Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theatah Stories - Act III

I'd caught the bug.

Though I'd still yet to perform in front of more than 38 people, I knew I wanted to be in more plays--as many as possible, quantity over quality. I'm not sure I even really liked to act that much; it was more the hyper-charged atmosphere that attracted me, the feeling of community and a collective goal.

Standing around backstage for eight hours trading ribald stories with co-stars (though I was more of a co-quark, really) is probably the least difficult way to feel productive, so it was perfect for me, who likes little resistance. I could convince myself that all of it was educational, that practicing spit-takes while dressed in purple tights was my ticket to cum laude.

And there was a lot of waiting around once I broke into school plays. I didn't have any lines that first year, but I still spent most of my time in ludicrous situations being asked to emote, mime, and/or swordfight in the background.

In one critique of my performance, I was told, "David, I'm not sure what you're doing with that broom." My only purpose in that show was to sweep, and I was failing. But learning, too. Things like: stagehands love the singer Meatloaf, unequivocally and all of them; Chekhov wasn't just a character on Star Trek; and purple tights can tend to chafe during emotionally-mimed swashbuckling.

I decided to take my new-found wisdom to the director's chair. There may be nothing more arrogant than calling oneself a director, especially when that title comes with no real skill attached. Yours Truly wasn't One to think lowly of Himself, though. If the Little Rascals could put on a show with only an afternoon's prep (and in a barn no less), I could put one on with a month to spare.

The show was called The Taxi Cabaret, and it badly taxed my leadership skills. I needed six people who were willing to work very hard for basically no reason. I nearly cast an actress named Megan--whose talents had recently caught my eye--as a young woman considering marriage, but we weren't nearly ready to play that scene together yet. (More on plays and that young lady as the situation develops).

I dropped $250 on this play to get the rights and tried to start rehearsals wherever I could--my dorm, the laundry room, the library steps, over the phone. As soon as I'd scraped together a full cast--with promises of stardom or promises of future regrets if. . .--someone would drop out. I felt like a kid at recess slowly realizing his made-up game wasn't catching on.

Adding to the difficulty was the fact that Taxi Cabaret was a musical and I didn't know how to read music. For awhile we rehearsed with a CD. I'd tell people to move certain ways, basically on a whim--whatever I felt like coming up with at the time. I was in over my head.

Two days before the show--we'd gotten a room with a spot-light and everything!--I suffered another defection. My friend Will had gotten a date for the night of the opening performance and couldn't do his part. I frantically called Dr. True's Soup and Read's vice-treasurer (emeritus) and State Photographer, Rob Strong: he'd performed in the same play only a few months before and I hoped he could fill in last-minute.

The next day, I found someone who could play the piano. A small detail. We had 18 hours or so to go.

When another cast member told me he'd be late, I had to shift Rob over and take a part myself. There were two songs I'd have to wing.

The late-guy did end up getting there, the piano started, I had to play a gay stockbroker, and we were off!

Yes, my character slowly realizes he's gay as the show progresses. For some reason, I found myself playing gay guys quite often. In this one, I had a song where I told my dad about my new-found orientation. My own dad was, of course, in the audience. Could be it was one of those moments of parenthood when you ask yourself (I figure there are these) How exactly did I get to this point? And How did he? This sense of wonder might have been made more acute by the fact that I was dressed as Fred Flintstone.

(Notice my loafers)

I sang:

With a spear in hand I fear I'm ineffectual.

But I might just be the world's first homo (. . .)
who's an intellectual!

I love misdirection rhymes! I love feminine rhymes!


I found a real feminine presence I rhymed with not long afterwards. That discovery, unlike my last sentence, was a fantastic transition for me.

We started hanging out--Megan and me--during a show called For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls. She was the Belle. I was her perverted, mentally-challenged son, Perry. Inauspicious, you say? At least I wasn't a gay caveman opposite her man-phobic spinster, but this was not a good portent.

A better one came later in the year when Megan replaced another woman in "A Chorus Line," which I'd been stumbling my way through for a few months. We found ourselves next to each other every day. I had to wear these shorts:

(My legs have never looked better. I was also playing a gay man in this show. Megan played, in her words, "The Ugly One." We were both cast against type: Megan because of her acting strength, me because. . .listen, I just don't know).

We got to chatting. I'd mumble inaudible jokes to her out of the corner of my mouth. She'd keep dancing correctly. It was a solid exchange really. But by the end of "A Chorus Line," she was the only cast member I didn't feel a real connection to. This was the perfect romantic comedy set-up.

We did the show, maybe said "good job" to each other.

But, even then, she had the butterflies in my stomach doing kick-lines.

We took our bows.

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