Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bad Service: A How Not To Guide

Recently, I did a show in the Bronx. It was part of Farragosto, an Italian Festival on Arthur Road. Each year, I am part of a commedia dell’arte troupe. We basically operate in ensemble style all day, and from festival start to strike we perform with a lunch break in between. Each year, we go to this market where the customer service staff is so rude but the food is so good.

The cast of characters includes a surly father, his rude, spoiled surly daughter, and a grandfather who doesn’t want to be there either. All are very old school Italian mind you. Sure, this is the way we would all like to do customer service. But if we did customer service this way, we would be fired.

Begin scene, my boss Jessica steps up to the counter to order.

Jessica: How much is a plate of broccoli raabe?

Counter Girl: How should I know?

Jessica: Well how much is it usually?

Counter Girl: I dunno, you gotta weigh it.

Jessica: How much is it typically, let’s say for a pound?

Counter Girl: You’re acting like I know. You gotta weigh it. He’s the one that’s gotta weigh it and he’s busy. You got to wait your turn.

Jessica and I exchange a glance.

The Counter Guy Enters.

Jessica: Excuse me, how much is a plate of broccoli raabe?

Counter Guy: I dunno, you gotta weigh it. And it’s her job to weigh it, but she don’t want to weigh it.

Jessica: Can you weigh it?

Counter Guy: I can, but I’m busy weighing all the food my daughter doesn’t want to weigh.

The Grandfather enters. He is tired, possibly from dealing with his idiot son and moron granddaughter. 

Grandfather: Alright, I’ll weigh it. 

Grandfather weighs it and rings Jessica up without incident. 

I am up next. The Counter Girl is having a yelling match with another customer.

Counter Girl: You gotta wait in line.

Guy: But I just wanted a slice of pizza.

Counter Guy: Yeah, but the line is over there. NEXT!

Counter Girl turns to me

Counter Girl: What do you want?

Me: Octopus salad.

Counter Girl: Okay, you gotta weigh it.

Me: How much is it usually?

Counter Girl: I said you gotta weigh it.  Didn’t you hear me? You gotta wait ten minutes too.

Me: Okay.

Stepping to the side, I see I have no choice. The Counter Girl begins fussing and swearing because she is forced to do her job. Other’s approach

Man: I want a plain pie.

Counter Guy: We don’t have a plain pie.

Man: You don’t have a plain pizza pie?

Counter Guy: What do you expect me to do, pull it out of my pocket? It’s just the three of us working here.

Man: Then I guess I will go eat somewhere else.

Counter Guy: You go do that. Look at this man, he wants everything, he wants nothing, he wants everything again. He can’t make up his mind.

Man walks away peeved. The line continues to grow.

Grandfather approaches me

Grandfather: Sweetheart, are you being helped?

Me: Yeah, just ordered. I am wondering where my ocopus salad is.

Counter Guy: We’re taking care of it.

Counter Girl: Next. Come on, step up. I got things to do.

My octopus salad arrives.

I pay.

I escape to my table. Yes, it is delicious and was (almost) worth the hassle). 

Now do these people all need fired, or do they need a medal or doing and saying what anyone and everyone with a customer service job has wanted to say.

You decide.

The End


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Zombie Douche Bags

Yesterday I went to the 6th Ward for my friend Annette’s belated birthday brunch. It is an Irish bar on the Lower East Side. Annette is the assistant and cousin to my current manager. While Annette and I have worked together and she is responsible for the production of my new acting reel, we had never hung out. Apparently brunch at the 6th Ward is supposed to be a lot of fun, so when she invited me I was stoked.

Then Annette sent us another message. There would be a DJ. She told us if the DJ proved too loud and obnoxious we could bounce. I was good with that. After all, Saturday itself proved to be cold and rainy. While summer had only been weeks earlier, now fall was in the air. Fall I believe is a beautiful woman. She looks pretty, is a lot of fun, but can also be a pain in the ass. So yes, fall was in the air and I made sure I took my umbrella. I wore an Indian Mumu because the outfit was almost warm, and the temperature was bipolar.

I got to brunch and met Annette in person. She gave me a huge hug and thanked me for coming out. Outside smoking was another girl, Miki, who was a part of our group. Adorned with purple hair, Miki was a graduate student and researcher at Columbia University. Battling the cold, she tested her commitment to her nicotine addiction by smoking a cigarette in the on again/off again rain. As we entered the 6th Ward, we looked for Catalina, a Chilean chica who was the third in our crew. Well dressed with a rocking body, she seemed ageless and could turn heads wherever she went. In short, Samantha from Sex in the City with a Spanish accent.

Miki had known Annette from their time together at Sloan Kettering, where Annette worked as an assistant and Mikki in research. As for Catalina, she had met Annette because she was a music fan, and had a bad habit of dating drummers. While often it did not work out with the drummers, Annette was a steadfast fixture in her life. As we sat and chatted, we waited for Natalie, who was a bellydancer and acrobat taking a circus class that would be arriving shortly. Annette feverishly texted her so she would know the locale.

As we ordered drinks, Annette and I chatted about some of the people we knew through show business. This was of course as she intercepted some drama as a result of an actor not getting news he booked a gig. The poor thing, an over worked kid, forgot he had a wardrobe fitting. The young man insisted he didn’t know but he had gotten the email. Annette lost her mind for a brief moment, but all was fixed. This is exactly why I didn’t last as a booker.

Annette and I also laughed about some of the nutty people we had encountered in this biz of show. One is a bipolar ventriloquist and magician named Disappear. In my communication with Disappear, I wish he would do like his name and vanish. Back in the day, Disappear and I communicated online. At first it was nice, ventriloquist to ventriloquist. Then he sent me a series of sexually laced, salacious, outright violent messages. All were written in caps. Disappear later wrote me apologizing, saying it wasn’t him penning those letters. Annette also had an experience with Disappear were he tried to rip her off and then he threatened her. Disappear of course denied it. Why couldn’t he be a hack and say, “It’s not me, it’s the doll.”

Another was a female clown by the name of Flo who has puffy red hair. Flo had been represented by a name agency but was dropped because she is insane. Apparently, Flo approached Annette about commercial work. Annette gave her instructions and Flo didn’t follow them. Flo, however, after not booking a commercial had a three day meltdown on facebook. Of course this was before I met her and right off the bat, before I knew her name, she announced she was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with no prodding whatsoever. Additionally, she joined Landmark Forum and has tried to convert everyone to her cult. Sigh, there are no people like show people.

As we sat and chatted, drinking, the DJ played and so far it wasn’t that bad. Maybe brunch would proceed to be a low key affair after all. No such luck. Just then, a throng of preppies entered the restaurant. The wardrobe: Polo shirt, khaki shorts, and loafers without socks. The hair was either Aryan blonde or pitch black. White as if they had never seen oppression or had to work a summer job, we knew immediately we had to watch our drinks. These boys might be date rapists in training, and their daddies could get them off.

As the preppy white boys continued to pour in, they all continued to look alike. It was as if they were the male version of The Stepford Wives. They were from a strange planet, probably Connecticut, where one was judged by the size of their trust fund and not the content of their character. As each entered, they slapped hands and gave bro hugs. Some grunted loudly. Great, nothing worse than preppy white boys trying to be cool. These Kennedy’s in training were either studying to run for Congress, accidentally drown their pregnant secretary, or kill their neighbor in a fit of rage. Either way, there was no individuality.

As the place became white washed, we all felt strange. Annette is black, Catalina is Latina, Miki is a white woman with purple hair, and I was wearing an Indian mumu. We were about as New York as you could get. These folks on the other hand, it was as if Connecticut or some WASP nest had emptied and now we were stuck with it’s deportees. The preppies had invaded the quiet brunch we were having. As the DJ played, we wondered why the preppies were coming in. Was it no longer fashionable to be at the Hamptons? Did Martha’s Vineyard close down?

“Why are there so many white people here?” Annette wondered, as the place continued to become more and more like a sugar cookie.

 “Snow storm.” I replied. Mikki and Catalina agreed as the clones continued their invasion.
We wouldn’t have had a problem with the prep squad but they were terrible people to inhabit the space with. Not only did they come in the venue in large numbers, but they crowded the walk ways making it hard for the wait staff to come and go. Additionally, they were loud yelling and cheering for no apparent reason other than the fact it’s what preppy white boys do when they drink. This was too much for all of us, especially Mikki. She remarked her high school was ninety eight percent black, and this was way too white for her.
I agreed. I grew up in a mostly white hometown and this was too white for me. These people were way white. I am so white that when I meet the sun, he burns me like I owe him money. However, the preps made me look like I had pigment.

