The Center of Attention and Other Sins

Experienced momentary blindness this evening. I took my first acting class, and unlike guy who told the class how he loved being the center of attention, I don’t know what to do when people are watching me. Well, other than teach. Hey, people are looking I should probably explain something!

tap dancing again
tap dancing again

We did a little improv. My partner’s fear helped eased my own anxiety, but it didn’t help me be in the scene. All I wanted to do was put him at ease. How do I stop wanting to do that? It was the first class though and being at ease was probably for the best. But I could sense the problem I have in my writing up in front of the class with me. I’m not trying to bother anyone. I’m really quite nice and acceptable. If I’ve done inappropriate, let me apologize now. Is that okay?

Okay–I write and want to be published. I make art and am having a show. Clearly, I want attention. Right? Acknowledge me please. Now. Then again, I can’t shake the guilt or anxiety that comes with that. Please, if I could just have a moment of your attention? Pretty please. I know you have more important things to do and really I’m probably bothering you, but if you wouldn’t mind… Ugh. There was the guy in the class who happily announced that he liked being the center of attention. That’s why he was taking the class. Another young man said he liked everyone watching him. Wow. They could admit to these things without blushing or stammering or qualifications. I’m just baffled by people like this. Are they kidding?

Anyway, I did my first bit of improv and didn’t faint. So spill your acting story. How do you feel about being in the spotlight?

15 thoughts on “The Center of Attention and Other Sins

  1. I first met Leonard when I was doing a course at UCSB. He’d just moved in as a visiting prof from Tulsa, then got the university hooked on a weekender murder/mystery play, and as producer wanted a director. I jumped at the chance because I’d always wanted to try my hand. While the performance was going on and I was cueing actors and herding the audience from set to set, Leonard and I both confessed we liked the idea of putting on mystery plays but from now on would appear in them. For the next 20 years we wrote, produced, directed, and acted in so-called mystery dinners, which sounds like the food at college cafeterias but which is a 3-act play performed around the serving of a meal. We also got started a writing workshop which, like the circuit-riding preachers of eld, went where there was action.

  2. I haven’t acted since high school.

    (Well, wait, not that’s not quite accurate — a sis-in-law made an audition tape for a proposed kids’ show a few years ago, and she needed a gorilla, and one thing led to another, and I wanna tell you those suits are WAY too hot to be wearing for several hours under the stage lights in N. Florida.)

    I’d never considered it. But when the guy who was playing Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace dropped out, the director (Miss O, who just happened to be my teacher) needed a replacement in a hurry. She practically begged me, and how could I turn that down? (Disclaimers aside, writers generally ARE egotists, I think.) It took years for the possible real reason to sink in: she didn’t just need someone who was a quick study; she needed someone who at age 16 could suitably pass for Boris Karloff (to whom the script makes repeated references). Hmm.

    Oh, and I got a movie extras casting callback. It was the Jodie Foster/Richard Gere Civil-War thing, the remake of… uh… The Return of Martin Guerre, something like that. They were filming on location in Virginia, where I lived at the time, and I thought going to the casting call would be a funny experience to write about. When they called back, though, I was headed out the door for vacation.

    Richard Gere I couldn’t have cared less about. And I know the odds of getting to meet Jodie Foster were infinitesimal. Still… well, writers generally ARE egotists. 🙂

    The high school play wasn’t as bad as you might think for a natural (public) shrinking violet. The footlights by and large made the audience disappear, so it was just me and the other cast members (and Miss O, having vocal conniptions in the wings).

  3. Well done! Takes a lot of guts. Haven’t acted since school (a Stoppard play, set in the 30s). My English teacher chose our (bias cut sheer satin) dresses. Apparently under the lights they left little to the imagination. From track history, I think he did it on purpose. Ever since then being ‘in the spotlight’ has had a mixed meaning …

  4. P.S. Oh, btw, I meant to do what Kate did — and congratulate you. If nothing else, the experience should provide a lot topic-fodder for future writing!

  5. I do not like attention on myself at all, but I have no fear of being in front of a group of people. I think it’s because I like to be in control and when I’m in front of people, I get that feeling. Same with writing, I suppose.

    I think one thing that helps is that I don’t focus on myself but on the audience. What can I do for THEM? I put the performance (writing) in between the audience and me. I disappear behind the work, even if the work is indeed me.

    Great photo, cutie.

    If I were to do any acting, which I’m not planning to do, I would want to do improv. The give-and-take of the actors and the quick reflexes required sound exciting to me.

    Have fun with your class!!

  6. Congrats on the class. Sounds like fun… or soon will be fun.

    My sister is the actress and rockstar. I’d rather be behind the camera, not in front. I’d rather write the play than star in it. Direct it, even. But I was in a play in college and it was fun. You’re not YOU when you act. You can disappear into the role (just like role of teacher). I’ve heard that some actors are actually shy. Only on the stage can they be free within the role. It’s not exposure of the self, it’s blossoming of a character.

