To Thine Own Self Be True — SHORT STORY
Written for and Performed during Funny Women Festival at Sonny’s Hideaway — 3 December 2016
Someone once said: “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” When I look at life, I like to see it as a long road trip. As it goes with road trips, you never know when you’ll hit a detour. Or run out of gas. Or miss an exit. Or get accused of trying to “make somebody’s kid gay.”
Double, double toil and trouble!
Tis I, the e-vil teaching artist who preys upon young minds with the deadliest weapon in all the land…Shakespeare.
I spent six seasons working with Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, a Shakespeare company based in Topanga Canyon. Theatricum is an institution rooted in humanity, community, and storytelling…and is a fantastic destination for a road trip.
In Fall 2012, I was hired to assistant direct a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with fourth graders at a charter school near LAX. The task at hand on this particular day was staging the mechanicals’ play-within-a-play, the Pyramus and Thisby scene (abridged).
O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
For parting my fair Pyramus and me!
I see a voice: now will I to the chink,
To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face. Thisby!
My love thou art, my love I think.
Think what thou wilt, I am thy lover’s grace; O kiss me through the hole of this vile wall!
I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all.
The 4th graders went wild. I explained the context behind the staging, the “chink” in the wall, and how the actors in the Elizabethan time period would have been all men and boys, that the boys would play the girl parts, and that this scene would have been very funny even 400 years ago.
The next day, I find out that the young boy cast as Bottom, let’s call him Ernesto, was teased all day long about having to kiss another boy in the weird play with the Shakespeare people. OF COURSE, THERE WOULD BE NO KISSING IN OUR STAGED VERSION WHY WOULD I STAGE A KISS WITH 4 GRADERS IN ANY CONTEXT EVER!? That’s where I discovered my mistake. I hadn’t been clear. The kids thought they were going to perform the scene — kiss and all.
“Ernesto” went home and told his father what happened. His father, I gathered, was not pleased with my teaching. Culturally, the families attending this school were hetero and conservative. Boy-boy kissing was not okay. “Gay” was not good.
I found myself in some hot water and was reprimanded by the school’s administration. I left rehearsal that day and sat in my Toyota Tercel and cried. The kind of cry where you feel so small and all you want to do is help the world and teach kids that it’s okay to be who you are and don’t listen to people who put you down, just be you. I bawled. And I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t safe to drive home yet — my tank was on empty — both figuratively and literally. So I called my sister and relayed the whole story.
Her reply? “Thank God he has you.”
Ernesto was pulled from the play, yet required to attend the theatre class time anyway. I asked him if he’d like to be the Props Master. The person in charge of making all of the objects in the play. The scrolls for the mechanicals. The flowers for the fairies. And so on.
He wholeheartedly accepted his role as Props Master. The next day, he arrived…with all of the paper scrolls and satchels for the mechanicals: Peter Quince, Flute, Snout, Starveling, even the newly-cast Bottom.
Ernesto? wanted to be part of the show. A lot. He was bright and creative and curious. I won’t go so far as to assume his sexual orientation at such a young age — or any age for that matter — but I will say this: the power of the arts is real.
I think back to what my sister told me that day: “Thank God he has you.”
My reply? “Thank God for Shakespeare.”
Four hundred years later, his works still teach people.
Be an advocate.
Provide a safe space for others.
Shakespeare is a kick ass navigator for any road trip.
Keep your tank filled,
And to thine own self be true.
Carolyn Marie Wright hails from upstate New York and is currently based in Phoenix where she serves as Theatre Director & English Teacher at Brophy Prep and Artistic Director of Humanity Play Project. Proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, AATE, and Arizona Theatre Company’s Cohort Club.