An amateur actor's follicle follies

We in community theater make many sacrifices for our art.

For one thing, we spend hours at rehearsals waiting for the opportunity to deliver the single line we've been assigned as Random Villager No. 3. (All that waiting gives us plenty of time to explore the subtext of the line and our character's motivation as we step up and bellow to the balcony, "Good day, sir.")

We spend so many hours in rehearsals, in fact, that by the end of a show's run our families stop setting places for us at dinner. Not only because they know we won't have time for a sit-down meal between the end of our work day and our 6 p.m. theater call. But because they've forgotten we even live there: After all, they haven't seen us in the house awake in six weeks.

Perhaps the greatest sacrifice guys make as thespians - cue giggling from middle school boys - involves our personal appearance. Ladies can put their hair up or down, or adjust their makeup level - settings range from "nature girl" to "Tammy Fae" - to appear younger or older. This takes only a matter of minutes in the dressing room. (Or so I'm told. They don't let me into the ladies' dressing room to watch anymore. Darned restraining order.)

But guys are asked to make changes that can't be wiped off moments after the curtain call. Because we're often cast as characters 10 years younger or older than our actual age, we're asked to grow beards and mustaches. Or shave our beards and mustaches. Or grow our hair long. Or cut it short. Or - if we're playing Daddy Warbucks - shave it off entirely.

Regardless of the change required, we spend the weeks leading up to the show explaining our new look. On one hand, this provides an invaluable opportunity to promote the production. But on the other, it forces us to look like complete ninnies. Even more so than usual, I mean.

A few summers back I had the honor of being cast in a musical as one of the Ringling brothers. Unfortunately, with this honor came the dishonor of being forced to grow a bushy, turn-of-the-century mustache worthy of Wyatt Earp.

As I walked about town that summer, half the people I encountered asked me to explain my unusual appearance. The other half asked for directions to Tombstone.

This fall, the local community players are presenting "Oliver!" and those of us cast as young thieves have been forbidden from getting our hair cut. The director wants us to appear unkempt and youthful. Either that or she's undertaking a trade embargo against the local barbers association.

This means yours truly, cast as the Artful Dodger, hasn't had a haircut since summer. And now, as opening night approaches, a guy who previously insisted on a parted-to-the-side, straight-out-of-the-Young-Republicans-manual coiff now has curly brown locks spilling down the back of his neck. And over his eyes. And into his soup.

What I won't do for my art.

"Wait a minute," my nine loyal readers may be asking. "Aren't you way too old to play the Dodger? In the movie the kid is like, 12."

It appears my nine loyal readers are unfamiliar with the vagaries of casting a community theater production. Amateur theater is a world where, depending on who shows up for auditions, a son could end up cast as his mother's lover. Sometimes you'll cast a 40-year-old as the ingenue Eliza Doolittle - and others you'll slap a silver wig and a fake beard on a high school kid and send him out on stage to play someone's grandpa.

Given such flexible standards, I'd like to think that, with the help of a close shave and a thicket of hair, it won't be such a stretch for a certain thirtysomething to play the Artful Codger. Er, Dodger.

But the moment that curtain falls, I'll reach for the nearest shears. It'll be time to return to my former look. That is, until the next show rolls around and it's time to make another sacrifice for my art. I can only hope Random Villager No. 3 isn't expected to sport a perm.

Former Lillie newspaper editor Ben Bromley realized his hair was out of control when his pastor mentioned it during the "prayers of concern" portion of a recent church service.

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