Saturday, November 24, 2012

Response: Howard Dai on "My First Time"

[ED: Readers are invited to comment on articles appearing on the CharPo websites.]

My First Time
“Oh, no, not drama” I thought.
by Howard Dai

[In reponse to My First Time by Gaëtan L. Charlebois]

Howard Dai is a contributor to CharPo as well as a theatre practitioner in British Columbia.

It was another boring day in my elementary school. I was in Grade 7. It was the first year of my residence in Canada since I left this country when I was five to live with my grandparents and receive education in Taiwan. I had’t really spoken English for nearly eight years (except sometimes in English class in our school in Taiwan, but all we said was “This is a book” or something super simple like that), thus when I came back to Canada after I graduated elementary school - which goes to Grade 6 in Taiwan – I was doing so badly, and apparently the only word I said in the first week was “Hi”. Our tiny community elementary school doesn’t really have a proper ESL (English as Second Language) program; they only took me for two classes of ESL in the whole school year – and it was taught by the French teacher of the school. Basically I had to sit in and learn Grade 7 English with everyone else. Oh, and I had to go to French class too. Seriously? I couldn’t even speak English properly, and you want me to learn French with English? Needless to say, it was a year with a sad report card (surprisingly, I didn’t fail any subjects – probably because there is no F in elementary school).

Anyway, as I was saying, it was another boring day in school. I didn’t really have friends in school because of my poor English. This day, our teacher handed us a course selection sheet to fill out for Grade 8 in the only secondary school in the city. Everyone was excited to finally get to have some kind of choices in their classes. I remembered I stumbled upon the arts electives section of the sheet. The options were Drama, Choir, Band, and Art. 

I had to act and be silly, like I wasn’t silly enough when I’m trying to be normal.

“Oh, no, not drama” I thought. Drama class in Grade 7 was not a pleasant experience. I was embarrassed enough to attempt to communicate with my horrible English, and there’s drama, where I had to act and be silly, like I wasn’t silly enough when I’m trying to be normal. So when I was given the choice for classes in secondary school, drama was definitely not my first choice. I put down Art as my number one; but since I wasn’t involved in music at all, I had to put down drama as my first back up elective. 

But, you see, all the other kids in our class were talking about how fun drama would be. We even had one alumnus who was a year older than us come to our class, just to tell us to sign up for drama, because it’s possibly the best course in Grade 8. So I, who was isolated at the time,  attempting to fit in, switched the order of Art and Drama on my course selection sheet a minute before I handed it in. And I regretted the moment I handed it in. I could only hope that the drama class was full, so they could send me to my first backup choice – Art. 

And there came the first day of Grade 8. And it turned out the Drama 8 class was full. So there it was, on my timetable – Drama 9. I was right on the edge of going to see my counsellor and switch out of the class. But I decided to go to the class that day and check it out  – maybe the drama class in high school would be different – and if I don’t like it, it wouldn’t be too late to switch out of the class on the second day anyway. So I went. I expected to do silly things like we always did in Grade 7 drama and get super embarrassed; but all we did was sit in a circle, introducing ourselves, and listen to our teacher – Ms. Monte - explaining the course outline and expectation. It wasn’t that bad, I thought. So I went the second day too.

(It’s a crazy story about how I went from beginner ESL class to regular English class with others in my grade in just one semester, and drama is definitely one of the factors.)

And I had attended all the drama classes, and before I knew it, it had become the course that I looked forward to the most of the semester. And I’d started to enjoy performing for the class. And I started to write monologue and duologue for the class. And my English has improved dramatically over the course of the semester. (It’s a crazy story about how I went from beginner ESL class to regular English class with others in my grade in just one semester, and drama is definitely one of the factors.)

And I remembered Ms. Monte telling us about the school musical they were doing that year – Grease. So I went to the information session that they held around a month into the start of the school year regarding auditions for the musical. On the second day, I talked privately to Ms. Monte after drama class; I told her I love to act, and I would love to try singing too, but I couldn’t dance at all. She told me there were other ways to get involved other than being a cast member. So I became a stage running crew.

When the rehearsals started, I was given a schedule and was encouraged to attend some of them, so I would have an idea what the show is about and get familiar with the show eventually. I ended up attending almost every single one –more than our stage manager had attended. And by the cue-to-cue week, I had memorized every single line of the whole play. (At the time, you could give ANY line from any point of the show, and I would tell you what the stage looks like at that point, and stage direction for the line delivered, and the next line.)

“How about for the closing night, you can join the chorus and be onstage for one of the numbers?”

I was having so much fun, and was getting really excited for the opening of the musical. Around three hours before the curtain of the opening night, Ms. Monte – who was the director of the musical – called me over in the theatre. “Is performing what you wanted to do?” she asked, I said yes. “How about for the closing night, you can join the chorus and be onstage for one of the numbers?” I was stunned for a bit, and I immediately agreed. She told me to bring in an 80s looking costume and to practice the choreography of “You’re The One That I Want”. So I did. 

And on the night of closing, our choreographer brought me downstairs to the dressing rooms, and showed me the new name added to one of the doors – Howard - and showed me the new name added to the costume rack, hangers, and the back of a chair. Then she brought me to the hair and makeup room, and they used half a bottle of hair gel to give me Grease-looking hair. I went upstairs by the wing and standing by for the final curtain rise of the show run, and all the cast members, one-by-one, came up to me to congratulate me on my to-be stage debut. And I couldn’t hold in my tears anymore, I was crying with tears of joy throughout the whole night. 

And the time came, I entered on stage with the chorus when the band hits the second verse of “You’re The One That I Want”, and I was in the moment, dancing and singing, and felt the energy of the full house, 1200 audience members, hitting on stage and through me. And I went on stage again in the closing number, since I knew the choreography anyway. And even though I missed the curtain call, I was on stage holding a giant smile when the curtain closed in front of us. As soon as the curtain was completely closed, the female lead who played Sandy gave me a big hug, and my tears broke out again.

And that was the moment when I realized, theatre is what I will be doing for the rest of my life.


  1. Howard,

    This a thoughtful piece that outlines your journey into the world of theatre. I am so proud of your accomplishments. Your passion will inevitably lead you to great success.


    1. Hi Ms. Monte,

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Thank you for bringing me into performing arts. You undoubtedly changed my life! :)



Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.