It was my first love, ever since the time I portrayed a rock in an off-preschool production held in the basement of a department store thirty four years ago or so.
I can't remember what it was called--something with sugarplum fairies and Santa and such--but it was the first time I purposely portrayed something I wasn't, in front of an audience.
I was up for two parts: rock or tree. To me, at the time, I was much more into the role of the rock, as it afforded me more screwing-around time just curled up there on stage making faces at my mom.
The tree looked like a bit more showy and exciting, but it demanded much more physical agility and balance, as well as requiring that your eyes be directed one way, regardless of which direction it seemed like more fun to blink, roll, or squint them in.
The show, I don't remember so much. But the process--now that I will always remember.
"Just be the rock" said the woman who was much taller than the tallest tree onstage.
And I did. It was great. I remember it like it happened last night--the colors mostly: muted hues of red and green with some sparkles and flashes (probably ornaments or Christmas lights) and the feeling of a conscious awakening when I got up, after twenty grueling minutes of my best rock-like immersive acting, and the embrace of my mother after watching her boy take charge and be absolutely unafraid to be up there, on stage, at the mercy of the attention of all who chose to focus on him, and to be enjoying it and not wanting to go home. I'm sure she sat there and wondered if this would ever be a recurring activity.
It's what moms do.
Don't mind if I do paraphrase a well-worn aphorism from The Bard by saying that we are all actors and have been from the minute we are born.
And really, only once we have recognized this observation can we use its content in our lives, assuming one wants to discover more than the relief that any particular day is over from the point he or she awakes.
We typecast ourselves, sometimes to a hazardous degree.
Take the fat guy.
I, at different points in my life, have been the fat guy.
Oh I played the part to the hilt.
I was obnoxious, I was extreme, I was loud, I was grotesque in both my mannerisms as well as my comments to and about other people, I was slapstick--a walking joke.
I was typecast.
It's so easy to see once you recognize it.
And the worst part is, I did it, sometimes knowingly, with the intent of doing what fat guys are supposed to do.
If we are to believe Hollywood (and to a lesser extent literature) then the John Belushis, the John Goodmans, the John Candys, the George Wendts, the Dom Deluises, and other fat guys show us that to accentuate our flaws is to reap their benefits. I watched these people do what they have done for their whole careers and saw that they take an assumed deficiency (both a health risk as well as a stereotypical physical turn-off) and use it to increase their draw at the box office as well as ensure their involvement in future projects which will inadvertently call for the "fat guy" role to be filled.
But they are pandering to us.
We are the ones that make it so the fat guy is usually the comic relief.
We laugh at the person who is taking his limitations and stretching them until they burst and then, themselves, guffawing over the mess they made.
The skinny, handsome, leading man rarely gets that part; it's not often written.
And it has been so from the beginning of show business--and by that I include the earliest of Greek theater.
I was, for the longest time, the fat guy extraordinaire.
I was also the drunk guy.
I was also the confused and easily distracted stoner guy.
I was the apathetic slob.
And I took all the attention I could which I knew would come my way if I played it up.
But the sad thing was that I wasn't aware that there was any intentional portrayal of these typecasts. I was simply doing what I did. I embodied all of these assumed characteristics on a daily basis letting any one of their many identifying traits come to the fore for as long as they had to.
And in this way I managed to stay put.
In this way I managed to slip out from between some seriously sticky situations.
In this way I managed to secure my next role.
It was there for the taking ... and more often than not, I jumped at the chance.
When a person finally realizes that they have, for the longest time, been playing a part--be it in their physical characteristics, their addictive traits, their wardrobe choices, their hairstyle, their affectations, their vocabulary, their dietary habits, or any number of actions or decisions that we choose on a daily basis to display to ourselves and to others--and they admit that they are not happy with their life and want to change roles, this is a landmark moment.
Because we all have options.
If you are in prison for a crime, then you are a prisoner. You are not playing a role; you are a certain way and you will be that way for a specified period of time.
If you are a prisoner of your addictions, you are still a free-willed person. You just happen to be letting the traditions of whatever you are addicted to determine your next move. You may be at the mercy of a substance, but one, more often than not, gives more credence to that addiction and lets the fight appear fixed even when it isn't. We tend to say, "well that's just what happens when you live like I do" when, in reality, you have more control than you think.
You have more control if you think.
Because you don't have to live like that and you don't have to be that person.
And once you taste control--whether it is a change of hairstyle that you never thought you would like, or picking up a quarter that fell under the table and not feeling as much restriction in the midsection as you did twenty pounds ago--you start to notice that you have more fight in you than you thought.
You always did.
It was there all along.
But you didn't pay it heed because your agent kept calling, offering more roles, more money, more stability. And you kept on taking the part on account of its ease of execution due to experience in its undertaking.
I, for years, had been happy playing the rock while others around me always got the tree.
And then I became disillusioned by the fat, drunk, stoned, comic that I played for most of my life. I wanted the roles I never thought I could read for. I wanted the slim, sober, aware, man of substance that always went to the other guy.
Well I'm happy to say that I have been extending myself as a performer. I won't let the media or the public make my decisions for me. I won't carry on doing what's expected of me, because predictability is a precursor to obsolescence.
Give the people what they want.
Just make sure you can live with yourself afterwards.
Thanks for reading.