Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE RE-INCARNATION OF BOY

Back to the Fall of 1998, I had had come out and was at peace with it. At the time though I never even thought about what being gay actually meant, practically speaking that is. I mean it had taken twenty-three years just to admit it, dating was the furthest thing from my mind. What I needed was something to throw myself into entirely the way I had with The Really Big Church. I found that when I went back to school. I’d like to say it was the world of academia that consumed me, but no, it was that haven for us freaks of the world, the college theatre department. Having spent the majority of my time since high school in front of a microphone I knew that when I started college at twenty three I was going to miss it. Essentially I had been performing for a living for the last five years and I was worried about what I was going to do now that I no longer had that outlet. However it didn’t take long before I had a new one. After I saw Angels in America I wanted to audition for a play as soon as possible so I scurried on over to the theatre department to see what was coming up. Not that I cared much, I just really wanted to be in a play. The next audition coming up was for The Seagull by Anton Chekov. What the hell was that? Oh well, who cared, I signed up anyway.

  I was bitten by the bug very young. Every year in grade school a traveling theatre troupe would come and set up a stage in the cafeteria and perform, usually some version of a fairy tale with an extra punch on the moral of the story. I lived for these days, I remember waking up with excitement on the mornings I knew they were coming and pushing and clawing my way to the front cafeteria so I could sit up close. I was mesmerized by the actors. I would just sit there Indian style on the cafeteria floor with my mouth agape. I wanted to do what they were doing. Since I was already on my way to being a famous singer thanks to my living room concerts, I figured it would be an easy transition to acting. Even at six was comparing myself to Cher. When I was in the first grade I was picked to play a mouse in the school Christmas play. Ok, actually every first grader was picked to play a mouse but for some reason I chose to block that fact out. Screw those losers; I was going to be the best mouse ever! Needless to say I was a shameless ham. Grown-ups were always telling me how cute my dimples were, so I smiled so hard my face was sore the next day. I really discovered how much special attention you could get by being in a play when I was in the fifth grade. I was chosen out of all the boys in the school to be one of the main characters in that year’s Christmas play; there weren’t even tryouts, they just handed it to me; last time that ever happened. Well I thought I was hot shit, I even got to get out of class early to go rehearse, I thought it was the biggest deal. I remember the night of play right before Christmas 1985 as one of the most magical of my life. I did not know it at the time, but the teachers had got together and decided to give me the part because they could see that I was drifting away from the other boys. They could see that I had no outlet because everything available for a ten year old boy at that school revolved around sports. That Christmas play was my last real happy memory of my Catholic grade school, I think that is why I cherish that memory the way I do.

 Every year from the ages twelve to fifteen I would make my mother take me downtown so I could audition for my town's annual productions of A Christmas Carol and for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Year after year I was turned down but kept coming back for more. Finally when I was fifteen I was cast in the latter and received my very first paycheck for it. After high school my theatre ambitions were sort of waylaid by Jesus Rocks so I was very nervous auditioning for the first time in college. I often wonder where I would be right now if I hadn’t been cast because that moment definitely set the course for the next decade of my life. However, I was cast; I had approximately six lines in a roughly seventeen hour production of Chekov’s The Seagull. I declared my major that week.

Anyone who’s ever spent anytime near a University’s Theatre department knows how seriously those involved take it; you’d have thought we were on freaking Broadway. My sister Pam had dabbled in theatre when she was in college and she warned me that although I might think everyone is a blast to hang out with, you really couldn’t depend on theatre people, screw her, she was wrong; these were my people. I knew immediately I was home. Yes of course theatre does seem to draw more than its fair share of crazies, but really who else would chose to do that with their life? My fear that I was going to be much older than everyone else quickly dissipated, there were many people my age or older including grad students, and since the department was so small we were all merged together. The next four years were all about theatre, just as the previous had been all about singing and The Really Big Church. I decided since the divorce debacle had left my parents unable to help me pay for school that I would borrow the maximum allowed through student loans so I’d only have to work part time. I know what you’re thinking, very smart right? I don’t regret it; I had an absolute blast in college and I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Following my stellar turn as Yaakov, the scenery moving manservant in The Seagull I auditioned for the BFA program and was accepted. I was even enjoying the school part of school, and not just the theatre classes either. Due to my lackluster performance in high school, not to mention that it had been five years since I’d taken a test, I had to go all the way back to the drawing board in terms of math. Math had always been my nemesis, going back to the fourth grade when I had the flu and missed a week of school. That was the week we started long division and long story short, I just never caught up. The first two math classes I took in college didn’t even count towards anything, but I tested so low that I had to take them before I could even take the university’s basic mathematics requirements. Literally it was like going back and re-learning the fundamentals, not quite two plus two equals four, but pretty close. I am so glad I did this because I ended up getting all A’s in math in college and if you had ever told me that was possible I would have said you were bat shit crazy. One semester I even made the Dean’s list and for someone who always thought of himself as B group that was a huge deal. Mainly though, college was all about the theatre. I should take a moment to say that I never fully intended to pursue theatre as a career. A professor I had, a great man named David Palmer told me one day that your undergraduate degree really wasn’t all that important in the long run, as long as you had one. I took the same stance myself, just as I knew, no matter how many people doubted it that I would eventually go to college; I knew that when I did I was going to concentrate on something that made me happy, no matter how impractical it seemed.

