July 01, 2010

Chicken Little

When I was 5 years old, I was living in Montreal with my family and attending kindergarten. Around the time of Thanksgiving, the school decided to put on a play for the holiday. The play was based on the story of "Chicken Little". That's the one where, "The sky is falling!! The sky is falling!!" I was Chicken Little. This was where it all started. This moment, right here, was to be the first step in the long road to doing my own material for the Fringe Festival.

Backstage, I'm a three foot nothing kid with freckles and a Beatles-style haircut getting fitted with a cardboard bandana with multicoloured cardboard feathers for a head piece. They placed my skinny little arms in skinny little cardboard tubes which had the same cardboard plumage as the headband hanging off each one to act as chicken wings. They strapped on a beak of some sort on my face which would always move around anytime I moved my head and poke me in the eye. This meant I had to move my whole body if I wanted to look at someone. The teacher dressed me up, stood back and gasped, "You look fantastic!" I felt like a huge dork.

So the name of the game was this. As soon as the lights came up on the stage, I was to walk out to the center, look out at the crowd and wait for an apple to come flying out over the backdrop directly behind me. As soon as I hear the 'thump' of it on stage, I am to deliver the key line of dialogue, "The sky is falling!!" Then the show would start. We had gone over it a number of times over the course of a month so that there would be no way that my daydreaming, five-year-old mentality could forget what to do. Wait for the apple, say the line, get on with the show.

As I stood there in the mockery of a bird costume under very hot lights, I looked out to the crowd and saw a sea of parent-like faces looking back at me. As I patiently waited to hear the sounds of an apple close by, I did what every performer tries to do...find mom and dad. Before I could spot them though, out of the corner of my eye, in what little peripheral vision I had left between the head-dress and the beak, I saw a red blur whiz by my head. The apple has arrived! But it bounced on the stage, bounced off the stage, and kept rolling on right into the front row. The apple has left the building.

In a flash my brain assessed the situation. I cannot go on without the apple on stage, it would destroy the illusion of realism we've got going for us right now. I can't go out into the audience and pick the apple up, I would be interfering with the forces of nature and instead become a false prophet for my apocalyptic prophecy and do away with the idea that I am but a dim-witted jester in the grand scheme of fate. Deep thoughts for a 5 year old. I'm cool like that.

But as fate would have it, the apple rolled right in front of a familiar face in the crowd. My big sister. A glimmer of hope flashed in my eyes, 'She can save me! Tara can save me!' These were innocent times. A time when a young brother doesn't fully realize the unadulterated hate and disgust an older sibling has for the younger model. And as my eyes widened and pleaded for her help, my arms firmly attached to either side of my body, my right hand flicking spastically trying to signify to my sister, "Throw the apple up HERE", a smile crafted by the devil himself grew across my sisters face. She tossed the apple up and down in her hand a few times and mouthed the words, "Oh! You want...this apple?"

My eyes began to twitch and burn with the words, "YES!"

It's at that point that my sister, who in her entire life has never had any interest or aptitude for sports, rounded her arm behind her head, and fast-balled the apple towards center stage. At Mach-5, this red round missile hit me right between the eyes. Now if you take a moment to recall the sound that echoes in your jaw when you take that first bite out of an apple, and the sound of a wooden baseball bat hitting a big fat softball right out of the park, and mix those two together, you get a pretty gruesome sound. And the audience knew it too, because they all said as one, "Ooooh!"

I'm five years old. I just got blasted in the face by my big sister in front of a room full of adults and all the cool kids in Grades 1 through 8. All my friends were waiting in the wings. And I couldn't see my Mom or Dad anywhere. I wanted to cry. My eyes were way ahead of me, holding back the tears on the lower edge of my eyelids for the very moment that my lip started to quiver. It felt like my face was on fire, (and I was most definitely cross-eyed) but I stood there for what seemed an eternity and came to a realization that has served me well ever since. The show must go on.

So I stiffened up, looked out to the crowd and said in a very weak, heartbreaking voice, "Oh! The s-s-sky is f-f-falling!!" and marched over to stage right to find my good friend Henny Penny. I looked up at the Hen and thought, 'Man, your costume sucks!' without realizing she was a mirror image to my own costume. The girl just stared at me in awe of my sheer courage for going on with the show. Either that or she was shit scared that apples were actually being thrown from the audience if you gave a sucky performance. She looked at me almost horrified and said, "Are you okay? I saw the apple." I tried to brush it off and quickly said, "Yes, I'm fine! Come on, the show must go on!"

Off to the other side of the stage we went to find our other friend, Goosey Loosey. Same thing as before, I get there and my friend is peering out at the attacking audience in fear for her life. She took one look at me and tried to say, "Are you okay?" but I just stammered and flicked my pathetic cardboard wing towards the stage saying, "I'm fine! C'mon!" It went back and forth like this until we had a mass of frightened, cardboard-clothed children on stage. The story finishes off by having the whole flock of bird characters die by being eaten alive by a Fox, all but one very lucky Chicken that is, who then gets to tell the King about the oncoming apocalypse and that his entire posse, (or "Fellowship of the Apple") have been consumed by a fox. For his reward, the King sick's his dogs on the Fox and restores life to the Chicken Little gang, (how he does that exactly, I have no idea).

The only question I have in regards to the whole story is this: What the hell did any of that have to do with Thanksgiving? I'm pretty sure the teachers just saw Thanksgiving = Turkey. Turkey = Chicken. Chicken = Little. But what is the message? Is it that we must be thankful for all that we have and that it might all be gone one day so abuse it all while you can?


Is the message a warning not to be like the little Chicken who jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, where upon the unscrupulous Fox would no doubt use the lies to manipulate the rest of the world for his own benefit?

The answer...

Who gives a shit? I'm five years old, I got smashed in the face with an apple, and I'm about to get an ice cream cone for a job well done. The sky be damned!

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