The Lord Don’t Rain Down Manna in my Yard

7 Jan

In high school, our drama teachers decided to put on Quilters, a musical about women’s experiences in the Wild West. This hurt me because it was an all-female cast and this was my only chance to star in a musical. However, I forgave my teachers completely after I saw it.

A little background–I grew up in the small town of Morrison, Illinois, a wonderful place to grow up because it allowed me a lot of freedom and opportunities that I never would have gotten in a bigger city. If you wanted to be in a play, you could; if you wanted to join the football team, you could. There were few entry requirements because they simply needed people to participate!

Up until my junior year–when they decided to put on Quilters–the drama teachers (John and Anne Frame) would do a fall play, a children’s play, and a musical every year. If you’ve been a drama teacher, that’s an exhausting schedule, so for the 1991-1992 season, they decided to do a musical one year and a fall play the next. But at the time I was 16 and didn’t know that, so from my perspective, I had been cheated out of a performance. This was especially true because of the RHIP rule: rank has its privileges. I couldn’t get into Pump Boys and Dinettes because I was a sophomore, there were only two male parts (and only two female), so those were going to juniors/seniors. I didn’t know that at the time either, so to this day, I can still sing my audition piece, “Farmer Tan.” 🙂

To add insult to injury, I found out that Quilters was an all-female cast of eight women. (It has been performed with a 2-3 men in supporting roles, but they don’t sing.) So now I was never going to star in a HS musical; I was pissed. However, to get eight singing girls to perform in our small school, they got every female who could sing AND wanted to perform. So that meant my sister, my sister’s friends, my female friends, and even some freshman girl I didn’t know all got to be in it… and I didn’t. Of course, since my sister was in the musical, I couldn’t just boycott out of sheer teenage spite. So I went.

Oh… my… God! The musical was beautiful! Each scene was a “quilting block” (which they showed) and told a different story about the Wild West. It had a real band in the band pit which played beautifully. The ladies on stage sang songs that sounded like 19th Century hymns (which I love) and often did it eight-part harmony. The stories were funny and serious and shocking and made me cry by the end. It was a beautiful experience… so much so, I went again the second night (there were only two performances)! I asked my sister’s friend whose dad recorded the dress rehearsal for a copy and I got it–I still have that tape and watch it, but usually only when I’m seriously depressed.

That musical for me represents a significant change in my life. Not only was it good, but it was a snapshot of what life was before everything changed. My sister went to college the next year–she ended up going two years, quitting, and then getting married to her stepbrother. It worked out, they’re still married 20+ years later, have three teenage boys, and she got her bachelor’s in Early Elementary Ed. My mother died in March of the next year, my stepfather remarried, and moved out to Iowa selling my teenage home. Half the cast have been divorced, picked themselves up, and sometimes married again. All the cast has children of their own. If they’re not where they thought they’d be, what I heard from them tells me things are doing all right. As one of them put it, “Now that we’ve had those experiences (that their characters had), we could put on a much better version.”

So every time I see it, I still cry–it’s that good. Have you got something similar in your life? A song, a movie, even a HS play that represents to you childhood innocence? Let me know in the comments below!

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