The Dancing Clowns.

The Dancing Clowns.

When I first began writing, I thought I possessed exceptional talent. For that reason, although I cannot remember one single detail about it, I still firmly believe that the two-act play I wrote in the summer of 1986 was absolutely brilliant. And it is for that reason that now, nearly 30 years later, I still get furious over what happened to it.

The Dancing Clowns, A Play in Two Acts, centered around, presumably, clowns who danced. Something happened, there was an intermission, and then something else happened. The details aren’t really important here. I can tell you that I really worked hard to make the dialogue authentic, bring out evocative feelings, and to really make the audience identify with the clowns. I must have, because it was brilliant, remember?

I auditioned members from my newly formed Community Theatre Program (kids from the neighborhood) and cast each in a role that I felt best suited to their talents (gave the bigger parts to the kids I liked most). As writer and director, I had a vision for this production that I communicated clearly and effectively during each rehearsal. Because I was working with a pack of amateurs, I’d go home each night frustrated and concerned. Still, because of my passion for the craft, I carried on.

I sold tickets and used the proceeds to buy popcorn and iced tea mix. It was hard to convince my friends to buy these tickets because, as well as being cash poor, they also were in the show and didn’t know why I was insisting they pay to sit in the audience. I tried to explain about the popcorn and iced tea and even I can admit that in hindsight this may not have been the best approach. But some other kids who were not in the production bought tickets. None of the parents were interested in this which I found mildly disappointing. Even so, we were sold out in no time, due in no small part to the fact that I only had about six lawn chairs.

One week before the show, a terrible thing happened: I came down with chicken pox. Rehearsals shut down on account of the fact that my mom wouldn’t let me go outside and the moms of my friends wouldn’t let their kids near me lest they also contract the pox. Without quality time with my actors, I was fearful they would forget their lines or just lose interest in the project. And because tickets were printed with the date of the show, there was no way to postpone.

As my mother applied calamine lotion to my blistering skin, I complained about the terrible timing. As she drew me a bath with oatmeal, I lamented the difficulties of being homebound. I was miserable, and not just because having the pox in August when you don’t have air conditioning and it’s sweltering out is awful. I was watching my summer-long dream of becoming a playwright go up in smoke. I begged to be allowed to go outside and direct my production. I pleaded with my mother to believe, as I did, that I was no longer sick.

“Fresh air will do me good!” I said.

“No.” She said.

When the day of the show arrived, I managed to convince my mother to let me stand by the back window, the one in our porch-turned-pantry, so I could see the yard. It was sort of like being back stage since the actors were using the patio in front of the window as the main stage. I figured I could whisper cues and directions from there.

The show went on (as it clearly must have) to an underwhelming response. In an effort to liven up the crowd, the main clowns, including my very own understudy (did I forget to mention I gave myself the lead?), went rogue. They took the popcorn I had painstakingly decorated with food coloring (Rainbow Corn – another failed entrepreneurial endeavor of my childhood), and began throwing it at one another. The audience got involved and soon it was just clowns and civilians running wild, throwing my ticket-sale profits all over my backyard. When everyone got tired and the Rainbow Corn supply was exhausted, they all went home, patting themselves on the back for their spectacular performance.

It was at this time that my mother decided that fresh air would do me some good. I was sent outside to clean up the chairs and the popcorn and the rest of the mess the clowns had made.

As I cleaned, I cried. My mother said it was because I was still sick and overly emotional. My brother said I was just jealous of the other kids having fun without me. But I knew it was because I felt invalidated and insignificant.

I ripped up the original script for The Dancing Clowns, A Play in Two Acts. It’s a shame, too, because I’m still certain it was brilliant. I’d love to say I learned a valuable lesson that day about holding my ground and standing up for my ideas but that took a lot longer than learning not to cut off my nose to spite my face.


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8 Responses to “The Dancing Clowns.”

  1. Stacie says:

    This is funny and sweet and sarcastic all in one and I just love it!

  2. I can imagine the frustration you must have felt watching the show and not being able to do anything about it.

  3. katydidknot says:

    I liked this a lot.

    It’s probably good that you don’t have a copy of the play.

    I don’t have copies of my early stuff, either. If that stuff was half as brilliant as I remember it, I was just about the bestw riter in history.

    No one is convincing me otherwise.

  4. Cyn K says:

    I’m glad I scrolled down so I couldn’t see that creepy clown photo because I would have hated to miss reading this. I love your funny, honest recollection of the selfish things we do as kids.

  5. PryvateLisa says:

    We could be sisters. At the very least BFFs. I was the SAME way as a kid, and I haven’t changed much. I’m a theatre teacher, so I get to criticize amateurs for a living! Great post. So relatable.

  6. Dana (me) says:

    Of course it was brilliant. And I wish I could have been a supporting actress in the show. At the very least, I probably would have pretended to help clean up the mess. <3

  7. colbyers says:

    Ugh, I feel like this connects me so well with so many childhood dreams. Fantastically written and very relateable.

  8. I love how this has equal parts comedy and tragedy. The adult me is sympathising with you while the kid me is laughing at the clowns 😀

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