A late-blooming star is born

I was stage-struck more or less from birth. I'm told I beamed at everyone from my pram. A very early sign of audience awareness, I'd say.

Putting on plays, wherever and whenever, soon became an obsession. If I couldn't persuade real people to perform in them with me (I was the lead, naturally), I resorted to puppets. In fact, puppets were generally more ... obedient.

An early production was "Pooh's Descent Into the Gorse Bush." I had a tiger puppet who passed as Tigger, but I had no Pooh, so I had to use The Poodle Puppet. My audiences were required to have imagination.

To cut a long story short, I never became an actor.

But I never grew up, either.

In fact, I long ago stopped trying to grow up. Nevertheless, it is not a good thing to abandon all one's ambitions. So I've decided to take another crack at acting.

I've joined a local amateur group. (They haven't yet, I think, quite realized what they have taken on.) And, even though for decades I have proved myself cunningly resistant to all forms of education, I've also signed up for weekly acting classes at one of our local universities.

Here, immediately, was proof that you can't act and be grown up at the same time.

That first evening class found me and my fellow would-be actors wandering extravagantly around a second-floor lecture room emitting noises that would make a zoo at feeding time sound like a monastery. The next-door lecturer came by to complain.

"We are going to start each session," our teacher, Ian, informed us, "with vocal and warm-up exercises."

"M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M!" we intoned with lips tightly pursed. M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M!"

"Let your breath out very slowly," he instructed. "Feel your lips vibrating. Can you feel your lips vibrating?" (I couldn't, but how could I have told him?)

"Now! Open your mouth as wide as you can - wider! - and go M-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-H-H-H-H-H-H-H H-H until your breath runs out. Louder!"

I loved every minute of it. This sort of thing, I thought, makes the world a better place.

Next we were in pairs articulating the vowels with as many different vocal variations as possible - at turns indignantly, inquiringly, pleadingly, fondly, threateningly: "A - EE - EYE - OH, YOU!" we went, a hundred times over.

Then we reached for the ceiling with palms upward, breathing in for a count of 7, breathing out for a count of 12. We balanced on one foot. With hands flat on the floor, we pretended to trickle a ball across the carpet with our noses while stretching each leg backward and upward.

(Later, in the kitchen, I demonstrated this exercise to my wife. The dog, never having seen me in such a position, concluded I was becoming canine and welcomed me to her species with a wild ballet.)

In the class, waggling my neck from side to side like an ancient flamingo, round and round, back and forth, I wondered silently: "What have I let myself in for?"

They call it "Learning in Later Life."

I call it "acting up." And I'm certain it's what I was born for.

*First in a weekly series.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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