The Value of Theatre

I just finished a run for a show today (mentioned previously – 42nd Street), which is always sad, and now I’m feeling nostalgic. So, get ready for one of my more personal posts.

Though I call myself Malcolm the Cynic, I portray a pretty happy front here. I’ve been published recently, I’ve been networking with various authors, I got into a show, and I was asked to write with the crew at Superversive SF. But, of course, that’s not the whole story.

Let me back up first.

Going into my junior year of high school I was doing much better than I was in middle school, because unlike in middle school (where I’d gotten into multiple fights) the guys in my Catholic high school tended to leave me alone as long as I didn’t bother them. Over time, thanks to cross-country, track, and sheer inertia (always being around the same people for certain sections of the day), I made friends. Though I visited their homes a few times, we weren’t that close, and I lived a good half hour away from everybody else. Visits were possible but had to be pre-planned.

When I was a junior loneliness and stress at my schoolwork got the better of me, and I had what I’ll call for lack of a better term a minor panic attack. I was finally convinced that I needed to do something I enjoyed more than sports (which I did more because they were there than because I really enjoyed them). Originally I was just going to do stage crew, but I was talked into trying out for the school plays by a loved one.

I’ll never forget my first drama club meeting Everybody in the play knew everybody else, and the typical freshman to senior distinctions were virtually non-existent. One of the directors knew me because she had recently called my spanish class a group of, and I quote, “cretinous reprobates”. The other director ended the rehearsal with a monologue from the musical “Nunsense”.

Well, I auditioned, and to my great shock I ended up with, all told, seven callbacks, and later ended up with the largest role I got called back for. That role was for Bellomy in “The Fantasticks”, and I can still remember the words to every song in that show. The cast was tight-knit, and I discovered that I really loved acting.

The first long conversation I ever had with a female was because of that show (I am not even slightly exaggerating, by the way – Yes, I was that bad). I made friends, and my other friends ended up getting involved in various capacities, and we became a lot closer.

Everything changed for me. Suddenly I was talking to people, and we were working on something bigger than ourselves. As anybody involved in a true “team” sport will tell you (track has teams, but its not the same) this will inevitably create a bond. My social skills improved a billion fold (meaning I went from “incapable of talking to anybody but my friends” to “awkward but friendly and able to carry a conversation”), and I was able to RELAX and enjoy myself.

I could go on more about how much my life changed because of theatre, but suffice to say that I could confidently call myself happy. Though I had other issues during my senior year, at least I had friends.

It would be a gross exaggeration to say theatre saved my life. I was not, and never have been, depressed, which is a mental illness that I thankfully have never had to experience the horrors of, and suicide wasn’t even close to on the radar. However, it would NOT be an exaggeration to say that before theatre my life was dull and pathetic, and I was miserable and lonely. Without theatre saving me, I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me.

Well, I left high school, and left behind most (though not all) of my friends, and got involved in schoolwork. Now I was working evenings, and was at school during the day, and commuting forty minutes to school and back. My social life disappeared, and with it, my social skills. I became unable to talk to people outside of a classroom context. Extracurricular activities vanished, and I only communicated with people online (this, by the way, is one reason I actually dislike the folks who yell about living our social lives online. You really think I didn’t want to talk to my friends in person? It was online or we were never speaking again). I started the blog around when I started to get really lonely and miserable again.

During the summer I considered auditioning for a local show, but didn’t like the choices offered. Finally, this year, a loved one half-bullied me into it.

It was the best thing to happen to me since I started college.

Each rehearsal I would walk in, sit in the back, and wait until I had to go on stage (remember, I had no idea how to talk to people outside of general introductions). But when you’re around a like-minded group of people all working towards a common goal, you’re bound to get to know them. It’s only a matter of time. And though it took awhile, I did manage to make friends with a few people. We plan to meet up next week, in fact.

This past week, the last week of the show, when I realized the people I was friend-ly with were actually considering themselves my friends, I was able to finally relax, and enjoy being there and being surrounded by everybody. So it’s sad that the last show has finally ended. But I can’t say it wasn’t worth the experience.

