Drama Happens

Tales of a 4th Grade Psycho

by Hope Madden

I learned precious little in my 12 years of Catholic schooling. (That’s more on me than it is on the schools, to be honest.) But one lesson that did stick: nuns are judgey.

When I was a 4th grader in Tiffin St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary school, my teacher, Ms. Teill, was charged with generating some kind of skit to entertain at an upcoming PTO gathering.

I volunteered my services.

I would not act, oh no. I prepared to write and direct my first stage play. I called it, “When a Stranger Calls.”

If that title sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is. I stole it from the box of a VHS rental I coveted at the local video store.

As a child, I was fascinated by horror films.

I attribute this to inaccess (my parents only allowed G-rated films until I was about 12), and my abiding fear of all things.

As a preschooler I was afraid of Sesame Street – you must admit it is lousy with monsters. I found Boo Berry cereal equal parts delicious and frightening. Trees and the woods still terrify me – a handicap in rural Ohio.

Odd as it sounds, my ritual for overcoming my fear was to write scary stories.

Not just any scary stories – I would rewrite those tales I overheard that frightened me, allowing me a sort of ownership, I suppose.

I had notebooks full of them – tales crafted of what I could glean from a commercial I’d seen for Helter Skelter, or after eaves dropping on the babysitter as she summarized the film Carrie over the phone to a friend, or after poring over the box for the VHS tape of David Cronenberg’s Rabid. All these became inspiration to my 10-year-old self. Little did Miss Teill know.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with the 1979 slasher whose plot I attempted to plagiarize.

A babysitter receives creepy phone calls telling her to check the children. She ignores the message, the children are slaughtered, and eventually she finds that the calls are being made from inside the house.

“Have you checked the children?”

In the film, the babysitter survives – a fact I did not grasp from the VHS box, so in my play, she dies. And the children die. So do the parents, the police who investigate – actually, every character in my play died except the maniac, who lived to kill another day.

So my friends and I rehearsed during recess. We honed our tale until we were ready to share it with our parents – and everyone else’s – as well as most of St. Mary’s faculty at the PTO meeting.

Poor Miss Teill. Well, I suppose she should have paid more attention during rehearsal.

As it happens, it was Holy Week – those sacred days leading up to Easter.

Let’s be honest, though, there is a lot of blood shed in those days leading up to Easter. Is this really that different?

Where do you think Sister Cleofa landed with that argument?

It turns out, child slaughter doesn’t play that well with the nuns.

My parents were mortified, as was the whole of the audience. As I recall, Miss Teill was reprimanded. I was definitely reprimanded, and had to promise to stop writing anything at all.

And to stop being morbid.

There were several children I had to promise to stop playing with, also, at their parents’ request.

But otherwise, the performance went well, I think.

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