Recapitulating… but only a little…
I had awaited a bus for two hours in 97-degree temperature.
I had hailed a cab in a city that does not habitually hail taxis.
Oh – and a new one –
When I arrived at the UCLA “Registration Office”, (for my 8-week stay studying acting at the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop) I was informed that my name, certifying my acceptance to the program, was nowhere on the list.
To which I confidently replied,
“Well I’m here.”
In a persuasive authoritative tone. (You see that? The class had not even started and I was alreadyacting.)
All of these obstacles, it turned out, were trivial “warm-ups” for the enormous challenge to come.
Good on me. That was my shortest summary of a “Part One” to date. Whoo-hoo! I can do it!
They finally locate my “Acceptance Notification” and assign me a dorm room located in Dykstra Hall, sharing with an engineering student whose classes started at eight, and, since mine began later and I generally did not return “home” till after eleven, the only time we saw each other after a first-day introduction was when one of us was asleep.
The auditions were that evening. It was from those critical “tryouts” that the “Teacher-Directors”, sitting in a darkened theater, would cast the roles for the four Bertolt Brecht productions – performed thankfully in English – we would be offering the L.A. public that summer.
I had chosen a speech from Inherit the Wind(written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee), the stage (and later filmed) fictionalized depiction of the historic “Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial”, deciding the fate of a Tennessee schoolteacher who taught Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” to his high school students in a prohibiting, devout “Bible Belt” community.
The climactic speech I’d selected culminated with the school teacher’s defense attorney, Henry Drummond’s – a dramatized “Stand-in” for the renowned real-life attorney Clarence Darrow – cross-examination of an acknowledged “Expert on the Bible”, who – with predictable “fireworks” – was also the trial’s prosecuting attorney, Matthew Harrison Brady. (“Surrogating” the renowned orator and three-time candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan.)
I love that play. I particularly love that speech. And I was additionally excited that it was delivered (in the movie) by Spencer Tracy, my – along with Paul Muni – co-favorite actor of all time.
The speech, a strong but thoughtful repudiation of “… the pleasant poetry of Genesis”began,
“In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ‘'Amens!’, ‘Holy, Holies!’ and ‘Hosannas!’”
And it gets better from there.
“Progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man behind the counter who says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up privacy, and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powder-puff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”
Isn’t that wonderful?
I had practiced that speech (with my friend Alan) over and over.
And I believed I was ready.
Arriving at the theater, we are presented with forms to fill out, calling for identifying “Vital Statistics”, to distinguish the numerous candidates, and imaginably help with the subsequent casting.
I am extremely nervous. And when I get nervous, I get silly. (Or angrily combative. In this case, it was silly.)
Completing the identifying forms, I put down “Hair – ‘Brown’”, “ Eye Color – ‘Brown.’” Then, under “Additional Information”, I write, “Sore Feet.” On a duplicate application – apparently, each “Teacher-Director” was accorded their own – I write down, “Hair – ‘Brown’.” “Eye Color – ‘Brown’.” “Additional Information”: “Chapped lips.”
I do not know why I did that. Perhaps, I was unconsciously angling for an “edge.” Or perhaps, as previously described, I was just mortally terrified.
About fifty “actors” auditioned, proceeding in alphabetical order. Nearing the “P’s”, I lined up in the “wings” with my alphabetical neighbors. I had trouble breathing. So I focused intently on my speech, which I knew backwards and forwards. I had to remember to deliver it forwards.
Then, when it was almost my turn, I remembered something essentially important.
My selected scene required two people.
I was desperately “short” one guy!
I do not know why I had not thought of that before, but I hadn’t. I guess I was just thinking about my acting. Only now – at that dauntingly late date – did I realize there were necessary lines to deliver that would set the speech up. Without them, my performance made no sense. (I gave no thought to farcically playing both parts myself.)
In a panic, I turned to the “auditioner” behind me – imaginably a “P”, though possibly a “Q” or and “R” – a burly presence, reminiscent of John Goodman in his prime. Pointing to the script I was holding, in a chilling tone that allowed for just one possible answer, I asked,
“Would you read these lines?”
And he did.
Though my knees – and I mean literally – were shaking, I proceeded onstage with this absolute stranger – who to that point had been focused on matters of his own – and I “killed” at the audition. Nobody else got applause. Nobody else was cast in more Brechtian productions.
I am not sure why this story returned to me recently. I just know, whenever I feel afraid, I don’t whistle a happy tune. Instead,
I remember a time when a lion roared.
And the job got done.
Written as a reminder. For whoever may need it.