Stage and Studio: My Drunken Debut

My first production with Joffrey was Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow. I was one of two trainees selected for participation and I was thrilled. I took technique class upstairs with the company and desperately tried to stay out of everyones' way. I observed longingly as the company members had their cool conversations and made their cool jokes and professionally danced their cool dances. They regarded me with pleasant indifference except for one time when one of the dancers chided me for snacking on edamame beans in the studio. Lucas, to this day I'm not sure whether or not you were legitimately upset with me...

Life was good for seventeen year old me. I loved The Merry Widow and The Merry Widow loved me back. I got to wear warm-ups during barre and get partnered by company men. I mean what more could a post-boarding-school-bun-head ask for?

And then, as if things could get even better, I was singled out for a featured role. Mr. Hynd pointed at me and said, “Ok I need you to be the drunk guest at the party, you know just a little tipsy…”

I froze. You see I had never been drunk in my life. I’d never even tasted alcohol. I was not merely underage, I was the straightest laced girl at the party. I was the girl who went to the party for puppy chow, and left as soon as things got “fun". I was also not particularly accustomed to being publicly funny. 

But I was up for the challenge. 

I went home and got pretend drunk in front of the mirror. I took mental notes when those around me appeared “a little tipsy”. I practiced holding a bottle and falling out of chairs. I did my homework and showed up to rehearsal warm, rehearsed, and ready to drink. 

Looking back now, I may have overdone it. I bumped into dancers and flirted shamelessly with other “guests”. I poured myself glass after glass after imaginary glass. For how much alcohol my character consumed it would have been more accurate to have made her throw up and black out somewhere in the wings. But I didn't know any better.

As silly as it sounds, I consider this drunken debut the first success of my career. The next year when I joined the company and received my first invitation to "go out", everyone was astounded to learn that I never drank. Apparently my performance made the best bad first impression I could have hoped for. 

Margot Fonteyn and artists of The Australian Ballet performing The Merry Widow in New York, 1976. Photo by Martha Swope.

Margot Fonteyn and artists of The Australian Ballet performing The Merry Widow in New York, 1976. Photo by Martha Swope.