That’s me, with all the hair, holding on to the young Oliver Twist, circa 1986 I think. Yikes!
To this day, I have no idea how I got cast as Queen Isabella in third grade. I was a good reader and very expressive. I know we didn’t have auditions or at least I don’t think so. I mean, that was a long time ago. I sort of remember my costume. My mother made a crown out of cardboard, blue pop beads from a necklace of hers and aluminum foil. I wore Mom’s clear-plastic-but-looked-glass wedding shoes (from the 1930’s, this was the l960’s) that cramped my feet something awful but I would never have complained. Maybe I wore a white bathrobe as my gown. Heck, I don’t know.
But I do know one thing: I had wanted to be an actress since I was teeny. We lived in a huge old brick house in a small town in Kansas. It had three floors, four fireplaces, a front and back staircase (one for the servants to use, I guess but we had no servants) and two porches. One porch was on the second floor and enclosed and another porch was connected to the living room. On the upstairs porch, I spent many late afternoons and Saturdays playing dress up, making blanket forts under the ping pong table and dramatizing any and all books I had read or movies I had seen. There was no heat on the porch and I remember just about freezing off my toes in the dead of winter, and forget playing out there during those hot, hot Kansas summers! I’d go across the street to Lori’s house and have Orange Crush pop and soda crackers and bask in the breeze of her window air conditioner.
Mostly, I just pretended and pretended.
I kept real quiet about my pretending, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy and maybe I’d get in trouble with my parents. That seemed to be a great fear I had. I didn’t like to mess up and get those looks from them. The ones that said, “Oh my. We are ashamed of you.” I still can’t handle those looks from people.
Sorry, I digress…
Acting was a fabulous outlet for me! It was effortless and such fun! I still enjoy it. It is never stressful like directing can be for me. Don’t get me wrong, though. I enjoy directing even with all of its stresses. It is just very different from acting.
I remember ordering a kneeling boy (ironically named Christopher–maybe that’s why he got the part), “Rise, Christopher Columbus!” I gestured upward with my arm copying the high school girl portraying the Angel Gabriel I had seen in the annual community Christmas pageant. I guess I thought all important people gestured like that–queens, angels, presidents and the like. Even today when I direct a young child to gesture in the same way, I am reminded of my performance as Queen Isabella. Hopefully, they look better than I did.
It took me years to become proficient (I think it’s the best word to describe my acting) as an actress. I think I stunk at it pretty badly until I was way up in my twenties. When I look at myself in photos from a show I always remember what I felt like at the time the photo was taken and for me at least, it doesn’t feel at all the same on the inside as what I am projecting on the outside.
Some readers who have performed will understand me when I say that acting is a gift you give yourself. When an actor “finds the character”, it’s a huge surprise–like receiving a present one didn’t expect. There is something very mystical about acting and lifting my chubby arm to Christopher Columbus that first time in my life as an actress confirmed it. I was totally intrigued and excited. To this day, I still feel the same way. How many times can a person say that about life?