Costume Dramas & Playing Against Type


Cheer up, hippophobes (or others simply missing Lili). She’ll be back in the next posting. Meanwhile, meet my late Uncle Dick’s Arab gelding, “Burrack.” In 1976, just as I was being measured for my Naval Officer’s uniforms by a skeptical little tailor at the Ft. Hamilton induction center in NYC [“They’re letting you in? With a back like that?”], Burrack and Uncle Dick were suiting up to re-enact battles from the 17th Century English Civil Wars between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads. Alas, although Uncle Dick’s “type” [as in “know it and love it”] was completely Cavalier, The Sealed Knot re-enactors only had an opening for a Roundhead. Not to worry. Before he joined the RAF during WW II, Uncle Dick had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, whose philosophy of acting is anything but Method. “Get your costume and make-up right, and the character will follow,” could be their motto. So, instead of the long, curly locks and frilly collars worn by the followers of King Charles I, Dick donned an early-Beatles-puddingbowl-style wig and the austere, Puritan gear of a Roundhead, and played (very convincingly) against type.

But what about poor little Burrack? Like most Arabs, he is only 15hh high (4″ shorter than Dusk), and Uncle Dick (like my elder daughter) was over 6′ tall. [Just look at my feet dangling below his belly, and imagine how absurdly incongruous Dick might have looked on his trusty steed.] Well, he didn’t. Years before joining “Oliver’s Army,” Dick & Burrack were regular winners at Dressage events all over England, beating out the statuesque Warmbloods and their riders. I was never lucky enough to attend one of their horse shows (although I did see them do a battle re-enactment); but my guess is that once Dick-the-actor put on his Dressage “costume,” he assumed the persona of a Lippizaner rider and “sold it” to the judges and on-lookers, who forgot to notice Burrack’s “sportsmodel” size.

Well, that’s what I did for my 6 years on active duty in the Navy–put on a “costume” and “sold” the Clydesdale persona to my masters. [Incidentally, despite my bespoke tailor’s dismay at my scoliotic back, he made me the most flattering, perfectly-fitting jackets, skirts and slacks that I’ve ever worn. Hence the Cockney joke: “I’ve got a hunch…” “Not to worry. I know a good tailor.”] Fortunately, as a shore-bound member of the Staff Corps, unless I was the Officer of the Watch (about every two weeks), I was allowed to go home at night, take off my uniform, and resume Kangaroo status. In 1970s Annapolis, military personnel were widely despised by the townsfolk; and I had insults [and objects] hurled at me, while wearing my “Blues.” If I returned 15 minutes later in my civvies, with my long curly locks down [no longer up in the regulation bun], the same snide people would greet me cordially, apparently not making the connection between my two personae.

My biggest challenge was to try to maintain my Clydesdale-ness when directing Midshipman plays in the evenings, since often I and they had changed out of uniform for rehearsals. I didn’t always succeed; and my inner ‘Roo would usually emerge in tandem with my Wolf, when I was angry about how the show was coming along. Of course, the Mids were delighted, since many of them were crypto-‘Roos, too, just trying to “maintain” until graduation. My ignoble excuse, when one of my ‘Roo/Wolf outbursts was overheard by a higher-ranking Clydesdale skulking in the back of the auditorium, was “I’m from New York.” [My beloved Masqueraders were quick studies, and soon would say it on my behalf, if they spotted the Clydesdale before me: “She’s from New York, sir.”]

When our younger daughter was called out for ‘Roo-related shenanigans at school [about which we were then called up], we would threaten her [idly]: “If you don’t buckle down, we’re going to send you to a plaid-skirt school!” In Detroit, private schools were too expensive, and parochial schools were too crowded. Ironically, when we moved to Annapolis, she chose to spend most of her high school years “in uniform,” and graduated from a plaid-skirt school. For most of us ‘Roos, putting on the “costume” of a Clydesdale is like strapping on a (safety) harness that we have chosen to wear, which is just restrictive enough to remind us to “keep on the straight & narrow” while it’s on, though we look forward to that moment of liberty, when we can “throw over the traces,” let our hair down, and zig [or zag] again. The better an actor you are, the more convincingly you can play against type; but it’s easier to get into [and maintain] character, when you’re performing in a costume drama.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under non-linear thinking, semiotics, sharks and jets, understanding shenanigans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s