The Vomit Queen of the Broadway

Did you know you aren’t supposed to drink milk before any type of physical activity? I didn’t. Granted, my family’s definition of physical activity is moving from the couch to the kitchen to get Pringles while watching TV since none of us were gifted with any athletic ability or motivation.

One notorious morning, unaware of my upcoming fate, I fueled myself with my regular breakfast drink of choice: chocolate milk. Feeling it surge through my body fervently with energy, I believed I was ready to make it through the biggest day of my future high school career.

Freshmen rarely were cast in my future high school’s productions. If you were the lucky set to get in, your whole entire future was basically laid out for you. You got in as a freshman, you meet all the upper classmen, you get seen by the theatre department before anyone else, you get cast in every show for the next 4 years because you are theatre department famous, then you’re automatically on Broadway because duh, you made it into the big musical your freshman year. I should note: I was the only one who viewed the high school theatre hierarchy this way.

So, it’s the day of incoming freshmen auditions. I arrive in my hand me down sports bra, cute jazz pants, and bright tank top, specifically chosen so I could stand out. I was Broadway’s next star and I was going to prove it. Stepping on that stage for the first time, the stage lights burned my eyes in the best way possible with the floor boards of the stage vibrating under my jazz shoes. I scanned the many empty seats that stared back at me, sending a thrill through my body as if it was the real deal. The big musical that year was the Tony Award winning Thoroughly Modern Millie. Rumor had it that we were the first high school in the south to acquire the rights, so naturally the fact I was even auditioning was enough to brag about.  

            For the first round of auditions, the directors chose to hold dancing first, then singing another day. There were two types of calls: movement and dancers. As the primary form of dance being tap in this show, I opted for the movement call because I couldn’t show any weaknesses in front of the people who were going to shape my career. The choreographer that was hired for the show stood at the front of the stage and before any of us could gather our bearings, she began teaching the combination: a simple Charleston. Wait, hold on, just a Charleston!!? My 3 years of dance lessons that happened over 4 years ago definitely prepared me for this.

Easy peasy.

After a few review lessons, I found I was a bit rocky, but with unfiltered confidence inside me, I believed I could pull this off. After the 5th review it was time to split off into groups of five and perform the combination for real. Wait, only five? That means they’ll be able to see me when I mess up.

I mean, if I mess up.

I still didn’t have the full combination down but you know what, maybe my inner dancer instincts will kick in and I’ll be the one the directors have been waiting all afternoon for. Wait, oh man, the music just started for the first group. What is it they say if you can’t remember everything? As long as you get the arms right, feet don’t matter? Or was it the other way around?!

Groups were flying up and off the stage faster than I could process. I could feel a pit in my stomach growing heavier and heavier the more I tried to practice in the wings. My stomach was doing flips, my head absorbed with the feeling of something starting to crawl up my throat.

Where’s my water bottle? I forgot my water bottle in my bag. I’ve got to find a water fountain before they-

“Numbers 20-25 on the stage, please.”

Oh God, I was number 24.

I strolled onto the stage with a smile that screamed, I’m so excited to be here but dear lord let this be quick.

The music blasted over the loud speakers of the auditorium. Holding a smile while flapping my arms and legs, I started to feel bouts of cramps and flips from my stomach.

“Ok, great! Switch lines. 5, 6- 5, 6, 7, 8-“

The same music blared again. This time I was in the front of the group, my smile growing bigger to hide the amount of pain my stomach was experiencing. Abruptly, the sensation of a little ball creeping from my stomach up my esophagus consumed every thought I was having at the moment.

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. If you don’t think about it, it won’t happen.

Nope, I thought about it.

I started dry heaving on stage mid Charleston, my right hand covering my mouth the other performing the choreography. Still dancing my heart out, I kept going with all the energy I wasn’t using to dry heave.

Please don’t vomit on stage, please don’t. You can’t be blacklisted before they see the real you. Oh God, I think I heard it’s a brand new stage, too.

             Then, like that, for the only time in my acting career was I elated to hear the words, “Thank you! Next group!”  I sprinted off stage into the arms of my mother who’d been watching my audition from the seats with the other newbie moms.

“Are you ok!? Did you puke!?”

She ushered me to the nearest water fountain, remarking under her breath how I was white as a ghost. In an attempt to lighten the situation, she continued talking, telling me how her and the other moms were debating whether I was having a coughing fit or about to vomit all over the stage.

“I said throw up because I knew that look on your face.”

Once she helped weak, out of shape, humiliated me into the car, she looked me over.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have had that big glass of milk this morning,”

Lesson. Learned.

 

THE VOMIT QUEEN RETURNS

I didn’t get cast in my first high school production till my sophomore year in the supporting role of Miss Preen in The Man Who Came to Dinner. She’s the poor nurse who has to take care of radio personality, Sheridan Whiteside, as he recovers from a fake fall on ice. I was on cloud nine!  I worked my butt off at the audition and callback so when I saw my name on the cast list, I screamed!

Rehearsals underway, creative juices flowing, bonds with upperclassmen forming, even the sheer memory of almost vomiting on stage a year ago was gone. I was becoming a star! Well, in my eyes I was. Throughout the rehearsal process, rumor of a stomach virus was spreading among Houston schools. No one I knew had gotten it. I was fine. I was going to be fine. No worries.

