Monday, February 1, 2010

'This is embarrassing!'

November, 2009

"Conrad, why do you want to be in Shakespeare Club?" I asked the eight-year-old perched on the edge of his chair.

"Well, 'cause my teacher says I'm a natural!" he declared.

Not like we haven't heard this one before. Being "a natural" isn't exactly a stamp of approval for a director, or a teacher, or a coach. In my private coaching practice for actors, I would sometimes get late bloomers who'd decided to give this "natural calling" their full attention.

"My friends tell me I'm a know, at dinners and stuff. I'm always crackin' 'em up and I do great imitations."

Yeah, I bet.

For a three-month period in the nineties, a very highly placed entertainment executive hired me to give him private acting coaching in his office. This fellow's roster of friends included Tom Hanks and Al Pacino, among many others. One day as we crossed the Universal Studios lot, Peter Bogdanovich called out to my student, eager for a "hello," and received a casual wave in reply. This guy was unimpressed by stars because he knew them all. His main concern was claiming his own real estate in the Hollywood galaxy.

For months I coached him because he told me his friends insisted he was "a natural" and because it paid my rent.

Outside of his gigantic office, I'd wait for our appointments under the watchful looks of his bevy of assistants. After weeks, one brave soul finally asked outright what I did with his boss in there. His question clued me in to what they all thought I might be doing there every week.

I gave the executive lots of homework and he soon realized the craft of acting required more than an ability to entertain friends over expensive wine....Hell, anyone can do that.

"Conrad, let's see what you've got. Did you learn your piece by heart?"

"Yes, yes...I did it all by my heart!"

Conrad sports a close-cropped haircut and has a face that, even at such a young age, paints a picture of what he will look like as a middle-aged adult. I liked his forthrightness and looked forward to his audition. I placed him in front of the rack of paperbacks and asked him to imagine it as a tree filled with forest creatures.

"Okay, Conrad, give it a shot in your biggest voice, please."

Conrad squinted at me with big brown eyes, looked at the books, back at me, and then slapped himself on the forehead.

"Ooooo...this is embarrassing!"

"Yup, it can feel like that, I agree. But here's the thing about Shakespeare Club...I need kids that have the courage to be silly. I need kids that, even if it feels embarrassing, will get up on stage in front of a whole lot of people and act out a story. You know what I mean, Conrad? I mean like...anyway. Think you can do that?"

He studied the paperback books, gave the speech a start, stopped and glanced back at me with a little frown.

"You do it anyway...," I whispered.

And he did.


I want to be in shakespeare club because I want to lean about plays. I want to have fun, I want to do the plays and some times I love acting. I want to lean more about Willyum Shakespeare.
—Conrad, 3rd grade

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