Two decades after I met him, Marcus Newbury remains stuck in my brain like gum to the underside of a classroom desk.He was a gangly high school senior, with bright orange hair and skin as pale as if he'd been lit from within by a black light. I was a freshman with teased bangs, clear braces, and a penchant for writing extraordinarily bad love poems. It was clear (to me, anyway) that Marcus and I were destined to be together. He may not have been much to look at, but Marcus had something the other boys didn't. He was an Actor.
When I went with my girlfriends to a school production of Man of La Mancha, Marcus' Don Quixote left me quivering with a fervent desire to be his Dulcinea. His Cossack dancing in Fiddler on the Roof was so passionate that my own knees ached with longing. Struck, I'm guessing, by the fact that I followed him everywhere with the adoring expression of a badly permed puppy dog, Marcus eventually befriended me, introducing me to a group of students for which I'd forever have a soft spot—the Drama Nerds.
You remember them. You may even have been one yourself. High school styles change over the years and words like "groovy" give way to "sweet," but Drama Nerds stay pretty much the same. They wear black and quote Shakespeare. They make theatrical props part of their daily attire. They speak in dialect, whether they're appearing in The Importance of Being Earnest on the cafetorium stage or answering a teacher's question in Algebra.
While I eventually yanked Marcus off the pedestal I'd built for him (his unzipped fly in Little Shop of Horrors made him a school-wide laughingstock), the Drama Nerds captured my heart forever. Short of a keg party, they were about the most entertaining way to while away the teen years, and I spent hours in high school and college rehearsing with them, performing with them and generally enjoying their company. So when my stepdaughter got her first taste of the Drama Nerd life after landing a minor role in her high school's fall play, I was thrilled.
Within a week of the first rehearsal, the Drama Nerds had accepted her into their fold. In hushed tones backstage, they told her of Sophie, an unfortunate girl who'd lived in a cottage that burned down on the school's property 50 years earlier. Sophie was a senior who never got the chance to graduate, and therefore spends all of her time now haunting Drama Nerds. Why Drama Nerds, you ask? Well, why not?
A few weeks after telling my stepdaughter and her fellow newbie cast members about this paranormal activity, the Drama Nerds decided it was time to let them in on a ritual that went back many, many semesters. Leading their initiates inside the Green Room, they shut the door, revealing a ghostly scrawl on the back.
"It was so weird!" my stepdaughter reported later. "It said like, 'This is the day it all happen! This is the day you...slide down a razer blade into alcohol. This is the day you...' um. It was really gross. 'This is the day you...eat herpes.' "
At that point, I burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," I said. "Eat herpes? Eww."
"I know!" my stepdaughter agreed nodding. "But they made us read it aloud and we had to be really serious. And they said Sophie wrote it and we were supposed to pass it down to the new cast members that come after us. And then my friend Susan said, 'There are a lot of grammatical errors here. She spelled "razor" wrong and wrote "happen" instead of "happens." Are you sure she was a senior?' And then one of the Drama Nerds started crying."
"Wow," I said. "That's passion. They were really into it." My stepdaughter nodded. I can picture some of you parents out there shuddering as you read this story, thankful that your own Bubba Jr. prefers wrestling after school and little Sarah Grace shows every sign of fitting in with the rest of the girls in her class. Your kids may not end up Rhodes scholars, but they most certainly won't be Drama Nerds either.
While the Drama Nerd's flair for the dramatic and burning desire to stand out from the crowd won't earn many Homecoming Queen votes, it totally comes in handy down the road. One of the Drama Nerds from my high school years now is headlining on London's West End. Two of them have had leading roles on Broadway. Two more star on NBC's The Office. And one just won a Pulitzer Prize for the engrossing stories she writes about her life each week in the local newspaper.
Okay, so that last one actually hasn't happened yet. But I've got to keep dreaming big.
It's a Drama Nerd thing.
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