In my freshman year of college I was still living at home. I commuted fifteen miles by car to a state university that was reasonably priced and reasonably boring. There was little social activity. If I were me now, I would have sent my kids there; with little distraction, their darling little brains could easily soak up the world. My brain did not soak up the world. Instead, it listened to my pants and enrolled in a two-unit Theatre Arts class called Stage Movement. I told my parents I wanted to fill out my course load to a full eighteen units. Actually, I wanted to get laid and figured actresses were slutty.
I was seventeen and still a virgin and completely obnoxious for these and other reasons. I was also enamored of the military, told people I was from a small Montana town called Miles City (which I had found in a AAA road atlas), and tended toward being a Republican because they were in power at the time. Like many of my colleagues, I was convinced we would all die in a thermonuclear war before the end of the century. Lying about things didn’t seem to be such a big deal. Perhaps my instinct to spread my seed was an animal response to the threat of species death, but mostly I remember being so horny all the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything, ever.
I enrolled in Stage Movement and was delighted to hear that everyone would be required to wear black for every class, preferably black tights, preferably the women. My delight ended before the first hour. Men would be required to wear tights, too. To “see the body and the line”. This, from our professor, who was the first person I had ever met who was obviously gay. And obviously Filipino. And in a position of authority! I did not want this man seeing my white suburban homophobic vaguely Republican virgin skinny body, nor my line. But I sucked it up and stayed with it.
Stage Movement and its counterpart Improvisation were the two gateway classes to acting, and I was surprised to find myself actually learning and enjoying myself. I was able to concentrate, despite Tracy’s soft breasts behind her leotard, despite the flexibility of Jennifer, despite the sparkling eyes of Heather. I showed some promise. I got a B and enrolled in Improv. I learned the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet and butchered it like a serial killer on prom night, but I still got cast as the Apothecary (and as a random Montague) with five lines of dialogue. It occurred to me that my earlier academic turns in Oliver! (random urchin) and show chorus (almost tenor) were actually signs of brilliance to come. I changed my major.
My father simmered, which made it even better. I cut Biology class one afternoon and found myself under a Math/Theatre Arts double major with a shitty fake Irish accent who scratched my chest as her hips bucked. I negotiated for on-campus housing. I took more classes. I made friends with the shop guys and got technical work in electrics, scenery, and events. I got a role in every show, oblivious to the fact that the competition was far from fierce. The theatre became my life.
I got my first faculty appraisal.
“Too much shtick in improv,” it read. “Not enough flexibility in the body. You need to study physical flexibility, take fencing or dance or enroll in the physical comedy summer intensive in Blue Lake. Why do you never go to even the second level in your characters? Do you think it is a coincidence that you do not get cast in lead rolls?”
The air went out of me. But I was eighteen, so it came back. “Fencing,” I mused. “Bad ass.”
I spent the summer not in Blue Lake, but in the summer quarter in my own university, where we did three shows in repertory. I got second-lead parts. I was in a musical. I fell in love with a girl who made out with me in my car and let me feel her up, but no more. I showed tremendous aptitude as a stage manager, and I worked more in the shop than anyone. I got an A. I decided I would quit my retail job and use technical theater to support my acting career. At the end of the summer my perfect girl went to school downstate. I wanted to stalk her.
“Pay more attention to motivation,” read my second appraisal. “You do accents passably, and move decently, but you think that is all it takes.” Though signed by the whole faculty, I could hear the soft lilting Filipino accent. “Your character development is lazy. Read more. Decide why. Consider the life beyond the script. Audition outside of the department.”
I dove deeper. I got the lead in a really terrible play that is seldom performed anywhere, and for good reason. Still, our version was interesting from a design point of view, so we were invited to a festival. I met a hot girl from another school who was impressed by my Pontiac Fiero. We almost got arrested violating a beach curfew, and I ended up rearranging the leaves in an orchard with her instead. The festival’s Critic’s Workshop came to our show, and the best-written review was copied and handed out to everyone at the closing luncheon.
Personally, I thought it was tripe. Poorly written.
The author seemed to take great pleasure in varied vocabulary on the theme of suck.
I decided to branch out, and scheduled myself for a Disney audition in the city. Just a short monologue was required, followed by a demonstration of whatever variety skills I might have. Such as juggling, which I didn’t have. I procrastinated in preparing something, mostly because I was in the middle of learning how hard it is to be screwing two women while telling each they are the only one being screwed. The night before the audition, I adapted something from “The Red Badge of Courage”. The Disney people were very nice and told me ThankYouVeryMuch when I was done. Everyone else in my group got a callback.
I drove back to school with my tail between my legs. The girl I liked to fuck found out I was lying and fucked me once more before telling me off. The girl I loved gave me crabs. I got a C in Acting. I decided to really make an effort, to really show people. My advisor, the now-revered Avant Garde Gay Filipino Genius, was about to direct a Macbeth that would be totally surreal and very hip. I read his concept paper. It was just what I needed. It excited me. I cornered him in the hallway.
“I am going to audition for you,” I declared breathlessly. “For Macbeth. I am going to kill it. What scene should I do? I really want to prepare.”
He looked more exasperated that anyone I had ever seen. “Dear,” he said, “why don’t you just light it? That’s what you’re good at.” He said “light” and “good” with a blend of derision and encouragement. And then he shuffled outside.
I filled in at the last minute for a fired actor on some Beckett play about two months later. I never acted again. I got a serious girlfriend. I won an award for lighting Macbeth.