Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Summer and Smoke


During my long-ago undergraduate years, I took an acting class because it was the only thing that would work with my schedule, and I needed it for a humanities requirement. As I loathe theater, I'd never given the stage much thought. At my high school, our theater department was run by a sweet woman named Betty with a thick braid that below her waist and consisted of a few people who fancied themselves actors (intense brooding conversations, lots of vests with decorative pins on them) and another class of mentally challenged students whose acting troupe was named, rather unfortunately, The Betty's Specials. And I've always found musicals loathesome; I can't get around the whole singing and dancing for no apparent reason thing. I'm able to suspend my belief in all sorts of ways, but not this one. So I was not, as Christopher Guest says in Waiting for Guffman, going to Broadway!

Even so, I was excited about the college acting class -- we had to do a try-out during our first week which consisted of picking a small piece to perform in front of the class. I chose a Sylvia Plath medley, and man, was it not good unless you consider my inadvertent potrayal of a lobotomized, lithium-addled woman who knew a lot of Sylvia Plath poems a triumph. Our teacher had one rule for these first performances -- the class had to clap for everyone, or they wouldn't be allowed to clap for anyone. Most of us voted not to clap at all, the generosity from the would-be performer in us completely underwhelming. Over the course of four months, I improved. It would be hard not to, given where I'd started. My last role was a spinster aunt in Summer and Smoke. Our instructor divided all the girls up into two groups -- fat and thin, character actress or hot young thing. Ever the kind soul, he said that our weight would determine our role in the real world so we'd do well to get used to it now or stop stuffing our faces like hogs (his exact words). He put me in the fat group, even though I weighed about a hundred pounds soaking weight. You're in with the large ones, he said, because you have a heaviness about you. I took it as a compliment -- all my life, I longed to be taken seriously. When I delivered my scene, my instructor said, I've never heard someone sound so sad in that part. It wasn't much, but I clung to the praise like my life depended on it. I might not have been an actor, but the ego part, the clawing insecurity and desperation to be loved, well, that I had down.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"We have created enchantment." Tennessee Williams

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I usually don't think plays translate well to movies, but this one is absolutely brilliant and has the added bonus of Dick Burton and Liz Taylor having a high old time as a couple on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday!

14 comments:

The Thinker said...

When you say "loathe," I think you don't mean "loathe."

The plays the thing said...

Student actresses used to be my favorites. Dated two. One played a maid in Henry James' "The Heiress." The other played a college student on LSD(type casting)in an experimental drama called "The Last Sweet Days of Isaac." The maid got me a back stage pass and it was so much fun talking to the actors when they were still in makeup.

The cineaste said...

"Summer and Smoke" is a marvelous play. I saw the movie version with Laurence Harvey in the lead role the year it came out, at a private screening. The cock fighting scene is great.

Allen Woody said...

Frankly, you do have a certain heaviness--but only in one area and it's not evident at all, depending on the camera angle. Don't look at it as a handicap.

Oscar winner said...

I like the way Liz Taylor sneers to Richard Burton that he's only an associate professor, all the while hitting on George Segal because he's younger, better looking and got an MA degree when he was 19--in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?".

Dinner theater said...

I saw Anthony Quinn live in the musical version of "Zorba the Greek." It was great. Quinn was Mexican, but he always said that he had the soul of a Greek. Quinn also played Zorba in the movie.

AP said...

I missed "Waiting for Guffman," but I'm off to try to track it down. But before I go I'd just like to say that the name "Betty's Specials" really resonates for me. For some reason I really liked this blog, Michelle. Keep up the good work.--AP

paul said...

O Mighty Isis you can act out any time on the MAIN STAGE at the O.M. any time. Rock on Cajun Queen myFoxyTigerLadyElectric
R2 C2 SHazammmmmmm!

Laura said...

I always wanted to act in school, but I never did, too shy I guess. I did however take my Sheila to alot of plays when she was younger and she loved them all. Now she would make a great actress, such a drama queen she is.

Miss Chief said...

i love Who's afraid of virginia woolf, that all.

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle, what a lovely and enchanting view and post. I enjoy you so much and like to imagine you in theatre. Your teacher must have had something cruel in him. You are divine and always look angelic and model like. A salute and toast to you, Bravo!

JR's Thumbprints said...

Sounds like your instructor type-casted you appropriately. I've never been in theatre; however, I did have a public speaking class in college (it turned out to be one of the best writing classes I've ever had--know your audience).

Anonymous said...

"The ego part" seems so human. I recently got really involved in a school scriptwriting project that, though it's worth no credits and I'm not getting paid, I've invested more time into it than my job or school. Why? Because of a small bit of praise an early draft of the script received. Sure, it makes us seem insecure and desperate but, dammit, it's necessary.

Anonymous said...

personally all of school was an unpaid acting job, unless of course you went to parochial school, then someone got paid; just not the actors. usually penguins who beat the snot out of you for not saying Happy Thanksgiving loud enough but that is neither here nor there.

So you got put with the fat kids in college;was it Anorexia State, although you do have a heavyness about you it is about as heavy as the toenail of an elephant, make that a trimmed toenail.

Where is that charlatan of a human who calls itself a bringer of enlightenment to young minds, I will have him worshipping that toe nail and then entering a new career as a roadie for an independent band.

I have seen your act, mostly stoned, and thought that each performance was worthy of Tony, Oscar or maybe even a Dan.

Blogging what a fun thing it is to read of memories tainted by time and experience, reading the other more literary comments on this issue makes me wonder, was all of that Catholic school worth it? Of course there is only one answer..."Oh the humanity..."