Hillbilly Hankerin'

My sophomore year, my best friends, Anne and Jacqui, and I all went out for the all-school play "Emperor's New Clothes". We were cast as the Emperor's daughters. And we were so awesomely snotty and high pitched, it was a distraction to the show. It was by far my favorite role of my career. We didn't have a lot of lines, we were mostly told to not act but react to everything in a stepsister-y kind of way. I only remember one line, "I hate and LOATHE this, Daddy!"

(Sitting down: Anne, Me, Jac. Behind us, our parents: the Empress Stephanie McAllister, Emperor Michael Rust. Center stage: Tyla Vogt leading Carmen Williams (I think?) Back stage right of the Emperor is ?, can't see, Jacob Thaler and Andy Hagberg) 

(From left to right: Emperor Mike Rust, Andy, ME!, Terah Binder, Jacqui, Anne, Empress Steph)

My junior year I remember well the try outs for the all-school play, Hillbilly Hankerin'. I felt like I nailed every single part. I wondered if maybe we should make this a one-woman play. I especially hoped for the role of Ma. Instead, I got the role of the lovesick daughter, Charlemaine. A name that was supposed to rustle up images of banjos, dusty porches, and kissin' cousins. Mostly it made me wonder if that was the right way to spell it.

I suppose this play was picked because it was funny? We certainly didn't think of ourselves as hillbillies. Or rednecks for that matter (that didn't come until Redneck Woman). Redneck was still derogatory as far as I could tell.  People who lived out in the country said as much but people from town rarely called themselves country or rural. I imagine most of my peers learned to describe themselves differently once we left Spencer, but while we lived there we didn't think we were small town hicks.

In fact, not long after this play, I was near Portland, Oregon, visiting some family friends. The youngest son was just a few years older than me and I had known him since I was little, as his family had visited often. His mom charged him with entertaining me and so he basically had me tag along while he did his day-to-day activities. Every person we ran into he introduced me as "This is a family friend, Melissa. She's from a town of 500!" or "This is Melissa, her dad has long hair!......and she's from a town of 500!" The shock on people's faces as they tried to process this information was equally shocking to me. I had these moments of "What? You think you're better than me? I'll kindly kick your ass." He also pointed out to his girlfriend that where I'm from people waved to everyone they passed by lifting a finger off the steering wheel. He asked if that was right and I said I actually lift all 5 fingers because I like to be extra friendly. He laughed and shook his head like he couldn't believe the finger wave could be even funnier. I was like, "Hey! You tricked me! aw."

In college, I met plenty of people who had been in their school plays. They ticked off all sorts of popular plays and musicals that I had heard of--Romeo and Juliet, Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Music Man, Oklahoma. Then I would cock my head to the side and say, Yes but did you ever do the Hillbilly Hankerin?

It's too bad it hasn't become a bigger hit, because Hillbilly Hankerin' was tremendous fun. I got to float around, lovesick, over some city slicker (who in real life was two or three years younger than me and not at all comfortable with the googly eyes I made at him). And my friend, Tyla, was cast as Ma. She was amazing. I mean it, she had me in stitches throughout the whole thing. I believe Anne, was my sister? And Denise was the Widder Woman who was a witch.
(Anne and I)

The whole premise is that some gov'ment man comes to our Hollow for one reason or another and I fall in love with him. There's a feud between my family and another family (really, it was a poetic interpretation of Shakespeare) and this gov'ment man is stirring up more trouble between us. Well I don't really care about that, I just want the gov'ment man. I want him ril bad. Bad enough to go to the Widder Woman to get a love potion to give him. As things heat up between the two families there is this funny intense moment where everyone is on stage, with guns! Pointed at each other! (I mean like real guns. We used real honest to goodness shoot-a-coyote guns.) And to keep the tension high there is an intermission at this point before the next act. In the second act I scatter the near show-down by saying I had visited the Widder Woman and "She gave me THIS!" and I hold up the potion and every gets freaked out and leaves because they think it's something other than a love potion. And then I try to seduce the gov'ment man.

Our first time performing it was in front of the school. I was so nervous before it started. I didn't think I'd remember a single line. I kinda wanted to barf. During the intermission I ran to the bathroom to pee and check my freckles. Then I went back and got frozen into my position next to Ma. As the curtain was pulling up, I realized I didn't have my potion. I had left it in the bathroom! I looked at Ma and explained my blunder with my eyes and she kind of gasped and we started to look around for a substitute. I grabbed at her apron thinking maybe I could use that. But she shook my hand away and hissed, "NO WAY!" I contemplated running off stage. But my line was coming up. I didn't think I could make it in time. But I had to do something! And with that thought it was my line. So I did the only thing I could think of doing, I held my closed fist in the air and said too loudly, "SHE GAVE ME THIS!" and I gave a pretty intense stink eye, thinking maybe I could distract the audience away from my empty fist.

My fellow actors looked at me in true astonishment. In that moment, they were not acting they were re-acting (can I get an amen?). Tony Boetcher looked at me and keeping his gun straight he mouthed "What is going on?" I made my eyes big at him and mouthed "Just go!" After only missing a beat the play went on. And it was then that I realized the next scene was me trying to put the potion, which was tied onto a string, on to my gov'ment man. There was no chance for me to go get it. So I just ad-libbed pretending you couldn't see it, but boy could you FEEEEEEL it. And my poor underclassman gov'ment man just said the lines that kinda worked, a few that didn't and mostly looked at me with a mix of fear and hatred at me putting him in this position. I'll tell you, it didn't feel great, but it worked onstage quite well.

The rest of the play flew by. I was able to get the potion but didn't bother explaining why it was suddenly visible. When we finished we took a bow and when the curtain closed there was this whispered yell of "MELISSA!" while I put my hands up and said sorry! over and over. My gov'ment man might have pushed me a little. I told him I still loved him.

(The whole cast! I'm in the middle of the couch with my gov'ment man on the right)

(Adrianna, Anne, Me, and the Widder Woman Denise)

Most people watching commented that something felt amiss but they couldn't quite figure out what. They figured it was just my gov'ment man forgetting his lines because he seemed so frightened up there. I felt pretty bad about that. I also felt pretty badass about my (re)acting skills.


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