I am attending a performance of my daughter’s drama school production tonight. “Bring a book,” advises a parent who’s already seen it. “Or one of those neck pillows you use on long flights,” says another.
That’s the thing about drama classes. They take on a life of their own. You think they’re all in there holding hands and singing Kumbaya, but they’re not.
You send your kid along for some harmless play-acting, and the next thing you know, she’s booked in for three nights at the Civic Theatre for the equivalent of an off-Broadway run.
I’ve had mixed experiences with junior dramatics in the past. Some have sent me out on a high about the future of creative endeavour in this country. Others have seemed like Chinese water torture.
One, in a Co Kildare secondary school, was an early introduction to the genre. It was a big school, and apparently every man, woman and child in the place had to be accommodated with a part in the school play.
They had to erect a sort of balcony to get all the cast on the stage at the same time. There were huge drifts of young people moving about the stage. At times, it was like watching the mass migration of wildebeest across the plains.
This was drama as an exercise in crowd control, as much about logistics as about dramatic impact or interpretation. The auditorium was full, but there were more people on stage than in the audience.
More recently, I attended a school musical in Blackrock College. It was written by one of the teachers at the college and featured the music of Oasis and Blur from the 1990s. It also featured something that would never have been allowed in my day: girls.
The young ladies came from down the road: the Loreto convent school in Dalkey. In the school hall that night, it felt like the hormonal cauldron of southside middle-class Dublin. There were probably 20 future medical consultants on stage at any one time, all destined to marry one another.
It was an artistic (and quite possibly a match-making) success. Some fine voices and some real emotional punch raised it above the level of most school productions. That and seemingly infinite resources: every actor had the kind of clear plastic wireless mike used by Robbie Williams and the CIA.
It’s possible that my cynicism about these productions springs from deep psychological trauma suffered during my own school musical days. After all, there are not many roles for a fat boy in Oliver!
Well, there is one, that of well-fed workhouse boss Mr Bumble, but another boy who could actually sing got that one. It was left to me to pull in my stomach and try to look starved while singing Food Glorious Food.
All during rehearsals for that production of Oliver!, we boys thought that it was an all-male affair. Then, a few days before opening night, one of the Christian Brothers produced a woman out of somewhere.
The effect on the pimply and hormone-soaked cast was immediate. All fart jokes ceased instantly and studious types tried to bring Schopenhauer into their conversation in order to impress “Nancy”.
For her part, she carried off the part of Bill Sykes’s doomed lover very well, and announced that she thought us all “sweet”. “Sweet!” spat the boy who played Mr Bumble. “Sweet? What about ‘hot’?”
My chief memory is that it cost me €15 to watch her “dance” across the stage for about 30 seconds.
Tonight is not my daughter’s stage debut. Not by a long way. If there were a note about her in the programme tonight, it would no doubt refer to her triumphs in the parts of a sheep, a fairy and the gobbled granny in Little Red Riding Hood in her school Christmas plays.
And she’s also appeared at the Civic Theatre before, in a ballet production a couple of years ago. My chief memory is that it cost me €15 to watch her “dance” across the stage for about 30 seconds.
However, all my world-weariness and cynicism are no match for her excitement about tonight’s show. She’s positively wriggling with delight at the prospect.
“Where will you be sitting, dad?” she wants to know.
“We’re in the second row,” I tell her. So no book, no pillow, no hiding place.