One thing I was kind of excited about once I started to really immerse myself in the Theatre department was the possibility that I might meet someone, more specifically a boy. This was the first time I’d ever been introduced to a whole new group of people since I’d come out, I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle that. Once, when I was still fairly new a guy I was in the show with and I were talking and he asked me with mild curiosity “are you gay?” I totally froze, I had been ready to say yes damnit and now for the first time I was asked directly and I panicked, I literally said “umm, well, uh… no.” Fuck, I chickened out, I felt sick at heart. I couldn’t believe that I said no. I ran after the guy and when I caught up with him I said “actually yes, yes I am.” I remember he looked at me for a second and said “dude, there’s nothing wrong with it” whew, I was relived. Still I said to him “it’s still really new for me so if you know, you could just sort of keep it to yourself for now, I mean don’t lie or anything if anyone asks or anything, umm…” derr, I sounded like an idiot. This poor guy asked what he thought would be a yes or no question and ended up listening to me babble for ten minutes. I decided right then to get it out in the open and out of the way, soon I was inserting “by the way I’m gay” into conversations whether it fit or not. “Can anyone tell me the definition of neo-classicism?” “Well I’m gay so I can.” “Are there any questions about the assignment?” “Yes, I’m gay what pages were we to read again?” “Are you going to audition for that show?” “I’m gay,” “Do you want fries with that?” “Gay!” I figure a lot of people fall into this pattern after they first come out; after all there is no instruction book. Luckily I realized rather quickly how ridiculous I sounded. In a way I was hoping someone’s response was going to be “oh, you are? Well allow me to introduce you to my gorgeous male model friend.” Yeah, that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact leave it to me to find myself to the straightest university theatre department on the planet. There weren’t really a lot of options, but I really didn’t care at that point, like I said I was all about theatre; plus I don’t think I was quite ready yet.

I was very fortunate that first year of college. My second year was equally successful, I was cast in three more main stage shows and started to get very active in student life, at least within the Theatre Arts department. I had my first taste of disappointment at the end of my second year when I did not get cast in the title role of Pippin. Musicals were a rarity in my department and after two rounds of auditions everyone thought I was a shoe in. When the cast list was posted I was listed as ensemble and the title role was left blank. I was furious, and of course we created so much drama amongst our selves that it only fed the flames. I don’t know where I got the balls but I actually confronted the director and asked her why I didn’t get the part. I told you I was getting a bit full of myself. She turned to me and said “well, to be frank it was a hard choice but ultimately, it is a very sexual role and I just wouldn’t buy you as wanting to make love to this girl.” For a split second my righteous indignation flared up then was quickly snuffed out. She was exactly right and I knew it, “thank you” I said and I meant it, “I appreciate your candor. That is something I want to work on.” She told me “I’ve been working with actors all of my life, and this is a very fixable problem, in fact just being aware of it is half the battle.” It was the best bit of advice I ever got, and I was grateful despite the fact that the ringer they eventually brought in to play the role of Pippin had all of the machismo of Little Richard. Interesting side not, as a result of this conversation, or just as a result of finally being comfortable with who I was some of my more flamboyantly feminine mannerisms died off. I’ll never understand it but for some reason coming out made more masculine, go figure.

The summer before my junior year of college I was cast in a professional production of Annie at a summer stock theatre. Granted my childhood imaginings of me in Annie involved me in a curly red wig, sitting on a bunk singing “Hard Knocked Life” with my fellow orphans, but hey, I’ll settle for the role of man number three, after all I was getting a paycheck to be in a show. This was a great experience for me, I got to see how theatre worked outside of a University setting and it definitely broadened the scope for me in terms of opportunities Once I got really involved with my major I started thinking that maybe I would get a Masters Degree and end up teaching theatre. I knew that an actor’s life was not for me. I couldn’t see myself in New York, waiting tables, auditioning and getting rejection after rejection. Not to say I didn’t face some of that where I was. My third year of school was kind of a bitch slap comparatively speaking, at least within the department. I just couldn’t seem to get cast at school. I had started doing shows at theatres off campus, with companies around town; again making a bevy of new friends, but within the Theatre Department I wasn’t as lucky as I had been previously.

By the time I was wrapped up my college career and I been built up a full resume of school shows, off campus shows and summer stock. My last two years I even had an assistantship in the costume shop. I was pretty much regulated to sewing on buttons since I had the tendency to break every sewing machine I touched but it was worth it, it paid half my tuition and allowed me to concentrate on school rather than try to jungle a full time job into the fold. I am very proud of the fact that I am a college graduate, neither of my parents are so I knew how important it was; but for me personally I just feel proud that I bucked the odds. I did not go to college right after high school but I went, just like I knew I would and I did well and managed to graduate in four years. It is something that no one can ever take away. As graduation approached I was pretty sure I would go on to graduate school and become a teacher, life however had other plans for me.

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