Floodlights and tears

I am wearing Ms Marsh's emerald blouse over bottle-green tights. Brian Pemberton keeps telling everyone that I must be a girl because I'm wearing a dress. I keep telling him that he's just jealous because he's only a tree. Eventually I stab him in his knothole with my wooden sword. Nobody messes with Merry Man 2.

I remember three things in detail from when I was at primary school. One was the time the caretaker caught me on the roof retrieving my whirly-copter, after it was forced to make an emergency landing. Mrs Wooffet's slipper left a lasting impression on my backside.

Another was the late decider I scored in our cup clash with Foundry Lane Juniors. The rain was driving and the pitch was a quagmire. Only seconds remained when the ball skidded across the six-yard box and I slid in between the two centre backs to meet it. The net bulged and my teammates roared. Pity it was an own goal.

But my biggest moment came when, mortally wounded, I staggered on stage and delivered the immortal lines: "The Sheriff and his men have surprised us, Robin. Maid Marian is captured and taken to Nottingham." Then I died heroically in front of a packed house. My mum wept while my dad nodded stoically. Parental support is everything when you bare your soul to the world. I couldn't imagine them not being there.

"One performance in a school production will outlive a thousand lessons," I tell my drama group. We are performing Much Ado About Nothing at a local theatre in November as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival. Until then, I will tear my hair out, shout myself hoarse and model every character from Dogberry to Don Pedro.

There will be times when Leonato forgets every line, Benedick sulks in a corner and Beatrice has a dental appointment. I will ask myself why I bother. But on the night, the kids will be amazing. They will remember it forever and their parents will burst with pride.

Children are natural actors - that's what playing is. But the desire to perform for an audience attracts a certain type of child. I call them "Chianti facilitators", because they are the ones who give me a reason to drink wine at the end of the day. I believe their hunger to be on stage derives from a desperate need to feel loved and adored.

And nothing provides love and adoration more than a primary school show. No matter what happens on stage, by the end there won't be a dry eye in the house. The combination of courage and vulnerability in the spotlight always leaves grown-ups feeling choked up.

Then there is that one special child who makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Last year, it was Keira. She played the lead in our production of Romeo and Juliet. Never was a child actor more ardent in love, more overwhelmed by separation or more resolved in death.

Enough tears flowed that night to cause localised flooding. Parents cried for their own children, staff cried for all the children. A few of us cried especially for Keira, whose parents hadn't bothered to turn up.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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