I was going to audition to be in the play. I always did, every year at school. I never have been the retiring wall flower; although I’m not sure how I would have coped with centre stage. I was one of those teenage girls who wanted the spotlight, but probably would have felt it burn if it had actually been upon her for too long. I spent so long putting on a show (as most teenagers do), each and every day, that to have to do it for real would have been exhausting I think.
Lily was waiting outside the classroom where auditions were taking place, and she encouraged me as I headed on in to do the monologue we’d been asked to recite. It was just me and the teacher in the room. I poured out my heart into that speech; or at least I thought I did. I was acting pouring out my heart; unsure of how to unlock the reality of the speech, because how could I have done? My only experience of love was having a boy tickle me in the back of physics. That’s not love; that’s just hormones. That delicious rush of oh, someone actually wants to touch me. I remember once in class, a boy had been tickling me, and I’d been running away, falling over in front of the door. My teacher, Mr Phelps, actually stepped over my prone body, wishing me a good morning as he did so. At the time it was hilarious; now I can only think about how much I would hate to teach teenagers. I’m very glad that there are people out there who want to do it. But I never could.
Anyway, the play was to be Romeo and Juliet. Of course it was. I decided that I wanted to be Juliet. I wanted to play the love-struck young woman, who is so caught up in her feelings that she is prepared to die for them. There is supposed to be a beauty in her love; that she is prepared to die rather than risk losing it. And at the age of sixteen there really was a beauty there; what a grand gesture. How deep must her love have been in order to sacrifice everything? Well, considering that it all happens in the space of about three days, probably about as deep as paddling pool if we’re being completely honest. Sorry Juliet fans.
I remember the teacher who I had to deliver the monologue to. She didn’t like me and I didn’t really like her. To be honest I don’t blame her; I was a little shit at sixteen. At the time, I remember blaming her when I didn’t get the part. It clearly had nothing to do with that there were others more suited to Juliet; it was obviously because the audition was already weighted against me. That’s the thing about being a teenager; nothing is ever fair for you, and everyone else has got it better? Right? Right?
Now, looking back on it, I probably wasn’t right for Juliet. To give one of the great heroines of literature braces, glasses, and eyebrows that looked as if they could actually be caterpillars about to come alive on her face (and this was before Cara Delevingne made eyebrows sexy again – I went to secondary school in the age of overplucking and sperm brows, but luckily I missed that memo). Perhaps that wasn’t quite the vibe they were going for. I mean, it actually had to be believable that Romeo, the great lover from the most famous of Shakespeare plays, would want to fall in love with this girl. I was a moderately-okay looking duckling of a teenager. Not what they were looking for. They were looking for that girl who already had swan’s feathers coming through under the eider.
‘How did it go?’ Lily had asked me when I’d left the room. I think I’d probably smiled and said that it went fine, but already knowing deep down that I wasn’t for Juliet. Lily had already signed to help out with the set, costumes, backstage etc. She liked it there. That was fine; we were like two mismatched peas in a pod. I was the loud one, who would draw most of the attention – sometimes good, and more often than not, bad – and she was quite content to just get on with things in the background. I guess that that was selfish of me; deep down I liked knowing that we weren’t competing for that periphery of the spotlight. I liked that she was content for me to firmly learn how to put my foot in my mouth, whilst she stood back and learned how to save me from choking when I did so.
‘The cast list will be up tomorrow’ I said to Lily as we’d walked out into the school car park that doubled as the playground. It seemed odd at the time to call it the “playground”; we were young women of distinction; so grand for our sixteen years of age. We didn’t “play”. We walked at a stately pace, usually finding the same bench or patch of grass to sit upon, before discussing all of the inane things that were falling over themselves in our heads, the random thoughts that just had to be said.
The generation after ours will probably save the world.
We were the last generation of teenagers who lived in relative ignorance; the edge of the precipice just ahead, but we were far enough away that we just looked over with interest at the view below, rather than being rudely catapulted over it. It took a while for things to come to our attention; most of our pop culture news came from magazines that were probably from the month before. The million billboards of the world that is social media hadn’t yet reached our sleepy corner of the world. We thought we were up on all the ways that the century was taking us in those early years; but our internet experience was mostly trying to figure out what skin you were going to have on your Bebo page and which of your friends you were going to be “married” to this week.
‘Who do you think will get Romeo?’ said Lily, as we sat our usual bench. We’d probably glared at some eleven year olds to make them clear off before sitting down. Although by then eleven year olds were getting pretty sassy; we would never have dared talk to an older student the way some of them talked to us. What was the world coming to?
‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘I’m not even sure who’s going for it. I know Tom was going to try for it.’
Lily giggled, ‘Tom? Tom as Romeo?’
I poked her in the ribs, ‘Mean.’
I didn’t need to say to her what I thought was mean. We were both sixteen. That age when your best friend can read your mind or your expression, because poker-face was something that didn’t exist and Lady Gaga hadn’t sung about it yet…
[Continued in Act I Scene III]
A little more lighthearted this time.