Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I've Always Maintained That I Can't Act All That Well, But I Am Very Dramatic

A couple of weeks ago Cap'n Cluck and I were drafted by Papa Lightbulb to do a skit for the full Singles dept. as part of a promotional spiel for the FAITH program. Like all good performers, we had our first practice less than 24 hours before our performance. A good portion of our practice time was spent punching up the script; it was fun being able to go "Okay, how can we get this same point across while making it actually semi-humorous and mildly entertaining?” The end result probably wouldn't have won any awards, but we both felt it was a heap better than what we started with. It was the first skit I'd done for quite a while, and I was pleased at how easily I could still memorize the lines; of course, I've had a lot of practice at it, since I've been performing in front of people for about as long as I can remember.

The first play I can remember was a 1st grade safety play, where I played the main character "Dr. Wise," which I mainly remember because the teacher had actually made up a little diploma with the name Todd Wise on it which I got to keep afterwards. I was involved in various other little plays and skits through school, church, and 4-H; I remember being very upset in the 4th grade 4-H Share the Fun when my role as a dancing dog got cut out because the narrator’s note cards stuck together, but the only other elementary school performance which really stands out in my mind was my role as Rip Van Winkle in the 6th grade play. Well, to be more accurate, I played half the role of Rip; the old half. Don't know if it was because they didn't want to worry about one person memorizing the whole thing, or if they just wanted to give more kids a chance to participate, but the role of young Rip went to my classmate Punkin, and old Rip went to me.

The elder Rip role required me to sing a solo, "A Nap That Lasted Twenty Years," a ponderous song that was the source of some frustration on my part. You see, in the original script, the reason Rip sleeps for twenty years is that he drank some magic beer; well, of course they couldn't have sixth graders acting like they were drinking beer, so they changed it to "magic water," which, in turn, required a change in the lyrics of my song. This change irked me to no end; it wasn't that I was up in arms about them censoring the play for more palatable grade school consumption; I couldn't have cared less about that. No, what irked me was that the substituted lyric neither rhymed nor scanned properly; yes, that's right, even prepubescent Cap'n Neurotic got bugged by that sort of stuff. I mean, come on! Beers: 1 syllable, rhymes with years; water: not so much. But, I was a powerless 6th grader, so I grinned and bore it. Well, I bore it, anyway.

In addition to plays and skits, my time in 4-H honed my speech-giving skills as I competed with speeches peppered with facts taken liberally from my ZooBooks collection: first whales, then sharks, then spiders. This speechifying would carry over into my experience with the Technology Student Association, where I dove into the Prepared and Extemporaneous Speaking competitions with gusto; I much preferred the Extemp, since it required much less actual work and prep time, and generally involved topics like "What makes a good leader?" or "How has technology improved the world?" I joined TSA my 8th grade year, which was the same year the seeds were planted for the start of a Competitive Speech program at Wyandotte.

The legend goes like this: Mrs. S., the Jr./Sr. English teacher, was also the Student Council sponsor, meaning she was in charge of the school talent show at the time. She had brought in the speech coach from her hometown of Pitcher (a man who was known to many speech students as Gargamel), to be one of the judges. To open up the talent show, Mrs. S. had her StuCo members do a little Oklahoma Land Rush skit; somehow I got drafted to be the one who read the passage that opened up the skit. Reportedly, as soon as I was done with my recitation, Gargamel turned to Mrs. S. and told her that we needed to start a Competitive Speech program immediately. Don't know how true that is, but that's how my momma told it to me, and my momma wouldn't lie about such things, now would she? Regardless of the truth of the legend, the fact is that the next year was the first year of Wyandotte's Competitive Speech program, a program that would last a whopping four years, dying out as soon as I graduated; make of that what you will.

I had a blast in Speech, even if I only made it to State my Freshman year; I like to think that I could have made State my Sr. year if I hadn't opted to go to Mexico with my Spanish class instead of competing in Regionals: my poetry selection of "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" by Weird Al Yankovic was unbeatable, I tell you, unbeatable! Anyhoo, as I've noted before, being in Speech was a big factor in helping me start the breaking-out-of-my-shell process; I have a ton 'o Speech stories which I'll get into at some other time. To this day I can still recite Roald Dahl's "Jack and the Beanstalk" and Ray Bradbury's "October Game" from memory; also, after hours and hours of watching my classmates practice, there are portions of certain plays which are burned into my mind forever, like, say, Steel Magnolias . . . thanks, Diva!

