Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Act naturally

Watching the Oscars the other day reminded me of my own limited acting career.

I'd never thought much of being an actor. Even as a kid, I think I knew I had a face for radio. I had yet to discover I also had a voice for print, but at that point, I was plenty happy just being the kid who made you laugh.

So when my friend Felicia, who lived across the street, mentioned she wanted to put on a play for the neighborhood, I didn't know if it was something I wanted to do.

When she said that I'd be the lead, I decided that maybe I should give it a shot.

It was a short little story. I don't know if it had an official title; if it did, it probably was something like "My Dog."

The story: A kid (me) wants a dog. His mom and dad (Felicia and her brother, Nathaniel) say that he needs to work to improve his grades. Our studious student buckles down and brings up his grades. His efforts are rewarded with a new puppy (my brother Josh, in his debut role).

I think I had about the easiest role. I didn't have to dress up, and I basically got to be myself. My brother had to look remotely like a dog, which meant that he got to don a pair of pantyhose on his head for ears. We had to color in part of the pantyhose with a Magic Marker so it all matched.

The hardest part for me was being able to emote on cue. In rehearsal, I had a big problem. Felicia said that I wasn't excited enough. I would have felt dumb jumping up and down about a dog, especially since I didn't like dogs.

During the performance, it came time for my big line. I decided at the last minute to take a different kind of approach.

"Oh boy," I said, completely deadpan, "a dog." The crowd -- our parents, a neighbor or two and a few other kids -- laughed. Getting the biggest laugh was the high point for me, and we decided that we should come up with another play -- maybe something a little longer.

So, just a week or so before my 10th birthday, our second effort made its debut in Felicia and Nathaniel's front yard. Such seasoned veterans were much too experienced for simple things like "My Dog," so we came up with a blockbuster. Add equal parts "Ghostbusters," "Strange Brew" and "Magnum, P.I.," and you had our play: "McKenzies, G.I." (Ghost Investigators).

I love that we predated the Sci-Fi Channel by a good decade or so for coming up with features ripped off of other popular movies.

Again, I was one of the leads. I don't remember much of the story, but I know the subplot involved a reunion with a girl from my past. How much of a past a 9-year-old had, I don't know, but that's what we came up with. My brother played the ghost in this one, a step up from being a puppy.

"McKenzies, G.I." was another success, but it was our last play. On our limited effects budget, we couldn't really top ourselves. It did give me the idea to try out for the school play a few months later. I'd toyed with the idea each time they announced one.

I'd never auditioned before, so I didn't know if I'd done well or not. I found out when they announced the cast over the intercom system. I'd made it. I didn't know what role I had, but I knew that I could make it funny.

I don't think I made it to even the first meeting. That's when my parents broke the news to me that we were moving soon. I had to quit the play.

And aside from a few school projects, I never acted again.

Aside from acting like I was paying attention in class.

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