Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fancy Nancy & Fancy Tea Sandwiches

"My family is posh! That's a fancy word for fancy."
- Fancy Nancy

I've been acting my whole life. I have a degree in theatre. I've played roles in plays by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, and Jean-Claude van Itallie. I've even won a few awards (the keyword there is "few"). 

Now, saying all that, I would like to confess, here on my knee before high heaven and you, that playing Fancy Nancy today at the bookstore where I work was probably the most challenging thing I've ever had to do.

I, the wee little actress herself, found myself in the back room, wearing a feather boa, a tiara, and fairy wings, shaking in my sparkly high heel shoes.

Then, I heard the dreaded words (it wasn't difficult - 14 little girls shouting at the same time is surprisingly loud) "FANCY NANCY, COME OUT AND PLAY!!!!"


I ran out in my little high heels. "Bonjour! Bonjour!" 28 eyes widened and fixed themselves on me. 

Me: Can anyone tell me what "Bonjour" means?

Little Girl: My favorite color is pink, purple, red, blue, yellow, and turquoise.

Me: Really? Well... um... Ooh, la la! What's your name?

Little Girl 2: (shoves handful of popcorn in her mouth)

Me: Oh... emmm... let's read a story!

It was at this point that I realized that my hands were shaking.

"Why? whywhywhywhywhy?" I thought. I've done this about a billion times. I have a degree. Did I mention that I have a degree? Let me say that again - I have a degree. In theatre.

Then, as I started to read the story, and the room fell silent, and the cameras started flashing, I realized it - I was terrified of disappointing those little girls. 

I remember the awe that I experienced as a child when I fell in love with my first storybook characters. They were my heroes, the foundation for who I would want to become later. What would it have been like to discover that Jo March was just too overbearing? Or that Anne Shirley was a little too clingy? To discover that they were... human? I think that I would've been a little disappointed, to tell you the truth. 

But that's the beautiful thing about reading, isn't it? Our minds are so powerful, so beautifully made, that this world that a book creates inside of our heads can never be duplicated. Real life will never be as good - maybe good in different ways, but not in the exact way that you imagine. My Anne Shirley will be different from your Anne Shirley, and there are INFINITE Anne Shirleys flying around out there in the minds of little girls. No two will be the same.

So THAT was why the pressure was there! How could MY performance, regardless of my credentials, live up to the hopes and the dreams of a room full of girls with huge imaginations and even more admiration? 

Amazingly - miraculously, even - I didn't have to worry about that. The second I walked through the door, the girls loved me and I could feel it. When I finished reading the story and asked them if they wanted to have their nails polished, they all rushed towards me in a mighty frenzy, fingers outstretched, hugging me and grabbing at my necklaces. 

Little Girl Three: I have a cat!

Me: Really? I have two cats!

Little Girl Three: Me too!

Little Girl Four: Thank you for letting me come to your party, Nancy.

Little Girl Five: This is my invisible dinosaur. He has a purple polk a dot body, a pink face, and a blue tail.

I had nothing to worry about. Children's imagination muscles are so strong that they are constantly living in "suspension of disbelief" mode - the mode that we work so heard to create in the theatre business. All I had to do was be there and listen, and their imaginations did the work. 

The day ended with me sitting on the floor eating invisible spaghetti that one of the girls made for me (with sugar, vegetable soup, mustard, and ketchup on top). Then we danced and twirled, hugged, shed a few tears, and said goodbye. 

This is why I act. This is why I read. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." There is so much more to this world than what we can see with our eyes. 

I think kids are really the ones who have it all figured out.

Hey! Look at these!

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