“You can get out of time out at 11:59.”
I was seventeen years old. I stood outside of a convention center filled with horny teenagers in Tampa Bay, Florida. The stroke of midnight would mark the beginning of my adult life: my eighteenth birthday. A grown man pointed me and three other girls in the direction of a set-up of dirty white plastic outdoor furniture. “That’s time out. At 11:59 you can rejoin the dance.”
The 2010 Florida State Thespian Competition weighed heavily on my mind since I entered the theatre program – flashily named Melbourne Masquerade – my freshman year of high school in 2006. “State” was the culmination of everything you had absorbed as a performer and theatre mini-professional. It’s a five-day extravaganza (the largest high school theatre festival in the world, in fact) in which high schoolers high on their own creativity travel from all corners of the Sunshine State to impress each other. It’s mostly where people have sex and drink for the first time.
I went to State every year during my time in Masquerade and, each year, watched the current seniors perform more intensely than they ever had before, medal higher than they ever had before, and party harder than they ever had before. State is conveniently situated near the end of the school year – providing just enough of a sense of recklessness and nostalgia to make it the stuff of slideshow montages that you revisit on your laptop again and again, even into your mid-twenties.
I was ready for my theatre career send-off parade, accompanied by floats featuring that one group from Clearwater who won Best of Show with that scene from that play about the home for people with special needs and another of that hot guy from Pensacola who won Best of Show with that contemporary dramatic monologue about being a person with special needs.
In 2010, as the President of Masquerade, it was my job to make sure that the weekend went smoothly for the group. Fuck that. I was focused on creating senior year memories that were goddamn slideshow-worthy.
This time of year was also very exciting, as we were additionally in the midst of rehearsal for the last musical of the year. I was playing Lily St. Regis in Annie. Fellas, my email address is all over this website. I appreciate the attention but don’t crash my Gmail!
State had been the stuff of dreams. I performed killer contrasting monologues (one about an inept mother and another about a woman desperate for male attention. Cast me in your strong female roles!) I met the perfect man – a boy from another school who had played Claude in Hair – and had taken MULTIPLE videos on my Kodak of us all at dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse, bein’ teens! My birthday was the last day of the festival. The night before the final day is the dance.
The dance. The convention center turns from drama dork fest into sexy teen fest within fifteen minutes. Name badges are stripped and hair is straightened. You are packed in to conference room BB and you can’t breathe and you are so excited to be within the proximity of Claude from Hair again.
Earlier that day, our director – a stout, angry, life-dedicated-to-local-theatre man who had controlled every aspect of my exploration as an actor for the previous four years – had momentarily left the hotel. Four of us went to our rooms and ordered Chinese food, physically and mentally theatre-ed out for the weekend. Some phone rang, a wrong text went out, something happened at some point, someone brought alcohol. I still genuinely do not know what happened, but within the hour, the chaperones and our director were screaming at me in the lobby of the Tampa Bay Embassy Suites. How could I let this happen? I was the PRESIDENT! I’ve embarrassed the name of Masquerade forever.
I sincerely, to this day, have no idea what the incident was. Maybe someone in their room drank too much of their smuggled-in alcohol? We weren’t supposed to be in the rooms during the day unsupervised? We missed a big meeting or something? I honestly don’t know. But I was the President, and it was my job to make sure that things like this didn’t happen. The big dance ended at midnight. I was ordered to still get dressed up in my dance attire. And sit outside of the dance until 11:59.
I turned eighteen years old at midnight, filled with hate for a short fat man. I began my adult life seething at an adult child whose claim to fame was playing Max Bialystock in the local community theatre’s sold-out production of The Producers.
The following Monday back at school, I sat in the auditorium, decked out and energized for tech week. Lily St. Regis was one of my biggest roles to date, and we were to open the next weekend.
Suddenly, the high school dean (think JD McCoy’s dad from Friday Night Lights) stormed into the auditorium and ordered me to walk outside and accompany him on his golf cart. I was being taken to the high school administrative offices, where I was to be made to answer for my irresponsible actions at State. Presented to me at this meeting was an anonymous email from a fellow theatre department member listing all of my mistakes as President at the festival. As if I couldn’t figure it out, it was from someone who I beat out for that sweet sweet Prez role the previous year. We had been firing on all cylinders at each other all year. This topped all of them.
As I lay on the sticky auditorium floor in my platinum blonde wig, head pounding and eyes sore from crying, I thought about how out of sync the choreography still was for “Easy Street”. Everyone had already filed out from the grueling late rehearsal and there was just one light left on in the theatre. I clutched my worn Annie libretto like a blanket and curled into an even-tighter fetal position under an audience seat. I wondered if adult life would always be like this, and I thought about how the fibers of my wig itched, and how one of the privileges of having a President’s key is that you can stay in the building as late and as long and as alone as you wanted.