Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Becoming an Actor

If you take this book seriously, you are not an actor.
During my third year at Bob Jones University, due to my poor academic performance, a senior counseling major was assigned to meet me with me once a week. I don’t know enough about counseling or academics to know if on paper that was a good plan or not, but, regardless, I think it may have backfired – for both the counselor and the counselee. Well, maybe not so much for the counselee, but I’ll get to that in moment and the reader can decide. It most definitely backfired for Tom the counselor. By the end of the semester, I, the counselee, was an actor.

One quickish anecdote about the counselor and I before I get to the point of this post – My student counselor and I ended up becoming friends. Towards the end of that semester, like usual, BJU held an Artist Series[1]. At that point, I had already been “socialed”[2] so I wasn’t allowed to go with a girl to the event. Tom the counselor’s girlfriend wasn’t currently a student, so he and I decided to go to Artist Series together. In the spirit of fun and possibly to mask the fact that under BJU rules we were going on a date together, we decided to go to the local thrift store and buy the most outrageous clothes we could find to wear to Artist Series. We bought ugly plaid pants, frilly and brightly colored tux shirts, garish ties, and plaid suit jackets. Everything clashed with everything. Since Tom the counselor was a good BJU student, we had our ensembles checked by the Resident Dorm Counselor. The RDC laughed and cleared our outfits since technically we were wearing the required suit. At the Artist Series, we were stopped by several faculty and staff members who commented on our attire. All the comments were positive. A few days later, however, we received a summons to the Dean of Students office. To make a long story short, we received 50 demerits for making a mockery of Artist Series. The demerits didn’t really bother me, outside of throwing off my complicated demerit schedule, but Tom ended up being removed from his various positions of leadership.

That anecdote aside, possibly the most profitable thing (or least profitable, depending on whom you ask) to come out of the forced pairing of Tom and I was the career aptitude test that he had me take. I’ve already mentioned the test in another post, but for those who haven’t read it, the results of the test concluded that I should either be an airline pilot or an actor.

I’m convinced that Tom either administered the test incorrectly, graded it incorrectly, or I was just screwing around when I took the test; the latter being the most likely answer, although I don’t remember doing that. Regardless, the results gave me pause. For some reason that slips my mind, I was a speech minor at that time.  - A brief BJU history lesson – for the longest time, theatre as a major was technically verboten at BJU. From what I was told, Dr. Bob Jones Jr., an accomplished actor in his own right, snuck the major past the Board of Directors by calling it “Interpretive Speech.” It’s not as simple as I make it sound, but, for the sake of “brief” … -  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I was a speech minor. I hated giving speeches in front of people; I still do. But I was, and the previous semester I had taken a class titled Principles of Oral Interpretation. The best and easiest way to describe the class is as a type of pre-acting class that dealt mainly with traditional story-telling.

Throughout that semester I alternated between loving the class and hating the class. On the day that I had a speech/performance, I hated the class. There were roughly twelve students in the class, and all but two were theatre/speech majors. I felt inadequate and untalented compared to my classmates, and so I played that role. At the end of the semester, I received a card from my professor. In it, Mrs. Doris Harris wrote that “someone has convinced you that you have no acting talent, but they were wrong.” She added that one of her prayers for me was that I would learn to embrace my gift and use that gift to glorify God. At the time, the card was nice but I didn’t think much about it. When Tom told me the results of the career aptitude test, however, that card from Mrs. Harris immediately popped into my head.

For the sixth time in six semesters, I changed my major. I became an Interpretive Speech major and decided that I would be an actor. At the time, I thought that being an actor meant being a movie star. I loved going to the movie theatre, and my change in career plans heightened the experience for me. Walking out of movie theatres as the closing credits rolled was a very visceral experience for me. I would imagine people leaving after watching my name scroll past. They would file silently out of the darkness of the theatre, and the instant juxtaposition of the kitschy and loud movie theatre lobby would rub raw against the emotional wallop that John Ellis the movie star had just given them. At the time, I thought that emotional wallops could be delivered by movies like The Saint.

That summer, The Pensacola Little Theatre was producing To Kill a Mockingbird, and so I went to my first audition. I didn’t stay long. My girlfriend was waiting in the car for me, and she looked quite surprised when I opened the door and climbed in after being gone for a mere five minutes. “They’re doing simple acting exercises, and I’m more advanced than that” was my explanation for why I walked out before auditioning. I wish[3] that I was making that up. I wish that I hadn’t said that. But I did. I didn’t want her to know that I had been too frightened to even go inside the room.

Even though I was too scared to audition, had no idea what being an actor meant, and wasn’t even sure where to start, I began telling everyone that I was an actor. I went to every movie I possibly could, bought movie magazines, and began referring to myself and Val Kilmer in terms that let others know that he and I were basically peers. My dad snorted when I told him and dismissed it as a product of my being backslidden. My mom, attempting to find common ground, shared with me that she had been active in theatre in high school. Many of the responses were gratifying; I loved hearing people respond with, “How can a Christian be an actor?” That affirmed my calling. I was an actor, which, for many people around me, seemed to place me at odds with Christianity. The shadow that I saw when I heard Kenny Loggin’s tell me to “kick off my Sunday shoes” was now in full focus for me; I had found my new identity.  

[1] For those of you who don’t know what an Artist Series is, during my time as a dorm student, BJU would have several cultural events throughout the year that the students were required to attend. Artist Series were one of my favorite things about being a BJU student, so the attendance requirement was rarely a hardship for me. As a performer, however, I don’t want my audience to be made up of mostly bored college students who are forced to attend. Let them sit in their dorm rooms and do homework; that’s their loss.
[2] I had a math equation all worked out that depended on subterfuge and lying that ensured that I would be socialed at the end of the semester, so I wouldn’t be too inconvenienced, and be enabled to do pretty much whatever I wanted throughout the semester. If I had put as much energy into my classwork as I did my system, I’d probably be a college graduate.
[3] You have no idea how much I wish!

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