At times like this, with all the things we as a people have been going through with quarantine and restrictions, it’s good to look back at where you came from and how you got here. A lot of times when you watch TV or listen to Radio you hear about how actors and performers started in their fields and a lot of them will say that they got started at an early age and how their love of being in the spotlight got them to where they are now. For me, that was the opposite of how I ended up where I am, because I didn’t like performing and didn’t want to be in the spotlight, I was quite happy being shy and quiet and not the centre of attention.
When I was in Grade 1 I was a terrible student and often found myself drifting off in class and not paying attention. It was one day in class when our teacher started listing of names of students and asked them to stay after class and myself and another boy who wasn’t paying attention both stayed after class despite not having our names called and were told we were all going to be part of some performance competition with other schools. Both he and I said “Oh, our names weren’t called so we’ll just leave” and we were told “oh no, you two weren’t paying attention in class so now you’re stuck.” And we were told we were now recruited whether we liked it or not, and we had to join in as we learned the song “Kookaburra”. The next rehearsal I noticed the other kid who had not payed attention like me wasn’t there but I am the kind of person who sticks with things and I kept coming to rehearsals. I seem to remember that the teacher told me I couldn’t sing so I was given an xylophone (or something like that) and shown how to play it and that was my role.
We went to the competition at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, (I was in a school in Toronto then) and we competed against other schools in the area, and we won first place in the competition. I seem to remember my parents kept a clipping from the newspaper about it, I don’t know if they still have it. I do remember how much I didn’t want to go onstage before the set and after it was over there was a great relief in having gotten the whole thing over with and never wanting to go through that again.
That stayed with me through school, I even refused to make oral presentations in class because I didn’t like the attention I got, I even wrote something for English class I refused to present to the class so someone else offered to present it in my place and they got some really good response to it which made me interested in writing for other people to perform my work instead of me.
When I got to High School I continued to stay out of the limelight for my first year. I joined the Library Club because I loved reading books and got interested in cleaning up and cataloguing and helping out with the music library. The assistant head of the Library Mr. Tonus heard me goofing around doing an impression of Christopher Guest from National Lampoon’s Radio Hour when he did a parody of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood one time with other club members and as he was in charge of doing publicity for the school play that year, he asked me to do some announcements as Mr. Rogers for the play on the school’s P.A. and I absolutely refused. I was picked on a lot and I didn’t want to give the bullies any fuel to add to the fire so I wouldn’t do it, so he compromised and he would record my announcements on a tape recorder that was played over the speakers so that I could sit in the classroom and no one would know it was me. For a long time I sat there and watched people laugh but I was comfortable knowing no one knew it was me, one person did figure it out, but his friend said “Naw, it couldn’t be Carey, he’s not cool enough”.
After a few weeks of doing this, whether on purpose or honestly by accident Mr. Tonus told me that the recording we made for one morning was gone, and we didn’t have time to record it again, so he told me I had to go into the staff office and do it live. I didn’t want to go, but he’d insisted that it had to be done and I had to do it because no one else could as I’d already set a precedent by having the recordings playing over these last few weeks. So I went into the office and did the announcement and once I got back to the homeroom everyone knew it had to be me. I got a few compliments and some praise, which I wasn’t prepared to get because I thought everyone hated me and wouldn’t say anything nice about it. Of course one person was a dick about it, and that was the same person who said I wasn’t cool enough to have done it and funny enough he was the one person who really liked the announcements in the first place. When I went to see the school play when it was performed for the students I was introduced to the teacher who was in charge of the production and was told I was the person who was behind the voice for the announcements and he jokingly threatened me that he would break both my legs if I didn’t try out for the play the next year.
I wasn’t going to, despite the praise I got, and wanted to continue to hide in the shadows, but funny enough life sometimes can change for weird reasons. Being shy and quiet would be fine if I was just living my life alone, but I had a job as a paper boy, and I didn’t want to have to go to people’s doors and collect their money for the paper, so I just let it go and would only collect from people who I didn’t mind talking to. One day though, I got angry at myself, realistically it was my money and why shouldn’t I collect it and instead of being shy and tapping at doors and walking away when no one answered I thumped on doors and rang doorbells and boldly said “I’m collecting” and got a ton of money owed from weeks of delivery, and after that my whole demeanor changed.
With that change happening, the following year I did audition for the school play, which was Guys and Dolls, and because I could do a passable (read cartoonish) Irish Accent I was given a part as Lt. Brannigan the cop who was trying to bust the criminals. But because the part wasn’t in a lot of the play, they had me fill into roles where I could help out, I was a photographer during the opening number, I was a waiter in Havana and I was the voice of the pilot over the speakers so that the sets could be changed from the New York set to the Havana set and back again. It was also during this play that I did something I forgot I knew how to do, and that was fall flat on my back, when I was a boy my friend Kenneth had a sister who was taking Judo lessons and she wanted to teach us what she learned on the first day so she taught Kenneth and I how to fall on our backs when we were pushed or tossed so we would learn not to get hurt, she must have done this about 50 times over and over to us both and its funny how your body has memory of something like that even when your brain forgets, because during the scene in Havana a fight breaks out and one of the dancers ends up popping me in the face and I drop to the floor and the first time I did it they thought I’d really fallen and hurt myself, but when I got up and was fine and every time we rehearsed it and I kept doing it they realized it was okay and let me do it every show. There were actors backstage waiting to watch me drop, it must have been something to see because they never missed it.
After that, performing became second nature to me, and the following year I got the lead in the play and from there on in I was an actor. Funny how life changes sometimes.