By Francesco Jimenez, 17, The Buckley School (Sherman Oaks)
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Francesco says you should try new things before graduating because you never know what you're capable of.

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Last summer I made a resolution that I should not leave high school regretting things I didn’t do. I was about to begin my senior year and I thought, “I might as well make the most of it.” Throughout high school, I had been watching my friends perform in theater productions. They told me stories about late-night rehearsals, inside jokes and the friendships they made in theater. It sounded like so much fun. Even though I was on the soccer team and sang in the choir, I wanted to have this experience too, so I decided to try out for the school musical.

When I found out our fall musical was going be Oklahoma! I was disappointed. It was an old musical and I wanted to do something more modern, like Rent. But I decided to go for it. Auditions were at the beginning of the school year.

On a Monday afternoon I went backstage and wrote my name on the callboard. About 40 people had already signed up and seeing all those names scared me because I had never acted before. The audition committee was four teachers from the performing arts department and I had to prove to them that I could sing, act and dance. I felt nervous and said to myself, “Who are you kidding? You can’t act. Get outta here, it’s a waste of your time.” But I remembered the promise I made over summer, so I didn’t give up.

The first audition was Tuesday after school and we had to sing. Since I was in choir for three years, I was confident that I could sing the easiest song, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” The audition went great and I was eager to go to the next one.

Francesco, center, as Ike Skidmore, the friendly farmer in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! Photo courtesy of Laura Bamford.

Wednesday was the dance audition. The only problem was I’ve never really learned how to dance. Most of the girls were practicing flip kicks and cartwheels. First, the choreographer had to teach the guys the western cowboy dance moves. I practiced for half an hour and I performed that day. I didn’t mess up during the audition. I was glad to get it over with and that I did all right for my first time dancing.

Thursday was the acting audition, which I was most terrified for. I wanted to play Ali Hakim, the foreign peddler who switches accents the entire show, because I thought if there was one part I could pull off it would be the funny guy. I was set up with two other people to perform a scene. They gave us our lines to read from a piece of paper and we practiced for about 30 minutes. After we performed the first scene, the faculty told me I should always face the audience rather than have my back to them. This threw me off for the rest of the audition because I was focused on facing the audience instead of saying my lines. I was worried they wouldn’t ask me to come back.

The director reminded us that he would post the list that night. I was so nervous that my name would not be on it. The next day at school I checked the callback list backstage and was so happy to see my name on there that I jumped up  and screamed, “Yes!”

During callbacks they asked me to read for Ike Skidmore, a friendly farmer, instead of Ali Hakim. Surprisingly, I read it better than the other part and the director said, “Good read, Francesco.” Yet I was still worried I would not be cast in the show. My friends Brady and Kylan reassured me that they needed guys in this show so no matter what I would be in it. This made me feel a little bit better. The director told all of us that the cast list would be posted on the school website at 8 a.m. Saturday.

I got a part

The next morning I woke up at 7:45. The list wasn’t posted at 8:05 and I thought about e-mailing the director because I wanted an answer. Instead I kept refreshing the page and checked Facebook and Twitter to see if others had posted the news. Finally, at 8:27 the cast list was posted on the school website. I was happy and disappointed at the same time. Happy to see my name next to the part of Ike Skidmore, but sad I did not get the part I wanted.

During rehearsals I practiced my lines and dancing and had fun pretending to be someone else. I learned about staging, which is where you’re supposed to be on stage during the scenes. Then there was blocking, where I had to remember things like how I should deliver a line or what my facial expression should be.

I had about 50 lines. They weren’t hard to memorize, but I had to remember to project my voice. The director told me, “Even though there are only 10 people in here, there is going to be a much bigger crowd who will only hear you whispering.” To remember to speak up, I wrote myself notes like “project this word” and “emphasize this phrase,” in my script. I practiced saying my lines at home in my room. Once, my sister walked by and yelled, “Why are you so loud?” That made me feel like I was ready to perform.

