Friday, June 8, 2012

the Tudor spectrum and my illustrious acting career

I finished up my re-read of Antonia Fraser's The Six Wives of Henry VIII; I've been talking about it here previously, and don't have much to add. It's so, so good. Fascinating and difficult to put down; I've given it as a gift to people and they always tell me, "I can't stop reading this!" Unfortunately, it's hard to find, but if you come across a used copy, snap that baby up. You won't regret it.

Interestingly, both Fraser and "The Tudors" have Cromwell being tight with the Boleyn clan and with Anne in particular. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, he's their enemy. I trust both Fraser and Mantel, so don't know quite what to do with that.

Speaking of "The Tudors: Leather Pantaloons Edition", the first season ended with Cardinal Wolsey committing suicide, which was telegraphed about fifteen minutes ahead (significant looks at a knife, Chords of Self-Harm, etc). I started shouting at the television and didn't let up that whole fifteen minutes ("You are NOT going to have a 16th-century clergyman KILL HIMSELF, are you SERIOUS"), which is kind of a shame because Sam Neill, who was not afraid to ham it up prior to this, did a very quiet and beautiful job with the scene (until he was required to slash his own throat in a moment hilariously reminiscent of my backdrop-chomping high school performance of Salieri in Amadeus, of which more below). And then of course when the king was told, he said, "History must never know," to explain the fact that the writers decided history wasn't stupid enough. I was so disgruntled by this that I banished the subsequent seasons back down the massive queue; I will probably re-encounter them in a year or so.

Now I am happily watching "Primeval" - the British miniseries about dinosaurs coming through a time portal, not the slasher movie about a giant killer crocodile.* The main actor's Glaswegian accent is both divine and incomprehensible, the special effects are about two notches above early "Doctor Who", and it features the cutest dinosaur puppet I have ever seen. Good times.

As indicated above, I was reminded of my own goofy acting career by the excesses of "The Tudors". For most of my life I was that type of incredibly shy person who wants to perform all the time. It goes hand in hand with not liking yourself very much: I cannot improvise to save my life, but give me a character and a script and I will do anything. In fact, for most of my acting (i.e., academic; I haven't acted since college) career, I was uncontrollably over-dramatic to an extent rarely witnessed outside of Nicolas Cage films. My specialty was death scenes which left entire elementary school gymnasiums stunned into awkward silence: you have not seen Mercutio's death until you have seen it performed by an eleven-year-old girl who thinks she's Laurence Olivier ("nor as... [gasp] WIDE... as a... [wince] church DOOR...").

The following year I died as both Hamlet and Cyrano de Bergerac, with equal subtlety ("my... PANACHE! [rattle]"). My high school drama teacher, after I auditioned for something with a monologue from Romeo and Juliet and one from Marat / Sade (I wish I was kidding, but I'm not), said, after a long silence, "You know, it's okay to, um, show a lighter side." He then cast me as Mrs. Peacock in Clue, and I had more fun than I would ever have imagined, and I am grateful to him for helping me distinguish between people laughing at you and people laughing at your funny performance. As a teenager, that distinction is hard to make.

I was frankly not reined in as an actress until my sophomore year of college, when my acting class had an intensive Chekhov focus, and each student was assigned a character or two from his plays and basically lived as those characters for the entire semester. I got Sonya from Uncle Vanya, and was no one else for three straight months. We were forbidden to sigh. It was an amazing experience; I finally learned how to use my natural stillness, and ability to be silent, in a character.

I then proceeded to direct myself in monstrously self-indulgent versions of Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. I'd learned nothing!

Of course I periodically want to act again, and consider seeking out community theater. The one time I'd actually signed up for an audition slot I promptly went out and got a puppy, and then withdrew because I couldn't be away from home for long periods of time. I considered that self-sabotage, though Claudio and I had always known that the moment we had a house we'd be getting a dog. It's true, absolutely, that I need the outlet of acting now so much less than I did at twenty-two, when I didn't even dare be myself without six drinks in me, and the only truly safe person to be was a character. But it's also true that I miss the fun of it, and there's little reason to deny myself fun. Alas, a lot of it just comes down to time, and lately my focus is my writing. (And of course I'm terrified of finding that I'm no longer good at something which used to define me as much as said writing.)

We shall see what happens down the road. In the meantime, I reserve my melodrama for that fifteen minutes every morning when I am hitting the snooze button and Darcy decides to sing me the song of his people. "I have faith, Darcy. I have a passionate faith. WE SHALL REST!"

*Which I have seen. Oh, like that's a surprise.

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