“My sister wanted to be an actress. She never made it, but she does live in a trailer… so she got halfway. She’s an actress, she’s just never called to the set.” Mitch Hedberg
With a bit of longing, I picked the Oscar winners in the acting category without much difficulty the other night. At the same time I found myself being very critical of Anne Hathaway, because I could “see her act”. I found fault with some others, too. My telltale sign – if they move their head too much while talking or observing in a scene. I stopped to chastise myself thinking “they’re doing it – I’m on the couch”. And then the inevitable question: “Could I ever have been there?”
At college I was torn between two choices – be an actress or a sociologist. Save the world or be a star. When I arrived at Tufts with a theater scholarship and
series of lead roles under my belt, they had just shifted their drama emphasis to an uncomfortable (for me at least) focus on experimental theater. I got to review a 3-hour play where a couple of naked people were suspended from the ceiling and never spoke. I got to place my head on a classmate’s stomach and tell him what I heard. I got to go up to a stranger and tell her a deep secret about myself. I got to thinking “this isn’t the theater I signed up for”.
At Tufts I never made it to the stage other than in a talent show. That was a hard-to-forget scheme. My talented friend and classmate, Betty (she comments on this blog under the name “Mom” because she followed her daughter’s blog first), and I entered the Gong Show that encouraged judges to go all Simon Cowell-like with cutting remarks and the ultimate dismissal – the bang of a gong. Betty could dance (she still does) like a pro and I couldn’t, so I came up with the cockamamie idea that we could do a spoof of “Dance 10, Looks 3“ aka “T & A” from “A Chorus Line”. Who wouldn’t be charmed and laugh their own tushies off if we came out looking like hausfraus then whisked off our frumpy robes to reveal none too subtly inflated assets in skimpy outfits? We got gonged. Probably the first time Betty wasn’t taken seriously as a dancer. Still apologizing, Betty, sorry I brought you down, glad you’re still my friend.
Ironically while in school I auditioned for a touring children’s theater companyusing the only song I knew all the words to: the very naughty “Dance 10, Looks 3” and got cast. I dropped out of college and hit the road (but not too far out of the neighborhood, as it ended up). My mother refers to this as the time I ran away and joined the circus.
After months of making $75 a week, I decided I liked money and that I did not
like working so hard that I was seeing in 2-D as I drove home after performing, then rehearsing late into the night for the next play in our repertoire. The thought started to creep in – “Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be an actress”. I was not a big fan of rejection nor was I really all that comfortable in my own skin, and though that may have been my impetus for being an actor, my uptightness would prevent me from being a good one.
When the theater group closed, I went back to school, got a job and only occasionally performed as an extra in commercials my ad agency produced and on a long-cancelled television show. I was building a career in marketing where I got to use both my acting and my sociology skills.
Several years passed before I sneaked back in the stage door tackling publicity (loved it and proudly claim many sold out performances), helping with events, effects and props for community-theater. I threw folding chairs down stairs to simulate a crash and fired a starter’s pistol. Kind of fun. I was too chicken to admit I wanted to act again, but I allowed myself to be pushed and the small role I accepted pumped long forgotten adrenaline into my system. I was back. Still all the hugging and tactile love, love, love was a bit much for me.
My star ultimately dimmed when my group did back-to-back musicals and I was put farther and farther into the back row for group dance numbers. In my defense when I auditioned I checked off “non-singing, non-dancing role”. Singing wasn’t my forte either. With zero experience, I didn’t know if I was an alto or soprano so I just picked the group that seemed like the most fun and sat with them. For future reference, the party is always in the alto section. I became an alto in theory, but switched to whichever part (including tenor or bass) I liked best when we performed. Imagine my dismay when I was not applauded for such versatility. I still learned to love singing, but we’re all better off if it’s not before a paying audience. (“hello Pierce Brosnan, some consideration here”.) I gave up theater again and switched my meager energies to tennis.
I still think about performing, but wonder how to find the time, so I must not be fully committed to the idea. Instead I read my favorite blog (sorry, team tennis but my favorite belongs to none other than Betty’s daughter, Jacqueline). http://jacquelinechambers.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/shakespeare-workshop-day-2/ She is doing what I never had the commitment to do plus she blogs about her adventures pursuing an acting career in NYC and her blog was picked up by backstage.com for its “unscripted” feature. My decision to drop out is somewhat vindicated when I read what a tough choice it is for her, even though she can sing AND dance. I never had a chance. But after reading her post about the 3-day intensive Shakespeare class (esp. day 2), I think Jacqui just might.
©2011 by Alison Colby-Campbell