Friday, July 21, 2006

Paying the Piper

I never did finish the series about my career in theatre did I? (No, NOT my career in theatrics - that's far from over).

My first ever performance was in a school Annual Day production of The Pied Piper. The play itself went something like this (you all know the story):

Scene 1: Townspeople (children dressed up in 'grown up' clothes) enter stage right. Mill about pretending to have conversations with each other. Rats (children dressed up in oversize brown overalls with black whiskers painted on them) enter stage left. Charge at townspeople. Townspeople run away in fright.

Scene 2: Scene opens to find Mayor and his cronies sitting on a table stage centre. Pied Piper enters stage left and is begged to help with the rat problem. Pied Piper agrees and goes off to fight cri...errr..rodents. Mayor sits at table and thinks about what he wants for dinner. (okay, okay, I made that last bit up - but I was trying to add a touch of realism)

Scene 3: Flute music plays. Enter Pied Piper stage right, holding pipe to lips and skipping. Enter rats from various corners of the stage, and begin skipping behind Piper. Skipping continues until end of track.

Scene 4: As in Scene 2. Pied Piper enters and demands to be paid. Mayor scoffs at him. Pied Piper exits in anger and forgets to look back.

Scene 5: As in Scene 3. Different flute music. Pied Piper enters, pipes, skips. Children (children) enter and begin skipping after him. After Piper and children exit stage right, Townspeople come on and mime crying.


I was the Mayor. It was a demanding role. I had to wear a bow-tie. I had to wear about 4 kgs of make-up. In Scene 2 I had to look all haggard and humbly implore the Piper to take on the rats, quiet desperation bleeding from my voice. In Scene 4 I had to do my officious 'have your people call my people' act and say "No, we shall not pay you your money. Now Go!" and then join with my yes-men (I had yes-men - everyone in class had to have a role, you see) in an evil laugh.

It's a heavy responsibility being Mayor. Especially when you're 7. It's not just the tangled affairs of the State, it's also that you're trying to kick the guy sitting next to you under the table without having any of the 2,000 people watching you (or, more importantly, your teacher) notice. Or the knowledge that half your citizenry is wearing their elder sibling's clothes. Uneasy lies the head that wears the silly top hat.

The play was a success. Oh, there was the usual healthy name-calling between us and the other acts, and some of the more fastidious members of the cast complained about the oversize rats running amok in the green room, but on the whole a good time was had by all. And audience reaction, of course, was spectacular. None of this business of people getting up when the thing was over, putting on their coats and slinking off to try and remember where they'd parked their cars. When was the last time you went to a Broadway performance where after the show the audience came backstage, picked up the performers in their arms, hugged them, took pictures of them in their costumes and promised them double, even triple scoops of icecream on their way home? See what I mean?

Needless to say, my own performance was exceptionally well received. The critics (consisting of my parents and two pairs of random aunty and uncles) were unanimous in their praise. Particular mention was made of the realistic way in which I angrily dismissed the Piper when he insisted on payment - somebody said they could almost hear my teeth chattering in outrage. I didn't bother to point out to them that my teeth were chattering because it was November, were were on an outdoor stage, I was in my shirtsleeves and there was a wind blowing.


Thinking back on it now, the whole story seems wildly improbable. I mean the parts where the rats scamper out and follow the piper is fine. You have only to look at Britney Spears fans to know that even subhuman intelligences can be attracted to some sorts of sounds. But who in their right minds would think that being stuck with the task of permanently babysitting a whole town's worth of kids could be seen as a victory?! Obviously whoever wrote this tale had never met a real child in his or her life.

There's this whole business of having the children follow the Piper, for starters. Children don't just meekly follow you. Think about the number of bags full of toys you would have to carry with you. Think about the first aid. Try to picture the Piper and his entourage trying to cross a street. Some kid at the back wanders off or stands still in the middle of the road. The Piper goes back to get him. When he turns around having collected this kid, he realises that the other kids have followed him into the street because he was still playing his damn pipe. So now he has to get them turned around again (not an easy thing to do if all you can do is play your pipe and lead). This could take hours.

And think about the number of toilet breaks on the way. Think about the time it would take to order a meal at the wayside inn. Think about hundreds of shrill little voices asking you "Are we there yet?"

I've always wondered if there was a Mrs. Piper. You can imagine the scene. Pied Piper walks into his house. Stands about in the corridor looking sheepish. Mrs. Piper asks him how the job went. He says, "Oh fine! fine! Well, almost. The thing is, honey, they wouldn't pay me any actual money, but don't worry, I've managed to get along all their children instead. Don't look at me like that. They won't be any bother. They'll just sleep on every available surface and swiftly eat us out of hearth and home."

Ah, you say, but the whole point is that he was trying to teach the townspeople a lesson, get back at them for their meanness, as it were. Oh he was, was he? Some lesson. Here's a townload of people all of whom have magically got someone else to take care of their kids, and now have legitimate reason to procreate on overdrive. What do you want to bet that there were some serious orgies in Hamelin that month?

