Dorsey High School, here in Los Angeles: At the time, my prime interest was playing baseball, and one day, signing a contract to play for a professional team. Studying and becoming a renowned scholar never entered my mind, at least not initially. My drive consisted of play, play, and more play.
In the beginning, thoughts about anything other than baseball were nonexistent. I don’t recall ever using the word ‘discovery’ during those formative early high school years. I doubt if I ever opened a book during my first year of high school.
So much of what they were teaching here, in the state of California, I had already learned during my grammar school days in New York City. Growing up in my family was a guarantee that we were all going to be good in math, or as my dad referred to it, arithmetic.
Like many immigrant parents, both my mother and father had very little formal education, but it didn’t keep them from excelling at almost everything they attempted to accomplish. They craved learning, it was their driving force, along with making a living and providing for the upbringing of three children: two sisters and da harv.
One sister is six years older, and the other is nine years younger than me. Not exactly a well-planned household. The big separation of years between us created an enormous family upheaval on many occasions, mainly between me and my older sister. I never thought about my gift with words. Vocabulary and writing skills just happened to be there. Years later, one of the actresses explained to me – in a past life I probably knew how to speak Latin. My mother claimed my vocabulary skills were derived because she began reading to me from the time she first became pregnant with me.
Year two brought with it: discovery. I actually began planning what I intended to study. By the end of that year, I began to understand what our California teachers really had going for them, especially the women. Many of the female teachers had come to Los Angeles as aspiring actresses. The one I was lucky enough to have, this teacher, came equipped with degrees having to do with theater. Many of the production skills she picked up were derived from some of the most renowned fine-art-related universities in the country.
The song called out to me:
“Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera”
Jay Livingston/Ray Evans
Note: My favorite version is sung by one of my most favorite ladies, Doris Day.
Day number one, on my first day ever in a legitimately-taught drama (acting) class: Our teacher had been an aspiring actress who ventured out from the small town environment she had grown up in into the movie mecca of the world. At the time, Los Angeles had many young, beautiful, and extremely-gifted teenage girls, discovering (along with their moms) how overpoweringly competitive becoming a working actor would be.
Her mother had enrolled her talented daughter at Los Angeles High, at age fourteen. She graduated at age seventeen and went on to earn her graduate and post-graduate master’s degree, supporting herself by waiting on tables at a very well-known Beverly Hills restaurant. Her skills as an exponent of the great Stanislavski were far more than scholarly—this lady wasn’t pedestrian in any sense of the word. Concurrently, I was entering a period of my young life when my capacity and aptitude as a receptor began to show itself.
THE FIRST DRILL
Location: Alone on our high school stage, our very first beginning drill.
Two students were picked randomly — the teacher had assigned us, each in our own way, to free form the recollection of an actual personal (true) experience encountered from any time period we chose from our past.
The first two students had, in common, an incident they each chose to remember and bring forward during a drill in our first week’s drama class. Their story could have been funny, but it wasn’t. It could have been deeply dramatic, but none of us got their gist.
Note: Without exception, none of the students had heard the name “Stanislavski”.
Not many high school teachers had past exposure to the teaching of the most prominent exponent of the great Stanislavski’s method, or system. Not until I began cutting classes and making it over to one of the many little neighborhood theaters, did I have any knowledge of who Stanislavski was. I was about to find out.
To be continued…