Thirteen-year-old Tucker McCrady didn't understand his first stage role. He was cast in Waiting for Lefty at his Sewannee, Tennessee school. Called on to play a Jewish doctor during the Depression who was being fired because of his religion, the young McCrady was confused, especially about why the doctor was fired. But after long rehersals with the director, McCrady could act the part without really understanding it. A few months later his school was set to perform the Mikado. But McCrady sat that one out: "It sounded Japanese, and I couldn't sing and didn't want to do it."
"I saw it in the audience and decided I never wanted to miss another." McCrady has hardly missed a beat since then. Ironically, despite his reluctance to sing in seventh grade, the Adams House senior has become best known for his singing roles in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
And what began in seventh grade as a refusal to miss out on the fun has turned into a decision to pursue an acting career. McCrady will attend Julliard for the next four years, earning a second A.B. in the dramatic arts.
McCrady is one of about 10 Harvard graduating seniors who are determined to become actors. Most are setting themselves up for years of grueling work, bouts with depression after audition failures, and minimal job security and financial recompense.
Actor's Equity boasts a 90 percent unemployment rate. But most of them say that they have to face this, that they are only truly happy when they are acting.
"It's a pretty grim profession," says Jonathan E. Marks, who teaches courses on drama at Harvard and is the literary director of the American Repertory Theatre. "Talent itself is sufficient only in the case of the most extraordinary talent." While Marks will not individually assess this year's senior acting crop, he says he would not be surprised to see several of them in the profession 10 years from now, "which is remarkable."
Notes the ART's casting coordinator Sandra L. Matteson: "In any other profession the harder you work the more you gain; that doesn't hold in acting."
In the next 10 years, these actors most probably will face what Marks calls the twin themes of acting: "insecurity and rejection." The bounce between those two experiences is "almost constant. You are always being judged and almost always being rejected," he warns.
Inger D. Tudor rejected a sure thing for acting. She got into Harvard Law School this spring. She applied because she wants to be a lawyer--it's one of several career goals that she has, Tudor notes laughingly. Even before she was accepted to the Law School, however, Tudor believed that she wanted to take time off to teach or act. When the Harvard acceptance letter came, that was still her decision. "It's still very, very scary, but I have to do it; and I have to do it now."
Tudor is going to New York to act. She will get an apartment in Brooklyn with a friend, hunt out a temporary job, and then start auditioning. "I've allotted two years. I'm going to use it if it kills me," she says.
Linus Z. Gelber is a psychology concentrator, so he found a phrase to describe what it takes to be an actor: "tolerance of ambiguity." Here's the ambiguity he faces right now: he is waiting to hear from the Circle in the Square Repertory Theater in New York and the British American Drama Academy in London. In about two weeks he will know, and if both answers are no, he will go to Dallas with senior Lisa Lindley, who is entering Southern Methodist University's acting school.
"We're going to pack all of our earthly belongings into a U-Haul and drive to Texas. We've never been there. We don't know anyone in Dallas. We are just going to go there," Gelber says. "Some people might find this terrifying. I find this terrifying. But we also think of this as an adventure. You could call it an adventure streak. you could call it a death wish."
Four days after she graduates, Kristen Gasser is flying to Chicago to begin rehearsing for a part in Helen by Euripides. "I want to take a chance and see what the acting lifestyle is like." The role in Chicago doesn't pay. Gasser is going out there without a job but at least a place to stay for a while. She will live with Eric Ronis '86, who is directing Helen.
About week ago she went out for drinks with her sophomore year History and Literature tutor and the three women who were in the class with her. One of the women had won a Rotary fellowship, the second had one a Marshall scholarship, and the third was going to Yale Law School. Then she told them she was going to Chicago to act. "It sounds much more amorphous," Gasser understates. "I think if you were really realistic about it and looked at the big picture, it would be too frightening." In Chicago she is going to try to teach acting to school children, look for temp work and the ever-ready waitressing jobs.
Naama Potok is somewhat less sure of herself. She auditioned for Yale's Drama School, London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Acting, and the ART Institute and was rejected. The year is open to her. This summer she will work at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Afterwards she heads for Israel and Europe. "This summer should tell me something. I have a feeling that when the juices get flowing that I will be more than willing to be acting." she says.