Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just another audience member

The first time I remember being on stage was when I was in first grade. I tried out for our school's talent show with my best friend Brandy. We sang (or tried to sing) Dolly Parton's "Here you come again." We didn't make it. I also remember trying to tap dance to "Tea for Two" with a friend while my sister sang the song (also during a talent show) - we failed horribly. Yet that didn't stop me. My next foray into acting was in sixth grade as a nun in "The Sound of Music." Lord knows why I kept trying to sing as I have a terrible voice - but I sang "Maria" with all my heart. In seventh grade I attended a fine arts school, where acting and dance were among my classes. My freshman year of high school, after completing a summer acting class, I tried out for and got a leading role in the school play (unheard of for freshmen). My junior year I returned to musical theater and my senior year I auditioned for the theater program at DePaul.

Of course, my friends participated in acting too. While at the fine arts grade school, we all wanted to be actors. We once tried out for a commercial (as a group), and most of our school was an extra in a small movie. I even once read for a movie. Because I hung out with creative types, I dated them too. Most of my boyfriends from the age of 15 (when I had my first "real" boyfriend) through college were actors/singers/theater people.

I didn't get into the theater program at DePaul, nor the communications school at Northwestern (my other outlet being journalism). So instead I attended Augustana to major in English and minor in journalism and theater. Augustana is pretty small (only a couple thousand students) and all my friends were either in the journalism or theater programs or both. I continued to date the actors and writers, and I continued to want to be an actor. My freshman year I tried out for, but did not make the two main stage productions. But I did get cast in two different roles for the student produced plays (again, something that generally was unheard of). When I wasn't in a play, I participated by being on the stage crew, helping with costumes.

Maybe because Augustana is so small, and my circle of friends so incestuous, or maybe because actors tend to be fairly self-centered, or maybe I never was fully committed to the theater and being an actor, but the whole thing was starting to wear thin. I no longer felt apart of that crowd, and once you don't feel apart of it, the rest of the crowd senses it and pushes you out. I was dating someone who was a talented actor, but a untalented boyfriend. And I never was cast in one of the main stage plays. That year, I gave up acting and my dreams of being a great and famous actor. For the most part, I also gave up dating actors and performers (though I had a slight slip in the late 90s that once again nailed that lesson home).

All of this left me with a strong dislike of most things "theater." Since college, I have had occasions to be friends with people involved in some sort of performance - be it improv or spoken word - and it always pains me a bit to see the inner workings of a performance, to hear the theater jargon bantered about ("strike the set" "green room"), to see the urgency in the stage managers movements and the nervousness in the performers eyes. I experience that mixed emotion of knowing too much about the process, an insider's knowledge, and jealousy that I am not involved and that they do not look at me and see a kindred spirit, but just another audience member.

Is this what happens to our dreams? Do we become audience members who must pay to look in to share in the experience? Maybe so, maybe so.

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