Last night I was drunk in Vegas, getting suckered in by a sidewalk hustler, even putting my football team on the line. I guess I should make it clear I was playing a part in my classmate's screenplay, having a blast getting into this middle-aged pushy tough guy character. I had two other parts to read, but this was my favorite.
I can see why people want to be actors. You get to act in ways that would be totally inappropriate otherwise. It's so liberating and...well, fun! Just watch some kids playing 'let's pretend..."
I loved acting when I was in elementary school. I don't think I was very good, judging by the fact that I never got a very big part in our class plays. But I loved it - the costumes, the stage, everything. In kindergarten I was a clown. Second grade, a sugarplum fairy ballerina (the only purple one - my mother didn't get the message that we were supposed to be pink. I can't remember how I felt about being different. I bet I didn't like it at first, but my mother was able to convince me that it made me special. She's a great mom that way.)
In fifth grade I played an Italian watermelon salesman. I wore a white shirt and a fake mustache. I still remember my lines: "You busta my-a watermelons! You lonkahead! You imbecile!" I got the part because I had memorized and recited a poem named "Leetla Giorgio Washeenton" by Thomas Augustine Daly for the class (with a near-perfect Italian accent, I'm sure.)
Our teacher, Barbara Haygood, bribed us with a star chart to memorize poems. You got different colored stars depending on the length of the poem. I'm not sure why, but this just clicked with me. I memorized dozens of other long poems printed in our worn 1957 edition of Favorite Poems Old and New (I have it sitting beside me right now - I keep it handy - and I see the names and pages of some of my favorites jotted in the front in my ten-year-old handwriting) just to see the shiny colored stars accumulate under my name on the chart: "Annabel Lee", "The Land of Counterpane", "A Visit from St. Nicholas", and "Tidings of Great Joy" (the Christmas Story from Luke), among others.
I have trouble remembering where I put my keys most days, but I can still recite "Little Boy Blue" by Eugene Field (so can my sister - we do it for fun pretty often), and most of "One, Two, Three" by Henry Cuyler Bunner. Look them up if you need a good cry.
Anyway, something happened between then and high school speech. I was mortified to get up in front of people. My biggest regret in high school is not taking part in our senior play - Lil' Abner - but there was just no way I was that brave.
I encouraged my kids to participate in theater. None of them had a driving passion, but they enjoyed it. They weren't mortified, thank goodness. And I'm relieved I've gotten over my fear. It's so much more fun without it.
I'm even considering taking an improv class that one of my classmates is teaching in a couple of weeks. That would be a HUGE step for me. For now, I'll stick to playing drunk gambling big shots from the safety of my school desk.