Acting Class, or Self-Help Seminar?

I decided to try acting.  Step one was clearly to audition for a Broadway show.  When that didn’t work out, I made a smooth transition to step two: Beginning acting classes at the local community theater.  $110 for an 8-week course at Diamond Head Theater for ages 16+.  I signed up online.

I sometimes have such grand ideas about my upcoming journeys.  I was expecting my first day of acting class to go something like this:

All of the students are gathered.  Class is supposed to start at 7pm, it’s now 7:02.  Suddenly, the rear doors of the theater burst open and two men storm in, yelling at each other.

“Take it easy!!  It didn’t MEAN ANYTHING!” screams one of them.

“But she’s MY WIFE!!!” screams the other as he breaks down into tears.  He then goes into a detailed and emotional monologue about his history with his wife.  The good times, the bad.  The emotion just pouring out of him and filling the room.

At this point, the students are all watching and most of them crying.  The man ends his emotional story with something like, “and then YOU.  You came and ruined everything!” and he throws a punch, knocks him down and jumps on top of him.  They are rolling around on the floor until a few students jump up and run over to break it up.  Just as the students get to them, they jump up and yell in unison:

“WELCOME TO BEGINNING ACTING CLASS!!”

Everyone applauds madly.  We all have gigantic smiles and admiration on our faces.  And suddenly they somehow both have head-set microphones and they walk over to the crowd of students, point to someone and say, “YOU!  Monologue!  You can do it.  Go.”  And that student, from the top of her head delivers a beautiful and insightful monologue.  A few hours of that and we’re all actors.

Years later, some of us students will meet on the red carpet and reminisce about our first acting experience and claim that our success was because of that class.

But wouldn’t you know it, that’s not how it actually went down.

From the second I walked in, it felt like college.  The instructor took attendance, told us to inform him if we were going to miss classes and explained our final project.  I even recognized a girl from my university biology class.  I shut down.  Perhaps, a bit of APTSD: Academic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is my least favorite situation to be in:  Teacher-Student.  I hate it.  But I am trying to somehow be successful and this instructor had the tools I need.  I figured I’d do my best.

He gave us a little lecture on what we will be focusing on for the duration of the course before moving us to the stage to do some breathing exercises.  All the stuff that I really hate doing but is absolutely essential to the craft of acting.

The climax of the class was our “audition”.  We were all given a Shel Silverstein poem to memorize.  Then, in an audition style, we were to go up on stage and perform the poem with some type of emotion, whatever emotion we chose.

Student after student went.  Some of them were really good.  Some were outrageously nervous.  Some forgot every word.  Some nailed it.  Me?  Well, I read the poem.  I spoke clearly and confidently but there was no emotion.

I decided that I have a very interesting version of stage fright.  I’m not afraid of being on stage or performing for people.  I’m not afraid of speaking in public or singing songs to a filled room.  However, I am absolutely terrified of emitting any real emotion in front of people.  I can write down the most real emotional prose and read it to 1000 people but I cannot emote that same prose to a room of 10 people.  My body won’t do it.

I was in my room one day and I wanted to see if I could make myself cry.  Within a minute, I had tears.  It was a full out cry.  It was hilarious and great.  Put 18 people in a room and I have trouble smiling on cue.

I have some pretty foolproof safeguards up that I can’t seem to tear down.  While I don’t believe this in my conscious mind, I think somewhere inside me I have that terrible social belief that showing emotion is a feminine trait…and that it’s somehow bad.  Again, I don’t believe this and I don’t want to act on it, but it’s in me and I’m only just now realizing it.

One of my really good friends is moving very far away.  It’s been super emotional and I’ve been crying a lot lately.  I’m not ashamed of it.  I swear.  But my girlfriend walked in the room when I was crying and before she could say anything, I punched her in the arm and said, “I’m having nachos and Budweiser for dinner.  And I looked at a girl’s butt when she bent over today.  And I’m thinking about buying a Ford Mustang.  400HP.”  I actually said “HP” and not “horsepower”.  And I think I grunted.

So on day one of acting class, I realized, not only the single most important factor in my non-ability to act, but also a very deep belief that I do not want to have.  I thought I was trying to be a superstar but it seems like I keep accidentally walking in on self-help seminars.  Maybe at some point, I’ll have myself figured out enough to put it all together and perform it on a stage, on cue.  And get paid billions of dollars to do so.  And if not billions of dollars, at least I’ll have emotional maturity.

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