As if the preppy boys were not enough, this was only the beginning of the nightmare. The gaggle of white bread girl groupies poured in. When they saw their male counterparts, they let out a high pitched scream. Yes, an excited reaction of someone who’s most devastating news was she was not going to get that Porsche or nose job for her birthday. These men were their future husbands, and they were going to settle down, be rich, and wear sailing gear even though most of them only went near boats once in a while. Not to mention yes, they would take the mediocre sex their husbands gave them and raise the children. Of course they would stand by him when he got caught sleeping with a high priced hooker or in the bathroom with a barely legal rent boy. And they would do it with pearls on. Oh young, white Republican love.

Unlike their male counterparts, the women had some variety. There were many sizes, although it was clear that the fatter ones wouldn’t be getting a Kennedy so her father better be rich. Not to mention this differing of styles would end once they moved onto the estate and became a part of the family where their husband had a Roman numeral after his name. That is when the assimilation and plastic surgery would begin….oops.

Annette and the rest of us demanded to know what was going on, as we saw the men decked out in golf gear. Some of the women were decked out in golf gear as well. One girl, probably named Buffy, wore a visor. “What is going on? There is no golf course around here?” Annette demanded as one preppy even wore golf gloves. As the music played, the preppy women hung on to the words of the preppy men, as if they were built to serve like good, white, Ann Romney inspired women. Of course one girl decided to let loose. She did an anti-rhythm inspired toe step to a pop song with a hip hop beat. As the four of us saw this study of phylum we were not familiar with, we nearly fell out of our chairs at the sight. Oh Lordy Lord.

Just then, we saw another black person enter. Annette took note. However, then Catalina pointed out the gentlemen of color was being smuggled to the back. We all exchanged glances and made jokes about what was an obviously real happening in front of us. Minutes later, a group of three black people entered. Once again, they were being smuggled to the back. It was as if they were a dirty secret. Then again, of course they were a dirty secret. They would taint the women, duh! Mind you, their favorite bed time song had been “The World Belongs to Me” from Cabaret since they were small children.

Seconds later, as this was all happening, an old couple made an entrance and exit. As a group, Mikki, Catalina, Annette and I surmised their funds were paying for this spoiled rich brat shindig. Then as the trust funders continued to enter, one Asian tried to escape. As we bobbed and weaved, it seemed the cream colored room would not let him escape out of pure spite. I suppose they figured they needed a token something, and it wasn’t going to be black. But then he escaped and once again it was the great, white world. Yes, whiter than the North Pole at Christmas.

As we looked around at the co-occupants from hell, we realized more and more had golf gear on. The men looked like they were ready to play, but the women looked like they were more or less there to support their men, because as you know, Ann Romney clones don’t sweat. While we knew of no golf course on the asphalt jungle nor golf tournament, we knew it would make sense they would golf. Yes, they all probably belonged to the country club. Yes, their father played golf with the judge. This was how the charge would be dropped. Oh I could sense a Lifetime Movie coming on.

As the volume of our neighbors got louder and louder, Annette, Catalina, Mikki and I could barely hear each other. It was like high school, being surrounded by a bunch of losers that wanted to fit in. In this case, the popular, stupid clique was taking over. We all exchanged glances and gathered close to survive this apocalypse of sorts.

The thong of preppy men yelled at once for some stupid reason, and the girls squealed at a pitch that made a dog whistle sound a normal volume. After this dyed down, Mikki observed,  “It’s attack of the douche zombies!!!” We all burst out laughing and high fived. It was apropos.

Then as a joke I suggested we yell “Cliff, Biff” and see who turns around. Catalina suggested yelling, “Barbie, Buffy,” and seeing what result we got. We all had a feeling if we did this, all heads in the place would turn in confusion. Which preppy clone would we be referring to? Of course the Kennedy wannabes would look perplexed, and the women would trip and fall in their impractical shoes.
Of course these girls, who were the ones that snickered by the mirror in high school, eyed us as if we were dog meat. Yes, we were not invited on their daddy’s yacht. Oh, and because their outfits 

probably cost as much as I pay in rent a month in my shoebox apartment, of course I was not good enough to look them in the eye. How dare the freak squad glance in the direction of the beautiful mean girls? Yes, the lone black girl, the beautiful Latina who was much better looking than they were, the chick with the purple hair, and the writer rocking the Indian mumu. I would be worried about smack talking these bitches but they probably wouldn’t stoop to blog reading.

Just then, a Biff or Cliff put his ass cheeks on our table, backing up into our personal space. Now this was war. It became awkward, especially if he farted in our direction. Already he was an avid golfer which lost him massive man points with me.

 “Okay everyone, pick up your drinks.” Annette instructed. We did as told.

She joked about tipping the table. But this boarding school bred idiot who’s last name probably was Stradlater that was raised to believe the son rose and set on him made me ill. So I took the table and gently tipped it. Mikki, Catalina, and Annette laughed. It hit this ass clown that most likely attended Choate Rosemary Hall, and he jumped forward. The preppy girls gave us the eye of death. Truth: High school was over, and we were smarter and better than them. One of us was a talent agent and one hell of a singer, the other an accountant, the third an Ivy League genetic researcher, and I was an entertainer and writer. They just took up space, looking for a rich husband as they set feminism back.

We began to take bets on where the Nimrod Squad went to school. My bet was it was Princeton, and this may have been an eating club reunion. Within the bet, I also hedged these were legacies, aka they didn’t have the grades or test scores for normal admission. Yet their grandfather and father donated money, thus having a library on campus named after them. However they never used it because, why read?

Mikki bet Columbia. It was where she spent most of her waking hours, the lab. She was surrounded by a lot of this million dollar entitlement. As she hedged that bet, I wondered if the women were Barnard women? Yes, the sister school where those who can’t get into the Ivy next door go. The place with the radical divide between debutante and dyke. I have known some wonderful women who have come out of Barnard, so perhaps I should watch my mouth. Yet I have met others with such a superiority complex, but also only attended school to meet Columbia men.

Catalina bet Fordham. Yes, the preppy alternative for the kids who were either too conservative for NYU or were denied admission to Columbia. However, I shot that one down quick. Fordham kids tend to be more mainstream. Plus they do associate with individuals of varied ethnic backgrounds. 

Annette wasn’t sure, but wished they would go back to whatever pod they came from. For a second I thought Brown, but Brown students, who are committed to being liberal and overthrowing the corporation even in their Joe Yale-esque jackets, would make it their business to be more ethnically varied. For a second I guessed Duke or Vanderbilt, but there was too much of a snooty New England vibe, not an old Southern gentile backhandedness.

As the bets on where the Mother Ship containing the douche bag zombies originated, Natalie found us. As she entered, she had to fight off throngs of such fiendish creatures, and barely escaped to find her brood. A pixie of a girl, Natalie had spent her morning doing partner acrobatics and showed us how she balanced on the shoulders of some very attractive men with varied looks. While they were Caucasian, they were a welcome sight from the drudgery we had experienced all afternoon thus far. Still, she was relieved she found us, and we were relieved to have one more on our side in this war against The Wonder Bread. Now we would be able to fortify.

Finally, we got an answer as to what was going on. One of the preppy girls, one of the less pretty ones, told us what was going on. Providence College was having their reunion weekend and the theme was a costume party, and this year they were going as golfers. FYI, this costume was an easy choice, because it was one they all had in their closets.

 In case you don’t know, Providence College is the preppy backup for the Rhode Islanders with unfulfilled Ivy League aspirations, specifically those rejected from Brown, who still want to have the expensive, high priced, private liberal arts institution attitude. Also, it is a resting place for those who did not have the grades to get into Notre Dame, but had the money to pay for a high cost education. Providence College rose to fame several years ago in the Princeton Review as one of the least racially integrated colleges in America.

We asked the unpretty girl if they were going to Tammany Hall. She said that they weren’t. We decided it was time to bounce before they found out about our next watering hole. As we exited, the rain hit our faces and we put up our umbrellas. It felt good to be on the culturally diverse streets of New York again. We had escaped the Douche Bag Zombie Apocalypse.

Seconds later, we had a close call though. Two preppy Providence College girls saw Mikki and jumped under her umbrella. As they invaded her personal space, because apparently it was her duty to serve them, they squealed., perfect hair and makeup, “Can we get under your umbrella?”
Of course mind you this was only a slight drizzle, but their hair and makeup had taken hours. Buffy and Barbie would not be refused. One block later, they were at their destination. How freaking rude!!!! We all exchanged glances, and then minutes later we were in Tammany Hall where a blues jam was going down.

