When I hand-picked Scotty to be my lighting assistant, my intent was not to kill. Originally, he wasn’t supposed to be running the board at all. Originally, he would have been my errand boy, my cue keeper, my clipboard peon. He was, after all, a freshman, and I think it goes without saying that you can’t trust a freshman with a junior’s job. Since I did lights for Our Town—and by the way please can we agree as an entire high school drama community to never ever do that play again?—it seemed like a good time to pass on some of my knowledge and experience. And also I didn’t want to do the lights, I deeply and completely did not want to do them. What I wanted was to be onstage, but since that didn’t happen I hoped that while Scotty took care of things I could spend a little more time with the actors and soak up some of their actory personalities because I really think sometimes the reason you don’t cast me comes down to that: you don’t see me as one of them. Even if I completely nailed an audition you would still see me as a backstage kind of a personality.
It’s okay, I know I’m not like them. And since I’m not like them but I’m here anyway, I must be like a techie, right? Wrong! Ever since I checked my first YES box, I’ve been stuck in this limbo between techie and performer. Unlike the techies, I do not own seventeen different black T-shirts. I do not spend my weekends scouring yard sales for the perfect Agatha Christie ashtray or Oscar Wilde table lamp. I have never slept with a penlight around my neck. I do not know how to make iced tea look like single malt scotch. At the same time I know I’ll never be one of those sparkling, chosen, beautiful oddballs that have The Second I Turn Eighteen I’m Moving to New York written all over them. I think too hard before I talk. I haven’t considered how I look from all angles. I can’t break into songs from Spring Awakening at the drop of a wool stocking. I have never dared to wear an item of clothing that strays from my jeans-and-cardigan comfort zone. It would never occur to me to wear a sequined tube top over a long-sleeved T-shirt and paired with a boho skirt. This is another reason I don’t understand the attention-whore comment in Adam’s yearbook. Maybe Candace wrote it.
What I’m saying is I know you don’t know what to do with me. I understand. Which is why I put Scotty on the board and tried to spend a little more time with the Chosen, because I thought if I want to be an actor so bad maybe I could at least try to act like an actor acts when she’s not acting. Fake it ’til you make it, as my brother says. I think he learned that in AA. Because most people do not look at Rachel Banks and think: Drama Nerd. Most people do not look at Rachel Banks and remember that Rachel Banks is her name, or even think she, I, could be friends with someone like Adam. Or that someone like Adam could care about me. And I’m not saying Adam, I’m saying someone like Adam. Someone who is having a hard time knowing where I fit in his life, the way you are having a hard time knowing where I fit in into the play. What do we do with the plain girl in the cardigan? you are thinking. One of these kids is not like the others, and why are we still letting her talk when she has gone way over the time limit? The funny thing is I thought drama would be a place where being not like the others was okay, but it turns out you have to be not like the others in a way that is exactly like the others who are not like the others.
This is why I’m not doing that stupid piece from Butterflies Are Free for my audition and instead am trying to tell you who I am because let me assure you, I will never be one of them. Not in the way you expect me to. For one thing I don’t have that thing, that instinct that tells me about vintage tube tops and asymmetrical hair. But I know that doesn’t matter, that someday some director, some boy, some anybody, will like me plain and in my cardigan and not be blind to me just because I’m not aggressively DIFFERENT and not worry what his friends will think if they know how he feels about me and not leave me hanging while he decides will I/won’t I/do I/don’t I for a year and a half.
If I do this, if I leave this school and go on to study theater or go on auditions out in the real world and start getting parts, it’s not going to be because I am oh so delightfully quirky and wear unmatched shoes and tiaras around town. It’s going to be because I love it, and because I have paid my dues and been willing to check that YES box every time if only so that I can watch and learn and get out of here and finally become the real Rachel who will then go out and claim the parts that are out there waiting for me.
I will tell you what I have that the rest of these girls do not. Not Candace. Not even Julie-Ann. Passion. Passion deep down that is not just a passion for attention or a passion for being able to decide who gets to sit at the drama table in the cafeteria or a passion for cast parties. Do you know I’ve memorized every play we’ve done since I got to this school? I’m not talking about the parts I wanted. I mean the whole play. Every day I make Adam give me a cue from one of the index cards I’ve made. I don’t even know what play it’s from before he says it, but he gives me a cue and I know the next line. I just know it. You can test me, if you want, when we’re done here.
