Stage Fright is the story of a very shy nine year old girl who is forced to perform in a school play.
|the birthday party|
We open at cousin Carol's birthday party. Carol, along with outgoing Wendy, are Sara's only two friends. She is lucky enough to have them both live within walking distance from her house. The birthday party magician is asking for a volunteer from the audience and Sara is frightened that she will be chosen. The magician picks Wendy, as she was volunteering the most enthusiastically. Sara sits in her seat in the back row and wishes she could be more like her friend. Later, the girls all get a fortune and Sara's says she will meet a handsome stranger. Sara is terrified to read hers aloud, thinking she will be teased. Wendy guesses what's wrong and cleverly diverts attention away from Sara.
|Sara and her parents|
Sara, like many introverted people, is a big cat lover, which makes me like her all the more. She has two cats, Star and Lucy, who are like part of the family. Sara's mother desperately wants Sara to be less timid and degrades her verbally when she is unable to. When Sara gets home from the party, her mother begins to drill her about party games and if she had a good time. Sara confesses that she didn't participate in any of the party games. Sara's father, who understands what it's like to be shy, argues with her mother that she's being too hard on Sara. Sara's mother says that this behavior isn't normal, which really strikes a chord with Sara.
|passing out the plays|
Sara has had a good school year. She likes her teacher and she has Wendy in her class to help and sometimes downright enable her anxieties. Sara's world turns on edge when her teacher, Mrs. Fischer, announces that the class will perform a skit at a school wide end of the year production. Mrs. Fischer gives the class three plays to choose from for homework. Sara picks the shortest one with the smallest parts.
|writing The Saga of Barbie and Ken|
More changes are in store when Wendy announces that there is a strong possibility she will be moving this summer. This news hits Sara harder than the play, but the girls change gears quickly, as kids will, and work on their poem for The Guinness Book of World Records. The poem is a fanfic about the lives of Barbie and Ken, and the girls hope it will be the longest poem ever written by kids.
|at Wendy's house|
Sara is relieved when her choice of play "Uncle Elmer's Fabulous Idea" wins the vote in the classroom. Still not happy though, Sara talks to her teacher privately about letting her out of the play. Mrs. Fischer is sympathetic, but is also determined to let each of her students have the experience of performing and won't back down. Sara reluctantly joins Wendy and Carol at Wendy's house to rehearse for the auditions the next day. Sara finds reading the script is kind of fun, but she has a thing about counting how many eyes will be watching her, and in the classroom there will be 42 watching her stumble through her lines.
|the shy kids auditioning|
The day of the auditions comes. Wendy auditions for every large part, including Uncle Elmer. At the end of auditions, Mrs. Fischer calls up all the kids who haven't tried out for a part yet. Of course, these are all the shy kids. They are to read for the smallest parts, that of the townspeople. Sara does a terrible job, partially on purpose, as a last ditch effort to get out of the play. She notices the girl next to her, Jennifer, is actually crying. Sara squeezes Jennifer's hand as the teacher subtly lets Jennifer out of auditioning.
Sara goes home and talks to Star and Lucy about how she purposely did a terrible job. Her mother overhears and tells her how ashamed she is and sends Sara to her room (though she is always complaining about Sara spending too much time in her room). Sara's parents fight some more as her father points out how nonsensical it is that Sara's mother not only wants her to conquer her fear, but demands that she do well and enjoy it.
Mrs. Fischer announces her casting decisions and Sara is shocked that she wasn't assigned the part of a townsperson. Instead she got the role of Uncle Elmer's niece Nellie, a slightly larger part with five lines. The class rehearses in small groups and Jennifer cries again. Sara tries giving Jennifer pep talks, which seem to help. Sara slowly improves too.
