A Cash Register’s Legacy — the Stage and the Stable

By Larsen Klein

I never thought my first job would actually serve the role of acting lessons in my life. However, selling forces me into many characters. I play the ‘Queen of Calm’ when a customer throws a hanger at me because I cannot find her size. My stage smile grows sharper when an angry shopper threatens me because I will not issue a refund without a receipt.

I truly discovered how retail prepares me for the stage when I played Delilah, my first lead role, at the end of my sophomore year. I have never smoked cigarettes. Nor have I had a girlfriend. However, working as a sales clerk prepared me to portray Delilah, a cigarette-smoking college student obsessed with her ex-girlfriend. Becoming Delilah also helped me find a way to center myself and Justin, my horse, as I struggled with the pressures of competition.

I began to see that my whole world is indeed a stage as the intersections between acting and my other passions evolved. Before playing Delilah and working as a sales clerk, the pressure of competition hindered my horseback riding. The three-foot-tall jumps that I could clear with ease at home looked like skyscrapers when I was competing. The weight of the stares of the audience seemed unbearable as my brain went blank and I clenched my legs together, hoping Justin would jump without my aid. As we rounded the turn to the first obstacle, I would freeze at the sight of the jumps filled with boxes and flowers. I feared making an inaccurate decision, so I left Justin to his own devices to figure when he should jump the obstacle. Yet after playing Delilah, I began to see competitions and my relationship with Justin as another moment on the stage. Today I carry the techniques to focus on my character on stage into the ring with Justin and compete without stress.

The lessons go back to my first day of work. I struggled to acclimate to the changing placements of clothing on the racks. When I was thrown a load of different items by a coworker, as if faced with a large jump in the show ring, I froze. As customers meandered through the store, I stuffed the clothes onto one arm and searched around the store, feeling the weight of customers’ eyes on me. I moved the items of clothing into the racks like letters into an envelope, hoping the mess of colors would disguise them. Now that I know where everything goes, I still need that cheery sales girl smile on my face, no matter how I’m feeling. When our cash register is missing thirty dollars at the end of the night, or I suddenly can’t remember the lines to a monologue on stage, I remain as calm as I am atop Justin.

Retail provided a sensitivity that helped me with my life beyond the store. After having customers bark at me for simple mistakes, I became aware when I was with a friend who didn’t thank waiters at restaurants, or incessantly asked if the kitchen was preparing our orders. I bring that sensitivity to the show ring with Justin, when I must stay in tune with his movements and thoughts. A follower rather than a leader, Justin performs best when I am providing direction and aid, rather than leaving him to blindly guess when to jump. Staying alert to his reactions underneath the saddle help me to make the best choices to reach the jumps with ease.

I have carried the stage with me most everywhere, beyond even the ring and the retail store. Even if you don’t see me in the Olympics, or as CEO of a department store, or maybe bringing a character to a Broadway stage, my destinies–now unknown–will thrive with the ingredients of that girl riding the horse, acting on the stage or at the cash register.

Larsen Klein, a graduate of Darien High School, is a freshman at Colgate, where she was accepted ED.