Monday, October 02, 2006

An "Alarming" Experience

In this blog, I have already talked about my very first regular stage production. (Read about that here.) However, I have yet to mention my first acting experience with other people per se, as an adult. That is what I am doing today.

First let me say that I do not include childhood pageants and such. Some people do count them as acting experience, and I suppose, they technically are. However, given the usual mandatory nature of participating in them, as well as nearly everyone having been required to do some such things in their childhood, stories of that nature are excluded in this context.

With those boundaries established, my first acting experience would have been the exceedingly silly, The Still Alarm, by George S. Kaufman.

For those of you who are not familiar, it is a short piece about two men who find themselves in an upper floor of a burning hotel building, but are about as bothered by this as a normal person might be by a housefly. An ignorable inconvenience. I played one of said gentleman.

It was part of the acting class I took in college. I have mentioned the class, and it’s mechanics before; each student would pick a script, and present its positives and negatives to the whole class. Upon hearing the descriptions, if you liked someone else’s script more than yours, you could team up with that student, and run that scene for a grade, about three weeks later.

Sometimes, if a play was popular, you would have people fighting over it. This would sometimes result in the professor having to assign certain people to certain scripts, instead of being able to pick your own. Being new to the group, I was not in the mood to fight for my first choices. I ended up doing The Still Alarm. (I do not recall who proposed he script.)

I was coupled with two other people. Both of my acting partners for this fateful project, were athletes. Decent enough guys, fun loving in their own right. Yet it was never totally clear to me why they were in that class. (After that semester, it must not have been totally clear to them, as neither of them returned for the second semester of the year long course.)

There were some obvious set backs. Horrendous rehearsal schedules which had to be formed around various sports. A possibly marijuana induced difficulty with one of them remembering lines. The other one’s overwhelming need to improvise, without warning, in the middle of the scene. (Something our professor eventually instructed him to cease.)

I suppose it was a blessing in disguise. At least a small one. For up until that time, I had been shaky on my self confidence. I was not sure if acting, outside the world of school pageants, was in me. I knew of course, that the purpose of the class was to learn, and that looking bad was expected, but I was nonetheless unwilling to do so.

But with the partners I ended up with, I knew that despite my slight embarrassment at the end product, they were both going to make me look good when it came time to present the scene to the rest of the class.

Present it, we did. (Early fall of 1999, if you are keping track of that.) Somehow, it was not a total disaster. I remembered all of my lines, mental recall always being one of my strong suits in other endeavors. To the very best of my knowledge, acting partner number 1 had not been anywhere near his stash that day, and partner number 2 add-libbed only once to my recollection, that being in a very small way that did not distract me, as his previous plot changing impromptus had done.

Despite having survived, I had hoped I would not have to work with either of them on a scene again. It turns out, I did not have to. (Though years later I actually worked with Mr. Improvisation twice again for some performance related work, but under vastly different circumstances not related to the acting class.)

So despite it’s choppy waters, my first acting experience in college eventually made it to port, with minimal horror.

Not that every subsequent scene for that class went as smoothly. But that is a story for another time.

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