(This summer, I read a memoir written in second person: House of Prayer No. 2. It was weird. It inspired me to produce some second person detailing a dismal dabble in community theater.)
Say you join an acting class because you want to be in a play and you think the other people who are signed up will be recently divorced women and you could act as well as any of them. You show up to the Main Street theater and your classmates are kissing each other and referring to plays they’d been in—Every night we did Cat it was like a difference performance; the energy was amazing—and talking about the haunted ballroom—I was painting scenery one night, and I swear, the can flew off the ladder right at my head. I’ve never been so scared in my life—and you realize that all these people know each other and have performed together and you wonder if there was a prerequisite for this class.
But during introductions, there’s the film director who moved to North Dakota because she met a guy on the internet and she’s waiting for him to retire so they can move somewhere else, and the ripped guy with the long, black braid from the utility company across the street who says he wants to do something besides stare at a computer during his free time and who doesn’t come back after the first class, and a shy girl who’s painted scenery but never tried acting before.
When it’s your turn to introduce yourself you decide not to say that you want to be in a play and instead make up something smarmy about how you’re always asking your students to do things that are hard for them, so you want to keep challenging yourself. Then you silently gag.
The first class, you have to lay on the floor to relax and tense your muscle groups, and everyone has brought yoga mats but you and a kid with rotten teeth. You have old bath towels. Later, when you and the kid are assigned to read a script together you wonder if that’s how the teacher decided who to pair. You can tell the kid really wants to be an actor. He takes a cab to class and one time after the class had been moved to an old college building because people were rehearsing for a real play in the theater, and then it was moved back again, the kid took the cab to the wrong place and couldn’t pay the fare back to the theater. When you go to the season announcement party, you see him schmoozing with the seasoned thespians. You feel sorry for him, because when you practice a scene from Retreat to Moscow, you can tell he can’t read very well. Then you think maybe the director put you together because you’re a teacher.
Also on the first day, the director has everyone form two rows along the edges of the narrow practice room in the basement. One at a time, you walk down the center and everyone tries to decide from which part of your body you lead. He leads from his shoulders…her knees… his forehead. For the life of you, you can’t figure out where they’re getting this. When it’s your turn, you try to forget that in real life you deliberately avoid walking in front of people who may look at you. You remind yourself that you paid $30 for the class, and what was the point if you’re not going to do what he tells you? So you walk the gauntlet as naturally as humanly possible and the director says you lead from your abdomen. That’s a very earthy, maternal way to lead he says. Are you a mother? Do you have children? You say no, and he looks dejected and you feel sorry for him and say that you work with children at school. He brightens and says Yes. It’s also common for women who are around children a lot! You begin to think he’s making this all up as he goes along.
At the third class, it’s obvious you kind of suck. Once, after you read a different script with two other girls because the kid took the cab to the wrong place, the director told you you had some natural instincts and the classically trained singer in the front row with red streaks in her hair and blue lipstick rolled her eyes. You realize you squandered your chance at community theater when you lived in PoDunk and the only requirement to be in a play there was upward mobility. That was because the theater was in some guy’s hayloft.
One night after class you and the director and the kid with the rotten teeth and two other classmates are talking and you ask if you have to be able to sing to try out for a musical. The director says there are some parts where you sing in a group. You should audition he says in the same voice you tell a first grader It’s OK. Don’t worry about it after he’s shut the door on your foot and the cuticle of your big toe is gushing blood on the carpet.
You know, don’t go into it really wanting a part, just go in for the experience he says. Which is even funnier because when he gave auditioning advice during class, he told everyone to go into an audition one hundred percent. Be confident. Give it everything you’ve got.
They keep talking and someone mentions an idea for a Christmas show that combines the theater company and the symphony and smarmy holiday cheer. That should get those stingy Republicans to open up their wallets and support the arts says one of your classmates. You don’t tell them you are a stingy Republican with a tight wallet because you figure that will blackball you from any show forever. The conversation ends and everyone drifts to their cars and you think Well it was only six bucks a class.
And thus ends your unremarkable foray onto the stage.