Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Day I Became a Thespian

"What do you mean 'Andrew quit'?" asked Miss Goodhue.  English teacher from eight to three, drama director after school, she was at her wit's end on this particular afternoon, working feverishly to keep the 1982 production of Murder Near the LaRue Morgue from falling apart.

"He quit," repeated Andrew's best friend Steve, who was a member of the stage crew.  "He said he can't memorize the lines, and he doesn't want to be in the play any more."

"He does realize that opening night is a week from this Friday, right?"

"Yeah, that's why he quit.  There's not enough time for him to learn his part.  I told him that it would suck to just bail on everyone but, you know, he didn't give a shit . . . sorry, I mean, he didn't care."

Onstage, the rest of the cast muttered random phrases like "what an asshole" and "I can't believe this crap" as it dawned on Miss Goodhue that she now had to find some dumb sucker to step into the pivotal role of Manny the Mugger on short notice.

I happened to be at this rehearsal, not because I had any interest in acting -- I didn't -- but my girlfriend Tanya was playing the lead and I usually went to the after-school rehearsals with her, to wait around so we could get something to eat after.  Amazing how early in life we become "whipped," isn't it?

Anyway, I was sitting in the back of the theater, somewhat amused by the predicament that Andrew's irresponsibility was causing, when all of a sudden I noticed everyone onstage looking my way.  Tanya said something to Miss Goodhue, and then walked back and sat down next to me.

"So, Chris, what are you doing next weekend?"

"Uh, I was gonna come see your show on Friday night, other than that, who knows?"

"Miss Goodhue wants me to ask if you wanna be in the play."

"Forget about it.  I've never acted in my life."  That wasn't exactly true.  I did have a co-starring role as a French hen in the Hazelwood School first grade production of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  I got to wear a beret, a plastic beak, and a cute little phony mustache.  But there was no real acting involved, outside of shouting the phrase THREE FRENCH HENS ten times, and I was pretty sure that experience wouldn't help me much in the current situation.  "Thanks for asking, but I'm not interested.  Sorry."

"C'mon, it'll be easy.  You've been at all the rehearsals, you know the part, Manny the Murderer.  And hey, you're from Jersey, you already have the accent!"

"Let me see if I get this.  I've never been in a play before.  I've got a week to memorize the part.  And I'll have what, four rehearsals before opening night?"

"Five.  There's rehearsal this Saturday."

"That's crazy.  I mean, if I studied real hard I might be able to do okay, but I don't know."  I really was giving it some thought.  But then all the worst-case scenarios popped into my head.  Freezing up onstage, forgetting my lines, having to wear that stupid stage makeup.

"Nah, never mind, I was right the first time.  Forget about it."

"Chris, please," Tanya said.  "There's no one else who could possibly learn the part."

"What about Steve?  He's been at the rehearsals and he's Andrew's friend.  It would serve him right for hanging out with that douchebag in the first place."

"You're kidding, right?  Steve still hasn't memorized the Pledge of Allegiance."  It was true, he hadn't.  Among other things, he still thought it went "One nation, under God, invisible . . . "

By this time, Miss Goodhue had come back to join us.  "So, what do you say, Chris?  Are you up for it?  We could really use your help."

I was going to lose this battle, I could feel it.  Miss Goodhue was one of my favorite teachers, and with Tanya giving me the will-breaking "make you do anything" eyes, it was like trying to fight off the United States Marine Corps with a Wiffle Ball bat.  And if we're going to be completely honest about it, I've never really had much of an issue with being the center of attention.

"Give me the damn script."

Tanya and a couple other cast members helped me work on my lines at lunch, after school, and on one occasion, during Mr. Schrodetzki's mind-numbing chemistry class.  By the time the Saturday rehearsal rolled around, I had most of it under control.  A couple all-nighters over the weekend, and not only did I feel like I was completely prepared, I was even getting into the character.  I played Manny as if he were a low-level goon in the Corleone family.  Since I'd just moved from New Jersey to California five months earlier, it wasn't that much of a stretch.

