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Acting up

A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I used to perform. In fact, I moved up to the L. A. area so that I could pursue acting. I had a teaching job already. I loved teaching – it was what I studied in college and trained for. I loved children and loved feeling like I was really helping students learn. However, there was a big part of me that felt very at home performing and wanted to explore that part of me.

So, I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles.

The first step I took toward the acting “thing” was taking a class at UCLA the first summer I arrived. It was a short class, but I absolutely loved it. From there, I took an improv class. I found it both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I’d find myself getting stuck in my own head, and my teacher would yell, “Spit it the $@&% out!” and I would have to either say SOMETHING (ANYTHING in some instances) or get off the stage. It helped me get out of my own head and just learn to let go and follow the scene wherever it would lead me.

Over the next few years, I took a few more improv classes, and became a Universal Studio Guide. When I was a guide, I hooked up with an improv troupe that performed at colleges and in the Belly Room at the Comedy Store, which was great fun. The guides also put on a showcase where we had to audition, and then we performed for “industry” people. Though I only got one meeting with an agent out of it (who told me I had great potential but needed more training), it was great fun, and an all around great experience.

Eventually, I decided that I’d concentrate on teaching and give acting a rest. I saw friends sending out resumes and headshots each week and hardly getting any work, and I decided my ego was perhaps too fragile for the type of rejection the acting field promised. I also enjoyed teaching, and enjoyed the security of a regular paycheck, and left my own acting behind, and in it’s place taught improv, drama, and dance to my students.

Ten years after I stopped teaching to stay home with my children, and more than 15 years after performing on a regular basis, I started acting class again, thanks to a tip from a friend of mine. I signed up.  My first thought was, “This is going to be so much fun!” My second thought was, “Holy crap! What the HELL am I doing? I am so rusty I’m going to make a big jackass out of myself and my teacher will hand me my money back and ask me to kindly go home and forget acting altogether.”

But, the latter didn’t happen. Instead, I felt pretty good about what I was doing. I was rusty, sure, but like riding a bicycle, some things just came back to me. I found out soon after the first class that we’d be putting on a showcase. We’d each get assigned a scene and a partner to rehearse with, and at the end of 6 weeks, we’d invite friends and family and do the scene we’d been assigned. This sounded a little horrifying to me. I hadn’t been on a stage in YEARS, and the thought of putting up a scene after a few weeks seemed just insane to me.

But, I kept with it. The scene I was assigned was from “Silence of the Lambs.” After lots of rehearsing with my partner, we put the scene up for an audience. It went pretty well. I got very positive feedback from the teacher, my husband, and even some people in the audience I didn’t know. This is what propelled me to continue taking the class.

This time, we were given a scene that didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but had a lot of actions. It almost became a dance between my partner and I and at first it was so frustrating.  We had so many actions and had to keep doing them throughout the scene, while saying our lines and getting the timing just right. The first few weeks were a bit rough – I’m not going to lie. There were a few times I just wanted to throw the props out the door and ask the teacher for a new scene altogether. (And there were a lot of props.)

Somewhere around the 4th week, it seemed to click. I don’t know if we had our lines down so well the actions just came together, or what, but we found our zen in the scene and only got better from there. What started as a tiny, one minute scene became a dance between two actors, finding our give and take, moving around each other fluidly and finding our way through the scene. Toward the end, we tried all kinds of new ways to do the scene. One day we rapped the entire thing. Another day, we went out into my backyard and did the entire scene while hitting a birdie back and forth with badminton raquets. It wasn’t conventional, but it was energetic and truly give and take. She served it, I received it and hit it back, etc. It was so much fun, and so freeing.

Today we performed again. It didn’t go perfectly. In fact, some of our rehearsals were better than the performance was, but we got nothing but positive feedback from audience members and our teacher.

What I’ve gotten from these past few months is a reuinion with a creative part of myself. Acting gives me an outlet for emotions, creativity, and expression. It’s different from when I was in my 20s, when I really hoped I’d somehow make it a career. This time around, I knew going in that it wasn’t my life’s goal, but rather something fun to do for awhile. While I do hope that I can work towards children’s theater or even community theater at some point, for now, it’s enough to go to class and come away feeling like I worked my acting muscles, and did something purely for enjoyment. When I’m weary from running to school, appointments, activities, making lunches and dinners and breakfasts, doing laundry, managing everyone’s time, making sure homework is done, and all the other things that have a tendency to wear me out, getting out of the house and playing for a few hours is the best therapy I’ve had in awhile.

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