According to the pink construction paper invitation taped inside my early childhood scrapbook, I debuted as a child actress in kindergarten. Mrs. Mendoza selected me to narrate a play about those Three Little Pigs (and one infamous Big Bad Wolf). Parents arrived at 2:00 p.m. one afternoon to enjoy the well-rehearsed little drama. Mom wrote a note in my scrapbook that the cast was invited to the Mendoza’s home for dinner the next evening. I remember liking the role of little socialite more than that of narrator.
Well, my fame must have gotten around, because a year later, the first grade teacher cast me as the Storyteller in that 1959 blockbuster, “The Strange House”. The mimeographed program for this play — also taped in the scrapbook — lists parts for a mouse, a frog, a rabbit, a fox, a turtle and a bear. I do recall thinking at the time that my being cast as the Storyteller meant I was missing out on some of the juicier roles. Sigh.
Nevertheless, my career was heading uptown, because this play was being staged in the school auditorium, not just our classroom. Mom got involved by helping me put together an “old lady” storyteller costume and making sure I had my lines down pat. I mean, she really made sure, as in multiple rehearsals in our dining room. (Tucked inside the program was a piece of yellowed paper with all my lines written out in my mom’s printing.) As we got closer to the big day, she made me stand at the far end of the living room and say my lines while she stood as far away from me in the dining room as she could. She was wanting me to project.
“Some of the audience will be even further away from you than I am,” she stressed., “You’ll need to speak very loudly, so everyone can hear you.” The big day came and the show was, by all accounts, a big success… but then, parents and grandparents are known to give standing ovations for just about anything their little ones perform in.
So, now I’m wondering… exactly what was it that derailed my fledgling acting career? Were there simply no Hollywood talent scouts in Indianapolis? Or was it perhaps my parents? …shielding me from the woes that beset other contemporary child actors (think Patty Duke)? ‘Tis a mystery. What I do know is that I didn’t act on stage again for a long time. (Although I did a couple of stints as a mime and a party clown in my twenties.)
A few years ago, my sister threw a party in celebration of a favorite movie: Enchanted April. Since I share her fondness for this movie, I was on the guest list. Everyone was welcome to come as one of the characters in the film. I decided to cobble together a costume and present myself as the dowager Mrs. Fisher, portrayed in the movie by Dame Joan Plowright.
I raided the box of costume components in the basement and was able to pull it all together, down to the wide brimmed hat and cane. During the two hour drive from my house to the party, I thought of suitable Mrs. Fisher-like responses to the small talk other guests would no doubt make (she could be very abrupt and intimidating). I went over the lines again and again, imitating her starchy British accent. I soooo wanted to stay in character. Pulling it off was so much fun that I briefly contemplated getting involved with community theater. But practically speaking, I just couldn’t handle the time commitment.
Perhaps the highlight of my very cursory and welter weight acting career, was something I did some years back, just for the fun of it. At the time, my husband was a pastor in Philadelphia. The church had a tradition of hosting an annual talent show that would feature anything from poetry to dance, vocals and instrumentals, to “comedy”. About a month before the show, he and I were riding in the car when the net was cast.
“You know what would be a really funny act for the talent show?”
“A skit with the Church Lady.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I mean, J.C. (a member with a great South Philly accent) could play the part of Rocky Balboa and the Church Lady could interview him.”
“That would be funny…”
“And Butch and Joe could do their Hans and Franz thing. They could be returning from the winter Olympics, maybe, and be disappointed because there weren’t any weight lifters there.”
“Oh, yeah. That’d be funny too.” Then I asked, “So, who were you thinking would be the Church Lady?”
He kept his gaze straight ahead, hands on the steering wheel and didn’t say a word.
“Oh no! …NO! Huh-uh! Nooooo. I’m not going to do it!”
“Why not?” he asked plaintively.
“Because I sort of AM the Church Lady, ya know!”
“Yeah… but you have to admit, it would be funny…”
“It would,” I agreed. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I won’t do it!”
“Okay.” And he left it alone. In retrospect, I think he was employing his sneakiest reverse psychology. And it worked. About a week later, while mindlessly pressing clothes, I confronted myself about my resistance to his casting call to reprise Dana Carvey’s SNL character. What’s the deal, Linda? Why so adamant about this? As I thought it through, it boiled down to — I’ve already admitted to being a wuss — I didn’t want to risk offending anyone’s sensibilities. Even though I knew it would be funny.
So I picked up the phone. “Hey, Butch? This is Linda Dyer.”
“My husband had this little brain storm for the talent show. Can I run it by you and see what you think?” I proceeded to relate the gist of how the interview might go between the Church Lady and Hans and Franz. He liked it. His creativity kicked in and he fired off some of his ideas. Hey, this could work. Then I called J.C. to see if he was game to do Rocky; his answer: an enthusiastic thumbs up. We were on.
Again, I rounded up a costume. I got purple and bright blue fabric to make the Church Lady suit, found a wig, some horn rimmed glasses and a pair of granny shoes. My teenage son coached me on the gestures and facial expressions I would need. The guys and I very loosely rehearsed, because we wanted some spontaneity to the skit.
Then the big night came and we did our schtick, hoping all the good church folk would take it in the same light-hearted spirit in which it was intended. The skit got lots of laughter, and if any of the folks didn’t like it, nobody said anything. But I can report that from that time forward, the teens and young adults started calling me Church Lady. Heh heh.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, here’s a link to our little Church Chat on Youtube: The Church Lady – Philadelphia. Enjoy.