Like a lot of professional actors I first trod the boards in a school Christmas play. It was second grade and the play was the idea of Mrs. Knight, one of the greatest teacher’s I’d ever have. She had a Master’s degree in education which, surprisingly, did not interfere with her ability to teach. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and challenged us to think. She told us “There’s no such thing as a bad word,” and I said, “Holy shit!” because semantics is heavy stuff when you’re seven years old. She kept us apprised of current events in science. We built a papier-mâché solar system that stretched from one end of the classroom to the other and read about Jacques Cousteau’s undersea expeditions. She was also a big fan of Star Wars, which had just come out the summer before, and thought we should put on a Star Wars-themed Christmas play.
The plot was pretty straightforward: Darth Vader decides to steal Santa’s beard which, we learn, is the source of all of his magic power. It’s the beard that allows Santa Claus to fly around the entire globe in a single night, delivering toys without setting off alarm systems or getting shot. That amount of power would also presumably make rebuilding the Death Star a lot easier. Grounded on Christmas Eve Santa is desperate until Luke Skywalker makes a dramatic entrance and announces that he’ll carry the toys in his X-Wing fighter, or maybe the Millennium Falcon which, let’s face it, has a lot more cargo space, and deliver them, thus saving Christmas and giving Santa’s beard a year to grow back.
It was all very simple and observed the Aristotelian unities. It would be filled out with a few Christmas carols, accompanied by our music teacher Ms. McKraken on the piano. There was, I think, a subplot about Santa agreeing to help Han Solo pay off some debts to Jabba, but that ended up on the cutting room floor.
I was cast as C-3PO, because Mrs. Knight recognized that robots and British accents were a specialty of mine, but also because that’s who I’d been for Halloween so I still had the costume. And I was pretty excited because I’d never been in a play before, and it didn’t bother me that I only had one line. At least I had a line, unlike R2-D2 who didn’t even have a single beep and could easily have been played by a cardboard box. And, in fact, that’s what R2-D2 was: the smallest kid in the class inside a cardboard box. And I did try to expand the robot roles by writing a duet for C-3PO and R2-D2. I gave it directly to Mrs. Knight, since I didn’t have an agent at the time. She liked it but it too ended up on the cutting room floor, or maybe in the trash can over by the coats, since it did nothing to move the main narrative forward, but that’s another story.
My one line was “R2 and I will shoot the toys down the chimney with our laser guns.”
It was so clumsy and stilted it could have been written by Lucas himself, and then there were the logistical issues. Even if a blaster could be refitted to shoot toys instead of high energy photons, in less than twenty-four hours, C-3PO could barely hold a gun, let alone shoot one. Still, the theater always requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, and on the big day we took our places on the stage and almost everyone delivered their lines on cue.
It wasn’t stage fright and I didn’t forget my line. I just forgot when I was supposed to say it. Fortunately Ms. McKraken was there to give me a gentle nudge. I said my line. Then, as we all went into a rousing chorus of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, I looked out over the audience and, like so many who’ve been in Christmas plays, realized that was where I belonged: in the audience.