So I Used to Want to Be an Actor (Part II)

by Rachel on November 21, 2011

A few weeks ago, I started telling you guys about my lifelong ambition to be an actor (which clearly was not lifelong). You can read Part I here!

When I was five, my mom and I moved to Grand Blanc, Michigan, which wasn’t exactly known for its theater scene. I was so sad that my career was apparently coming to an end. I still loved performing and wrote little sketches (though I didn’t call them that) for my friends to perform. In third grade, we were learning about the Titanic, and I wrote a sketch called “Titanic Cafe,” which was basically a commercial about a new restaurant/attraction that was opening on the ruins of the Titanic. When I was in third grade, my mom took me to audition for a children’s production of Cinderella; even though I was the youngest kid to audition, I was cast as Cinderella. The next year, my mom went to my school principal and talked to him about starting a drama program there. He didn’t think any of the kids would do it, so my mom went over his head and talked to the church pastor (who was the principal’s boss) who thought it was a great idea and was a huge champion for the program over the years. I spent the rest of my grade school years loving doing those plays more than anything. I also did plays in the community theaters whenever possible.

Even though my mom was the director, I was never given the lead roles. I never really wanted the lead roles either. I was usually in some bratty, dumb character role, which was fine by me. I liked doing funny accents and making people laugh.

High School Musicals

After several years of performing I was excited to get on a real stage and perform for a bigger audience. My freshman year, the shows were kinda lame, so I didn’t audition and played sports instead. Then I did two shows my sophomore year, including Damn Yankees! where I totally stole the show as Doris (who I modeled after Kitty on “That 70s Show”).

The following summer, I went to a summer high school program at Adrian College. There were kids there from all over the state specializing in everything from science to musical theater; I was in the improv program. I did improv every day for two weeks and fell in love. A lot of actors say they hate improv but I loved it and from then on, that was the only kind of acting I wanted to do.

The summer after my junior year, I got into the National High School Institute at Northwestern University as a Theater Cherub (the nickname given to the students who attend). My summer as a Cherub was one of the most important experiences I’ve ever had. The kids there were incredibly talented (and, I now can see, hipsters) and we did theater for hours each day. It was amazing.

We started the day with two core classes that were mainly about voice and movement, and quite often, that movement included running or really vigorous calisthenics. It was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done and even now, when I’m in way better shape, I’m not sure I’d be able to get through it without wanting to cry.

In the afternoon, we took elective classes, and I was really excited to get into the improv class. What people don’t realize about improv is that you can practice it, and after a few weeks, I felt like I was really “in shape” — meaning my wit and comic timing was just on all the time. We did long-form improv, which is a lot different (but, to me, more challenging and ultimately more rewarding) than short-form improv (the kind of stuff you’d see on Who’s Line is it Anyway?).

In the evenings, we went to rehearsal; during the summer, we put on ten fully-staged productions. Each Cherub was in the cast of one of the shows. The last week of the program, we spent the evenings going to the performances/performing and we got to see just how talented everyone really was.

But before that, we had one event that really was game-changer for me: an open mic night. This was a chance for all of us to just show off. The singers, the dancers, the magician, the hypnotist (yes…we had all of the above that summer!) had an opportunity to show off their skills. I decided to try stand-up comedy for the first time. I had wanted to do it since the previous summer, and I figured this was my best chance to try it because I’d never be in such a supportive creative community ever again. It went really well and gave me a ton of confidence in my own skills.

Leaving Cherubs was so, so difficult; I think most of us wept the last day. Going back to high school was even harder; now that I had had this amazing experience, I had no patience for the fake BS that was such a huge part of high school life (and high school theater). I had a miserable senior year and almost didn’t walk at graduation because I was so over it.

College

After Cherubs, I had the realization that I liked acting but I loved comedy and improv. The more I thought about it, I eventually realized that I really just liked performing when I was writing my own material. I didn’t want so much to be an actor; I really just wanted to be an actor who could write my own funny material. So I basically wanted to be Tina Fey.

So I decided to pursue a degree in Television Writing at Columbia College Chicago, taking classes at Improv Olympic and Second City on the side. I left after one semester; I mean, hipster kids arr one thing, but hipster teachers were just too much for me. I hadn’t thought I wanted the traditional college experience but turns out…I did.

Once I was back in Michigan, I signed up at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle for what I thought was an improv class, but I found out the first day it was actually a stand-up comedy class. Uh…so the routine I performed that day was total improv, so I guess I sort of broke even? After that, I started doing more stand-up, which I loved. Then I started at Michigan State and that was when it really clicked for me that I just loved writing more than anything. I had always been so focused on acting, I didn’t realize how much I had been reading and writing all those years. It was like when a TV character realizes he’s been in love with his best friend all along. Writing was my totally cute best friend who I had passed over for the hot chick that was acting.

