My pulse was running too fast and tiny sweat droplets hung on the edges of my makeup. My breath was coming a little quickly, in small gulps, and it seemed the silk kimono I wore was made out of lead. My black wig seemed to constrict as my heart beat the mantra, "You can do it, you can do it" through heavy veins in my temples. It was hot under the lights, but I'm sure my thirteen year old self was reacting to the psychological rather than physical stress.
It was eighth grade, the school musical, and this was the opening performance.
"The Mikado" is a clever, light-hearted operetta that pokes fun at love and hate, peons and authority, ignorance, knowledge, Japan, Britain... and everything in between. The Gilbert-and-Sullivan favorite is set in Japan, where a Lord High Executioner must kill someone within the month, his ward and fiancee Princess Yum Yum falls in love with a trombone player, and said trombone player offers his life for said execution if he can marry said princess for said month---and that's just the first act! It turns out that the trombone player is actually the son of the Mikado (the emperor of Japan), the Lord High Execution does not have the guts to kill anyone, and Princess Yum Yum is a complete flake--and if that isn't exciting enough, let's throw in the acting, dancing and singing!!
A surefire hit, right?
The first performance was an 11 am matinee for the 6th and 7th graders, and we did wonderfully! We did NOT forget the one line about the stuffy death, the Mikado's throne did NOT break into pieces, and the girl-squeamish and 4-foot-nothing trombone player, Nanki-Poo (no lie) did not ACTUALLY throw up when he had to "embrace" me--the dumber than dumb Yum Yum. (I'll never live it down... ).
The audience simply didn't get it. The jokes were too intellectual, the singing was too cryptic, the witticisms were too, well, witty. The meaning, feeling and point were lost. Even though we did our best, we neglected to keep in mind the age, ability, and level of comprehension of our audience--and that was the fatal mistake. I mean, let's face it: any musical with the song, "Tit Willow", that mentions a "dicky bird" should NOT be shown to a bunch of tweens.
That night we had a full house of parents, aged 30 to 60, and my! what a difference. To hear an audience "get it" is truly one of the greatest feelings a bunch of awkward eighth graders can experience. The lines got laughs, the high notes were appreciated, and the feel was definitely, finally, conveyed--from stage to audience and back again.