At first, Annette refused to sing, and she has a great voice. We all goaded her for the next hour, but she refused because a jam session is in effect an open mic and she is a pro. Then a woman who looked like a cave witch puked out of an Arthurian castle began to sing. I instantly hated this woman as she butchered Wanda Jackson’s “Let’s Have a Party.” She didn’t have the Queen of Rockabilly’s spunk or energy. Instead, this washed out tragedy was beaten to shit and her dreams had died after too many years in New York. It made us goad Annette all the more. Finally, the band leader coaxed her, and up onstage she went.

Annette graced the stage, and with the vocal presence of Etta James and Aretha Franklin both, she tore up Tammany Hall. I had heard her demos, but they did not do her justice. The place clapped and applauded, and the cave witch shot her an evil look. However, this was the soul I needed, the soul we had been craving all day. Natalie and I listened in awe, as did Micki who had heard her a million times. Of course, Catalina took a front row. The place hooped and hollered as she growled, belted, and bit those high notes and gut sounds that make a blues singer.

Praise Jesus my friend had a voice. Somewhere, Robert Johnson could rest in peace. I also felt the scars of the white rice on paper plate in a snow storm experience I felt only a short time ago fade. I was back to my peace. Back to a place where people of all shades and sizes made art, experience that spoke to everyone. Back to a place where it was okay to be different in my Indian mumu, and I didn’t feel like the man girls were attacking again. Back to a place where my creative voice had me ripping my heart out on the table, and this is why people liked my comedy and read my work apparently. Back to a place where it was okay to have guts. I was back to the New York I knew and loved.

As Annette ripped the roof off with that magnificent voice of hers, I wondered what would happen if I imported the Douche Bag Zombies. Would their heads explode? Oh I hoped so. That alone would have been an act of God and no one would have missed them anyway. Maybe that is what kills Douche Bag Zombies…..Hmmmmm…….

My Friends Rock.

I love New York. 


Friday, September 12, 2014

A Walk Through A Life in Art

When I came to the city for college nearly ten years ago, it seemed like so many of us wanted to be stars. Even as I was merely intriguing at NYU, my mother asked me if I was sure I wanted to start out in New York. The place was saturated with competition, and everyone was going to be talented. She pointed out that perhaps a place like Boston might be better. That way I could hone my craft, and then move to New York. But New York was what I wanted. The stimuli of Times Square and the city that never sleeps was my dream. I wanted to create art, change the world, and eat the Big Apple up like a huge piece of chocolate cake…..

As NYU students, we all did. We all wanted to take the stage, change the world with our art, and hung on to every word our teachers uttered. As theatre practitioners in training, we became married to our technique in a somewhat militant fashion. We had our sections, and as a group we became close. As an ensemble of sorts, we became a platoon, that is, if platoons wore comfortable movement clothes. We laughed at certain instructors who were eccentric. We also crowded around a weakling, knowing that weakling could have been any of us. Studio was where we lived and breathed. It was our home, our protective swaddle against a world that doesn’t have room for love let alone art at certain points. It was our way of fighting the man in a way. Showing there was room for language and message as opposed to commerce and greed.

I can still remember running to class, coffee cup in hand. Through the red doors of the Lee Strasberg Institute I would go. Showing my ID, I chucked my coffee cup with the skill of an MLB pitcher. In the trash it went, and skipping into the Marilyn Monroe Theatre I took my metal folding chair out. I always remember her picture watching me as I went in. Yes, she was a prized pupil of Lee’s. All my teachers that studied with him called him Lee by the way.

I got in my chair, and our teacher came in. It was time to work. Time to engage in the voodoo practice the rest of the studios frowned upon. I would let them believe it was voodoo, I didn’t care, it was pure brilliance. Off to work we went. As we entered Sense Memory Time, my acting teacher would come over and say, “Relax your brow.” Then we would be commanded to make a sound if we had a feeling. Dear God, I had so many of those it was both a blessing and a curse.

After Sense Memory time ended, it was time for more coffee. I would run across the street paying slightly too much for a cup in our Irving Place locale. So would my section mates. In front of the school, the institute students would sip on coffee and smoke cigarettes. Some of us just had coffee, and others grabbed a quick smoke. Conversations were about art, theatre, and various playwrights. It was the utopia Lee Strasberg created and NYU enabled me to be a part of. As some puffed on their cigarettes they fancied themselves beatniks and maybe even the reincarnation of James Dean, a famous institute alumni.

As we walked back to class we dreamed of being on Broadway. Perhaps we would write the next great play. Or maybe there was an Oscar in our future. We had our training, we honed our chops, but more than anything, we had our dreams.

When we weren’t training, we took theatre studies classes. When I speak about it to people who aren’t familiar, it sounds like academics sniffing shoe polish. In reality, they were quite interesting. We wrote essays, explored discomfort onstage, and became aware that there was an awful lot of good theatre below 14th Street. Because of those classes, I knew Wilhelm DeFoe not only as the Hob Goblin, but as a founding member of the experimental, avante guarde Wooster Group. After staging a production of Routes 1 and 9, a piece performed in black face, their NEA funding was yanked. Was this malicious white intellectual racism or a parody on stereotypes? As a class we had a lively debate. Then we made plans in our minds to create the next piece to make people stop and think. Bonus if it pissed off the NEA.

Art was safe. Our dreams had a hope of becoming real as we held them like treasure close to our hearts. Then the impending demon arrived, adulthood.

Out of insomnia and curiosity, I was on facebook the other day and decided to look up some old acting chums to see what they were up to. In the course of our paths, there are some of us in the theatre. Others have gone on to film. Then there are those who work behind the scenes. Others write. Then there is the breed like myself, the control freak, who insists on being a Charlie Chaplin creating her own work and doing it all herself.

However, I looked up some of the others. To my horrified shock, surprise, and ultimate chagrin a large number of my classmates are no longer in New York. I would have to say a good ninety five percent of them are no longer involved with the theatre or performing in any capacity whatsoever. Heck, it’s like they got their degree and tossed it out the window with the dreams they once had. Their NYU BFA is probably hidden away in an attic or memory box. It’s like they aren’t using their degree, and are almost living their lives as if those four years never happened.

I want to ask them, what happened to you? Did you not know the world still needs art and love? That the world needs your voice? What were you thinking when you decided to leave New York and turn back? What’s wrong with you!

However, I can answer that question. Wanting to take the stage, write, and change the world is a wonderful and noble dream. The reality is a different story. More often than not, the acting reality is a river of bullshit. Most actors are subjected to cattle calls and getting a decent, reputable agent is a nightmare. On top of that, hearing no became such a normal thing you almost became used to the word. Rejection they say is not personal, but after a while, it starts to feel like it is. Casting people sometimes are eating or barely look up when you are in the room. Not to mention sometimes you never hear back from the people you submitted a script to. On top of that, most folks slave away in a crappy day job they hate as they wait for the big break.

After a while, many ask themselves if they want to waste their youth and their life chasing a pipe dream and wiping a table top? They see older actors they know dying with nothing but their stories. Or older actresses who never made it, damned to die and exist as bar maids, chasing the big break that will never happen. These people never had the chance to find a partner or a family. Not to mention the normie peers are getting married, buying homes, and having children. They are advancing in their jobs, and many times actors are trapped in the food service world. They feel life is passing them by, and the dream of being an artist is just that, a dream. Reality bites and they want out. So no, I don’t blame them for exiting stage right. What makes it sad is some of the most talented people I know made the grand finale never to return to the place that they shined. It’s like their desire was squashed like a bug and they took a bow, making curtain call permanent.

As I went through my list I saw various classmates with loads of talent who used to make my jaw drop now seemingly doing nothing with it. One young woman I remember did a hell of a Queen Gertrude and even went so far as to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her dream was to perform at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC, and also take over the Public Theatre here in New York. Now she is teaching high school English in her home state of Oregon. Her life seems so mundane and normal I want to ask, what happened to the goals you had and the veracity you chased them with? Remember when you told me your plans as we got ready for a junk food binge at The Space Market?

After that I saw the Dialects Queen. This girl could master any dialect there was, and as believable as Meryl Streep if not more so. Not to mention when she sang, she threw herself into a song piece with everything, and had a singing voice and stage presence akin to Maria Callas. Additionally, her hair was pitch black and her eyes were deep green. I remember how striking she was onstage. Now she is back in her home state of Arizona practicing divorce law, specializing in domestic violence situations. It was like she traded the period costume for the power suit, except the power suit isn’t a costume.

