Just practicing, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 13 November 2001)


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This fictional account contains adult language and themes.  If such language
and themes offend you, please do not read further.  The persons and events
described in this work are purely fictional.  Any similarity to actual
persons or events is strictly coincidental.  Copyright 2001 by SSTORYMAN.
All rights reserved.  Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this story in
any form and for any purpose as long as this notice is reproduced and no
financial remuneration is received, directly or indirectly, by the person
reproducing it.

JUST PRACTICING

1.	The Part of a Lifetime.

   "Come in, Mick."  The professor gave his student assistant a sheet of
paper.  Dr. Lowdermilk smiled.  "Here's something you'll be interested in.
It's ready to be posted."

   Mick looked at it.  It listed the cast members for the spring play.

   Cast members chosen for upcoming plays were posted on the bulletin board
in the theater building.  "Winners" and "losers" from the tryouts were always
announced that way.

   Mick looked at the cast.  He whistled.  "Oh my God!  This will surprise
people, Doc!"

   Dr. Lowdermilk nodded with a smile.  "I assume you're referring to my
decision on the female lead."

   Mick nodded.  "Everybody thought Chelsea Cook would get the lead role of
Harriet Ginsburg in 'Reckless.'  Who's this person?  Megan Ware?"

   "Yes, she's a freshman.  Megan had a small role in 'Two Gentlemen of
Verona' last fall.  She's in my Theater Performance class this spring.  Does
a nice job.  She's very talented."

   "But Doc!  A freshman?  Chelsea's a junior and a theater major.  She's
taken every class you teach.  And she's never had a lead in a main stage
department show."

   The older man smiled.  "Chelsea's a fine student, and she has a big
supporting role in this play.  She'll do well.  But Megan deserves the lead.
She nailed it when she read the part.  She's a freshman, but she had lots of
high school experience in a good drama program.  In high school she was Anne
in 'Anne of Green Gables,' and Elvira Condomine in Noel Coward's 'Blithe
Spirit.'  She's done drama and comedy."  He smiled at his assistant.  "Mick,
I don't like to be predictable.  Chelsea's talented.  But giving a lead to a
talented freshman instead of an upper classman shakes things up a bit.  And
that's not bad."

   "Whatever you say, Doc."  Mick smiled.  He'd have to find out who this
Megan person was.  This _would_ shake things up among the theater majors.
Chelsea would be pissed as hell!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   Christi Richards burst into her dorm room.  "Megan!  Oh my God!  I can't
believe it!  You got the lead in 'Reckless!'  You get to play Harriet
Ginsburg in the spring play!"

   "Yeah, I know," Megan grinned.  "I'm excited."

   "Wow, no kidding," her roommate went on.  "And you beat out Chelsea Cook!
You must be so proud!"

   "I am surprised.  I never expected to get the part.  Chelsea's a junior
and I'm just a freshman.  I can't believe Dr. Lowdermilk gave me the role.  I
just called my folks.  They're super excited.  They're going to come to
campus to see the play late next month."

   "It's so cool," Christi jabbered on.  "You get to play Harriet Ginsburg,
the great womens' libber.  She's a legend.  Everyone's heard of her, seen her
on TV, or read her books.  She and women like Gloria Steinem pioneered
feminist ideology in the seventies and changed perceptions of women's roles.
And since the play is Harriet's biography, you're on stage the whole time!"

   "Yeah.  But Christi, you got a part, too.  Aren't you excited?"

   "It's a small part.  But it'll be neat to be in it with you.  Thanks for
encouraging me to try out.  I never expected to get in.  We can go to
rehearsals together and everything.  It'll be great."

   Megan nodded.  "This is my big break.  I only had a little part in 'Two
Gentlemen of Verona' last fall.  It's weird.  Chelsea Cook played Sylvia in
'Two Gentlemen' and I was her mostly silent attendant.  Now she plays
Harriet's sister in "Reckless," and I have the big part."  She frowned.  "I
hope Chelsea doesn't hate me.  She wanted this lead."

   "She can't hate you.  Anyway, it's not your fault.  Dr. Lowdermilk made
the decision.  You'll wow everyone, Megan.  I know it.  You'll be great."

   Megan nodded.  She loved theater.  In high school she was voted
outstanding female drama student her senior year.  She could do character
roles, like a crotchety old woman in a comedy, just as well as she could play
a sweet young ingenue in a drama.  In high school her teacher called her the
"chameleon."  It was a nickname she earned.  At college, she wanted to become
a fixture in the theater department; this was her chance to make it happen.

   She was tall and thin with curly brown hair.  Her soaring, lithe frame
magnified her commanding stage presence.  She controlled the stage like few
actresses her age.  The part of Harriet Ginsburg in 'Reckless' was a plum
role.  She was determined to make the most of it!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   Chelsea and Mick sat in the back of the Front Street coffee shop.
Chelsea's roommate, Brenda was with them.  Chelsea was fuming.

   "Fuck!  I don't believe Dr. Lowdermilk gave the 'Reckless' lead to that
ditzy, frizzy-haired freshman," she muttered.  "I've paid my dues in the
theater department since freshman year, constantly sucking up to Dr.
Lowdermilk, and just look at the thanks I get!  Fuck!"

   Brenda smiled.  "Chill, Chelsea.  I know you're disappointed.  Mick and I
agree with you.  But there's nothing to be done.  Sometimes life's unfair."

   Chelsea irately picked up her Marlboro Lights 100's, shook out a cigarette
and put it in her mouth.  Her blond hair was tied securely behind her head,
but out of habit she absent-mindedly brushed a non-existent strand away from
her face as she clicked her lighter.  She lit up with a long, powerful, first
drag on her cigarette, followed by a double-pump.  Smoke streamed from her
nostrils while her cheeks remained hollowed.

   "God, I'm _so_ pissed," she went on after sucking the smoke into her
chest.  "I should go to her freshman dorm and punch her fuckin' lights out!"

   Mick spoke.  "Chelsea, settle.  Get a grip.  Hating her won't solve a
thing.  Do a bang-up job as Harriet's sister Linda.  Show everyone who's the
better actress.  If you do your usual great job, everyone will know who's the
real star.  And it won't be Megan Ware."

   Brenda, too, reached for a cigarette.  "I agree, Chelsea.  That girl's
good, but she's not in your league."  She lit up.  "If you want revenge, blow
her out of the water on stage.  Dr. Lowdermilk will have to give you the lead
in one of next year's shows.  But if you screw up in 'Reckless' you'll ruin
your next chance."

   "Yeah, I know," Chelsea wryly observed, flipping a dangling ash in the
ashtray.  "I do want revenge, but I know I must stay focused.  Mark my words,
though.  That freshman bitch Megan Ware will regret the day she aced me out
of that part.  I guarantee it!"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   "Okay, people, gather 'round.  Let me tell you how I see this playing
out."

   The cast and crew congregated round Dr. Lowdermilk at the first rehearsal.

   "The script doesn't require it, but I want to stage the play this way.
Harriet will deliver all her monologues off to the side, from a corner of the
stage.  There's a monologue that opens act one; a second one at the start of
act two; and two in the last act, one at the beginning and one at the end.
We'll have a small table and chair stage left.  Harriet will open each act in
her chair, deliver her opening monologue, and then move to center stage to
join the action with the others."

   The students nodded.  The cast was seven women and five men.  All had play
books in hand.  No lines were yet memorized.  Dr. Lowdermilk, the director,
was outlining the staging of the show.  Megan was there, with Chelsea and
Brenda, all of whom had parts.  The cast and stage crew listened attentively.
Mick was on the stage crew.

