To Act or Not to Act: There is no question

My love for theatre began the moment I realized that I couldn’t act. I was fortunate enough to learn that I couldn’t carry a tune at 12, dance to save my life at 13 and play sports at 15. But with acting, that was a lesson I would not learn until I was almost of drinking age. Acting is one of those inherent talents. You either have it or you try and convince yourself that you do. People are always quick to cite performers like Bea Arthur and Morgan Freeman for starting late in their careers, but their talent was undiscovered, not absent. When I was a college freshman, I took a theatre appreciation course with a Miss Johnna Doty. Doty was the size of marionette doll with short, choppy blonde hair that wore clear, wire-rim glasses. One did not see her come, they heard her. She always wore these strappy sandals that made never made a sound, so we wouldn’t notice her until she greeted the class. Despite her small frame, her voice carried like a bullhorn. Her passion toward the performing arts could light a million candles. A lot of us took the class for credit, but a handful left the course with a new sense of culture.

 

One of the few requirements was that we had to earn 27 hours of theatre-based community service. The easiest way to was to audition for the school’s upcoming theatre production. I discovered I could not act that day. To my knowledge, I had only been in one previous production. I was an angel in an annual Easter play at my church with a childhood friend. It’s kind of a blur, but I do remember us arguing about who would wear the robes with rhinestones and who would wear the plain one.

 

Every Fall, the theatre department put on a Shakespeare production. That year it was “The Comedy of Errors.” It was one of his lesser known works, but the subject matter has been replicated for the past 200 years.  To impress the directors, I googled videos of previous productions, studying their execution and delivery. Come audition time, I stood on the worn, hardwood floor stage of the auditorium, facing the two directors. Despite being given scenes, I proudly said that I had my own material. I’m sure I came off a prick and my fate was sealed, but they acquiesced and told me to go for it. I fumbled across two pages of dialogue before I finally got cut off.

 

“That’ll be enough,” said one of the casting directors.

Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t cast me. But they did. Miss Doty put in a good word for me, and the rest was history. I was a member of the chorus, which is pretty much theatre for extra. I played the milkman. The Shakespearean milkman. I was the first character that the audience saw and I played the hell out of that role. My biggest job was just to react to whatever the actors were doing. If they yelled, I jumped. If they made a joke, I laughed. If they told a story, I looked interested. No lines required.

 

It should be noted that cast members can be extremely messy. By the first month of rehearsals there was already a rumor that two of the main leads were sleeping with each other. Additionally, there was one actor that purposely talked about everyone behind their back, which was funny because everyone loved him.

 

While being in the play was fun, not speaking wasn’t. Seeing everyone wow the crowd with their comedic delivery and line execution made me feel like I was invisible on stage. No one watches Wicked and notices a flying monkey.

 

However, one of my cast mates, Dorothy Weems, always managed to fuel my ego on and off stage. She was one of the more seasoned actors in the ensemble. With our blocking, I never saw her directly on stage, I just heard her and she heard me. There was this scene, in which me and the other chorus members would growl and bark during her monologue. After each show, she introduced me to several of her friends that came to the show. “That’s the man that barked at me,” Weems said.” Isn’t he just great?”

 

This ego would lead me to volunteer to perform a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Othello” in front of the appreciation class. It was the monologue, in which the titular character kills himself.  I had the assistance of the two main actors from “Comedy of Errors”. Each actor would aggressively grab one of my arms, releasing me when I started my monologue. Instead of using a dagger, I settled for a flimsy BIC pen I found on the floor. The second they “released” me, I froze 5 lines in.  Two attempts later, to my chagrin, Doty told me to just use my script. After my performance, a dagger would have been a better choice.

 

For two years, I auditioned for seven shows and only got into two. And one of those would be a table reading of “The Crucible.”  Out of the 5 lines I had, the most simple line was “John you can’t do such a thing,” but I had to yell it. It would have been easier to put a thread through the eye of needle than yell that and not stutter.

 

“Was your character supposed to speak Chinese?” a former cast mate asked me after the show. Oh, how I wanted to say yes. I always blamed my speech impediment for my casting woes. For the most part, I can speak normally but when under stress or excitement, I tend to jumble my words.  It is easy to understand why reciting lines was difficult for me. Of all my auditions, the most embarrassing one for “Where the Great Ones Run.”  It was a play by Mark Roberts, the creator of “ Mike & Molly.” I read for multiple parts, but I was most confident with this minor character. Like myself, the character had a terrible stutter and he only had 4 or 5 lines. I was born for this role. I did not get the part. Go figure.

 

Theatre, like sports, is a hobby that you either love or hate. No one says “I kind of enjoy theatre” or “Sports is okay.” There is a certain magic that only a true admirer of the art can see that others cannot. I once spent my last $25 dollars to see a local production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” instead of paying off a car ticket. It just seemed more important. There is something about the lights dimming before the show that makes me giddy. As I am reminded to turn off my cell phone, I also subconsciously tell myself to cut myself off from the outside world. For 2 hours, I am property of the playhouse. I enjoy theatre, even though I know I am not good at it. When I see musical or play, I see talent. I see magic. I see something that I am incapable of doing, but I find appreciation in it.

 

My sophomore year, I would try my hand at acting one last time. This time, for college credit.  Our instructor was like a cartoon character, seemingly wearing the same grey hoodie and sweats every day. “If you try, you pass the class,” the instructor said at the beginning of the semester. Our class was like the Breakfast Club. We had different walks of life. The Athlete, The RA, The No-Show. There was only person in the class that could act, and he knew it. Graham and he had a tendency to argue about their respective methods. Sadly, he always lost. Tragedy. As a theatre course, we were encouraged to audition for the fall Shakespeare show, “The Tempest.”  Once again, I studied YouTube videos from different productions for days. I delivered my lines as slowly as possible, which meant I spoke at the speed of a freight train. “You’re reading has gotten a lot better,” the casting director said. “Good job.” I wasn’t cast. However, the acknowledgement of improvement made it hurt less.

 

I got an A in the class, and I decided to leave the acting to the professionals. Like my instructor said, if you try, you will pass the class. I knew that while I tried, I was terrible at it. I took the A for what it was worth, a G.P.A booster and lesson that the craft wasn’t for me. I might audition for another play when they run out of good actors. Until then, my seat seems much more comfortable. No talent or lines required.

 

 

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