Another classmate of mine was funny. When I say funny, he had skill akin to that of John Belushi when he took the stage. The room stopped and all we did was laugh. I still remember him talking about how his only dream was to be on Saturday Night Live. Well after graduation he performed improv and then some sketch. Like a lot of people he worked in waiting tables. Now though, he decided to make a career out of the whole restaurant thing. Yes, he learned to cook and opened a restaurant of his own in his home state of Wisconsin. I suppose he is still using his big personality and the spotlight is different, but doesn’t he miss the thunderous laughter and applause?

Another young woman I remember was a hell of a tap dancer. She could have put Sayvon Glover to shame. As a matter of fact, when I was struggling to learn tap, and I am a horrible tap dancer, she was of great assistance. After graduation, she performed at some shows at Brooklyn Academy of Music and was even an active part of a dance theatre for a while. Well, she decided to dance into the corporate direction and applied to the MBA program at the University of Mississippi. She is just about done, and will be directing in a whole new way. Still, it’s weird. I want to know what happened to the dreams of being part of Stomp and The Blue Man Group? You used to talk about them every chance you got.

Then there was one guy I remember who now works as a bank executive. As the years have gone by, he has become pretty high up. Previously, he was predicted to be the big star of our class. Dark hair with piercing lady killer eyes, he was easily a leading man. Teachers even told him what a future he had in film, and many of us would envy the easy praise he got. However, he was also kind, funny, and could act the paint off the wall.  After college, he even had some successes, especially scoring a nice supporting role on a prime time show. Word on the street was he didn’t like the time and commitment and financial instability, so now he works as a banker in Dallas, Texas where he grew up. Once a leading man, always a leading man, right?

Another classmate of mine had the voice of an angel and could have won a Tony or been a pop star, she used to tell me either would suffice. In college, she got the chance to sing back up for a well known pop star who’s name escapes me. In any event, it looked as if the stage was calling her. Around graduation, she signed a contract with Sony. Shortly thereafter, I heard something happened and the contract fell through. After that, I lost track of her.That is, until she popped up on my news feed. She fell in love with a dude in her home state of Florida, moved back home, and is now in nursing school. It’s not just a change down stream, it’s another direction entirely. She still has the same smile, the one that could have been on any album cover.

After her is another classmate who was a great dancer and could have been a Rockette. Actually, she auditioned and got cut twice. The second time she almost made it, just had to lose a few pounds. She was a bit of a diva I remember, so I didn’t feel totally terrible. When college finished, she did a few theatre festivals and shined. She also got a dance captain role on Broadway. However, I guess it’s not what she wanted. So like the others, she went the opposite way and became a physical therapist. Now she has a husband and daughter. Her dreams of the lights, well they are now dark.

Then there was another girl who could have been the next Sandra Bullock. She was bright, funny, and not to mention pretty. I remember what a good heart she had, too. I was sure this girl was going to be a star. Even after her NYU days were over, the arrows pointed that way as work seemed to pour in for her with no effort. After her brother died in an ER visit gone wrong, her priorities changed and she enrolled in a Post-Bacclaurate Program at Columbia University. Now she is getting ready to apply to medical school. Sure, she is going to play a doctor, just not one on TV.

Finally the most surprising ball dropper is one who I met and loved my freshmen year. Easily one of the best actresses in the class, she got every technique exercise down. I still recall how easily she morphed into character, and was envious of her talent as well as her heart. When I had a breakdown freshmen year, crying because I was being destroyed by the rigorous training program, she gave me a hug and told me it was going to be okay. She also assured me being dedicated to my craft was the only way to combat my fear of never being enough. This young woman shined, and dreamed of winning an Oscar. She told me she would, and I knew it wasn’t just a reach but she would have crushed Jennifer Lawrence. Well she fell in love, got married, and moved back to her home state of South Carolina. Now she is a stay at home mom. While she probably acts like she’s not bored sometimes, no Oscar there.

I want to shake some of my cohorts for dropping the ball. I want to yell at them for abandoning ship and failing the cause. Taking creative license with Marlon Brando’s words in On the Water Front I want to scream, “You coulda been a contender!!!”

The truth is, they have not failed the cause nor have they failed themselves. Dreams change, and sometimes they evolve in ways we never imagined. Mine have. I am an artist who creates her own work, and write my own ticket. While I have my challenges as an indie filmmaker, comedian, puppeteer, and writer, I would never trade my path or my struggles for anything.

My former classmates have had their dreams evolve and change as well. Not everyone wants to be a starving artist forever, and I cannot blame them. A career in art is one where you basically have to accept that you probably aren’t going to have a family or stability. Not everyone wants to dive head first into an existence which means giving yourself fully to a craft and career and often getting very little and return. Some people, actually most people with a kernel of rationality, want security and home and hearth. Lizzie in the Rainmaker says it best,  “My dreams are simple like my name, Lizzie.”

Yes, some dreams are more simple, more ordinary. It doesn’t mean the dreams are any less important, any less vital. At the end of the day, it is just a career. Yes, a career, just a career and nothing more. While so many entertainment professional define themselves by their roles, TV appearances, club dates and other notches on their belt, the audience does go home. We often forget there is more to life outside of the musty smelling basements or theatres we showcase or skills in. We forget there is reality outside of our imagination, reality where other people feel, desire, and think. And those desires are more basic but still as vital as ours. While the world needs dreamers, the world needs more ordinary people to dream those dreams, too.

Also, the world needs creative people everywhere in all facets. The Shakespeare savvy schoolmate probably uses her knowledge of the stage and text to enlighten her students about classical playwrights in a whole new way. The Funny Man will be the personality that everyone looks forward to when they enter his restaurant, a place that will be filled with love and laughter. The Dialects Queen with the voice of Maria Callas probably now lights of the court room, not only with her arresting stage presence but a hell of a closing statement. As for the tap dancing MBA, she will now use her creativity to sell good, motivate her staff, and they will have some interesting and fun team building exercises. Then the handsome leading man will be able to engage customers and be extra successful with his personality, command of the language, and charisma. My angel voiced friend will use that mega watt smile to greet a sick patient when they need one. As for the could’ve been Sandra Bullock, she’ll use her sweet personality and compassion as part of her bedside manner. The almost Rockette probably has better knowledge of her body than most from her dance training, and now she can help others with that skill set. And my friend the ex-Oscar contender now stay at home mom, well, she won’t shun her child for being creative. Instead she will welcome it with open understanding. Had they not studied acting and taken the plunge, they would not be able to contribute in the unique ways normies cannot.

There are times where it is tempting to join the ball droppers. Certain days I wonder how much longer I can be on my own, without a partner. I also begin to wonder if all I have sacrificed and the unbalanced life I lead, dedicated to career and craft, is worth the time and money spent. Sure, there have been some wins. The wins have been sweet, I will not lie and the pay off amazing. Yet at times the disappointments and defeats have been staggering, so much so it’s like swallowing a pill full of razors and rat poison. While my passion has paid my rent sometimes, at other times I have wondered where my next meal was coming from. Not to mention the nepotism, politics, and other bullshit is crushing. There are times when I want to know how and why I am even here doing this?

Add in the tinge of doubt from relatives who know my career has had some sparks but I am not a household name. They ask when I am moving home. Others ask me when I am getting married, and add in that a husband would mean stability, a home, and children. Lest we not forget the people who ask me when I am going back to school for a more grownup career. Yes, one with real money and real responsibilities, not this pretend crap involving looks, schlepping around with nothing, and a smoke screen world. Then it appears perhaps the ball droppers might have known a thing or two I didn’t, and maybe they had the answer all along.

Then there are times New York wears me out. From the bipolar weather to the high cost of living, I nearly had a breakdown this past winter. There are times when I feel like I could crack under the pressure of the city, the rat race, and the dream I am always trying to grab onto that sometimes is like Velcro, and sometimes is like butter. Then the grown up world outside of New York begins to look damn good.

Then as if though a time machine, I am transported back to my college acting studio. Through the muscle memory of the Sensory work I did, I remember the feeling of the warm, protective swaddle against the cold, unfeeling city. I felt safe, secure, and artistically welcome. There was laughter, there was creativity, and most of all there were dreamers. My eyes begin to well up. I hear the voice of an acting teacher I adored saying, from the past, echoing, “Relax your brow.”

