Instead of taking horticulture as an elective in ninth grade, I signed up for theatre arts. Less than a year later, I found myself starring in a joint production between Midway and Hobbton high schools.
I had been nervous before. I played competitive sports up until that point. I had been in situations where the outcome of a game was in my hands. But I had never been as nervous as I was the moment before I stepped on stage for the first time. Never in my life had I thought that my heart would literally leap out of my chest.
I realized then that the thrills, the adrenaline, and the risk of embarrassment offered by sports paled in comparison to that of the stage.
My interest in sports dwindled, and I meandered my way through college and a degree in theatre arts. My father didn’t quite understand this move, so over the years, I tried to formulate some ideas to justify my conversion. Why could he embrace my athletic interest, but not my artistic one?
My dad’s attitude reflected our cultural attitude. But what does it say about us as a community when competitive athletic programs are funded generously and yet there’s almost no support for the cooperative arts in our schools?
The arts are much harder to embrace than sports are. Sports are competitive, with clear winners and losers. Arts are cooperative, and there are no scores, no statistics, no objective measures of performance. Coaches and referees evaluate athletes’ performances. Only the artist can rightfully evaluate his own performance, which means the artist must first know his own values. This is far more difficult for artist and audience alike.
Most fail to realize that acting requires a tremendous amount of athleticism. An actor may not be as strong or as fast as someone playing a sport, but a great actor has perfect control over his voice, posture, breath, memory, and whole body. James Earl Jones was nearly 80 when I saw him perform in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He performed 2.5 hours per show, eight shows per week, for months on end, with only Mondays off. And yet he could send his booming voice to the back of the 1,500-seat theatre, completely dominate the space with his presence, and make the audience sympathize with Big Daddy.
Acting is without a doubt an athletic exercise. Find out for yourself and watch 10 actor-athletes perform next weekend. Old Bluff Theatre Company’s production of “Rumors,” sponsored by Clinton-Sampson Rotary, will be held at A Peaceful Path, in the old Ace Hardware building in downtown Clinton. Tickets are on sale now at oldblufftheatre.org. The show’s a comedy, and I guarantee you it will be more fun than a horticulture class.