On the morning of our final tech rehearsal, I woke to find my mom coming out of the bathroom, stunned.

“I just threw up. I never throw up.”

Ten minutes later, as I was eating my breakfast, she ran to the bathroom again. Oh no, I realized, she caught it.

I came home that afternoon to find her lying on the couch, cup of crushed ice in her hand, as she looked at me and confessed that she might not be able to make it to the first show tomorrow.

Opening night arrived and my mom was still bedridden with the after affects of the last 24 hours. As I gave the performance I’d been waiting to show, my dad sat in the audience cheering me on. As great as I felt about the performance and thankful my dad came, I still had to keep telling myself that mom would be at the show the next evening.

Second day of performances arrived and all day at school one after the other, my friends came up to tell me they were seeing the show that night. Before the performance, my mom even declared herself stomach virus free and would be in the audience! Trying not to let nerves get to me, knowing I had a cheering section, I gathered everything I had the night before, plus more, to make tonight’s performance spectacular.

To make up for not being able to come to the show the night before, my mom surprised me with my own pizza to gorge on before burning all my energy on stage. Starving, I basically inhaled the whole thing. Feeling fine, full of pizza and confidence, I went on to the theatre.

The show began swimmingly. Everyone connected to each other and no one fumbled lines. As I waited in the wings, I started feeling a tingling in my stomach. I had to assure myself that icky feeling was just preshow jitters, nothing more. Maybe too much pizza. Yeah, that’s it.  My cue came and I entered onto the stage. Quickly, as my first lines were leaving my mouth, I learned those “jitters” were the precautionary signs for my early demise.

            Just get through these lines then you are off stage for a few pages. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. Power through then you can go off stage and lie down.

The creeping feeling of leftover pizza slowly making its way back up out of my body caused me to sweat profusely on stage till finally my cue to exit came and I dashed backstage.

“Trashcan! Trashcan now!”, I whispered to one of the stage hands. They quickly ran off to the scene shop, me following them, knowing there was a bathroom outside in between our backstage area and the scene shop. I furiously pulled the door handles. Locked!? What kind of monster does such a thing?! Panicked, I ran around in a circle when the stagehand finally appeared and handed over the beautiful wonder of a plastic, grey trashcan. Instantly, every bit of pizza that filled my body was now at the bottom of the trashcan. A swell of relief washed over me, hoping this spell was from overconsumption of pizza. It was then my relief turned to embarrassment. Turns out, the one corner I chose to spew my guts out resonates a very loud echo and any audience member sitting near those doors could hear any and all disgusting sounds.

In between my scenes and frequent trips to my good pal the toilet, I made camp on the floor outside the stage door, lying on my back, wishing this play wasn’t close to 3 hours long. Throughout the show, my teachers and cast members came to visit me. My director kept asking and asking if I wanted to be replaced so I could go home. I kept shaking my head no, reassuring him that I was going to be fine (was I?) and that I was already feeling better (lie). My cast mates tried to make light of the situation and keep my spirits up. One of the freshmen brought me a Sprite, an upperclassman kept assuring me that I’m losing weight and didn’t ever have to worry about working out ever again because I’m going to have a model perfect body now from throwing up. Another upperclassman told me his hilariously awkward vomit stories to get a laugh out of me.

At intermission, the teachers found my mom and told her the situation. She ran backstage to find me in my dying state dressed as a 1950s nurse with a Sprite, water, and my best friend the trashcan next to me. She, too, kept asking if I wanted to be replaced in the show.

“No, no, no replacing.  Everyone I know actually came to the show tonight. I’m gonna finish it. I’ll finish.”

The second act began and ended in a blur as I continued to die but also perform on stage like nothing was happening backstage.  After the curtain call, my mom rushed backstage to carefully help me out of my costume and usher me out of the theatre. Home. Bed. Pajamas. Personal toilet to vomit in. Bless. My head was whirling with the joyous feeling I was going to be around these items soon.

The next day, I officially had to call out of the show as I hadn’t stopped vomiting in 24 hours. I felt horrible having to step out of a show, as there wasn’t an understudy to easily slip into the role. Though, I was in such a delusional state while watching the MTV live stream of Legally Blonde: The Musical, I remember being very confused as to where I was and why Elle Woods was there when I’d wake from feverish sleep. My mom called my head theatre teacher that I couldn’t be in the show that night. She expressed that if I didn’t stop vomiting in 24 hours and couldn’t hold down water, I may have to go to the hospital. Well, word spread fast and got warped with rumors swirling around the moms of the theatre department that less than 24 hours after the show, I was in the hospital with dehydration, hooked to an IV and really dying. Phone calls came pouring, the cast called before the show started, screaming, “GET BETTER!”

The next week I was in peak health and had to correct every person that no, I wasn’t dying in a hospital but instead, dying while listening to “Omigod You Guys” and vowing to never have Gatorade soaked ice chips ever again. After this fiasco, I never had another vomit spell again. While it has been a relief, I am upset that I no longer hold the reign of The Vomit Queen of the (high school) Broadway.