If I Only Had A Part (A Guest Post By Jessie Stegner)

Hey gang. Jessie Stegner was kind enough to do another guest post for me. For those of you not familiar with Jessie, you make me sick.

Just who do you think you are?

But, I’ll give you some info anyways. Jessie is a very funny lady right here in Chicago who you can find doing improv, sketch, and making decorative canoes. I’m still fact-checking that last one, but I’ll leave it up for now.

If you want more of Jessie:

Jessie and Matt’s Podcast: Check out this week’s guest, Mike Sacks! http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/jessie-and-matts-podcast/id401147975

Jessie’s Blog:  http://jessiestegner.tumblr.com/

Jessie’s Travel Articles: upchicago.com

If I Only Had a Part

By Jessie Stegner

There are certain moments in our lives we will never forget. Events that shape us and make us who we are. Moments that define us as people. For some they may be a big move, the beginning of a relationship, a career change or loss of a loved one. For me, one of those monumental and life altering events was Sierra Madre Elementary School’s sixth grade play of 1997.

The Wiz of L.A. was a comical interpretation of the The Wizard of OZ written by a few of our faculty members. It contained hilarious spoofs on Baum’s classic including the Wizard singing “The Great Pretender,” Glinda the Good Witch doing a tap dance and the Ozians (or L.A. citizens in our version) performing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” led by a kid with a Rastafarian wig (remember, it was the 90’s). The Wiz was a highly anticipated end of the year production and the last big hurrah before graduation. It was a big deal for everyone. And I, certainly, was no exception.

Now let me get one thing straight. Even as an 11 year old, I took acting very seriously. For every school production I had a neatly organized script with post-its to differentiate scenes and perfectly highlighted lines. I attended summer musical theatre camps in which I was always put in the front row of the dances because I sang loudly and with a large smile just as instructed (unless of course it was the finale song like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel, which clearly I made the perfect somber yet hopeful expression). I had past TONY award shows recorded on VHS that I would watch and re-watch to learn choreography and lyrics of the musical segments. This was not just some hopeful kid wishing the auditors would discover a diamond in the rough. There was no rough. This was talent that had been molded. Talent that had been shaped. As far as I was concerned I was going to get a lead because, quite simply, I was the best person they had.

I was convinced that getting a role in this show meant more than what it really did. I thought that by getting a lead, it would prove that I was supposed to be an all time famous actress. That I was going to “make it.” Every professional actor I had met up until this point instilled in me how hard it was, the immense amount of rejection and lack of recognition and what an overall horrible business acting was (looking back I was clearly talking to the wrong actors; jaded ones with bad attitudes that forgot why they began acting in the first place). I knew at a young age that performing was something I wanted to spend my life doing and getting a part in this play meant I was good enough to do so.

Everything seemed to be falling into place. That is, until it was revealed how the show would be cast. Everyone interested in a certain part would sing a section of that character’s song in front of the class. Our teacher would then pick 3 or 4 who were called back for the role. THEN, in an unbelievable turn of events, the class would vote on who should play it. VOTE. Oh yes. A complete juxtaposition of every audition I had ever been a part of. All of a sudden it was no longer about talent or song execution or character interpretation (which, clearly, I had). It was about who was the most popular kid. I was shocked. I was mortified. I was pissed.

I sang for numerous parts and got called back for a few but couldn’t quite clench a role. Dorothy went to Christina who had perfectly straight hair, a miraculous hourglass figure for a pre-teen and a nose I was all too envious of. The Scarecrow went to Kenny, the good looking brunette boy that every girl had a crush on either because of his dreamy brown eyes or the fact that he was the first to have noticeable facial hair. And I’m pretty sure Jessica got the role of the Good Witch because she brought in her own tap shoes for the callback (of course someone tapping in actual tap shoes is going to look better doing it than those of us that didn’t. Sheesh).

It all came down to the Tin Man. Adrian, Kristine and I were the last ones standing. We were asked to sing and do the choreography to the Tin Man’s big number “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof (In our version the Tin Man wanted money instead of a heart. I know, comedy gold, right?). After our respective performances, the three of us were taken outside while the voting took place. As we waited, I can remember knowing my fate was sealed. When we reentered the room Adrian’s name was called. I was crushed. I held it together at the time. Just waiting for school to end so I could go home and cry alone in peace. But before I could leave my teacher called me to his desk. He wanted to give me a pep talk. It was sub par at best. I remember him half-heartedly patting my shoulder and saying something about how there would be lots of little parts with lines I would be up for. He noticed I was avoiding eye contact and said, “You’re not going to cry are you?” Being the person that I am I said, “Yea I probably am.” It seemed as this came as a shock to him, which it shouldn’t have had he seen my trapper keeper full of Dorothy pictures I spent hours downloading from the internet (literally hours, internet was so slow then, remember?) and clearly written out dance steps to the group numbers we had already learned. But he didn’t so that was the best consolation I was going to receive in Bungalow 6 that day.

When I was finally out of his sight I ran to my Dad who was picking me up from school that day. I cried harder than I ever remember crying in my entire life. Just bawling. If I could give sixth grade Jessie a hug right now I would. My Dad didn’t say a word. He just held me tight until we got to the car. I was so ashamed. Here was this thing. Here was the only thing I ever knew I wanted to do sitting right in front of me. And I didn’t get it not because I didn’t do well. It was because no boys thought I was cute and I wore vests to hide my tender and annoyingly ever-growing chest. Because I had thick bushy eyebrows and a tummy and permanent bad breath from the lack of understanding of how to get food out of my brand new braces. Maybe even partly because I took the audition too seriously. It was one of the toughest lessons a kid can learn: Life isn’t fair.

Luckily I woke up the next day and, despite my certainty, the world hadn’t ended. The play was over soon as was my time at the little school in the foothills. And then a miraculous thing happened. There was another play. And then another. Even more in high school. And college? College was spilling with opportunities. I figured out somewhere between my 8th grade performance in Kilroy Was Here and our college’s fringe festival production of Angels in America that life, no matter how unfair it is, keeps going.

I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. I had to not get that part to get all the others. Someone had to not believe in me to force me to believe in myself. And I had to run bawling out of the sixth grade bungalow to realize how inconsequential some things in life really are.

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  1. #1 by The Good Greatsby on September 14, 2011 - 10:24 am

    The part where you answer that you probably are going to cry makes me so sad. Every once in a while I ache for the version of me that suffered through those childhood humiliations that seemed so gigantic at the time.

  2. #2 by hollyjb on October 12, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    I remember in grade 5 I before I even auditioned for a role in the musical I overheard the teacher in charge of music saying to another that if anyone was going to get a lead it would be me. The year before my split 4/5 class did a Remembrance Day sketch where the class voted on the leads and I actually got the lead (it was a shocker). I got nothing in grade 5. I was able to be in the opening number because everyone who auditioned was in it, but I didn’t get a role. I was devastated. And even though the next opportunity I had I didn’t take it (I was so shy, maybe because of that failure?), the one after that (my last year of high school) I got to play the role of Jan in ‘Grease’. Not exactly what I would have liked, but I was (and still am) quite hefty…..so it had to be that way. That was when I re-realized my love of the stage.

    Bah, didn’t mean to make this comment about me. I’m sad that you (Jessie) had to go through that, but I’m so glad it made you stronger!

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