Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 3: Concerts

As played by Dorothy C.
When I was a child I wanted to be a stage actress. As I was but rarely taken to the theater, I knew nothing about contemporary stage actresses. Everything I knew about the theatre came from children's books written before 1950. Thus, it is safe to say that I unknowingly wanted to be a stage actress in the nineteenth century.

My mother, who knew more about nineteenth century actresses than I did, tried to discourage this ambition by invoking the "Evils of the Theatre." I was confused, as none of my primary sources, Little Women, Jo's Boys, and Anne of Ingleside, mentioned these evils or found anything wrong with theatrical ambition.

There were three important stages in my childhood, all of them proscenium. The first was the stage in the gymnasium of my elementary school. The second was the stage in the church basement. The third belonged to Toronto's venerable Massey Hall. All three featured the Christmas concerts that were a traditional part of Toronto life. 

From fourth grade or so, I was in my school choir, and so I appeared at the school Christmas concert, which was given twice: once in the day for the delectation of the whole school, and once at night for the parents. However, I found this paled in glamour beside the glory of the School Play, which was usually performed by children in Grade 8. I terribly, terribly, terribly wanted to appear in the Grade 8 play, and so from the age of 9 or 10 set out to charm the Grade 8 teacher. 

In hindsight it is odd that a child destined to become THE social pariah of her classroom was so popular with teachers, but perhaps it was this popularity with teachers that led to my disgrace. At any rate, both my Grade 1 teacher (who became my Grade 6 teacher) and the Grade 8 teacher adored me; and the Grade 8 teacher (who married a friend's widowed mother) remembers my 10 year old self fondly to this day. Apparently I was a little ray of strawberry blonde sunshine who confidently took Miss M or Mr B by the hand when they were on yard duty and prattled with one or the other gaily about my theatrical ambitions. 

Mr B fell a victim to my charm and cast me in the Grade 8 Christmas play as the Christ Child.  As I was a girl, this confused my classmates and possibly everyone else  unfamiliar with iconography of the Christ Child as a feminine-looking child with long strawberry-blond hair.   

I hope the priests didn't mind. I think of them because the parish church was just around the corner from the school, and strict Father Robinson had famously walked out of the day performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which meant the evening performance was cancelled. Come to think of it, Mother Angelica of EWTN would have been horrified by my being cast as the Christ Child, but it was 1981 or so and, being in Alabama, she was blissfully unaware of our existence. 

My next performance was, I believe, as Amahl's Mother in a non-musical production of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Sadly, I did not write about this. Instead I have the faintest memory of the Senior Youth Group borrowing my infant sister Quinta to play Baby Jesus in the parish Christmas concert that year. Thus both Quinta and I have both played the part of our Lord and Saviour, although possibly Mother Angelica would not have minded Quinta as much. 

But I do have a full description of my bravura performance as King Saul in the choir's production of "Holy Boy". What follows will probably cause Benedict Ambrose great pain, but we must face the facts of my post-Vatican II liturgical upbringing. The choir master, a dear good man, was to blame.

The choir master, or our singing teacher, was a graduate of my brothers' cathedral choir school, which was founded in the 1930s. Although the school somehow kept the pre-Vatican II musical traditions alive--and thus the Cathedral had the best music in the Archdiocese--they also kept up to date on the latest trends. At least, I assume so. Our choir master certainly did. There was a rather dashing African (or "African") Lord's Prayer he taught us, and naturally we sang "Day by Day" and "Pre-ee-ee-pare YE the WAY of the LORD" too. Thus, it is not at all surprising that we performed Holy Boy, although I admit it is probably strange that I played King Saul.  

Here in the junior drag king's words is an account of the performance:

Being the king of Israel is hard work. Yes! As I hinted darkly last Thursday, I was chose to be the ill-fated King Saul for the choir's musical "Holy Boy". The actors didn't sing when acting--only the choir. Several practices were sweated through underneath the voice of Mrs. K. The little kid playing David was a rather stupid third grader named Michael H, who is the youngest in the choir because he does some grade four work. He also sings out of tune. During our two performances, 1. for the school (dress rehearsal), and 2 for the concert last night, he forgot one crucial scene:

And when David spared him his life with a grin/
He gave up the title and David was King (2x)

I was supposed to be collapsed in my chair when David with Danny's (who played Goliath) fake Bowie knife, creeps up on me (King Saul) and, with a grin (oh boy) throws it away. Then King Saul gets up and sadly places the crown on David's head who then grins like a ninny.

During the public dress rehearsal, David forgot to creep up. You see, I had done my scorn of the Lord (Neil, Grade 5), my defiance of Samuel (Michael McR), had done my madman pacing and temper tantrums, been calmed by my dear daughter (Nicole P) and by David's invisible harp, and the choir's song "The Lord is my Shepherd", paced again, silently watched Goliath get "killed" by David's trusty sling-shot (made in Taiwan) and had silently plotted David's death and this was to be my last scene. This is what happened to me.

"King Saul was flaming. King Saul was waning," sings choir.

I sink into my "throne", eyes covered.

"All his plans seemed to go quite astray/David was winning more battles each day" continues choir.

Okay, I think, he should be right in front of me now.

"And when David spared him his life with a grin..."

I open my eyes.  Where is he? He was staring, [still] in the choir, at [the choir master]. Aaugh! Quickly I save the day. 

"He gave up the title and--"

I walk across the floor and sadly and slowly place the crown on David's head.

"----Davide was kinnng! David was---KINNNG!"

David beamed affably. 

On the night of the concert, I see, I caused pandemonium by arriving at school wearing a beard and moustache painted on with my mother's ancient pot of eyeliner. The howling and screaming, which swept through the halls, brought the Grade 8 teacher out of her classroom to shout for silence.

Then she saw me. She stopped. Then she gathered herself together and ushered [the Grade 8 actors] into the classroom. 

There follows a long description of my interactions with the Lord (as played by Neil M). Apparently I copied my performance from that of Tim Pigott-Smith as Ronald Merrick in the Jewel in the Crown.
Potential BNP Candidate for Edinburgh South
David (as played by the dim-witted Michael H) forgot the coronation scene again. When David died and was replaced by Isaiah (played by Danny K), I hissed "You idiot!" 

When the concert was over, I pushed through the crowds in the direction of the washroom (as we called it) to scrub the beard off my face with the soap I had had the foresight to bring. The next day I was accosted by two Grade 5s in the nearby shopping mall, who told me that I was a bad king. I agreed.

"Why didja want to be a bad king? Why are YOU a king?"

"I'ts a dirty job but someone's got to do it," I intoned and walked on grinning. 

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