master class

JAZZ HANDS, 1983

We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else. – Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I had an email yesterday informing me that auditions were open for a Master Class with a director I knew long ago. My acting career was short lived. Actually, if there is a descriptive that falls between short-lived and nonexistent, I believe it would be more fitting. I haven’t acted since college, but by the age of fourteen, I certainly knew I didn’t want to do it professionally. And I have that director to thank for it.

From as early as I can remember, I loved to perform. Sing “Happy Birthday” to me in a restaurant and I’d hide beneath the tablecloth, but standing on stage before a hundred people I’d happily sing, act or dance. Looking back at a long gone Disney show I was on a few episodes of with my grandmother, I’m surprised to see I didn’t play to the camera. At five, I was more comfortable in front of a camera than I am now. In a tutu or sporting jazz hands, above.

The summer before high school, I spent my second year at a Shakespearean drama camp I loved. We had improv and dance classes, stage combat, fencing and costume making. Most of the kids there had parents in the industry, below- and above-the-line. Maybe their parents, like mine, felt it was fine and well if we wanted to join the family circus, but first you had to study. I mean, this was the sort of place where one sent their six-year-olds to play Pyramus and Thisbe instead of making lanyards and swimming all day.

Each summer season ended with a performance of various scenes from Shakespeare’s works in the great amphitheater nestled in the canyon. Initially, I was disappointed when I was cast as Gertrude in Hamlet – at fourteen I wanted to play Ophelia or Juliet or Kate. The Prince of Denmark’s mother? Not so much. Yet I took my director’s words to heart, the gravity and the burden of telling Laertes that his beloved sister, Ophelia, was dead. I would practice my lines in the early evenings, pacing around our swimming pool. (I didn’t see the irony then.)

One day during rehearsal, we had a guest. An actress and director, she of the Master Class. She was the head of the theatre company that held the camp. For whatever reason, on this particular day, I decided to reblock my entrance. It just seemed right that I should come through one doorway instead of the other. My director asked what I was doing. The visiting director was livid. And deservedly so. Who was I to reblock my entrance? I didn’t have an answer for her. I was mortified. Too embarrassed to cry. She said, You’re an actress, not a director. And in that moment, I realized I wanted to be on the other side of the stage. I thought my entrance was better through door number two. It wasn’t my place to make that decision, but I wanted it to be.

I began high school that fall, and I began to write with a new sense of excitement and purpose. I wanted what was on the page to come to life. That moment of shame was a gift in disguise. It saved my parents years of tuition studying drama at Yale for naught. (Humor me. I was fourteen. I thought anything was possible.)

I grew up hanging around sets and cutting rooms, seeing all the hurry up and wait of making movies, and yet, I loved nothing more than reading a script and seeing those words come alive on stage and screen. I loved the words. Loved watching people transform into the characters on the page. I realized I didn’t want to play those roles as much as I wanted to create them. Blocking entrances as I deemed fit.

I deleted the email. I wasn’t interested in the workshop. I took her Master Class that summer afternoon years ago, and it had made all the difference. xo a.

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4 thoughts on “master class

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