This comes from my Booby Naked collection of personal stories. Before making that film, he had already written and directed home movies, starting at the age of 9. Do you remember drama club? Drama club was all we had. There are two essential qualifications to be an actor. First, you had to be loud. Second, you had to be able to read and memorize lines.
Luckily I could, and after a 6th grade drama class with Mrs Filardo, I was ready. Filardo was an actress; everything was a lavish gesture; she spoke precisely and carefully. She was from New York, the home of Broadway. She made us do breathing exercises, lying down on the carpet, during class. I loved that stuff. I was Man Two. I had exactly one line. But it was a terrific line! I was married to Woman 2 , a Tall and extremely cute 8th grader who had five or six lines.
I thought that the mere association with Woman 2—we were after all married—would provide a boost to my social life. The play could be boiled down to one joke. It was awful.
Here was my single line:. Woman 2 starts talking about her pet rock named Nickie. Nickie had a cold and a temperature and was coughing all night. Man 2. Oh, yes, I heard him talk. And I also hear bells. And Whistles. And I see dancing ostriches. Great big purple dancing ostriches! Now to you this line may have seemed dumb, but in middle school the speech brought howls of laughter, and even a little applause. It was the big line of the play. We did 5 performances. I had practised this line over and over in front of the mirror at home, but I had never let my parents hear.
But when I came onstage that night and the play began, there was a problem. Someone messed up a line and skipped an entire page of dialogue; they had skipped over my line. Woman 2—my wife— still had several lines left, but I had none. I played the boy on the street corner. When Scrooge wakes up and realizes it was all a dream, he goes outside and calls a random boy on the street.
Scrooge: Hey, Boy, you know that shop down the corner that sells turkeys? Me: You mean the one with the turkey as big as me? Me: Yes, sir! Running away.
And then my big break happened. We were doing a murder mystery. I played one of the bystanders, when suddenly the killer had to drop out; he was failing algebra. So I become the killer. Oh, my fall was great. Falling was something I had a natural talent for.
I made sure my parents got to see that. The next year I did minor roles. I played Officer Delaney, this dumb cop who was chasing after a teenage hoodlum wrongly accused of stealing a car.
Then I went to speech tournaments. I did duet acting, interpretive prose, dramatic interpretation. I was good—or so I believed. In the semifinal round, I found myself competing against two black guys. They had timing, grace and total command of the audience.
I had never seen such talent before. Then I saw a girl — my age— read a story about her dying mother. She alternated between poetry and song and dialogue and tears and laughter—it was incredible. I was crying! I never cried at movies, but this girl—this talented girl—just made me cry. She was that good. It left quite an impression. These people were actors. I was not. I did not belong in their club. Sure, I went through the motions.
But I knew no matter how hard I tried, I could never reach the level they had already reached. Drama, I realized, was not my thing. But what WAS my thing? Basically I had to use a drawl and act rich.
But in my heart, I knew this was an awful part for me. I was a Yankee. On Go Western day, me and my siblings were totally clueless, totally out-of-place. My mother would ask us if we wanted to have Teh-cos for dinner. The other thing was this play had songs. Ever since the 5th grade, I vowed never to sing in public.
I was in 4th grade choir, and I enjoyed it, but when 5th grade came along, a new music teacher came, along with the requirement that we had to audition individually. I still remember that audition. The woman played the piano, while I tried to sing. But nothing came out. I started singing, and the woman looked at me with a perplexed, almost horrified expression. But as luck would have it, they changed the rules, and everyone was admitted into choir anyway. I sang in a special section. But how do I tell the drama teacher about my lack of musical talent?
She said the cowboy had to sing in a group number, no solo. So I agreed. Shoppe wanted to do a musical rehearsal. I was terrified. I ended up staying home from school for an entire week and a half just to avoid drama club.
I would watch TV while thinking about the classes and rehearsals. But when I heard what came out—I became nauseous. Finally after a week, I returned. I knew I had to face the music, and besides, Mom was growing suspicious. So I come to rehearsal, nervous and eager to get it over with. Then, Mrs. This was my nightmare raised to the fifth power. So I sang the song quickly, and after my song was over, I felt relief. But we still had to watch that videotape. And when we came to my song, a miracle occurred; there was no laughing or snide looks or comments from the teacher.