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Sunday, June 9, 2013

STOP..Tony Time

                                              'The Show Must Go On', 1991, Queen
                   (What I'd listen to immediately upon realizing I had not gotten a part or call-back)

This is the first time actually sitting down to watch 'The Tony's'. Christopher Durang deserves best play for 'Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'. He is a genius! Remembering that his work was the first play I acted in at Kenyon and the first play I directed on my own. I also had the pleasure of meeting him a year ago. He's a very humble and nice person and enjoys meeting fans of his work. I had a long, genuine conversation and he promised to read my blog. I'm also glad that Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for her work 'Kinky Boots' which has broken many barriers. Watching the Tony's makes me really miss my theater days (acting,directing, teching). Here's to hoping I find my way back to that as well! I'll be here, in Brooklyn, writing plays even if none of them ever make it to the stage! I just write to keep myself connected to the theater world even if it's by a glittering shadow of a thread!

I actually dedicate this post to my grandmother, Lillian Brown Zabrack who was my true and my first theater teacher.  I was always acting out cartoons and movies in the living room, and she would watch.  She would tell me stories using many voices and imitating many characters' mannerisms, one being 'The Soda Clerk' (which I still remember distinctly).  She wanted to be a famous actress, herself, and even had an acting and dancing school in NYC with her sister, Mae, at one point.  My grandmother never got to be a movie star.  But she taught her grandson everything she knew.  My grandmother taught me how to memorize lines and how to enunciate.  When I had to memorize poems in elementary school, she gave me pointers on how to be more dramatic and where to pause (short pause after commas and long pauses after periods).

She even tried to teach me tap dancing and took me to a few of her classes.  I still remember how proud I was of her when she would perform at the Jewish Community Center.  One time she was a robot and tap danced her way into everyone's heart.  The best story is when her dance group, 'The Classy Kickers' went to be extras in a movie, 'King of the Hill'.  However, my grandma got on the wrong bus and actually ended up in the movie.  Her friends, unfortunately, did not.  I have a hunch that my grandma got on that bus on purpose.  She wanted to leave her legacy somehow.  She had a love for all things glitzy, like Vegas and Branson.  I'm sure she would have adored Dollywood had she the opportunity to go.  I have not seen the movie but I know to look for a derby hat.  However, it was because of my grandmother that I swore I would get on stage one day, though she never lived to see it. 

As I sit here watching The 2013 Tony Awards, I remember all of the wonderful times I have had within the theater world.  There have been many.  I have acted, directed, stage managed, and filled in various other technical theater roles from high school through college.  I still remember the first show that made me fall in love with theater and how I got 'bitten' by 'the bug'.  It was sophomore year of high school when I was transported to a different universe while watching 'Tommy' performed not by a bunch of high school kids but kids who could sing, dance, and act their way into another land.  I wanted to be part of that magic, and so I began my journey into the theater world.

I started out by doing technical theater.  I worked my way up the ladder.  I showed up to build sets on Saturday and after school.  I volunteered for run crew, and though it wasn't glorious it gave me the feeling that I was part of something, a world where I belonged.  All of the kids were nearly as eccentric and odd as I was.  So I looked forward to every moment spent around sets and stages.  What I longed for, however, was to act.  I tried out for a couple of plays but I did not end up getting a part.  See, I wasn't in any theater classes, since at my school, you had to pick one art class, and I chose band.  If I had it all to do over again, I'm not sure I would  have made the same choice.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I love music too.  I love every aspect of the arts, so making a kid like me pick was like asking a four year old to pick only one flavor of ice cream (out of a choice of at least 15).   Like the four year old wanting every single flavor, I wanted to try out every single art class available but I couldn't.

