Exit Laughing --Her Life in the Theater
Show business is my life. I have been performing like a real trouper, seven days a week, continuous shows daily, for the last 20 odd--extremely odd--years.
The part I have been playing--and, may I add, playing extremely well--is that of a cheerful, confident, late 20th-Century woman. Sometimes I stand back and watch the show myself and I almost envy this woman. She seems to be everything I’m not--competent, multifaceted, and, most of all, in charge of her life.
My training for the part did not include the Yale School of Drama or the Actors Studio. My entire theatrical resume up until the time I began playing the Grown-Up Lady consisted of the following:
Al Jolson imitations--informal for parents, age 3.
Queen Esther--Purim Festival, age 4.
Frosty the Snowman--third-grade Christmas pageant.
Mrs. Santa Claus--fourth-grade Christmas pageant, unable to perform in actual show due to throwing up during dress rehearsal.
Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley imitations--informal for friends, high school.
Ingenue in “My Three Angels"--summer stock, age 18.
After a brief hiatus from the theater, during which time I made several attempts to play an insane girl coming of age, I began my current run as the Grown-Up Lady in my early 20s. In my late 20s, I took some time out to find myself and also briefly played a hysterical pregnant woman and a postpartum basket case.
Then, I just picked myself up and got back in the race. I’ve been doing remarkably well ever since as the G-U L.
The only time my performance falters is when I actually have to play it on the stage. I get stage fright. Unfortunately, people who have bought my act think I can just get up and do it anywhere.
Most of the time I seem to get away with
it. I have spoken to small groups and afterward lots of people say, “You were great.” But what I think they mean is, “For someone near death from stage fright, you didn’t humiliate yourself too badly.”
No matter how entertaining people may think I am (and obviously you can fool some of the people some of the time), the shaky voice, the wobbly knees, the clammy hands and the pounding heart of stage fright are not my cup of tea. Mostly, I have learned to say “no” to show biz, but sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes, the Grown-Up Lady confuses the part with herself and wants to say “yes.”
Some people will make it easy for you to refuse to play their show. They will call up and say, “We tried to get Jesse Jackson or Connie Chung, but they couldn’t do it. Then we tried Maury Povich and Vanna White, but they wouldn’t answer our calls. Then we asked the pizza delivery guy, but he had to work. So then we thought of you. . . . “
But some people will make it hard for you to say no. Maybe they’ve got a weird cause or an especially pathetic situation or the person who calls is your best friend. And that is how I find myself committed to speak before an audience of 7,000 next week.
“Take drugs,” my friend Jean advised.
We were talking about Inderal, a heart drug that seems to help stage fright and is used by some professionals.
“But I shouldn’t be doing anything that I can’t do without drugs.”
“What is this, some kind of weird Calvinism?” she asked. “It was OK for years to take drugs for recreational purposes, but now we’re not supposed to take them when we really need them?”
Like a junkie in heat, I phoned my doctor. I tried the drug. I could hardly walk. I was unable to talk. I felt totally lobotomized.
And that’s why the Angst -Ridden Grown-Up Lady rather than the Medicated Zombie will be coming soon to a theater near you.