December 19th, 2007

Act Naturally

Song Info (from Beatlesongs): Early enough in their career to not have actually have been written by any of The Beatles, this song was written by Johnny Russell and Vonie Morrison. It was the last song recorded for the Help! album and was chosen specifically for Ringo to sing. The song was kind of prophetic in a way, as Ringo went on to act in more movies than any other Beatle and always played a Ringoesque character. Country star Buck Owens released this song two years prior to The Beatles doing so, and his version hit number one on the country charts. The Beatles version only ever got as high as 47.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I wasn’t in any plays in high school. It was my Senior year that I started to figure out that maybe I’d like to try that sort of thing, but I didn’t have the opportunity. When I hit college, I was still trying to get my footing when Jeff M. approached me about being in his Senior Recital. He needed to direct and put on a play for his and he asked me to try out for a specific part. I had gotten to know him a bit (our high school was on the same campus as the college I attended), but I still asked him, “Why me?”

“Oh, I just think you’d do a good job with the part,” he said.

So I tried out and got the part: a mentally-handicapped gardener who gets killed before the second act. Nice.

The advantage of being in a small college (around 800 students was the max during my time there) is that there are more opportunites to get involved in things. My brother went to a larger college (around 5,000 students), and some other people I’ve talked to that attended there didn’t have nearly as many opportunities. At my college, there was a “big” play every semester and there were generally a couple of Senior Recitals in any given semester, too.

With one play under my belt, I tried out for the big college play the next semester. Miss Senn was particularly urging me to do so, and that didn’t hurt any. I found out later that directors were always trying to get more guys to try out for plays because they never had enough, but at the time it felt nice. This play was a musical, and it’s because of it that I gained a loathing for Gilbert & Sullivan. The process was fun and I still enjoyed being on stage, but I did not care for the prancing about and the singing – I was, in fact, the first male voice to sing on stage in that play, and the part was a tad too high for me. I can still remember the line and the tune: “Good morrow, pretty maids. For whom prepare ye these floral tributes extraordinary?” The highest note was on “ex” and I squeaked it in every performance, I’m fairly certain.

Here’s a list of the plays I was in during my college years:

  • The Night Is My Enemy (recital) – I was the aforementioned gardener. It’s funny how many lines I still remember from this play.
  • The Gondoliers (school play) – Singing, wearing tights, and prancing about. That’s no way to go through life, son.
  • Flowers for Algernon (recital) – I was Charlie, so I went from mentally handicapped to genius to mentally handicapped again. It was at this early point in my career that I felt I was headed for typecasting.
  • Anastasia (school play) – I was one of the conspirators that presented the girl as the real deal. I remember Jack B. making fun of the one line I said (something like “Why did I let you talk me into this? Why? WHY?!?”), and I think it was partly the sitcom-y line and partly my ridiculous delivery.
  • A Man for All Seasons (school play) – Probably my favorite part. I was “The Common Man,” which had me being a jailer, a boatmen, an executioner, and several other parts. It gave a neat perspective to counter the “Great Man of History” shown in Sir Thomas Moore, and it was fun to play.
  • The Ugly Duckling (recital) – I was a replacement for a fellow who… well, was no longer at school. I joined the production with only two weeks left before performance, and I found that that was just about right for me. Everyone else already knew their parts, which helped me lear mine pretty quickly. I was the old king, so I got to “act” crotchety and a little senile.
  • The Robe (school play) – I was the main dude in this one, for whatever reason. I wasn’t actually a student anymore, either. I was working at the college after graduating, and the opportunity presented itself.

I might be missing some – in fact, I’m sure I am – but those are the ones I can recall.

I figured out pretty early on that people like to laugh, and if I could be the person making them laugh, maybe they wouldn’t be giving me facewashes. (For those who didn’t grow up in Wisconsin, a facewash is when snow is rubbed into your face. They’re about as fun as they sound.) My foray into being a class clown started in earnest right around the fifth grade, as I recall, borne of my experiences being picked on by the older kids I grew up around.

I’ve long wished there were a way for me to make a living at entertaining people, but it’s hard for me to think of it as worthwhile a worthwhile pursuit. A movie, a play, or even a stand-up comedian can make you think about life in ways you hadn’t before, but rarely is the experience life-changing.

The other half of that story is that I’m very much like Ringo: most of my “characters” are MadMupesque, just versions of me. I have a hard enough time maintaining a distinct character for a three-minute improv bit, much less anything longer.

So if you’re around me when I answer a question in a ridiculous accent or crack jokes at a time when people oughtn’t be cracking jokes, I hope you’ll have a little patience with me and understand it’s the entertainer in me wishing he could make a difference and trying the only way he knows how.

3 Comments on “Act Naturally”

  1. G-Knee says:

    They do need people for some of the play houses down in Indy, but some of the plays are less than Christian….ahem. Anyway, I thought you were in a Shakespeare (sp) play. maybe not.

  2. Daizie Girl says:

    You know – your latest blog entry reminds me of my friend Dustin. He has a sharp sense of humor and he gets great laughs a lot of the time – but sometimes it just doesn't go over well for a variety of reasons (timing, understanding, etc.) I admire him because he keeps trudging forward even when they don't work. I asked him about that one time and his response was great – "they can't all be golden". So he continues to throw it all out there without hesitation. There is a lot to be said for putting yourself out there and being real!

  3. markus says:

    I saw "Spamalot" over the holidays. You, Mark, would be a nice fit for several of the roles.

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