However, I am not regretful of getting into theater.  I have my high school theater teachers to thank for that, Patrick Huber and Carolyn Hood, to whom I will ALWAYS be indebted toward.  They sacrificed so much and put a lot on the line to make sure we had one hell of an amazing theater program (I realize this now being a teacher).  Also, they recognized my passion for theater and hunger to learn everything I could about that world.  Patrick saw that I was multi-faceted as an artist and could express myself in many ways.  He trusted me enough to draft plans to paint a set after a very talented set designer graduated.  He also cast me in my first play, 'A Prelude to a Kiss' where I played a priest, of all things.  It was the highlight of my Junior year.  After that play ended, I only wanted to act more.  I also tried my hand at writing plays and wrote my very first play (not very good) based on a horror movie I had seen.  I shamefully admit that though I made the play my own, that my work was too closely tied to the movie (which also wasn't very good).  However, I have Dan Piquet to thank for encouraging me to write plays and take me seriously.

Then, senior year, I had the luck somehow of getting cast as the male lead in our musical, 'No No Nanette'.  To say I was shocked was a complete understatement.  The lead roles (both male and female) usually went to kids who were cast in the musical all four years.  Kids who worked their way up from chorus to dance captain to nurse #2.  I skipped over that process.  The very first time anyone ever heard me sing publicly and it got me the lead role.  I still remember asking friends, 'How do I sound?'  Well, I think everyone was quite surprised that I could sing, including myself.  Carolyn Hood took a chance on a kid who was dying for the attention of the stage.  And I will never forget how nervous I was filling the shoes of people who had graduated before me.  I kept doubting myself and wondered if I could possibly fulfill all of my duties.  I still remember the one note that I got from Miss Hood.  She told me that, 'You are perfect.  I wouldn't change anything.'  This was coming from a director who was blunt and from an outside perspective would have seemed to be tearing into the actors.  However, I knew she was honest and had high standards which is why my knees were knocking.  But she gave me the confidence to go above and beyond even my own expectations.

I carried this confidence into college which is perhaps why I eventually dropped my drama major.  It's not that I thought I was hot shit or anything.  Actually, I've always had very low self-esteem and I can admit that now.  Even when people compliment me, I think they're lying.  So when I tried out for play after play in college and did not even get a call back, I was frustrated and distraught.  One time, a freshman hallmate took advantage of my raw emotions to get an A on an eavesdropping assignment for class.  Yea, that's the kind of manipulative and dirty games I was dealing with.   In my freshman drama class, there were a lot of fakers and insolent brats.  A lot of kids came to drama class pretending they knew everything and acted like their shit smelled like perfume and candy.  And there were no 'warm fuzzies' within the drama department.  It was mostly full of insecure and self-loathing, pretentious phonies (yes, I sound like Holden Caulfield).  But, I was the kid who sat in class and absorbed everything.  I wanted to learn everything I could about acting, playwriting, technical theater, directing.  But, I never got that chance.  I felt like a puppy who just wanted a chance to get into the proper obedience school with a trainer who saw my potential.

Instead, I got cold and austere vibes from many of the professors; I got envy and venom from fellow drama majors/students.  Clearly, they weren't as passionate as I was, right?  I actually rehearsed parts for plays I wanted to get into.  I took every single audition seriously and wanted so desperately to be noticed by any director.  I soon realized, however, that there was a ladder here too.  So, I started doing techie stuff.  My first role was in a Christopher Durang play, 'Beyond Therapy' that my friend Jillian directed.  I realized that you had to be cast in a play, even a student (non-mainstage) show to get noticed.  It wasn't until my sophomore year being Reverend Canon Chasuble in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' that I was even called back for a mainstage play.  It wasn't until I dropped my drama major during my Junior year that I was cast in a mainstage play, 'As You Like It'.   And I have Professor John Tazewell to thank for building my confidence and making me see that I actually had merit a person and contributed something to my college theater world.  Note that I also dropped my drama major because at that moment in my life, I decided to fully dedicate myself toward being an activist.  I felt that theater and activism were mutually exclusive.  Boy was I wrong.  It was during a summer in London that I fully realized this fact seeing plays that were both inspirational and political.

