I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star (5 page)

BOOK: I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star
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Then it was time for the future, and the future comes fast in high school. One afternoon, I fell down on the concrete steps of my front porch and hurt my knee. It really wasn’t all that serious of an injury, but I used it as an excuse to quit dancing so seriously. I was too scared to just quit ballet—I had put so much time and energy into it, my parents had spent so much money, and my room and bathroom were covered in ballet tchotchkes. In addition to all the time that not dancing would free up, I would have to redecorate as well. So I seized the opportunity and began an injury-induced phaseout, which was the beginning of the end of me and the Milligan School of Ballet. I was starting to like
high school, I had after-school activities that were located in the actual school, and I had started to make more friends, kind of. There was one girl in particular, Marci Urbaniak. The term “frenemy” hadn’t been coined yet, but the first time I heard it used, the face of Marci Urbaniak popped right into my head. Marci had already worked professionally as an actress in the Detroit area. She had head shots, and I think she’d done some commercials or maybe industrial films (which she never forgot to remind us of) by the time we met in high school. Marci and another girl named Melissa were also in the high school acting program I auditioned for. Marci and Melissa were very best friends, they made that clear, and I would only ever be a third. I was welcomed into their inner circle, but only if I understood that their friendship came first and I would never, ever be as close to either of them as they were to each other. I didn’t really care, because I had my own best friend, Nicole, but she was supersmart and took the smart classes, and I needed some friends in my own classes. Besides, I’m pretty competitive by nature, so I enjoyed the challenge of seeing how close of a third I could be or if I could win one of them over. I never did. Once we all went our separate ways after high school, we quickly grew apart. Well, I did. Maybe they’re still close. I hope so.

By the time we were thinking about colleges, I was at a loss. I didn’t know where to go or what I wanted to do with my life. The only place I could think of was New York, but my parents said it was too far away and they wouldn’t pay for school if I went there. My parents were always baiting me with tuition. The first time was when they pulled me out of private elementary school—they promised I could go back if I hated the public school, which I did, and then they changed their minds. They said the private school was too expensive and too far away. I tried again in high school, begging them to send me to a fancy private boarding school about
forty-five minutes away. They said I could go there, but then I would have to pay for my own college tuition since that would eat up all their college savings. Again, I stayed in the public school. And finally, when college time came around, they conned me into staying close to home by telling me, again, that I would have to pay for myself if I went farther away. Since I can remember, all I wanted was to leave home and see the world, so I sat down with my parents and asked them seriously, how far away are we talking? What is the absolute farthest away I can go and still have you pay? Chicago was agreed upon—it was a train ride, fast flight, or a five-hour drive away, which was totally doable for a weekend if I got homesick (read: my mom missed me) or if I needed to come home for a weekend (read: laundry).

My secret fantasy was always to be a fashion designer, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) draw, so I didn’t think I would ever get into a design school. But other than that, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even though I was already taking acting classes, doing school plays, and so on, it didn’t occur to me there was a future in it. I just had fun doing it and I made some friends and it was a fun way to pass the time in high school until college, when I was sure I would really blossom. One day, in acting class, Marci announced that of the many theater programs she was considering for college, she was auditioning for an acting program at a college in Chicago and it was so exclusive that they only accepted 10 percent of the people who auditioned for it. Marci implied that an acting dilettante like myself would never get in and shouldn’t try because it was only for those who were really serious about acting. Well, Marci was right: I wasn’t serious about acting, but I was serious about Chicago, and I wasn’t really good at anything else yet. When I got home from school that night, I told my mom about Marci’s latest brag and that she thought it was too exclusive for me to get into … blah blah blah.
My mom wasn’t having it. She got all fierce and said, “No one tells my daughter she can’t get in anywhere.”

“Mom, the audition is this weekend. Today’s Tuesday. There’s no way I will get all the paperwork and crap together in time.”

“Just let me figure that out. Start working on a monologue. We’re going to Chicago on Friday night.”

Mollie Evans can be really intense when she needs to be, she rarely takes no for an answer, and, miraculously, in a world before the Internet and e-mail, she managed to get me applied and registered for the auditions that weekend at the Theatre School at DePaul University (thank you, magical fax machines). I did some weird monologue from a Jean-Claude van Itallie play called “The Serpent,” and when I finished, Ric Murphy, my future first-year acting teacher, asked if I had another monologue, something a little more mainstream. I didn’t. But I lied and made one up off the top of my head from
To Kill a Mockingbird
. What did I care? I wasn’t even going to go to this school anyway, but my competitive spirit kicked in again, and I
was
going to at least get accepted to this program, whether I went there or not. I was going to get a letter of acceptance in my mailbox no matter what and immediately show it to Marci.

And guess what? I did!
I
was one of 10 percent of the kids who auditioned that year to make it in. But now I had to deal with the question of whether I would go or not. It was Chicago, it was acting, I would get a bachelor’s degree, which seemed to be really important to my parents after all the money they were about to spend, and I had a girlfriend there, Amy, who was a year older and studying smart-people things, so, built-in friend. The only snag was Marci. She got in too, and if she went there, it would ruin my total-reinvention plan, where I got to leave behind the old Judy and start fresh where no one knew me, so I waited to find out what she was going to do. She had auditioned for a few different
schools—I didn’t. I applied to two crappy backups but wasn’t as excited about anything else now that Chicago was a real possibility. Thankfully, Marci got accepted to a musical theater program that she liked better than the plain old acting one at DePaul, so she went there. I accepted my acceptance and got ready to learn how to act.