I also remember this same acting teacher who knew more about me than I did. He explained I was a have to, and this career was not a choice for me. In theatre school, not everyone gets this distinction but I did. He also explained to me that my ability to be creative kept me out of trouble, trouble I would get in if I wasn’t occupied. This man was right. My imagination has functioned as my friend and as my enemy. When I cannot write, my mind becomes a nightmare where my thoughts are a prison. When I am not onstage making others laugh, my sense of humor becomes rather devilish and I am the ultimate prankster, causing the destruction of friendships. Thank God for puppets, otherwise I can’t lampoon people who I dislike. Instead, I will just tell them right out getting myself in more trouble. Of course character work keep me sharp, and that way I am growing and not myself into too much offstage drama. Yeah, there is a need here. I have tried to escape it, but it always comes back to his.

There are times when I wish there was no need, where I could just be normal. Leading a life where one never knows what is next can cause great stress and anxiety at times. As there are moments when I invest in property beachside in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I remember the risks taken by Lee Strasberg and Stanislavski before him. The life in art was not an easy one, but they embarked. 

Now we regard them as the greatest masters of all time. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it.
That is when I know I have to keep living the life in art. Not just for myself, but every young dramat in their first semester of theatre school, dreaming some of the dreams I now live. Also, I do it for my former schoolmates who opted to leave the creative world. That way, the dreams they once had still have a life somewhere, and those dreams are not useless or forgotten. In my walk, my journey, I let them know a life in art, no matter how it is translated, was worth it. My victories are just not for myself, but for all of us.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Take on Ray Rice

I have been hearing a lot about Ray Rice lately, and I have been trying to look away. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to weigh in, but all the five minute activists on facebook make it so hard. Yes, I am talking about the mouth breathers who don’t care about relationship violence and probably snicker when they see a couple fighting in a restaurant. They utter the words, “Oh shit, she did not when the girl throws a glass of water in the dudes face.”

Or then some idiot guy who wants to be macho sees a man shaking and slapping a woman. He steps in wanting to be her knight and shining armor. Then he either gets his ass beat or better yet, the woman slaps him herself. Maybe she will even scream, “Stay out of my business!”
Then there is the scenario where her well intentioned friends stage an intervention to get her away, but she goes back. They are wondering what has possessed her to do so. They think she’s nice, he hits her. What is wrong with her? Maybe he sweet talked her again. Bad news, she wanted to be sweet talked.

When these things happen, these disturbing tableaus, one thing becomes apparent. At it’s core, most people do not understand relationship violence. Living ordinary lives with a moderate amount of drama, they like to believe they are far away from it. Or they judge their family member or friend who is in the trap. Then there is the school of thought where some women are made to believe it is all their fault, when in reality both people are in the boxing ring.

Then there is the other more painful and over simplified belief that women are victims and victims alone. Men in this situation are seen as brutes unable to keep their temper in check, and this woman waits on him hand and foot believing he will change. It is nothing like this. Trust me, I know.
Yes, I am a dating violence survivor. It is something I am quite vocal about. The experience is nothing short of hell, and it makes you trust less and look at life, from the mundane to the major in a whole different way. Before you feel too badly for me, and before you want to deck my ex, let me tell you a dirty little secret. I was just as bad as he was.

A dysfunctional, codependent relationship isn’t a friendship let alone partnership. It is two people who are jockeying for control that want to win at all times. Head games are played on both ends, usually more the woman than the man. Insults are hurled on the guys end, usually cruel and below the belt. Then the woman hurls more insults. That is just the beginning. The Miracle Grow is already being poured on everyone’s character flaws, and now they are bigger than ever. That is when the relationship gets physically violent, and all hell breaks loose. Yeah, he hit me, but I hit him back. Then I made the excuse that we were just passionate.

Afterwards,  there is a makeup period that is amazing. Love is pure like Romeo and Juliet, and nothing can tear you apart. He feels bad and promises never to do it again, and yes, I know you always believe him because I did. However, in my heart I also knew it wasn’t true. I now had the upper hand and wanted to keep it. He was also brainstorming so he could keep the upper hand. Sure, I was winning, but he couldn’t let this happen for too long.

Then there were times things would get so heated that yeah, I hit first. Then he hit back. We were a toxic twosome like that. When things reach that point, the relationship itself becomes like a drug. I still remember there was a high that would come from the two of us fighting, and then afterwards the pay off felt like bliss. Later on, I would find out codependency is in fact recognized as an addiction, and this bipolar makeup/breakup pattern had a name.

Like anyone with an addiction, I led a double life. My grades were still good, but as soon as I left school I entered hell. I lied so people wouldn’t know the truth about how bad my life had gotten. Whenever someone would point out this relationship was bad for me, I would either sell my ex like a used car or tell them that they didn’t know what love was. When they would insist I needed to leave him, I cut them out of my life. How dare they?

I started to change too. More often than not, I was angry. As someone who is able to get along with most people, I now found myself in constant conflict. There were times when I just felt drained and I didn’t know why. I started making stupid mistakes, and almost missed registration for classes. Then people would remark I had an acid tongue and many came to avoid me thus isolating me more. The energy created between us was vile and evil, and in return I became vile and evil.

I didn’t want to leave the relationship. Where would I go and what would I do? I knew it would be different, but I didn’t know how I would feel. So I decided to cope by any and all destructive means possible. I stopped eating and lived on diet pills, thus having my weight drop. I drank to excess. Life became hard and everything started to break open. I couldn’t do anything right because this quicksand was pulling me down.

The moment you hit rock bottom is when you get tired of digging. One day, after I felt so drained I passed out in my closet, I decided I was tired of digging. If I stayed, this was going to kill me. Yes, this. The fights were getting more violent, and it became a reality that he might kill me in the course of one because he was much bigger. Or I might accidentally kill myself because of all the stupid things I was doing to deal with him. Maybe, just maybe I might jump into traffic because my despair had become so great. I knew if I didn’t leave, I wasn’t going to. That is when I put on my big girl pants and ended it once and for all.

It was scary, but I was willing to make the plunge. Like anyone trapped in a codependent cycle I was able to get out, but it was hard. My ex didn’t want to let go, and became belligerent when I began seeing other men. For some time, I fed into him. Finally, at the urging of my support network, I blocked him on any and all social media where he continues to be blocked to this day.

Some white knight didn’t rescue me and give me a pukalicious ending. Hell to the no. Instead, I continued to tumble down the rabbit hole a tad longer, making more terrible decisions. It was tough for me to meet decent guys, because I didn’t behave like a decent person. Not to mention the level of chaos I had become used to was a ten, and my willingness to fight anytime and anywhere made most dudes run like they saw Godzilla. It wasn’t because I am a mean and nasty person, but again, you have to be a certain way in order to cope with the relationship. Now that I was back in the moving world, most decent dudes didn’t want to cope with me.

Finally after more bad decisions, I decided it was time to look at my role and my side of the street. It was time to change my behavior, and look at why I kept picking rotten tomatoes. When I did this house cleaning, and a lot of it was from working with a counselor, I became a better woman with more self esteem. These days I wouldn’t dream of repeating history.

Ray Rice was caught in a pattern, and so was his wife. Like my ex and I, they do this all the time. However, now the world knows there business, but on a larger scale, we are also educating ourselves more and more about relationship violence. Ray Rice’s wife shouldn’t have punched him, and he should have walked away. Actually, both should have walked away in separate directions never to speak again, but they can’t and won’t as they are locking horns needing to be in charge.

I am glad the Ravens suspended him. Yes, relationship violence is a serious matter and you just can’t knock someone out in a fight, especially when that person is an easy target. However she should have also behaved better. Again, it is an addictive cycle. My hope for the both of them is that they split up from each other and lead separate lives peacefully. On their own, they probably are okay people. Together, they are a power line in a lightning storm.

I feel grateful and blessed I escaped that part of my life intact. Now things are different, and in a good way. For as dark as some of my days have been, leaving that relationship was still one of the hardest things I have ever done. My hope is that everyone learns a thing or two from Ray Rice, and that everyone becomes more educated about dating violence. That way, when it touches your life you aren’t judgmental. Also, you know that the person will leave when they are ready, and unfortunately, they may never be ready. Sure, it takes two to make a thing go bad, but it only takes on adult to decide this needs to change and to walk away, breaking the cycle.

If you don’t think you can get out, you can. Does it take some work? Yeah. One thing is for sure, if you take the leap it’s frightening, but it does get better. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gender Bending in the Bronx

Yesterday I starred in a Commedia Del’Arte show up in the Bronx. For the past several years, I have done this show and have been a part of this troupe. We have some normal staples, a guy by the name of Franz, a fellow puppeteer who lives in my neighborhood, and Audrey, a Goucher College grad who has studied commedia in Italy. Lest we not forget Carlotta, an Italian import from Venice who is also a professional opera singer. Additionally, our director Jenny, a native from South Africa, has a way of placing people in various slots. These days she teaches mask, commedia, theatre, and movement at the college level.

