The high school I attended had a really excellent vocal music and drama program. It was the suburb of a big city, and it was the rich suburb of the big city. Kids I went to school with drove brand new Beemers. One kid that I went to school with hosted an after prom party at his house, and his dad was so rich that he collected rare Bibles. They had a page from a Gutenberg Bible displayed in a glass case like a museum piece, in their home.
Our high school theater was featured in Architectural Digest, and the fine arts reviewer for the newspaper of our state capital used to come to our musicals and plays and review them. We had some very, very talented people graduate from that high school, and some even went on to perform on Broadway or otherwise become working actors. I’ve seen one guy I went to high school with in at least two Richard Linklater movies, which is funny since Linklater, the director of Dazed & Confused, is part of the Austin film scene.
I was reasonably talented for a high school kid but not a triple threat. My parents didn’t have the money for the voice or dance lessons that so many of the kids I went to school with took. We also didn’t have the money to take off to New York once or twice a year and see Broadway shows, as so many of the kids I went to school with did.
My parents were also not big contributors or supporters of the parents’ group for performers that forked out the cash for our little productions, probably a big reason why I stayed in the chorus or got the tiny roles in school plays. The kids who starred almost always came from deep pockets. I never got the connection back then. A friend and I were talking recently about how naïve we both were on that score.
When it came time to go to college I wanted to study theater, but my dad said that I could study anything I wanted but theater, and that if I was going to study theater then I was on my own. I was in no way prepared to be on my own, so I stayed home and majored in English Education, which later was changed to just plain English.
However, even though my Dad was right that I was eventually proud that I graduated from college with my degree that I paid for myself by working my own way through school, and without any student loans, I still hated the fact that I didn’t get to major in what I wanted to study or get the chance to go to a more prestigious school that might have opened doors for me with just a name. Even though I’d sort of moved on and decided that I wanted to go into ministry and study at a seminary, I still had that niggling little thought that I’d been cheated out of a dream. I resented that my parents didn’t support me in my dream. Other people’s parents did; why not mine?
Well, last Thanksgiving when I went home for a little holiday visit we were sitting around the breakfast table when my dad congratulates himself on the fact that I was free to become whatever I wanted in life and that he and my mom never forced a profession on me. And I thought, seriously? What revisionist history! I mean, no, I wasn’t forced into a specific profession, but I was barred from my chosen profession. So, I sort of pipe up about what a lie that is and challenge them on it.
This is when my mother pipes back with the fact that so few actors are really working actors. She actually tells me that they were afraid that I’d fall into prostitution if I pursued a career in acting. What? No waiting tables or folding t-shirts at the Gap? Just straight from the cattle call to crack whorehouse?
As if that weren’t insulting enough, she then tells me that I didn’t have the looks for acting, and adds that not everyone can be Kathy Bates. It doesn’t even occur to her that she’s insulting. That’s the worst part of it.
I won’t claim to have given a beauty like Elizabeth Taylor or Angelina Jolie a run for her money, but when I was younger, with the right makeup, wardrobe and lighting that movie stars get, I could have taken on Meg Ryan at least. Jeez! Kathy Bates.
It was a long time ago. My mom said that if I wanted it that badly then I should go pursue it now. Then she tells me that I should perform in community theater. And honest to God, I just decide that she’s entirely clueless. I don’t want it badly enough now to bother, but she thinks that community theater would do it for me? My mother is a nurse, and perhaps the only analogy I could make that would get to her would be if I told her that instead of going to nursing school she should have just volunteered with the Red Cross as a weekend phlebotomist.
And what is my point with all this drivel? I love my parents dearly, and I know they love me. They did a pretty good job of raising me. I’m a functioning adult, well, mostly functioning. On a recent phone call home somehow this very subject came up on whether or not my mom was a good parent, and I said that I thought she was and I knew that she’d done the best job she could and that she did much better than her own mother had done. And then I said that I always thought I would have made a good mother.
I said, “Gee, thanks.”
My mom responded. “Well, what did you want us to do? Lie?”
I won’t ever be a mother, so there will be no chance to find out. But I like to think that if I had any children I would at least encourage them in their dreams and instill them with the self-confidence necessary to be successful at them. I wouldn’t have asked my children to sacrifice their pursuits so I could pursue my own dreams, as my mother’s college education inflicted real financial hardship on us growing up. My mom makes a very comfortable living now, but I didn’t benefit from it. One other thing I wouldn’t do: I certainly wouldn’t assume that a bright and attractive young woman raised with good values would succumb to prostitution! I would give my kid more credit than that.