Being Famous

It is always interesting to me to ask the kids I teach what they think is important. I can remember teaching one group that all said they wanted to be singers and actors, but not a one of them wanted to read, memorize anything or have to even stand up! I decided that that particular group really wasn’t interested in theatre and had issues I felt ill equipped to handle. I decided I was not a good fit with that group.

I always ask kids what their theatre experience has been, what they love about theatre, and if they think theatre is important. I can remember hearing from college kids when I went back to school how theatre was “their life”. And then they would show up for class ill prepared for a scene or a monologue.

Theatre was not my life at that time- I had to come home to cook dinner, vacuum, do the laundry, pay bills and handle “my life” for my family. Somehow I managed to make theatre and my other classes a priority.

Lately I have been astonished by the kids who say they want to be famous and they think acting is the easiest way to get there. In this day and age of being “famous” for “nothing” kids think the end all, be all in life is to be famous.

The other day I had a group of 8-10 year olds walk into my class. It was the first class on a Monday morning and I was not feeling particularly well. As they burst into the room I told them to get into a circle so we could stretch. We had done this every single class the week before.

The kids walked to some chairs I had pushed over to the side and sat down groaning. They began to say how they were tired (at 9:45 in the morning) and how they had “literally just played a game” which meant they were sufficiently warmed up. When I again told them to get up, one of them lifted her tiny foot and said, “there- I stretched.”

To say I was furious is an understatement. I kept my cool (sort of) and went right into working on our skit. Later, when one of the kids said her back hurt from standing up for almost 5 minutes, I told her that if she had stretched it wouldn’t hurt. Sarcasm is lost on 9 year olds.

In my next class, a middle schooler who had told me that “theatre was her life” only days before, now lamented that she did not know how she was expected to learn 20 lines in a week and a half! With only a day left until they perform, she still doesn’t know most of her lines.

When the oldest group came in and I asked them to tell me about their characters, I was met with a blank stare. I had asked them to do any research they needed and to come up with a back story and a clear idea of who their character was. I went around the room and was told several times to skip them and go to the next person. When someone finally had an acceptable answer and I commented that she had done her homework, she responded with, “I just thought of that right now, I didn’t do any work.”

(They won’t even put out the effort to try to “act” like they did their work to keep themselves out of trouble!)

I kept saying to myself that it was Monday and that I didn’t feel well. But after a few days of this, I have lost my excuses. I feel somewhat better and it is Wednesday- what is the excuse now!?

I know it is summer camp. I know it is supposed to be “fun”, but if acting and theatre is supposed to be your life, then I would think learning how to do it in a thoughtful manner and in a way that will make you better would be what you would want.

One child actually stayed in camp for one day and although she said the only class she enjoyed was acting, it was because she had no idea a “musical theatre camp” would also include dancing or singing.

Maybe I am too easy on them. Maybe I expect too much. I am not sure. But I think that acting is one of those things that you either want to work at it or you don’t. If it isn’t really your thing and putting some effort into it doesn’t make you happy, then find something else to do.

Because if you think acting is the “easy” way to becoming famous, man are you about to be disillusioned! Not only is it a hard job and takes lots of work and preparation, it is nearly impossible to find a job even if you are prepared, talented and persistent.

Life is hard, but it is a lot easier when you pick what you are really gifted at to put your energy into. It is much easier when you work really hard at your gift. It is much easier when you are honest with yourself. It is much easier when you forget about being famous and concentrate on what you love.

I know that these kids are there to play games and be with their friends. I know that I can let them play “wax museum” and “Would You Rather?” all day and then collect my paycheck. I wish I could be satisfied with that. I am not.

I have an acquaintance that tells me every time we cross paths how her granddaughter needs to be in theatre camp, but alas she is only 5 years old. The child gets up and gives “speeches” all of the time and orders her family around as to how they must respond. She tells me how precious this is and how she can not wait for this child to be on stage. I am not sure if that is an actor in the making or a politician.

I remember that I was 5 when I did my first play. I remember standing around a piano and the rehearsal accompanist teaching me how to read music. I remember trying to keep up with the adults in the cast. I remember being out until 1 or 2 in the morning every night rehearsing. I remember my reading being so above all of the other kids in school because of running lines with other actors when I wasn’t on stage.

I remember the older ladies teaching me how to knit between scenes so as not to be idle. Then they taught me how to apply stage make up- greasy foundation, thick mascara and lipstick. I remember them telling me to take it off with cold cream, nothing else would get off that thick goo.

Just as make up is now formulated to come off easier and to be easier on our skin, I think that we make things easier for kids so that they think life in the theatre and just in general is a game. If it isn’t fun and fast paced all of the time, they lose interest. If they have to wait while a scene is run again, they complain. If they have to warm up, they are just too tired and if their part calls for them to stand up for five minutes they want to get a chair and sit.

Maybe I am not feeling as well as I thought, because I am becoming a crotchety old woman as I write. But life isn’t easy and theatre is hard. The sooner that we all just own up to that, they better we will all be. If one kid I have taught ever became famous for acting, I would be shocked. Not because I am a crappy teacher, (though some might argue that point) but because ┬áit is rare that anyone becomes famous. The odds are not in my favor that someday an actor will accept their Tony and thank me for starting them on their path to stardom!

I guess I have again eliminated something else I am not cut out for. I expect more from students than I am supposed to in this day and age. I don’t think that asking someone to stand up and speak out loud is asking too much, especially if they plan to be a famous actor. But what do I know- I’m not famous in the least.

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.