

Yeeees.... mine was a hula girl outfit... bikini top and grass skirt, which happened to fall down on stage (and I was no string bean either)! Thank goodness for brave people like you to stand up for our kids!!