Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wax Museum

When I was in eighth grade, my school offered accelerated classes.  They were optional, but you had to be invited to take them.  There was an accelerated section of math (Algebra I), history, English, and science.  I opted to take all except history because I thought taking FOUR accelerated classes would be "too stressful."  (Note to eighth grade self:  You are an idiot.).

Anyway, the accelerated history, science, and English classes all worked on a huge project called Wax Museum.  For the wax museum, each of us were assigned a famous figure in the 1950s, '60s, '70s.  We had to research the decade and the person and write a 10 page paper (5 page report on the major historical events of the decade, and 5 pages of biographer on our assigned historical figure).  This was a HUGE project and the first long paper I'd ever written. And these were the days before the internet!  We had to research the old-fashioned way.  Like, with books and stuff.

In order to get our assignments, we had to make a list of three people who were famous in our assigned decade (I had the 1950s) and then the teachers made the final decisions so that there was a good representation of people from different walks of life (politics, entertainment, science) and there weren't any duplicates.  Each of us had to have a different historical person to research because the project culminated in writing and memorizing a one-minute biographical speech that we would deliver in the first person, dressed up as our assigned historical figure and in character.

The performance was serious business.  We had to make and decorate backdrops and then the lobby of the middle school was transformed into a performance space where we would each go around and deliver our one-minute speeches, first for a parents' night and then for the entire middle school (fifth through eighth grade).   During everyone else's speech, you had to stand frozen (like a figure made of wax).  Then you'd come to life to give your own little talk.  At the end of the speech, you'd transition with an introduction to the next performer.  We'd been attending Wax Museum since we were in fifth grade (they did different decades or different themes each year, so it wasn't a repeat of the same figures, but it was still the same idea).  It might seem nerdy now, but I assure you, we were all super excited.  And almost everyone took it really seriously and went all out on costumes.  It was a HUGE deal.

Not only did we work on it for a long time in class and outside of class, but it was all we talked about for ages.  Who are you?  What's your costume?  Have you finished your speech?

I can tell you that no other school project made as much of an impression on me as Wax Museum.  I can remember it so vividly.  After countless rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and performances, we all had each others' speeches memorized.  We went around reciting them.  We had a million stupid inside jokes, all related to Wax Museum.  I wish I had group photos of everyone involved, but according to my photo evidence, the paparazzi was only captivated by me personally.

Which is understandable, given that this was me:

I'm sure it's obvious, but just in case you don't see the uncanny resemblance, my speech started out like this:  "Hello.  I'm Norma Jeane Baker.  But you probably know me as Marilyn Monroe." (insert dramatic arm flourish)

Walt Disney was on my right and Elvis Presley was on my left.  Other figures in the wax museum included Mickey Mantle (played by a girl, who fainted during one performance), a 1950s housewife (played by my friend Melissa, who was first to speak at our performances:  "After World War II, Rosie the Riveter traded her tool belt for an apron..."), Joe McCarthy, Jonas Salk (he invented the iron lung, right?), John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Paul McCartney, Janis Joplin, Mary Tyler Moore, Gloria Steinem, Jim Henson, Patty Hearst, and John Wayne.  And there were lots more that I can't recall at the moment.  There were probably 50 of us involved all together, spread over the three decades we were representing.  As awkwardly as possible, as illustrated here:

Here I am, the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe.  Except with braces.  Obviously Michelle Williams was actually channeling me when she made her recent film.  Elvis was rockin' it behind me.
My wig was borrowed from Cottey College's costume department.  My dress was one that had belonged to a friend of my moms.  The chest was stuffed with shoulder pads.  I had a pair of white pumps from Payless and my own fabulous make up.  Walt Disney was my first sort-of boyfriend and he wrapped up his speech by listing some of his famous movies:  "... including Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp."  Then he snapped his fingers and said, "Speaking of tramps!  Here's Marilyn Monroe!"  It was so almost-naughty that we couldn't believe our teachers let him get away with it.  (I also thought it was totally unfair to Marilyn, but it got big laughs so he kept it in.)  My own speech ended with some discussion of conspiracy theories surrounding my death (and a meaningful glance at John F. Kennedy, who was a few places away).  Then I said, "And speaking of mysterious deaths, here's Elvis!"  (Speaking of transitions, ours were obviously somewhat repetitive.)

