Josna Rege

224. Play-Acting

In 1960s, 1980s, Books, Childhood, Family, Inter/Transnational, parenting, reading, Stories on August 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm
The Elves and the Shoemaker (by Jovan-Ukropina at

The Elves and the Shoemaker (by Jovan-Ukropina at

When the boys were young and we lived on the farm in Winchendon, they would regularly act out stories and scenes from books. Once we’d decided on the story, they’d pick roles, the parents avoiding conflict by making sure that one wasn’t more important than the other. Maureen could run up a costume in a twinkling of an eye, and each little man would solemnly don the outfit and magically begin to inhabit the role, while I read aloud the chosen scene.

the Mushroom Table

the Mushroom Table

When they were very young, they loved to act out the Grimms’ fairytale of The Elves and the Shoemaker.  Just before bedtime, they would climb onto the living room table, haul up their toy hammers and baby workbenches, and get themselves all set. One of the grown-ups would read or tell the story until their characters came into it, and then, while we chanted, “Hammer, hammer, hammer,” they would begin hammering away happily, like the hardworking elves they were. How many times did they re-enact this scene? Neither they nor we ever tired of it. Andrew even made a heavy three-legged table purpose-built for their stage. The Mushroom Table, as we called it, was designed so as to be impossible to tip over and to have no sharp edges against which a sleepy elf could crack his head.  More than 25 years later, we’re still using it as our coffee table.

(from Torquil MacNeil's flickr page)

(from Torquil MacNeil’s flickr page)

As the boys grew older, the acting got more ambitious. Maureen made capes, crowns, and jaunty feathered caps out of felt and velveteen, and Nikhil and Eric re-enacted scenes from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  The Howard Pyle edition had good illustrations, but I read from the Puffin re-telling by Roger Lancelyn Green, which had more elevated language. I remember Nikhil playing noble King Arthur and Eric brave Sir Launcelot. Dressed in their little green tights, heads held high, they re-enacted the scenes of the Lady in the Lake (either Maureen or I playing the role of the arm rising out of the water, clad in white samite), the Sword in the Stone, or one of the adventures of Sir Launcelot.  Andrew made a sturdy wooden sword with a carved golden hilt to play the role of the Sword.

The Blues Brothers Chillin' (from

The Blues Brothers chillin’ (from

When they were older still, going on four, perhaps, they started to become movie-lovers like their fathers. If Maureen and I had had our way, their viewing might have been more age-appropriate, restricted to Mister Rogers on PBS and singalong videos, but as it was, the Mushroom Table now became the stage for their new favorite acting duo, the Blues Brothers, with cool-cat Eric playing Dan Ackroyd’s character Elwood and round-faced Nikhil playing John Belushi’s Jake. Complete with dark glasses they would intone, We’re on a mission from God, while we grown-ups struggled to keep a straight face.

from "Not So Little Women" by Laurie Boris (

from “Not So Little Women” by Laurie Boris (

Thinking back to my own childhood, I don’t remember acting out scenes from my favorite books, though I re-read them so many times that I knew them by heart. Instead, I automatically became my favorite character or characters as I read, feeling their feelings, feasting vicariously on their (always-delicious) food, and smarting at the injustices done to them as if they had been visited upon me. I do remember particularly identifying with Jo “the bookworm” in Little Women, as she curled up in an attic window reading and eating apples. It seemed to me like an ideal state of being, communing uninterruptedly with a never-ending book and consuming a succession of crisp, tangy apples from a bottomless barrel. Action was for the future; now was the time to grow on dreams.

Now that that future has come, I’m struggling to play the hardest role of all: myself. One would think I’d be a natural for it, but somehow it seems to be more difficult than any of those others I assumed so easily in the past. Learning to inhabit it fully is the task of a lifetime.

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  1. Hi Josna
    Your post made me realize how imaginatively empty my own childhood was. And, having no children to be selfless for, I think perhaps it is possible to develop too much self . . .

    • Hello E, I can’t believe, given your creatively brimming imagination now, that your inner life as a child wasn’t imaginatively rich as well. And I also beg to differ on the idea that not having children makes one selfish. On the contrary, one could argue that having children indulges people’s selfish need to control, as they can easily impose their own preferences upon their offspring.

      • I don’t know where I got my wild imagination from; it must be innate as my parents seemed wounded beings who also, albeit accidentally, wounded their children. My life as a child was a place of darkness.
        Yes. It must take great wisdom & forbearance to act in our children’s best interests & not in our own. I think I would have striven to do that, & I believe you have too. If you have followed your heart, then you have found your own self I think.
        E x

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