How to Become an Actress

Start out by wanting to be something, anything, more stable.  A doctor/engineer.  A biologist/engineer.  Lawyer.  Lose interest.  It’s better to lose interest early, so you don’t disappoint everyone.  They accept it, even if they won’t admit it, still.  Join a local theatre group, start acting.  Your parents like the involvement.  They come to every performance, to be the supportive kind of people.  Receive flowers at every show.  Go home and put them in a vase your mother has set out for you.  She believes in delaying their impending decay, maintaining an illusion of life.  By ten you’ve memorized simple lines, playing so many cutesy roles you go into diabetic shock.

In high school you work backstage; building, painting, moving sets.  You understand wood; the grain runs in one direction.  Build a platform to hold several actors, they will die on it, and then stand for applause.  Sit underneath that platform to hold a broken brace, feel the shaking on the platform as actors die.  Think about how you would portray their death, slow and drawn out.  Think about the lighting, after looking at the red light everything white seems green.  In the hallway before auditions Ms. Makigam encourages you to try out for a role.  Go home instead; convince yourself that you did not care for it.  Study your advanced biology book.  Recombinant DNA, transfer DNA, messenger DNA.  Read how they work together to create an organism, collaborating.

Apply to a liberal arts school; plan to be a biology major.

As a liberal arts student you must take a freshman seminar.  You are interested in animals.  Sign up for “The Animal Mind”.  Receive your class schedule.  The computers have an error and place you in a theatre seminar.  You go to it, even though there is still space in the animal class.  Walk into class, all girls, two guys.  Say hello, try to be friendly to strangers.  Someone with glasses smiles back.  Stick with the class, you know it all, stay anyway.  Personalities develop in the class, no longer faces with or without glasses.  Discuss artistic vision, difference between script and play.  Go see a production and maneuver your way through writing a paper analyzing the use of scenery.  Notice all the mistakes you would fix, notice the mismatched paint.  Criticize the production, until, until you can not like it.

Conclude you like college.  Meet many new people, some are nice, some are not, some are completely fake.  Fake nice right back to all of them.  Become the person everyone goes to for useless information, you’re the source.  Notice that you’re not the smartest, but not the dumbest.  Resign yourself to view people as characters in your own play.  Create your own subtext for the affairs in your dorm.  Watch the boy across the hall lust after his roommate’s girlfriend, imagine a secret love affair where they call each other by code names and meet in the stairwell near the laundry.  Realize you want that love affair; realize you want someone to meet in a secret stairwell.  Perhaps you can find that.  Go out to a party with people from your dorm; drink a few drinks to many.  Wake up the next morning with no memory of how you got to bed, the obliteration is nice, not the headache.

Over the next year start acting.  One small role, then the next.  No longer the darling innocent character, instead play deep troubled souls.  Switch from sugary to bitter roles, like switching from sugar to black, no risk of shock.  Join the theatre club.  Design lights for the student show, something simple, nothing big.  Notice you spend less time in your biology books and more in the arts center.

Call your mother.  Talk to her about mundane things.  Avoid telling her how much time you spend in the theatre.  Avoid commenting on how much you drank last night or whom you slept with.  She doesn’t need to know his name: John, Paul, or something like that.  You’ve never talked about important details, why start now?  Listen to routine events she hosts.  She believes that genealogy is the new latest craze, and explains your entire heritage, all, back centuries.  Zone out and respond in tones only a computer could emulate.  Casually mention taking another theatre class, dance around the topic.  Do not tell her your advisor tells you to pick a major you are interested in.  Do not tell her about the declaration form, somewhere under empty coffee mugs, that has theatre in bold letters smeared across the page.

Get involved with someone, remember his name.  He tells you to go for it, you switch your major.  Cuddle, kiss, and whisper character tactics to him in your sleep.  Hear him tell you: “I love you” under the haze of smoke he spews from the corners of his mouth.  Pretend you have a coughing fit, avoid his gaze all night.  Tell him the next day you can’t see him for a while, too many rehearsals.  Hang up the phone and reread the note of rejection for your audition.  Your roommate notices your lack of eating, sleeping, and smiling.   She takes you out for a tall drink.  Get drunk, call your boyfriend and tell him things are moving too fast.  Fall asleep with one sock on, no shirt, and no blankets.

Go home for the holidays.  Your mother will leave out articles about successful biologists or psychologists.  Ignore them.  Bake cookies with her like there is nothing different.  She will ask: “Didn’t you want to study ethnology?”

Tell her: “Theatre’s my thing.”

She’ll say:  “For now.  Sure, it’s a good hobby.”

Finish college.  Finish with the papers and speeches.  Four years of listening to teachers lecture the same thing so many times they’ve become record players skipping over the same bit, over and over.  Go to commencement where everyone else is discussing their new office job or what grad school they’ll attend.  When they ask tell them you’re not sure.  Watch as everyone files across the stage.  Wonder how many of them will succeed, how many will sit in their executive chairs wondering whether black or blue ink is better.  That’s one question their private college didn’t provide them with the answer, black or blue.  Examine the thin sheet of paper meant to represent all you have learned over the past four or so years.  Resist the urge to fold the program into an airplane and hurl it at the speaker who explains how much college is worth.  As if the college loans don’t already represent how much you should know.

Get employed as a stage hand.  Move sets.  Watch as the designers fumble with ludicrous plans.  Watch as actors go through the motions; create flat, boring characters.  If people were that flat everyone would blow away in the lightest wind.  Start to wonder why you got into the business.  Ask yourself: Does anyone care?  Does anyone put effort into it?

Quit that job.  Work as a waitress, while you get rejected for television ads.  Make fake friends with the other employees so you aren’t at the bar alone each night.  Finally get employed at a comedy club working as a stage manager.  Run lights and sound as well.  Get a union card, get dental insurance, and get health.

Sooner or later you begin acting again.  Talk to your mother and hear that she has cancer.  They no longer come to see you perform.  Send them flowers; promise to come home soon, when, and if you get enough money.  Get home in time to say goodbye.  Then leave because the house is too quiet.

Withdraw from contact.  Soon the only emotion and personal interactions are your acting roles.  Find yourself too drained to be more than a white blob outside of costume.  Go on a few speed dates, hook up, and forget their names.  Tell one guy you’re an actress.

“Oh,” he responds and continues to scribble incoherent nothing on your card, writing even t


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