Clams are Great

October 18, 2007
By
I never would have thought that the nonsense statement “Clams are great because a vest has no sleeves” could award me with such a reaction.

As I rejoined the circle that last Saturday of training, a chorus of resounding yeses filled the air. A common improvisation game: no matter what the person in the center of the circle said about clams, it was imperative that everyone on the periphery agree. Still, I was astonished that, instead of snickering, my fellow actors applauded, and my teacher and hero, Ann-Elizabeth, smiled. What human being was insane enough to believe what I had just said?

Then again, I was training to be a cast member of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, where the hundreds of performers would don corsets and period garb made of upholstery from JoAnn Fabrics; they would speak like Shakespeare characters without thinking anything of it. In short, they were insane enough to believe what I said, or at least pretend to. At the Renaissance Faire, clams are nothing. And yet I sat shivering in my shell, shaking from the fear that everyone would laugh at my simple statement.

A few minutes later, after everyone had made their proclamations—twelve “Clams are greats” followed by a supportive cheer and a robust “Yes!”—Ann-Elizabeth asked for reflections. I raised my hand as if I was volunteering to be a human sacrifice, and when she called on me I said something profound, though I didn’t hear my own words in my anxiety. It must have impressed her, because she fished around in her pockets and gave me fifty cents for my remark.

Later that year, noticing that I had pulled back into my shell, Ann-Elizabeth took me aside and reminded me, “Sometimes you just have to let yourself go.” By the way she smiled, enjoying a private joke, I knew those words had been mine, and the fact that the tremendously talented Ann-Elizabeth had remembered it made me glow. I had earned that half-dollar.

For someone like the Emily of three years ago, “letting yourself go” is easy to promise, but much harder to accomplish. Once I had gotten over the terrors of Opening Day (capitalized like D-Day and the Great Depression for a reason), I fell into a rut. I became too comfortable with my performance, as many actors do, and I saw no reason to crawl out of my shell for the sake of our patrons. My rut was two years long and just deep enough that I didn’t have the energy to climb out.

My salvation came about almost by accident. A particularly sunny Saturday had put me in an excellent mood, a nice change from what had become my usual disposition. Because I felt my happiness should be contagious, I greeted a frowning young boy with the demand, “Smile, please!” His parents chuckled at my request, but more importantly, the boy’s lips turned up in a grin, and I thanked him before going on my merry way. This had been the first time in my three years as a performer that I had spoken to a patron, a paying customer of the Faire, and it had filled me with such exhilaration that I could hardly contain myself. I spoke with six other patrons that day, and though not all of them were as amused as the first boy’s family, at least I had finally stepped out into the open, if only for a little while.

By the end of the summer, the transformation was complete. It had taken three years for me to fully comprehend that my fifty-cent wisdom was true: sometimes, you just have to let yourself go. Of course, it’s easier to follow this advice when I know I am working with actors who will always say yes, no matter how silly I am. As it turns out, clams really are great. Clams are great because they set me on a path that allowed me to leave my own stupid shell. Clams are great because they’ll always remind me of how I was before and why I’m different now. No one could disagree with that.





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