 An excerpt:


MANNY: Look, Granny, I gotta hide 'dis body somewheres, and your basement's as good a place as any.
GRANNY:  You can't hide it here, Manny, someone's going to call the cops.
GRANNY'S PARROT: Call the cops!  Call the cops!  Call the cops!
MANNY: Just back off and lemme take care a 'dis, Granny.  And if dat boid don't shut up, I'm gonna stuff a pilla wid it."

So opening night comes, and Act I is going well.  Manny is an audience favorite, with the laughs rolling at all the right places.  In fact, all the actors were doing a great job.  The only glitch came at the hands of Stage Hand Steve, who had been given the incredibly easy, no-possible-way-you-can-screw-this-up task of pulling the ropes that opened and closed the curtain.

Steve's cue at the end of Act I was when Manny says the line, "I swear, I'm gonna moider dat boid."  See, Granny's parrot served as one of Manny's foils, yakking constantly and attracting unwanted attention from the neighbors and the police.  The thing is, Manny threatens to kill the boid several times during the course of Act I, which apparently caused Steve's over-taxed brain to short-circuit.  Thus, when Manny (me) said a different line, "Keep talkin', ya stupid boid, and I'm gonna blast your freakin' beak off," Steve became confused and closed the curtain.

About a scene and a half too soon.  Way to go, Steve.

The audience got really quiet because, clearly, something was amiss.  Maybe it was the timing of the scene, maybe it was the panicked look on the faces of the actors, but it was obvious that the curtain was not supposed to come down at this point.  Since it was just me and Tanya (who was playing Granny) onstage at the time, I looked at her and said, "Okay, I've got this.  We'll have Steve open the curtain, I'll say something funny, and we'll just go on like nothing happened."

"You sure?"

"What choice do we have?"

I looked over at Steve, who was still unaware that there was a problem, and said, "Open the curtain."

"Huh?"

"Steve, open the curtain," said Tanya.  "You messed up.  Just open it."

The curtain went back up and the audience settled down.  I ad-libbed the next line.

"And anudder ting, Granny, not only am I gonna whack that stupid boid, I'm gonna put a couple bullets in the freakin' moron who closed da coitain in da middle of da freakin' show!"

The audience exploded with laughter, and the rest of the show went off with no further problems.

I had so much fun doing Murder Near the LaRue Morgue that I decided to audition for another play later in the year.  I did well enough to be cast in the leading role, in which I had to dress up like (I'm not kidding) a sweet old grandmother.

A story for another time, perhaps.


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14 comments:

Shawn said...

Perhaps? I don't think there's any "perhaps" about it, when you tease a story about intergender high school acting. The story must be told. Like this one, I'm sure it will be awesome.

Eva Gallant said...

I loved that! I directed plays as a teacher and acted in them in college, as well as a stint in a community production of Godspell, so I really could picture this whole thing! Great post!

Quirkyloon said...

You are a former Guido!

I hope the cast of Jersy Shore reads your blog. There's hope for them yet!

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

There's nothing more satisfying than a good ad lib, is there? Great story.

Mariann Simms said...

That sounded like a lot of fun. I always regretted that I didn't take drama class in high school...I think I would have been great at it. I, too, have always liked being the center of attention.

I remember throwing up once while being the "Knave of Hearts" in our Kindergarten production of who knows what play - possibly half a scene from "Alice in Wonderland".

Does throwing up on stage count as ad-libbing?

ReformingGeek said...

You lost me at "whipped"!

Just kidding.

You sound like a natural.

Nicky said...

What a great story! And Andrew really does sound like a douchebag.

middle child said...

I need that "dressing like a grandma" story NOW!

Grumpy, M.D. said...

So what was the next play? Little Red Riding Hood?

IT said...

Gee! I misread the title and thought you'd come out.

Mik said...

I hated drama class at school, but sounded like you did well and had fun too.

Suldog said...

There is nothing in the world better than being on-stage and getting off a good ad-lib. Hilarious!

Homemaker Man said...

Makes me consider the age old question "How many boys became interested in the arts because their girlfriends told them to?" Along the same lines as asking how one would go about counting grains of sand or stars in the sky.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

You moi-dered that freaking story. Way to stand up and help out your fellow students.

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