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Last updated on August 9th, 2017 at 02:54 pm
James Lileks recalls his acting career:
The next year I tried out for the role of “Tommy” in a college production of “Ah, Wilderness.” (Little Country Theater, NDSU, May, 1969) I got the part, and did the entire show without my glasses, so the memories are literally all a blur. But I saved everything. Including my notices, of course.
I was the first actor on stage. In the runthrough before opening night I tripped on the steps and went head-first through the door.
I’ve done worse. In one school Shakespeare production I attempted to sprint off stage through a curtain just as stage hands were moving a hefty prop behind it. It appeared to a puzzled audience that I’d collided with solid fabric.
One year on I had a tiny role in a ludicrous production of The Good Woman of Setzuan. There’s a courtroom scene in this Brecht yawner that I tried to make more realistic by instructing fellow actors (in our roles as a raucous courtroom crowd) not to leave when ordered to do so by the kid playing a court attendant. The intention was to compel him (unaware of our plan) to use actual physical force.
It worked. Too well.
In rehearsals, the attendant (a considerably larger kid, as it happens; useful at football) had given his command and we’d meekly filed off stage. On opening night, things went a little differently. “Clear the court,” he yelled, or whatever the line was. Nobody moved. “I said, clear the court,” he repeated, believing we’d merely missed our cue.
I hadn’t considered the intensifying effect of first-night anxiety. The boy advanced on us, suddenly not acting at all. “Get the hell off!” he shouted, grabbing wildly at defiant children. “I told you to move, so MOVE!” I ducked beneath his windmilling arms and escaped. Behind me, kids began screaming as their enraged classmate lunged at them. Someone thumped backwards into the set, possibly thrown by the unwitting method actor. I think one or two of the braver kids actually tried to return to the stage, post-eviction; big mistake, because our friend had now found his rhythm, and was dealing mercilessly with the small, unathletic drama students.
Acting. It’s a brutal craft.