Act Well Your Part
by Don Sakers
copyright © Don Sakers, 1986
Graff looked at his watch and stifled a moan. Only two-thirty.
It seemed that this class would never end.
Spivak continued her lecture, and Keith stared out the window.
It wasn't that he didn't like the class...but tryouts for the
fall play were this afternoon after school, and this was the
last period of the day.
it was a glorious October day. The sky was abroil with fast-moving
clouds in every shade of grey and white, and a crisp wind darted
through the schoolgrounds, carrying odd bits of trash as it went.
Keith knew that it was chilly outside, a delicious kind of chilly
that would have found him sitting by the fire to do his homework,
back in the other house. Here, of course, they had no fireplace.
rattled in their frames, and Keith could hardly contain his restlessness.
This was a time of year for possibilities, when the smell of
burning leaves filled the air and energies that had run free
all summer could be chained and disciplined to new tasks.
Spivak droned on, and Keith snuck another look at his watch.
Twenty-five minutes to go!
last week Keith had wanted time to stand still, or preferably
to move backwards. It had been a busy summer, what with Mom getting
a new job and the two of them moving to Oak Grove just in time
for Keith to start the school year in a new school. And he'd
been all set to spend his last two years at dear old familiar
Kinwood Senior High. Finishing sophomore year near the top of
his class, he had a comfortable circle of friends and was anticipating
a marvelous year in eleventh grade.
that was all over now. And he'd hated Oak Grove. Hated the idea
of being without friends, hated being the new kid who didn't
fit in anywhere, even hated the dingy twenty-year-old brick building
tryouts were announced, and Keith decided the new school wasn't
so bad after all. He had always enjoyed acting, and was involved
in dramatics at Kinwood. Here was a chance to get involved in
something he liked, to get to know some of his classmates, and
finally to have a way to fit in. Keith didn't mind if he got
just a minor part -- all he wanted was to be involved in the
stupid class would ever end!
the bell eventually rang Keith was up out of his seat in a flash.
He threw his books into his knapsack and raced out the door,
threaded his way through the crowded halls, just about flew down
the main stairs, and skidded to a halt in the broad corridor
outside the auditorium. Sure enough, there was the sign: "TRYOUTS
FOR FALL PLAY here after school."
was locked; Keith waited as patiently as he could until the drama
teacher, Mr. Hening ("Call me Bob") showed up. Hening
grinned when he saw Keith leaning against the auditorium door.
Keith. I knew you were eager, but I didn't think you were going
to be the first one here." From a belt hook Hening produced
a jumble of keys and fumbled through them trying to unlock the
door. "You could have stopped for a coke. It'll take me
a while to set up."
there anything I can do to help?"
unless you know which key unlocks this door. Ah, here
it is." He inserted the key, tried to turn it, and swore
under his breath. "No, that's not it either."
from the end," a new voice said.
you, Bran." Hening unlocked the door, then put an arm on
Keith's shoulder and turned him to meet the newcomer. "This
is Keith Graff, from my second-period class. He's destined to
be the next Peter O'Toole, so watch out for him. Keith, meet
Davenport was two or three inches taller than Keith -- five-foot-ten
or -eleven. His short black hair was a little mussed. He wore
a threadbare t-shirt imprinted on the front with "Oak Grove
Stage Crew." Bran's dark eyebrows gave him a somewhat satanic
look, but his boyish face and easy smile softened the impact.
A slight growth of downy fuzz lined his chin.
to meet you, Keith." Bran carried a cardboard box filled
with playbooks; he balanced it on one leg and offered his right
hand to Keith.
grip was warm and firm; his hands were slightly bigger than Keith's
but his fingers were thinner. His fingernails were trimmed; Keith,
an incurable nail-biter, felt a little ashamed of his own hands.
patted Keith on the back, then held open the door. "Let's
get inside now, that box can't be light." As Bran passed
him, Hening looked back at Keith and said in a stage-whisper,
"When Bran signed up to be a last-period drama aide, he
didn't know I'd be using him as a beast of burden."
the darkness ahead Bran laughed. "Don't let him kid you,
Keith. Bob uses everyone as a beast of burden."
can transfer to social studies if you want," Hening offered,
and leave show business?"
was lit only by two green EXIT signs over the doors; Keith moved
carefully to avoid bumping into something. He was impressed by
the way Bran and Bob Hening moved with calm assurance. Bran put
his box down on the stage, leaped up, and vanished into the wings.
A few seconds later there was a massive "thump" and
the house lights came up.
don't you take a seat, Keith; everyone else will be here soon."
