I was not the popular kid in high school. It shouldn’t be that surprising; I’ve always been on the…let’s call it “unique” side, and teenagers are totally known for embracing and celebrating eccentricities. Wait, no, that’s not right. They tear the oddballs to shreds, I remember now. For the first couple years I desperately tried to fit into a “group” but I generally ended up being the outsider with one or two equally outsider friends. It took until my junior year before I had a decent group of friends–pretty much all of whom were kind of outcasts themselves. Most of us found each other hanging out around the lower rungs of the social ladder.
I had (of course) been in the Drama Club since I was a freshman. There was as close to no funding as is physically funding; we had a teacher adviser that pretty much just signed anything that needed signing and did nothing else. There was enough money to pay for the rights to one play a year and a little bit for sets. One year the “stage” was the middle of the gym floor, the next we were able to perform at the tiny local theater. Both productions were otherwise entirely student run. So when I became the president (I am fairly sure I was the only one who even wanted the job), I had all sorts of big ideas for what we would do.
The big first idea was to have a fundraiser. We decided we’d throw a dance for the school. There was very little to do back then; our town didn’t have a movie multiplex until the following year, and the “mall” at that time was three small strips of stores with a big parking lot. So school dances generally had pretty good attendance. We wanted it to stand out, so we gave it a theme. I’ve always been a sucker for a theme party, and we went “Fifties Sock Hop” for this. I don’t really know why, except that at the time a new 5o’s themed cafe had opened.
We poured pretty much our entire budget into the project, aside from the few dollars it took to buy the rights to a play called The Very Great Grandson Of Sherlock Holmes. It was my first attempt at directing and I had less than no idea what I was doing. Not a lot of people showed up for auditions (which is called “foreshadowing”) so the casting was a little weird, and I had to take the part of the sexy maid, which I did not want.
The rest of us were a pretty motley crew (who were, oddly enough, all too square to listen to Mötley Crüe). We had a handful of standard nerds, a handful of defiant chubby girls, the boy who the entire school thought was gay (but swore he wasn’t, even if he did dot his i’s with circles), the misunderstood poet who was also the only disabled student in our school, that one weird girl who always acted like she was homeschooled (but wasn’t), and me, the attention-hungry ADHD kid who was desperate to have some kind of social power.
Only a handful of kids had any theater experience; the most experienced ones had graduated the year before, or fled when they saw the rabble of dorks that had taken over. We were rank amateurs at everything, but had that really appealing teenage Of COURSE we know what we’re doing, you idiot confidence. And for a while, it was pretty fun. We were making costumes (have you noticed that this comes up in like every other story I tell?) and props, and rehearsing and planning the Sock Hop. We got the DJ from the local radio station’s oldies program to come, which we thought was a major coup. I mean, everyone we knew listened to that show.
We made posters full of enthusiastic ideas. Games! Dance contest! Prizes! Big heartfelt swaths of butcher paper in every hallway of the school. All four of them – it was a tiny school. My graduating class was about 90 people, and I’m pretty sure there were only about 400 total at the school at that time. Everyone pretty much knew everyone, at least by sight. So the dance was very well publicized, and I overheard more than one group of kids talking about them. People seemed interested.
The night of the dance, we got into the school early. It was always so exciting (to a square like me) to get into the school when it was empty, and we were all pretty jacked up on adolescent adrenaline and caffeine. We decorated as much of the gym as we could, running around and laughing with our giant cutouts of records and jukeboxes and our balloons and crepe paper. The DJ showed up and set up his booth. We were so excited! We started up the music and waited for the crowd to show up.
And waited. And nobody came. Not one. Single. Student. came to that dance. After a couple of hours, a few kids who went to a different high school showed up. Definitely not in 50’s gear (most of us were dressed up, of course), these kids were alt-y hippie kids who were pretty scary to us nerds. They got the DJ to play a bunch of Pearl Jam. We were so disappointed, I can’t even describe it. It was one of the most miserable evenings I have ever spent.
After that, the Drama Club pretty much died. The infighting and blamestorming in the aftermath of our failed fundraiser was more than it could handle, and we no longer had any budget to work with. The whole damn thing was over before Christmas, and there was no club at all the next year. Some of us managed to salvage our friendships. Others I actually still haven’t talked to since. Life will do that. I wish I had learned more from that experience, because it definitely wasn’t the only party I ever threw that no one attended, nor was it the only epically disastrous club event I planned. Far from it; I continued to bulldoze ahead, thinking the mistakes were in me just not trying hard enough. In retrospect a lot of mistakes were pretty obvious. The DJ that only we cared about. The theme that wasn’t particularly hip at the time. Having a theme at all, since the only theme dance all year was the Sadie Hawkins dance, which was thrown by the school and not the students. Everyone knew who the dorks were at the school; if they already didn’t like us, why would they spend money to hang out with us? We completely failed to understand the market we were trying to reach. Which makes sense; if we’d had a clue we wouldn’t have been hanging out in Drama Club to begin with.