I also did my college abroad experience centered around theater.  I was in the Washington University Globe Theater program which taught me that there were clearly other ways to view theater that weren't through an Aristotelian lens.  That and I became frightened of one Jane Lapotaire who told me never to play Puck or she would 'haunt my dreams'.  I wanted her to say 'wow, you're the best actor I've seen since Lawrence Olivier' (not really, but yes really).  I always felt I had some special spark that other did not possess and that some seasoned actor or director would pull me aside and tell me to be their protege.  I hate admitting this now but there was a time when I wanted my name to be spoken in every single  household across America.  Some might call that an 'attention whore', but I call it being inspired having high expectations.  It's not that I really thought I was that talented, it's just that I really thought I had promise as some 'theatrical' force to be reckoned with.  I can admit this now because I think it's quite silly.  

I am sad to say that my interest in theater has dwindled and I'm not sure why.  My passion now is for teaching and I have done a little bit of dabbling into the theater world in my role as an educator.  However, I think about what the kid version of me would say.  He would kick my ass most likely.  See, there was a time that I wanted to actually be an actor.  Not necessarily a stage, theater actor, but a film or television actor.  I have been told (by people who know the biz) that I have a theatricality and 'face' for TV, for sitcoms.  I know I'm a pretty decent character actor.  My wife has even told me to get into doing voice over work.  However, I just feel too tired at this point in my life.  I feel like my disappointments outweigh my success at this juncture.  I can't even begin to think about what would happen if I went to a real audition.  Blowing it is not even a question.  I'm out of sync with who I used to be.  That and I feel like I peeked 15 years ago.  My psoriatic arthritis would not let me dance and my voice is definitely not as tightly trained as it once was (when I was singing for 6-7 hours a day). 

I do write plays still.  I owe that ability to college in that I got ingrained with an Aristotelian sense of drama and how it works.  I also took a playwriting class with a semi-recognizable playwright, WM (trust me, her plays aren't great).  We used to make fun of her plays back in freshman drama class.  And taking class with her made me realize that hacks don't make good teachers.  I got better feedback an encouragement from peers in my class than from her.  She did teach me, however, that writing makes good revenge.  Case in point.  It wasn't until I wrote a play as a final for an English Restoration Drama class that I even realized that I had some recognizable talent.  See, I was going to write a term paper and then at the last minute, I was like, what the hell am I doing?  We had a choice to write a play, and that's what I enjoy.  So during my all-nighter, I switched directions and in three hours, I had a forty page college sex farce.  My professor was shocked when I told her that I had gotten no encouragement with this skill, whatsoever, within the drama department.  Actually, she wasn't shocked as much as surprised.

So this is my story of heartache and a journey to find the light.  Being on stage is a place where I not only feel powerful and invincible but it's also a place where I feel like I belong.  Hopefully those hot lights will one day saturate my skin which has a thin layer of pancake make-up eyeliner (you know so your eyes pop).  I still have dreams where I'm told to go on and I don't know my lines.  That or I cannot find my costume, but I'm asked to go on anyway.  I have this dream of being on stage often.  I also have dreams that I'm on a television reality show (like Project Runway even though I cannot sew).  Yea, I have really weird dreams.  But something tells me that this whole being on stage thing isn't over.  Friend of mine just say 'oh you're taking a break'.  I remember, though that the bite by the theater bug is still glowing, though not as bright; it also doesn't have such a stinging pang anymore either. 

So here's to hoping that one day either one of my plays makes it somewhere or my talent (or what's left of it) as an actor or director gets me back on a stage, in a theater.  Who knows what the future holds.  Right now, I just hope to get back to teaching since I know that is my true calling.  If I end up doing theater related stuff on the side, then so be it.  Let the Fate Sisters do their work!  'Double, double, toil and trouble, cauldron burn and fire bubble..'

The show must go on,


                                                   'A Kind of Magic', 1986, Queen
                               (what I used to listen to in order to pump myself up before an audition)

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