“Actor”

“I have too much to do today, hon. But you should go. It’ll be good for you.”

I’d read about this play in the local alt-weekly. It seemed interesting,  so I hopped the streetcar and headed downtown toward a little performance space on the 3rd floor of a mall.

That’s right. A play in a mall. I love New Orleans.

I arrived at the box office, only to be greeted by the girl behind the desk thusly:

“You wouldn’t by chance be Adam, would you?”

By chance I would, and I answered her question truthfully.

“I have your ticket right here. It’ll be $10 cash or $21 if you need to use a credit card.”

I didn’t yet have a ticket, nor did I have one reserved for me. I made a lightning decision to run with this thing, and darted out to the ATM to get some cash. I got back to the box office, and handed her the bill.

She said to me, “And how do you spell your last name sir?”

Shit. I hadn’t thought of this. It occurred to me that perhaps my wife had called ahead of me and reserved me a ticket. (I had been a little late leaving the house, and we were concerned I might not get there in time.) I was a nano-second away from telling her my last name when she began reading it back to me to verify it.

“A.L.S.O.N.O.?”.

This is not my last name. I don’t know why, but I replied “Yes. That’s right.”

She asked me for my phone number. I didn’t know if she already had a phone number for Mr. Alsono or not. I gave her a fake. She asked me where that telephone exchange 601 is, because she’s interested in those sorts of things and she sees this one a lot. “Mississippi”, I replied, pretty sure I was correct. She handed me a ticket and I walked into the theatre.

I don’t know why, but I had expected it to be general admission and that none of this nonsense would make any difference. I was wrong, and I had a specific seat number, and someone else’s name on my ticket. Understandably, this made me nervous. Not 15 seconds after my butt hit the seat, an older lady to my right asked me, “So you’re the one?”. I repeated her question back to her, probably looking like I thought she could be an untrustworthy CIA agent.

“Am I the one?” I asked back.

“We were wondering who the one person sitting between two couples was going to be. I guess it’s you.”

“I’m the one.”, I replied. I might have trembled a little. I took 3 hard pulls at my 5 buck glass of crap Chardonnay in anticipation of having to possibly change seats soon, preferably without a glass of wine in my hand. The quicker I could finish the thing off, the better. My next-door neighbor noticed my hurried intake pace, but she merely harrumphed and resumed her conversation with her date.

I sat with my eyes on the door, waiting for the lady and Mr. Alsono to come asking questions and making an embarrassing scene. Fortunately no other Adam showed up.

The doors closed, the play began, it was a triumph, and then it was over. There was a Q&A session with the actors afterwards, but I didn’t feel I had anything intelligent to Q. I was a bit wet-eyed due to the subject matter of the play, and I was still kinda nervous about the whole ticket thing, so I high-tailed it.

I’m a musician and a writer. I refer to myself as these things when people ask, and there is mostly truth to these assertions. I feel like I sing and write very well, although probably not often enough.

I would not, however, refer to myself as an actor.

I am not an actor.

I do sing lots of cover songs though, and there is an art to it. The trick is to pretend I am something which I am not. The trick is to craft a character based on what I  know about the person who wrote the song, to inhabit that character, like an actor would.

There’s nothing worse than a bad cover song. If I can’t perform it the way the writer meant for it to be performed, then I shouldn’t perform it. I must sing in the voice of the writer, with the cadence of the writer, and convey the point the writer intended to be conveyed. This is, come to think of it, a minor theme of the play I’d just seen.

I don’t see many plays, and this one had affected me rather deeply. For some reason on my walk to the street car I got to thinking and I hatched an irrational plan. It was a conceit built on equal parts “guilt”, “giddiness”, and “Chardonnay”.

I decided to affect an English accent at the Car-Stop, just to see if I was able to keep it up. I decided to see how good I could be at “acting”. I’d been watching a great deal of Beatles clips and movies recently, so I chose a Liverpudlian type of thing and went to work. I walked up to the stop at St. Charles and Canal, and with a straight face asked a heavy-set older lady:

“How long ‘as it been, then?”

“How long have I been waiting?”, she replied.

“Yeah. Trolley running slow?”

