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Fri April 13, 2012
I Died On The Titanic
I died on the Titanic — in the musical, that is. Titanic opened on Broadway in 1997 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
My small California middle school performed the show in grand fashion. Goodness knows why it hadn't been done before at the school, but the curtains rose on our stage in February 2002.
Thanks to the local community theater, my friends and I were in many musicals growing up. I was an orphan twice — in Oliver and Annie — a dancing yellow brick in The Wiz, the baroness in The Sound of Music and a less-than-ladylike secretary in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
But this was my first drowning victim.
The musical was "horrible," according to my parents. Not for lack of talent, of course. Rather, it was sort of depressing watching a bunch of children re-enact this horrific event.
We had a hydraulic stage that literally rose on one side to simulate the sinking ship while dramatic music played in the background. In many a rehearsal, we practiced rolling down it (to our deaths).
The real kicker was the end of the show, in which all of us who died sang a haunting song from our watery grave. We were not the lucky ones.
I remember my eighth-grade self really trying to get into the part. We were not playing fictional characters, arms spread over the bow. This musical was based on the lives of real people. We were acting out their personal lives, hopes and dreams. And their tragic deaths. It was, well, creepy.
On the bright side, my mom notes, I got to wear a fabulous period-style hat.
In a school newsletter in May 2002, one student conveyed how it felt to be ending such a masterpiece.
"Usually when a play is over, I say goodbye to my friends. In this play, I said goodbye to everyone, as we became so close in our sailing on the Titanic."
Dana Farrington is a producer and weekend editor for NPR.org.