At Shakespeare Camp that summer, the big drama was that Lady Capulet was texting Mercutio behind Tybalt’s back and everybody knew but him. Also, Benvolio came out of the closet during Trust Circle the second week of rehearsal, which wasn’t really surprising, but still, we all hugged him and he cried. Then the girl playing Friar Laurence started crying and soon lots of people were crying.
The other thing—and I pretended not to know, but I knew—is that everyone was talking about how I kept choking on Juliet’s last monologue, the death scene. In the bathroom one morning, I heard Tara Marshall say, “Well, she should never have gotten that part to begin with.” Tara never said my name, but I knew she was talking about me.
I’d never been a lead before, but I usually got okay parts, probably because of the memorizing thing. The directors always seemed so surprised and so happy when I showed up completely off-book at the second rehearsal. Word got around, I guess, because by my second year at camp I was already doing characters with long and complicated monologues.
The monologues were usually kind of weird, like the Queen Mab speech that Mercutio gives. I don’t think anybody really pays attention during that speech anyway, to be honest. When the directors start talking about figurative language, or how beautiful the writing is, it’s usually code for “this part of the play is boring.”
Nobody ever asked me how I learned my lines so fast, thank god. My mom says eidetic memory is interesting and nothing to be embarrassed about, which I think is what moms legally have to say when there’s something about you that’s weird. If I look at something for long enough—a book or a picture, or something—it just kind of sticks in my mind. It’s probably why I decided to do Shakespeare Camp, even though I know I’m sort of a sucky actress.
When they announced R and J for the summer, I just assumed Jessica Jacobsen would be Juliet, because she usually gets the best girl parts. She’s pretty and dramatic and she emotes on stage like you’re supposed to. Plus, her mom is apparently a real actress in San Francisco and she never shuts up about it. (Like, whatever, my mom is a research and grants administrator, cool, nobody cares.)
I remember her walking out of her audition saying “It was horrible,” but she always said that, so I didn’t really think about it when I went in after her. I still don’t remember exactly what I did that was so good, except that I had this funny idea in my head that instead of trying to be Juliet I should try to be Jessica Jacobsen trying to be Juliet. And I guess that worked, because when I finished Kristen, the director, said “That was really, really good” and she usually doesn’t say stuff like that, or at least not to me.
When you did something really well, but you only did it once and you don’t know how you did it, it’s hard to do it again. Every single day at rehearsal I tried to remember how I did it the first time when I pretended to be Jessica pretending to be Juliet, but it was never quite the same.
I could tell Kristen was annoyed at me, because during rehearsal she’d say things like, “I know you know all the lines, but try to forget the words and feel the feelings.” Do directors really think that helps? Also, personally, I think telling people to forget the words is terrible advice.
The worst part was that half my scenes were with Jessica Jacobsen, who played the nurse. Even though she’d been mad at first, she was actually really good, half funny and half sad.
The night before the performance I ate eight marshmallows and re-read the first Harry Potter book. It was the closest I felt all summer to understanding why someone would want to just die and get it over with.
The performance went as well as a performance of Romeo and Juliet with a crappy Juliet can go. Everyone cheered loudest for Jessica during curtain calls, and afterward I told my mom I wanted to skip the cast party and go home.
I think my mom could tell I was in a bad mood because she didn’t say anything when we got in the car and I turned the radio to 97.3 without asking.
“I wonder what play they’ll do next year,” she said.
I started pulling the bobby pins out of my hair. “Maybe I’ll do something else next summer,” I said.
She looked over. “How come?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
I sort of expected she’d say something mom-like, and tell me I was great in the play, and I should definitely come back next year. But she didn’t. She just said “Well, it’s up to you.” It made me feel better, in a funny way.
Jessica Jacobsen goes to a different school but I saw her at Long’s Drugs a few months ago. She told me she heard it was probably going to be As You Like It next summer. I’m sure she’ll play Rosalind. When I got home after that I thought about telling my mom I changed my mind about doing Shakespeare Camp again, but then I remembered how much this summer sucked, and also that I hate plays.