A great philosopher — it was either Socrates or Don Henley — once said: Well, I could have been an actor. But I wound up here.
I’ll just give you a moment to absorb that.
I bring it up because on a recent rainy afternoon, I had the pleasure of standing inside a long barn while 60 aspiring actors prepared to do their thing. Their thing being acting, in case you didn’t put that together.
They mumbled to themselves, striving to find their voices — and not just their external voices, but the inner ones that allow them to become somebody else. They examined the motivations and peculiarities of their characters so that they could effectively give those characters life. They tried on smiles and frowns and grimaces to see how they fit. They wondered aloud if they could evoke tears if the situation called for it.
Impressive. And kind of unnerving, since I was just standing there with the one facial expression while everyone else seemed to have alien life forms living inside their cheeks.
Seriously, man. It’s freaky.
And while I was standing there, thinking about fleeing, several people hit me with the same question. “Say, Mike. How come you’ve never tried your hand at acting?”
I get the question a lot. Perhaps it’s my movie star good looks. Or maybe it’s that I sometimes stand on Park Street engaging in long animated conversations with myself. I don’t know. But people ask.
The truth is, I have a long and rich history in the thespian arts, so much so that I can actually say that word now without giggling like a 5-year-old.
Thespian. See? No problem.
OK, I just snorted, but only a little bit.
When I was in junior high, I was hired to write, direct and star in a major motion picture cleverly disguised as a 30-second commercial about a fictional product. I didn’t get to choose the product. If I had, it probably would have been some kind of laser that would have caused the school — with the exception of the girl’s locker room — to disappear.
Instead, the product was a weight loss pill that allowed a person to drop 50 pounds of unwanted flab overnight. Since I was a skinny kid — borderline malnourished, really — I got to play the morning-after guy, waking up (in jeans and a hoody, for some reason) to the astounding discovery that he was suddenly quite thin.
“It worked!” was my first line, after completely nailing a yawn and stretch. “I am thin at last!”
Never mind that in this political climate, such a comment would probably get us all thrown out of school and sued for proportional bigotry. The point is that I completely crushed the role as the thin man, absolutely wowing the six people who watched the final film, to the point where three of them actually refrained from yawning. At the award ceremony, I humbly thanked …
OK, there was no award ceremony. I was acting, see? Hold your applause.
That was my first acting gig, and also my last. While I would absolutely love to live next door to Charlie Sheen, I never felt that I had anywhere near the kind of stuff that makes for a good ACK-tor. I greatly admire those who do. I also admire those who are able to blend those great actor-like ingredients and deliver a masterful final product. Such as Harold Ramis, God rest his hilarious soul.
The acting required of a news reporter is plenty enough for me. City council meeting? Look at me! I’m a somber fellow, tapping a pencil against his chin with great deliberation.
Dog show? Fourth of July celebrations? Carnival in town? Now I’m a mirthful character, playfully covering the joyous affair, stopping just short of donning a jester’s cap.
Downtown violence? Now I’m solemn and sad.
Weather story? Now I’m just enraged, but that isn’t acting.
A few years ago, I caught a presentation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Auburn. The role of Scout was played by a local schoolgirl whose performance was so masterful, I am genuinely surprised she’s not in Hollywood already. That kid dropped my jaw and it only reaffirmed my ardent belief that some people have it — and have it big — while others do not.
I’m in the do not camp. I’m perfectly satisfied with the small, daily roles I play and with the opportunity to stand around Park Street saying “thespian” over and over and trying not to giggle.