I have to admit, I was shocked I was doing so well. I thought I was going to abandon the thing after a sentence or two, that I would cock it up.

“It’s been running pretty slow. I’ve been here for nearly 30 minutes.”

There was a family of very obvious tourists whom I gleaned, from their conversations amongst themselves, just happened to be from the same general area of the South that I was. My natural inclination was to say something like “Oh really? What part?”, but I didn’t. I waited for them to ask a question about how to get uptown, or where did the car go, or whatever. They seemed more than happy to oblige a kind English bloke and proffered just such a question.

“We just wanna ride the street car. We’re not really going anywheres in particular. Where does this one go?”

Didn’t miss a beat. “Uptown, mate. All the way to the end of the line. You’re gonna ride the thing just to ride it, this is where you start; but it’ll take you a good half ‘our to get to the end, and then you gotta pay again to get back.”

Accent still holding out.

Beads of sweat beginning to form.

They’re utterly convinced by me, them being from the ass-crack of the South and probably not knowing very many British fellows. If they’d been from Shropshire, I’d have been boned. They’d have seen right through me.

As often happens on a Sunday afternoon at this particular stop, two Street Cars came bunched up together. The tourist family got on the 2nd, and I got on the 1st, thankfully. I didn’t want too many more questions from them, or I’d have lost it. However, the lady I had first talked to did get on the same car as I did, and the only available seat for me was right next to her.

“Mmmm… Are you ready for this, old boy?” I thought. In the British accent.

I should make it a point to say that I don’t often, (come to think of it ever), do this sort of thing. I came from a small town where there would’ve been no point; they would’ve just asked me why I was talking funny. We all knew each other, and we all knew which of us was from England. Which was none of us.

I sat down next to the lady, and against all logic decided to try to keep the accent up.

“Hello again.” I said. A little too flatly for Liverpool this time, I worried.

She smiled and nodded; didn’t notice.

“Adam?”

I looked up.

I’m not from around here originally, haven’t been here long, and I’m not recognized on the streets here. This was troubling.

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

Think quick. What do you do? Who is this? SHIT.

She’s a restaurant manager you met on a job-hunt. You didn’t have an accent then. FUCK.

I had to walk a row or two forward to speak with her. We were still close enough to the lady for whom I’d been “acting” that she must have been listening to the entire exchange.

“How’s your job going?”, the restaurant manager asked.

I didn’t have one. The one that I’d thought I was going to get when we’d last talked had fallen through. But I’m “acting” today, so I lied.

Er, “acted”.

“Fine. Going well.”

I clocked the lady I’d been sitting next to. She’d definitely been listening to my conversation. The restaurant manager and I finished our pleasantries, and I walked back to my seat.

I think the lady was just about to say something when I dead-panned “You might have noticed my accent disappeared when I spoke with that woman up there.”

“Yeah. I did. Which one’s real?”

“Accent, or woman?”, I said. I’m a funny guy like that. Plays-on-words are fun.

“Accent.”, she said. She got the bad joke; didn’t laugh. Smiled, but didn’t laugh. Moved on.

“This one. This is the real one.”, I said, contritely.

I explained to her that I’d been to a play, and that I was an “actor”, and that I was contemplating “being” different types of people, like English people or gay people or crippled people, and thinking about trying to communicate as any given character might, even if it was different from the way I normally communicate.

I was being something I am not. I admitted it.

She was remarkably charming; a hell of a lady. Kathy was her name. (Hopefully not Kathy Alsono, or I’d feel just terrible.) She seemed quite taken aback by my forthrightness in owning up when I was cornered. Trouble was, of course, I was still not being entirely forthright.

I am not an actor.

We had a lovely conversation on the street car until, several stops before mine, she got off the trolley. She seemed sad to go, and I was certainly sad that she was going. You don’t meet people easily in a city like this, and I’ve grown to believe you’re very lucky when it happens. My experience has shown that such conversations on the trolley, or at the bar, or where-ever they might occur will very rarely end with anybody gaining a new friend. It’s usually just a good conversation, and you relish it, and it’s over. Whether both parties in the conversation are being genuine or not, it will almost always come to nothing.

If you’re lucky like I was you get to go home and write a bit about it.

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