This year we had some newbies. We had Jake, a senior in his final year at Hampshire. Then there was Lacy, a young woman who recently completed an MFA in Physical Theatre and Clowning. Add in two students on holiday from England that attend a circus school wanting to hone their chops, Max and Clarice. Either way, as we all dawned clown white, put on our masks, and got into costume, we were itching and ready for show time.

 Like the commedia performers of old, we are always out in the square, mingling with the people. In this case, we are performing for an Italian Heritage Festival called Ferragusto in the Bronx. It has taken place the first weekend in September for the last 15 years. The place is inundated with the smell of food from various vendors, crafts, opera music and Sinatra tunes playing interchangeably, along with the status of Mary having dollar bills clipped to her. There is a part of me that laughs, because it is as if Jesus’s mama is a gogo dancer with all that money being put on her. Nonetheless, as the people go from activity to activity, they bring their loved ones and children, who have toy guns and poppers. It’s the way Arthur Avenue celebrates the ending of summer, warm weather, and welcomes the impending season change. Lovers walk arm and arm, and children run along with knees scuffed from summer play, but yes, this scene shall soon change.

As we the commedia company make our way into the festival, we are usually greeted by a mostly Italian American public. Commedia is the oldest form of theatre, and the stock characters have inspired not only the Shakespeare archetypes but the characters we see in the movies today. There is the Prince and Princess aka the Lovers. Of course there is the Evil Doctor who wants to marry the Princess and is betrothed by the Drunken Father. Add in the servants, with the Prince’s foolish servant, the Princesses foolish maid, and the head maid who was our director and is actually the wisest out of the fools aka the one who is the smartest of them all. I myself was El Capitano, the official who is a bumbling idiot but is also insightful at times. He is the man’s man, bragging about his adventures at sea, and how tough he is. El Capitano also is a ladies man. 

However, when it comes to an actual fight he backs away if not outright loses. Basically, he is all talk.
I am El Captiano in case you are wondering. Yes, April Brucker is the manliest of all men. Translated, I was dressing in drag, doing a little genderqueering. My captain’s name is El Capitano Maximo Mucho. His bragging right is being so touch when a nail saw him it said ouch. Or when a great white saw him, it swam away. He also apparently defeated an army of zombies with his bare hands, and while he was at it defeated his foe, has his face in a bag, and carries it around.

As a troupe, instantly the people take to us in an adoring way. Immediately the cameras come out, and the photos are being snapped. The festival goers, some which have been drinking from the second they were allowed in, get into it. They talk to us and they dance with us. Heck, I got to dance with some beautiful women. I can sense my straight male friends getting a tad jealous. (Come on, you know you are).

The day with me in drag started out kind of interesting. Right off the bat, my opening line was to Miss Italia. I told her she was a beautiful princess, and her eyes were like oceans. Right away, Miss Italia knew I was a woman. A girl’s girl, she had a French manicure and looked like she never got dirty, even if it was to kill a spider. The idea of anything remotely Sapphic, intentional or not, threw her for a loop. However, she was a good sport about it. Despite the effort to deepen my voice and act all macho, I could not hide my XX Chromosome. Miss Italia said diplomatically, “You are a great actress.”

Sure, it was out of her comfort zone. Miss Italia wasn’t mean about it, she just didn’t swing that way. Neither did the other women for the most part, but they were more developed into their skin. Many went along with it, and as I mentioned I danced with a few of them. Others loved my pick up lines that I used, promising to take them away and take them no where. I also promised to let them ride on my steed to my ship on Arthur Avenue, and we could sail off forever. Most of the women got a kick out of this. As women, we have all heard these tired assed lines. This is where being a female came in for me. Others remarked my nose was growing from all the lies I told. I tried to hide my laughter under the mask. It was true. I told them I didn’t use those lines on everyone, only every third woman. They thought that was funny.

It made me realize on one hand, if I came back in the next life and could enjoy the benefits of being part of the upper hand of the patriarchy, perhaps it wouldn’t be that hard to be a man. On the other hand, maybe I was simplifying gender roles too much. Approaching women is scary. Plus there is pressure to have swagger and be a bad ass. This is why so many dudes run their mouths about bullshit because they buy into that gender role bullshit. Maybe masculinity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The guys didn’t protest my gender and went along with it. They actually had a great sense of humor as I tried my darnest to be the best man I could be. They freely let El Capitano hit on their women with no objection, probably because I was not a viable threat physically. Not to mention I am somewhat effeminate because I am a cisgender female. Plus in their gut I also probably evoked the memory of some dude from the block, always running his mouth about the latest dude his beat up or the latest woman he banged. Truth, the rest of the guys were intimidated until they saw him get pummeled or they saw a line of girls just reject him like a person with horrendous credit applying for a Master Card. Others honked me on my snozz. Or then there were those who pretended to be scared by my Nerf sword I carried as a part of my faux swashbuckler motif.
A swashbuckler, her sword, and a fierce hobby horse

The first half of the day, in the midst of playing with patrons, we got ready for our ultimate plot line, the wedding. Yes, the Prince and the Princess wanted to get married but the Princess was to marry the evil doctor. What was going to happen? The first half of the performance I felt alright, but I also felt like I was pushing for the laugh. It is a force of habit. As a standup comedian and singing telegram delivery person, I am used to being the one and only. For years, I have not been a true ensemble performer. I gravitated towards standup because if I fail, it’s on me. Then the singing telegrams, well again, if I fail it’s on me. The writing, if you hate this blog, that’s on me too.

I remember required devised ensemble work in college, and how sometimes it worked out and sometimes I just felt like there was dead air and I always had to fill it. I had an acting teacher, a Broadway veteran, once scold me that I was so busy going for the laugh that I totally missed the point of acting: listening and the truth. Still, I was always a problem child, especially in improv. I was high energy, and everyone else was a fearful dead weight. Another part of it is I am a bratty, annoying middle child scared I will not get my moment. Either way, there are some former cast mates that don’t like me so much. Then again, when we are live and you missed three crucial lines and are bumbling like a fool, one does need to keep the audience occupied, asshole. Look at me excusing my shiteous, ego driven behavior.

I have always historically swung big. For the first half, I repeated history, challenging patrons to duels. One kid even tried to defeat me with a mock ray gun. We joked that he had a weapon from the future and knighted the young three year old squire. However, all the mock dueling was making me get mad wardrobe malfunctions worse than Janet Jackson at any Super Bowl. As I continued my huge bush strokes and my hat and wig falling off, something magical happened, my fellow actors came to my rescue.

Jake from Hampshire, a servant, used it as a part of his character to help me with my various clothing drama. Max the Prince also used it in his script, making me straighten out my hat and other things. Jenny, our maid/director, stepped in to help as well. There was no judgment or criticism. It was only working together as a unit. At that moment, the magic began. In the truest sense, an ensemble is like a platoon, you need to have each other’s backs because a live show can be like a battle. I felt like I could trust my fellow actors. In the world of the New York Theatre, where everyone in the room can act, write, sing, dance, and is as good if not better than you are, they all want to role and will push you into traffic to get it. It’s get the break or be broken. Ego and fear of failure rule the roost. Selfless actors are as rare as a black pearl. Yet right here I had them. The diva bone in my body began to relax, and I began to feel out my ensemble. That is when the true fun began.

I was no longer in my head, and didn’t try to hide my femininity. For better or for worse, I am a woman. It is something I have had to pay for as an artist and as an intellectual. Yet it is also a part of my fabric. So instead of denying it, I began to work it in. Whenever someone used the she pronoun or questioned my masculinity, I fired back by saying, “I am so manly that no one has ever called me a woman!!!” This line always got a massive laugh. That way I wasn’t denying their claims, only making a joke. Plus it was the obvious and no one’s intelligence was insulted. It was all fun.

As I relaxed, so did my fellow commedia players. They began to back my outrageous claims. In turn, I began to back them as well. As we connected, I hoped this spark would continue as we took our lunch breaks.

The second half of the day was absolutely magical. While the first half of the day was spent feeling each other out, I felt we listened and were present in a way that is utterly in the moment and amazing. Jenny gave Lacy, the woman who was playing the evil doctor, a note. Lacy was playing the doctor not as an evil brute, but rather as a pompous, arrogant know it all with a silly side. This interpretation let us all run wild with our imaginations and brought a vibe that had never been there before. Anyway, Lacy was now to tell people that instead of being sick they were dying. Up the stakes. Oh, mind you my wardrobe had been corrected. That was already an improvement.

