Jack Mutant - Which Way is Down? (part fifteen)
By Jane Hyphen
‘Every year seven pupil has a part to play in the Sandpool’s Christmas play, yes, that’s every single one of you, no excuses, no exceptions.’
There was a short pause as Mr Julian Perskin traversed the stage observing and taking some pleasure in the look of panic on the faces of normal children; regular children, those without great talent or a rabid thirst for attention.
Unlike the other teachers, Mr Julian Perskin, head of the the music department was always addressed with the inclusion of his first name. Apparently this was down to the fact that he was once well known in some circles for composing some jaunty scores somewhere in the wilderness of eighties musical theatre.
‘This year we have decided to perform my own interpretation of the well known story of Beauty and the Beast with a festive theme running through it. It’s a story of inclusion and acceptance, miracles and the challenges of discrimination, being different, the inner light that shines in every one of us.’
There was a stillness in the audience, a sort of awkward vibe swept through the children as they asked their inner selves, am I a different, am I a bully, am I...the beast?
‘Now,’ he clapped his hands suddenly, making half the pupils in the front row jump out of their skins. ‘Those of you who don’t sing or dance or relish in being dramatic, being looked at, applauded, well this your chance to overcome your deepest fears, to open up and shine and perhaps year sevens….to become ever hungry for the shine that comes with the polished art of theatrical performance.’ He lowered his voice and looked very serious. ‘And you will be polished by the time I’ve finished with you.’
As he spoke stringy bits appeared to form vertically across the chasm of his mouth, like a goppy cat’s cradle, primed to catch anything which happened to be flying past. ‘Aaah,’ he continued, pointing at his audience with his conductor’s baton. ‘But I don’t want to do any of that, I hear you cry year sevens, that’s not my thing, I’m not doing that...but think of this as your parents last chance at the seeing their little darlings up on the stage, imagine the pride they will feel.’
A sick feeling rose in Jack’s stomach. This cannot be, he thought, there is no way..in secondary school I will have any part in any school play. If there was one thing to feel relaxed about leaving primary school it was never again having to participate in singing or dressing up and performing to an audience.
‘So,’ continued Mr Julian Perskin,’ his fuzzy hair looking not unlike a gigantic microphone. ‘Singers...I want you to go and stand on the right of the hall, dancers go to the left, those wanting starring roles and solos come and see me up here on the stage, the school orchestra and other talented musicians go to the music corner….and if there’s anyone who does not fall into those categories go and stand right at the back of the hall, right at the back away from everyone else.’
There followed a great fuss, chattering, nervous laughter and discussion followed by a shuffling of feet, rubbery black-soled shoes running left and right, children trying to stay with their friends but unsure of their own abilities. Some too sure, confidently striding to the front and up onto the stage grinning at Julian with lucent teeth, hungry for fame. A sense of terror gathered in the room too, you could smell it and see it in the whites of children’s eyes.
The hall became filled with the echo of young human souls in a state of flux. It made Jack’s ears feel full as if his eardrums could burst, it also gave him an odd feeling of detachment, as if he were not really present at all. It could be part of a dream or a parallel universe he had momentarily entered. It was a sensation he experienced from time to time, usually in very busy, noisy places, it often happened in swimming pools.
‘What?’ Jack jumped and saw Chris frowning at him.
‘I’m going to have to join the orchestra…..will you be okay Jack?’
Jack nodded, a little ashamed at his apparent discomfort, clearly noticed, perhaps even predetermined by his concerned friend. He was alone now, familiar faces had shuffled away and he was surrounded by lots of very animated girls. It suddenly occurred to him that he was standing on the left side of the hall, in the dancers section.
There had been a small group of children who had been frozen to the spot, waiting for this nightmare to end and when it didn’t, reality dawned on them at different times and gradually they all shuffled resignedly to the back of the hall. Jack joined them, they had nothing in common with each other really except a self-conscious disposition and an aversion to the performing arts. They stood, avoiding each other’s eyes, wondering at their fate which seemed so sealed now within a jar of terminal embarrassment.
Mr Julian Perskin skipped around the hall, growing ever more excited as he spoke with the various categories of mostly keen performers. He could be heard telling enthusiastic children to calm down, to wait their turn, he assured them that everyone who was willing would have a part to play. Jack was dismayed at their eagerness, the thought of it made him feel tired and sort of alone, separate from them, like he was from another planet.
Jack’s group were the last to be seen, the rejects at the back, no talent and no enthusiasm. Perhaps Mr Julian would just tell them to go to the library during rehearsals, Jack was hopeful but it wasn’t to be. ‘There are a couple for opportunities for light and sound technicians,’ he said. Jack was slow on the uptake, by the time he had processed what the teacher had said, two boys had already rushed to the front with their hands in the air as if begging for mercy.
‘Also..I have here,’ he said peering down at a clip board, ‘opportunities for three artists to design and take care of stage and set.’
Jack wrung his hands, I am not an artist, he thought but perhaps this would be an easy gig, a bit of painting, he decided he could do it but again, he had dithered and was too late. Three girls were grinning, their faces plumped with relief, their fate now reduced to a bit of clumsy artistry.
Mr Julian Perskin did a brief headcount of the remaining group, seven boys and two girls who looked panic stricken. ‘Oh and two make-up artists,’ he said. The girls lurched forward as if greyhounds out of traps. ‘Now that just leaves you lot. I assume you can twangle a triangle, bang on a drum, keep a beat. You will be my percussionists.’
Jack exhaled, his chest shrinking several inches as a large cloud of anxious air left his body. Percussion, he thought, I can do that, I’ll be standing somewhere hidden, in a dark area with a wooden stick, I won’t tell my mum, she doesn’t need to come. He drifted into a relaxed state, a sort of daydream. Mr Julian had continued to talk about their role and how the practise sessions would work but Jack wasn’t really listening.
‘And luckily for me we have an expert in the camp, Kayla Nue is a grade six drummer, she has agreed to take care of all the percussion for the play and so you will be in expert hands. Welcome Kayla!’
Kayla stood before them, diminutive in stature but determined and focused in approach she stared into Jack’s eyes as if she could see right through them into his brain. He gasped. She’s back, he thought, his heart flipped and skipped a couple of beats, for a few seconds he wasn’t sure whether she was real, whether any of this was real.