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For aspiring actors, Kenyon theater is just too good

By Annie Sheslow

I can remember it now: eddies of dust swirling around my saddle shoes setting the sinister tone (like dry ice Bon Jovi would have at the beginning of “Dead or Alive”), the lights mercilessly beating down on my head, illuminating the slight glaze of sweat condensing above my brow. Though the perspiration is starting to grow bothersome and the pores on my face have become cracked and clogged by the mud-like foundation intended to minimize them, I still recall the feeling of power ラ not to be mistaken for B.O. ラ that emanated from my body as I looked out at the empty seats. Ah, the stage.

Here at Kenyon, we love to brag about our dramatic pedigree ラ from Paul Newman to Nick Bakay, the voice of Salem on Sabrina the Teenage Witch as well as Norbert on Angry Beavers (I just learned this and am perhaps, perplexingly, more excited about this connection than the Lords’ recent swimming win). Given our history, it makes sense that all of our dramatic productions are so professional. I remember that the first senior thesis I saw had a real light switch on stage, which acted as a portal that made me forget I was watching a college play. The actors’ passionate yet realistic delivery allowed me to indulge in the timeless escapism that caused people to ムGive [Their] Regards to Broadway’ in the first place.

After that show, I knew the stage was not a place to which I belonged at Kenyon, no matter how desperately I wished it were. See, last year I had come fresh off my high school stage as the mega-man sized, no-nonsense gambler from out of town, Big Jule in Guys & Dolls. While I am enough of a ham as it is, after two or three friends slicked my hair back Larry King-style and wrestled it into a bun, several costume moms tailored a musty three-piece suit to fit my miniature frame, and I topped it off with a lumpy fedora and some Groucho Marx eyebrows, I got pretty cocky. I had enormous fun stomping around to “Luck Be A Lady,” looking like the Jewish hybrid of Justin Timberlake and Danny DeVito while rasping out my lines with a punchy Joan Rivers impersonation. But in a private school with an electrifying and endlessly loving dedicated music teacher, our drama department was endearingly low-budget.

When I was in first grade, someone told my parents that my nonstop chatter (or my not-at-all racist impression of Eddie Murphy’s Mushu in Mulan) made me an ideal candidate for theater camp. This, again, like my Mushu impression, was both a blessing and a curse, as it reinforced my already-held belief that everyone loved me because I was such a talent. Since then, I had always assumed that even though I was too scared to audition, people would notice my brilliance through osmosis and I would undoubtedly land the lead. My dreams of becoming the next Mary-Kate Olsen, however, were shattered by the reality that, by process of elimination, the only open role was that of the great green gassy giant: Uranus. I did get to wear roller skates and dance under a blacklight though, so there were perks to living up (the) Uranus (life). Subsequent roles as the little brother Randolph in Bye Bye Birdie in 8th grade followed by Marcie in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown come junior year taught me to accept my humble, crowd-pleasing identity.

All I want here at Kenyon is one terrible production of Oklahoma! where the leads forget to turn their mics off and “God damn it, Steffi, the zipper’s stuck and I have to be stage left in ten minutes” echoes out into the audience over the monotonous mumblings of a practically comatose chorus singing “Surrey With a Fringe on Top.” All I want is the security in knowing that it’s okay that I’m not a prime candidate for the Actor’s Studio or even that I remember my lines. I want to know that I am doing my best and can make people smile with my cheesy recitation of “Yes, ma’am” as right on time, a seemingly innocent plywood shrubbery falls down with a slam and I finally feel like I’m home.

Annie Sheslow began her stage career as a radish in a production of Rapunzel at the Wilmington Drama League in the state most famous for its theater, Delaware. Her email address is sheslowa@kenyon.

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