When dreams become nightmares or How to foster ‘humility’ in three easy steps

“Where did you want to run away to when you were a little kid?” – Glass Mind Theatre Company (via Facebook) March 28, 2012

When I was young(er), I dreamed of running off to join the theatre.

The problem was twofold: 1) people often say I’m “tone-deaf,” and 2) I’ve never been good at performing in front of an audience. It didn’t help that all the plays that I was able to see before going to college were high school version of old standby musicals like “South Pacific” or “Guys & Dolls” (though my mom did take me to see “Cats” on Broadway, 1992, and a touring production of “Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” at the Hippodrome, 1984).

In other words: if I wanted to get on stage before graduation day, I was going to have to carry a tune. Yes, I had bit parts in shows at summer camp, but that was because EVERY camper did it at some point in the season regardless of talent, and we were STILL better than anyone in “Zippy the Pinhead: The Musical.”

It didn’t happen in high school, but my parents sent me to a certain “college-preparatory” boarding school which outsourced much of its educational content to either a local “adult school” or a nearby community college depending on whether the student had a GED or not. One of the requirements for graduation from said boarding school was something called an “Actualization” or in my case I got fucked over by having to do THREE of them for no particular reason.

I take that back, the stated goal of my first Actualization was to “teach me humility” and what the best way to do that? Dress up your most conservative students and make them perform “Little Women” in from of the entire school – in drag.

To make matters worse, the assignment was given on Monday and the performance was at 3pm Thursday afternoon. Failure was not an “option” – it was a REQUIREMENT.

Sure, the “official” rationalization of this was we were “building teamwork and cooperation between disparate students in a creative manner,” but in reality it was to utterly humiliate upper-level students and make them the laughing stock of their peers (thus making our utter failure all the more “humbling”). It also made me lose any desire to be in another play ever again.

Meanwhile, I was enrolled in “Introduction to Theatre” course at Crafton Hills College. I can’t recall anything about the course except for two things: 1) the professor actually saying in the most pompous manner possible that “the most important thing about a play is not the script or the director – it is the BOW AT THE END! Saying ‘we are no longer our characters – we are actors who fooled into thinking we were our characters, and now we DESERVE your applause for our efforts!’” I think of this line EVERY time I see a cast bow at the end of a play and get sick to my stomach. 2) His final assignment to us at the end of the semester was to submit “an original one act play of no less than 15 minutes.”

Somehow, the head mistress of my school found out about this assignment, and, of course, she said that “if you are writing a play, the only fair thing to do would be to PERFOM it for the other students.”

“You mean direct other students to play the parts?”

“No, I mean you direct YOU to play the parts. This would be a PERFECT Actualization for you!”

“I already had an Actualization; I did that stupid ‘Little Women’ thing a few months ago.”

Good then THIS show won’t be a problem for you. You can go now.”

Congratulations, I now had three days to prepare my fully acted solo show for the entire student body. No script allowed – this was to be a performance not a reading!

So, I had to perform a hastily written play that was never intended to be performed with zero rehearsal time and an uncooperative cast. But first, I had to track down my professor during office hours to get the only hard copy of the script back. He happily handed it over, completely unmarked.

When asked if he had even read it yet, he said “I didn’t need to; I’ve seen your work before. In fact,” he said gesturing over to the large stack of papers on his desk.  “I’ve seen ALL of your ‘work’ before – none of it is even remotely producible.”

No pressure there. I just went up there on that fateful Thursday with my meticulously memorized script… and forgot it completely – my own damn play and I couldn’t remember a single word of it.

If my first Actualization was a disaster, this was worse. The only upside was I wasn’t in drag. Otherwise, I looked like a fool sputtering about trying desperately to remember something of my script, and stay in character at the same time.

This was, of course, gold for the staff. The kind of utter humiliation they LOVED seeing from an “arrogant” student such as myself. The fact that I had students come up to me afterwards and say how fucking pissed they were about having to sit through a performance that I didn’t want to put on, but didn’t get a fucking choice in the matter, only deepened the lesson I was to learn from this experience.

That lesson: Don’t do live theatre ever again. (!) The ultimate irony of this story is: my play would probably have been a good fit for Glass Mind.

Categories: ramblings, theatre, writing | Leave a comment

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