As the audience files into the Performing Arts Center (PAC) to see one of the many plays and musicals that dot our school calendar each year, one can feel the excitement and anticipation filling the room. Whether it’s a third grade production of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” or an Upper School presentation of “Twelve Angry Men,” the seats are filled by a congregation already won over, primed for an entertaining performance by their favorite actors, singers, and musicians. They are assured of a show that they will never forget – one that will tug at their emotions and send them home filled with joy – with their hearts and cameras overflowing with memories. A Fessenden show is a hit even before the curtain opens.
Nonetheless, waiting backstage, our young performers are nervously reviewing their lines and lyrics, checking their props, making sure that their costumes are perfect. Even though the audience is guaranteed to offer a “Standing ‘O’” at the end of the show, the boys are determined not to let them down. They want to be perfect, or at the very least, not bring the show to a screeching halt by forgetting an entrance, missing a cue, or standing silently when their line is expected. Whether it’s the first grader playing a little duckling or the ninth grader portraying Clarence Darrow, both are facing what feels like a pivotal moment in his life.
As he stands behind the set, constructed out of flats and platforms that have been used and re-used over many years of Fessenden drama, our Fessy performer may see the many “autographs” scrawled onto the wood: the signatures of students who came before him, who have stood backstage in the same place – ready to “go on” in a production of “Harvey”, “Little Shop of Horrors”, or “The Hobbit”. He feels that he is an important part of something that is substantial — bigger than him. Seeing these traces of the past is simultaneously reassuring and daunting. He knows that other boys have survived this terrifying moment before him and he is eager to live up to the performances of those legendary boys who came before.
In the end, the show always goes on. The curtain closes, the audience rises, and boys emerge from backstage with overflowing feelings of accomplishment that are hard to describe. As the PAC slowly empties, parents leave with proud young men, and with an indelible memory that will stay with them throughout their lives.