Some might say I shirked my responsibilities by putting Scotty on the board at what you might call the last minute. But you’re so wrapped up with what’s going on onstage and you always talk about empowerment and ownership and I figured since you don’t remember my name you wouldn’t really care if it were me or Scotty or the Queen of Sheba actually running the board, while the other one of us stayed backstage on the headset. So I planned it for weeks without telling you, and showed Scotty what to do.
And I did give him the talk. You know the one.
Don’t let anyone into the booth who doesn’t belong there. Keep the booth clean. Light your own area carefully so there’s no bleed. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Above all, do not enjoy a beverage anywhere near the board because you will get electrocuted and die. Until now, that part has been pretty much an urban legend. A scare tactic. The only way we’d die if we drank up there was if we spilled and ruined a piece of seven-thousand-dollar equipment, because you would personally kill us.
We never thought about other means of electrocution. Like spring storms and leaky roofs and the heretofore-unnoticed faulty wire on the board mixed with a freshman with a no-shoes habit and who really wasn’t so skilled at multitasking let alone remembering your basic laws of electrothermal dynamics. I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I don’t have any real responsibility for Scotty’s death, that it was a freak accident. But I can’t help but think if it had been me up there things would have gone differently. I mean, I would have known that my bare feet in a puddle of water under a mass of power cords wasn’t the best scenario. He seemed pretty capable, though, for a freshman. So instead, I took my place and stood in the wings, on the headset, probably looking like I was engaged in heavy duty communication with the booth, talking some techie jargon, when in reality my lips were moving to every line of every character in that play, something stirring deep in the pit of my heart the way it does every time the house lights go down and the stage lights come up and I want to be one of them—not for the attention but to be transported and remade and to say all the right things for a change, inside a life that has a script where you always know who you are and what’s coming next.
And I also can’t help but think Scotty’s death was a sign, someone up there telling me:
Stop checking the YES box.
Stop being willing to stay behind the scenes when what you want is to be in the scenes.
Stop putting up with a boy’s cowardly self, no matter how great he seems behind closed doors when no one is watching, because if he won’t cast you in the part then you need to find a new play.
I’ve only got one more year and I’ve proved my dedication.
The fact that I’m even here auditioning after what happened and the role I played in it just proves that I know the basic truth of plays and of life: that the show must go on. Even when it’s hard to watch the show going on without you.
I’ll take any part, I will, and if it’s Onlooker #8 I will be the best Onlooker #8 this town has ever seen. But if you can’t find a part for me I’m going to walk away. I’m not going to hang around in the shadows anymore. This time you’ll remember my name.
Sara Zarr is the author of two critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Sweethearts and Story of a Girl (a 2007 National Book Award finalist). She has also contributed to the anthologies Does This Book Make Me Look Fat?: Stories about Loving—and Loathing—Your Body, and Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical.
Sara exploded onto the theatrical scene in the role of a greedy bad girl in Linda Mar Elementary’s original production, Three for the Money. She continued her career through high school as a passenger in Anything Goes, Theodosia in Bone-Chiller!, and Mollie in The Mousetrap. As an adult, she’s appeared in Alice in Wonderland; Oliver!; A Christmas Carol; Look Homeward, Angel; and Judevine, and was a penlight—wearing stage crew member for many other shows. She met her husband while working backstage on a production of Pinocchio. Being married to him has been her favorite role to date.
Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Hope Larson.
THE STARS AT THE FINISH LINE
by wendy mass
2,563 DAYS AGO…
Three more kids until my turn, and I had no idea what I was going to say.
“Fireman!” Jimmy Anderson shouted.
The class laughed. Jimmy had nearly burned down the school last year lighting leaves with a magnifying glass.
“Race car driver!” announced Rick Atterly from two seats in front of me.
The class laughed again. Rick’s dad owned the biggest tractor store in town. No wonder Rick wants to go faster than five miles an hour.
When it was Tabitha Bell’s turn to respond, we all waited expectantly. No one knew anything about her except that she was smart. Really smart, like scary smart, and she had a funny name that I secretly repeated to myself when I couldn’t fall asleep at night (Tabitha Bell…Tabitha Bell). She walked into our fourth grade class two months ago, and suddenly I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class anymore. For instance, I knew that Athena was Zeus’s daughter, but Tabitha knew that Athena had sprung, fully grown, from the top of Zeus’s head. I knew the temperature at which water boiled, and she knew the temperature at which atoms got so cold they stopped moving. We were all waiting to hear what someone who could be anything in the world would choose as a career.