“I WANTED TO BE THE CHICKEN. That’s all I wanted and you stole it from me…I JUST WANTED TO BE THE CHICKEN.”
“Umm excuse me? Mrs. D’Angelo? You should probably come and collect your daughter from the stage.”
The year was 1994. Forrest Gump won Best Picture. The world was on the verge of a technology explosion, but not quite there yet. By 1999, I’d be on step 2 of 3 connecting to AOL screaming at the top of my lungs “Mom, get OFF the phone.” (She was always on the phone whenever I wanted to get online. It got annoying.)
I was 4 going on 5 and life was as simple as it gets. Before my pre-teen/hormonal years I remember being very gregarious and barely self-conscious. Ears the size of dumbo’s, a hair cut that looked suspiciously like a mullet, and 90% of people thinking my name was Dennis instead of Denise (“Why is that little boy in a dress?”), but, still, I’d go up and talk to anyone on the street.
My affability was going to get a chance to shine, or so I thought, in the “4 year olds” pre-school production of Chicken Little. I don’t really have a good synopsis for Chicken Little other than it’s a chicken running around squawking “the sky is falling” to a bunch of other animals with names that rhyme.
Like every fable, I’m sure there was a moral point to it all, but all I knew was the chicken was the play’s antagonist and, logically, it should go to the person who was born to play the lead, me. There were about 13 kids in my class and not enough speaking parts for everyone. We were told several of us would have to play “the trees.”
Playing a tree consisted of coming onto the stage first and standing in the background in a green and brown outfit for the duration of the play. A perfect part for that shy, most likely smaller than average 4 year old that still sucked their thumb and had big weepy eyes every time Mommy left them in the morning, definitely not my style.
So imagine my surprise when I got casted as, you guessed it, a tree. A freakin’ tree!?! Half these kids don’t know the first letter of their first name and I can spell the word “because” already. And to top it off do you know who got the role of the chicken? Billy Gregory – a kid with two first names. He barely spoke EVER, ate finger paints, and was also known as “Wet Willy” because he had an accident in his pants once a week.
You can probably guess the end of this story. We practiced for a week and I held it together, albeit begrudgingly. “The trees” were always introduced first, took their bow and then backpeddled to the back of the stage where they stood silent for the whole 15-20 minutes of the play.
However, on the day of the play, I just couldn’t do it. For the record, I tried. I really did. They introduced “the trees,” I bowed, and stood in the back. I nodded as all the supporting animals were introduced and then, finally, here comes Wet Willy in his chicken costume with a bewildered look on his face.
He walked tepidly onto the stage and stood in the center middle to what I considered roaring applause, but it was probably about 8-9 housewives clapping politely. Something in me just snapped. It was actually quite liberating to push through all the kids to get to the middle of the stage, step in front of Wet Willy, and cry and scream at the top of my lungs. I think I might have thrown a part of my tree bark into the audience. Wish I had had the foresight to throw it at my teacher. Hindsight is 20/20.
After my mother literally dragged me off the stage, shoved the last of my branches in the car and started driving, she laughed. She was laughing so hard she had to pull the car over, which made me stop crying and laugh too. “Do you want some ice cream?” she asked while trying to catch her breath. So while I never understood the moral of Chicken Little, I did learn, if you embarrass your parents well enough, they’ll buy you ice cream.