AS A CHILD, what could possibly be more exciting then the thought of Halloween soon approaching. I found myself a few years back in my old neighborhood on Long Island in the month of October just standing in the dark and breathing in the beautiful fall air. It carried so much more than the smell of leaves, and the chill of the moist autumn air. It brought me back to the 1960s, Halloween night, trick or treaters, ghosts, witches, candy corn, the smell of a freshly carved jack o’ lantern and for me
the smell of grease paint.
You see my dad was a musician back then but has always walked the crazy line of creativity in painting, sculpting and even theatrical make up. In kindergarten, he took hours to make me up as the Hunchback of Notre dame for Halloween. Yes a dwarf Hunchback with school bag in hand armed with a large box of Crayolas and #2 pencils went to school on the bus, walked the halls of the school and landed in the classroom. Every other kid was Batman, Frankenstein, Casper the friendly ghost and even Bozo the clown.
I was the hunchback. No mask, no cheap plastic costume. I sported a sculpted clay face, yellow crooked teeth, plastic fake eye, wig, burlap drape to cover my you guessed it my hump!
We were to do a parade you see. We were to go to the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms and march around the room to show off our cool costumes. As I sat down at my desk I noticed the kids all silent. I looked around the room with my one usable eye and noticed that every kid was starring at me. Even Miss Fiumara the teacher was just looking at me with this blank expression on her face. She walked slowly to me through the screaming silence of the room and kneeled down in front of me. Her eyes showed both pity and fear with a healthy dash of puzzlement as she whispered, “what are you” which is a phrase that every adult should ask themselves every decade or so.
I said, “I’m the hunchback.” Who did this to you? My dad I said as I smiled and slightly cracked my chin and cheek. She walked away and left the room. The kids looked at each other and began quietly sitting at there desks with the exception of the 2 kids that normally sat next to me. They were happy where they were, over by the window, far away from the hunchback.
Miss Fiumara returned with Mr. Faye, the principal of the school who I secretly thought had a hump of his very own under that tired tweed jacket but was afraid to show it. Shame on him for my hunch was there for the masses to marvel at and to admire.
Mr. Faye took a long look at me and whispered to the teacher something that made her nod and made her expression look as if they had solved a great dilemma, a great problem. What could it have been? The national debt, the cure for cancer, the Fidel Castro issue? Nope.
“You can’t be in the parade,” she said. “Why?” I cracked. “Because you’ll scare the rest of the school!!”
THIS WAS IT. I didn’t feel bad, I felt somehow special and not just one of the normal plastic costume kids. This was the beginning of my love for acting, costume and deep characters. I have played a mafia boss, a paranoid schizophrenic, a ’70s has-been movie star, a drag queen and several lawyers, husbands and a short order cook in films. I love the thought of walking around in another person’s skin and being them. This is most likely what drew me to doing celebrity impressions and to ultimately impersonate Elton John for a decade or so.
The act of reading a part, envisioning how that person would talk, walk, move, react and how they feel about themselves and the world around them is an exciting task to take on. You, in essence, become Dr. Frankenstein creating something new by using the parts that you choose of your own instrument (your body).
It’s alive! It’s alive!
When you have achieved all the points that a good actor mixes together to create a living, breathing and believable entity, it is magic. For me, It’s as if I am on vacation from me-ville and traveling to them-ville to enjoy the view through the eyes of that new character.
What are the differences between you and the character that you create? You must first decide whether he have an accent, where is he or even she from? Are they happy, arrogant, sad, hurt, mean or mentally challenged in any way? How does this character view the world and the people in it? Can you show inner emotions with a physical trait or habit? These are the spices that you mix to create an original and interesting dish THE CHARACTER!
Maui is great, Paris is beautiful and the moon would be a great place to visit, but there are infinitely more places to go with a simple box of hats, wigs, clothes and props. You can become anyone, go anywhere and do anything!! Imagination is dying in America as everything is laid out for you in black and white. There is little room for fantasy in our world of late. We must try to stay in touch with the 6-year-old in all of us, to play, pretend and dare to dream. Find a character at least for one night this year. Be someone new and exciting this Halloween.
I will do my best to keep scaring the others around me with new and innovative characters, ideas, songs and jokes. Though my kindergarten classmates are now moms and dads and Mr. Fay is most likely long gone, I will continue to seek a life that sees the world through the eyes of a 6-year-old.
***All characters and more can be seen on YouTube.com.