— I was living upon illusions.
— My only policy is to clothes reality with flowers.
Whew. First week has come and gone, and it’s already been one busy week, yet I still feel so far behind. Ah, isn’t that the beauty of life? The constant push and pull of conflicting emotions. But rejoice! New year, new beginnings: new apartment, new internship, and new friends. With each new dose of ‘new,’ however, I find myself holding on more tightly to memories of the past. Particularly with this memory-book project in mind, my brain has nearly exploded with memories abound, causing me to sporadically chuckle out loud on the streets of New York. (People generally don’t respond well to that sort of thing. Imjustsayin’.) So, here goes with week one:
The book: The Infernal Machine and Other Plays by Jean Cocteau
The memory: For the first week, I decided to read Jean Cocteau, whom I had known to be a brilliant filmmaker/director, but I was pleased to discover was also a playwright! But of course, because.he’s.brilliant. The most prominent memory that kept replaying on repeat in my mind (which, may have been an overly obvious association) was junior year when my theatre class for our Spring play performed Black Comedy, a farce of epic proportions. Everyone in the class was buzzing with excitement because not only would we all, who had been friends since middle school, be performing together, but our director was our old middle school theatre teacher, Traci Ledford.
Sometimes, once in a while, you come across a teacher who so embodied her teachings that she impacted you immensely, whether you knew it or not, immediately or years down the line. Only now am I beginning to realize what a force Traci Ledford, or “Ledford” or “Led” or insert-other-warm-affectionate-nicknames-here, really is. As a teacher, I remember moments when I had observed her directing, or going through her creative process, and my eyes grew wide and I specifically thought, “Genius is pouring out from her head.” Beyond that, she was probably one of my first strong, passionate, independent women role models before I, as an awkward 11 year old, even really knew what that meant. But, that’s another story for another day.
So, Traci Ledford, amazing actress / director / mentor / teacher, would be directing our play, Black Comedy. Our class was divided into two casts, as our class size was double the number of characters in the play and I was cast as Clea, the main character Brindley’s mischievous bohemian ex-mistress, who would be drunk and have a Cockney accent midway through the play. Um, okay, (gulp) that’d be a challenge for me, but I’ll try, I thought.
Then, one day in the middle of class during rehearsal, Ledford was sitting amongst us girls and she turned her head to the right and asked me coyly out of the blue:
Ledford: Ai, have you had your first kiss?
Ai: (shifts eyes) No…
Ledford: Well, you’re going to! (heh heh).
– Teasing commences –
Yes, that’s right. I, at 17, would have my first kiss on-stage. Well, it wouldn’t have been so bad had it been a normal stage kiss. Oh, no, this was a full-on-make-out. Chapped lips and all. And note, past Ai was super awkward little Asian teenager with big glasses and braces just removed. Oh, man. I felt awkward about this one.
Even worse, to the devilish amusement of the cast members, who, remember, have been friends since middle school, so we all grew up together from pre-adolescent ‘tweens to full-fledged teenagers, during rehearsals, would purposely fumble their lines during Brindsley’s and Clea’s make-out session. Yeah, I heard them all snickering in the background between their fumbled lines. “Ohh..no…we have to start over again…”
Fast forward to performance night.
In the audience would be my sweet Vietnamese father and 6 year-old little brother. Oh, my gosh. I was even more nervous because my father’s and my relationship had never gone beyond formalities at that point. He was going to see his little girl kiss “passionately” on stage! With a boy! IN FRONT OF HER LITTLE BROTHER? Vietnamese decency gone out the window.
What was he going to think? Would he be mad? Embarrassed? Dumb-founded?
After the performance my father and little brother came up to me; my father had a never before seen smirk on his face. My eyes opened wide again because really, I’d never seen him look like that before. When he came closer, he just used his elbow to nudge me in that way you nudge someone when you made a lame pun and giggled “heh…heh…heh.” And continued to giggle.
And that was all he said. Apparently he found the fact that his daughter having her first kiss on-stage really amusing.
So thank you, Traci Ledford, for setting the stage, literally, for my first kiss, which probably broke the ice between my dad and me. He now nudges and giggles at me all the time.
End, Memory One.
PS: Another favorite memory from Black Comedy was Russell Fetzer and his incredible tribute to Billy Mack of Love Actually. Russell, I know you’re getting an M.D now, but I’ll always imagine you in a bright silk chemise and gold chains, rockin’ out to ‘Christmas is All Around.’
PPS: Need to learn to erase pencil smudges on Photoshop.
Next week: On the Road by Jack Kerouac