I finally got around to watching the Canadian show Slings and Arrows this weekend. It’s an hour long, six episode season, three season show about a Shakespeare festival in Canada. I haven’t finished it all yet (two episodes into the second season), but I really like it. The only bad thing is that I think it sent me into a funk and I only just realized that it’s the cause of the funk.
Since morning Sunday, I’ve been really down. Not quite depressed, but pretty down. I teared up at the season one finale of S&A. I teared up at pretty much every bride on Say Yes to the Dress. I couldn’t shake the gloom all day and it was still hanging around yesterday. And this morning I realized:
I miss acting. I miss directing. And dear god, I miss the classics.
I think I can pinpoint the moment that caused the funk. In the season finale, Rachel McAdams character, Kate, the ingenue, the understudy ascended to Ophelia gushes to another cast member that she saw her as Ophelia when she was 12. The character, Ellen, expresses some surprise at this and Kate reveals that she first read Hamlet when she was 10. Ellen regards this as completely odd. I think most people regard that as pretty odd. I mean, what 10 year old reads (and somewhat understands) Hamlet?
When I was 10, I read (and somewhat understood) Hamlet.
The love has been in me since then. The love for Shakespeare, which grew to a love of the Greeks, which grew to a love of Jacobean and Medieval and Shaw and Ibsen and Chekov and Miller and O’Neill and all things theatre. The classics brought me into it. For more people who love or work in theatre, the moment they wanted it was the moment they first saw that big musical opening number. It brought them into the experience and they wanted to be a part of it. It was nothing but the text for me. Words on a page. Sullied flesh and rosemary for rememb’rance and more things on heav’n and earth and the rest is silence. The words made a story for me and I loved that story.
My middle school had no drama program, but I picked Shakespeare for an independent study project (making a model of the Globe). I took an acting class at another school and picked a Juliet monologue. It wasn’t until I was 13 and saw Guys and Dolls at the high school that I’d be going to that I saw (and fell in love with a) musical. Once I went to high school, because I was in chorus as well as drama, I was pegged as a singer… a musical girl. Two problems: a) I couldn’t dance and b) I wasn’t big enough for musicals. I had a quiet stage presence, one meant for drama and classics, not for spectacle. I tried to force myself in the round peg for three years and got frustrated with my back of the stage chorus parts. My senior year, my teacher gave me two challenges: he named me student director for the fall play (and drama aide, directing my own one-act) and he asked me to put together competition monologues.
Monologues were the most competitive competition category at our school. While we got 8 entries in other categories, we only got 6 in monologues. Add to that the fact that our school had placed highest in monologues in the district in the past three years and a monologue slot was coveted. I went to work picking mine. Each person had 5 minutes to do two contrasting monologues. Part of the challenge was in picking monologues so contrasting that they showed an immense range (and talent in switching gears within two seconds). It didn’t take me long to find the perfect ones: Electra by Sophocles and Workout by Wendy Wasserstein. One, intensely dramatic (and classic, which NO ONE tackled for competition) and one frenetic and comedic. I was issuing myself a challenge: the Greek would be cake… the physical and vocal comedy of the other… that was the challenge. I did my monologues at competition and got highest ratings (was runner-up for best in the room to another kid from my school). I rocked both. I made people tear up *and* laugh out loud in a five minute span. To add to that, I finally got a named role in a musical. My teacher cast me as understudy (there were some messed up politics and we all believed that the understudy cast was his true cast) Frenchy in Grease. Yes, Frenchy. The only Pink Lady without a song. Most people saw this as an insult… a slight. I didn’t. I knew what it was about. It was my teacher, telling me that I could be big. That I had the talent to immerse myself into a character and act. That I was more than a pretty singer, more than someone who could harmonize and keep a chorus in tune. One of the parents photographed the show and caught a picture of me during the “you look like a hooker” part of “Beauty School Dropout.” It’s one of my most cherished pictures. It’s amazing. I have a face that could be seen to the rafters (not that we had rafters). I always kept it posted to remind me what I could do.
I went to college out of state, far away, where no one had preconceived ideas of me as a singer or classic girl or anything at all. One of five theatre majors in my year (all girls), I landed the lead in the freshman show (over my roommate, who filled a similar niche to me: curvy, redhead, pretty voice). I scored another lead my sophomore year in the fall musical and in the spring, got to perform in assorted classical pieces in a showcase (including Viola, Goneril, and Iocasta). It was a great year, finally getting to study classical drama and getting to perform it. It was also my last year in college.
I took a break after that year. I don’t even remember all my reasons why. Money was surely one of them. Wanting to travel, too… there were plans for a study abroad semester (that fell through last minute). During the Spring of my second break year, I visited my college to see one of my good friend’s senior thesis show. I told my advisor that I would’t be coming back in the fall. He told me “you don’t need a degree to do what you want to do.” I’d realized in this break year that I didn’t have that all encompassing need to be an actor, that need to be on stage. And I’d decided, in the wisdom of my twenty years on earth, that in order to be a professional actor, you had to have that. To put up with the stress and the lack of money and the rejection and the lifestyle, you needed to be incomplete without those hours in front of an audience. Otherwise, you’d just crack and give up.
Like I had.
I auditioned for a local production of my favorite musical (one I’d seen three times professionally), Cabaret. The director was so terrible that I got myself passive-aggressively kicked out (translation: I just stopped going to rehearsals citing transportation issues). That was the summer or fall of 2002. I really did give up on theatre after that. I focused on work and my new dream of being a travel agent, maybe owning a bed and breakfast one day. I fell in love over New Year’s 2002/03 and spent my days working so that I could travel and see the boy.
In 2006, I started to get the itch again. A small theatre nearby was doing my favorite Christmas show, It’s a Wonderful Life. I auditioned and got cast as Violet. I spent nights driving half an hour to rehearsal with a castmate, rehearsing for hours with a great cast, and chatting until the next morning in the Waffle House. I remembered why I loved it. I still didn’t need it, but oh, did I love it. And oh, did I miss the other end. The directing end. I thought that maybe I was confused those years ago… I didn’t need acting, but directing on the other hand… maybe that’s what I needed. I threw myself back into theatre, assistant directing and directing, getting a job as an office manager at the local professional theatre, being around theatre day and night, looking into programs to finish out my degree, changing to non-profit management. I knew it, finally… this is what I wanted to do.
And then I got fired. And the subsequent depression that I didn’t even completely understand (or admit to understand) at the time. The next spring, I didn’t get a directing slot at the theatre that I’d busted my ass for to direct the Christmas show. The theatre dream was officially dead. Officially just a hobby. Yeah, I still run the social media for a company (on a committee and everything *shudder*) and I had fun in a chorus role this summer. Hobby.
And now this weekend and I’m crying because a simple line in a television show makes me profoundly sad about what I’ve given up. What I’ve left behind. I know I have great things in the life that I do have (my wonderful husband and amazing puppy chief among them). I just didn’t realize that I’m deficient in the things that I thought I didn’t need.
The subject of arts and passion and whether artists need fall backs came up at work today. So I told my boss about my sadness. She suggested I find some children to teach the classics to. A local group is doing Much Ado early next year, which is my favorite Shakespeare. I want so badly to audition, but after my last experience being in one of my favorite shows, I’m wary of ruining it for myself. And I worry that I’m not as good as I used to be. I don’t know how to move on from here.