Once I discovered blogging at the end of my first semester at MSU, I was totally over stand-up. Why hunt for open mics and worry about going in front of an audience? Why should I worry that I was both not skinny enough and not fat enough to be a comedian? I could do it all from behind a computer screen. It’s still fun for me and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll totally do it, but I’d rather just write. I like stand-up, but writing punchlines is not my strong point. I just like telling stories. And if I am in the mood to write punchlines, I write a new video blog instead. It’s a way better outlet for me and I’d rather create something a lot of people can see, rather than the 40 people who happened to go to the open mic night

Since I started working on Beckinfield, I’ve been channeling the improv skills I loved honing so much in high school and it’s really fun for me. On the other hand, I really just like writing more than anything and I’d be totally happy to just write stories for other characters and not do much performing myself. Or just start a fake blog for my character. That would be really fun for me.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mel November 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

This really does make sense when I think about how much of your writing fuses the principles of theatre (drama, plot) with quick zingers. I mean, I dig it, so like, don’t stop, ok?

The thing you said about playing the quirky roles made me think of my friend Jeff – who we ALWAYS compare to “the main character” when we’re watching movies. Unlike the cool quirks of the supporting cast, he’s just really normal. He of course hates this. It’s way more fun to be quirky!

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2 Diane November 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Yay! I was really looking forward to this second post! Will you ever write more on your fashion magazine experiences? I’m still super fascinated by all of that.

Though I’m currently pursuing performance (storytelling/comedy) as an adult, I’m really glad I did journalism in college. I think it taught me a ton of useful lessons about how to edit, take criticism, meet a deadline, etc.

I would’ve died in an art/drama school. After growing up with super artsy parents, I think I was craving structure and “do this or you’ll fail” assignments. Creativity plus responsibility is the way to go, I think.

I think you do a great job combining all those skills into your blog!

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3 Jasmine November 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone like you. You are so interesting, and add so much to “Blogdom.” I’m so glad to have “met” you.

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4 Rachel November 22, 2011 at 8:10 am

Awww, Jasmine! That is SUCH a nice thing to say, you just put a big (slash really dopey) smile on my face!!

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5 Jasmine November 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm

:) Happy Thanksgiving girl.

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6 Chandra @ShiftC December 7, 2011 at 5:07 am

I agree. You are all kinds of awesome and most definitely my favorite blogger. You don’t get enough credit. I enjoyed reading this post!

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7 Rachel December 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

Ah, that is SO nice, seriously. Thank you!!

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8 Bridget November 22, 2011 at 12:06 am

This post reminds me a lot of the “you don’t have to make your passion your job” post you had a few days ago. You can mold your passion into whatever works for you!
I was also in theater (and show choir before Glee was cool) in high school and have to say-theater kids are a great bunch. Sure there was drama (ha), but in the end, high school would have been so very different without them.

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9 Stephanie November 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I’ve often thought about writing a fake blog from a created character’s point of view. Seems like it would be fun!

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10 Liz @ IHeartVegetables November 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm

What a cool journey! (And that summer program sounds amazing!) You’re a fantastic storyteller so I’m super glad you got into blogging! I love hearing about the crazy things you’ve done :)

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11 Deva @ Deva by Definition November 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

It sounds like you had quite the journey! I went from wanting to be a photographer, to wanting to be a photojournalist (same deal, different classes – one was art school, the other was, decidedly, not), to going into a major that involved tons of research. I love reading peoples’ accounts of how they got to where they are today, because everyone’s journey is different.

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12 Bria @ WestofPersia November 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Super interesting story, Rachel. I seriously admire you for having the cojones to do stand-up comedy.

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13 Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn November 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Dayum chica. Can I just say —- my motivation for blogging is similar, but I got there not by acting, but instead by being the wallflower. And now I’m totally not a wallflower. Who woulda thunk. I know exactly what it is that you mean, wanting to be projective in a big industry but then realizing that blogging is the most perfect, personal medium. Meow!

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14 Jane December 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

The Comedy Castle is only a couple of miles from my parents’ house. I used to walk past it all the time when I worked downtown in high school, and I’d always contemplated doing their stand-up classes. Now that it seems like they’re actually sort of quality, I regret that I never did.

Also, it always excites me to see things from my hometown mentioned on the internet by people I don’t actually know. It gives me the warm-fuzzies.

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