in Uncategorized

CBC V, or Why I’m Not An Actor Anymore

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown performed for two weekends in June of 1982, one weekend at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood and one at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley. By all accounts, it was awful, as most of the kids had any idea what they were saying or why it was supposed to be funny. I, of course, was genius. Sheer %$^&ing genius.

So Charlie Brown was over. Kaput.

Or WAS IT?!

See, after the show’s initial run, a remarkable transformation took place.

The Los Angeles Children’s Choir, a staid, conservative sort of dealie with hordes of children standing on risers and singing Bach cantatas, was rechristened the “Kids of the Century,” where every song required dancing or a simulation thereof, and everyone eventually had to dress up like Michael Jackson. (I actually, at one point, owned a pair of parachute pants. I did not, at the time, own a single glove with sequins, although I do now.)

I was ill-suited for this particular transformation, yet I stubbornly hung on and/or refused to go away. So I became the Kids of the Century’s Human Tree – a tall, dippy guy in the back who sort of flung out his arms on occasion but never really did any actual dancing. I was always in the back row – and there weren’t enough back rows to hide the inadequacy of my boogie. Lucy, on the other hand, was a spectacular dancer and perfectly suited to the new format, so she soon became the group’s centerpiece, thereby putting her even further out of reach.

Another equally remarkable thing happened at the same time. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown refused to die.

It didn’t make any sense, really. I had been in L.A. Children’s Choir-produced shows like The Wizard of Oz, Hans Christian Andersen, and Tom Sawyer, and all of those stayed dead after the final curtain came down. (Okay, they revived The Wizard of Oz for Christmas that year, but it died forever after that.) It had been everyone’s understanding that Charlie Brown would suffer the same fate. But somehow, it didn’t.

I’m very fuzzy on the details. I don’t remember a moment where they decided to bring it back, because it never really went away. The rehearsals just sort of… continued. We met every week at a scary, dilapidated school on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from Barnsdall Park – Los Feliz Elementary, to be exact. Necessary modifications to the show were made – the tall and small cast combined into a single cast, and the ensemble of thousands was stripped down to a handful. Our Charlie Brown left for greener pastures, but I had no illusions that I would be picked to replace him. I was Schroeder, and I would remain so indefinitely.

What’s interesting, though, was that as the Kids of the Century became increasingly cult-like, the Charlie Brown cast became the cult in the center of the cult. There was no need to actually rehearse anything at these rehearsals, which usually degenerated into free-for-alls where we just enjoyed the chance to hang out. (How could they not? We were rehearsing a show we already knew with no performance date in sight.) But Charlie Brown gave us inside access into the inner circle, so we suddenly became the cool kids, even though I was far less cool than most of the other kids by any objective standard.

The timeline here is very, very fuzzy, but between 1982 and July 13, 1985 – more foreshadowing, but earlier in the post this time – we would put on excerpts of the show in school assemblies all across the greater LA area. My Schroederdom wasn’t really a problem, because we never really did any dialogue from the show – just the big group numbers where everyone more or less had a piece of the action. We got photographed and written up in the paper, and I got to ditch school more than a few times, which is always a good thing.

Sometime in early 1984, I think, we finally remounted the whole show in a professional setting at the hole-in-the-wall 99-seat Tracy Theatre in beautiful downtown Burbank. The only original cast members left were myself, Lucy, and the small cast Snoopy. We got reviewed by actual newspapers, and, if you take their word for it, the show was actually pretty good by this time. The one weak link, though, was the stringy oaf playing Schroeder.

I’m not an actor anymore for a number of reasons, but I think the seeds of my disillusionment with the acting profession were planted during that Burbank run. It was there that I discovered that acting is not an intellectual exercise, and that, for actors, intelligence is not necessarily an asset.

That’s somewhat self-serving of me to say that, as I’m happy to blame my poor acting skills on how wicked smart I am. But it wasn’t the fact that I was brilliant- it’s the fact that I thought too much, that I tried too hard. By this point, I felt like I was too old and too tall to be playing on stage with these other kids, and so I overthought every moment. Why am I doing this? Isn’t this silly? Why isn’t this working? Every joke became labored, so I never got laughs. So that led me to overanalyze the whole thing even more, and I ended up giving stilted, lifeless performances.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many intelligent actors, and some of them are very gifted performers, too. But in order for that to work, they have to find a way to mute the self-critical director’s commentary that runs through their brain every second of every performance. Stupid actors don’t have that commentary running, and so they perform uninhibited, without fear of consequence. That’s one of the reasons why some of the most talented stars of our generation are also mindless boobs when it comes to their positions on the issues of the day. They’re in a profession that rewards the effective bypass of critical thinking.

Anyway, if this whole trip down memory lane is boring the snot out of you, don’t worry. There’s only one more Charlie Brown story to be told before we get to July 13, 1985…

CBC IV: Crushed by Lucy
CBC VI: Charlie Brown Mormons

Leave a Reply

  1. The actual problem is that we were separated during most of the run of this show. Had that unfortunate break not occurred, you and I would have been having too much FUN to be concerned with directorial monologues running through your head. We would have been swiping piano covers and scuttling across stage as a Horta.

    I notice that someone is conspicuously absent from the LACC photo, incidentally taken at the Pierce College outdoor stage, as anyone can tell. BTW, I was there a couple weeks ago, and I swear that some of the balls that were thrown up on top of the aluminum cover of the stage are still up there. Don’t say we didn’t make history!

    I think you’re taking self-deprecating too far here. A sense of humor about oneself is good, but you were far more awesome than you give yourself credit. Perhaps you didn’t know inside that you were that awesome. Perhaps the insecurity of adolescence made you doubt that. And it may be that my standards of awesome, as mutually constructed by you, me, and a few other conscious weirdos, may very well not have matched those of our peers, but I have always insisted, then, now, that we have the power inside us to declare our own standards, and weird was a good standard, and you were good at it. In that space of weirdness we were able to create a space that had some freedom from the strict determinism of adolescence, a course between the Scylla of Hormones and the Charybidis of Conformity. It’s a weirdo’s form, in a way, of the Quaker’s sense of the Inner Light, the idea that authority comes from within, and that within each of us is something that can challenge the world itself. For a time, with laughter, with awkwardness, with passion, and with sheer abandon, we let that light shine in all its bizarre chaos, and it was a kind of salvation, let that be blasphemous as it may.

    You were more than “Tree Man”, although your reflections on the transition from the 1950s-style Children’s Choir to the 1980s rock-theatre style are interesting. It was a difficult transition, a little difficult to understand. I think maybe for our peers who were more into mainstream pop music, it must have been a blast of fresh air. But for you and me, who were always ambivalent at best about what was popular, it was a little confusing. Where did we fit in?

    I think the answer, in the end, is that we fit in by not fitting in. And that was a gift both to ourselves and to others.