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School Days Bonnie Burroughs

What’s your earliest classroom memory? “I had the same teacher in 1st and 2nd grades, Mrs. Carnes, and I have a vivid memory of her having us all quietly put our heads on our desks.”

As a student, what subjects came naturally to you and which ones did you struggle with? “Math came easily. I can’t do hard math now, but it came very naturally to me as a kid. So did English and that kind of stuff. The subjects that did not come as easily to me were history and the social 

Overall, were you a good student? “I was a really good student. I wouldn’t say I was a proud nerd, although now I would have the wisdom to be a proud nerd. Back then, I was pretty much an introvert. I was always a tall girl and physically felt awkward. I was not a cool kid. I was the opposite of one of the cool kids!”

Did you ever get in trouble with your teachers? “I never, ever got in trouble. Which I think is its own kind of liability! I don’t think it’s healthy to never get in trouble and I literally never got in trouble. Maybe that’s why it’s fun to play Gladys, because she’s just in trouble for a living [laughs]!”

What grade was your favorite? “Fourth grade, for several reasons. I loved my teacher, whose name was Shirley Jones. We moved away to a different city and for a long time I would write her letters and she would write me back. I think I had a bit of a platonic crush on my teacher. It was also around that time that, despite my nerdiness and my feelings of physical awkwardness, I could also run really fast. I could outrun all the boys and sort of dominate the playground, which made that grade special for me.”

When your family moved, did you have to start over in a new school? Was that a struggle for you? “Oh, definitely a struggle. It was not easy. I’m much more of an extrovert now; I’ll talk to any stranger and I kind of light up around people. Maybe that was dormant in me as a child, but when we moved and I went to a different school than I was used to, it just exacerbated that introverted part of me. From 5th grade all the way until two weeks into my senior year of high school, I was in the same little school system in a suburb of Columbia, South Carolina. I went to Irmo Elementary School and then Irmo Middle School and then to Irmo High School, but then we moved back to Atlanta, which is where I was originally from, and that was weird, too. So much so that I chose to graduate a quarter early, just because I was literally not connected to anybody in my school. It’s not a sob story, but it was not a happy social story.”

Were you involved in extracurricular activities? “I did drama club. I was always in the academic clubs, like the Honor Society and the Beta Club. I always did art and thought about becoming an artist.”

Did you have an after-school job? “Oh, yes. As soon as I was 16, I got a job working at Burger King after school and on weekends and wearing a hideous polyester red and orange costume to work. But it was thrilling to make money!”
How big was your graduating class? “About 500, and when they did the academic rankings my junior year, I ranked number five. It did me no good whatsoever [laughs].”

Did you go to a traditional college? “Almost! Because high school was not very rewarding for me socially, I think I thought college would just be like high school, part two, and I think that’s what turned me away from that. I had applied to and enrolled in the University of Georgia, but I got cold feet a couple of weeks before starting. Looking back, I think, ‘It’s silly. I should have gone.’ I think I was really cut out for college because of my academic chops. But I went in a different direction, drama school, and it’s worked out pretty well!”

So how did you end up in drama school? “So, it was the summer of 1979 that I got cold feet and pulled out of going to the university. That fall, my mother saw a tiny little ad in the newspaper advertising regional auditions for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. My mom thought I was good at acting from seeing me in high school plays and she was like, ‘Well, what about this?’ So, I auditioned, I got in, and I started there in January of 1980. And I loved that school and that experience. It was a two-year program and you came out of it with an associate degree. I made lifelong friends and learned a lot.”

What are your most vivid memories of drama school? “Well, the most terrifying memory was of voice class. We had to choose a song and get up and sing it by ourselves in front of everybody, and I found that so terrifying and humiliating that I could not get through it. I basically ran out of class in the middle of my solo and hid in the bathroom. For real! The most fun was doing full-on plays. A French farce called Tartuffe by Molière stands out as something I had a ton of fun with — you know, big dress, big wig.”

If your mom hadn’t seen that ad, do you think you would still have become a professional actress? “I really don’t know! The strange part of my journey as an actress is that I was not a person who was like, ‘This is what I must do!’ That was not me. So, if my mom hadn’t seen that ad, who knows?”