After High School, my speech skills came into play primarily during my time with the BSU Drama Team, although they did come in handy from time to time in class. For example, during Intro to Speech Communication, my professor’s comments on my grade slips started out as "Very good; have you considered speech as a major?" with the first speech, and amped up to "You need to be a speech major!" with the final one; it probably didn't hurt that 4/5 of the class had never gotten up and given a speech before in their lives.

I also got to put my modest acting skills to work in a couple of classes. First there was my "American Drama" class; my professor split us up into groups of three: one director and two actors. The director got to pick a play from the syllabus, and select a scene for the actors to perform in front of the class; afterwards we would have to answer questions about our choices from our classmates. We wound up with Sam Shepard's "The Tooth of Crime," which is an interesting play, but one whose stream-of-consciousness dialogue during the duel scene does not lone itself well to memorization by an acting neophyte, which is exactly what my scene partner was. Getting through the performance in class was quite an exercise in mental gymnastics as I gamely tried to bring him back on-track every time he'd skip to the end of the play; the questioning session from our classmates was a bit brutal, as most of them were theater majors, who still seemed bitter that the class was under the auspices of the English Department. Our director pulled me aside after class and complimented me on my ability to stay on-book; I told him that years of Competitive Speech had trained me for just such an occasion.

My other classroom acting experience happened in my Shakespeare class; again, we were split into teams of three, assigned a play from the syllabus, and asked to pick a scene to perform; this time, we were also expected to lead a class discussion on the play as well. Our play was King Lear; at the time I would have preferred Macbeth, since it's still my favorite Shakespearian tragedy, but I have to say that doing Lear definitely gave me a deeper appreciation for it. My experience with this project was pretty much a flip-flop from the American Drama experience, largely due to the fact that this time my scene-partners were both over-achieving Honors students from Parker, one of whom was a member of the S.C.A. (Society for Creative Anachronism) with easy access to period costumes; yes, we were the only group to don costumes; heck, I think we were the only group who bothered to even memorize the lines. We even did two scenes; one from an earlier version of Lear by a different playwright, and then the corresponding scene from Shakespeare's version. It was the final scene, so I got to perform Lear's big mourning sequence:

Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!
Oh, the drama of it all.

Of course, what I didn't expect when I walked into class that day was to find my Bible as Literature professor sitting in on the class to observe the Shakespeare prof in action; I could feel his mischievous smile on me the entire time. After it was over, he proclaimed that he had never known I was so dramatic, and that he was going to make me do a dramatic reading portraying Yahweh for his class; thankfully, he never followed through.

But after graduating that was pretty much it for my acting experience, up until the first Murder Mystery party. Oh, and I did perform “Jack and the Beanstalk” at my office talent show a year or two ago, which was one of those breakthrough “holy crap, didn’t know the Cap’n was capable of such things” moments for many of my co-workers, I think. And really, who can blame them? All must bow down before the wonder that is my revolving-British-accent.


Redneck Diva said...

I still spontaneously quote parts of "Night, Mother" and "Steel Magnolias" and that freaky thing I did where the chick's boyfriend jumped off the ferris wheel. "He just leaned over the side and he was gone....gone. One minute he was there and the next he wasn't!" You were awesome at Jack and the Beanstalk, btw. I dug a videotape out awhile back that I did while we were practicing for Regionals...oh that was a riot.

Oh my...what a walk down memory lane.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

The two Steel Magnolia lines that pop into my head all the time are "I know that sounds simple and stupid, and maybe I am" and "I'm fine, I'm fine! I can jog to Texas and back! But my daughter can't! She never could."

I'd totally forgotten about the ferris wheel monologue.

There's a tape of Regionals practice? I'm both intrigued and frightened

Redneck Diva said...

ROFL I use the "simple and stupid" line all the time!! Paul refuses to watch Steel Magnolias with me anymore (like he was a real fan of it to begin with) because I quote along with the entire movie. Drives him batty. I could probably still remember the blocking if I tried real hard.

Yeah, the tape was me just me foolin' around with the camcorder, but I got you and Kevin doing monologues and Kari, Jon...oh gosh, pretty much everyone. It's a hoot. Next time you're down to see your parents you should holler and I'll let you watch it. I'll provide the popcorn!!