• Michelle Roberts-Garcia

Becoming the (Sc)mee I was meant to be

When I was ten years old, my mom sent me off to my second summer of Girl Scout camp. I’d spent the school year schlepping Girl Scout cookies and earning badges, and now it was finally my time to go crazy at camp. I’d worked hard during the year, both in school and in the Girl Scout meetings and outings we had after classes and on the weekends. I had always loved going away to camp, and all the perks/freedom that came with it. It filled me with a sense of wonder and excitement, letting me explore my individuality away from home and my normal day to day routine. I loved staying in the mountains that bordered my home- every morning the air smelled crisp and refreshing, the scent of pine hitting like a tonic to my city girl boredom. I liked the daily “chores” assigned to each brownie and Girl Scout that made the camp feel like a home away from home. I liked the hustle and bustle of 50 other people my age hiking, crafting, cooking and playing. Most of all, I loved the fact that every year they put on an all camp play which would be performed in front of parents, counselors, and friends at the end of the season. I had always been a dramatic kid, and theater was something I enjoyed both in and out of school. Like most girls my age, I believed I was going to be an actress one day.

The play that year was a theatrical rendition of Peter Pan, one of my all-time favorite movies growing up. The counselors always held tryouts for the leading and supporting roles, and I desperately hoped I would be cast as either Peter Pan or Wendy. I remember thinking I’d even be happy to play Tinkerbell- after all, what was it my drama teacher always told us? There were no small roles? I practiced my audition every chance I got, convinced my dedication would pay off. My memories of many things in the years since have faded, to the point where I couldn’t even tell you what I had for dinner last night, but I will never forget that meeting after auditions when I was assigned my part. The camp leaders brought me into one of the larger cabins that had been sanctioned for tryouts and casting, and asked me to sit down. They told me how impressed with my audition they had been, and I held my breath, waiting to be assigned my starring role. They smiled widely at me, and the anticipation bubbled. Then they said: “After much consideration, we have cast you in the role of Smee, Captain Hook’s faithful sidekick, and right-hand man. We think your deep, raspy voice will be perfect for that role- and your goofy nature matches his perfectly.” For those of you who have never been a 10-year-old girl, please understand: You never want to be told your crowning feature is your deep, raspy man voice. I had been told I had a baritone since I was very little, but until that moment, I simply thought it had been a unique quirk, not something that would keep me from playing the leading roles I dreamed of. If my voice was only suited to roles like Smee, a 50-year-old man who bumbled around after Hook, then what did I have to look forward to as an adult? Puberty was going to be a bitch.

I left the counselor’s cabin feeling downtrodden and depressed. Not only had I been cast as Smee, the faithful but idiotic sidekick, but in my prepubescent mind, I’d been forever doomed to portray similar roles in any future productions because of my deep voice. (Side note: my parents had my vocal cords tested numerous times despite my adherent displeasure- I just have one of those voices destined for radio or phone porn, or so I’ve been told).

As I wandered listlessly to my cabin, a thought struck me. I could either curl up and accept my fate as the sidekick, or I could make Smee my metaphorical breakthrough. I decided to go with the latter. I practiced my part in secret, avoiding the group readings whenever I could so that no one could be privy to my plans. You see, I decided that just because I had been cast as a supporting character, I did not have to lie down and take it. I would make Smee a lead, but I would do it without upstaging anyone else or ruining the integrity of the play. I poured my heart and soul into the lines- adding cheeky quips where I could and making his already goofy demeanor even more comedic. The day of the play, no one, myself included, realized how great my performance would be. The audience and fellow cast laughed at my schtick, and even the counselors “ooed” and “awed” at my theatrical performance. Look- it was girl scout camp and I was 10, but I am telling you: Roger and Ebert would’ve given it a standing ovation. Or at least those old man Muppets that judge everything from the wings on Sesame Street. They definitely would have loved it.

The point of this semi-autobiographical and at times self-deprecating blog is this: From that day on, I vowed never to be a supporting role in my own life. So often, we feel like we take a backseat to everyone and everything in our world. We all have those friends whose lives seem so glamourous and put together, or those people on our social feeds who look like the movie star we grew up wanting to be. We watch them travel the world, work at their incredible jobs, flaunt their drool-worthy clothing, and ooze sophistication and grace. We sometimes seem to fall into the role of the friend everyone loves to rely on, while we toil away our lives in a job we aren’t satisfied with or a lifestyle we just don’t adore. But none of these are a good reason to play a secondary role in your life. I urge you to do whatever you can to break through those restraints built around you, either by others or your own self-doubt. If you are unhappy at your job or at home, find something that makes you feel amazing, like writing or singing or boxing. Pick a hobby that you can excel at- or better yet, find something you are truly awful at and force yourself to get better. By embracing your lack of skills in one area, you’re opening up your mind to becoming great at it. If you accept there is room for work, you allow yourself the possibility of excellence. Leading roles are not always given easily: you have to work for it. Being the star of your own life is a constant learning curve, but do not let the daily monotony or your dissatisfaction of where you are now, keep you from one day being more. Pick something that scares you and push yourself to try it. Only when you start accomplishing things you never thought possible will you feel in control and excited about your talents.

We are all the stars of our own lives, but sometimes we just have the deep raspy voice that keeps us from getting things easily. The deep, raspy voice can be a metaphor for anything here. In getting cast as Smee, I realized that even though I didn’t have “leading role” qualities like some of the other girls, I could be funnier and more charismatic than even the most practiced “actors.” (I use the word actors lightly here- again, we were 10). Sure, on the stage I played a middle-aged man who followed a sociopath down a twisting path of mania, but in real life, I used what I learned from that role and I embraced it. During that set, I made Smee my own, and he was both a ham (meant here as funny/goofy/charming) and a good friend to his psychotic counterpart. I refused to be typecast to a small role after that, and I feel like I have been the leading role in my life ever since. Do not fall down the rabbit hole so many have fallen down. There is nothing keeping us from living incredible lives- some people just have to take baby steps to grow their leading role mindset until they see the changes they crave come to fruition.