Showbiz (in the blood?)

Years ago Kacie Cooper discovered that she loves performing. She still does stand-up, and wonders if her desire for “showbiz” is something she inherited from her grandmother who was a circus performer for many years. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns As a child I wanted to run away from home. But it wasn’t until I enrolled in drama classes at Excelsior High School that I successfully found a place to hide from myself…into the wonderful world of theater.

I’ve been thinking about my Grandmother Gracie a lot lately.  I’m writing a book about her and I’ve been thinking about our similarities regarding “showbiz.”

Gracie had run away from home and joined the Sells/Floto circus in 1912. She became an entertainer who performed with her elephant, snakes, and two 300 lb. black bears that she had raised from cubs. She also walked the tightrope and hung from her teeth up in the air.

I have never performed with bears, but Gracie and I are similar in our love of showbiz. Now I wonder if that love of performing is in the blood, passed down from her.

At Cerritos College I was blessed with being at the right place at the right time. My first year there I was cast in the play, “Springs Awakening.”  My teacher somehow got three scenes from that play put on a PBS channel. I was in two of the scenes; I was sure that I was on my way to show biz.  I mean…I was on T.V. folks!  What’s next?

But it wasn’t until I began taking theater classes with Professor Kevin Hoggard at Cerritos College that I really started to enjoy myself as a performer.  Kevin was one of the most patient and kind professors I had ever met.  He cultivated something within me that I had been hiding all my young life…myself.  He made me appreciate myself.  He taught me to love theater and to trust myself.

I remember starting classes with him in 1987.  I took probably every theater class that was offered - even Improv.  I would go with the Improv group at Cerritos College and perform for different groups.  They gave us dinner and even a big tip afterwards . The Improv class was probably the most rewarding and fun class I’ve ever been involved with. Years later I was invited to perform in the 20-year reunion with the Improv group at Cerritos College.  It was so exhilarating!

During those performances I realized just how much I loved being a performer, how I yearned to be the center of attention. But of course I was twenty years older than the other students. The young men were eager to perform too and I didn’t always want them coming into my scene every couple of seconds.

Eventually I got a little perturbed at them and wanted to quote Mick Jagger’s song, “Get off a’ my Cloud” to the guys who kept coming into my scene without allowing me ten seconds to do my own thing. But all I could yell out was, “Why don’t you get out of my scene?”  Oh real professional Kacie!

I felt so stupid. You see these young guys were just doing their job.  I guess it was at this time that I really yearned to be a performer. I didn’t want to be upstaged.

But I was saved from my feelings of inadequacy the moment I heard laughter from the audience. It was my professor Kevin Hoggard doing all the laughing and it was the hardiest laugh that I had ever heard in my life.

It was an eye-opening moment.  I felt I had accomplished something so precious; I had made my teacher happy.  It was a “Helen Keller and teacher Ann Sullivan by the water pump” moment. It was so cool.  I had made my teacher laugh! What could be better?

But alas… We were not always at the right place at the right time. For example, Kevin Hoggard’s friend came one evening to see a GIPS Improv performance.  His friend’s name is Steve Carell – the comedian who’s a big TV and movie star!

Steve Carell performed with the GIPS Improv group, but I was home sick.  Everyone got their picture taken with Mr. Steve Carell, except for me.  I must have forgotten the most important motto in showbiz… “The show must go on.”  Shame on me for not showing up!

I also took Stand-Up comedy classes with Kevin Hoggard. I have always loved trying to make others laugh. But that means that I have to write all my own material - not an easy task.

I’ve performed a couple of times at the Comedy Club in Hollywood and also at the Ice House in Pasadena.  The night I performed at the Ice House I learned from the pictures on the wall that the Ice House was the same place that my favorite comedienne Lily Tomlin had recorded her Grammy award-winning album back in 1972.  I had performed at the same place!  It was so thrilling.

Now my own Grandchild Elijah stands before me at the tender age of  2 ½ years, trying to elicit a giggle from me, almost every day.  Then I recall my Grandma Gracie and her love for performing.  I just wonder if “ showbiz” is “in the blood”.  Elijah’s timing is impeccable, and he understands more about comedy at his young age than I do at my old age. We’ll see…

I’ll never know whether or not showbiz is handed down genetically, and even though my career in showbiz has been limited, I am very thankful for having been blessed with wonderful teachers, friends, and family who make me feel like a star even though I’m not one.



Published: Nov. 6, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 30