Frankly, the whole thing strikes me as extremely unlikely. Let's face it, the Piper was either a) a kind of medieval Michael Jackson b) a slave trader c) a cannibal or d) short-sighted and couldn't tell the difference between rats and children.

On a separate note, isn't it a good thing that we don't know what tune the Piper was actually playing? Some idiot would almost certainly have made it into a ringtone, and before you know it you'd have people wandering about city with their cellphones ringing, being followed by other people's children. And you thought Himesh What's-his-name was a menace.


Abhilasha said...

Hi, have been able to access your blog after a terribly long time. Couldn't resist the temptation to be the first one to put a comment.So this is just a frivolous jotting.
Will read the post and get back with a proper comment:-)

Abhilasha said...

Fine, have read it now. Not 100% LOL, sorry about that.

alpha said...

last bit was really funny. I bet you think Jack and the Beanstalk was highly probable.

Finally when i see a post with no foot notes, there are head notes..had to refer to Scene 1, 2 etc...Also please refrain from using numbers with no significance like your age. It made me go crazy looking for the footnote #7.

Aishwarya said...


My theatrical experience consistes of being in two choruses in primary school and directing a retelling of the ramayana (Raam-bo, don't ask) as a senior. This was enough.

On a vaguely related (to the post, not my directing capabilities) note, have you read China Mieville's King Rat?

?! said...

Thought King Rat (Changi prison, absolutely riveting tale) was James Clavell ?

Falstaff said...

abhilasha: Thanks. And congratulations on having blog access restored.

alpha: But of course, just a simple matter of using genetically modified seeds.

aishwarya: Ah, school choruses. That's a whole other post. And no, I haven't read it. Should I have?

?!: Ah, now that I have read.

dazedandconfused said... was a beautiful random memory post till you started applying your usual overanalysis on it...:)

I was Cinderella's prince when I was seven. In the hurry backstage, I forgot to wear socks and consequently, all photos of the occaision show a very badly dressed prince (even the trouser kind of thingie came just below my knee, I was quite the complan boy). Hmmm...I think the girl's name who played Cinderella was Kanika...

dazedandconfused said...

Eeeks...knowing how particular you are about these things, sorry about the spelling mistake @ 'occasion'.

(Have double checked THIS comment for any spelling mistakes as well)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

My theatrical career includes being a) an icicle b)an understudy to the snowman in The Snowman. I should have kikced the lead harder. I remained an icicle till the end of the plays run c)a concerned citizen of the village who said 'Where's Yefim?' and 'Don't go there! There are ghost's in the mountains!'

And inspite of this RADA rejected me. WhAT cheek.

And I second your theory that The Pied Piper was a paedo.

Swathi said...

like someone once said on my blog, we did not know at that time what lovely blog posts those moments would make.

i was an angle in Class 4 (minus one of those wings), played a thief in Class 6 and a College Principal in Class 9 - ah, the joys of teasing friends with make-up on!

n said...

this post is a good reason to not believe everything ur told. Cause when u mess with it :)..much fun comes.

Aishwarya said...

..if you're read his other stuff, no. King Rat was his first, I think, and it's not as good as the rest. I think I would have been impressed if I hadn't read his Bas Lag books.

Falstaff said...

d&c: :-). At least you got to be a prince.

shoe-fiend: Such cheek is right. The trouble is, people don't know talent when they see it.

swathi: hmmmpph. Am firmly against teasing people about make-up. Being the fairest kid in class in all boy's school when you're 12 can do that to you. One craves admiration, but not in the form of your classmates waxing eloquent about your rosy cheeks.

n: No, no, you should always mess with what you're told. I'm telling you.

aishwarya: I haven't actually. so thanks for the tip

Sunil said...

watch out now for a spate of posts in the blogosphere, about personal experiences in theatre, all inspired by this post...

(you think you had a theatre experience? Wait till you hear mine).

ggop said...

Glad your performance was well received :-). I had the misfortune of sitting next to a speaker last night at a local function where three kids under the age howled off key songs into the mike.

Mr. D said...


But tell me, how many more hits than usual did you get by including Himesh's name?

I think I hold the record for maximum number of theatre roles with 3 or less lines to say, a lot like Arnold Schwarz-something in Hollywood. It's not because of my biceps, but because of my memory.

The Invizible Man said...

very funny post, especially the last bit about mrs. piper... can picture the theatrics in that scene!

Falstaff said...

sunil: ah, but that's why it's a series, see. This way, whatever you come up with, I can always top. :-).

ggop: Thank you, thank you. You realise, of course, that these three kids who were torturing you are, have, according to their parents, the most divine voices imaginable.

mr. d: Actually not that many - if I'd included his full name I might have got more.

and you mean it's not because you're the strong, silent type?

invizible man: Thanks. Yes, I almost wish my school play had included that bit.

Pareshaan said...

Dude - had to say this man - my first play was Pied Piper too - I was one of the children that the Pied Piper leads away - I was seven and had one dialogue. It took me two months to master that one dialogue and the stress of it all almost made me quit!

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