“My First Big Role: Playing A Boy”
The first play that changed my life was Six Who Pass While The Lentils Boil by Stuart Walker, published by Samuel French. In the 1960’s, I was eight years old and lived in Ponca City, Oklahoma, with my parents and brother.
My mother’s close friend decided to direct Six Who Pass While the Lentils Boil for the community theater there. One of the biggest roles in it calls for a dutiful young boy who does not betray the Queen, even though many tempt him to do so. A casting notice went around town, and all the boys interested in acting tried out for the role. My mother’s friend, the director, suggested that I audition, even though I was a girl. As an eight-year-old, I did not find this to be a strange idea. Sure, I could play a boy, I thought. Why not? I have a brother, so I know how boys act.
I auditioned; the competition was fierce in Ponca. But I was given the role. To look more convincing, I got a “pageboy” haircut and became “Sir Davey Little Boy.” My parents helped me to memorize my lines—well, “helped” is a euphemism. (Ask them about it sometime. They still remember it as an unpleasant ordeal.) What I remember most about being in the show is that I got to wear green tights and was dressed sort of like Robin Hood. My brother was envious!
Although my young parents were struggling financially at the time, my father gave me a huge bouquet of roses for the opening; I still have the card that came with them, addressed to “Sir Davey Little Boy.” In performance, we had no need of a prompter because I’d memorized the entire script by rote; the adult actors came to depend on me to help them with their lines if they “went up.”
To this day, I enjoy stirring lentils. And with this early experience, portraying a boy when I was a young girl, my love of theatre began.
Laura Annawyn Shamas is a writer, mythologist and educator. Her plays include: Up To Date, Lady-Like, Portrait of a Nude, and an adaptation of Picnic At Hanging Rock. Details about her new book Pop Mythology: Collected Essays are available at her website: laurashamas.com. Member: Chickasaw Nation.