Sunday, October 18, 2009


One of the things I really enjoyed in school and in summer camp was being in plays. And one of the things that was great about being in plays was that it temporarily dissolved the lines between cliques, between the popular and the unpopular (the latter being me). There were some kids I never spoke a word to unless we were in a play together (I suppose because I felt I didn't deserve to assume that I could be even friendly with someone very popular). This was more the case in school than in camp, where I felt less set-apart. I went to the same school for ten years, and I think part of the problem was that we often had fixed ideas about each other that lasted for years and years. I never went to the same camp for more than three years so it was often a fresh start.

Here's what I didn't like about being in plays: although I had talent and got a lot of good parts, I was never, not once, cast as an ingenue or leading lady. The closest I ever got was a three-liner as a sexy maid. I got to be a snooty old aunt (Gigi), the ever-pregnant one in The Women, a quack doctor in Moliere, etc etc. Oh, I also got my share of male roles. Do you know how much that sucks for a pre-teen, or a tween, or whatever the hell you call 'em now?

I had such a poor self-image concerning my appearance. I was a little chunky when I was 8 or 9 but never noticed it when the baby fat fell away. I was actually adorable when I was eleven or twelve, and probably the only reason I didn't get ingenue roles was because I was, and am, short. I'm 5'2-1/2 now and probably had most of my height then. Oh, and I was, and am, flatchested. I'm overweight now and *still* flatchested, which doesn't seem fair at all.

I wish I could have enjoyed those character roles more at the time. I wish I could have appreciated how my various directors, particularly the late and wondrous Maurice Blanc at school, saw my talent and how I could bring it to some of these eccentric roles. He directed a production of Golden Boy and changed the role of the boy's father to a mother, just for me. At camp, the Actor's Workshop (the more DIY alternative to the big Summer Theater) cast me as the mother in Glass Menagerie, for God's sake! That's like, the best role in theater ever! But I was busy being disappointed that I never got a "pretty" part.

So I didn't take it up in college. I felt like I wasn't good enough. (I did, however, partly stage-manage a production of The Good Doctor which featured future comedian Andy Kindler, who may still have my Doctor Dentons from a scene where he played a little kid). It's kind of a shame, because if I had embraced character roles and embraced my particular talents, I might have been a pretty good comic actor. I had a friend from camp who would never be a leading lady -- she was actually very tall, and didn't have the right kind of look -- and I've seen her as an adult on stage in New York, doing her own funny monologues and characters and plays, working with what she had, which was a lot. It just wasn't a lot of stuff that gets you "pretty" parts. And those damn "pretty" parts are often not the best ones, anyway.

I should back up and say that I come from theater/acting wannabes all over my family. I grew up listening to show tunes. My dad probably loves show tunes more than any straight man alive. (My brother is the same way, only with opera.) Supposedly I could sing the score of Guys & Dolls when I was 6. My mother wanted to be an actress, and majored in it in college (she and my father met in a drama class), and did some local theater and TV in Philadelphia after she graduated. My dad always wanted to write the book and lyrics to an old-school Broadway musical (he did team up with a composer for a while on a decent project, but for various reasons, it didn't happen). My brother majored in theater too. (We both went to school with future stand-ups -- his was Colin Quinn.) My uncle directed a lot of local theater and opera in Philadelphia too.

I still love the original cast recording of Guys & Dolls and have it on CD, though I haven't listened to it for years. And PUH-LEEZE don't talk to me about that miscast abomination of a movie! Although I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the original cast, my dad took me to a Broadway revival with Hugh O'Brien as Sky Masterson, Jan Murray as Nathan Detroit, and the original Miss Adelaide, Vivian Blaine.

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