Friday, April 29, 2011

A Serious Photo Friday: The Bullied Pink Lady

My mom shared this article from the Chicago Tribune with me about how the play Grease has Chicago roots. I had no idea that the story was based off of real teenagers in a Chicago neighborhood and it reminded me how OBSESSED I was with Grease in my pre-teen years-- an obsession I played tribute to in what be one of my favorite chapters of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. I even liked Grease 2 because the bad-ass, too-cool-for-school lead girl was named Stephanie. Of course I rewatch that movie now and cringe, but I still love the original. Though we have the soundtrack on the jukebox at the bar where I work and drunk girls singing "Summer Lovin'" has put a bit of a damper on my love for the soundtrack. I still know all the words to all of the songs because Grease was the first play I was in during the summer between seventh and eighth grade.

In seventh grade I was active in the theater but as a member of stage crew. I was a shy kid, being behind the scenes suited me. But when I got word that the summer theater camp was doing Grease, I knew I had to try out because I absolutely HAD to be a Pink Lady. I had no desire to be Sandy, even as a kid I know she wasn't the type of girl I was. I related most to the misunderstood rebel Rizzo, who hid her real feelings under a tough outer shell (Gee, she sounds a little bit like Emily from IWBYJR, doesn't she? See, Grease has had a long lasting influence on me.) I also adored Frenchie, the beauty school dropout with her own funky style. And Frenchie was the role I tried out for since at the time since 'Beauty School Dropout' was my favorite song (though ever since high school I've related far more to Rizzo's ballad, 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do,' hence I cribbed it for a chapter title in IWBYJR). I didn't land Frenchie, I was just a Pink Lady in the chorus and I doubled as the chick who steals Danny from Sandy-- Cha Cha in the movie, but my junior high play sanitized her role (and a lot of the song lyrics) quite a bit, so basically my only line was something like "Danny, will you go to the dance with me." Oh and I think it was staged so I said it in the dark. But I didn't care. It was my first play, so it was cool to have any lines at all and I got to sing my favorite Grease songs. Here I am, all done up in my Pink Lady gear on opening night:

I look really happy and it sounds like a lot of fun, right? Well, not totally. This was the summer I experienced some of the worst bullying of my life. It's kind of ironic because I think the thing I loved most about Grease was having a gang of girls who had your back. I loved the Pink Ladies. I wanted a group of friends who accepted and supported me like that-- and I did have some pretty great friends in grade school and junior high, but I'd always been a bit of an outcast who got picked on for being too small, too bookish, not pretty enough, not wealthy enough to have the right clothes, etc. I *wished* I could be Rizzo tough or have Rizzo tough friends to support me. My best friend from high school and my best friend from college actually do remind me of Rizzo a bit, and they both shared my love for Grease. I remember a weekend that my college and best friend and I watched the Grease movies over and over again (we went to school in Ohio, we did that a lot with movies because we were very bored) and we decided life would be so much better if we could be greaser girls with hot greaser boyfriends who broke into song and dance all the time. But I digress.

In junior high, I was not Rizzo tough and I did not have Rizzo tough friends, though I did have some good friends. And the summer that I did Grease, I learned that not all girl gangs were as cool as the Pink Ladies. Some were downright cruel. The summer theater camp was open to kids from both junior highs and the popular crowd from the other junior high spent that summer tormenting me. I'm not going to go into details because that experience is what I wrote about in my essay for DEAR BULLY, the anthology that is coming out in August of this year.
I don't know if I've ever been more proud to be a part of a project as DEAR BULLY. It is so important to bring these deep dark secrets of torment to life. My parents did not know much if anything about what happened to me that summer, though I think if you look closely at that picture of me, that you can see it in my eyes.

DEAR BULLY reminds you that it will get better and you can survive. I didn't let my bullying experience stop me from trying out for more plays in eighth grade, though granted it helped that those awful girls didn't go to my school, I even got a fairly big part in I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I also refused to let it taint my love of Grease-- not any more than drunk girls singing the songs at the bar have at least. I'm really hoping to go to the Chicago production of the *original* play with all the local references and un-sanitized language. Because I still love the Pink Ladies and the idea of a positive girl gang of misunderstood rebels who support each other.


Liviania said...

After my parents divorced, my mom, my sister, and I moved. I kept quiet about how unhappy I was about moving. It would take me away from the few friends I had.

I ended up being increasingly thankful that we moved. I fit in much better in the new place and made a wide range of friends, some of whom I still contact.

I can't imagine how I would've made it through puberty without my friends.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Liviania, I am glad that you had a much happier moving situation than I did and made some amazing friends. I agree there is no way to get through adolescence without good friends!

mermayd said...

i love grease. it reminds me of my cousin rose, we watched it together so many times and i remember dancing with her in her basement to the record. great post, i love that you were cha-cha (albeit a watered-down version). she was the best dancer at st bernadette's! with the worst reputation of course...

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Yes!!!! Best dancer with worst reputation. I did love that! Grease does have so many good memories despite the bad.