When you sit in the glow of ignorance everything seems easy. ‘I can do that’ or ‘no sweat’’ ring from the mouths of bystanders. That’s what I thought when my wife suggested I take an acting class at NYU. I responded in my best Robert DeNiro imitation, “You talkin’ to me. You talkin’ to me.”
At one time or another, we all mimicked one of those great dramatic lines: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or of more recent vintage “You want the truth … you can’t handle the truth.”
So off I went to acting class, where there were about 18 aspiring actors: seventeen 20-30 year olds and me –all 68 years of me. Laurence, armed with a MFA from Yale in acting, was the teacher/director. We sat in a circle and went to work on a relaxation exercise — closing our eyes and shaking the tension out of us from our feet to cheeks [at both locations!]. Then we stood in a circle, put our hands on our diaphragms and grunted.
So far, so good – I had no problem loosening my lips by flapping them or grunting loud [most guys can do this, it’s in the genes]. But then we moved to ‘sense memory’.
We had to pretend we were drinking hot coffee or tea from an empty cup. I watched each classmate pick up the cup and cautiously put cup to lips and pretend to drink. One young woman caressed the cup gingerly with both hands and slowly sniffed the faux tea’s aroma with eyes closed, and then in glacier like motion with her nose a fraction of a centimeter above the non-existent liquid put her lips to the cup in an orgasmic trance. Wow, I thought, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
My soiree into sense memory included scarfing down my hypothetical vente bold coffee with cream and one Equal as if it were a shooter of Wild Turkey. Hot coffee? So much for sense memory.
From my experience in the classes, Laurence asked me to participate in a full-length play. The cast included, of course, six 20-30 ‘somethings’ and me, who could remember Harry Truman as president. I learned several things as a result of this generation gap.
First, ‘mature’ minds worked differently. “A man’s got to know his limitations”, particularly when it comes to memorizing twelve pages of dialog. My youthful colleagues mastered the lines in a matter of days as I struggled until opening night. Talk about pressure!
My defense was that youthful minds can easily recollect facts, but older minds [like mine] grasp subtleties and the depth of concepts.But there was another issue. Learning lines and actually doing things like walking or pouring a drink on cue is no easy task. Now I know where the quip about walking and chewing gum comes from! Rehearsals for me went like this:
“I was very fond of Kathy …”
[Oh God, I’m having a brain fart. Do I get up now and get the drink or after the next line?]
“… but, but, but…”, I stammered.
Oh, darn! … line … line … “What’s the next line”, I pleaded.
But Laurence was supportive, “You’re beginning to get the character. Keep smiling in the role.”
Opening night was tougher than in my old life when I faced 500 irate, rabid taxpayers looking for blood. Laurence was encouraging – all of a sudden he took on a Robin William-esque stature and said, although in different words, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
The cast gathered in a circle and gave each other a “here’s looking at you” hug. Encouraging, but fear still stalked me as I nervously ran down my lines for a last ditch effort to avoid a “Hasta la vista, baby” moment. Then fear subsided as I heard the audience’s laughter and I thought, even if I blow a line, what the hell, they would never know it anyway. After all, “tomorrow is another day.”
Well, I did blow a couple of lines – how do brain farts happen? But I found that they are not age related. In a grand way, my colleagues were supportive and understanding.
Maybe some day, Laurence will again “go ahead, make my day” and make me another offer I “can’t refuse”.