Child's Play

Hitting marks. Learning new steps. There's little kidding around at HITS.

Dancing, Ryan keeps his eyes trained on Jarrett's feet. Jarrett is a year older than Ryan, but they're tight friends. Sometimes Jarrett intimidates Ryan. Sometimes he inspires him to keep up.

When Ryan began taking HITS classes two years ago, Carolyn gave him only the smallest parts, the ones in the chorus. She liked him -- he worked hard -- but his voice was mousy, and he lacked confidence. She figured that, like most HITS kids, he wasn't destined for stardom. Someday, she thought, he might use the skills she taught him to argue a case in a courtroom, or to make a boardroom presentation. He'd grow up to be an appreciative audience member, a patron of the performing arts. She'd count him as a success story.

But Ryan had other ideas. He'd been watching Jarrett on center stage, and he wanted a spotlight for himself. One day he walked into Carolyn's office. What do I have to do to get bigger parts? he asked.

Ryan and Jarrett:  All the right moves.
Deron Neblett
Ryan and Jarrett: All the right moves.

Be brave, Carolyn said. Be louder. Don't be timid.

He took a summer break from acting classes, and his life grew complicated. After his mom split from her longtime companion, Ryan felt he needed to take care of her, to be the man in the house. In the fall, he didn't tell her that he was auditioning for a big part: Sky, the Marlon Brando character in Guys and Dolls. He didn't want to risk disappointing her.

At the auditions, Ryan surprised Carolyn. He radiated personality. He exuded confidence. His sang loud and strong. My God! thought Carolyn. It's there!

That night Ryan told his mom the good news and burst into "Luck, Be a Lady" -- the show's big number, his big number.

Ryan felt lucky, and he wanted that luck to stick around.

The luck, if it was luck, settled in. Now, a semester and three shows later, no one seems surprised that Ryan shares the stage with Jarrett.

Carolyn turns her attention to the chorus. Mostly they're the kids who didn't land the major roles. She teaches them a complicated arm motion that makes the whole stage seem to move. She divides them into three groups, and at the bit where Ryan whispers his alleged joke, she directs them to rush forward in three waves and pretend to eavesdrop. "No, not like that," she tells a skinny girl. "You have to stand like this, so your booty's not facing the audience."

At last they practice the song's grand finale. "Brag, brag, brag, brag," everyone sings, arms pumping.

Jarrett sings, "I brag better…"

Ryan elbows his way in front of Jarrett: "I brag much better…"

Jarrett elbows Ryan: "I brag much, much better…"

Ryan elbows Jarrett, then stands with his arms wide and legs spread open: "I brag very much better…"

On his knees, Jarrett slides through Ryan's legs and emerges with arms outspread, a big-finish smile on his face. Everyone sings, "THAN ANYONE ELSE COOOULD EVVV-ER BRAAAG!"

The song over, Jarrett breaks character. "Ow," he says, rubbing his knees. He consults with Carolyn. Ryan looks sympathetic.

The chorus kids talk among themselves. "It must be 6:25," says Armando. "They're ready to go."

"Please!" Carolyn shouts. "Give some consideration to your fellow performers!"

The chorus kids grow only a little quieter. She escalates to a warning: "I can do this number with only six people in the chorus." She lowers her voice. "And if I have to, I will."

The chorus kids look stunned. It's bad enough being relegated to a bit part, practicing in hopes of someday landing a big one. But now Carolyn is threatening them with an even worse fate: not being on stage at all.

Silence falls, and it is absolute.

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