There are two things in my life that keep my sanity intact: Writing and acting. I got bit by the acting bug while in college in 1984. I had wondered for a long time what it would be like to get up on a stage and perform, but almost as soon as the thought would enter my head, the scary things such as "What if they hate me?," and "I'll collapse into a bubbling mass of crap." would always stop me. "Sensible," I would always think. Why should I put myself out there and let people know I am incapable of this skill.
All that changed when I was passing by the multi-use theatre in my dorm complex. There was a poster up for auditions for a production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." Having seen the movie some years before and loving it, I was intrigued. I just stopped in front of it and read it over and over for what seemed to be an eternity.
As fate would have it, my friend John happened to be passing by, and he inquired as to what I was doing. "Oh, just fantasizing." I told him
"Why don't you go for it?" came the reply in a snarky tone and evil grin which he was famous for.
"Oh yeah, right." came my less than enthusiastic reply. Who was I trying to kid. I was in no real hurry to be laughed at by a bunch of people I didn't know.
"Tell you what. You get in that play, and there is a good bottle of Scotch on me waiting for you." he dared.
He knew me too well. Never dare me. I just looked at him, asked him if he was serious, which he said he was. "I have seen you teach in EMT's classes." he said. "You're pretty comfortable doing that, why can't you do this."
"Not the same thing." I told him. Besides, he had no idea how much getting up in front of a class and teaching made me sweat, though I did enjoy it.
"Yeah it is. Same thing, bigger classroom." he prodded on. "I don't know, I gotta think about it."
"Don't think too hard." he challenged me again.
Later that week, I made the decision to go for it. There I was in a room full of other hopefuls, some were theatre majors, others were schmucks like me who had no idea what we were doing. I suspected that we would read from the play, and that would be that. No such luck.
The director paired us off, and one pair at a time, had us improv a situation. The guy that I was partnered with played father and son, (I was the father.) and he had to tell me that he had smashed up the car. Well, that was easy enough, I mean I know how my dad would have reacted to that. We started the scene, and kept going, and going, and going....
Most other people's scenes lasted two-to-three minutes max. Ours, as I would find out, went for seven. They posted the callback list the next day. My name was on it. We read from the script that night, and I got the part of the psychiatrist. Dr. Spivey. A good part for a beginner.
I was excited, elated, and scared shit-less. This was definitely one of those "Be careful what you wish for" moments. Fortunately, our director knew how to work with experienced actors, and people like me that didn't know what the hell we were doing.
Now twenty years later, acting for me is like breathing, a necessary part of life. I graduated from college in 1985, did some theatre in the Bronx for a few years, but then had to give it up as work, grad school, and life got in the way. Of course, when I got sick, everything in my life just stopped, but I did make a promise to myself. If I survived the transplant, I would get back into acting somehow. After moving to Rochester I kept that promise, as Rochester has a large theatrical and artistic community. This is the same town that has produced folks like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Taye Diggs, and Robert Forster, just to name a few. I got lucky in 2000, auditioned for a show at Blackfriars Theatre, got the lead, and have been acting around town ever since.
This Sunday, I'm auditioning for a production of "The Pillowman," also at Blackfriars. John made good on his promise, and as I do every time I leave the house for an audition, I'll pat that bottle of Scotch for luck.
"Find your mark, look the other fellow in the eye, and tell the truth." - James Cagney on acting.
*Update: Didn't make it into the show. Oh well, on to the next one. :-(