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The Real World turned out to be a pretty brutal place, as I continue to down the road to becoming COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
In Part 3 of TALES FROM THE TEEN DRAMA WORKSHOP:
> OUR TOWN THESPIAN STUMBLES
. In early 1970, our beguilingly adorable Teen Drama director Sue Cromwell decided her minions of exuberant teenage drama dweebs were ready to tackle an American classic. Well, a good chunk of one anyway. Sue’s distillation of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town comprised the long scene-setting monologues from the first two acts, capped by all of the dreary third act. With most of the cutesy aw-shucks small-town Americana deleted, Our Town becomes a piece about death and dying- a bleak proposition that garnered little enthusiasm. (Everyone would have preferred to do a comedy.) Not much happens in the third act. It’s very talky: a bunch of dead people hang around a graveyard, doing nothing really- just old ghosts reminiscing. (Pretty boring stuff for our age bracket. Certainly a long way from the “lite” fluff of All About Love, and not exactly what you would call an audience-pleaser.)
. The good news is that I got the choice role of the ‘Stage Manager’, but when I saw the length of his rambling soliloquies my legs were like to give out beneath me! It was a massive part, with pages and pages and pages of words to memorize! The challenge was mind numbing. Of course, once I got used to the idea, I was delighted. I had never played such a lead-role before, with the great bulk of the play resting on my shoulders and I looked forward to the responsibility. I had faith in my abilities. I knew I could pull it off.
. Rehearsals commenced. Things went well. I discovered that I was a bit of a quick-study. It didn’t take that long for me to feel comfortable with all those verbose monologues. They began to pour trippingly from my tongue. This turned out to be a bit of a liability, when I became over-rehearsed, and began to coast along lackadaisically during the final rehearsals, treating them more as playtime than practice- so come performance day, I was as cocky as Odysseus and perfectly set up to experience the downfall of crushing hubris.
. On the March morning of our only performance, I stood and recited all my lines aloud to myself in the mirror, straight through, front to back. No problemo …until about midway through the big opening monologue, when suddenly, I faltered. Strange, the following lines just kind of eluded me. No matter how I searched my memory, I couldn’t find them. Holy crap! I imagined this mortifying lapse happening, not in front of the bathroom mirror, but in front of a house full of real-live people! To avoid this imaginary fiasco, I nervously studied the text all day long, and continued to- right up to curtain time.
. Another opening of another show! On the surface, I exuded my usual unblinking self-confidence, but in my secret interior, a gathering uneasiness crept through me.
. The crowd assembled, the houselights went down, the curtain went up. Showtime! At the beginning of the play the Stage Manager character addresses the audience directly, his small-town drawl soothing them and bringing them into his confidence to set the scene and introduce the characters. On cue, I strolled onstage, securely in character- rolling along in that relaxed, informal, not-a-hurry-in-the-world manner that simple folk get from a life in the country. For a while, things went swimmingly. The first speech flowed un-fettered like a clear mountain stream. It seemed as though I just opened my mouth and it was over. I walked offstage with buoyed spirits and calmed insecurities. So when my next cue came, I swaggered back onstage and lurched into my second big speech with confidence and aplomb. Piece of cake! I was killing it. Until… Poof!
. I completely blanked.
. Huh? Where was I? I had no fucking idea!
. Trained, though never really ready to cover such a lapse, I smiled at the audience wanly, yawned, stretched, pulled out an imaginary match and struck it against the sole of my shoe, pretending to light my empty pipe, trying to appear casual and in control, while inside my mind raced and convulsed in a state of red-alert panic, sending desperate electro-chemical messengers through the dark recesses of my memory for the connecting line I had so completely mislaid. Sue had drilled it into us: These things happen on stage. When they do: relax! Improvise. unless the playwright is sitting in the audience following along with the script, nobody’s going to know you fucked-up, unless you let them know. No matter what- just keep going! Those few frozen seconds slogged through me in extreme slow motion. For a terrible instant, my mind was a torture-chamber of regret, while my posturing body lingered senselessly under the blare of bright stage lights floundering like a beached whale. And then- zap! Just as suddenly as the lines disappeared, they came back. (Oh yeah! That’s it.)
. I resumed the speech, shaken, but safely hidden behind my character. Afterward, I collapsed backstage into a pile of self doubt and recrimination, profoundly shaken by this professional humiliation. Sympathetic and not-so-sympathetic looks surrounded me. The last person in the cast who might be expected to drop their lines, I was usually such a puffed-up blowhard, strutting with a false can’t-touch-this bravura that just screamed of a bubble to be burst. For some, it was probably nice to see me cut down a notch. The image I had worked so hard to build up among these drama freaks was now forever tarnished. I consoled myself with the fact that I had not committed the ultimate actors sin: I had not broken character. Still, I hung my head in shame and embarrassment.
. A moment later, a radiant Sue Cromwell came skipping up to give me a big, beautiful hug. She stroked my hair and patted my shoulder and told me that was she was so very proud of me, saying: “You covered the lapse like a true professional Kevin, a real actor’s actor!”, turning me instantly from putz to prince- praise that gave me the juice to go back on and finish the play in fine form.
. That night, we had a cast party to kick the world’s butt!
Kevin’s sister Kelly has a mortifying wardrobe malfunction, when they both go AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 MINUTES!
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