a kind of major existential crisis brewing
when i was a kid i would beg my family to let me perform a number from annie
or to let me put on a little show i wrote after dinner. i thrilled in the gussying up and shaking off the nerves process of being in a dance recital or a school play. during my star turn in the fifth grade as "the girl who didn't know about hanukkah" i got to sit on the stage in a spotlight for the entire telling of the jews getting that darn oil to burn for eight days, and i loved every moment of it. i had my favorite movies in constant rotation to the point of almost wearing out the videocassettes. i studied episode after episode of carol burnett and friends
and wondered what it must be like to hop into those characters' skins and to make people laugh until the tears ran.
for a while i thought my destiny was ballet, and i set my sights on a career dancing. of course i was a round little ballerina, eating my mcdonald's meal before dance class and subsequently not making it into the national ballet of canada's prestigious dance school. no matter, there was still jazz and musical comedy class--the absolute fun of putting together routines to pop songs and showtunes. there was that strange, intense fascination with kirstie alley.
one summer, when i was visiting my mom and step-dad in l.a. i forced her to take me on the tour of the paramount studios lot. 5555 melrose avenue. i will never forget that address, because i'd been sending silly fan notes for so long, and then there i was, passing through those gates. there was the parking lot in front of a blue wall that would get flooded to be used for a set calling for a body of water. there's lucille ball's old dressing room. there's the high school from the brady bunch. and then we got to tip toe in to a rehearsal of cheers
which was at the time my favorite tv show ever. i remember what each cast member was wearing, what scenes they ran. i wanted to breathe in deeply and hold it in my lungs as long as possible. this is what it's like, i thought. this is acting in progress. this is rehearsal, craft, work. this is what i want in my life. i am more than a fan. there's a place inside me that is lit up and alive because i want to be a part of this, or something like it. i have never lost that feeling.
by high school i was spending my down time devowering biographies of all the actors and actresses i admired so much--how did they figure out how to follow their hearts? what struggles did they go through? what did they learn? what is it really like to be a performer? and of course, by this point i was in the 'burbs of los angeles, just a freeway or two from the living, breathing pulse of Where.It.All.Happens. you know, where tv shows are taped, and where actors live in hills and dells (some even in valleys) and come out en masse occasionally to pat each other on the back. i waited in the crowds to watch the stars arrive one year at the emmys and took pictures of all my favorites. when i got them developed the people were just tiny thumb sized spots, so i circled them all with a red marker, reminding myself "i was there. i was close." and i went to my weekend workshops at the pasadena playhouse, and i took part in every single play and show put on in high school. by senior year i'd landed two major roles--character parts, leads. and then graduation came and things fizzled out; i wasn't ready for college. but i wasn't ready to go after my dreams, either. i think it was because so many people were telling me it wasn't practical, it wasn't wise, it wasn't prudent.
so i fled to new york to a minimum wage job, a diet of ramen noodles, and no money to pay for heat in the apartment. i wandered the streets, thrilled to be there. but i pretended i was in a movie, or a show, or being interviewed. in my heart of hearts i was still an actor. but i moved back to l.a., to a string of occasionally satisfying and mostly horrific jobs. i tried school, but it didn't stick. i got my own place in hollywood, and i would stay up all night watching the independent film channel. i watched ab fab
one after the other and then over and over again. i pictured making a movie or doing a show with jennifer saunders. heck, bunny and i even wrote a screenplay together.
in 2001 i got a bee in my bonnet about acting. i'd taken a walk through my neighborhood--one that's full of tiny theatres and acting workshop spaces--and realized i'd been off the stage for over six years. it seemed criminal, and i needed to fix that. i passed a theatre with a poster advertising improv classes; improv was what i had been most afraid of in high school, so i figured that would be the best thing for me to try now. and i fell madly back in love with performing. by the spring of 2001 i realized that my job was going nowhere, and i applied to university. this time i wanted it to stick. and it did. of course, along the way i had to sacrifice my improv classes--it was a community that had moved and shifted and changed, anyhow, and it seemed a good time to part ways--and i wound up with a bachelor's degree in english. but all the while i was thinking of ways to get back to acting. when would i have time and money to take another class? could i try voice lessons, maybe? at what point could i try to get headshots, or go on auditions? could i ever really live without acting?
but i got sucked into academia. for one thing, i was amazingly adept at it. i was a natural writer, and once my master's program began (which i started because i wasn't ready for the real world) i realized i was a natural teacher. after all, i likened teaching to performing. a captive audience. and i taught through entertaining. make 'em laugh, you know? i was the perpetual entertainer, in every job i had. i'm the entertainer in the job i have right now. "you're so funny!" i'd be told constantly. funny voices. mannerisms. bit of a drama queen. and i'd watch movies and tv shows not as a spectator, not as recreation, but as passion. just today i told someone that i don't get in to something half-assed. and i watch the commentaries on my dvds and the blooper reels because i want some insight on what was a part of making the show or movie. what was it like? what went on? and i feel that light inside me, like i did watching mary poppins
for the sixty fourth time, or sitting in the bleachers in the cheers
soundstage. but it would hurt, because i'd told that light to shhhh and shut up for so many years. it's not practical, it's not wise, not prudent. you're a scholar now. you're one of the brightest in your department. you're winning awards. you're getting ready to apply to phd programs...
and it's not what you want. it's second choice. anything but performing has been, and will always be second choice. i know what it's like to regret not pursuing acting. i've been regretting it for the better part of eleven years, since i was set free from high school. and i know what it's like to think about performing every single day of my life. no lie. every day. it's what i think about when i'm driving to school and singing along to something. it's what i think about in the shower. it's what i think about when i surf the net, go to a play, watch will & grace
, get dressed to go out, talke a walk, order a cup of coffee, put my makeup on, get under the covers at night. it has never gone away. and i don't want it to.
i think i need to give some serious thought to what i really want to do with my life. because, seriously, something's gotta give.