Something you may not know about me (and really, why would you know anything at all about me? I am just words on a page that you might occasionally glance at, but still...) is that I was a drama minor in college. Granted, I may seem to have a major in drama now, or at least be a major drama queen, and I did intend to have a drama MAJOR in college, but I realized that I was simply not tough enough to be an actress and not a good enough seamstress to be a costumer and not stupid enough to be a make-up artist. So I just did my little minor, had some fun and went on my merry way.
I say I wasn’t “tough” enough to be an actress because even as a college actress, you find yourself under painful scrutiny and that’s just not fun to me. But in truth, I was never crazy enough to be an actress either. And I’m kind of crazy, so that’s saying something.
It became obvious to me pretty early on. I juggled classes my first semester in order to be able to take both acting 101 and stagecraft 101. Stagecraft intrigued me because I have always liked the design aspect of the theatre. I love when a set looks livable, or in contrast, so fantastic that it couldn’t exist in my world. And the idea of creating those sets sounded good to me. But it was acting that I really liked. I had already been acting for years. I was in at least one production for every year I had been in school. An Indian in the kindergarten Thanksgiving play, an elf in the first grade production of “The Cobbler and the Elves”. There wasn’t going to be a second grade play until I rallied the troops and co-wrote and co-starred in my most genius bit of writing ever “The Princess and the Unicorn.” I think I even managed to costume and design sets for that one. And it was produced for the whole school. I even remember my first line “Oh woe is me! How I wish I had a horse. Oh father, father! May I have a horse?”
OK, maybe genius is generous. But I was only about seven!
But the list goes on from there. And while I never thought that I was Oscar-worthy material, I figured that I had as good a shot as a character actress as any other funny looking girl on the block. And so I plowed ahead into beginning acting, only to find I that for the first time in my life, I was just too sane.
The point was really driven home when I had to prepare a two-actress scene for class with a girl of whom I was not particularly fond. She was an imperious and pretentious little thing and annoyed me to no end. We chose a scene from “Pride and Prejudice” and naturally, I chose to play the centered and down to earth Elizabeth, if only to play against type and keep my partner from the plum role. If I remember correctly, we played a scene where Charlotte, Lizzie’s best friend, tells her that she has accepted an offer of marriage from Mr. Collins, Lizzie’s boring cousin, who will eventually inherit Lizzie’s ancestral home due to archaic English property laws. Lizzie is horrified, not only because Mr. Collins is an idiot and a bore, while Charlotte is quiet and kind, but also because Mr. Collins had eariler asked for Lizzie’s hand in marriage and Lizzie has refused for all the previously listed reasons, despite the fact that a union would insure her family remaining…what’s the opposite of homeless? Homeful. Sure, why not.
Personally, when I did act, I was of the non-method school. I always felt that we all have the basic emotions inside (well, those of us who are not serial killers, anyway) to accurately portray those emotions in a recognizable fashion to other non-serial killer type. The other actress, however, went a little method on me during rehearsals.
The scene takes place in a country drawing room. Lizzie is admonishing Charlotte for “settling” and Charlotte explains to Lizzie that some girls just don’t have options. Should be a simple enough scene for two young modern women, right? It’s still a universal discussion between women I know anyway. The stage directions called for Charlotte to rise from her chair and cross the room to the mantelpiece as she explains her decision. I suggested to the other actress that perhaps Charlotte might feel uncomfortable under her friend’s questioning and would fiddle with something on the mantle. “Yes, that’s good, but what is on the mantle?” she asked. Um…I don’t know. Let’s say something typically British like a china shepherdess. “How big?” Um…small? “And then” she says, “I think I will cross to the window and gaze out into the garden. What is in the garden?” My character, we had decided, would stand firm in the middle of the room, barely containing her outrage and might seem fearful that if she moved, she would lose her cool…so I didn’t really care what was in the nonexistent garden but I suggested that there might be…flowers.
“Ah, yes…flowers…and maybe a fountain? Or perhaps a sundial?” Sure, why not both? “Lovely…what kind of flowers are in the garden?” At this point, my acting was about to become method because I could barely contain my own rage. LET’S JUST SAY ROSES! OK? ARE ROSES EMOTIONAL ENOUGH FOR YOU?
“What color are the roses?”
Thus endeth my acting career.
P.S. Here is an excerpt from Rupert Everett’s new book that got me thinking about my actress friend.