The 1989 Production of WTWTA

Did I ever tell you guys the story of when I was in a stage production of Where the Wild Things Are? That’s how I know it will be a good movie, because it was so brilliant on stage. My Broadway (St. Paul the Apostle auditorium) debut:

The audience that night was brutal, waiting in their seats with their brand new video cameras sitting heavily on their shoulders (this was the ’80s after all). If one looked out, it looked like a hundred news crews were there to catch the show. It was a one-night-only performance and the crowd was out for blood; they had heard we had been distracted during rehearsals, and that the lead had thrown a tantrum on the eve of opening night. They hadn’t paid for their tickets, but they would certainly ask for their money back if they were disappointed.

So there I was, in the kindergarten classroom, getting ready for my performance. I looked at myself in the full-length mirror in front of the bathroom (kindergarten classrooms have bathrooms, don’t forget), and I said, “You can do this.” I knocked over the play-doh containers as I jumped onto the table to sit and concentrate—get into character. I was a little shaky as I practiced my lines, over and over again. That’s when my mom reminded me, “You have no lines. You’re a tree.” But I didn’t listen. This was my moment and no one was going to take it away from me.

Granted, my best friend, Meaghan, had gotten the lead female role of Max’s mother, the role we had all vied for. (I had raised my hand the highest when Mrs. Oeser had said, “And who wants to be Max’s mother?” but the stage is about politics. I think we all know that.) Meaghan only got it because she had the biggest mouth. If she tries to tell you it was because she was a trained and qualified actress, then know that she is lying. I even overheard Mrs. Oeser saying, “Just make sure they can hear you from the back row.” Oh, they heard her, yes. But were they moved to tears in the last scene when Max and his mother embrace? Certainly not.

I continued to practice quietly in the corner as my mom covered my pink sweatsuit with a brown garbage bag. She struggled to attach the green-streamer leaves as I sighed loudly. Our eyes connected and she saw that this was important; we had to get those streamers right because I was going to be the best fucking tree out there. From backstage, I watched as Meaghan shouted her way through the first act. She exited, spotting me as I stood with the rest of the forest, waiting to go on. She took a streamer in her hand and watched it as it fell from her fingertips. “How lovely.”

I ignored her, and we took our spots onstage. The heavy velvet curtains caught on Anthony, and I thought for a moment it was all over. But he prevented the disaster and returned to his position with dignity, like any true professional. The multi-colored lights from above (much more practical for our Christmas concert) sat upon our faces, and we began to sway slightly, as a tree living in a wild land that is slowly taking over a bedroom would. I was lost in the scene until I saw Mrs. Oeser standing below the stage, in the view of all the audience, directing us how to sway. She was making fools out of us! What kind of actors don’t know how to sway? It’s Acting 101. But I ignored her, keeping my face unmoving, and stepped forward. This was my moment to steal the show.