Inbox: When I Grow Up 

Dear Jessica, I was wondering if you always knew that you wanted to be an actor or how old you were when you made that decision? Well really I guess I’m asking for the story of the way you have gotten to this point. How did you know? When did you find out? How did you get to be so awesome? You are, you know. -- Cam, VA.

Hey, Cam, way to hold it down in VA. And recognize the awesome. And trick me into answering your note in front of the entire galaxy. (Please inform your friends that I have now made you totally famous.)

Elementary School
I was obsessed with two things: Sports/Games and Theatrics.

I believe that most kids are obsessed with these two things, which are also known as “playing,” so I don’t think this obsession says anything in particular about my long-term ambitions. I didn’t have any. I was a kid. Tying a blanket around my neck as a cape and using my baton as She-Ra’s sword was more than enough fun for one day, as was a game of wiffle ball. (I rule at wiffle ball. And She-Ra.)

Nonetheless, here are some specific moments I remember:

Kindergarten. Valentine's Day. We are putting on a nursery rhyme play and our parents are coming to watch, then they are coming to the kindergarten room to have snack with us. During rehearsal I am very jealous because I am in the chorus and I want to be one of the leads. The teachers picked the leads. I wonder why I wasn’t picked.

My best friend and neighbor, Timmy, is sitting next to me in the risers and he can tell something is bothering me. I don’t tell him that I’m jealous and that I want to be Little Red Riding Hood. He makes me laugh. I get over it.

Summer. My room. My friends are here. I put some music on: The Bangles. (I was a fan of old-skool pop.) I become a dance Nazi. Tell everyone where to stand. Insist upon constant dance and choreography all under my direction. I create many new and awesome dance moves, most of which have some sort of kick involved. I let everyone break for popsicles. We clobber M.Sto in the kitchen. (Then known as “Mom.”) All she has is cherry. Lame.

Second Grade. A friend's mom asks me "Jessica, what do you want to do when you grow up?" I shyly say "I don't know, " but think to myself that I want to be a veterinarian or a crime fighter. I don't think the latter is actually possible so I rule it out. I like dogs. I have even checked out all of the books on dogs from the school library. Plus, Mom says that is a good job for people who like animals. So a veterinarian seems like a good answer from now on. Why is everyone always asking me what I want to be? I don't care. I just want to beat my neighbors at TV tag.

Fourth Grade. I write a play. It starts with a King “sitting under his favorite electric green tree.” The genre is fantasy/fairytale. The story is about the King and his rebellious daughter. I re-copy the final draft by hand (because I mean to keep it a secret from my parents), using a multi-color click pen to write each different part in a corresponding color. I pass some copies of the play out to my classmates. They really like it and become excited. They show it to the teacher, evil Mrs. Green, and ask if we can put the play on. She laughs condescendingly at us and tells us we can use our recess time for whatever we want. We use it to read from the play and talk about how much we hate Mrs. Green. Then we play dodgeball: Girls vs. Boys. We lose.

Fifth Grade. Our music teacher, Ms. Grant, announces that, now that we are in 5th grade, we get to be in the 5th-grade play. Auditions are next week. I grab an audition piece with five lines on it. The play is a musical about baseball. There are also two musical numbers that have solos. I grab the music for these auditions. One of them is a rap. The other is a slow song about being a star.

One week later. School cafeteria. (Also the auditorium.) Auditions. I have my lines prepared. I climb onstage, do my monologue. Then, I head down to the music room to audition for the music pieces.

Next day. Music room. The list of who made the play is up… I get: Understudy for all female parts and a solo in the “Umpire Rap.” I am both disappointed and excited.

Play night. Evie is sick so I have scored her part. She is one of the more typical “gifted” kids. The kind you know are in the program just by looking at them. Futhermore, she already has the markings of a typical drama geek. (Sorry, Evie, but you were.) I think to myself: “Poor Evie has to miss the play.” Then I feel bad for not feeling bad because I get to play her part. The play opens with a teacher, me, telling a class about the wonderful sport of baseball. The teacher role also serves as a sort of narrator throughout.

I open the play. I deliver my lines without screwing up. I do my solo in the umpire rap:

"Would you all be quiet
There's no need to cause a riot
I can't hear myself think
when you all shout.

Now I'll say it again
Like I said it before
In a baseball game my word is law!"

I bust a move or two. It is all good fun. Never once do I think to myself: “I want to be an actor when I grow up.” Never once do I ask: “Do I have any acting technique? Am I good?” For good or bad, I do it. And it is fun.

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