Greetings from a little over a year since my last blog post! Oh, if on-the-cusp-of-25 Mary could see 26-year-old Mary now… I think she’d say “Congratulations on moving out of your parents’ house,” “No, I think you can tell that you’ve been doing Pilates… really!” and “You’re still wearing that?” Anyway, I didn’t share a lick of my writing in 2017, which felt like a step back after balancing 3 writing/editing jobs in 2016 (while still managing to recap The Bachelor). I just find that these days I’m more likely to tweet a couple good one-liners at work and then go home and fall into bed with all the lights and my glasses still on… rather than, say, spend an entire day perfecting an essay. I still write something substantial that I’m proud of every now and then. I wrote this blog post in the hangover of my first cross-country work trip. Once I was done, I thought about sharing it, but I didn’t think it was good enough. Now, a year later, I found it in the rubble of notes on my phone and I actually like it. And even if it’s not perfect or neatly structured with a strong conclusion, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing. As a new year kicks off, I’d like to share more of my writing and write more! So here is a blog post I wrote in January 2017, shared in January 2018:
I’m going to start this blog post by trying to recall the plot of Newsies. Because why not?
Okay, the year is anywhere between 1914 and 1940, and a group of poor newspaper boys in New York City who are also possibly orphaned/homeless band together to get better payment for being Newsies.
Alright, I’m satisfied with that summary. Now to look it up…
“A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.” –IMDB
… nailed it?
Funny story about Newsies. I went to a theater camp when I was around 8 or 9 and it culminated in the campers performing shortened versions of well-known musicals for friends and family. I think one age group got to perform Cats. Another got to do Grease. My age group had Newsies. I knew this was some shit because Newsies wasn’t even a real musical—it was a movie musical! Also it was a total sausage fest. So my predominantly female group had to don some ugly flat caps and slacks and act like rowdy (and apparently pre-Depression-era) newsboys.
I remember the day our camp counselor asked each of us if we wanted to dance or have lines in the show. I struggled with her creative pronunciation of “lines,” but after processing it for a moment, I obviously jumped at the opportunity to portray a lion. Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. I think because 1. That is a very stupid mistake for a child nearing 10 years old to make, and 2. Our group had already screened Newsies and therefore knew the subject matter we would be tackling (in which lions did not play a key role).
Listen, all I can say is I had an imagination (a good thing, the last time I checked!) and thought our counselor would somehow work lions into the story. Also, I was not the GROWN ADULT in this scenario who couldn’t pronounce “lines” correctly!
Anyway, I was given one line, which to be fair to younger me, was more like a mini monologue. There were dates, locations, and names of historical figures to remember… guys, you read my introduction to this blog post. You know the timeline in which I approximated Newsies to take place. Now imagine my 8-year-old brain trying to recall about seven different boring turn-of-the-century trivia items.
Looooong story not so short, on the night of the show, I forgot the line. I think I got maybe 10 words into it before my mind completely blanked. And I drowned, y’all. I stood on that stage in silence for almost a full minute and felt a prickly heat rise up to my head. I stared blankly at the exasperated face of my counselor who sat at the foot of the stage, making crazy shapes with her mouth and trying to mime the words to me, to no avail. I heard sparse, uncomfortable coughs throughout the auditorium echo like slamming doors.
“I just wanted to do Cats!” I thought, under the glare of the spotlight.
Tbh I seriously contemplated running off the stage and just peacing out of that building. Like, that was the only instance in my life where I could think of no other option than to flee. I somehow gathered myself after that torturous minute and choked out the last few words of my line. So it played something like:
“In 1899, the streets of New York City echoed with the voices of newsies……………………….……………………………………….…..…………………………………………………………………………..……………………………………………………………………………………………..……………..………………………………………………………………………..……. until one day all that changed.”
I’m fairly certain this monologue was meant to impart that the newsies were able to organize once they established leadership within their group, but without the 5-6 historical references my mind simply refused to hold onto, the monologue lost most of its context and basically implied that the newsies died or were in some other way silenced.
I also think this was the monologue that immediately preceded the only kind of good thing about Newsies—the musical number “Seize the Day.” And I sort of botched the segue into that song with my curious “The newsies were around… until they weren’t” monologue.
Once the show came to an end, I met with my family in the audience. They were very nice to me and gave me flowers, and I was deeply, deeply ashamed.