   "The play opens in 1965.  Harriet's considering getting a masters degree
in literature.  The second act's in 1967, between her masters and her
doctoral program at Columbia.  The last act opens with Harriet teaching at
Berkeley as a new professor in the fall of 1969.  During the play, she
becomes more radical as a feminist and grows edgier.  Her expanding awareness
as a militant, a radical, if you will, makes it happen."  He looked at Megan.
"In the monologues, the only light will be a spot on your table.  In each
successive act, we'll dress you more radically.  In 1965 you look
traditional.  By 1967, in act two, your hair changes and you wear fringe.  In
the third act you're a flower child, the late sixties look.  The costumes and
hair show Harriet's growing radicalism.  I have one more idea.  Did you all
see that tape I put on reserve in the library, the PBS documentary on her
life, that showed the real Harriet Ginsburg teaching in her Berkeley
classroom in the seventies?"

   Several heads nodded, including Megan's.

   "Good.  Then you saw that Harriet always smoked in her classroom.  In the
sixties and seventies professors could smoke in class."   He smiled.  "When I
was an undergrad, students could smoke in many classes, too.  So, to
highlight Harriet's emerging activism from 1965 to 1969, I want Megan to
smoke during the monologues in acts two and three, like the real Harriet
Ginsburg did, including smoking in the classroom scene in act three.  What do
you think?"

   "Um, okay."  The suggestion caught Megan off guard.  "Yeah, I guess I can
do that," she said without conviction.

   "Great."  Dr. Lowdermilk ignored her lack of enthusiasm.  "Here's how I
see it.  Act one opens; Harriet's dressed conservatively.   No smoking.
She's a regular Doris Day.  In the second act, she's dressed edgier and
immediately lights up.  She smokes throughout the monologue, but only once.
In act three, she chain smokes during her first monologue.  She also smokes
in the classroom scenes and in the closing monologue."  He glanced at Megan.
"Can you handle it?"

   The freshman gulped.  "I don't know, Dr. Lowdermilk.  I mean, I'm an
actress.  I can do anything you want.  But the script doesn't say anything
about Harriet smoking."

   "Of course it doesn't," the professor agreed.  "But Harriet Ginsburg is a
real person, and this play is biographical.  I want you to imitate her actual
behavior.  This will convey the growing radicalization that made her the
feminine activist she became when she hit Berkeley in the late sixties.
Changing costumes, hair styles and how much she smokes as the play progresses
shows the audience the changes taking place inside her.  This play's about a
woman who recklessly assailed the halls of traditional academia in the
sixties.  I want your Harriet to be an assertive, ass kicking, in-your-face
person.  In the sixties women smoking was still radical and edgy and, in
Harriet's case, true to life, too.  Got it?"

   Megan nodded.  "Got it."

   Afterwards, Megan and Christi walked back to their dorm.  "God, Megan, I
can't believe you didn't squawk about Dr. Lowdermilk's idea.  It sounds like
you'll smoke a lot on stage."

   "Yeah, I'm not crazy about it.  But what could I say?  You saw the video.
The real Harriet Ginsburg smoked all the time in the sixties and seventies.
The play's about her life.  I can't tell Dr. Lowdermilk I won't play her the
way she really was."

   "But you don't smoke, Megan," Christi went on.  "What are you going to
do?"

   She shrugged.  "I'll learn.  An actress does what she has to in order to
play her part.  I did 'Blithe Spirit' in high school, and my character was a
ghost.  I wore a flowing, see-through white dress.  In the lights it was
almost transparent.  My parents didn't like it; it was too revealing.  But it
was necessary.  The show must go on, and all that crap."

   Christi shook her head.  "So, what?  Are you going to practice smoking?"

   Megan sighed.  "I guess.  A girl in my Econ class smokes.  I know her
pretty well.  I'll ask her for help.  Don't worry.  I can fake my way though
it.  I won't like it, but I can do it."  She smiled serenely.  "In high
school they called me the 'chameleon.'  I did anything I had to do to become
my character.  If Dr. Lowdermilk wants me to smoke to play Harriet, well
then, I'll smoke.  If he wanted me to yodel and stand on my hands, I'd do
that, too.  That's what being an actress is all about."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   "Okay, everyone, good work.  Thursday we do act three.  Have your lines
down.  No excuses."  Dr. Lowdermilk paused.  "Megan, can we talk for a moment
before you go?"

