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Monday, August 4, 2008

Almost Famous, Part 1

I never acted before I joined the Sixth Borough. However, I did make an initial attempt to become an actor about five years ago when I signed up to take acting lessons at a community theater located in North Jersey. I did not learn too much about the craft of acting in this class, but I did learn that weird people in uncomfortable situations makes for a great time. As such, I took copious notes of my experiences in this class. Here they are, for your public consumption.



“I’m here because there’s this one movie that I love? And I wish I could always be in i? And I never knew if I had what it takes to make it? The movie’s called Steel Magnolias?”

“Get out of town. Just get out of town RIGHT NOW! That’s my favorite movie, too! And I wish I could have been in, too!”

The following exchange occurred between two middle-aged, Interchangeable Housewives. They were sitting across from me in the leaky, asbestos-filled basement of Montclair, NJ’s 12 Miles West Theater. And the reason I overheard this exchange was because we were taking an acting class together.

I guess some of my classmates were taking the class because of a craven, misplaced and desperate desire for fame. Others were just looking for fun. Me? The reason I was looking to take this acting class was for the sole purpose of attempting to get laid. This was from looking at the experiences of my brother. He looks like me, we have the same sense of humor, but he slept with a lot of girls. Me? Not so much. And the one difference between us – he’s a professional actor, and I’m not.

And within the first 30 seconds of taking this class, I was confounded with a question. Was this class the biggest mistake of my life? Or was it the best decision I ever made?

Our instructor’s name was Bob, an even more flamboyant version of Jm. J Bullock. He talked like every audience member of Behind The Actor’s Studio – that annoying, super-serious “artistic” voice. After introducing himself to us, he began to speak in a series of New Age Platitudes such as “We are on a journey to find ourselves and each other” and “there is something we need to get out of this, something we may not even realize we need.”

We sat around in a circle, where after Bob’s introduction we introduce ourselves. There were a few other people in the class with me. I have to refer to them by their nicknames because, apparently, it’s not a good teaching technique to know the names of your classmates. They were, in order:

THE INTERCHANGEABLE HOUSWIVES – the aforementioned Steel Magnolias fans. One wore a shirt with a cat on it, the other spoke like every sentence was actually a question? There was no other way to tell them apart.

THE CUTE GIRL – A very cute girl in her mid-20’s. She looked kind of like the WWE’s Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, except without the years of cocaine-fueled sex romps.

THE VOICE BOX GIRL – Another girl in her mid-20’s who sounded like Fran Drescher with a throat cancer box.

THE HEMAPHRODITIC GERMAN – A German woman missing breast tissue, giving her a haunting transgendered appearance.

THE OVERLY COMPETITIVE HINDU – An Indian man in his 40’s who, when asked why he was taking the class, responded by saying “My 12-year-old son acts at his middle school. He’s a good actor. But I know if he’s good, I can be a great actor.”

THE CLASS JUNKIE – An older man in his 60’s, grey-haired and bespectacled who described himself as a “class junkie” because of his love of various classes offered in community centers located throughout suburban Essex County. This piqued my interest and, later that night, I looked into taking a ceramics class at James Caldwell High School. (I didn’t.)

And a few other people whom didn’t say anything particularly interesting.

After our introductions, Bob instructed us to focus on a certain, exact point in the room and breathe. And breathe. And breathe some more. And then, he said, for all of us at once we had to say what we were looking at. I thought this was a chance to make The Cute Girl laugh.

“I see the face of the Virgin Mary.”

She didn’t.

Bob then told us to pretend we were getting into our car, taking a trip to the grocery store, where we were to purchase an orange and then eat it. Then, he asked us how we felt about this experience.

“It really affected me,” said The Overly Competitive Hindu he said in his “o” voice. “I’m a real orange guy. I mean, I eat oranges alllllll the time.”

Bob then told us visualize ourselves in our “personal fear zone.” Everyone had to say theirs at once. Naturally, I did not say anything (as I am a man without fear) and instead eavesdropped on others.

The Voice Box Girl was the easiest to hone in on. “I’m in a bedroom. There are books by Jay Leno all over the place.” I started to laugh. How do books written by Jay Leno cause 20-ish girls panic attacks? She heard me laughing at her and then gave me a dirty look.

We then returned to our chairs to discuss our personal fear zones. The Hempaphroditic German said she thought of laughing children playing in her driveway. Class Junkie said he couldn’t think of one particular place, but instead thought about the time he battled prostate cancer.

I went next. I wanted to say what I was thinking: “My fear zone is being trapped in a basement with you people.” Instead, I made up something about the dark woods behind my grandfather’s house.

The Cute Girl said her fear zone was her ex-boyfriend’s house. I took that as a sign that she wanted to sleep with me.

Class concluded with all of us having to say what our “dream role” was. After the Interchangeable Housewives both admitted their love of Sally Field vehicles, the Hemaphroditic German said she wanted to play a villainess “in anything, whatever.” The Overly Competitive Hindu said he wanted to play Samuel L. Jackson’s in Pulp Fiction. (The foot-rub debate scene would have been awesome with this re-casting.)

I said I wanted to star in a Vagina Monologue. Not one of my classmates laughed, even though some of them had vaginas.

Bob, the possible life-partner of Tim Gunn, said his dream role was to play the “American James Bond.”

After I left class, I wondered if I wanted to return. The Cute Girl was pretty cute and, most importantly, seemed emotionally vulnerable due to her fear of her ex-boyfriends house. However, she said that she wanted to star in a musical, and the last thing I ever wanted to do on a date was watch Newsies. And sitting in a poorly lit basement while I’m forced to do karmic breathing wasn’t exactly my idea of a fun Tuesday night. I would never use any of these relaxation techniques if I ever needed to clear my head at home. After all, that’s why God allows us to masturbate to Telemundo soap operas.

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