To be, or not to be…
That was the question I asked myself as I decided who I would become as I made the transition from the hellacious world of middle school into high school. I was painfully shy, with only a handful of friends (other freaks and geeks), but smart. If you had seen me back then…actually, you wouldn’t have seen me. I was invisible, silent, never raising a hand even when I knew the answer, my nose hidden in a book as I waited for the late bell to ring. It was safer to be invisible, ignored by the poisonous vipers who roamed my school hallways looking for their next victim.
I decided a new school could equal a new life. I desperately wanted to shed my shyness like a husk of dried up scales and break out into high school flashing my new skin, shiny, beautiful, and effervescent. I talked myself into signing up for drama. I decided TO BE.
Of course, I doubted my rash act of bravery once I had my first significant drama piece in hand waiting to be memorized: Hamlet’s tormented To Be or Not To Be soliloquy. No need to start with the easy stuff, right?
Shakespeare and I had met just a few months before and he was rocking my 14-year-old world. It was challenging yet it was more beautiful than any written words I could ever have imagined. Even saying the name Shakespeare sounded like a lovely breeze sighing through my lips. I had a bit of a crush on Old Will.
I can picture myself lying on my childhood bed, the ceiling fan spinning lazily above me, the blue flowered curtains gently blowing in the humid afternoon breeze as I drilled those 276 words of Elizabethan English into my poor brain. With Webster’s Dictionary at my side I struggled to not only know the words, but to understand them, to feel them flow through my veins as if I was the tormented soul struggling to comprehend why we keep going through this often wretched life. It was rather apropos. It took several nights of fierce concentration, the phone ringer off, my current novel left untouched on the nightstand, to embed the piece into my soul.
The day of the performance I was a wreck. My palms sweat, my legs barely held me up in the hallways between classes, my knees bounced and knocked against my desk. I thought I would throw up for sure as the drama teacher called my name. It took the deepest breath I had gasped since the day I was born and slinked up to the make-shift stage. And I opened my mouth…
The classroom was filled with words, beautiful, powerful, and passionate flowing through the air. I didn’t just speak them, I lived them. They came out without thought or force but with a practiced cadence, clear and pure.
The piece was over before I knew it. The class erupted in applause. A scarlet blush flooded my cheeks as the adrenalin coursed through my veins. I had done it. And I had done it exceptionally well.
Two days later the drama teacher pulled me aside after class. One of the leads in the school play had dropped out–would I like the part? I said yes: to the play, to the part, and to a new chapter in my life. I was an actress.
To this day I can recite every word of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy by heart, although now it is just a cool party trick. Thanks Will, for everything…
Be all my sins remember’d.
This post was written in response to a writing prompt from The Red Dress Club: By Heart.