>>> The Rollercoaster of Drama
By staff writer Simonne Cullen
January 8, 2006
Theatre majors—theatre people rather—are quite the crowd aren't they? Ever since junior high you could always point theatre people out; everyone else in class sang “God Bless America” monotone and second row third chair from the right Tommy would bust out jazz hands. But in college, singing in most classes is frowned upon. And some friends at bigger schools have told me that they haven’t met a theatre major once, even at sporting events, or popular bars, or the library—probably because most theatre people spend most of their time in the small brown building that a majority of students believe to be an administrative office building.
Before I wrote this article I asked my friends what they thought about theatre majors/people and all they had were questions. Why do they always wear trench coats and huge scarves? Why do all the boys have really long, unwashed ponytails? Why are the girls always fat? Why do they laugh at the wrong time? Why do they always segregate themselves from everyone else on campus? Why are they so overly dramatic? Why is their standard uniform black pants, black turtleneck, and a beret? Why do they always talk to themselves? If Paris Hilton is so rich, why can't she afford better acting classes? I'm here to answer all of them.
“Sorry I'm not sensitive enough to grasp Avant Garde Theatre, but in my opinion, running around in a large polka dot diaper to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Cashmere' is not art.”
Theatre majors/people (from here on I'm referring to them as TMP) hate it when someone who isn't in theatre signs up for an acting class because they think it's an easy A. We loathe you people. We don't care if you're trying to broaden your horizons; go take a foreign language class. Don't make us watch you struggle through Shakespeare's Macbeth, it's hard enough watching professionals do it. I'm not your mom. I don't need to support your first performance.
Admittedly, acting classes are relatively easy. At least the first two weeks. What other class starts out with your classmates standing around in a circle giving each other shoulder massages to loosen up, then spends another twenty minutes encouraging people to walk around the stage at different speeds to get a “feel for the space and energy”? I'd like to see a microbiology class begin with a ten-minute hand and head massage before starting a lab. Nothing would please me more than witnessing hospitality majors get a feel for the space by spending the first half hour of every class in a hotel room sampling the minibar and ordering room service.
After two weeks the mindless walking and massaging comes to an end, and that's when non-theatre people begin to question what kind of class they signed up for. Because after the walking game is conquered, the class gets introduced to the “Random Noise Game,” where you have to (surprise!) make random noises. Noises of the kindergarten recess and video game variety. So, for instance, while you're sounding like a leaf blower, you also have to create a movement. A movement that usually mimics being shot by a barrel gun and/or having an intense orgasm. Now, TMP have been doing this warm up routine since high school, so any pressure of looking like a complete asshole has evaporated. Those not as familiar with the process of letting all of their inhibitions go have a hard time holding on to their dignity when it’s their turn to squawk like a wilderbeast, and/or transfer the energy of a dying Bigfoot from himself to another classmate. Suddenly, studying the intricacies of Roe vs. Wade sounds simple—and as a bonus you get to keep your dignity.
The whole theatre situation becomes even more puzzling to non-theatre students when your TMP classmate, whose rendition of a dying Bigfoot moves the professor to tears and the rest of class to a standing ovation, has what is essentially a limb-flailing epileptic spasm downstage right. Everyone around you is clapping and screaming “Bravo!” while you and your non-theatre buddy look at each other and think, “Didn’t we see the exact same thing at the bar this weekend when the fat drunken linebacker slipped on some ice and couldn't get up by himself? Dude, all we have to do to get a passing grade is imitate fat drunk people? This is going to be twenty times easier than that class where you get to learn American history by analyzing the inaccuracies of historical films, like Far and Away, Gone with the Wind, and Titanic.”
The thing about an acting class though, is that you can never skip one. It's always a smaller class and the professor usually takes attendance. But more importantly you usually have to perform a little ditty in each class, which counts for roughly 20 percent of your grade. Also, theatre professors get personally offended when you don't show up to class. To them, skipping one of their classes is like having the life-saving bone marrow match that can cure their cancer, and then not showing up to the hospital on the day of surgery. Sounds overdramatic doesn't it? Go figure. Even if you're sick, they expect you to show up and will justify themselves by saying, “Gene Kelly performed his infamous Singing in the Rain routine all day with a 103 degree temperature so the studio wouldn't lose money. I think you could make it to a two-hour class. You're not on your deathbed. And even if you were I would expect you to be a good audience.”
