Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dreaming of the great white way

When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be an actor. Actually, to hell with the growing up part, I just wanted to be on stage. This was sort of odd, because I was painfully shy. All through elementary and middle school I was the kid who never looked up as he walked down the hallway and considered his teachers his best friends. I was more interested in schoolwork than socializing, and I hated it when people brought attention to me, regardless of the context.

I guess my mom picked up on the fact that I liked to perform - always snaring my brother and the kids next door and forcing them put on plays for our parents - so she took me to the local community theater one afternoon so I could try out for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I remember being incredibly nervous. As soon as we entered the lobby, my palms began to sweat. Even now, the smell of the theater rises out of my memory: layers upon layers of paint on old sets, sticky reflective tape in little T's on the stage, a coffee pot brewing to one side, and an electric sense of anticipation. I remember filling out an information sheet and getting my mom to take it to the desk down in front for me. I was so anxious that I couldn't even fully enter the seating area, choosing instead to loiter in the doorway.

After what seemed like only half a minute, my name was called. I was completely nonplussed, thinking, "Me? Now? I just got here! Are you sure you didn't mean to call somebody else who's been waiting longer?". My mom, perhaps sensing that I was losing my nerve, gave me a gentle shove, and I found myself walking up to the stage. The rest is a bit of a blur, although I do remember smiling faces, bright lights and heat - a lot of heat. Afterward, I went back home with my mom feeling like I'd really accomplished something. For such a inward child, I really had, but the true scope of what was set in motion that day wouldn't be clear to me until many years later.

Suffice it to say, I got the part. Well, a part as Elmer, the preacher's son. It was typecasting with a capital "T". Elmer was a total stick-in-the-mud, a real defeatist. It took absolutely no effort on my part at all. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and the muse of theater.

I ended up doing shows off and on with Pull-Tight Players (the theater group in question) for eight years. In high school, I was the very definition of a Drama Club kid, making any excuse to hang out in the theater. When I went to college, I started taking some night classes, which stood in the way of rehearsal schedules, so without a creative outlet, my passion for theater began to subside, and I never performed in another show. Now, my only interaction with the stage is as a patron watching others perform on it.

Still, I feel that I owe who I am now to that period of my life. If my mom hadn't driven me down to that small building on 2nd Avenue in Franklin, Tennessee that fateful day, I may never have come out of my shell. Those years of creative expression really molded me, making me feel comfortable and confident in my own skin.

Yes, Elmer, the glass may be half empty, but that's only because you're only halfway done with your drink. ;)

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