In 1977 or so, the South Mountain School 6th Graders staged a production of Annie Get Your Gun. At that time the idea of letting children enact gunplay or portray ethnic stereotypes (nevermind its sexual politics) was far from considered inappropriate. But fairness was in the rule-book, so students from the younger grades were drafted to be in the show as extras in the chorus, either as “townsfolk” or, inevitably, Indians. As a 3rd (or 4th?) grader, I was one of the lucky chosen to wear the honored feathers of an Indian. I was excited to play such an exotic character, and looked forward to the elaborate costume that being an Indian would afford.
Students were responsible for their own costumes, so my mother outfitted me in period-accurate attire; red and blue dyed feathers, a leatherette vest and belt, and of course stripes of war paint under my eyes. To round out the ensemble, we went to the Livingston Mall and bought a small toy drum at K-B Hobby. The drum, a colonial-style shiny red affair, didn’t have the correct “Indian-esque” look, so my mother purchased wood-grained contact paper and wrapped it around the drum. Now it was authentic!
The teachers planned a grand opening for the show; after the overture ended, the townsfolk would enter the auditorium through the rear doors chased by us Indians with tomahawks a-choppin’, drums beating and war cries hollering. As we ran them down the aisles, the townsfolk were to scream, “Indians, Indians!” in fear. The chase was to lead us all onto the stage, where everyone would break into song. The problem was, it was never actually rehearsed; we probably got the direction all of one time an hour before the show.
So with no clear idea of how this would proceed, we were herded into two lines behind the closed auditorium doors in the front hall of the school, townsfolk in front of Indians. We hopped in place anxious with excitement, knowing our parents inside were ready to see their darlings commit to a whooping entrance. The overture played out and the cue came; the auditorium doors swung open and we burst into the aisles. But with our pent-up enthusiasm and lack of rehearsal, not only did the townsfolk scream “Indians, Indians!”, but us Indians screamed “Indians, Indians!”, wholly forgetting to beat our drums and yell our war cries, completely misunderstanding the intent of the direction.
I’m sure the audience didn’t noticed this innocent gaff, nor the weird irony of Indians yelling at themselves (it was years before even I thought about it beyond the mechanics of the incident). Nevertheless we made it down the aisles, up the steps and onto the stage, and began singing songs about the old west and guns and businesses that are nothing like show business.