When I was in high school I took a community theater acting class. I figured I’d do a couple local plays, maybe a commercial. Then someone would discover my ginormous talent as well as my singing ability and it would come in handy that I knew all the lyrics to my double album set of Grease: The Movie.
My path to superstardom would be pretty much set from there, I thought, but first I had to pay my dues. I tried out for a school play.
We were all gathered in the cafeteria and given copies of a script. From there, we would be called in to read in front of the director, the drama teacher.
While we waited our respective turns we were supposed to prepare. Students were studying pages, doing throat-noise exercises, making-shapes-with-their-mouth exercises and swinging their heads around like boxers antsy to get into the ring. Some were reciting lines.
How did they choose which lines? I didn’t know.
I flipped to a random page and read a random part in a loud voice, one hand extended as if imploring the theater gods to fill me with inspiration, or perhaps holding Yorick’s skull. It seemed the thing to do.
When it was my turn I got on the auditorium stage and looked straight into a beam of light. A voice told me to turn to page 77 and read the part of Mabel.
I remember one line ended with my saying “… and my Aunt Fanny.” I added a little hand flourish.
“Good!” The director said with enthusiasm. I had this sucker in the bag.
There were 29 roles in the play. 29 names listed on the sheet on the bulletin board later, where everyone crowded in to find out how they fared.
29 roles in the play.
30 students auditioning.
“What’d you get?” said a cute guy with whom I’d been flirting in the cafeteria.
What kind of douchey high school drama teacher can’t split one role into two to avoid leaving one student out of the damn school play? Jeez. I could have played one of set of twin window washers with my friend Paul. He didn’t even have a speaking role for God’s sake. He just had this comedic miming thing. We would have killed doing that miming thing together.
If this were today, if this were my kid, you can bet he’d have come home with a role. And probably a trophy for even auditioning.
Fast forward a bajillion years and I’m working with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
I’m the fundraiser, and I also do pretty much whatever else needs doing since we have a large acting company and small administrative staff.
One night, the director can’t be there to make the announcements from stage about no flash photography, stay out of the aisles or you’ll be run over by guys in tights carrying swords, thank you sponsors … that sort of thing. I’m recruited to do so.
There’re no mics on stage. The acoustics of the amphitheater somehow render the actors completely audible from the back of the audience, even competing with ambient noise; geese and traffic and people sitting in the audience crumpling paper and wrapping things up from their little picnics, waiting for the play. They’re relaxed and wined up and in a good mood.
You’ll do fine. I’m told. Breathe deep and project your voice, they say.
It’s unlikely anyone will throw food at me.
You can do it, they tell me. It’s easy.
So I get up on stage in my cutsie sundress and everyone applauds. I think: This is it! I’ll be BRILLIANT and everyone will say WHAT have you been doing all this time when you should have been up on stage?
“Hello, everybody, and welcome,” I say. People in front stop talking and lean in.
“Please no flash photography,” I say. My voice sounds higher than I remember.
“Be sure to keep the aisle clear,” In fact, it’s kind of squeaky.
“Thank you to our sponsors,” I say … WHO is that guy in the back holding his HANDS to his EARS? Doesn’t he know that’s RUDE?
GAH, another moment where my latent brilliance as a performer should have been the highlight of the show, but wasn’t. Shoot.
Despite these moments of public humiliation, I’m actually okay with getting up in front of people and I don’t mind public speaking. I practice. I know what I’m going to say. I use a mic, and I tell jokes that people laugh at. That stuff before? Underpreparation.
So when my brilliant husband signed me up for a workshop with comedic actress Lauren Weedman, I was pretty psyched. On Sunday I get to take one of my Manic Mumbling pieces and work it up into a, I don’t know, a sort of monologue.
This is something new, and while I have a fair amount of confidence in front of an audience, I’m still pretty nervous.
But, then again, I think I might be BRILLIANT. This could be HUGE.
And, as we’ve seen, that’s not necessarily a good sign.
I may crash and burn onstage, but you can console me in advance by voting for me below. It isn’t an Oscar, but you aren’t a member of the Academy… Are you?