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Ride, Boldly Ride... If you seek for El Dorado

On the poem, "El Dorado," by Edgar Allan Poe


The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Random House
If all the world is indeed a stage and all the men and women merely players, then I'm a techie. You know those dark-clad people who briefly peek around the curtain's edge after the ovations die down for the actors on stage? The ones that the actors always turn to applaud while the audience is standing up and collecting their belongings? That's me.

Exploring Theater

I turned to theater as a Junior in high school and was naturally drawn to its technical aspects: sets, lights, fog machines, special effects and sound. I prefer to work behind the scenes to help those who crave limelight get a chance to shine. So you can imagine my surprise when I was forcibly asked to audition for a musical during my Senior year of high school.

The head of the theatre department, a wonderful force of nature named Mrs. Scarborough, planned to do Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, and she wanted it to be big. She envisioned 40-50 pirates, a comparable number of young maidens and at least a dozen comical cops. To achieve these numbers, even at our arts high school, it took some serious solicitation. Chorus member, dancers, even off-season athletes were asked to audition. The techies were told we were auditioning; no excuses allowed.

El Dorado

The audition consisted of a dramatic reading, a dance audition and a singing audition. For my dramatic reading, I chose my favorite poem, "El Dorado" by Edgar Allen Poe. The poem was a natural choice for me as I'd already memorized it and I felt that the dialogue within the piece would translate well into a theatric effort. As well, the poem is about the journey of a knight seeking out the fabled El Dorado; to me El Dorado is a symbol for achieving your goals. Just as in life, the knight's journey for El Dorado is long and arduous.

Gaily bedight,
A gallant night
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado.

I struggled through the dance audition and pretty much bombed the singing portion of the afternoon (I have a lot of trouble staying in key) but I was ready for the acting audition. We met before Mrs. Scarborough in groups of 5 to perform our piece. I was scheduled to follow my good friend, and fellow techie, Dan.

As with most life efforts where I am expected to perform, I wasn't paying much attention to those auditioning before me instead spending my time re-reciting "El Dorado" in my head. But I snapped back to reality when I heard Dan say, "I'm going to do a poem by Edgar Allen Poe entitled 'El Dorado' for my audition." I decided then that the theater gods were clearly sending me a message: get back behind the curtain and don't come out again.

But he grew old --
This knight so bold --
And -- o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like El Dorado.

I got up next and announced to everyone that I too was going to recite "El Dorado" for them. Everyone, including me, had a good chuckle over that news. I finished my audition and honestly don't remember if I felt it was better or worse than Dan's effort. We both were cast as police for the play. After casting, the breakdown for the parts was clear: if you could sing and dance, you were a pirate. If you could dance but not sing, you were a cop. We were cops. During the show, the pirates stood just off-stage and sang our songs with us so as to make it look and sound like we could sing.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow --
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be --
This land of El Dorado?"

Seeking El Dorado

After the Pirates of Penzance experience, the poem has continued to bounce around in my head as I, too, have become a traveler seeking my own El Dorado. Finding that city of gold to me is a metaphor for finding contentment and learning to be happy with what you have. My experience of being on stage during Pirates of Penzance was but one life lesson that reinforced to me how happy I am to be behind the scenes. The quest for self-contentment has since taken me to many places both geographic and personal and I know now that the Shadow's advice to the Knight is how one finds this satisfaction: you must boldly ride to places far and wide.

Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied --
"If you seek for El Dorado."

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