Thanksgiving has come and passed, and now I can sing Christmas carols around non-blood relatives without risking murder. In the spirit of the season, I’m here to share a memory of a time when I was a wee young dragon, performing in The Nutcracker. It’s the story of why I started wearing contacts at the age of nine.
I’ve needed vision correction since I was five. I have a very distinct memory of asking my mom why something in the neighbor’s front porch was so fuzzy- it was a newspaper wrapped in plastic, apparently. I got glasses shortly after, and spent the next decade becoming progressively more nearsighted.
Having glasses in kindergarten was not the most wonderful experience, but the real difficulty was in trying to dance with them. They slide down your nose with every fast turn, and you’re expected to take them off for performances.
Twice a year, my ballet school put on a show in the high school’s performing arts center, which featured a large stage with an orchestra pit I was never allowed into, and lots and lots of backstage space.
The December show was always The Nutcracker, a popular ballet for the holidays—Disney recently released a movie adapted from it. The first act of the ballet features a Christmas party, sentient snowflakes, a growing Christmas tree, and giant mice (Not in that order).
At nine years old, I played a mouse, complete with pointy gray mask and inconveniently placed eye holes.
If you’ve ever been backstage during a show, you’ll know what it was like—lots of lights reflecting off of hands and faces and glittery costumes, but mostly dark, dark shadows. There’s an art term I learned later for works with that lighting technique: chiaroscuro.
Chiaroscuro is hard to see in normally. Sans glasses, and wearing That Mask, Little Dragon had a difficult time of things.
The party scene performers crowded up everywhere as they went on and off the stage, making my already atrocious vision useless, and I lost track of the other mouse dancers (surprising absolutely no one). I was in a hurry to get to the other side of the stage, though, so I decided to press on without them.
There was a sort of tunnel behind the backdrops, against the wall at the far back of the stage, where performers and techies could travel back and forth with no one in the audience able to spot them. A blue rope light was stretched across the floor, meaning I could actually see for once, and there were hardly ever props or scenery lying around to be tripped on.
Naturally, I did not take that path, but instead went for the space directly behind the backdrop that people were dancing in front of at the time, and I took that path running.
You aren’t supposed to run behind backdrops; the air displacement makes them ripple in a way that’s clearly visible to the audience. That was one problem with my plan. The other problem was the reason this backdrop had such a large space behind it: the growing Christmas tree.
At full height, the growing Christmas tree was a thing of beauty, a monument to human stubbornness and ingenuity. Its top was an ordinary five-foot fake evergreen, festooned with colored lights and tinsel. As it rose up, rings of new branches would hang beneath it, lighting up as they went along, until the thing was almost too tall for the audience to see the top.
At its smallest height, in the dark, the growing Christmas tree was wider than it was tall, and the rings of lower branches brushed the backdrops on either side of it.
Little Dragon, however, could not see the lower branches, and was too nervous to think of them. I made a rather loud thunk when I tripped, breaking a lightbulb or two as I went.
It wasn’t the first incident caused by my vision, or lack thereof, and That Mask, but it was the incident my mother cited when she took me to the optometrist before rehearsals for the May show began.