My Days as a Ham
DO you like to sing? Are you good at telling jokes? Do you like to dress up in a costume and pretend you're someone else?Skip to next paragraph
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I certainly did. When I was about 12 years old, one of my favorite things to do was perform in front of people and make them laugh. Now don't get me wrong - I wasn't as good as some of the kids you see today on TV's "Star Search," who wear glittery outfits and tap shoes.
That didn't matter to me back then, because all I needed was a few props - like a fake microphone, a tape recorder, and my mom's wig - to set my imagination loose. And when it got loose, it ran wild. I was what you call a bona fide "ham," which is another word for someone who acts silly, exaggerating the way he talks or moves.
I loved being a ham. I guess I liked it because most of the time in life you're not allowed to be a ham. If you're at school, or church, or in a store, it's really not very polite to scrunch up your face and talk like a Munchkin or draw a mustache over your mouth with a black pen and lower your voice about three octaves. People won't understand what you're doing, and you'll get some nasty looks. Not to mention what your mother might do.
But there is a perfect time and place to be a ham - and that's on a stage. All you have to do is find some large space, like a garage or the front porch of your house, and you can be as ham-silly as you want.
When I was young, my stage was in the basement. One side of the room didn't have any furniture or storage boxes piled there, so that became my stage. My dad, who had long known of my tendency to "act up" at the dinner table, decided to build a small platform out of plywood for me. It was about six feet square and stood six inches off the ground. Wow! What a lift that gave to my acting ambition! In real life, most theater stages are up high off the ground, so in my mind, this platform was close to the rea l thing.
But it didn't end there. Half the fun of coming out on stage is hiding out backstage first. Backstage is the word for the place where you put on your costume and wait to perform. So I persuaded my dad to hang some old white sheets from the ceiling on each side of the platform. That way, no one in the audience could see me before I was ready. In theater language, when you are behind the curtains about to perform, you're "in the wings."
The finishing touch to my basement theater, however, was an old broken microphone that Dad found somewhere and stuck on the top of a tall metal stand with a circular base. It was perfect! He had probably seen me singing into my hairbrush too many times and decided I could use something a bit more realistic. I didn't care that the microphone didn't work - it was for visual effect.
With all the elements of my stage in order, I had to get my friends in on the act, namely, Sue and Doug, who fortunately had just as much of a goofy streak in them as I did. Doug was a terrific singer and had a knack for directing. (One summer he produced a scene from the movie "The Sound of Music" with all the neighborhood children unwittingly rounded up to play the roles of the Von Trapp siblings.) Sue had creative costume ideas and was particularly good at faking an English accent.