Rehearsals went later and later

The directors gave us breaks to get a snack or drink. Sometimes they gave us enough time to finish our homework before going home. As the weeks went by rehearsals got longer and more tiring. In September our rehearsals ended around 5 p.m. In October our rehearsals started ending at 7 p.m. The longest we stayed was 10:30 and I was dead after that. I got home at 11, showered, did homework and went to sleep at 2. Sometimes I missed two morning classes because I needed the rest.

Sometimes when we had an hour or two to kill before rehearsal started, I would go to a sushi restaurant with my friends Benzi, Kylan and Brady. We talked about school and how well the musical was going. We would make fun of the ensemble for eating so much during rehearsals or start brainstorming a list for the top 10 funniest moments.

The first week of November was production week, the week my friends had warned me would be the most important and most exhausting part. My friends told me they could never do a full run-through of the show because something usually interrupts rehearsal. And sure enough an accident happened that stopped us from finishing a run-through. On Monday night a windmill that was on stage fell on top of one of the teachers playing in the orchestra. Even though the teacher was OK, I was afraid something else would happen during the live performance.

That week I discovered that “guyliner” is your best friend. We all had to wear make-up on stage because the stage lights would make your face and eyes look weird without it. This was the first time I wore make-up. I put on some foundation and eyeliner and powdered my face, determined to give this show everything I had.

Francesco (second from right) had to learn how to dance and act for his school’s production of Oklahoma!, a musical set in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Laura Bamford

The first performance was on Wednesday for the faculty. After dinner everyone got psyched up to give the best performance. Each night we picked a line from the show, usually a line that gets laughs. After we were in costume, we’d all go into a room. We’d get in a circle and hold each other’s shoulders. We’d jump around and sing, “Chica chica boom boom!” It was so loud and fun. We’d yell, “Rah rah rah rah” and then say the line. I felt focused and ready, like, “Let’s do this! Let’s make a show!”

Before the show I was nervous and I thought I was going to mess up. But as soon as I got on stage it seemed like everyone’s eyes shifted to me and I felt an adrenaline rush. That energy helped me dance better, sing better and act better. I felt like I could do anything.

After the show, we got a standing ovation. When I went to my calculus class the next day, my teacher, who I knew to be a tough critic said, “Amazing job last night. I don’t know how you kids can memorize those lines and perform so well. Truly, the show was great.”  Hearing that from her was high praise. It gave me confidence that carried over to the next three performance nights.

During the first act of the show on Thursday night I was so full of energy. In one dance scene, my jumps and kicks were so precise I felt like I was dancing like a professional. I lifted my partner in the air as we danced in unison. Backstage, after the scene, she said, “Awesome Francesco, you nailed it!”

When I opened the backstage door after the show, BAM!—a bouquet of flowers hit me in my face. “Great job buddy! We knew you could do it!” my friends said. I’d never gotten flowers before and it was a really nice feeling.

My father saw the show Friday night. He told me he was proud and impressed at how well I performed. I felt happy to be able to perform in front of my friends and family. The feeling of standing up and acting in front of a crowd just gave me so much energy. I fell in love with it.

The final night was emotional

On the last night of the show, the seniors got to make a toast to the cast and remind everyone about the top 10 funniest moments of the production. Me and the other seniors got together before dinner was served and presented a PowerPoint of the funny moments and giggled about all the good times we had the past three months. After our slide show came the saddest part—saying goodbye to the teachers in the performing arts department. As we gave out flowers I started tearing up and could not believe how fast time flew by. When I saw my choir teacher, who’d helped me with my songs for the show and encouraged me to be in the musical, I told him, “Thank you for all the fun years in choir. You’re an amazing teacher.”

I gained confidence in my ability to perform. Before the show my doubts and insecurities held me back from expressing myself. It’s soccer season now and I’m too busy to be in the spring drama. I miss the rehearsals, the jokes, the laughs and the performing. So, I signed up to help out backstage for the spring drama because I miss my friends so much.