This experience did not sour me on musical theater. I continued performing in plays and musicals for another 10 years and never forgot another line on stage again. Though I do have persistent nightmares about being on stage and forgetting my lines, and I think we all know who’s responsible (looking at you, lady who couldn’t pronounce “lines” correctly!)
The only thing the experience really soured me on was Newsies. It’s a movie that many of my peers seem to have a fondness for (I won’t deny that “Seize the Day” is a dope song and I have it on a mix CD). But I’ve never been able to get into the story.
A few years after my disappointing Newsies-away camp, a babysitter, who had been informed of my affinity for musical theater, came to watch me for a night. She had a DVD of Newsies in tow. I sighed grimly. Obviously my parents didn’t give her a thorough enough briefing of my personal history in musical theater. But I decided to give it a shot. I hadn’t been paying close attention when my camp group viewed the movie (another possible explanation for my vague understanding of how lions played into it), and maybe I’d like it this time around.
We made it 15 minutes into the movie and I asked her if we could watch Little Shop of Horrors instead.
She reluctantly agreed, and we sat through 90 minutes of a man-eating plant singing the word “shit” over and over again (and don’t forget Steve Martin’s playful portrayal of a sadistic dentist who beats his girlfriend!) My babysitter was undeniably uncomfortable, and seemed to be wondering if she would be reprimanded for having let a 10-year-old child watch this movie. I was delighted at having put Newsies in its place, and probably also low-key developing feelings for Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn.
Newsies sucks and is boring, is my point. But mostly I think it’s one of those shame balls buried deep down inside of me, like in the movie Inside Out, where every experience a person has is a little orb inside of them and they all get filed away and some of them you never think about again, but some of them you keep coming back to, and they’re like your shame touchstone or your contentment touchstone or your sexual confusion touchstone… “core memories.” Thanks, Google! Well, forgetting my lines in Newsies is a core memory, and a memory that a lot of things were built on:
—My drive to succeed in theater and become an A+ line memorizer (I may have skated by with barely passing grades in school, but if you asked me to memorize a lengthy and farcically complex monologue, I was your gal!)
—My hatred of newsboy hats (seriously, I hate them more than fedoras)
—And most of all, my hatred of Newsies. God, I hate it.
But you know what? I remember my sister telling me a story about carpooling to swim practice in middle school with an older boy she looked up to. He was kind of a cool and removed athlete type and he had his MP3 player hooked up, playing whatever was cool in the early 2000’s. Eminem? Nelly? I don’t know. I was playing Tetris and listening to Weird Al in my bedroom literally every day.
Anyway, amidst all the “hot” tracks, a new song started in with a plaintive horn refrain followed by a shaky-voiced teenage boy crooning, “Open the gates and seeeeize the daaaaaay…” My sister was awestruck.
“Is this… from Newsies?” she asked.
The boy’s mother, who was driving the car, cheerfully chimed in. “Oh yes, he just loves Newsies!”
The song was quickly switched off, egos were crushed, core memories were formed, etc.
But my point here is that even though I think Newsies is lame and boring and a sausage fest and the source of all my pain in life, if it made straight boys interested in musical theater, bless it! Man I hate it, but bless it! What the world needs now is for everyone’s taste to be a little gayer (Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s original song title). Seriously, how much better would the entire world be if everyone respected a well-timed key change and some tight choreography? The world would be so much better.
It’s like how when you see trash TV like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, you want to jump to the conclusion that these people are ignorant and bigoted, but then they’re all really cool towards their gay uncle and 7-year-old Honey Boo Boo plainly says, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with bein’ a little gay. Everybody’s a little gay.” And, genuinely taken aback, you think, “Amen! You know what? The world is big and we’re all just people and everyone deserves a chance.” And then you find out that her mom got back with her sex offender boyfriend who abused one of her daughters and you think, “Never mind. The world is a dumpster fire. Sorry, I forgot.”
ANYWAY, this post really went somewhere. After trying to remember the plot of Newsies, it was meant to go into general life updates and how January went (I didn’t drink for the entire month and Donald Trump became president—two things that should never go hand in hand). But, I couldn’t resist reflecting back on that horrible theater camp experience. And we did this whole stream of consciousness thing and here we are. At Honey Boo Boo’s mom. Where we all find ourselves at the end of our respective journeys.
What? Okay, bye.