A Baby Mouse and a Dream

Written By: Elizabeth McCourt

I nabbed the part of ‘Baby Mouse’ in Gwen Verdon’s 1980 production of Nutcracker, at The John Drew Theatre in East Hampton, due to my knack for always sticking up for myself. The production was low budget, but special because of Ms. Verdon. Her friends financed the extras to make sure it was a great review-worthy event. Ms. Verdon donated her time as director and housed the professional dancers from New York City, including her daughter Nicole Fosse, who was making her professional debut. Turns out, I earned a few sentences in the New York Times review because, as thrilling as it was to see the only baby mouse in this choreographed performance, my two little sisters were sitting next to the reviewer and “squealed with delight” when I came on stage with King Mouse, principal dancer Michael Kessler.

I think the entire troupe of the local children’s group, the Young People’s Theatre Workshop, auditioned for a few parts on a cool fall day. The audition directors took Polaroids of each of us, then ushered us downstairs to the basement of the theatre. The first audition task was to do a cartwheel. Although my love of gymnastics was larger than my talent, no back hand-springs were required, and I got ready to perform my most perfect cartwheel—except they didn’t call me and started to go on to the next task. I paused for a moment, then raised my hand and announced, “Excuse me, but I didn’t get to do my cartwheel and my friend Suzie didn’t either.” I’d never want to leave a friend out—I’m not that kind of competitor. I did my cartwheel, they asked my name, and I saw them write a note on my Polaroid.

The next week, I got the call back, but Suzie didn’t. I’d landed the role of ‘Baby Mouse,’ which meant I’d get a minute on stage by myself before the Papa Mouse came on for his professional solo. To this day, at Christmastime when I hear the Nutcracker music I want to stop and dance, slowly moving onstage, looking right and left, circling around the blue winged chair and then scampering along to stage left. This performance didn’t have a group of fighting mice, only the Papa, Mama and Baby mouse. I was even in the program as a named dancer. It didn’t turn out to be my ticket to Broadway like I’d hoped, but at the time it did make me feel like this small-town girl from East Hampton had a shot at making it big.

I noticed that people kowtowed to Ms. Verdon, but I thought that was because she was the director and didn’t realize how famous she was. She was sweet to me and taught me my moves along with making sure my costume fit with the tummy pillow sewn for me along with a baklava with big mouse ears. My mother had to buy grey tights and a grey leotard and I begged her a little because she wasn’t too happy about spending the money for something I’d never wear again. There wasn’t a costume budget for the smaller roles. Even though we found a scratchy wool leotard that was hot under the stage lights, I found ways to wear it again to prove that it wasn’t a waste. Perhaps the thrill of the day, was getting to see the dancers up close, dreaming of one day having the title role of Clara myself.

I continued to take acting classes throughout my youth and one year tried to convince my mother that I needed to move into my grandmother’s apartment in Queens so that I could be close to the city to audition for Annie. Sarah Jessica Parker was in the role that year and I thought I could easily get the part of one of the orphans because I knew all the songs by heart. I’d worked out a plan that when I wasn’t working on Broadway, I’d do my schooling on-set and since I would be living in Queens I wouldn’t have to commute from East Hampton. Going to New York City to audition was out of the question so I drove my parents nuts by singing the soundtrack over and over, trying to prove I deserved a chance at my dream. My dad did get me into a special acting class with Hugh King at the East Hampton Middle School, but no matter how well I did, I had to be satisfied with local opportunities and the fact that maybe I just wasn’t good enough.

Not feeling good enough haunted me, and I was a little angry to be taught that creative opportunities weren’t possible for a girl like me. Yet, I refused to stop raising my hand and succeeded at opportunities in other aspects of my life. I’d found my way to trial lawyer in New Mexico that way, but when my dad got sick I decided to move back to East Hampton temporarily. Maybe, I thought, this was the opportunity to allow my creative juices to flow again? Ballet shoes retired, I decided that finally I could write a book I’d been dreaming about for years yet pushed aside for more practical considerations as I’d had to do before. I was no longer felt the longing for the grandeur of an Annie audition or a part in a Nutcracker production, but I had the opportunity to choreograph a new dream that someday this this small-town girl might finally find her way back to the excitement that her dreams just might come true.