My Word: A Class Act

25 September 2013 Caroline Parkinson

My Word: A Class Act

Caroline Parkinson, Ed#428, March 2013

While chasing her dreams in Los Angeles, Caroline Parkinson ends up exposing a few nightmares.

I figured that going to an acting class in LA would be kind of like going to an AFL game at the MCG or a karaoke bar in Tokyo – an activity that allows you to witness locals in their natural habitat. Plus, here I was in a city where sayings like ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘live life to the fullest’ aren’t waved away; they’re underlined on daily to-do lists. I had been living in LA with a Green Card for two months. But, without an impossible dream of my own, I was still nothing but a tourist. 

So I found myself searching ‘drop-in acting classes’ online one night. It was like scouring a dating site, but instead of looking for one person with whom to do embarrassing things, I was looking for an entire group.

The habitat I settled on was a dilapidated theatre on the wrong side of Melrose Avenue, 7.30pm one rainy Tuesday night. I arrived early, squeezed into one of the creaky leather seats and waited as other students dribbled in, high-fiving each other in that casual way Californians do. Then the teacher, Rob, powered through the doors, his compact frame dressed like he’d stepped off the set of Seinfeld. Blue jeans, black skivvy, sneakers. Perfect.

“Hello!” he shouted. “Actors on stage!” 

The class began with a short physical warm-up and vocal exercises (“Weeeeeeee! Arghghghghhh! Scream your favourite swear word! 1,2,3…”), followed by the Wins and Announcements section. James got a part in a college film (“Don’t just call it a short, guys – it’s a film, Rob says); Rachel scored a meeting with a manager (“First type their name into Google, followed by the word scam, okay?”); Rodrigo is shooting scenes for his show reel, did anyone want to help out? (“Give, give, give people. Help your fellow actor!”) and so on. 

Next, each actor got up to show the scenes and monologues they’d been rehearsing that week. At the end of each performance, Rob yelled “CLAP FOR THIS ACTOR!” and gave tips about ‘finding colour’, ‘personalising that word’ and ‘layering physical states’. He suggested Henry give his character Parkinson’s disease; Rachel might like to touch her breasts when she’s thinking about her lover; and Mike needed to be sure of why he wanted to kill himself. Bill rehearsed a radio spot for an upcoming audition for an online car insurance ad. “You have to LOVE Esurance. We have to hear you smile at the thought of Esurance. You LOVE Esurance, remember?” Rob said.

Bill had almost convinced us that Esurance saved puppies from burning buildings when an almighty “hawwwaaa!” broke the spell. I turned around to see Rodrigo atop his seat, hands slapping furiously at his leg. A small black mass careered into the wall.

“Oh come on, Rodrigo,” Rob said, “it’s just a cockroach. No need to be so dramatic”. 

“Okay, Keeeroline! You’re up!”

The whole idea of a ‘new student casting interview’ is so the class can decide what sort of roles you should be playing by asking random, often incredibly personal questions.

So there I was, blinded by the spotlights, telling a bunch of strangers about the time I got a urinary tract infection because of all the disgusting hammock sex I was having with my hostel-attendant boyfriend in the south of Spain. This was part of my answer to the ‘most humiliating moment’ question. Yep, that’s right, part of my answer. Because I didn’t stop there. For a good three minutes not even the thought of my mum sitting in the audience could help dam the verbal torrent. Public pant-wetting, drunken bed-vomiting, forgotten knickers after primary school swimming class... It was as if by listing all my humiliations I was making the best impact possible. 

Much to my surprise, my red hair and “super cute” Australian accent made more of an impression than any of my lurid confessions. I was, my classmates said, a Nicole Kidman, Isla Fisher, Queen Elizabeth I-era Cate Blanchett. Playing age: 25 to 32. Sweet! On stage, I could turn back time. 

Even though I went home that night with super-sized sweat stains and a lingering sense of mortification, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was like I’d accidentally given a speech without my clothes on, but been told I looked better naked anyway. I could be anything I wanted to be: younger, more beautiful, a star in the making…

So what if Bill couldn’t even afford Esurance, Rachel’s potential manager was wanted in three states or that I’d never make a weepy speech on Oscars night? In that little theatre it didn’t matter. This is LA, after all. Anything is possible. 

» Caroline Parkinson is an LA-based writer, film critic, script analyst and taco enthusiast from Melbourne.