What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

The Creek and the Stings May 11, 2018

Filed under: What Doesn't Kill You — meganorussell @ 11:30 am
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I grew up in a very old house in the country. We had three-ish acres of land, and my family left most of it wild. Trees, blackberry bushes, and tall grass all leading up to a creek.

I would run wild through the back for hours at a time. As long as I stayed within our property and didn’t go swimming on my own, my parents just let me go. My mom had this giant antique school bell, and when she rang, it was time to head back toward the house. It was a crazy amount of freedom.

One day while playing way out toward the back of the property, I stepped on a hive of ground bees. I don’t even know how many stings I got, only that my leg hurt like hell.

I did the only thing a child used to running wild would do. (more…)


The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Crying August 8, 2016

Being a child in theatre is almost worse than being an adult in theatre. I mean, true, for me this job pays for food for me to eat and health insurance that I use liberally, but I still think it’s harder for kids. Rejection on a grand scale is still super new. Stakes opening night feel like a life or death lottery. And aging out is a constant struggle. 

You learn all the words to Mary Lenox’s song in Secret Garden and shoot up two inches so you’re too tall to audition. You really want to be Annie, but it’s not even the singing that knocks you out of the running — you’re too tall.

You can’t be Liesl in Sound of Music because you’re too young, but you can’t be any of the others because you’re too old. 90% of childhood in theatre is your own quickly growing body being too something for you to be cast. And don’t even get me started on the poor boys who get cast in a show and have to drop out cause their voices start to change. It’s a brutal, brutal world. 

When I was little, I was desperate to be in the Sound of Music. I wanted to be a Von Trapp child. Any Von Trapp child — I would have happily played a boy. My mother dutifully took me to the audition where the other little girls were dressed up like Toddlers and Tiaras, and I was dressed in the one dress I hadn’t torn to shreds playing in the yard. They lined us all up, and we had to go on stage one at a time to sing in matching(ish) groups of potential children. The group of pale, gangly brunettes was near the end, so I made my mom take me to the bathroom so I could panic in peace. 

But the bathroom was filled. Girls primping, girls crying, one girl wailing like a freakin’ banshee while her mother pinned her and put lipstick on her. It was terrifying! Why were we there!

I asked my mom to leave, but I had signed in so she made me stick it out. I gathered with my gangly group, we all sang, a few cried, and then we got rejected. It was terrible. 

And it didn’t get any easier. Not for years. Too young for teen chorus, too old for the little kids. It sucked. When the local girl booked Annie on Broadway, it sucked. When I got cast as a tap dancer in the Nutcracker, it sucked. 

But I did it. I stuck it out and became a big kid performer. I feel like I should give some speech about how the trauma was worth it, and for me it is. I mean, this is how I make my dollars. I play pretend for a living. But as far as fun hobbies for a kid, I don’t know… do mathletics or save puppies. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.


Childhood Change April 16, 2016

Filed under: Starting Off Strange — meganorussell @ 10:00 am
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Growing up, I had godparents. I mean, we weren’t really close to them, and I didn’t really know them. They were who my parents chose before I was even born. I don’t know if my parents ever sat me down to tell us or if my sister and I just sort of absorbed the information the way kids do, but we always knew that if something happened to our parents, we would be sent to live with our godparents.

Duh duh duh!

It was terrifying. Not because they were mean or because we were afraid they would starve us. No. We were scared because they didn’t believe in Santa. That and their youngest child was psychotic. Like truly. I think there was something wrong with her. She stayed at our house for a sleepover once, and only once. Why? Because halfway through the night, she started calling the doorknobs mommy and daddy and was having full conversations for them. We had to go get her mom, who was also staying at the house, to make her stop. It was a bad night for everyone.

But back to the Santa business. (more…)


A Rehashing of the Teddy Trial March 21, 2016

Filed under: Starting Off Strange — meganorussell @ 8:30 pm
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A long time ago my sister gave my beloved stuffed puppy a swirly. I thought the matter was over and done with. In fact, I even wrote a blog about it. But it seems the matter is far from over.

