In the neighbourhood where I grew up, there is a small church that is connected with a kindergarten and a child care centre and a few other community based programmes. Every year at Christmas time, they put on a concert for the families of the children who use their services and the whole thing is kind of a big deal. One of the highlights of the concert is the nativity play, which is acted out entirely by four year olds. Or, to be more realistic about it, the play is the highlight of the show if you happen to be one of the lucky kids who was chosen for a part, or if you're the parent or grandparent of one of those kids. When my oldest brother, Ben, was four he was chosen to play the part of a tree (don't ask). My next brother (and the middle kid of the family,) Damien, got to play a donkey. So, given family tradition, coupled with the fact that I was probably the shyest four year old that you would ever meet (or not, if I could hide behind mum's/dad's/grandma's legs fast enough,) I doubt that my parents had terribly high expectations of me being cast in the play at all.
So, naturally, I got a speaking role.
And I didn't just get any speaking role. I got to be the inn-keeper. Basically, I was the arsehole who told a heavily pregnant women to piss off because the hotel didn't have a room for her. And not only was that woman pregnant, but her child was the son of God. At the time, probably wouldn't have put it quite like that, but I knew the reality that the inn-keeper was the closest thing that the story had to a villain and that no one in their right mind would want to be one. Anyway, I don't really remember all that much about rehearsals, but I do remember on the evening just before the play, walking inside the kindergarten with my mum, and freaking out. I remember thinking that my own costume (in reality, one of dad's old shirts,) was pretty cool. Some of the other kids had massively elaborate costumes that their parents had probably spent days working on, to the point where I barely recognised the kid behind the costume. And, inside the kindergarten was another scary thing ...
There were mothers hanging around. Everywhere.
The whole place was a hive of activity and mothers, as the parents and teachers prepared for the kids to make their debut at the Sydney Opera House (in reality a small Lutheran church,) and I started to get scared. There was so much noise. My friends were dressed differently and acting differently to what they usually did. (I, meanwhile, was just me in one of dad's old shirts.) People were whispering, giggling, parents were pointing and taking photographs. Lots of lots of things were happening. The play got underway. It was my turn to walk to the stage. And then ...
And despite what my parents will probably tell you, what the kindergarten teachers would have told you and what every other parent in the church was probably thinking, I stand up there on the stage, silent, because I forgot my lines. I didn't go silent because I was shy. The truth is this.
I just didn't want to say them.
I mean, who wants to be the biggest arsehole in the whole Christmas play, in front of everyone?
Anyway, one of the teachers pushed the line out of me. The girl beside me offered Mary and Joseph some lodgings inside a stable and the play, and life, went on.