Sara, Wendy and Carol finish 350 stanzas of "The Saga of Barbie and Ken". The girls are preparing to send off the poem to actor Sir Alec Guinness when Wendy catches her sister Katie (of Martin's subsequent book Me and Katie (the Pest)) spying at the door. This segues into Wendy talking about how bad things have been at her house while her father is looking for a job in the area so the family won't have to move.
|getting ready for dress rehearsal|
The class holds a dress rehearsal for the play. Sara and Jennifer sit in the audience before their turns come and give each other moral support. When the time comes for Sara to say her lines, she accidentally knocks over a chair prop and injures one of her cast mates. Sara is so upset she runs home even before the rehearsal is over. (Remember when kids came and went as they pleased in books?)
|Sir Alec Guinness of Star Wars|
Sara goes home and cries in her bed. Her mother comes in and acts all butt hurt when Sara would rather talk to her father. After they talk about the rehearsal, Sara mentions the epic poem the girls sent to the actor Alec Guinness. Her father sets her straight on their mistake, and Sara scrambles to write another letter to Alec asking him to send back the poem.
Jennifer shyly invites Sara over to swim in her new swimming pool. Sara accepts, and congratulates herself on making a new friend. The library book with all the stars' addresses in it (probably weed worthy material today) was checked out, so the girls will have to wait on sending the letter to Sir Alec. Wendy says her father is interviewing for one last job, and if he doesn't get this one the family will have to move. The girls adorably perform a little "white magic" for good luck, holding up seven fingers and chanting "Mr. White will get the job" with their eyes closed.
It turns out Katie had copied the address down while spying on her sister one day, so the library book isn't needed after all. Wendy cops an attitude and Sara uncharacteristically tells her off. Sara says she should start sticking up for herself since Wendy won't be around anymore to do it for her. This makes all three girls emotional. Wendy says melodramatically that she wanted the publication of "Barbie and Ken" to be a tribute to their friendship. Kind of sad when you know that even when it reaches the right destination, there's no way it'll be included in the book.
When Wendy's father gets home, they all ponce on him, wanting to know if he got the job. As someone who has been on her share of failed job interviews, coming home to your kids and their friends asking you if you have the job because their lives depend on it has just got to break your heart even more. But Mr. White doesn't know the verdict yet, as often happens...usually when the answer is no.
|the play...I swear one day I'll get a scanner|
The night before the play, Sara's mom criticizes her some more, this time about her summer plans (learning how to knit) and her lack of friends (her cousin and a girl who's moving away). Sara comes up with a plan for standing up to her mother without coming off as sassy. Channeling her inner actress, she rehearses in her mind the scene before she acts it out. Sara basically gives her mother a well-deserved guilt trip and triumphantly heads out the door to school.
Even Wendy is nervous the night of the play, partly because she hasn't heard any news from her father yet. Sara takes a peek at the audience and estimates there are around 640 eyes out there. She has a panic attack and nearly throws up. She resolves to tell Mrs. Fischer she wants out of the play, but then she sees Jennifer crying and realizes they need to stick together. Sara says her lines too softly and quickly, just like she had during rehearsals. She looks out into the audience for her mother, expecting her to look disappointed. She is smiling, though. Sara's guilt trip really worked. Sara knows she did a bad job, but she also knows she did her best. She looks forward to spending the summer with Jennifer and Carol (if Wendy has to move).
Wendy's father announces that he didn't get the job he was going for, but his current boss is gong to let him stay where he is. Sara and her mother have a talk. Sara admits she really hated being in the play, but it wasn't as bad as she thought. Her mother says she doesn't push her "just to be mean" (she does it partially to be mean?), but because Sara won't always be able to avoid parties and plays and such, which, to her credit, is true.
|Wendy with the letter|
We end with Wendy coming over to Sara's with the news that Sir Alec Guinness sent back the saga after having read it. In a letter accompanying the returned poem, he compliments their writing and apologizes that he doesn't have anything to do with the Guinness Book. Sara and Wendy go off to find Carol and Jennifer to add more stanzas to the saga.
I always liked Ann M. Martin's stand alone books better than her Babysitter's Club series, though Bummer Summer and With You and Without You were probably my favorites. As a formerly painfully shy kid, I could really relate to Sara (except I loved when we put on programs). I liked that she learned that when something is troubling you, sometimes you can feel better when you help out someone who might be a little worse off than yourself. I also appreciate the fact that we understand that Sara will never be the next Shirley Temple. She doesn't do great in the play, but she got through it, which is sometimes the best you can hope for.