When I was a kid, my uncle was in a production of Pinocchio where he played the bad guy. I was young enough that I no longer remember the performance, but I do have a clear memory of my reaction to my poor uncle. I wouldn’t go near him and hid behind my parents when he tried to give me a hug.
Before the show he had been my uncle, after he was the jerk who went after that nice wooden boy.
My reaction to this performance, while it did make me a little wary of my uncle, did not put me off the idea of acting. I wanted to be part of the story and what better way was there than to perform it? More than that, what better way was there to get the stories in my head out where the people could hear them? You guessed it, there wasn’t. At least not that I could find at the time. So, I entered into the time honored tradition of kids all over the world: I made up plays, coerced my sister and friends into being in them and forced our families to watch. (For which I offer up my sincerest apologies.)
The writing was, not to put too fine a point on it, a little raw. Not quite up to my full potential. It was bad. No, it’s insulting to bad things to compare them to my theatrical works. I don’t even think “abysmal” does justice to those shows.
Needless to say, it is a testament to unconditional love that my parents didn’t leave me staked to a tree in the front yard after sitting through one of these productions. Let alone, the dozens I put them through.
Eventually I realized that perhaps these plays were slightly counterproductive. I decided to try something a little more mainstream. Acting at the local YMCA. I was in sixth grade when I performed in my first show there, Amahl and the Night Visitors. I was a shepherd with one line. Something about pomegranates.
And it was glorious.
Standing in front of those, maybe, thirty people, I knew there was no going back. It was in my blood. And two years later, when I played the Wicked Witch of the West, I got to watch kids hide behind their parents from me after the show. One gentleman carried his daughter over and said, “If you don’t behave, we’re going to have her come babysit you.”
I’d never been so proud.
Side note: For all of you who were worried, years after the Pinocchio debacle, my uncle had the cast of another show he was in sing “Happy Birthday” to me backstage. So, we’re all good now.