   It was two weeks later.  Rehearsals were now three nights a week.  Basic
blocking was over, and interim props were in place.  The cast and crew ran
through one act each rehearsal.  This was the night for act two.

   "Megan, let's talk about your smoking," he began, standing on the edge of
the stage while Christi her roommate waited.  "It's not working.  You hold
your cigarette like you're carrying a snake.  You look uncomfortable as hell.
The audience must believe Harriet's a smoker.  It was part of her radical
sixties persona.  But you look like a high school girl who never held a
cigarette in her life.  What are we going to do about this problem?"

   "I don't know, Dr. Lowdermilk," Megan murmured, staring at the ground.
"I'm trying."

   "Not hard enough, apparently.  You need to smoke assertively, believably."
He changed his tone and smiled.  "You can pull it off, Megan.  I know you
can.  Some people think I fucked up giving you, a freshman, the part of
Harriet, rather than Chelsea Cook.  Don't make me look bad.  Help me out
here."

   "I want it to work, Dr. Lowdermilk.  I really do.  I want to do it right.
It's just that ... well, it's not as easy as I thought."

   The director thought for a moment.  "How about this?  Chelsea Cook smokes.
So does Brenda, her roommate.  They're in the play.  They could coach you.
What do you say?"

   Megan fumbled.  "Uh, I guess that'd work.  To be honest, though, I think
Chelsea's still upset about not getting the part of Harriet.  I'm not sure
she'd be real eager to help me."

   "Nonsense.  She's a team player.  Sure she was disappointed.  But if I
ask, she'll give you a hand."  It was his turn to pause.  "Megan, I'm not
pushing smoking.  It's a nasty habit, one I gave up years ago.  But Harriet
Ginsburg was a smoker in the sixties.  Many feminists of that period smoked.
To look authentic, I need you to do it realistically."

   "I know," she reluctantly agreed.  "Okay.  If Chelsea's willing, she can
show me how."  She purposely didn't add the words 'to smoke.'  "I'll do my
best."

   "That's the girl," Dr. Lowdermilk smiled.  "I'll have Chelsea call you."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   "Brenda, Dr. Lowdermilk wants _me_ to help Megan smoke.  It's too funny!"

   "Why?" Brenda asked.  "What's funny about it?  That poor girl obviously
_does_ need lots of help!"

   The two theater majors were roommates, but they looked totally different.
Chelsea was tall and thin with frizzy dishwater blond hair.  Brenda was a
petite fireplug, a buxom platinum blond.  Her hair was as short as Chelsea's
was long.  Their friends called them 'Mutt and Jeff,' a reference to the
cartoon characters, one of whom was tall and thin and the other short and
stocky.  Brenda was smoking.

   "It's funny is because Megan's such a nerd," Chelsea continued.  "Before
our rehearsals began, she'd probably never smoked once in her pathetic life.
It's ironic, though, that Doc asked me to help her, because recently I've
been thinking about quitting."

   "Oh, bullshit!"  Brenda laughed and dragged on her full-flavored Benson &
Hedges.  "I've heard that crap from you so many times, Chelsea.  But you'll
never quit.  Face it.  You're _so_ not living in reality when you say that!"

   The taller girl made a face.  "I never wanted to smoke.  A guy I dated in
high school did.  He nagged me; he wanted me to.  So I did.  Before I knew
it, bam, I was hooked.  He ditched me when he went to college.  He was gone,
but he left me with this abiding souvenir of our shitty relationship."  She
pointed at her pack of Marlboro Lights 100's.  "I couldn't quit, even though
I tried.  The bastard!"

   "I've heard this hundreds of times, Chelsea.  I don't believe a word of
it.  No matter what you say, you like to smoke.  I should know.  We live
together.  You love lighting up first thing every morning.  You can't wait
for your next cigarette.  You're like me, Chelsea.  You're a smoker.  You'll
always be a smoker.  I can't believe you're still talking about trying to
quit!"