Some theatre professors are really dramatic. I knew seniors who had to miss class to audition for graduate schools out of state, and our professor was pissed. Pissed at the student for not scheduling his audition around the class, and pissed at the graduate school for not consulting the Lawrence Drama Department about what days would work for him.
Most theatre majors are heavy smokers and even heavier drinkers. The ones who don't drink are usually singers, but even they will sneak a smoke every now and then. The ones who don't smoke usually get small parts in shows because they don't bond with the professors during rehearsals' designated smoking breaks. The ones who don't smoke or drink are usually fat and have ridiculously long hair. The ones who drink too much are usually stand-up comedians who constantly need to calm their nerves before they get up onstage and imitate Bigfoot for a living.
And I'm sorry that I'm not sensitive and intellectual enough to grasp Avant Garde Theatre, but in my opinion, running around in a large polka dot diaper to Led Zeppelin’s “Cashmere” is not art. That type of performance should be reserved for a time when the public is ready and willing to accept it: Greek Week. I’m also sorry that I can't help but giggle my way through an interpretive dance performance. If you don't want to hear my suppressed giggles, then stick on some jingle bells to your costume as you the interpret the conception of Christ while dancing to Bette Midler's “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings.” That genre of performance art should be reserved for, never.
Sometimes after these different performance art segments when your friends greet you, they don't know what to say. I once saw an avant garde performance piece and as usual didn't grasp the overall message. Also, from the expression on everyone's face during the making love to a broom scene I’m pretty sure no one else in the audience got it either. But you don't want to sound unintelligent, so you gush, “Wow, that was amazing! I don't know what to say. Those four and a half hours just flew by. You really should do this for a living. Maybe next time you can be in a show with words and sentences, and not spend 270 minutes moaning and sexually caressing a broom. Just throwing that out there, you can do what you want with it.”
Up ‘til I came to college, all of my acting classes consisted of 80% more girls than guys, and all the guys in the class were of the homosexual persuasion…except one. The one token straight guy. Everyone wanted to be scene partners with him, but the mathematics of pairing kept that from happening. I'll admit, it is a good place to get to know the ladies, but ladies beware, token straight guy never brings mints. Never uses mints. Probably hasn't brushed his teeth that morning. So always carry breath strips with you, you'll thank yourself during the kissing scene. But never bring gum. When theatre professors see chewing they either a) tell you you're not a cow, to swallow it and learn your lesson by feeling the digestive pain, or b) go into a ten-minute dramatic monologue about how gum is the spawn of Satan and has ruined the careers of actors since the 1960's. “Do you know why Gabrielle from Beverly Hills 90210 was written out of the show? Not because she was old and didn’t look like anyone else in the Peach Pit group! It was because she was a gum-chewing freak. She could have had her name on the Hollywood walk of fame, but now that spot is occupied by the less talented but bigger breasted Jennifer Love Hewitt for her outstanding performance in I Know What you Did Last Summer, Party of Five,…..” and, well, you get the point. After hearing that rant you'll never chew gum again. Ever.
Oddly enough, as much as you non-TMP's annoy me in class, I think that everyone should take an acting class. Bigger universities offer a variety of acting classes. Soap Opera acting, Sitcom Acting, Stage Acting, Shakespeare, Dialogues, Voiceovers, Dialects, Monologues, Musical Theatre, On-Camera Acting, etc. It really helps people overcome their shyness and allows them to express themselves in ways they've never imagined. And I guarantee it will come in handy later in life when you need a Friday off from the office, so you can make that sick coughing sound during the phone call to your boss sound really believable.
A sorority sister of mine comes from an acting family. Her dad's an actor, her brother’s an actor, and she herself is even listed on IMDB for having a small role in a movie. And because her brother was the star in a well-known movie a decade ago, it only takes one person to find out and she gets bombarded with questions. “Did he get his own dressing room?” “What's Christopher Lloyd like in person?” But the dumbest question I've ever heard anyone ask her was, “I saw Dennis the Menace on Telemundo over winter break. Was it hard for your brother to learn Spanish for the role?” That's when I realized why actors segregate themselves from others: to keep the morons and their idiotic questions out.
No workisms this week. Instead, I'd like to dedicate this article to my good friend, and fellow TMP, Nick Endres, who was brave enough to make the big move to Hollywood after graduation. Finally got to see you in Derailed, buddy. Hopefully I'll see you in person soon.