Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Short, Unsuccessful Acting Career

Some things were never meant to be. My career as a Thespian is one of them.

Every year, our high school put on a big musical and a Shakespearean play, the musical in the auditorium and the play in a room with what is called a thrust stage (see diagram), the surface of which was about 15 inches off the floor (bear with me, the design and height of the stage are critical to the demise of my acting career, as is the position of the X in the diagram!).

I was not a gutsy kid in high school and had never auditioned for one of the productions. The season of my acting career was no different.

My best friend had a bit part in that year's production - King Lear. She had a non-speaking part as a rowdy serving wench in Act 1 Scene 4, on stage as one of the hangers-on to the party of Lear's 100 rambunctious knights, about which Goneril bitterly complains.

The director had thought to demonstrate for the audience just how rowdy the "insolent retinue" indeed was by having some "not-to-be-endured riots" right on stage ( thereby including more students in the production.)

They needed one more rowdy serving wench.

My friend assured me that the gig would be easy - no audition, no speaking - just sit on the stage in a long, flowing wench-appropriate-censored-for-high-school dress and drop grapes into a knight's mouth and "exeunt" with the others, laughing, shouting, and otherwise making a big commotion.

How hard could that be? And ALL the cast and crew got to go to the party at the end!

Our opening was spot on, full with parents, friends and the local drama critic. Our riotous antics were loud and disruptive; the grapes went where they were supposed to go. Only the boisterous exit to get through, and my part, at least, would be a stunning success.

The problem with the thrust stage is that the audience is right there beside the actors, in our case with moveable chairs. I sat on the stage (where the X is in the diagram) with my knight's head in my lap, ready to leap up at the end of the scene and run off the stage.

The problem when I leapt up was that the chair leg of the fellow closest to me was on my dress and yanked me back with a resounding thud and odd snap of the head.

Everyone ran off the stage while I tried to tug at the dress to no avail. Finally, I had to tap the guy on the leg, point to the problem and wait while he clued in and moved his chair. Of course by then, everyone else was gone, and I couldn't very well have a rambunctious riot by myself.

I ran off, right into the director who was quite furious that I hadn't been paying attention to the cues. He chalked it up to inexperience when I told him what happened and was no longer angry at me, but still angry that the scene had been ruined - and a pretty important one at that.

As all actors do, we waited for the next day's paper to see what the drama critic would say. He praised the performance -  the acting was good, the directing quite inspired.

But there near the end of the review were the words I dreaded. One of the actors had seriously missed a cue and had broken character by engaging with a member of the audience.  Of course, you can't explain after the fact - hey! it wasn't my fault.

The cast party was fun, and none of my fellow students seemed upset with me. My best friend suggested that we try out for bit parts in the upcoming musical, West Side Story. It sounded okay. Then she mentioned the scaffolding we would all be perched on, and I couldn't help but think of all things that could go wrong with that arrangement. I declined, still smarting from my bad press.

And that was the end of my short, unsuccessful acting career.


Meam Wye said...

ohoh...quite a confidence-breaking experience for a teenager!

End of acting career: for those in teaching profession, acting never ends....most students (whether we like it or not)admire the teachers who have the ability to 'dramatize' the lectures ;)Speaking from my personal experience as a university level teacher.

ChrisJ said...


I never thought of that. Maybe that's why I'm a teacher. Interesting.

Ciss B said...

Meam has it exactly right! But remember, you are also creating your own drama instead of just following lines and stage directions which takes it into the really creative realm of the dramatic arts. Add to that difficult task reading your audience to gauge the performance with each class as well and you have one of the most demanding acting jobs I know exists!

ChrisJ said...


I always think of each lecture as a performance; funny I never connected these dots before.

askcherlock said...

I would bet you were a terrific actor! I did plays in high school and college and thought about continuing. Then came my children. That sort of ended that.

Anyway it took me years before I came out of the closet and told anyone that I was a Thespian. :)

Ryhen | Mind Power said...

Hi ChrisJ. When I was in college, I got myself engaged in theatrical performances because it was a requirement in the course that I took. Never had that kind of experience, but I think it would be fun if it happened to me. There's a little sense of accomplishment whenever we (students) find a way of sabotaging projects we don't like. lol. I like your article. Reminds me of the good 'ol days.

Peace and respect,

ChrisJ said...


I hope you are considering taking it up again, or have you already?

ChrisJ said...


Lol - hope not too many of my own students do that.

I actually loved the project, but if I did have sabotage in mind, it would have been much better if it hadn't caused me embarrassment too!

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