The way I remember it my sister gave my stuffed puppy a swirly. After a lot of crying, I decided to take revenge. And not just any revenge. A horrible revenge that can only be executed by the likes of a little sister.

My sister had a teddy bear that she loved very much. Since my big sister had hurt my puppy, I would take revenge on Teddy. While my mother was Lysoling the toilet germs out of puppy, I found my sister’s teddy, fastened a very impressive noose for a child, and hung Teddy over my sister’s bed with a note that read something along the lines of —

You smell. I cannot take living with your awful stink anymore. Goodbye cruel world. (more…)


Burned Alive December 20, 2015

Right now I’m working in a children’s theatre production of A Velveteen Rabbit Christmas. It’s a sweet little show that glosses over the traditional Velveteen Rabbit tradition of painful death by burning for living toys. Because you know, Christmas and Joy and such.

After each performance, we do a little Q&A with the kids. It’s usually things like “Where do you get the costumes?” “How long did it take you to learn the show?” “I like purple!”

In our show there is a character called the Skin Horse. Please feel free to giggle about that. He sings a touching ballad about toys becoming real, and then we never see him again. Mostly because the actor has to play other characters.

Well, during Q&A this week a little girl asked what happened to the Skin Horse. The actor who played the skin horse replied, “Well the Skin Horse got put on the wood pile with the other toys and burned alive.”

Umm…okay. (more…)


Under the Table October 31, 2015

Filed under: Starting Off Strange — meganorussell @ 2:59 pm
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I grew up around the census. My mom started working for them on and off when I was three, which was a lot of years ago. And therefore, I think it is perfectly logical to blame the federal government for my unnatural obsession with Lunchables.

See, when I was three, my mom’s census office was in our dining room, which made for a super easy commute for her, but there were a few drawbacks. Like a three-year-old who just wanted to be loved and didn’t care that the American people needed to be counted to ensure important things like proper representation of districts in government. I just wanted to be loved and fed all the time.

My mother’s secretary at least provided the food. And not just any food. Lunchables, which to a three-year-old is just about the best thing on God’s green earth.

Little tiny sandwiches of meat, cheese and crackers easy enough to put together all by yourself. In small enough portions that you can eat the whole thing and with a juice box to boot.

I was in heaven.

But I couldn’t be bought with just a Lunchable. Sure, I would happily eat it, but I wanted to be near the great barer of Lunchables. So I would sit under the dining room table at the secretary’s feet, munching my Lunchable as the American people were counted. Important governmental things were happening. Things that ensure our rights as American citizens, and I was there, munching on overly processed meat and cheese. I was a part of democracy in action. It was a three-year-old’s dream come true.

And now whenever I feel overwhelmed, I have the urge to crawl under a table and eat a little Lunchable. Maybe with a Reese’s, maybe with skittles. Either way, it takes me back to an earlier time. When life was simple and my silence could be bought with a juice box.


An Untimely Demise September 28, 2015

Filed under: Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life — meganorussell @ 8:30 pm
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Once upon a time when I was still in my ridiculously skinny and sickly pale stage, I was cast as a holocaust victim in the show I Never Saw Another Butterfly. My sister, with the bright blond hair and super blue eyes was kindly asked to assistant stage manage.

I didn’t do too much in the show. I dove for imaginary bread and survived a firing squad. There was a lot of tragedy obviously, but it was a pretty easy show. Until one of the kids had to go out for like the flu or a hangnail or something. It didn’t really matter until we got to the firing line scene.

There was this whole list of names, and as each name was read, a shot was fired and one person was killed. In the original blocking I was one of the few to not be executed. But hangnail kid had been given a name and was supposed to be dramatically killed. And each read name had to be shown with a kid dying because the very last name was that of the romantic lead, and then it was all still and solemn.

The stage manager asked me to die on hangnail’s name, and I was so excited. I finally got to crumple to the ground with everyone else. And I was ready for it. So ready for it.

Until I was onstage and realized that with the stage lights in my eyes and the sound cues of firing guns I didn’t actually remember what name I was supposed to die on. (more…)