I liked pretending. It was one of my favorite games as a child. It led to my wanting to be an actor.
The few times I was on stage, when a kid, fed an increasing appetite for attention, applause and adulation. Once awakened, the ego becomes insatiable.
In first grade, a magician chose me to be his ‘swami’ at a school function. I stood there in a floppy silk hat so he could have an unwitting straight man. I was stage struck!
Then, for a skit at a summer camp, I was cast as the patient receiving an operation in a vaudevillian style Frik and Frack routine. It was written by my Dad and a friend of his and packed with as many puns as can fit into a two minute scene. Throughout, I could only think of my blackout line and so giggled uncontrollably during the whole skit. I was so thrilled to be on stage, it was the high point of my summer.
By the time I was cast in a middle school musical, I was a veteran walking the boards. The rest of the cast were a bunch of amateurs. Cast as the hunchbacked villain Dick Deadeye, in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” my solo was delivered in a perfectly monotonic snarl.
My burgeoning career hit the skids on entering high school and encountering a genuine theater department. I couldn’t get cast in anything. Maybe they saw something I didn’t, lack of acting talent. Still driven, I became a techie, ran the lighting board and built sets.
I had a bird’s eye view the night the director thought it would be funny to juice the explosive charge at the close of one act. Blowing up a child actor is frowned upon in those parts. That director’s contract was not renewed. The actor survived with minor burns.
I realized that I would never get cast for a play after one drama class exercise. We were to perform Hamlet’s soliloquy as an animal of our choice. Struck by the “sleep, perchance to dream” line, I thought the perfect animal would be a three toed sloth.
I lowered a lighting bar and draped myself on it, feigning drowsiness while doing the assignment. The instructor was not amused. He thought I was criticizing the assignment. I can see that.
In my defense, my sloth had more metaphorical integrity than the whole parade of cats and dogs presented by the other students.
When we moved and I changed schools, I became that school’s theatrical wunderkind. I acted. I wrote. I directed. Well, ‘directing’ is a term too grandiose to use with a straight face. I’ll confess that I was responsible for what happened on stage.
I saw this avant-garde play performed brilliantly. They made it look so easy. I had to do it. It was hilarious! What could possibly go wrong?
If you must know, friends with no interest in acting joined the cast as a favor to me. And I had no memory for dialogue. This was the point at which I knew unequivocally that I was not an actor.
The play was aptly named, “Out at Sea”. No one could remember their lines. Combining scenes and rearranging liberally, we rewrote and ad-libbed, stumbling around like a troupe of buffoons lost in a house of mirrors. Meanwhile, the poor girl who volunteered to prompt us from off stage, panicked and ran down the hall in tears of despair. Those were the days.
We did get applause when it was over, especially for the fact that it was over.
Over the years in Hollywood, I appeared on camera very occasionally as an extra or as a double. When working in post-production, I built a modest reputation for my ability to portray the voices of robots and time bombs, counting down, blithely unconscious of the fact they were about to explode. I worked all the time.
The only other acting, ‘of note’ that I participated in was at an improve/comedy club in Minneapolis known as Dudley Rigg’s E.T.C. A friend of mine from high school, Jim Monitor, was staging Aristophane’s “Lysistrata” concurrently with the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Oedipus, the King”. Dudley and Jim hired me to be the stage manager. We wrote some silly songs together. And I wrote a couple of supplementary scenes (just to punch it up a bit).
But the thrill was to appear briefly as Tiresias, the blind seer from “Oedipus,” who, being blind, accidentally wanders onto our stage by mistake. Wrapped in a blanket and pinned with a smile face button, I delivered Tiresias’ opening lines from “Oedipus”. One of the soldiers then ceremoniously turned my character around (a’ la Laurel and Hardy), and booted him off the stage.
That was my most successful role. I was an actor!