The Sword
     Untitled
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood
     Hunger

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     Railroading
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
     Hello
 

          Author's Comments: Another essay written for class that explored something I was very passionate about at one time, but seem to have fallen out of that passion.  Or, at least, found another way to explore it.


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

          "All the world's a stage,
          And all the men and women merely players"
                    -- As You Like It

          I can recall the moment clearly. We were outside the doorway of a classroom, beyond the metal and plastic partitions that served as walls. She was leaning over, her hands upon her knees, speaking to me in low tones. I had completed three years of my elementary education and had begun my third with the same enthusiasm that every child feels. It was that precious time when life was still a seemingly endless adventure, where guilt and sadness and pain and failure are yet to be realized. School was the playground away from home, where one explored the wonders of the life they had been given in ways that could never be done under the all-knowing eye of parents. I had one of those boyish crushes on a particular redheaded teacher of mine (admittedly I have had a weakness for flame-red hair ever since) and when she invited me to perform in a play, I gladly accepted. My acceptance was partially out of an attempt to impress my love of the moment, but it was also part of continuing on that endless adventure.
          That first play was The Giving Tree, and adaptation of Shel Silverstein's popular children's story and I played the older boy (something of a trip down that road of ego that I now have left so many ruts in) who enjoys climbing the tree. My part was small, and my memory tells me that I didn't even have any lines. However, I was hooked. Over the next few years, I volunteered for each production that my little elementary school prepared and, after a horrible year in an all-grades advanced class for the "artistically inclined", spent my single Elective spot as often as I could in theatre classes in middle school.
          You see, the summer between elementary and middle school was one of abrupt change for me. During those summer months, I was knocked from the path I had been treading by a boy much younger than me. We exchanged a few words, to which I said something to the degree of "make me" and, well, he did. Unbeknownst to me, this boy had been studying Karate, and the extent of my combat knowledge was the shoving and chaotic wrestling that one experiences on the playground. Strangely enough, he and I later became the best of friends. However, his mark upon me was irreparable. I entered middle school with the firm belief that everyone knew Karate and would be more than happy to use it on me. I was so frightened of the change in my life, that same change that I had once reveled in, that I cried the first day of class (I recall using the excuse that something had gotten into my eye to save face). This fear is what damaged me most in that art class; being around people so much larger than me, all of them certainly sporting black belts under their adolescently fashionable clothing, was terrifying. I haven't taken an art class since.
          However, I digress (please forgive me, Gentle Reader, my dissolution of will is an important facet of my life, one which has affected other facets, including my experiences with theatre). During my last year of intermediate school, I was awarded the lead in one of two groups that would perform a play for the entire school (and whichever parents decided to show up). There were two casts, Cast A and Cast B, of which I was the lead of Cast B, a fact which my soon to be arch-enemy, one James Bennett and lead of Cast A, took no small amount of pleasure in pointing out. He predicted that Cast A, perhaps because of its alphabetical importance, would be the one chosen to perform the two out of the three times we were to give the play. I took no small pleasure in the fact that Cast B was chosen for those coveted two performances, while Cast A performed only once (a fact, in retrospect, probably did not have much to do with my performance, but that was irrelevant at the time). The play was The Seven Wives of Dracula.
          Perhaps it was then that my fascination with things dark began.
          It was during this time that a friend of mine asked me to draw a picture for him, of a dragon. I was one of those solitary children who preferred to scribble and doodle whenever I had the time (which my elementary school teacher apparently mistook for true talent and suggest that I be admitted to that horrible art class). My friend, Jeff, wanted the picture for a game he was playing, called Dungeons & Dragons. I had heard of the game, of course, in the same context most of the uninitiated or naive had, as an evil, corrupting influence on our youth which somehow transformed them into suicidal or homicidal servants of Satan. Despite the reputation, or perhaps because of it, I was interested in finding out exactly what this "thing" was all about. Jeff invited me to attend one of his games, and my intrigue increased.
          I won't go into the specifics of the game here, but it, and other games like it, are referred to as Role Playing Games, or RPGs. The basic idea is the same as those games of make believe we all played in our extreme youth, wherein we pretended to be someone we were not, or could never be, such as Cops N' Robbers, House, and Cowboys N' Indians. However, RPGs organize these games of make-believe into a system of rules meant to simulate a fantasy reality, making them into a more adult recreation. No longer was there a dispute as to whether one had shot the "bad guy", it was determined by the random roll of a die. Primarily, however, RPGs gave me an almost constant resource through which I could exercise my theatrical inclinations. In the span of one night, I could play the role of a gruff rural sheriff, or a stoic warrior, or a weaseling thief, or a noble and majestic ruler. I quickly organized my own game to create and referee and, every weekend, delved into that fantasy world that Right-Wing Christianity seems to fear so much.
