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Shell Shocked: My childhood acting bug

July 11, 2018
By ART STEVENS , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

I studied acting when I was a kid. I had dreams of becoming people other than myself on a stage. I was a shy kid and playing roles of people other than me was my way of coping with the world.

Acting allowed me to explore other identities, personalities and lives. It enabled me to figure out why people do what they do. I learned what motivation is all about. I urge every young person to take an acting course. It's far cheaper than years spent in psychoanalysis.

During my acting training at the High School of Performing Arts in New York, which I auditioned for and got accepted in at the age of 14, I learned how to think like a frog, dance like a tree, feel warm when it was freezing and dance like Baryshnikov while being a klutz.

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Art Stevens

Acting got me out of myself and into other people. It's the sane way to become multiple personalities and not be institutionalized for it. I remember preparing for the audition to get into this special high school. It held all of 500 students and aspiring actors from many New York City high schools competed to pass the audition.

I was one of them. I had just come off a star turn in which I had played Peter Rabbit in a school play. I had become so comfortable in this role that I ate carrots for weeks afterwards. I had been fitted into a rabbit suit with a big bushy tail. An Oscar awaited me.

That's when I thought I would consider acting as a career. I had to prepare for my audition by reading two monologues and carrying out a pantomime exercise the subject of which wasn't disclosed to me before the audition itself. I wrote one of the monologues myself. It was awful now that I think about it. The monologue consisted of the last spoken words of a man being led to the electric chair for murder. I got to scream, cry and overact. The audition tribunal must have seen some talent in me because I got accepted into this esteemed school. My monologue was taken almost word for word from a movie in which James Cagney played the same role - a small time hood going to the chair.

I started this new high school the following September. Yes, it was in that small building in Manhattan that was used in the movie "Fame" to follow the lives of aspiring young performing artists - like myself.

And so my young adulthood began with a flourish. I sang, danced, and acted with a vengeance. I learned the Stanislavsky method of acting, which enabled me to actually feel the pain of the character I was portraying. I could conjure up life memories - or make them up - to suit the acting occasion. I got pretty good at it. I could play a villain or a hero. A nut job or a loner.

But at the end of the day, I decided not to pursue acting as a career. I loved the artistry part of it, but I had already heard of the high rejection rate for aspiring actors. It's always been one profession where there seem to be more actors available for fewer roles. But my acting training paid dividends in later life. I learned how to whine at will.



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