Hening jumped onto the stage himself, and went into the back
more kids trickled in while Mr. Hening and Bran adjusted the
spotlights, and finally Hening appeared onstage and gave a little
pep talk about the fall play, and how he knew that everyone wanted
a part but after all there were only a limited number and he
hoped everyone would help out even if they didn't get a role
in the play. It was the same speech that the drama teacher at
Kinwood used to give, and Keith idly wondered if all drama teachers
was one of the first people to go on. He gave a short speech
from Man of LaMancha, the speech that his friend Frank
had delivered last year during Kinwood's production. Keith had
worked with Frank so often on the bit, he knew it inside and
you," Hening said. "We'll post the cast list on the
drama room door by tomorrow morning. You can stick around if
walked down the stairs off the stage, Keith saw Bran Davenport
flash him a smile and make a thumbs-up motion. At least someone
thought he had done well.
had told his mother he would call her for a ride home, and she
wouldn't be back from work until at least five-thirty. It was
only about three-thirty now; he decided to hang around for a
while and see how everyone else did. One or two of the other
kids were good, better than he was...and quite a few were worse.
Even some that he knew were leading lights in the Drama Club.
Bran Davenport came on stage, Keith sat up in his wooden seat
and brushed back his hair. This year's play was Arsenic and
Old Lace; Bran delivered from memory a speech from the second
act, with one of the senior girls reading all the other parts.
he finished, Bran came into the auditorium and sat down next
to Keith. "Hey, you did pretty well."
did you. A lot better than I did."
I've probably had a lot more experience than you. Hening is a
good director. You're new at Oak Grove, aren't you?"
is my first year. I'll say you've had experience. Didn't you
play the lead in the spring musical last year?"
fan. How did you know that?"
Hening showed us old programs in drama class. I recognized your
minute Mr. Hening looked right at Bran and frowned. "Bran,
perhaps you could extend your fellow actors the courtesy of being
quiet through their tryouts? Thank you."
smiled and motioned to Keith. "Come on, let's go out in
the hall. Then we can talk."
school a Coke machine was set up in the hallway between the cafeteria
and the auditorium; the two boys bought soft drinks and then
sat against the brick wall. Bran held up his can. "To a
Both took a sip, and then Keith sighed. "What part are you
thought you'd go after the lead."
Jerry Todd is going to get Mortimer. It's a simple part, and
Jerry needs the experience. I'm hoping Bob will let me tackle
Teddy. What a great part." For a second he fell into
a Teddy Roosevelt impersonation. "Bully, bully!" He
took another sip of coke. "Did your old school have a chapter
of the Thespian Society?"
nodded. He was well acquainted with the international society
of high school dramatists. "Yeah. I had two and a half points
when I left Kinwood." Points were awarded for various activities
connected with dramatics, from prop-management and costumes to
directing and playing the starring roles in a performance. Ten
points were enough to become a Thespian."
hell, we'll have you initiated by the end of the year, then.
You can carry over points from your last school, you know."
A last swig of coke, and Bran crushed the can absently.
seemed no way to continue the conversation, and yet Keith didn't
want Bran to leave. He looked sideways at the older boy, and
for a second Bran met his eyes. They stared at one another for
a few seconds, then Keith turned his head away, a little embarrassed.
"I guess I'd better be getting home."
are you getting there?"
shrugged. "Walk, I guess. My mom won't be home for a while
stood up, a process that he accomplished with a throw of his
shoulders and levitation. "Want a ride home? I've got a
car, and I'll be giving a couple of others a lift. You can't
be too far out of the way." Keith stood, trying to conceal
a sudden shiver. "If it's not putting you out too much."
then. Debbie and Laura ought to be done by now. Let me get them,
and we can go." Bran dashed into the auditorium, and Keith
leaned against the wall. He knees felt weak.
Keith boy, he thought to himself. Take it easy. You've just met
the guy. Star actor, and good-looking to boot...he probably has
half the girls in the senior class crawling over him. He's probably
going steady with one of them. He's probably...
was back, with two girls. "Keith Graff, this is Debbie Vovcenko
and Laura Birtonelli. Keith is new here."
a thin redhead, waved her fingers. "Pleased to meet you.
How do you like Oak Grove?"
I guess. I'm still getting used to it, I mean."
a short, chubby dark-haired girl, smiled. "Just don't let
anyone try to see you an elevator pass or send you to the pool
with a message." She shrugged. "No elevator, no pool.
They caught me with both of them when I was a freshman."
for the warning."
put his arms around Debbie's shoulder, and Keith did his best
not to react. "We're going to drop Keith at home, if you
girls don't mind."
chuckled. "Keith, you might be the one who minds.
If you've never seen Bran drive..."
you're in for quite an experience."
started toward the door with Debbie, then looked back over his
shoulder. "Nobody's died yet."
fault of yours."
can always walk if you want."
snatched at Keith's hand. "Come on, he's just liable to
leave without us."
only a fifteen-minute drive from school to Keith's house. He
couldn't find anything to fault about Bran's driving; in his
opinion the older boy drove with great care. Keith had been in
cars where all he could do was hold onto the seat and pray he
would survive -- Bran drove better than his mother.
