A little more than two years ago, I quit working on stage as an actor. I was having some gaps in my memory that were potentially show killers.
I’d been on the other side of this thing. I’d seen fellow actors crumble under the strain. I’d watched from the audience as well. It’s a terrible thing to see, perhaps glimpsing another human being’s worst moment. The audience is somewhat dispirited and the other actors feel bad for their castmate, while the actor whose mind went blank at a most inopportune time will likely never forget it. Some never recover from it. I remember a show where I stood across the stage from a man with a lengthy monologue that just wasn’t coming. No amount of prompting returned him to a place that was familiar. It was the second night of a three-night run. We waited breathlessly to see if he would return for the third performance. He did. The same thing happened again. It’s one of the bravest things I ever saw. Brave, but excruciating.
I’ve heard from many people that there are things I can do, memory exercises, repetitive drills, et cetera. Ultimately, I’m not willing to work at a skill that had always come easily to me. When it becomes work to participate in a hobby, I opt out. I was at peace with my decision to quit…or so I thought.
About a year ago, in the midst of a riff on something topical, my wife, Miss Kitty, remarked on my ‘performance’. When I told her I didn’t understand, she laughed at me again. “You perform for me all the time,” she said. “Don’t you know that?” I honestly didn’t and told her so. “You do. You start doing voices and other characters.” I denied her assertion, while Kitty just shook her head and turned away.
It wasn’t even a week later that I caught myself doing exactly what she said I did. All it took was a laugh from her and I was off. Faithful reader, you and I may have both visited the dry cleaner today. Maybe we both had an item lost. Perhaps you even mentioned it to another person. But with me, there is a protagonist and an antagonist, a narrative curve and a denouement. As long as Miss Kitty keeps laughing, that is.
Obviously, Kitty was the audience of one for a small collection of epic rants and the unwitting hostage of any number of pointless ramblings. It didn’t bother me, as I figured we were in this together, hiding a spouse’s peccadillo beneath a mound of pretense. Wrong again.
We were driving, Miss Kitty and I, with our 20 year-old son in tow, to a comedy concert an hour away. The chance to see Steve Martin again and Martin Short for the first time was our mission. I began quoting Steve's lines from an album that is now nearly forty years old. When I got my first laugh, I was off to the races. The lines, the pauses, the musical interludes, I remembered them all and recited them faithfully. Eventually, my youngest, Dan, tired of the monologue. “He’s performing, isn’t he?” he asked his mother. Kitty sadly nodded her head. Dan exclaimed, “Nurse! We need thirty cc’s of laughter, stat!” We laughed at his observation, but I have a little something hanging over my head. My son is no doctor, but the observation was keen.
If the medication doesn’t work, I may be headed for open-mike surgery.