          I went to high school still a timid young man. I did, however, involve myself in the theatre productions at school, and spent most of my free time thinking about and creating for the Dungeons & Dragons game I refereed on weekends. It was during this time that my most intense and crippling timidity began to be abruptly challenged. During one of my first theatre classes at my new school, I was assigned, with two older women, to plan out an elevator scene, without the use of words. It was mostly an exercise in control and timing, as we had to begin on our knees behind a table, rise in unison, jerk in unison as our imaginary elevator halted, push a few buttons, and then slowly go back down. While we were planning for our scene, the eldest girl, a senior by the name of Cathy, suggested that we two come up from behind the table kissing! My stomach knotted immediately at the suggestion (as I write this I can still feel some sort of strange fluttering in my stomach) and I most certainly blushed. I tried to stammer and stutter my way out of it, and we finally agreed to come up in a "mere" embrace. After much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth (on my part), we performed the elevator scene, to the music of cat-calls and hooting of my merciless classmates. I felt, however, a small change came over me then, as if I had conquered some part of me that had careened wildly out of control. My teacher and friends gave me the affectation "Studly" for the rest of the year, much to my chagrin.
          That year I participated in Hello Dolly as a waiter, though my singing voice was more akin to a whalesong than Pavarati. For some still inexplicable reason, I was able to pick up a certain dance faster than anyone else, and was given the honor of dancing down-stage with Dolly and another waiter. The next year, I participated in Ten Little Indians as an English butler, and discovered that I had some small talent with accents. Later that year, I participated in "Annie" and got a solo role (unusual in musicals for me) because I could not sing or, rather, because I could sing badly without apparent effort (because, of course, it wasn't).
          The next year, however, I wore my first real rut in that constant trip of the ego. I finally got a lead role on the high school level, in our school's production of Harvey. I got to portray a character that had been played many years ago by the actor that was, at that time, my favorite, Jimmy Stewart. The premise of the play is that a man, not quite holding all of his marbles in the same bag, believes that he has a six foot, one and a half inch tall rabbit as a companion. His sister attempts to commit him, and, after some time and multiple confusions, decides not to. However, there was this one scene where the nurse of the parodied psychiatrist and Elwood P. Dowd, my character, kiss.
          A month before the play opened, my teacher and director asked everyone to depart after rehearsal except us. She pulled the curtains tight, and asked us to practice the kiss. I had, of course, been dreading the moment, perhaps doubly so because I knew there was no way I could stammer my way out of it. The girl was, to use a droll term, in the midst of blossoming. She had, in the previous year, been a rather plain, heavy-set girl that few of the male population had taken interest in (the human desire for an attractive appearance as an indication of desirability being magnified by our youth). However, over the summer she had apparently entered some sort of cocoon and emerged a slim bodied, beautiful and, hence, popular young woman. My memory recalls some concern that I would become attached or attracted to the young woman I had to kiss, but, for some as yet unknown reason, I didn't (and, little surprise to anyone, neither did she). Thus, the first time my lips touched the tender lips of another I was not related to happened within the four walls of a stage, under the watchful gaze of my teacher and, unbeknownst to me until the requisite cat-calls and hooting afterwards, the gaze of my fellow students who had taken it upon themselves to watch from the crack of the curtain.
          After a relatively unremarkable production of Bye Bye, Birdie, my teacher decided to direct an adaptation of Winnie the Pooh, in which I played the relatively small role of Christopher Robin. The role was unremarkable except that I received many comments, probably intended as complimentary, that I looked so young. Almost immediately after production was over, I began to grow a beard. It was my first real negative experience about theatre, and I was quite emasculated by the experience.
          In the few months between the requisite play and musical that my theatre teacher directed, my math teacher, a man by the name of Mr. Burns directed a one act play that was intended for competition. In the months after Winnie the Pooh, he directed a play entitled Chemical Reactions. I played the part of a man that had been stuffed into a barrel and shot numerous times, who was being dumped into a chemical waste dump by two thugs. Throughout the entire thirty or forty minutes of the play, I had to act from within a barrel and it was, perhaps, one of my most exciting experiences with theatre. By the end of each performance, my legs were so numb from being cramped up in the large plastic barrel that I could not even stand to bow at the end, but it didn't matter to me. I felt somehow liberated by having to temporarily surrender my mobility and the pain of waiting ten to twenty minutes for it to return. I was sacrificing for "my Art."
