Monday, August 08, 2005

#62 - Taking a Look at One's Self

Dads need hobbies. Mine are blogging, family history, trains, and the performing arts.

Among the piles of videos and DVDs in our family room are a few videos of yours truly performing in a variety of musical comedies dating back to about 1989. That is, by no means, when my acting "career" began, nor does it represent the earliest known video recording of my work. There is at least one missing video of a Broadway revue I did for Church in 1983 that I haven't seen in years. Also, back in high school I was taped as part of a school project while doing "The Mikado" in my senior year. This would have been done on 3/4" broadcast tape in the days before VHS or Beta ever existed. I harbor no expectations that the school ever kept that tape around. Certainly not for nearly 30 years after I graduated.

Every once in a great while I dust off the old videos and watch them, mostly out of morbid curiosity. I always wonder whether my performance on tape ever matches my recollection. In my memory, there are always bits and pieces that I felt at the time worked very well. Then I watch them on tape and realize that the audience needed to be speed-listeners because I was tossing the delivery off at a cool 100 words per minute. I still managed to get laughs (I am always a comic relief in these affairs) at the appropriate moments, so I must have been doing something right. Appearances to the contrary.

I guess it's true that we are always our own harshest critics. When I watch these performances of mine, I watch them with a very critical eye. I catch every single move and say to myself, "Find something else to do with those hands!" They seem to flail about as if demonically possessed. I don't ever remember telling my hands to do that, but there they are, on tape, doing precisely that. (You may wonder what "that" really is. It's nothing that isn't family safe, I assure you. Neither, however, can I really describe these movements in words. It's something you need to see to understand.)

My voice has always mystified me. From inside my own head, my voice isn't really that bad. On tape it sounds like a toned-down version of Gomer Pyle. Even my singing voice astonishes me, and not always in a good way. I did some solo work for a Messiah sing-along last winter, and on tape I have a timbre that sounds like, I don't know, like someone having gargled Clorox moments before the concert. (Kids: Don't try this at home!)

My wife always gets after me when I criticize myself this way. She'll probably do so when she reads this post. She always tells me how wonderful my voice really is, and I suppose it does work well for some things. I just have to realize that, as much as I enjoy singing, I really have to be careful what music I choose to perform. Technically, I'm a tenor. However, I am nowhere near as nimble in my upper register as I was 30 years ago. I am also not a baritone, however much I'd like to be one. I just don't have the kind of timbre to pull it off. I'm really a second tenor, and no one writes solo work for second tenors.


On the other hand, I have been richly blessed with these talents I possess. Really, so long as I don't watch too many tapes of myself, I'm not bad at what I do. Mrs. Woody always points out that, during curtain calls, I get the loudest applause. I always assume this is out of relief that they don't have to watch me anymore, but she feels differently. Also, there is no greater rush than playing a scene for a laugh, and getting it. Or having your director come up to you and say, "I'd suggest some blocking here, but I'd rather you just follow your comic instincts in this scene!" Huh? I have comic instincts? Who'da thunk?

Also, when I do sing solos in Church, everyone is very gracious in their compliments. I even had one man come up to me after one such solo and say, "No matter where you are when I die, I want you to come and sing that for my funeral."

(On a side note: Mom-in-law related the following story. One gracious lady had been told precisely that same thing about singing at someone's funeral when he died. However, by the time the fellow died no one remembered his ever having suggested it. So, on the day of the funeral, this gracious lady showed up, ready to sing in fulfillment of her presumed obligation. The Bishop felt awkward about it, but the family agreed to let her sing. Most unfortunately, the ensuing years had not been kind to the lady's voice, and her rendition was painfully embarrassing to those in attendance. I therefore will agree to sing for funerals only when the requestor is very recently acquainted with my vocal abilities. Just to be safe.)

Every once in a great while I get a hankering to do some stage work again. The problem is that I'm now in an area where no one has heard of me, theatrically, and it's hard to break into repertory companies without having contacts. Also, I have reached a level of physical conditioning that pretty much requires parts that require little or no movement on stage (which runs very contrary to my native style!) so I won't break into a sweat after every scene. I had precisely that problem during my last full production (Mozart's "The Magic Flute") nearly eight years ago. I have not improved much on my conditioning since that time.

Also, I'm incredibly busy most of the time. I'm a group lead at work, which often requires extra hours of work, often from home. I'm a Family History Consultant at Church, and that frequently requires time during the week. We're homeschooling the kids, so when I'm not at work I'm often taking the kids on field trips, or to the library for Story Time. So, something has to take a back seat, and acting is it. At least, for now.

Although, I gotta say, if Melchior from "Amahl and the Night Visitors" ever comes my way, I'm jumping on it. I just won't watch the tapes later.

No comments: