Thursday, March 20, 2014

TBT: Bad Community Theater

I don't have any photos of my community theater days--I mean, I have a bunch more from when I worked in children's theater (see previous posts)--but none from some of the shows I did at the Royalty Theater Company in downtown Clearwater or with that one group of actors who did these mystery theater events. Maybe I did just one play at the RTC, A Pack of Lies and I played Julie, the naive young daughter. If I recall, I was allowed to use a British accent (I excel at accents). Before each performance, the woman who helped me get the acting and teaching job at Ruth Eckerd Hall (Kay Campbell--she was a veteran actress and looked quite a bit like Carol Burnett) always did these vocal exercises to prepare. Deep breaths and inhalations and trilling of the lips, teeth, tip of the tongue, roof of the mouth.  I found this to be completely embarrassing. I know that you have to do these things to warm up your instrument, as they say (your body, your voice), but then another part of me says, But it's only community theater. In Florida for a bunch of old people, half of whom will be asleep by curtain fall after Act II.

When I lived in Chicago, I didn't do any shows--not one, but I did audition once for Second City, which is one of the best improv troupes in the country; Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi and Gilda Radner and Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert started there. I don't recall much about my audition, except that I wasn't funny. None of us were. It was a dismal audition. I think there were like four of us onstage and we had to pretend we were looking down at a dead body. I think I might have at some point pantomimed using a rope. Horrifying.

I've continued to take theater classes on and off at the various schools I've worked. I was allowed to take an advanced acting class when I worked at Penn State and that was so odd--I was like 35 at the time and everyone else was 21 and it was like this strange time travel thing where I was bad in the classroom, but older and so not so easily impressed and much less self-conscious. I did a scene from Night Mother with one of the other girls. Originally, the teacher cast me as the mom (of course), but then I asked him if Rose and I could switch, because I identified more with the suicidal, epileptic daughter. He said okay and we did the scene and it was really good. I mean, I cried and the teacher had to stop me at the door and tell me to stay with him, so it must have been good, right?

I was always good at acting but not amazing and I knew that the chances of succeeding were so very small and it would require me to be a waitress for the rest of my life while hoping to get a walk-on part in a GEICO commercial. And I was terrible at the sucking up part. And enduring pretentiousness like you've never seen. And lying about how good something was. And going to community theater-run musicals, which was ultimately what made it impossible for me to pursue. But mostly, it was because I didn't love it enough, and didn't have the talent or determination to do it. And yet, a part of me still waits to get discovered some day.

Here's a scene from Waiting for Guffman that accurately illustrates how bad most community musical theater can be.

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