I am trying to become an actress. It's not that I expect to nab Meryl Streep's Oscar or give Rooney Mara a run for her money, but I have been told I bear a remarkable resemblance to Catherine O'Hara at her most frantic in "Home Alone". For me, that's a typical Monday.
Anyway, the first thing I learned is that it's hipper to say I'm an actor, not an actress. Not as pretty, but cooler. The reason I am throwing myself onstage is that I've written a one-woman, one-act performance called The God Box which expands my new book into a theatrical piece.
So, although I'm a businesswoman by day, I am becoming a thespian by night and it's wild. And the eye-opening part of beginning an acting career later in life is joining New York City's huge underground community of actors. I am so naïve about the real theatre world that I figured if actors weren't cast in a play or musical, they were either tending bar or waiting tables. Many are -- to pay the rent -- but many of those are simultaneously working on scripts and routines and classes around the clock. Acting is a physically demanding commitment that makes going to the gym look like a walk in the park.
I also imagined that actors rehearsed in theatres, with the director shouting at them from the darkness, like in "All That Jazz." Wrong. The cost of space, certainly in New York, is sky high, especially if you're on a bartender budget, so the trick is to find a tiny space that rents by the hour. Right around the corner from my New York apartment, there's a huge ironstone building at 440 Lafayette, packed with dozens of cheap rehearsal spaces where aspiring drama queens like me can practice to their heart's content.
As a midlife theatrical neophyte, I squeeze into the elevator with my fellow actors and I look at their 19 year old faces and think, "What the heck am I doing here?" Thankfully, they don't seem to notice, perhaps because we all share the same anxieties. "Am I good enough?" "Will they like me?" And, if you're me, "How in the world will I be able to remember 37 pages of lines?"
Martha Wollner, my wonderful and patient director meets me in a 10 by 10 foot room and we begin to run lines and drop in and do beats. (See how I talk now?) And just as I'm deep in a touching scene about my mom, out of the blue, a neighboring tenor belts out "Somewhere over the Rainbow". The thin walls shudder as a woman next door screams outrageous profanity while throwing what sounds like a piano across the room. Out in the hallway, a dozen four year old ballerinas blithely wait for their turn at the barre. Wow, welcome to the theatre!
This is the life I am living now. And I am loving it. After a career in advertising, it's fair to say that I did my share of acting. But this is pulling me out of my 9 to 5 skin in a way that is liberating and challenging and scary. It's fun to get lost in a part, even when that part is my own life. I like not knowing what's next. And I may even get the nerve to write 'actor' soon when I have to fill out my taxes. Or maybe I'll just write Reese Witherspoon and see if the IRS blinks.
Mary Lou Quinlan is the author of the upcoming book, 'The God Box: Sharing my Mother's Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go' to be published April 2012 by Greenleaf Book Group, and will be debuting her one woman play of the same name. Visit http://www.theGodBoxProject.com To see more behind the scenes footage of The God Box one act play, please visit here.