   "I hate having to smoke all the time," the tall girl lamented.  "I hate
dealing with the terrible, sinking feeling I get late at night when I realize
I'm out of cigarettes and need to go out to buy more.  I wish I'd didn't get
edgy when I'm someplace where no smoking's allowed.  And I hate to think
about what I'm doing to my body by smoking so much.  God, someday, just once,
I'd like to go through a day without needing a cigarette!"

   Brenda shook her head and smiled sarcastically  "Yeah, and I wish I looked
just like Cameron Diaz!  Look, Chelsea, you're dreaming.  You've smoked as
long as I've known you.  I know your triggers.  You can't stand not smoking
when someone else is having one.  As long as we live together, you'll keep
smoking, because I'm sure as hell not quitting.  And if I smoke, you'll want
to smoke with me."

   Chelsea reached for her Marlboro Lights 100's.  "I know.  You're right."
She lit up, sadly took a long drag and sucked the smoke deep into her lungs.
"It's weird, but I love it and hate it at the same time."  She paused to
exhale.  "But think, Brenda.  This is an opportunity for revenge on that
freshman nerd.  Doc wants me to teach Megan to smoke.  Okay, I will.  And
I'll get her hooked, too!"  She giggled.  "God, it'll be cool!  Long after
this play's over, Megan will take with her with the same souvenir that my
high school boyfriend left me:  An everlasting, hopeless addiction to
cigarettes!"

   A smile covered Brenda's face.  "Chelsea, you're brilliant!  I love it
when freshmen get seduced into smoking.  It happens every fall term.  Most of
'em think it's _so_ cool.  They happily puff away, away from mommy and daddy
for the first time.  But pretty soon, before they know it, they're hooked!
They can't stop.  They become like me; like us.  They're smokers!"

   "And why does that excite you?"

   "I don't know," Brenda admitted.  She reached for her gold pack to get
another B&H.  "It just does.  I like seeing people smoke.  I understand the
enticement, and I love to see others learn to appreciate it."  She lit up.
"I'd love to get Megan Ware in the fold.  If she majors in theater, she'll
fit right in with the rest of us, as a smoker."  She smiled and thrust out
her lower lip, releasing a stream of silky white smoke toward the ceiling.

   "Sometimes you scare me, Brenda."

   "Oh, come on, Chelsea.  You love hanging out when we smoke and drink.  To
include Megan in our circle as a smoker isn't really 'revenge'.  It's more
like a reward."

   "You think about it your way; I'll think about it mine," retorted the tall
blond.  "Either way, I'll invite Megan over.  She'll have no idea what she's
getting herself into."

   Brenda nodded with an evil grin.  "You're right about that, Chelsea."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   Like many theater majors, Mick smoked.  Freshman year he dated Brenda.
She was a year older.  During their short-lived relationship, he began a new
life as a smoker.  Brenda's jubilant description to Chelsea of how she loved
drawing na´ve, non-smokers 'in the fold,' as she called it, happened to Mick.
Brenda teased him mercilessly and shamed him into smoking.  It began under
duress, but it didn't stay that way.  Soon Mick enjoyed repeated nicotine
stimulation, and liked hanging out with Brenda's smoking buddies, like
Chelsea.  They were fun; more fun than his friends.  So he paid his dues and
became a bona fide member of the theater group.  Smoking was part of the
identity.  He loved being in it, though he sometimes wondered if he'd made a
mistake from a health standpoint.  But if he started to worry, he simply lit
up.  That always cured everything.

   After his relationship with Brenda, Mick began admiring Chelsea.  The
tall, thin dishwater blond with silky long hair made him weak in the knees.
She showed no interest in him, except as a friend.  But being a smoker let
him remain part of Chelsea and Brenda's clique.  Mick willingly continued
smoking as a condition of membership.

   Hearing of the plan to trick Megan into getting addicted to nicotine, he
volunteered to help.  He was neither interested in, or opposed to, seeing
Megan become a smoker.  After all, Brenda did it to him, and most of the time
he didn't regret it.  But he wanted to help Chelsea.  She might see him in a
new light if he was a co-conspirator.  So the troika was set.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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