Bran pulled up in front of the two-story frame house that Keith
was only now beginning to call home, Keith opened the car door
and put one foot on the ground. "Thanks for the ride. Hey,can
I ask you guys in for a drink or something?"
for the offer, kid. But I have to get Debbie home, she's got
to be at work in half an hour."
Okay." Keith tried not to show his disappointment, and he
didn't think he succeeded completely.
now that I know where you live, I mean, well, you'll probably
be staying after school for rehearsals, I could give you a ride
I wouldn't want you to have to go out of your way."
can talk about it later. Don't forget that the cast list will
be posted tomorrow."
be there bright and early." Keith waved. "Nice to meet
you, Debbie, Laura. And thanks again," he said to Bran.
boy gave him a smile, and the car pulled away.
let himself into the house, threw his books on his bed, and went
to the kitchen to fix himself a snack. He glanced at the morning
paper still scattered about the kitchen table, and read half
the front page without paying attention while he nibbled cookies.
was happening. Again.
been like this with Frank -- except, with Frank, it had come
on slowly. Frank and Keith had been friends since junior high,
and only during the last year had Keith come to realize that
he cared about Frank more than one friend usually cared about
had skirted the issue, enough for Keith to be sure that Frank
felt the same way...and then Mom got her new job, and Keith moved.
And just as well, he thought at the time, because it was after
all a pretty scary thing. And for all that he missed Frank, he
was also glad that nothing had...happened.
his paper towel, ricocheted it off the refrigerator into the
trash can, and rinsed his glass in the sink. Be honest, fella,
he said to himself as he looked out the window at the cloudy
October sky. Bran Davenport probably doesn't even like boys,
at least not in the way you're thinking of. And if he
did, which was a pretty big if, even if he did he probably
wouldn't give you a second look. He's a senior, member of the
Thespians, star of last year's play, and aide to the drama teacher.
You're a newcomer, lower than a freshman.
it, Keith. Your job is to get yourself accepted by some of the
other kids at school. You did a good job today with Bran and
the two girls, just keep it up. And don't cause trouble by letting
your feelings lead you into doing something stupid.
turned on the television, and an hour and a half later his mother
found him there when she walked in the door. "Okay, son,
get up. You set the table and I'll get dinner. Then there's time
for you to gather up the trash before we eat."
his hair. "Don't 'Aw, Mom' me, trash day is tomorrow and
you know you're not going to feel like it later tonight."
She kissed him. "How did school go?"
you have play tryouts today?" She looked at her watch as
they moved to the kitchen. "I thought I'd have to come get
got a ride with some kids who tried out."
good." She started making dinner while Keith cleared away
the paper and set the table. As he worked he told his mother
about the fall play, about Mr. Hening, about his history class
and the latest experiment in physics, and bout the TV shows he'd
watched while waiting for her to come home.
the table was set Keith went about the house emptying trash cans,
and dragged the big metal can out to the curb for the garbage
men. Rain or shine, they would be here at six o'clock tomorrow
morning, their truck snorting and can lids crashing, and Keith
would know it was time to get up. He never overslept on Tuesdays
way back to the house Keith looked up at the sky. About half
of it was obscured by clouds...but there was a gibbous moon darting
in and out of the clouds, and where the sky was clear the stars
shone through with bright jewel-like light. For a while he stood
in his shirtsleeves, looking at the sky and smelling the clean
air. Then he caught himself shivering and went back inside.
dinner his mother read the latest letter from his grandmother,
and they spent the rest of the meal in animated conversation
about various relatives.
dessert Keith's mother stared at him and a smile played around
the corners of her mouth. "Offhand, I'd say you like Oak
Grove a lot more than you did a week ago."
makes you say that?"
been talking nonstop since I walked in the door. A week ago all
you said was variations on 'I hate Oak Grove and I wish we had
laughed. "Yeah, I guess I was in a bad mood."
why the change?"
don't know. Tryouts, I guess."
probably right." She stood, picked up her plate and Keith's,
and started loading the dishwasher. Chuckling, she said, "One
thing's for sure, this is a different Keith than the one who
lived here last week. And I think I like the improvement."
She was silent for a moment. "An outside observer would
probably decide that you were in love."
know, I know. It's none of my business."
not in love. I'm just in a better mood because of tryouts."
I know. I was just telling you what an outside observer would
to hide a blush, Keith handed her the dirty glasses and then
turned away. "I'm going to my room. I have some homework
tenderly. "Okay. Don't forget that movie you want to see
is on at nine tonight."
won't forget." Keith went to his room, took out his history
book, and did his best to lose himself in studying.