Acting the StudentActing the Student
Before Disney delivered its glittering portrayal of teenage angst with its High School Musical series, there was SING! For those familiar with the popular theater competition at many New York City high schools, nostalgia can be eternal. But the fact remains that there is very little, not even CUNY board funding for props and unicorns, which could motivate the Hunter student body to spend a similar semester rehearsing for the stage — myself included.
At my high school, where nearly a third of the students went berserk for the annual spring production (with some stage designers going so far as to bring in a 100-pound working oven), I ducked out of participating for my entire four years. Indeed, the closest I ever came to contemplating a career in acting was when I was convinced I could have done a better job yelling “Look, it’s Spiderman!” than the girl in the movie. This winter session at Hunter, however, not out of any kind of SING! regret, but from new insecurity and paranoia, I took Basic Acting.
As college enrollment pries open the professional world for students to work part-time, we learn the critical need for buff alter egos, capable of being who our resumes say we are. As my Mom constantly reminds me, to be hired you have to fit a role — or at least pretend you can. With so much of the Hunter community already employed, switching roles between student and part-time company henchman has become second nature to most of us. As my acting professor might say, we are all already actors every day, whether we realize it or not.
But is it true? Are we really all actors — is there really a knack for magic within us capable of being someone else? Imagine auditioning for the glamorous role of a hot dog vendor. Sure, throw an apron on me and I’d dish out wieners and have all the right actions of a vendor, but I don’t think I could pull off that shiny smile that belies a sort of salvation in processed meat. Where I’d probably remain “woman tragically loaded with cart,” my acting counterpart could convey with gleaming tongs, “Smell that — the saltiness that gets caught in your throat, wafting of ocean redolence in a toasted bun like a Coney dog, buy me and you’ll feel smack in summer.”
I mean, heck, I’d buy one (a turkey frank, preferably); I want to be as happy as the next person. The problem is that I wouldn’t be able to sell one. And if I couldn’t sell a hot dog, how could I possibly sell myself?
After years of snubbing the drama of SING! I realized I needed those acting skills I had scoffed to fool people into hiring me. I went into Hunter’s acting class willing to do what it took to get rid of my post-interview-regret-syndrome. And after an unusual semester, hazardously walking around the room with eyes closed pretending to be in a bubble of sunshine, I want to say it came to me. But all that hit me as we did our 15-second “silly dance” routines was that I could go a little crazy. And maybe that kind of uninhibited behavior isn’t a bad thing.
My professor was fond of saying that actors had to be more than regular people. Somehow as students we had to be more than ourselves. Now, as ludicrous as that sounds, it’s easier to do if you just don’t think about it.
A nice GPA or good recommendation might give you an edge in some venues, proving you could outdo the people around you, but the only way to outdo yourself is to act bigger than you are. In the neon city of giants, that’s a skill we desperately need to not be left in anonymous shadows, or with our résumés stuffed in a file cabinet with no chance of a callback.