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.
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.