In the square, as a group we preformed emergency “surgeries” aka pretending to cut someone open and pulling scarves out, etc. Led by Lacy, she informed them that she was a skilled doctor, and had studied in Africa. Sometimes, as a part of the operation, she did a nonsense chant. Jenny would explain that Lacy, who’s head was big as well as her belly, both costume pieces, was so smart she had a brain in her head and in her stomach. During these mock surgeries, Jenny would dust them off with her feather duster to clean them. Then Jake would act as a mock table. Audrey would of course recruit patients. I would “slice” them open with my Nerf blade. Lucy would pull out a scarf or a necklace. This usually ended with applause. This was a hit, and soon everyone was pretend wan and weak, dropping like proverbial flies.

In this ensemble spirit, as Lacy took her moment, others helped facilitate. However, Lacy wasn’t a stage hog and shared. After Lacy was done with her moment, Franz the drunken father said a few things and danced. Then the Prince Max and Princess Carlotta had a moment, as Max improvised the worst and cheesiest love poetry on the face of the planet. After which Audrey the servant and Jake had a moment of their own with a slapstick routine. All the while, each of us let the others have a moment in the spotlight, nicely and kindly taking our turns.

Finally, it was my moment. I challenged a youngin to a duel. The kid was no more than 10, and he wanted to defeat me. Jenny suggested my director make this longer. In the spirit of the group and of the piece, Jake came with the caution tape. He and Audrey served as the corner person to the boy, and Jenny and Clarice served in my corner. The duel began, each of us having a boxing glove. I roared and gesticulated in order to intimidate my opponent. The crowd laughed. Then we each hit each other on the glove. I continued this for two more rounds. Then finally, the kid “defeated me.”

I pretended to die on the ground, doing a mock soliloquy. As I did this, Lucy the doctor declared me dead. That is when the mock reincarnation ritual began.

There were audience members wearing chicken heads and chanting, and the doctor preformed magical surgery and I was alive. Now it was time for the wedding, but of course I had to first hug the audience members wearing a chicken and duck mask as part of the magical ceremony.

As El Capitano, I was the closest thing to minister/priest. So I married the Prince and Princess, but the Prince didn’t have his act together so there was no ring. Then the Doctor replaced the Prince and then there was some wedding stakes and then the Princess ran off with an audience member and the Prince decided he didn’t love her. So then the Prince and the gender bender Doctor married, but then the Prince changed his mind. I told him he could not marry again. Of course our audience was into this. But the Prince insisted it wasn’t him, it was a man with a British accent.

When that ended, the youngster who defeated me in a duel demanded to get married. We asked him who he wanted to marry. He pointed to me and said, “Her.” At this point I was done denying my gender. I was getting married to an eight year old. Mary Kate Letourneau would have been so proud. His nine year old friend acted as the priest. They put the veil on my head. To the crowd of onlookers I shouted, “My mother would be so proud.” They laughed.

My young husband, so young he could have gotten me listed on a website if this was for real, told me he had spent a mere $800 dollars on our broken ring. I told him the budget was more like ten grand. He told me to shut up. I informed him we had to be married at least ten years for him to tell me that. The adults laughed at that line, and my child groom looked confused.

His nine year old friend flat out asked, “Do you take her to be your wife, do you want to be her husband? And do both of you want to do this whole thing?

We said we did. Then he took my veil off and the nine year old priest commanded, “Now you may kiss the bride.”

To which my groom looked at me and said, “No.” And then he kissed me on the cheek and ran away. Sigh. Love is a tricky thing.

Afterwards, I lamented my adventure to Clarice and she said, “Well, when that happens it is not usually a good sign of things to come.”
Like Jennifer Lawrence, a swashbuckler can take a selfie

From there we danced with patrons and took some more photos. Then our director Jenny noticed that 6 PM had come. It was time for the commedia characters to become unmasked humans again. We were bummed. As a group we had become a well oiled improv machine, and we were having a blast. It was like a mother telling a group of children involved in a game of make believe that it was time for wash up for dinner. Except we couldn’t continue. The fair technically ended at 6 PM, and they would soon begin to strike the place. Thus it ended our theatre utopia, ensemble theatre in it’s purest form. The improvisation, sharing and no ego, had ended. In our hearts, we were all sadder than normal at the end of a performance. As a whole, we all knew and even lamented afterwards this type of overall connection was rare in the self-centered discipline of the professional theatre.

As we morphed back into people, the folks from England discovered they had a classmate in common with some of the other actors who all studied at the same commedia school. This girl, a little bit of a flighty nutcase like I was when I was younger, traveled to study at the physical theatre school in the UK. Anyway, this young woman had grown leaps and bounds as an actor, and had become more grounded. I remember having those same struggles as a young theatre student myself, and the notes my teachers gave me. I remembered the frustration and the tears as I took their notes as a personal criticism, not as something constructive.

As I remembered the humility ridden and ego puncturing homework of looking others in the eye, breathing, and walking slowly down the New York streets, I also remembered my NYU section mates. When I wanted to give up, they cheered me on, letting me know that even though the instruction felt strange it was making me better. They kept me on target, clapping everytime I didn’t make eye contact. With me, they celebrated my victories and breakthroughs. In my sections I felt safe. In my artistic home, I could make discoveries because I failed often without consequence. This was a gentle reminder that while with progress comes haters, there are also people who clap along with you. Translated: Stick with the winners.

At the heart, the most central core, theatre is about love. Being a cast isn’t about who has the biggest or smallest part, it is about trust. Every link must be small from the bit player to the leading role in order to make the show work. It is not about who has the most lines or spends the most time in the spotlight. It is about doing your part to serve the script, each other, but most importantly the audience.

At the heart, the most central core, comedy is about service. It is about making others laugh and spreading joy. While one should cater to the highest denominator, make sure you don’t treat the so called normies like they are stupid. That is not only short sighted, but comedy is also about making everyone feel included. People laugh because they feel a part of, and because they can identify. This goes for a comedy club patron, an improv show audience member, a group of people watching a commedia performance, or a television viewer.

Add in performance, comedy or drama, is about not judging. Also, it is about learning a higher truth. After a day as a cross dressing pirate, I began to sympathize with those who identified as transgender. While in my case it was a joke, in their case they have one outside and another inside. Sure, I made a gag out of my femininity, but for someone who wants to be taken seriously as their true self, those words could sting. Now I admire those folks on a whole new level. 

If I could go back and time and say one thing to my young self who was sometimes questioning of the ensemble based training I received, I would tell her to shut up and listen. Additionally, I would gently remind her that to be a good cast member is not just about taking your moment, it’s about listening. That way, you can take your moment and add to the moments of others to make them better. Also, it’s about playing nice, let others have their turn to shine. Don’t be scared, you’ll get your turn too. If you are good at sharing, your fellow cast members will share right back. Lastly, it’s not just going to make you a better performer, but most importantly, a better person.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Santeria (Sublime)

Junior high is supposed to be the worst time in your life. If it is the best time in your life, you are just preparing yourself for blood, sweat, and failure. Yes, I still remember the mean girls. They came to the bathroom, had their place at the mirror, and right away called me fat and ugly. Now these days they are fat and ugly, not to mention unhappy. Kharma is a bitch.

Recently I dealt with an adult mean girl, and it was in a place I thought I could be safe from such bullshit. To make a long story short, she used to be a semi-successful actress, and back in the day could stop traffic. Instead of polishing her craft, she became skilled in giving the ultimate blow job. Then rather than get success by her own merit, she decided to further fuck her way up the ladder and ensnare a successful actor by going off her birth control and saddling him with child. An evil bitch, she frequently threatens to take his kid away if he leaves. When she isn’t doing that, she is telling everyone she hates her child and wishes it had never been born. Yes, the Susan Smith School of Motherhood, Casey Anthony as the head dean.

In the past this Queen Bee aka Adult Mean Girl enjoyed a superiority over me. A pretty kid until she failed to lose the weight from having her child compounded with a terrible, inopportune genetic shake, she was a theatre school favorite who never admitted she trained at a state university above a whisper. In recent years, as her looks dwindled and life has sucked, a payback for being a troll, she has become more miserable. I never had a problem with her until this past week her crazy ass decided it was all my fault.