The Theatre School at DePaul University is a four-year conservatory program that focuses on acting entirely. You take a few academic classes, but they are kind of designed for us to pass, like the ones athletes take. And then you act. You act all day and all night basically. You take your acting classes during the day, and at night you are either on the crew of a play or in a play. It’s really time-consuming, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started. I remember thinking that I would probably transfer after my first year because I wasn’t going to be an actress and I was getting no real education, but it was fun. And it was such a small program. There were only a hundred students in our first year, divided into four classes, and after both first year and second you had to be invited back. They cut our class in half after the first year and then in half again after the second. If you were in danger of not getting invited back, you were put on warning. Your main acting teacher would take you into his or her office and tell you you were being warned. They would tell you why and what you had to do in order to be invited back. Once you made it to your third year, you were home free and didn’t have to worry anymore. I was on warning both years. I was told I had to work on my voice. The quality and the accent. I had a very distinctive midwestern accent. In the Midwest we have a specific way of speaking, it’s nasally, and I often ended my sentences with an up glide? So everything sounded like a question? When I was talking? And I guess that annoyed the faculty? So they told me to stop? Or I would get kicked out of school? Yeah. I guess they were right. It’s
as annoying to write as it is to listen to. As for my vocal quality, I think in order to be onstage and be heard, you really have to project from your belly and not sound as if you’re shouting. It’s hard and I’m still pretty shitty at it, but I work on it when I need to, and the theater school taught me how to do it.

Luckily, I never got asked to leave acting school, and I never transferred. I just stayed. Maybe I was lazy, but I was having fun. I loved living with my roommates, I loved Chicago, I loved having a small group of people to work with every day, and after a few years I started to really love acting. I think what I’m really saying is I owe my career to my education, and I owe my education to Marci Urbaniak. OK, my parents paid, and my mom was the one who got me the last-minute audition, and I was the one who went to my classes (even on the day it was minus-eighty degrees outside and I cried walking to school and my tears froze on my face), but if it wasn’t for my first frenemy telling me I couldn’t hack it, I wouldn’t be where I am today, sitting in bed writing a book about myself.

Carey Christmas

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF CAREY, OHIO? IT

S IN THE
middle of Ohio, or central Ohio, as I have heard my relatives call it. My mother grew up there, and a majority of her side of the family still lives there. My parents moved back several years ago. They bought a cute house on a farm. They didn’t buy
a
farm; they bought a house
on
a farm. It’s the best of both worlds if you ask me. They get to be surrounded by farm but without having to actually grow anything. We went to Carey all the time when I was a kid. It was a two-hour drive from where we lived in the suburbs of Detroit. It’s a rural town that had a population of about two thousand people, although it may be larger now. It’s filled with my family members, and we’re super fertile (my mom warned me of this when I left home for college). If you’ve ever seen the TV show
Friday Night Lights
, it’s that kind of town, where everything revolves around the high school. It’s very Norman Rockwell meets recession. There’s one main street, a few bars, a few restaurants, a drugstore, supermarket, library, Ford dealership, and some various lodges for Elks or Moose (not the animals), a giant famous Catholic church, and even a nine-hole golf course made out of an old cow pasture. Since my mom’s side of the family was
so giant, there was a special Greer family Christmas party every year, in mid-December, so that the whole Greer clan could celebrate together, like a mini family reunion but in my aunt’s house instead of a park. We called it the Carey Christmas, and it was a big deal when I was a kid. My aunt would hire a local guy to dress up in a Santa suit, and he would show up halfway through the day. Everyone would gather around with their cameras, and he would have a giant bag of toys, one for each grandkid with his or her name on it. As Santa pulled out each gift from his giant bag, he would call out the name on the present, and we would have to go up and sit on Santa’s lap and tell him that we were good little boys and girls and ask for what we wanted for real Christmas. A photo would be taken, Santa would give us our gift, and he would move on to the next grandkid.

Even at a young age, sitting on this stranger’s lap bothered me a little. I don’t remember ever believing in Santa, so the idea that I had to do this every year felt false. I
wanted
to believe in Santa; I just didn’t. You can’t help what you believe and what you don’t. I blame my mother’s handwriting. Every time there was a gift under our Christmas tree from Santa, it was clearly my mother’s handwriting. I think my parents knew better than to have my dad do it; as an engineer, he basically used graphing equipment to handwrite anything, but my mom’s was just as recognizable, just in a beautiful schoolteacher kind of way. Maybe they didn’t want to have to buy so many different gifts, they kept it simple and just stuck to the main ones, none of the stocking stuffer bullshit. Or perhaps they didn’t want to give some fake dude all the credit for all the gifts they spent their hard-earned money on during the holidays. Maybe they wanted all the glory, and honestly I can’t really blame them. I would be pissed if my kids were screaming out someone else’s name on the second-happiest day of the year (I considered the day
The Wizard of Oz
was on TV the happiest day of the year).

Actually, fuck Santa. Sorry, that got dark, but I do kind of wish I had believed in him. It seemed so fun for all my friends, and I would have loved to have that dramatic memory of the day I found out there was no Santa. I didn’t get that milestone, so now I have to rely on celebrity divorces for that kind of shock and betrayal. I have no memory of any gift I ever got from Carey Christmas Santa, but I have photos of myself all the way up to the age of seventeen sitting on his lap. I now think that might have been too old to be sitting on a stranger’s lap, even if I was surrounded by a hundred family members and a gun case filled with rifles was in the next room.

BOOK: I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star
6.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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