The Curtain Rises

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Acting, Life, Uncle Richard
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s 2 AM, and I am tired. I should be sleeping or doing something else…yet the last post has gotten me thinking more and more about my first theater experience. Before I left for L.A., and after coming back, Uncle Richard worked tirelessly with me on the script until I had memorized my lines (it’s called “being off book” in theater lingo). He was insistent that I not take advantage of the fact that the Director let me take two days off rehearsal to film a commercial – I needed to come in and show I was ready to work hard. I don’t know how I did it – even today, I’m sometimes amazed at what 8-year-old-me managed to accomplish – but I managed to memories my lines as well as most of everyone else’s. George, the guy that played Atticus, was impressed when I threw out his line to him when he stumbled. We spent long hours at the rehearsal space, finally going downstairs to Shine Deli after it was all over. I’d grab a Snapple and a Mr. Goodbar or maybe a Tastycake and we’d head home. I loved everyone I worked with, except for the kid that played Jem – he was a little shit. I remember his family inviting me and the rest of the kids (and moms) out to have lunch across town with them during a break from rehearsal. We get there, sit down, and about halfway through the meal they just get up and leave. We didn’t think much of it, but found out later that they left early and didn’t tell anyone so they could be the first back. Evidently they also made it a point to tell the rest of the cast and director how early they were, and how late everyone else was (nobody else was actually late…). That sort of catty, tacky stuff does happen – I saw it less and less as I got older, and came to realize that the actual pros didn’t pull crap like that.

This kid was always pulling pranks Рand mostly pranks that would potentially mess up the show. One time, he put butter and thumb tacks on the bottoms of my shoes Рthese shoes did not have a particularly good grip to begin with. For some reason, he also spit on my dressing room mirror Рthat really upset me, and one of the other kids switched nameplates  so it was on his mirror instead. That kid was pretty awesome Рhe turned me on to gummy frogs and Taco Bell.

Anyway, things got so bad with the kid that played Jem that the entire boy’s dressing room was complaining about him. He eventually had to be moved to the adult dressing room, which is maybe what he was after in the first place. In the next production he was in, he sprayed everyone’s costumes down with a fire extinguisher before they went on stage. To this day, one of the few things that really irks me is people being unprofessional.

Opening night, I got cards, flowers, and balloons – Uncle Richard sent some, Mom and Grandma, of course, and other friends and family. Nothing from Dad, though. That always bothered me, but I think it bothered Grandma more. “Not even a card! Not even a phone call!” she would say when she got wound up about it (which she still did, years later). In the years that followed the divorce I would sporadically get a card with nothing in it – by which I mean, no writing except “DAD” scrawled somewhere near the bottom. Even these stopped altogether after a while. I could never put my finger on why he didn’t like me, except for the fact that we were such opposites. I was more prone to stay in and read a book than go out hunting or play sports. I wasn’t particularly macho, whereas he was overly macho. I always wondered if he thought I was gay and that bothered him.

From that night, though, seeing the contrast between all the support and the complete silence from Dad (which felt icy to me), I resolved to move on.

In the entire world of acting, theater is the most unique beast. You form a very strong bond with your castmates – in a way, they become an extended family. Each night, you get to pull off something like magic – you live and die by the rising of the curtain, and the sound of applause.

I got to perform the play for Katherine Hepburn, and Harper Lee (among others). Lee I later found out was notoriously touchy about her book, and about adaptations in particular. Had she given her consent, it would have gone to Broadway – and I think it would have been a great success. It was a phenomenal production. Sadly, she declined to give her blessing and the show finished it’s run. I made a ton of friends out of that, though, and it’s probably one of the coolest experiences I had.

  1. Reed says:

    Performing “To Kill a Mockingbird” for Katherine Hepburn and HARPER LEE? I’m incredibly impressed. And the character of Dill was based on Harper’s childhood friend Truman Capote…let’s see, how many degrees of separation is it between me and them? One for the ladies and two for Capote? That would mean three for Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, executed by hanging, and four for the tragically murdered Clutter family. Wow. And through Harper, that’d be two degrees for Gregory Peck and President George W. Bush, and three degrees for everyone each of them knew/know…through Katherine, there’s Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn…sheesh-a-rama! I’m glad I know you! (And not just for that, I promise!).

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