Tuesday, August 30, 2005

this one time at band camp

Lord Larry was an intimidating fellow. Imagine Chris Farley but with black hair, a Harley, taller, less frat-boy and just toeing the line of flaming so that he appeared at first glance to be bi, British or maybe both. Lord Larry had a last name which I cannot recall at present, but I do clearly remember how he entered the classroom on the first day of Acting Technique and boomed "You WILL address me as Lord Larry, FOR I AM YOUR LORD AND MASTER OF ALL THINGS THEATRICAL!" He was, to put it mildly, a character.

That summer, I already thought I was being pushed quite enough. Mornings were spent making a mockery of colorblind casting as I tried to get my fifteen-year-old white girl hips to move like those of a Haitian Earth mama. Our director, Todd, had seen fit to cast me as a voodoo Earth goddess who belts the A above high C (if you know music, you know that is not a note that is easily belted). Shockingly enough, I didn't nail this part right out of the gate.

"Bend your knees! Heels off the ground! Move your damn hips!" Various frustrated adults would shake their heads at my pathetic attempts to shed my WASPy Midwesternness and find my inner goddess. While other girls had main camp time to buy ice cream cones and flirt with the only three cute straight boys in the division, I had extra belly dancing lessons with the vice-director's wife.

Todd brought in Lord Larry for extra help. "Break her," he told Lord Larry. "I want her so pushed and embarrased in your class that by the time I get her back she can BE Asaka without even trying." It was about this time that Todd got the nickname Todd-weh, God of Pain.

Lord Larry broke me. I don't remember the exact monologue, but I do remember it was a woman, at some sort of interview or audition who has a breakdown and essentially starts molesting herself out of sheer pathos. I know it contained the line "rude crude portrudes dubious boobies!" which I thought might help me track down the source, but you don't want to know what I found when I Googled it.

Lord Larry would bellow interruptions as I tried to manifest sexually psychotic desperation. I can only imagine how funny I was to watch. "CHRIST ALMIGHTY NO!" he would scream. "MY GOD, WHO WOULD CAST YOU AFTER THAT?! DO IT AGAIN AND REALLY GRAB YOURSELF THIS TIME!"

Don't think he was a deviant. Despite how it sounds, it's not that Lord Larry got off on watching a high school sophomore perform that kind of scene. He had a male student do a monologue about having sex with a horse, and another boy do one about the joy of being a serial killer. He wanted to push us to our most uncomfortable places in front of one another, to make us not only confront but embrace forbidden ideas and actions so that we could become stronger performers. It's the same reason businesspeople go to corporate retreats to climb ropes and climb over barrels with one another. The difference, though, is that he demanded that we not only physically challenged, but emotionally smacked down and rebuilt.

It worked. After two weeks of that monologue, including one cripplingly awful class performance for visiting parents, the show was a breeze. My inner goddess came out to belt and cluck over the silly orphan girl and shake her ass along with the bongo drum orchestra.

This has all been weighing on my mind since our first read-through last night. It was so familiar and yet so scary, being in a group of laughing strangers cold-reading these lines out loud. It didn't help anything that my character, in addition to not exactly being the brightest bulb in the chandelier, has some pretty risque stuff to say and do onstage. With another person. It's a very interesting feeling to look at a person you've never seen before and think "Okay, so I'm going to be spending much of this fall making out with you in front of paying customers."

But I can do this. I can do this. It is, after all, what an actor does. And I'm still a little scared that if I don't throw myself into it head-on, Lord Larry will somehow show up and bellow.

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