Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lessons of Childhood Acting: Favoritism and Casting

You know what? I really miss that bright red hair, that hair was fun. Radioactive, can see me coming a mile away (which is a total ninja fail but I accepted long ago that I'm more of a pirate anyway) and little girls would whisper things like, "Mom, it's Ariel" as they walked passed...

...Sorry, I was having hairstolgia, where was I?

Right, acting, tiny Kiri, artist journey blah blah blah...

Okay, so my first taste of performance was in first grade where we put on a production of "The Littlest Christmas Tree". This was also my first taste of favoritism and that casting isn't always fair. If you haven't had much experience with acting, I cannot stress that fact enough. It's pretty basic info, but I feel it needs to be said.

In grade school we had music time, I want to say... once a week? And there were two music teachers who would come in and teach us singing basics. I think at one point they tried to explain how to read music and even a little music theory, but good luck getting a class of wily first graders to focus on what the hell a treble clef is and why it's important.

Damn it, tiny-Kiri, if only you'd paid attention back then, it would have made later music lessons a lot easier.

Ah well.

So these two teachers. The first was Mrs. Nicesinger--and no, I'm not kidding, that was seriously her name. Nice singer. She may have changed it to be that, but that was honestly her last name. Even as a kid, I remember thinking, "Bitch, you serious?"

...Only without the cussing because I didn't actually know any curse words until I was like... ten? I grew up in a very sheltered house in a teeny tiny town. It's really not that surprising when you consider all of the factors.

At least she was aptly named, she did have a very lovely voice and was generally a fairly nice woman as far as anal retentive music teachers go.

The other music teacher was named... Oh crap, what was her name? You'd think I'd remember it considering how much the rest of her is burned into my memory. She was tall, had this kind of beaky nose and her voice was unusually loud and nasally and kinda grated on the ears. Let's call her Mrs. Not-So-Nice-Singer.

Mrs. Not-So-Nice-Singer was grumpy, quick tempered and was very bad at pretending that she liked children. She was like a less extreme version of a Roald Dahl villain, come to think of it. While I seriously doubt she could or even would throw a girl over the fence by her pigtails, I would wager she had  at some point uttered something like, "I cannot for the life of me understand why small children take so long to grow up. I think they do it deliberately, just to annoy me." (The Trunchbull, Matilda, Roald Dahl)

And while Mrs. Not-So-Nice-Singer's distaste for children in general was often apparent, her distaste for me was even more so. 

I'm not entirely sure why this was the case. I made friends easily as a child, I loved singing and I had a very sunny disposition despite my distrust of sunlight. My mother has often informed me if I had been the first child, I would have been the only child.

I like to think this is because I'm just so darn stellar that my parents felt they could do no better... 

...But the reality is I was a bit of a handful. I had never been really shy as a child, in fact I was rather outspoken and independent. The word 'no' meant 'do it yourself' and I, much like one of my favorite childhood protagonists (Matilda, you see a theme here?), became more or less self-sufficient by the time I could walk. This is a trait, I've learned, some well into their 30's and 40's have yet to master.

Yet while this is an extremely useful trait and one I'm sure my parents appreciated as I got older and needed to be self-sufficient, I will admit this likely made me very hard to parent. It probably also made me a little irritating to teach if you were of the 'children should be seen and not heard' mindset. Though I imagine teaching singing to children who you feel should be seen and not heard would be irritating in general.

So as we approached the Christmas season, we were informed we would be doing a Christmas pageant/short play called "The Littlest Christmas Tree". I'm not sure if it was an actual play or something this woman concocted but I do recall the plot being very suspiciously similar to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Yup, we were talking trees picking on a tinier tree. I can't remember what The Littlest Christmas tree's virtue was that made Santa go, "Hey this tree is awesome!" Maybe Santa is secretly Charlie Brown after he grows up and gets over his Shultzian disillusionment with the world, I don't know, that's not the point.

The point is the day she announced this pageant, she also announced casting. Now when my mother informed me that actors were people paid to play pretend for an audience, I did as much research as one can as a young child in the early 90's... I went to the library. And I learned about casting and auditions and auditors and monologues and 16 bars of audition music (though I wasn't sure how music could be a bar at that time).

And I recalled no auditions for this pageant. Probably because there was no audition for this pageant. I'd like to assure you that she'd decided based on class participation/talent that she'd seen over the previous 3-months but I'd be lying as one of the students she chose for a leading role not only sang through his nose but another was almost completely tone deaf.

I get it, we were kids, when we're off key it was considered cute, but I would have thought a music teacher would have cared about this. 

I did notice that the group of children she had chosen were considered 'the popular crowd'. Yes, even in first grade, we had a popular crowd. Actually, my grade-school to jr. high experience was a lot more like the high school experience that teen movies project far more than high school ever was. I was all conflicted about popularity (not understanding it said nothing about the quality of friends you'd have) and fitting in and frankly it was just miserable. I was an early bloomer, I guess. At least this meant I was okay with being an absolute misfit by junior high...

I'm getting carried away again, aren't I? Sorry about that.

I was understandably grumpy about this development. I knew I could sing, I had done it every Sunday since I was old enough to know how to sit (relatively still). Yet I was assigned chorus and that seemed unfair. I will admit, I wanted some of that limelight even as a child but I was more frustrated by the complete lack of sense in regards to casting. If someone had been better at something, that would be one thing, I've always been my biggest critic. But as they were rehearsing solos, it became clearer and clearer that some of these kids simply couldn't sing. They couldn't hear the difference between notes, they were flat or sharp or not even singing the same melody. 

So this wasn't a deterrent per say but it was an interesting eye-opener as a child. Thankfully it would be years before I learned what a 'casting-couch' was.

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