          At the end of the year, when my high school gave out annual awards and such, the man who had played overweight, sawdust-filled, golden haired teddy bear received the award for "Best Actor." I was stunned and demoralized. I informed Mr. Burns of such, as we had become as close friends as a teacher and student truly can (or, rather, should). The next Friday, he stood up in front of the school and present an award for the best performance in the one act plays. I knew it was something he had created for me, perhaps to appease me, but my eyes still uncharacteristically (and quite against my will) filled with water as the school applauded (in their typical lackadaisical fashion) as I stepped up to receive the award. It was the first year that award was given, and probably the last; not out of lack of good performers in his one acts, I'm certain, but because no one had probably been quite as crushed as my fragile ego had been.
          I left high school with a deep respect for Mr. Burns, and a dwindling respect for the theatre teacher who had, I felt, "sold out" to the pressure of doing children's plays (the County Supervisor liked the idea, and had some elementary school children come to watch them...I despised their simplicity). I entered James Madison University as a theatre major (which surprised me somewhat, after my merciless murder of some lines of Hamlet during my audition for the university) and worked my way through the various backstage jobs (derogatively referred to as "techie" jobs by actors). Eventually, in my sophomore year, I was given a role as Antonio, the dastardly villain of Shakespeare's Tempest. Finally, I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my acting career, and reveled in the experience of performing with the Bard's words. The University newspaper published horrible reviews of the play (not of my performance in particular...in fact, I wasn't mentioned at all, which was even worse than being harshly critiqued), but, regardless, the production sold out three of its five night run, once word of mouth increased it's popularity. In retrospect, it is unlikely that my performance was particularly remarkable, but I felt, at the time, as if I were on top of the world.
          During this time, I continued to enjoy RPGs. When I first arrived at JMU, one of the first things I accomplished socially (after a rather strange and negative experience going to my first "frat" party), was to get myself involved in the college gaming organization, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Guild. I reveled in the experience of meeting people as interested in gaming as I was, and made many close friends that I have kept to this day. At the end of my Freshman year, I ran for and was elected President of SFFG. It would seem that I had finally found my niche. However, it was something that was just not to be. My tenure as President was a difficult one, probably because I did not realize the responsibility that the position required, but partially because all of those contacts and friends that I had made the previous year had, unfortunately, graduated.
          Soon after my experience with The Tempest, I began to date a girl seriously, and theatre began to appear less and less attractive as the sort of career I wanted. Certainly, it would not support a wife and family, so my interest waned, perhaps under her unconscious influence. I transferred to VCU and became a Computer Science major, which may have been the greatest mistake of my life, despite my parents' belief that it was the sensible choice. After some particularly defeating and deflating experiences with math classes, I became an English major, and will receive my degree in May. I still retain a great deal of my timidity, nothing has yet exorcised that demon from my bosom. My head still spins with the thought of speaking with (not to) groups, and I still unconsciously spew pea soup while conversing instead of the eloquence I wish I had. My ego, of course, is still that of an actor's, prepared to simultaneously play the part of my most overbearing admirer and most vile detractor. I continue to play role playing games, and have been blessed with having a couple of minor, unremarkable articles published, and use RPGs as my main outlet of creativity, along with my periodic electronic scribblings on my proverbial Great American Novel. I attribute my love of role playing games to my love of theatre, and a great deal of good, I think, has come from each. At the very least, good or bad, they have been the two forces that have defined me the most clearly. In the three years that I have attended VCU, I have not re-entered theatre, or even really set foot on a stage.
          This, however, changed on the second of March, 1996. On a Monday, the twenty-sixth of February, a friend of mine (who participates in the group that I currently game with), invited me to play a very minor role in a one act play that he had written and decided to perform when his cast decided to quit a week before they were due to perform. I finally had the chance to step onto that hallowed ground that is a stage once more. I began to feel that strange energy that I had unknowingly lost, an inexplicable force that was once a part of me. We arrived early at Randolph Macon's small theatre to rehearse and began our dress rehearsal. During my final scene, wherein I scream, rant and rave until I fall to the floor, I screamed, ranted and raved and, on cue, let my body fall forward. Unfortunately, I had misjudged the small size of the stage and plummeted to the cement floor some four feet below me. I was uninjured, though I gained a small bruise on my head as a battle wound, but, more importantly, I was unembarrassed. It was as if my timidity and self consciousness, that I had struggled with for so long and which had slowly increased during my years away from theatre, were no longer present to vex me. It was as if I had returned home after unknowingly deserting it. This understanding perhaps most crystallized itself when I waited backstage before the play began. Other actors, from other Universities were there in the dressing room waiting with me, and, though we had never met, we talked as if we were, please forgive the tired metaphor, truly brothers and sisters; not only had I rediscovered my home, but the family that I never realized I had. The play itself went on as expected, with rave reviews for my friend, Patrick, who had written and performed the lead role. Though it is likely that I will never make a career of my first and favorite love, it is an intrinsic part of me that I cannot suppress or forget.