  7. If you can stand in the spotlight and really feel like you’re the only one in it, then it’s a pretty good show, because it’s not a show at all. However, this realization never helped me at a piano recital. My poor mother!

  8. lazym

    Believe it or not, I was a modern dancer and a principal dancer and singer in musicals. I am also extremely shy. 1. I learned how to ignore myself and channel my nervousness into activity. (It’s easier with dance, I think, because it is so physical). 2. I don’t see well, but I never wore glasses or contacts, so I couldn’t see the audience. (I could pretend they weren’t there).

    I also did a lot of dance improv and a spiritual improv called “soul play”. These were much more intimate. But I find in intimate situations, the other participants are totally with you – they support you and make your work possible. In “team” improv, if you can focus on the other person as if you were the only people in the room, it really helps.

  9. Congrats!!! I’m so ridiculously excited for you. I cannot wait to hear tales from the class!!!

    I used to love being “on” and being onstage. As a matter of fact there was a time in my life when I was more comfortable being onstage than talking one on one with a person. I was hiding. I worried people wouldn’t like me for me. So, I prided mself on making people laugh. It took time but I got over that. Now, if I am onstage (it’s been a few years) I strive to make people feel and to feel connected. I love the freedom in improv. I like being able to “try on” different characters lives and see how they feel. It’s like writing fiction. Now, I like being me but I also like playing both onstage and off. I like making people laugh but I also like to make them think,

    It’s so great that you are doing this. You are going to be great. Just have fun and let yourself go = what’s the worst that could happen??

  10. Pamela

    I was planning to ask you about your class. I still remember an acting class I had at college. The first day we did improv. I loved improv, but this was strange. The prof. walked out with a hanger, put it on the floor and announced that when our name was called we were to do something different with it. Of course, I was almost last. I can’t remember what I tried to do with that hanger. All I remember was that I was scarred for life because I could not think of anyting original by the time my name was called. I dropped the class immediately.

    In my job, it’s like I”m a director of a twisted play. I write the play, act in it, try to get what I want out of all the actors, and if I do poorly, someone goes to jail.

    To get over your anxiety, I suggest moving immediately to NY. You’ll learn to tell everyone to bite you.

  11. I hate attention yet just wrote two very shitty self-revealing posts which were very much What the Hell, I don’t give a shit, when I really did give a shit. I think that’s the only way I can be creative, is the pretend not to give a shit because I fear criticism so much that attention is never pleasurable. One tiny negative comment among the positive and I can only focus on the bad.. I could never do an acting class at this point in my life, though it’s fascinating your writing blocks were right up there with you. In writing my shitty posts I thought the same”I don’t really want to burden you with this, I’m probably bothering you and you clearly have more important things to do, but the funny thing is…being ignored can be extremely liberating. No one to please but exploring aspects of yourself that you can delve into more deeply later. For me, now, it’s a way to write personally without dangerously revealing the personal.

  12. When I was in college, I got a very good part in a short, one-act play, and after rehearsing a lot and memorizing the lines, I was able to get lost in the part and ignore the audience for the most part (I was still very nervous beforehand.) It’s when I have to do improv that I clam up….think of something off the top of my head? Impossible! It is the same problem with my writing too…I am not sure I have enough experience to go on. I’m not confident that I can do it. But at least with writing, I can mule over the words forever…in acting, you have to act! I don’t envy you, but it’s probably a wonderful exercise for your writing.

  13. I teach acting every day, and like you, I always feel like I have to be explaining something. However, I did study acting at New York University. Talk about pressure, my first scene partner had just finished making “The Interpreter” with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman…yep, then he had to go slumming and work with me. Poor guy.

    If the character I am playing likes to be the center of attention, then I can play that part, but the D’Arcy I am, doesn’t need the attention.

  14. Here is my Identity-Theft Alert System: If Sophie in the Moonlight ever shows up at an acting class, she is an impostor.
    I have an out-of-body experience when I have to speak in front of others, even from a seat in a lecture hall of 500 students. I minored in Speech Communication because I love language and interpersonal relationships. I learned I have an affinity for facilitating small groups. I can quietly get people to move together towards a common purpose and enjoy the experience, but it wasn’t about speaking in front of them, it was about knowing how to get them to speak to one another.
    I love to cook for people, but I make my best friend throw the party. She likes to schmooze and flit about guest to guest. I like to cook in the background where no one can see me. I come out take a bow for the food and scurry right back in the kitchen to grab a glass of wine b4 anyone starts talking to me. So, I guess I like to be acknowledged for my accomplishments, but only for the finished work. I do not perform for anyone.

    >< This is me applauding you for getting up there and DOING! I’m really proud of you.

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