The Story of How I Won “Best Actor”
I thought I’d be famous by now. So far, at least, I’ve successfully remained anonymous despite every effort otherwise. The origin of this pursuit began early in my life. The third grade, to be exact.
In the 3rd grade, my little body was growing in strange ways, teeth outpacing limbs. Old pictures reveal a little boy with bucked teeth, a bowl haircut, and a belly that looked like I had a cereal bowl under my shirt. I was a younger version of those guys from Dumb and Dumber.
The 3rd grade was the pivotal “aha moment” in my effort – nay, my calling – to be famous. I was cast as “The Littlest Angel” in our tiny Christian school’s rendition of a play by the same name. It was the lead role, a fact made even more impressive because I don’t recall wanting this role. I also don’t recall auditioning for this role. But I do recall my hyper-enthusiastic and unfailingly genuine teacher, Mr. Conner, assigning it to me regardless. I’m glad he did. Until that pivotal moment, I hadn’t realized how much show business needed me.
As The Littlest Angel, I had to wear a white toga-like number that was probably someone’s used bedsheet. I remember a few questionable stains. The sheet was cinched around the middle with a length of tinseled string, the kind you’d throw on your Christmas tree if you hated Christmas but were trying to keep your neighbors from finding out. Around my head was some other form of tinsel, shaped like a headband. It had flexible wire running through it that you could reshape as needed. Attached to this was a smaller version of the same thing that floated above my head, creating my halo.
I don’t know who the makeup artist was on this particular production, but my face was intentionally made to look dirty by using a can of silver spray paint. I remember someone spraying this stuff into a little bowl then pulling out a Q-tip that was dipped in that bowl and then used like a paintbrush to apply grimy smudges all over my face. This was the early 1980s, when applying spray paint directly to a child’s bare skin had no medical consequences whatsoever. At least, that’s what I tell myself now as an adult when my leg suddenly jerks the wrong direction for no good reason.
The cumulative effect meant I looked like an angel that, God bless him, just couldn’t keep from falling down and getting dirty. It was the kind of outfit meant to get an audience on the underdog’s side. It was a costume I’d wear in one form or another for the next couple decades.
But that would all come later, while this, this was opening night.
In my mind’s nose (if it can have an eye, it can surely have a nose), I smell the mustiness of an elementary school gym/cafeteria doing triple duty as a Broadway theater. The large stage sat at the end of the gym/cafeteria/theater, normally hidden by massive maroon curtains, was glowing and pulsing that night like an air traffic controller’s screen. The drama teacher had rented some flimsy light rigs, reminiscent of palsied robots guarding each side of the stage.
Backstage, I was receiving the last of my silver spray paint makeup. It smelled so bad I’d crinkle my nose in disgust, causing whatever volunteer parent had been brought in for the assignment to anxiously remind me they were almost finished and that it was going to be a really great night. I rolled my eyes. Why did the contracted makeup artist always think they could talk to you whenever they wanted? And where was the ice water I asked for ten minutes ago, dammit?
I was settling into stardom quite nicely. And to think, stardom had come to me by accident. Literally.
Act III involved a scene between an archangel, played by Ricky, and myself. Ricky was a 4th grader who was proportionally larger than most 6th graders at our school. His upper lip hinted mustache and his upper arms hinted biceps. Fortunately for me, Ricky was a friend in “real life” and not just onstage. Even a minor-league theater critic could tell that Ricky and I had put in a lot of time together on the monkey bars during recess. Our on-stage chemistry was palpable.
In a scene we had rehearsed dozens of times over the previous weeks, I was supposed to take a halo from Ricky, bow gratefully, and then place it on my own head. I would do this in one graceful move while stepping backward down a flight of three steps to the stage floor. I was unusually coordinated for a boy my age – I believe I could have been a ballerina if I wanted it bad enough – and my doe-like retreat from Ricky’s throne had been no big deal during rehearsals.
But under the bright lights of opening night, the audience caught firmly in the throes of what would be one of the most celebrated performances to ever come out of the Cathedral of Light Christian School’s cafeteria/gym/theater, I guess my feet got lost in it all. I tripped backwards over my toga and, hands full of halo, I slammed head-first onto the hardwood stage floor. 200 hundred simultaneous gasps shushed the theater into silence. I’m sure my anxiety-prone mother thought I was dead. Seconds later, you could still hear the thud of head-meeting-stage reverberating around the gym walls. Dr. Green, Ricky’s dad, started to get up from his hard orange plastic chair, ready for action.
But before he made it to a full stand, I leaped to my feet like Lazarus fresh from the grave. I rubbed the back of my head, turned to look my love-struck audience in the eye, and improvised a line.
“Well,” I said. “It ain’t easy bein’ an angel.”
The roar of the crowd was deafening, the applause intoxicating. I beamed back at them and waved. I pointed to my parents and winked. I pointed to the heavens and mouthed to the crowd, “Hey, it’s all about Him.”
At the end of the school year, we had our obligatory awards ceremony. “Most Like Jesus” I did not receive. Becky Alverson, that stuck-up prissy brown-noser, got it instead. But “Best Actor” went to me. And I think that actually made Jesus pretty happy in the end. After all, He had been waiting for this debut, too. He had made me the way I was, and he had been excited for others to see what He had made. Now that I think about it, He might have even stuck out his invisible foot and tripped me on that stage, giving me the opportunity to shine as never before. It makes me wonder if He does that kind of thing a lot: intentionally give us space to turn a mistake into a life-defining moment of triumph.
Either way, a spark had caught in me that was about to become a raging forest fire. Unfortunately, it was my last win for Best Actor. As it turns out, I seemed to have peaked in the 3rd grade.