Each year before my next birthday I try something new. I have made this a tradition over the past few years. One year I ran a few 5K races. Another I tried pole dancing. (Tip your strippers. It’s hard work.) And this year I’m learning how to swim, to dispel black people myths.
Two years ago, I decided to participate in a summer musical theater camp. It’s a one-week intensive where students learn from, and at the end of week perform with, Broadway stars in a full-length professionally produced revue show.
Here’s the thing: I don’t sing. I don’t act. I don’t dance. It was a challenge.
I hired a vocal coach to help me prepare for the auditions. I like to think I can sing like Beyoncé or J. Hud, but really I’m good enough to sing in the back, and please don’t sing loudly.
I made it in. I made it into three or four numbers, which is a lot of work, and impressive for someone who does not live for musical theater.
During the week, if you’re not in a rehearsal for the show, you have options to take classes. Obviously I was not going to touch the dance class doors, because that ship sailed, and my knees hurt just thinking about dancing. I tried one singing class, and that surprisingly did not end well for me. If I’m going to succeed in anything they offer, my best chance is acting.
For the purposes of this story I will name one instructor Dark Chocolate. What you must know is I love dark chocolate. I’m a dark chocolate connoisseur. I only have the best dark chocolate there is. Anything less I’m just tolerating until I can have a rendezvous with elite dark chocolate. Anyway, I chose to go to Dark Chocolate’s classes.
The first day, his class was refreshing, I felt good about the art form and myself as it related to the art. I missed his class the second day because of rehearsals. The third day, I got to his class late, because as a woman or human being I had to use the restroom between classes and it took longer than expected. When I arrived, Dark Chocolate allowed me to participate, but because they had already started and students were giving each other new names, he named me. The name was something like “Fire Eyes Blue Jay.” I know it was “fire eyes” and some kind of winged animal.
Dark Chocolate had us line up in two equal lines facing each other. I honestly had no idea what was coming next. Let me also tell you, this intensive included people from age 5 to 65. It was quite a huge span on so many levels. He told the two 5-year-olds that they needed to sit out of this exercise. Then he instructed the rest of us to lie down making sure our shoulders were touching each other’s. At this point I knew this was not an exercise I wanted any part of. At the same time, it’s Dark Chocolate leading the way.
He next explained that we each were to roll over the entire line of people, and as we rolled, we were to introduce ourselves using our new names. Immediately the two kids next to me jumped up and peaced out. That left me as the first in my line to go.
No one wants to be the first — because who will tell the story if you die? I’ll also say I’m an obese woman in my early 30s. There were kids in my line who are about 7. I saw the conflict.
So, at about this time, I was seeing myself in an orange jump suit, because orange is the new black, and my legal last name is Chapman. I saw an interview with Diane Sawyer asking me “Why did you think it was a good idea to roll over a line of children?” with my response being “Dark Chocolate. I couldn’t say no to Dark Chocolate!”
As all of these things went through my head, Dark Chocolate encouraged me and asked my “teammates” to encourage me. Then a 10-year-old boy looks up, with pure childlike care in his eyes, and says: “You can do it. It’s okay.”
Great. Famous last words I’m going to have to tell his parents.
So, with tears filling my eyes, I rolled over each and every person in my line and told each of them my new name for the day. And when I got to the end, Dark Chocolate gave me a high five as I rolled my eyes at him.
I’m still not sure what this exercise was for. We debriefed at the end, and Dark Chocolate said something about trying things, never saying “can’t,” and having no regrets. Excuse me, I could’ve done all of that without potentially crushing children and going to jail. But hey, I did it, and obviously I have a story to tell. I still like chocolate of the dark variety, but I’ve had enough of Dark Chocolate.
No children suffered any injuries in the making of this story.
This story was originally told at the May 18 “Tell Me a Story” live storytelling gathering. The theme of the evening was “crushed.”