My mom was always banking on us growing up and being famous. I was a 24 hour variety show for many years of my childhood. And while my mom constantly reminded me that there were no hidden cameras to be hamming it up for, I think we were always her hope to leave the Northwest and move to Hollywood.
My childhood living room had a fireplace that was on an elevated platform made of bricks with a spotlight mounted above it. This was no doubt there to illuminate some family photo with everyone’s smiling doughy cherub faces beaming as the family is gathered in matching sweaters, but there was no such photo of my family. So instead it was my stage, and it being the 90s, the brick background and spotlight made it perfect for me to put on my best Seinfeld impression and do a little stand up. The act was extremely short and extremely regional humor… the region being our house.
“What’s the deal with Buster the Dog (our dog)? He wants to go outside. Then he wants to come back in. Out, in, out, in. Make up your mind dog! WELL THAT’S BEEN ME THANKS SO MUCH” Mild chuckling from my family. The late show with the same crowd didn’t elicit the same response and so my barely two minute act was retired.
But my mom never lost hope. Once, while attending a local black box theatre show, my mom was chatting up one of the actors during the intermission. I walked up, candy bar in hand, and my mom started talking me up. How our little Lauren was hoping to be an actor some day. “She has the face of an ingénue!” the actress proclaimed, which my mom took to be confirmation of my future stardom. I had no idea what it meant.
“You have such a young, innocent face, and you’ll always look young.” I shrugged and munched on my candy bar. I’ve had many such encounters while eating something. Someone once asked me for a copy of my resume while I had a rice krispy treat hanging out of my mouth. …this was like three years ago.
But the problem that plagued me then, and still plagues me now? Crippling anxiety. I enjoy improv and singing, that silly spur of the moment stuff. But stick me in front of an audience to do something rehearsed and I come apart. I psyche myself out.
When I was eight and my brother was six, Mom took us to a slightly seedy hotel hosting a kind of modeling star search. I think this was her last ditch effort to try to see if she could ring some cash out of us. My brother was starting to lose his baby teeth, which all of the paperwork we were filling out expressly said not to bring any children with missing teeth. They were not worth it because they would not be selected, and since there was an entrance fee, it’d just be as waste of money. She did it anyway.
Once the paperwork was turned in we waited. I remember the waiting being agony. There were lots of kids there, but they looked a lot more… well, dolled up than we were. Costumes, make up, the works. I put on a hand-me-down dress of my sisters and had my hair brushed and was told to smile at all times. I also seem to remember my mother listing that I had special talents like acting and dancing and “she’s quite funny!” with a smiley face in my mother’s signature loopy handwriting. (My chicken scratch is still probably a rebellion against that handwriting.)
Finally, we were called up. First was a basic photo test. Much like kiddie mugshots, we were asked to look forward and smile, then to turn to the side and smile. “Great, thank you!” and off to more hours of sitting and waiting.
Sometime later we were called up again and asked to get in line. We’d walk down a runway, stop, say our name, our age, our favorite color, and something we liked, and walk back. My brother trounced down the walk, snaggletooth on full display. He stopped, rattled off his answer, and walked back. My mother enthusiastically hooped and hollered in the back. Then it was my turn. My turn to bungle the job.
I walked down the catwalk with an eye on precision, but wanted to look casual. This meant that my arms were swinging but my legs were doing a kind of robot tin soldier metered… thing. And I was staring at my feet. I stopped and looked up to my panel of judges. Again, a desire to be accurate but coupled with CRIPPLING ANXIETY.
“Hi, I’m Lauren. I’m eight years old. My favorite color is actually three: white, pink, and blue. And I like… um…” A stumble! And they were writing notes! OH GOD. “Ilikedogsthankyouverymuch.” I bolted back down the runway, my mother’s cheering at my back.
I was not invited to become a “star”. My brother, however, SNAGGLETOOTH AND ALL, was asked to join them. Alas, his road to stardom was soon ended as my mother discussed the details of modeling and acting program they offered, which (of course) had a tuition of several thousand dollars we could never afford. She was irate she could not get some kind of discount or guarantee he would be on TV and soon we were piled into the minivan and driven home, only then my mother cursing the program for what a sham it was.
Sometimes I ponder that life where Little Lauren was a star. In the 90s, child stars where everywhere. Our sitcoms, our game shows, our children’s variety shows. I could have been somebody! But after seeing how many of these kids turned out? I’m kind of glad I’m nobody.