Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Family Hobby

When I was a kid—from about the ages of five to eight or nine—my family used to have a game  called “Spot Joel.” Before he became a scumbag attorney, my brother Joel used to be involved in community theater with the Canton Actors’ Guild. They performed in a decent-sized theater in the downtown area of Canton. (Like most Midwestern towns, Canton, Ohio’s downtown still looked like it belonged in the Twenties. I went back there a few years ago and saw that it hadn’t changed much. The buildings were still the redbrick, three- or four-storey blocks with shops on the ground floor and apartments up top. There were still a couple small parks, benches lining the streets, and a few fountains sprinkled around.) And, generally speaking, my brother was a part of every major performance. The game would involve my Mom, Dad, and I sitting around the middle of the middle section of the audience, dressed nicely, looking to all the world like a respectable family, and shouting “THERE HE IS!” when my brother walked on stage.
Now, Dad is a cartoon character. He’s prone to going completely bonkers at random times, making the most absurd noises to the delight of children and the angst of everyone else around him. (This is a habit I picked up and haven’t been able to drop.) My Dad decided that he would go on stage alongside Joel in Lost in Yonkers and, wouldn’t you know it, he got the part of the father.
With all of that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I was put into acting lessons. Sadly, since these were so long ago, the only thing I can remember about them was being on stage with a group of other seven to nine year olds and pretending that I was on a desert island with a box of toys. Why I was there, I don’t know. Why I had a box of toys, I don’t know.
Flash forward sevenish years. I’m in a drama class in high school in Smyrna, Tennessee. We were expected to put on a play at the end of the year, and the teacher had chosen Tom Sawyer. I campaigned for a version of Macbeth I’d written involving Jedis fighting alongside MacDuff against a Macbeth who was, in reality, king of the velociraptors. But the teacher felt that my play wasn’t quite accessible enough to a wide audience, so we went with Tom Sawyer.
The next year, we put on a non-musical version of Meet Me In St. Louis—mainly because, and I mean this in all honesty, no one in our class could hold a note worth a damn. So, I played the father, it was a good time, and I never thought I’d be in theater again.
Then, as I got to Kent, and my conversations with Dad kept swinging back to “What are you doing?” he’d ask. “You’re not just sitting around, are you?” I knew that I had to do something. And, as I saw it, I had two options: I could get a job and toil in monotony, generally starting to hate life as I’d be stuck on campus having to deal with customers all day (I am at my most misanthropic when stuck behind a counter of any sort), or I could find an alternate way of spending time. So, as you can tell, when Dixie told me that the Musical Theatre Society were auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof, I was ecstatic. I wouldn’t have to get a job!
I called my Dad, told him the news, and, using his Cautious Voice, he told me to break a leg. He did, however, encourage me to keep looking for a job, just in case this didn’t pan out. I took this as a compliment of the sort only he could deliver, and called Dixie—who was also going to audition that night.
He arrived a half an hour later, I let him into the apartment, and we toasted with some kosher wine. Jay (remember him? The flatmate who isn’t Zaf) walked in and saw Dixie. Jay is one of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. If he had a tail, he’d be wagging constantly. For the first term, everyone he met (including the rest of the Thes) was bombarded with questions about if they were in my course. I’d told him that the Ranting in Literature program was made up of a whopping five people—none of whom liked each other because of our own varying views about the necessity of ranting—yet, even when I had a group of, say, six people over, that was his first question. Worked as an ice breaker, I guess.
“L’chaim,” I said, clinking my glass with Dixie’s.
“You nervous?” he asked.
“Eh,” I said, shrugging and pretending like I didn’t care. I was, in reality, sweating like a pig—this only hidden by the massive black shirt that my dad bought for me before I left the States—from nerves. “No big deal, I figure,” I said, piling on the bullshit. “Not like it’s my degree to do drama. You?”
“Nah,” he said, piling on his own pile of bullshit.
We finished our glasses of wine and headed out to find the audition room.

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