Of course when you get a group of eighth graders together and tell them they have to be frozen and silent for an extended period of time, someone is bound to get the giggles.  I remember trying so hard to stifle nearly hysterical laughter when Mickey Mantle fainted, when Jonas Salk forgot her lines, when someone noticed that Mary Tyler Moore's brochures on juvenile diabetes talked about pee and poop, when someone stuck a stretched out wad of sticky-tack in Jim Henson's Kermit-the-Frog's mouth so he looked like Kermit was barfing, when Joe McCarthy told Gloria Steinem that her wig made her look more like Meatloaf, and everytime John Wayne started his speech with, "Well, hello ya little cowpokes" and when Janis Joplin did a painfully inaccurate rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee."

It was the best eighth grade project ever.  Also I got interviewed by the local news.  I don't remember what I said, but I know I rolled my eyes emphatically and flashed my braces a lot.

And now you know how awkward I was in eighth grade and why I will always have a place in my heart for Marilyn Monroe.  Nerdy school projects for the win.


  1. 1. Your memory is phenomenal.

    2. My 8th grade self is jealous of your 8th grade self. I would have loved this project. All I got to do was play Mama Mouse in our Christmas play. Totally uncool, yo.

    3. I love that I can almost always count on your blog to make me laugh out loud. Or cry, depending on the subject matter.

  2. E did a wax museum this year, mythology themed. The kids LOVED it. And yes, your memory is very good.

    Nothing like a brunette in a blond wig. As dashing as we may be as blondes, we still always look a little like we're in drag. I had a blonde wig moment too, at least there is no photographic evidence!!!

    "Speaking of tramps..." that was the best part, hands down.

  3. This is AWESOME!! What a creative project!

    I love hearing more about when people were growing up!

  4. Great story!!! I was laughing out loud!

  5. Who didn't love Wax Museum??? It was the coolest thing to happen in the 8th grade! I was Barbara Walters during the 1970s and my husband was Robert E. Lee, in the really old Wax Museum days before they started doing the decades. I can't believe you have pictures as Marilyn! I'm sure my mom has some, but I have no idea where they are. You must have a great photo organization system.

  6. I wish I could relay how very much I wish my kid to be just like you as she grows.

  7. Pretty cool. Our school did "world day" we were each assigned a country and had to do a report and presentation, dress the part and bring food. Than we all got to go around and taste the food and ask questions. I was Russia... Vodka wasn't an option so I served ritz crackers and caviar.... Because everyone loves caviar right? I wouldn't even try it but others did!!! I love that he called you a tramp. I bet that was pretty racey back then :)

  8. When I taught 5th grade (correlates with 8th grade as they both address U.S. History), we did something similar and called it Distinguished Americans - Living Museum. They didn't have a backdrop, but dressed in character and had a 1-minute speech. Every student stood on the blacktop (California living!) and if you walked up to tap them on the shoulder, they had to go into character and then would return to "wax" when done. Parents, students, everyone was invited!

    I agree with one of the others... you have incredible memory. I can barely remember some of the names of my teachers in eighth grade!

  9. Hahahaaha! I love the transitions between speeches. What a cool project-- I am dying laughing imagining the inside jokes-- so dorky and adorable.

  10. So cool! When I was in sixth grade, We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel had come out. So our awesome teacher decided that was going to be our big project. We all had the song memorized and we researched all the things named in the song and had a huge bulletin board. It made a huge impact on all of us just like the Wax Museum did on you!