Sunday, July 3, 2011


Struggling to get cast, I decided to try an acting class several months ago, thinking I could perhaps hone and refine, get some feedback and guidance.  I met with the head instructor for my interview, was accepted, and was eager. I'd been told that the class used action to bring out character, etc., which appealed to me because I'm not a fan of the School of Emotional Regurgitation. (When I was in therapy in my 20s, my therapist brought up the subject of group therapy, and I responded that I really didn't have the patience for other people's demons or emotions, just as I'm sure my demons were not all that interesting to anyone but me. He didn't push it, as he wasn't all that sure I needed it - I was working pretty hard on my own.)

So first day of class. Four boys, two girls, one woman. Yep, everyone but me was in their 20s. And guess what? Everything was based on emotions an impulses. Act on your impulses. Well, you have a 20-something boy on stage with a 20-something girl, and guess what the impulses are. Yep, lots of kissing, Of course, those impulses did not translate in my scenes, because I was not fuckable to them, nor were they to me. And we all know that most boys feel one of two things toward women: lust or contempt Yeah; it was fun. I'd paid $300 to be an outcast again, only I didn't have the safety of the Latin Club this time around.

In one scene , one of the guys tried to get me to "open up" by taking off his shirt. In the scene analysis afterward, the instructor (there were four) suggested that had I followed my impulses I might have rubbed my hands over the boy's chest.

If I'd followed my impulses, I'd have walked off stage and the incredible feeling of discomfort at the prospect of any kind of sexual encounter with someone I could have given birth to.

In on wordless scene, I was told that I'd come across as "angry" when I looked through some CDs. "Angry about what?" I'd asked, mystified. "I was looking for a CD."

Of course, instead of pointing out that when I get focused I look angry, which might have helped me with my technique, they insisted I was in denial of my true feelings.

True feelings of rage, apparently that sorting through CDs engenders in most people.

I stuck with the class, feeling old, isolated, and more and more, as Morales says in A Chorus Line "that this bullshit was absurd."

Finally, in one class one of the guys decided to take it upon himself to show me how truly angry I was, help me uncover the anger that I was in such denial of, and began insulting me and calling me names, ridiculing me. I should mention that in another scene in the previous week, another guys had told him that I disgusted him. So basically, here I was, a true grown up, being emotionally assaulted by a bunch of kids who think that by being cruel they are somehow experiencing artistic growth.

I ended up in the bathroom in tears, and walked out of the class. I did not return. I did not go through a childhood and adolescence of crippling shyness and self-consciousness, serious depression, and therapy to have these people tell me how I feel. I have faced riot police, gangs, muggers, bad dates, and a verbally abusive alcoholic father; trust me, I know what it feels like to be afraid and angry. Anger is not something I'm going to vomit up like some parlor trick to satisfy some kid with half my life experience who's decided I need to dance to his tune.

And I fail to see how it will make me a better actress. From what I can see, the main things standing in my way are my age and my hair, because nonprofessional theater in Chicago seems more and more like some post-college party for mediocre twentysomethings who think a woman has to be under 35 and have hair to her ass to be feminine. This is the Midwest, were inspiration goes to die.

I've begun discussions with a woman I know form my last show who's near my age and feeling the same way. We're talking about just putting on our own show. If you can't get cast, cast your own damn self.


karen said...

Hoooo man. I can just imagine being in one of those classes. Actually, sometimes I do. When I was in theatre school (the second time around) I was "older" but not the "oldest" ... she was a forty-something red head and it was annoying, even to me, how people talked about how "admirable" it was she was doing this. Gag. We do what we do, you idiots, at whatever age we are at the time.

But what a shame it was such a waste of your time and especially your hard earned cash.

I did group therapy once, during and after a stint in a psych ward I put myself in at 21 for treatment of an eating disorder. Eventually, but not too long in, I gave it a pass. Not so much for the same reasons as you, but rather because I was always calling people on their bullshit, and nobody ever called me on mine. The worst of it was what the leaders said when I told them I was leaving. They nodded knowingly and said, but Karen, you are so helpful for everyone, you say stuff that is true and useful. I stared at them, they really didn't get it: I was there for ME, not to do their stupid jobs. Gaaaah!

Anyway, I also had some incredible experiences with an acting teacher. Do you remember Polly the Hooker from Barney Miller? Yep. Her. Paula Shaw. She really got it. We were encouraged to feel stuff, something I was just learning in my real life, but in meaningful ways. None of the schlepping up fake stuff or trying to pull shit out of people by being confrontational. For me, it was amazing. It was the opposite of that group therapy thing, where Paula never gave me a chance behind anything, and it was no-one's job but hers to help anyone.

Your experience just sounds demeaning and stupid.

I have a GREAT idea for a shew (as I have started calling the theatre, not quite sure why, but I'm not willing to give it up!)

I shall have to message you it privately, as I want this piece to be mine, yours, hers, but not everybodies! I'll see if I can do it tomorrow ... tonight I'm makin' yogurt. Mmmmm. Yogurt.

One question. Are ya interested in musicals?!

tomorrow (or the next day) then!

JC said...

Karen I *love* how you get it. Yes, I felt a definite air of "look how we accommodate the old person," and the truth is, I was better than they, in better shape than they, and more interesting than they. When I quit, the instructor told me I should stay because "I had shown great bravery," to which I replied, "all I learned was profound frustration at being the target of needless cruelty. If this is your idea of a breakthrough, perhaps you should just have me gang-raped by the class."

I like good musicals, but I am hopelessly non-musical. Doesn't stop me form singing loudly and off-key but Im rather Yoko Ono-meets-Wing. Love to hear about your experiences, though, and would love to see what you've written. I'll keep it confidential, or course! As for therapy: it only works if you want to get better. It sounds like you did, but others around you didn't, which is frustrating. I also wanted my therapist to myself - I was in it for me, period. I had an eating disorder too, in adolescence -- God, I'm glad that's behind me. The anxiety was awful.

Lee Murray said...

You've got more guts than me, sales modified my childhood shyness, I have a sales personality and me, but over the years they've merged somewhat. But getting up in an acting class, or therapy are beyond me. I'd like the acting if i had the guts, but am sure most therapists are incompetant idiots.

karen said...

horrifyingly it takes me forever to remember that you like to converse on the comments, and here I am nearly a month after you answered! Gah!

I have written nothing in terms of a play, I just entertain myself with the notions.

And seriously. Seriously. Do you really neeeed a singing voice to do musical theatre?! I mean, really, really GOOD musical theatre?

Well ... only if you are not into the character roles!!! and only if there is a derth of capable singers in the cast, really.

One day ... I'll find the time and ponder this one more.


write some more.

JC said...

Thanks for the support, gang. Lee, I wasn't always this confident -- I used to be a horrifically self-conscious adolescent/young adult. You just keep plugging, and you get there.