Did it save my life? No. I was never suicidal.

Did it turn my life around from the life of a lonely, pathetic loser to somebody who was, at least, starting to take steps to improve himself, relearn social skills, and start actually attempting, not just to survive college, but to be happy again?

Yes. Yes it did.

Is this the world of theater, generally, corrupt and immoral? Undoubtedly, but I’m not a part of that world. I’m a visitor who associates himself with only the parts he wants to see. It’s a shame that the theater world is so insanely immoral, but that’s the truth I need to face. So as much as I love theater and would love to pursue it as a career, I simply can’t justify it either economically or morally. But I’m always going to be involved with it somehow.

So, here’s to theatre. Say what you will about show business, but without theatre who knows where I’d be today? I love acting, I love performing, I love watching the shows, but most importantly, I love the people.

Also, remember that what you see on here doesn’t always reflect what’s actually happening in my life. The truth is that, before the show started, the answer was “shockingly little”, which was exactly the problem. The key now is to keep up my momentum and find a way to continue re-learning my social skills to the point that I don’t need to sit silently in the back of the room because I don’t know what to say. This was a very, very good start.

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5 Responses to The Value of Theatre

  1. GRA says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I would have never thought you had social skills that were lacking; I suppose it’s like speaking a foreign language – you lose the sharpness if you don’t engage in it every so often.

    I’m also glad you have fondness for theater since I do too. I wasn’t on stage as a performer, but in high school I was in the pit for several musicals. My older sibling was the one who was the performer, so when he starred in musicals I was dragged along to watch and that’s how I got interested in the medium, then later involved.

    I see theater, since it’s live, a more “noble” pursuit than, say, film acting. Of course this depends on what productions one is in, but I sense that being a film actor, if you’re established and your getting prominent enough roles, it’s more of a minefield. I’m not sure if I could enter a relationship with an actor given certain scenes that will happen sooner or later in their careers. I’m not sure if I ever have a daughter how’d I’d react if she wanted to become film/tv actress. If so, I’d probably urge to do stage instead of film/tv.

    I suppose it’s just me – before I became aware of the debauchery that surrounds the performing arts, especially thespians, I became weary of it. I never found Inside The Actors Studio to be anything but self-involvement. Why on earth would people want to listen to an actor speak about acting and their experiences for an hour? How did a profession that once was equal to prostitution become so glamorized and mystified? I mean, there are a few film actors that are being lauded currently who I find mediocre at best. It’s mind boggling.

    When you mention theater, do you mean musicals & plays, or just musicals? I was just wondering since I want to ask why do you think theater is so immoral and corrupt? It’s not that I disagree because I too notice this very low standard amongst the professional theater and movie crowd. Compare to the corporate workplace, it’s night and day almost. (Not that the corporate world doesn’t have it’s share of debauchery and slime.) Maybe it’s the constant emoting of feelings? Maybe it’s the general mindset that is attracted to it? A working film actor admitted that many who he came across in the movie industry were rather insecure, more insecure than the average person. I wonder why. I’m aware that film and theater are two different mediums, but they do have their links.

    • When you mention theater, do you mean musicals & plays, or just musicals?

      Both.

      I’ll say why I think it’s corrupt like this: Ask the average thespian what they think of the musical “Rent” and the play “Angels in America” or “A Doll House” (“The Vagina Monologues” might be a little too obvious).

      Their reactions, and the general political and moral stance of virtually *everybody* involved in theatre, is why I don’t think I’d have the stomach to truly live among that world.

      • Actually – just watch the Tony awards to get my point. They’re everything both good and bad about the theatre world today. Like it or hate it, I knew “Fun Home” would win best musical as soon as I heard what the plot was about.

    • There is a definite insecurity aspect to theatre. It’s about getting to be somebody else for awhile, and having people laugh and clap when you perform. Call it ego-boosting if you want to, but the idea that you don’t have to be “you” when you’re acting is in the back of a lot of people’s minds.

    • BTW – social skills as a foreign language is an excellent analogy.

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