The thing about dreams is that the crushing, the squelching, the termination of them is so much better in retrospect than when it actually happens.
At 17, I just knew I was going to be an actress. A stage actress (because, don’t cha know, film work is not true acting. ) And I made that choice even before I realized that the camera brings out the psycho in me.
Now, I was very serious about this dream. Of course I took my high school’s acting classes. And, all snark aside, they were really good. The Players were renown throughout the area for the professional quality of its high school actors. And the accolades were well deserved.
Me? Was I the star? Was I the ingénue lead in all the productions during my high school years? Was there a reason for my hubris? Did my classmates look at me, remember my face and say to each other “someday we will remember when the very highly talented Miss Elyse went sledding outside our Algebra class (with that other fab actress, Ray) when she was supposed to be writing her math problems on the blackboard – because now,” sigh, “she’s a STAR.” Oops, no, I mean they’d think “because now she is a highly successful stage ACTress.”
Uh, no they didn’t. I was invariably an extra in those acclaimed productions. At best I got a line or two.
But I had heart. And in the theatRE, that’s all you need, right? “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Well, I was NOT a small actor. I just got small parts. And I was short and thin. So I was small. Shit.
But I DID get an audition.
Yup! I had an audition in April of 1974, the spring of my senior year, for the Central School of Speech and Drama, an acting school in London. Now, I was an hour outside of New York, and that might have been a wee bit easier to manage. But hey, this was a dream, remember. And I wanted London: The Globe, The West End, Masterpiece TheatRE (even if it was done on film, it didn’t seem like it).
I was ready to take the first step in my path.
My audition was held in a building at Yale University. I performed my comedy bit first, a monologue from a comedy so obscure that I have blotted it totally from my brain.
I sang “Adelaide’s Lament” under the guidance of my friend Sue, who actually played Adelaide in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls. She was good. So was I. Well, not quite as good, but who’d notice?
I delivered my Juliet speech – hey, what do you want, Lady Macbeth? I was 17!!! I chose one that is rarely performed, the one where Juliet is about to take the sleeping potion and is seeing her cousin Tybalt’s ghost:
O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier’s point: stay, Tybalt, stay! (I loved that line)
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
I drank the potion, collapsed on the floor in the best Juliet evah.
I thanked the three faculty judges, repeated my name, made sure they had my completed application and my picture (although how could they forget me?) I turned and walked to the door to leave. Only there were two doors.
I opened the one on the right, walked through it and closed the door behind me.
It was a broom closet.
What do I do now, I wondered. There was no script. No stage directions. No help of any kind. I considered staying in the closet, but knew that eventually I had to come out. After a minute that lasted forever, I re-opened the door and slunk out, saying a line I haven’t heard in too many successful plays:
“Ummm, that’s the broom closet.”
I opened the other door and left the room, closing my dream back in the room with the judges.
I know that if I’d just gone out singing and dancing, well, this chapter would be the opening scene of my life story.
Maybe it still is. Cause it hasn’t been at all bad.
My thanks to MJ Monaghan, who posted a great piece today: A Letter to my Guidance Counsellor. Naturally I felt compelled to copy it.
Damn those copyright laws.