She has tried fighting with me, and told anyone that would listen I don’t deserve some of the success that has come my way. The thing also spread nasty rumors about how I attained some of the gigs I did, and even tried to start rumors to ruin me professionally. On top of that, she has harassed me by phone and internet, and tried to publically fight with me. I have done nothing to this woman, but work hard. She had a career and ruined it, now she wants mine. My friends, who have seen her carry on, pointed out she was so jealous it wasn’t even funny. Not to mention she has tried to enlist the help of other mean girl types to attempt to belittle me. Yes, those who are about as wannabe as her.

I wish I could say it was easy but it made me sick like it used to in 7th grade. I was locking myself in my room crying. Midweek I felt myself come to a rock bottom with this wench. Angry and hissing, I told myself if I saw her I might just kill her that’s how much I hated her. That is when I pressed the block button on facebook. Yes, block.

It felt as a peace had come over me, a serenity in a way. Then out of no where, I felt this thing that I cannot describe. It was sort of a sunshine. I had been telling myself I couldn’t block her, we had too many friends in common. But when I did, it felt this peace had been restored and this anger had melted away. I also had this weird feeling in my abdomen. It was like a demon had flown out of my person. Or maybe it was letting go of negative energy. I don’t know. Either way, I slept peacefully, and for some reason my mattress felt as comfortable as an infant’s cradle, swaddle and all.

The next day my head was buzzing like I had run a marathon the night before. I didn’t feel like doing anything, only staying in the comfortable swaddle I had created for myself. When I woke up I still felt peaceful. However, I now had a bizarre stomach ache as if something had flown out of my gut and other things had been torn asunder. Then my boss called me, a Wonder Woman in the Bronx. I didn’t feel like going to Fordham Road. Initially I was snappy. My boss Bruce for some reason was in a good place. This whole thing might not pay well. I mouthed off, which is rare for me. As this was going on, I wondered what the fuck was happening?

I got my Wonder Woman costume, and in a huff went to the train. It was at the bottom of my closet. Granted, I was just in a foul mood. When I got to Grand Central, Bruce called me. He had a Lady Gaga blocks from my house. The Metro North had been running odd, and I didn’t want to chance it. Plus it takes me hours to get into Lady Gaga. I tried explaining this to Bruce, but it didn’t come out calmly. Instead I screamed at him. Yes, I bit my bosses head off. Had we not had the history we did, I would have probably been fired at that moment.

When I got to the Bronx I had a stomach ache and nearly doubled over. Again, it was as if something had flown out of me. I couldn’t describe what. So I got some Ginger Ale. I called the contact Carlos who was a chunky man, and Latino. He came to the station, fetched me, and took me to the destination. Carlos explained that he was a priest in a metaphysical church, and I should not be alarmed if I see Santeria candles. Carlos also told me that he sold oils and other things to the psychics in NYC. A woman who is like a second mother to be is a 10 generation psychic, and at times I have worked as a palm reader.

Carlos explained Jose, the birthday boy was an opera singer as well as accomplished psychic and tarot reader. When not performing his duties at the shop, Jose works as a cantor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and has toured the world singing opera. When we got to the crystal place, candle shop, and metaphysical church, Carlos again told me not to be scared. That is when I outed myself as a sort of reader. Carlos was thrilled, and I mentioned perhaps he had sold to me during my brief stint as a psychic.

I was taken to the top of the metaphysical church, and sent to a room with Santeria candles to change. I was familiar with Santeria briefly from my friendship with my deceased gay friend Chacho. Originally from Cuba, he dabbled in Santeria a little bit, but he had some friends that were really into it. As I suited up in my Wonder Woman costume, I looked around. In the midst of a spiritual crisis when I felt as if a demonic energy or negative vibe had flown out of me, and a resentment against a complete bitch was making me sick, what are the odds that I would end up in a Santeria shop?

My grandmother and great grandmother pounded the rosary, and my own mother did to some extent. I myself am a cafeteria Catholic, and while I pray, I don’t know each saint or what they do. I would need trading cards for that. While the surroundings were unique and would have scared most people, a sense of calm came over me. Maybe it was the kindness of the people who ran the place, or maybe it was the fact I was getting a chance to sit down. Or perhaps the candles and crystals were one that I had seen in my psychic second mother’s store front? Yes, the woman who taught me how to palm read, and the one that hid me when my ex fiancĂ© was having a break down and I was scared for my life. Yes, that second mother. The one who used to give me food when I had none.

I waited there a while, and usually I am a stickler for my time, but I could have waited forever. As I chilled there, Carlos let me know that unfortunately Jose was busy doing a reading with a woman who was asking a lot of questions. I told him it was okay, take his time. Carlos apologized again for spooking me out, and explained he was a priest in the church and they used their powers for good. I told him it was fine, I knew. I could feel it.

Time came for me to deliver, and they took me downstairs. I went into the store, seeing candles that did all sorts of things. I saw oils and other crystals as well as spell books. They led me to the basement to surprise the Wonder Woman fanatic himself. When I was down there, I saw candles used to summon Chango. Yes, Chango. I had called him Change-o once. Chacho thought this was hysterical and laughed. I know, chica blanca in the house.

Next to me, I saw a bag that said Poppy seed on it. For those of you that don’t know, Poppy Seeds are what I call my followers. It was as if some power greater than myself put it there to let me know it was alright, and to calm down. Work had been kind of slow, which is probably why I fed into the crazy bitch I was having conflict with. I had also been doubting my talents, too. Whatever was pulling the strings, the ultimate puppeteer, was letting me know it was going to be okay.

A few minutes later, they called me upstairs. The Wonder Woman song played loudly, and up I went. Standing there was Jose. He was dressed in a pony tail and a sparkling top. Right away, he expressed that his ultimate birthday wish would be to wear my costume. Jose was thrilled to see me, and I tailored the Wonder Woman song to him. We danced, and he wore my cape. Then I sang an original song about his ability to sing opera and read tarot. The performance was a hit. To top it off, Carlos was his godfather. However, he wasn’t quite his godfather, he was his gay drag godfather. Yes, only in New York.

As this was revealed, I thought of my dear friend Chacho again. Through Chacho, I had a somewhat familiar but limited knowledge of Santeria. Additionally, Chacho had been a ball child, and had a drag godfather as well as drag godchildren. Not to mention he would have been the first to tell me not to sweat the woman making me cry. Actually, he would have just ripped her up. At times like this I missed him. Then it hit me, perhaps Chacho was letting me know he was still around. Maybe his spirit had taken me to this shop, this delivery, to let me know I was going to be alright and not to let a bully get the best of me. Or maybe this is just something random that happened, or maybe it was just something that could only happen to me. Either way, the psychics enjoyed the show.

Carlos gave me a fifty dollar tip. It was one thing that helped turn my day around amongst all the others. One of the helpers from the shop, Beatrice, took me back upstairs to the temple to get changed. Apparently, she had been trained as a dead talker in the Dominican Republic, and those were her duties in the shop in addition to tarot reading. I changed and she got some extra crystals out of a sort of vestibule they had there. As we talked, she spoke to me about some of the people she read, and how as a dead talker she reigned supreme but as a regular reader, she still needed some work.

When Beatrice walked me down to the store, she looked at me and said, “I like you.”

“Thank you.” I said.

“I like your energy. You have a good aura and a good spirit around you. Keep it, and don’t let anyone take it.” She advised.

Just then, the piece of advice hit me like a punch in the gut. My friend Tom once said it best, anger is emotional prostitution. You give away a lot of energy and get very little in return. I had given this lady who had been mean to me an awful lot of energy. Actually, I had let her steal my piece of mind. She was being who she was, a crazy bitch. In the world of mental archery, I was just her latest target. At that moment, a resentment lifted, and as I walked away I felt tears run down my face. It takes a lot of time to be angry, and suddenly I felt as if I had run a marathon.

However, I felt as if a kind spirit had touched my soul too. I felt compassion for her, and hoped this lady found peace. I also hoped she got the help she needed, not just for her sake but for that of her children. Also, maybe she will come to realize raising good, healthy humans is an accomplishment on par with any big time show biz career that anyone could have. I also made amends to Bruce, telling him of my 50 dollar tip. Bruce at first gave me some crap but then he forgave me. At that moment, I felt grateful I get to make people laugh in any and all capacities and get money for it.

Tonight I sang Dancing in the Dark and Cover Me to a Bruce Springsteen fan. Several weeks ago, I sang a Travis Tritt medley with a WWE Championship belt. In between, I get extra blessings from Santeria practitioners.

My life is better than yours. Yah suh!

Check out I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl