Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cherish (The Association)

The last few days were spent on the beach. Yes, I had a girl’s get away with my mother and sister in South Carolina. Staying in a rental property my parents renovated, it was originally planned as a celebration for the fall birthdays. Mainly, it was my mother’s. However, sometimes they tack me on too because we are both fall babies. However, my father was unable to come because of some drama at work. Of course my brother Wendell and sister in law Veronique could not score the same days off. So it became a nice pool party break in October.

Shy of two weeks ago, Skipper became engaged to Boomer. Often I say these two are the Lover archetype in Tarot and Commedia Del Arte. With a love that is pure and untouched, one is the other’s sun, moon, and stars. Sure, their public displays of affection are more sappy than a Vermont Maple Tree during syrup season. However, as a duo they are also endearing and thoughtful, always the first to reach out to others when they achieve a goal or to wish happy birthday. I can safely say like Odysseus to Penelope, it is Skipper to Boomer. Yes, they are soul mates is what I am trying to say in a conceited, intellectual, academic, and overeducated kind of way.

During one of our many beach walks, Skipper gave us the inside details of Boomer’s proposal. In order to drop the surprise, Boomer planned a lavish romantic weekend on the tropical isle of Key West. However, in an effort to get the ring insured the agent informed Boomer it could not be covered under his home owners. It wasn’t his property, it was Skipper’s.

Thus Boomer came to pick up his future bride at 4:15 AM. Skipper, always with impeccable hygiene, was brushing her teeth as Boomer was pretending to make sure all was in order. Then with tooth paste running down her mouth, Boomer popped the question. “Skipper, will you marry me?” He asked, dipped down on one knee, oblivious to the drool. This was daring, since my sister is not a morning person.

Skipper for once didn’t care about the early bugle. Seeing the ring she yelped, “I DO!!!”

While the trip to Key West proved romantic, Boomer had looked at the scenery rather than the culture. Translated, Boomer got whistled at. While the gay men were respectful of the newly engaged hederos, they did jokingly ask Skipper to pass on Boomer’s number when she was done with him. This did not put a dent in the vacation of The Lovers. Rather, their love was so deep and this new step so immense nothing could put a black blob on their pastel painting.

As we walked on the beach, Skipper informed us Boomer picked the ring on his own. We marveled at Boomer’s straight queer eye. While a man’s man, Boomer loves camping. He and Skipper also spend time at the rifle range. Skipper has a head eye for a target, but Boomer can give her a run for her money. Sure, he wears the same shirt over and over, but like all dudes in love, he strikes gold every once in a while. His pick was better than the one Skipper originally wanted. It was glamorous, beautiful, and like their love would hopefully stand the test of time.

Like a curious child, Skipper smiled silently as she realized her ring glowed a heavenly color in the noonday sun. Lost in thoughts of Boomer, my mother and I continued to chatter until we came across three Canadian fisherman up ahead. Three of the men looked like they could be swing members of ZZ Top, and one even had the beer belly to match. Two were much younger with matted hair that looked like it had not been washed in days. There was no woman around to supervise these untamed beasts. On second thought, maybe they were tamed, just allowed out of their cages for the occasional recreation.

My mother decided to strike up a conversation with them. Part of it is her social butterfly status, and in part because she believes despite my fan base being mostly male that I don’t talk to men. Skipper then snapped out of her Boomer induced trance and played hype woman to my mother. It is because Skipper always is, but also Skipper is slightly afflicted. Translated, like any people in a serious commitment, she now feels like she has to pull any and all single people into the net throws of her freedom losing cult. It’s not her fault. It’s almost something one has to sign in blood the second they put a wedding or engagement ring on. While some calm down, others eternally throw arrows at their single friends and family members.

On holiday from Toronto, the men relayed they were on the beach trying to catch sharks. Apparently, they had some luck. Right away, they were ready and willing to brag.  “Caught a tiger yesterday.” One of the young ones said holding a photo. He wore a Parris Island United States Marine Corps shirt. He wasn’t a Marine though, because if he was he would have told us that the second he saw us. Marines are like that, they feel they need to get it off their chests.

Speaking of chests, ZZ Top 1 then changed the subject. “We are having some issues over here.” He relayed, beer in hand. “You see, we want to know what women prefer, hair on the chest or no hair on the chest?”

Yes, women we have never met, this matter is of urgent importance. We realize there is the usual genocide in the Sudan and a war in the Middle East, but this matter is number four on the list of our worries because economy has to be number 3. This is life or death, please advise.

My mother, despite being affable to male company, is still a married woman. In all correspondences, verbal or written, she always considers my father’s feelings as if he were there watching like a hawk. I suppose this is what helps keep her union with my father going strong as it is. There was no way she could be their Solomon. Then Skipper stared at her ring as a reminder of the absence of her beloved Boomer. While in reality he could not get the time off to accompany us, from the look in Skipper’s eyes, Boomer had gone off to fight a war possibly never to return. So the duty fell upon me to settle their debate.

The second ZZ Top pointed to the middle where I was to stand to settle this matter. Chest hair wasn’t just chest hair, it was everything to these men, Goddamnit. So, as if I were a wise tribal chief, I stated,  “It’s not the hair on the chest, it’s the man behind the hair or lack thereof.” It was a noncommittal response to their plaguing question, and that way their fragile egos would not be crushed by a complete stranger.  

Our neighbor’s to the North seemed satisfied and let out a loud whoop. Then my mom said, “She’s an entertainer in New York!” My face turned bright red. It felt odd already talking to these randos and settling their masculine debate. Now I wanted to jump into the ocean and have a shark eat me. There is nothing like trying to have your mother force you to flirt.

 “That’s awesome! A singer too!” One of young, unwashed slurred in his drunken state. That is when my mother posed me with the young man who hugged me afterward. He was nice looking. Perhaps I would not make myself shark food today.

After we wished the Canadians well, I asked my mother what she was thinking. My mother explained that she was trying to initiate “the hook up.”

“That’s trashy. I don’t know them.” I protested.

“That just means to say hi.” My mom said. “I heard them say it on TV.”

“Mom, it means to have sex. Never use that word again.” I told her.

Skipper agreed. Then we switched the subject back to the chatter at hand. Yes, the stupid things men fixate on. Chest hair and penis size. The luxury of being male, especially a straight white male. Always on the upper end of the paradigm, sexism is a real and lifetime struggle. Suddenly, I felt the feminist in me boil up and got ill. I confessed in my next life I wanted to come back as a man and enjoy the perks. My mother told me she used to feel the same way, but then she explained, “Then I realized there was a lot of chest pounding involved and that might get old and hurt after a while.”

Then we began to wonder why men got caught up on these stupid things like chest hair and penis size. Skipper then relayed that during her job at the hospital, she encountered some Japanese men who suffered from Shrinking Penis Syndrome. These men did very real and dangerous things to ensure their Johnson was not shrinking. While the condition was psychosomatic, they believed their Love Wand was disappearing.

Skipper also explained that there were also penis implants available. She made the hack joke and explained an ER patient of hers requested a black penis because he thought his luck with women would improve. Then Skipper also informed us that a man came into the hospital requesting a horse dong but this could not be done because it was species to species.

As my sister chatted away, explaining to us that she met Boomer while manually retracting an anus, a phrase she uses serious and sober as a judge to tell the story of her meeting with her fiancé, she looked like a princess. Skipper was marrying her prince. They were The Lovers. Of course, it made me think of the time I was engaged and how that ended in disaster. Then of course I also recalled Holden, the fugitive I played house with for several days before he had to leave the state. I would have married Holden in a heart beat.

As I looked at the ocean I know in my heart I got close to being married but never did it because I know it isn’t for me and may never be. No man owns me, and hopefully he will never tether me by making me take his last name, a brand of slavery under the boot of an oppressive overseer. Yet at the same time, my sister was taking the plunge into forever with Boomer. While it is brave to defy convention, it is also brave to say the words “till death do us part” and really mean it. Granted, maybe you will be wielding an axe when they leave this world but still……

Is Swashbuckler a sexual preference? Yes, I am a swashbuckler. The ocean is like me, untamed. Adventure is my middle name. I would have gladly found the Canadian fisherman myself if my mother had not made it so awkward. Still, my swashbuckling and adventuring gives my trunk full of puppets and closet full of costumes lots of stories. A swashbuckler belongs to the wind and world. My art is my first love. No man can rip me away.

Just then I remembered good old Robert Louis Stevenson, the ultimate swashbuckling adventurer despite is consumption, was reeled in by Fanny Osbourne and had his butt kicked frequently by his combination wife and mother. Maybe there will be a time that I stop my swashbuckling. Maybe I will feel the need to stop my sword swinging, adventuring, and storytelling life. Maybe I will want the wind and the world to give me up to one man. Maybe I will let the paradigm make me it’s minimum security prisoner. Nah…..

So I looked over at my sister. Skipper’s ring continued to emit light like a heavenly orb. Prince Boomer could rest assured no harm would come to his fair maiden. My father could also rest assured no harm could come to his queen. They were in the company of a true swashbuckler.

Thus the three of us continued to comb our way down the beach: The Princess, the Swashbuckler, and the Queen Mother in between them. The entire way, we talked Skipper’s wedding and gossiped about the simplicity of the male species.

And with no men around we lived happily ever after.

The End.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Real Mutherfuckin' G's (Eazy-E)

When I was 14, I did a summer theatre intensive at The Pittsburgh Playhouse. At the time, they had a youth acting program that was pretty aggressive and well-respected. After auditioning, I was admitted. Because the Playhouse was in Oakland, I was allowed to commute by my parents. This involved a bus and trolley. In case you don’t know, a trolley is our version of a subway in Pittsburgh. Often seen on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the trolley travels above ground.

Having a career in the arts sometimes means you grow up rather quickly. I knew my cousin Mandy was pretty much shipped off every summer from the time she was ten to do ballet intensives taught my world renowned instructors. When she was 14, she moved to New York City where she attended Professional Performing Arts School aka Fame School. I was starting on the same journey in a way. My first few days at the Playhouse I realized how wet behind the ears I was, and how green I was when it came to life stuff. Yes, I was a kid. No, it wasn’t a good thing.

For years, I had been a weird kid at school. Not only did these kids take the cake, but they made me realize how sheltered I was. While my parents supported my career path, they let me know the second there was a change in attitude or a slip in grades the fun stopped. These kids on the other hand were a more sophisticated, much different animal that would have scoffed at such a memo.

Most of the kids had aged into the teen program through the junior program, and so they knew all the instructors, and all the instructors knew them. Not someone who was part of the feeder system, I was seemingly odd girl out. Right away, my classmates proved vicious gossips, and I heard all about the “favorites.” Yes, in theatre the person the director gives all the plum roles to. These kids trained, sang, and knew plays. I didn’t.

The population of the summer program was a mishmash of various kinds of people. There were the elitist kids from prep schools like Shady Side, and money loaded districts like Mount Lebanon, Upper St.Claire, Fox Chapel, and other places containing big houses with no furniture. Trust fund babies, they wouldn’t be caught dead working a summer job and they let anyone and everyone know it. Many also wore designer clothing to class. Granted, it was difficult to move in, but that just proved their point. This population knew all there was to know about designer coffee, and fulfilled every horrid theatre person stereotype there was. With their affected speech, they let the whole world know they were theatre people in case they had forgotten. Then again, these kinds of theatre people are the reason the world hates actors. Either way, these kids all got expensive cars as birthday gifts. No, they would never take the bus. That was beneath them.

I asked one of these girls, Katherine, if she did her high school plays. Katherine snidely purred, “I don’t do school theatre. It’s beneath my training, and it’s beneath me.”

After these kids were the city kids. Some went to the CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) High School. Others went to Alderdice of Schenley. These kids were off the chain. Many were much more independent than I could ever dream of being, and took the bus and trolley at all hours. Their parents didn’t dare ground them, and it seemed like their parents barely cared to begin with. Many of these kids partied hard, and partied on the regular with fake ID’s. One girl, Charlotte, was dating a 30 year old dude and lying and saying she was 23. Another girl went braless one day because she had lost hers in a drunken state the night before and hadn’t gotten home. Then there was Rachael with the pregnancy scare. Emily turned to her and said, “Get an abortion. It’s no big deal. I got one two months and it was very cheap. Oh, and it’s just a day in bed.”

After the city kids were the fringe kids. These kids were basically screw ups and their parents were at the end of their rope. So they stuck them in the theatre. These kids went to alternative schools, aka holding tanks for those who couldn’t hack it in regular school. In this group there was a teen alcoholic named Mari who had just gotten out of rehab and was attending the program by day and AA by night. This was of course including but not limited to Hailey, a girl with OCD and Panic disorder, who cut herself. Add in a bi-sexual Wiccan Chandra and every stereotype that resides in the nightmares of new parents was represented. Often, they exchanged notes about which psych meds they were on which freaked me out.

Then of course there were the scholarship kids. Translated, the poor black kids. The Playhouse often went into the community to try to farm talent from less fortune homes, often from The Hill District and Homewood. Yes, the neighborhoods the cops don’t go to. While these kids were intimidating for the rich snobs, I clicked with the scholarship kids the best. None of them were perfect, heck one even had a 2 year old daughter. Note: Baby Mama and child came to performances and were wonderfully supportive of us all. However, I always found them the most real and easiest to stomach.

One in particular I took to was DeShawn Forrester. DeShawn lived in The Hill District aka The Home of August Wilson. As a matter of fact, DeShawn even did an August Wilson monologue once. A kid built like a tank, DeShawn told us it was either Broadway or the NFL. While he didn’t touch on it much, once he mentioned he had three brothers who had two different fathers. So yeah, his home life kind of sucked. Whenever he stepped on the stage, DeShawn was funny like Chris Farley. Born without a filter, DeShawn always said what was on his mind and didn’t seem to care. While it got him in trouble, it won him my respect.

As part of cast bonding and mediation, we did a drill called Jump Circle. Done no where else in the world but the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the cast stands in a circle. If one cast member has a problem with another, they walk up to them and confront them. They yell it out until the conflict is squashed. A Jump Circle is and should be supervised by a director or teacher. This way, confrontations don’t get out of hand, and a third party that isn’t directly involved can be peacemaker.

During our first Jump Circle, one of the elitist kids, a girl by the name of Heather, walked up to Deshawn and told him she was struck by his “bad attitude.” Heather then finished off by telling him he swore too much.

DeShawn quickly replied, “Well girl, all I ever hear you do is complain. You want to talk about bad attitude? If we hear one more time about how you don’t know where to park your 16th birthday present that is more money than my house costs I think we will all knock you off your fucking block.” We all clapped in the Jump Circle. DeShawn 1, Heather 0.

Young DeShawn was rather unsupervised, and had many girlfriends in his neighborhood. Every time I spoke to DeShawn, he was having sex with someone new. We teased DeShawn about being a pimp and  a player, but DeShawn shrugged. He couldn’t help it. DeShawn was happy to send his days at the Playhouse so his ladies couldn’t compare notes. Oh problems, problems, problems.

One thing I liked about DeShawn was that he went out of his way to be my friend. Each morning, my mother made me call her when I was safely at The Playhouse. My mother always feared I would get raped or killed, even in broad daylight. It is the way she has always been. In case I was attacked, she gave me every mace and screeching device there was. One morning, I was talking to my mother and DeShawn saw me on the street. He took my mace out of my bag and sprayed it in the air. Luckily it was not a windy day. Out loud he said, “Shit, this is the stuff my mailman carries!”

Just then he reached for my screeching device. The mace had been a close call but this was going to be just plain funny. Just as I hung up the phone, DeShawn pressed the button on my screech alarm. “What the hell is this?”

“My mom thinks I am going to be attacked.” I explained. “She has protected me in every way possible.”

“Damn. You are over protected.” DeShawn observed.

“Tell my mom that.”

“Tell her you are having mad, passionate sex with a nice chocolate looking dude and you are eating him up.” DeShawn suggested. I burst out laughing. It was one of those moments where I had a friend that I would not have ordinarily met under normal circumstances, and I liked that friend.

DeShawn would go on to be my friend in other ways that summer, too. A few weeks later, as our play rehearsed, we had another Jump Circle. One girl, Stacia, had been saying some horrible things about me and my anger management problems. She claimed it was because the monologues I picked were broad characters and crazy people. This had nothing to do with me as a person, these were roles I played well. It was called acting.

Looking back, Stacia longed to be one of the cool kids in the program. She was also jealous I got a sizeable supporting role first year in, and she was stuck with a bit part. In order to fit in with the cool clique, Stacia bad mouthed me at a party. Well, the cool clique thought of her as a hanger on, and Scott, a dude who I was friends with in the in clique told me.

During jump circle I let Stacia have it. The fake little Barbie Doll had tried so hard to be one of the cool kids but wasn’t. I even told her that. Additionally, I also told Stacia that if she had something to say about my characters, she could say it to the playwright because clearly she didn’t know the first thing about acting. I also informed her she hadn’t gotten a good role because she didn’t have good talent. Stacia got in my face saying acting crazy wasn’t talent, and I only proved her right. I said I proved she was phony. The director and his assistant had to pull us apart.

After Jump Circle, DeShawn found me and gave me a hug. “You were right to give it to her. She’s a bitch.” He informed me.

“You think so?” I asked.

“Girl, I know so. Look, you are crazy, but you don’t hide it. You don’t bother anyone. She wanted to start with you and she got owned.” DeShawn observed.

The outcome of that jump circle had been that Stacia found out Scott had told me about the trash talk at the party. This of course was from our friend Mira, who wanted to squash this whole ridiculous situation. Stacia apologized to me, and in unison we turned our rage on Scott. The way Stacia went off on him, she put my so called anger management issues to shame. Then it came out Scott had a history as a shit stirrer, and he became persona non grata by the entire cast. Oh Playhouse memories.

That summer, I had spent all my time with sophisticated adolescents, so the idea of going to a suburban high school was stifling. Translated, I was slightly flipped out and my parents had a hard time containing me. I felt more adult than the “children” I shared class with. My knowledge of taboo things had grown. I was so adult. Truth: None of us anywhere were adult. We were all kids. When it came to adult things, we were all actually really dumb. Yet we thought we were so worldly, which is scary, because the state could have put a needle in our arms if we screwed up badly enough.

Time went on, and we all became grown ups, this time for real. Some of the elitist kids continued in theatre, some didn’t. Katherine ended up attending Oberlin and now works as an art curator. Her bosom buddy Chesley went on to attend Bard and then NYU graduate school and is a talent booker out in California. Leanna, who was actually kind despite her trust fund is now working as a drama director for disadvantaged kids in Washington, DC.  Of course, this was after she came out as a lesbian during her first semester at Smith. It was funny, because Leanna was boy crazy but anyway….

The city kids varied. One girl, Charlotte, went to rehab after the intensive. She sobered up, and attended Marymount Manhattan on a dance scholarship. Sadly she relapsed and overdosed a few years after college. It was no surprise given the speed many of these kids were living their lives.
However, of the city slickers most did manage to turn out alright. Many attended Point Park, because CAPA and the university have the same faculty. Charlie went to college for musical theatre, but abandoned acting to become a kindergarten teacher. He’s married with two kids. Rachael with the pregnancy scare ended up going to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and is an industrial designer. Emily with the abortion is now a professional bodybuilder and physique model. She trains other women, and from the looks of it her life is on track.

The fringe kids all managed to grow up too. Chandra became a gay activist. Hailey went to law school. As for Mari, she made the most of her experience by becoming a drug counselor for troubled adolescents.

Stacia got rejected by all the big name acting schools and decided to be a teacher. Now she lives in Portsmouth, Maine and works with autistic children. Scott continued on in theatre, but quit and now sells used cars. Mira actually lives in LA, and has been on TV several times. Aside from me, she is the only one of us really still acting.

The one I never got an update on was DeShawn. Even after numerous internet searches. No updates, that is, until recently. Yes, I found DeShawn Forrester on facebook. From the look of his wall, it looked like he was pursuing a career as a rapper. For a time, it also seemed like he attended college at Penn State, but didn’t finish. I couldn’t tell whether DeShawn was a legit rapper in the studio banging out albums, or he was a “rapper” to impress women. Either way, his handle was the terribly unoriginal D-Zilla. Still, DeShawn was being creative and hadn’t burned out. That was a victory in itself.

Deshawn’s profile photo looked like it had been forced, as if he was taken out of bed and interrogated beforehand. Yes, an interrogation where he was yelled at by detectives. Then it occurred to me of course it was. DeShawn’s profile pic was a mug shot. There he was in state “I own your ass” orange. My mouth hung open. DeShawn was in prison!

Then as if that wasn’t enough, DeShawn had several photo albums on facebook. One was appropriately named, “Live from Federal Prison.” My mouth hung open in disbelief, disgust, disappointment, and horror. I laughed not because it was funny, but because I didn’t know what else to do. In several photos DeShawn was posed against the wall like a hardened thug. In others, he was with fellow inmates flexing his muscles. All the guys were covered in a combo of prison and street ink. Each had hands in prayer tattooed on their arms, ironic because they had at least broken one commandment to get into the predicament they were in.

As if that weren’t enough, some woman on the outside photographed a letter DeShawn had sent home. Of course she called him D-Zilla, DeShawn had been law abiding and as we know, and to some women that is so not sexy. D-Zilla was a dangerous thug, and that was hot. Did she know D-Zilla could quote Shakespeare? If she knew, he would lose his sex appeal because that woman only wanted straw for brains.

DeShawn did not disappoint his lady love going for the lowest common denominator with his letter. Mixed with rap speak and just plain atrocious grammar, DeShawn relayed that he was innocent and been framed. However, he was keeping his head up. The DeShawn I knew was so smart. Who was this moron alien that replaced him?

The gravy were DeShawn’s facebook posts. One classic was, “A lot of guys say that when you are in jail, you go gay. Bullshit, I am getting ripped. #Institutionalized.” Sigh, priorities, priorities, priorities.

Another was, “Prison upkeep, $100,000, Weight equipment $39,000, Father/Daughter time, priceless.” My mouth hung open. Then again, of course DeShawn had a child. Why stop at one bad decision when you can make a thousand?

This was followed by another post, “Daddy’s in the box and my baby girl made the honor roll. So proud of my smart little princess.” Yes, and hopefully she will make the tax payers proud too by staying out of prison.

Of course this was in between a rant against snitches. Then there was a longer rant against snitches written in all caps. Mind you, DeShawn was in minimum security, perhaps because he had snitched in the first place. Of course, DeShawn accused his fellow rappers of snitching out of jealousy. He opined, “U put D-Zilla in da den. Fuck corrxtions.” No, correct your grammar, D-Zilla.

Then our favorite rap superstar was informed by his fans that prison was just a minor setback and it would only make him stronger. DeShawn also revealed he was spitting rhymes with other inmates. Better than knife fighting or joining a gang I suppose. Then DeShawn blamed his lawyer for the mess he was in, and told the internet world he refused to pay the guy. Out of curiosity, I scrolled back further. DeShawn had been facebook posting throughout his trial. Apparently he didn’t like the judge. Wow, easiest conviction ever. D-Zilla, you are one sad Tupac rip off.

I wanted to scream, “You went to theatre camp with me! What happened! We did Jump Circle! We were in acting class all summer. I liked you.  You had a shot. When did you become suck a fucking loser wreaking of failure!”

Then I realized for as grown up as a lot of those kids thought they were, they really weren’t. They were kids. Each was wrestling with their insecure skin fumbling their way throughout the world. For some, the world was already too much. While the city kids were off the hook, it was really a reflection of the lack of adult supervision some of them had. At the time, their antics were funny. Looking back, they are actually kind of sad. Same with the elitist kids who got cars or whatever they wanted. Sure, my parents sheltered me in comparison. However, they knew adulthood had to come naturally, not with the snap of your fingers. As an adult, the memory of some of these kids makes me cringe in a way. Actually, it is an act of God more of them didn’t join Charlotte or DeShawn.

Looking back, despite all the chaos we all had the ability to be creative. When the lights came on and the curtain came up, we put our differences aside because it was show time. Through the different perspectives each of us brought, we gave The Pittsburgh Playhouse a hell of a show. Perhaps our instructors knew what they were doing when they put us all together. That in itself shows the magic of theatre and the importance of art education.

Sure, DeShawn has basically wrecked his life. However, he isn’t joining a prison gang nor is he working as an inside enforcer for a drug dealer. He is rapping. Perhaps without his Playhouse summer, DeShawn wouldn’t have that instinct let alone outlet. Also, underneath is still my buddy. Maybe he irresponsibly created a child, but at least he acknowledges that child and takes part in her life wherever he is. Can’t say the same for some of the dudes I met who have never tested the judicial system.

When he gets out, I hope he drops an album. I would buy it. After all, the rap game is filled with so many posers who grew up in suburbia that have never run the streets. In the words of Eazy-E, at least my boy is “no studio gangsta.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grasshopper Guidepost: Back to Basics

In my previous post, I talked about a near nervous breakdown I had that I am only coming out of. To say this place wasn’t dark and scary is a lie. I began to hate the very thing I loved, entertaining others and making them laugh. On top of that, I got so into my work, that I neglected to spend time with my friends. I was less like a ventriloquist, comedian and writer and more like a mad scientist.

In my line of work, they always talk about chronic unemployment. There is the actor/waiter clichĂ©, or the comedian/doorman, the lesser known one but more or less understood here in New York. Sure, everyone talks about how fabulous it is when the phone starts to ring, the calendar fills up, and things start to happen. You are the party guest everyone wants to suck up to.  They always talk about the good stuff. Don’t get me wrong. Being a working performer is a gift from God. Being able to make others laugh is also a gift as well. I am lucky to have been able to put both together this year.

However, they never talk about what happens when things get busy. Yes, when the work comes in faster than you can handle it. Or when you rip up your closet looking for a wardrobe piece and stub your toe. The worst part is, you have no clue where the wardrobe piece is and you need it with the greatest of urgency. They never talk about the crazy hours and how they don’t cease. Then here you are, successful. Everyone is congratulating you. As your bathroom looks like a drag queen vandalized the place because there is so much damn glitter, you realize again, yes, you are working. Yet no one ever told you that you would be too tired to enjoy your success, because you are constantly moving and running like you are in a never ending marathon where you are forced to sprint. 

An opera singer friend of mine from high school, Deborah, who is a soprano that tours the world currently, read my blog. She told me she was at the same place, feeling the same way. This was good to know, because truth, I felt like a huge brat for even feeling tired. Studying her whole life, Deborah got her BM from Eastman School of Music and her MM from University of Texas. Each year, she sings with the Wagner Festival in Germany. Yes, she too has chased her goals, is reaping the reward, and is too tired to enjoy it. I felt like I wasn’t isolated and terminally unique, but it is an odd place to be that no one ever talks about.

Perspective is the key. I remember as the meltdown was happening, I actually started weeping on the phone to my mother. She told me that yes, she has always wanted a pool and now that she has one, she can hardly enjoy it because she is so busy having to maintain it. My folks also remodeled a rental property in South Carolina. While the renovations are beautiful and the view is beach front, my mother more or less has to deal with the upkeep, renter drama, and real estate agency. She reminded me of this too. Every rose has it’s thorn I suppose.

A year and a half ago, I was having the same type of meltdown but on a much smaller scale. I was in the midst of a project in a recording studio, and the telegrams were picking up. Of course I was scheduled to be Marilyn Monroe, had to curl my hair, and was crippled without my hairspray, and I was on a tight schedule. I went to the pharmacy, and there was my former dance teacher from college, Madison Kahn, having a meltdown because they couldn’t find her son’s much needed asthma medicine in the computer.

To give you an idea, Madison is a former Rockette who is still beautiful even in her 40s. She has also been Anita in West Side Story on Broadway. I still remember having her for class. Point blank Madison explained, “I was a Rockette, then I was on Broadway, now I am a mom.” Some found her mean, probably because she wanted people to take the class seriously. I, on the other hand, was always inspired by her love for teaching and the generosity that she so freely gave the knowledge she had. Madison wanted these young actors to know that her class was just as important as their four hour Method Acting Seminar that they attended twice weekly, and it was. You never know when being able to dance might get you the job.

Madison recognized me, and we began to talk. I told her I was losing my mind too, because my work schedule was crazy. Without missing a beat, she reminded me, “Never complain about working.” Now I remembered why I loved this woman. #RESPECT.

Recently, I have found myself thinking of her and all my teachers from college. I realized history unfortunately repeated itself in a way. When I was 18, I had a similar meltdown where I had moved to New York and felt overwhelmed by the demands of my classes. The city was big, I knew no one, and all my school mates were trying to make their mark. Stressed, I was losing my mind. After a diet of coffee and nothing caused a neurotic fit in dance class with the notorious Joelle Edwards, I was sent to talk to someone at my college because they were "concerned."

I still remember Sarah Bowman. She had been adjunct at Yale and taught at Howard where she was dean of drama for a bit. Sarah said to me, “You got in here, you are talented. Let’s get that out of the way. That being said, you want what you want and you want it now. It’s a process. You need to trust the process.”

Sarah Bowman me pegged. And as I was melting down, screaming that my hard work was never going to pay off her words echoed through my head. I still saw the shaking, crying basketcase so eager to please. I thought time and some self-esteem sent her packing. Guess not. Guess she was living here rent free the entire time. Guess she was waiting to come out as this past year saw me working like a dog to advance to the next level, seeing some almosts that were not meant and crying every step of the way. Not being able to let go of anything that came my way, but rather having my bloody claw marks on every little thing. Oh and not only was coffee becoming a food group, but I also think at this point it might have been my blood type. 

After remembering my dance teacher Madison’s words, and Sarah’s frank talking to, something told me the answer to my problems was just at my finger tips. In my apartment, I still have the notes from all my old college acting classes. They were written in my crazy 20 year old short hand. Some were notes on how to take care of my voice. There was a lot about breathing from the diaphragm that I thought to be useless at the time but did anyway. Oh and then it was breathing, breathing, breathing. At the time, breathing was the Goddamn bane of my existence.

Then further along were notes from movement teachers on how to relax, slow down, and take care of my body. After which were notes from my singing teacher, more breathing. Not to mention notes from my acting teachers about relaxing my devil brow, the thing I inherited from my father. Lastly was a note from my dear playwrighting teacher about trimming the fat in my well written script. A little bit of a wake up from the past call since the blogs I write have been verbose as of late.
At that stage in my life, I had loved the Strasberg Method. However, my mind raced like that of every BFA student with the question, “When the hell am I going to use this? When will I get to the good stuff like Shakespeare?”

Add in the young attitude iconoclastic mantra about breaking all the rules because they were old and useless. Truth, one must know the rules before they break them. And why fix something that is actually pretty good? More truth, when people tell say that theatre school does not teach you how to be a working performer, they are wrong. Actually, they are goons. While you cannot control how you look or what mood the casting director is in, technique is the one thing you can control. If you shine as you show up, eventually you will be noticed. Technique also gives you the ability to shine during a long run or film shoot. 

Then I remembered my vocal production teacher Aaron, a Broadway vet who also toured the world with several operas, that in order to be a working performer one had to be in good physical shape, eat sensibly, and take care of their bodies. This too was in my notes. Yes, it was there in black and white under some more notes about breathing and not using my throat I had from a midterm jury. Now I knew why I was flipping out, feeling lousy, and losing my voice. Aaron’s class could be cumbersome to be at sometimes, the bane of my young performer existence. Yet here he was digging me out of my current quandary.

Of course in between class notes were jokes I had written. Some were on the bus or subway between classes. Others were scribbles of ideas that came into my head as others did scene work and I kept myself occupied. Most young actors doze off in general when others are working on scenes, which isn’t good. Still, I was off task in a constructive way. A lot of what I wrote was terrible, but some were gems that I still use.

Then I realized something very important. All these notebooks were before my puppet children and I got on television for any reason. This was before I had fans and fan contests. These scribbles were from the days where I inhabited mildew filled basements in New York by night earning my wings. I didn’t have an ego, I knew I hadn’t earned one. Rather, my only aim was to be funny onstage, a good actor all around, and a heck of a writer.

Since that time I had been on television, acted on stage and screen, and even wrote a book. Yet I felt like I had no steam and if everyone who supported me knew, they would be so disappointed. I was so drained, cynical and jaded. I had nothing left to give, and wasn’t going to get where I needed to go. Why keep going? There was always someone doing better than me. That is when it clicked, if I wanted to get out of my black hole I had to go back to basics.

To inspire myself, I am reading plays again by playwrights who inspire me. When I have downtime, I am taking webinars and watching films that inspire me. I am also leaning on my network of performer and writer friends, who gently remind me that I am not alone and that there is help getting to the next level. With me, I have notebooks where my ideas are jotted down. I am getting onstage again. When I am not onstage, I am in front of my mirror perfecting my ventriloquism and puppet work. While it’s good, I have developed some terrible habits over the years that need to be killed in their tracks. Through my notoriety, I have used that, resting on my laurels, and have developed some very bad habits. So I am fixing them.

I wanted to take my new found zeal somewhere. As if there was an answer to my prayers, someone messaged me with a spot. Excited, I went down, had fun, and made people laugh.

As I graced the stage, there was a part of me that was nervous because during my semi-nervous breakdown I was not getting up early as much, and didn’t feel as sharp. Stepping behind the mic, I heard the voice of my old friend Barry Lawrence, the one who had literally been my big brother from a different mother. Yes, poor Barry. The one who should have been on Letterman but drank and coked his way out of a promising comedy career. Calling me from the past, Barry’s voice whispered, “Just be yourself and the jokes will come, April.”

Yes the memo to be myself again. Yes, myself. Not the girl on TV, the one fans recognized with her puppets, or the too smart feminist who somehow published a book. Yes, myself, not this idiotic persona I had adopted as I saw some success. Yes, myself, not this desperate neurotic who had to prove to the world she deserved to be a working performer. They didn’t hire me because they made a mistake. My audiences didn’t laugh just to be nice. I deserved what I was getting because I was hard working and talented. At that moment, I decided I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. And I began to riff and got a laugh. The rest of the set rocked, and so did all my fellow comedians.

When I got offstage, I was greeted by my comedy peers. I felt like I was a part of a community again, and not some outsider. Sure, the jealousy and politics had poisoned what I loved, but I had let it. When I got offstage, I spoke to some friends of mine. We had all done a talking head video shoot for a television program the week before. One friend, Sarafina, told me they had spoken about how funny I was after I left. This was a feather in my cap and made my night. Mind you this was after finding out I had a surprise royalty check in the mail that morning from my book.

Yes, this video shoot was last Friday when I had stumbled across my old college notes. My teacher Laura Steinberg was right. It’s amazing what happens when you breathe, relax your brow, and don’t mug at the audience. When you are where your feet are, anything is possible.

As I thought of Laura I thought of Michael Roy, my movement teacher from Australia and an ex-Merce Cunningham dancer. He had told me during my school days I would do well because I was both “gorgeous and hysterical.” Michael had reminded us that we only got one body, and so it was our job to take care of it. The man had always given me “A’s,” but if he could see me now he would give me a big old “F” for fail on that basic life test.

After Michael Roy came the thought of my actor ex, Ben. Before doing New York, Ben had done Chicago. While a spoiled trust fund idiot, Ben said one thing that stuck with me, “You picked the hardest profession there is. You have enough against you. Don’t give yourself anymore problems.”

Here I was, thinking I had come so far when really I wasn’t so far from the same mess I was when I was a little fireball starting her journey. Maybe the little fireball wasn’t all bad, she got me this far and she proved a lot of dissenters wrong. That same little fireball grew into a working performer and published novelist. Not many of her naysayers have the same bragging rights. Not to mention a lot of her old teachers are proud when she tells them she is a working performer. They might question why she speaks in third person, but she knows she had a lot of people cheering for her and still does.

Being a working artist is a gift, and so was turning 30. I know I am finally hitting my stride after an arduous climb and a lot of hard work. To keep on track, I am becoming educated about nutrition and am painstakingly eating sensibly. I am accepting things don’t happen when I want. Maybe it’s why I am a puppeteer and writer, it gives me my control fix. However, when one receives a gift they should say thank you. So I thank the universe by eating well, getting plenty of rest, and taking care of my body.

Somewhere, an old studio teacher of mine, probably Rob who taught Thai Chi, is laughing and saying, “Ahhhh grasshopper.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Working Performer

When I first announced that I wanted to be an actress, my mother was supportive. In the next breath she quipped, “They say Thank God for the actors in New York. That way, the restaurants are fully staffed.”

My father wasn’t as glib about the whole affair. Flat out, devoid of emotion yet filled with practicality, he advised, “Get a real job.”

After my freshmen year of high school, I was admitted into a Pre-College program at Carnegie Mellon University. One of the most prestigious acting programs in the land, this was an honor, albeit a costly one. The curriculum was to mimic conservatory training like one would have at a four year BFA Program like Carnegie Mellon. Hopefuls, many who dreamed of Carnegie Mellon especially, came from all over the country to have a taste of this drama boot camp. Some of the older kids especially were dying for the mock auditions, because if they did well it could mean early admit into CMU.

All summer, we learned the difference between BFA and BA, and which each meant. BFA was all acting, and BA was more or less liberal arts. We had one monologue class with a woman by the name of Helena Sharpe. A former NYU dramat in the early days of the Tisch program, Helena had New York under her belt so we were more apt to listen closely to her. When she spoke of her college days, she told us horror stories of a cut system, meaning each class had so many students entering, and then they only would graduate a few. Several law suits later, NYU and many programs like it have done away with this antiquated practice. Now they just make school so hard that if a student can’t hack it, they simply drop out. Helena told us that each semester she used to get stomach ulcers fearing she would be sent home.

Helena had done the whole actress thing in New York for a few years. When she spoke of her time in the city, she told us horror story after horror story of how hard work and talent did not equal success. Helena mentioned a successful career had more to do with look and luck. In the next breath, she reiterated that this would not be fair. Helena then relayed that many actors she knew spent their yout waiting tables, and developed no other skills other than those required to manage a restaurant. After several years of being married, she and her husband had relocated to Pittsburgh after he got an adjunct professorship at the University of Pittsburgh in their Theatre Department. Now she more or less taught. Helena explained she wanted a family, and not the chaos of an acting career.

Either way, between NYU and New York itself, this woman seemed angry. Later I realized she wasn’t angry, just beaten down by a profession that doesn’t really want the people who enter it. I will never forget Helena’s pained piece of advice, “If you can picture yourself doing something else, please do it. The world needs creative and talented people everywhere. The theatre is only one place. Have a house, have a bed, have a life.”

After my Pre-College training ended, I stepped up my game by taking acting classes Saturday morning at Point Park, another Pittsburgh college with a respected performing arts program. Our teacher, Jackie McDaniel, was the wife of a well-known Pittsburgh actor, writer, and teacher. She herself brought drama programs to inner-city youth and I assisted her.

Jackie wanted us to know the truth about our decision so we were not surprised by how brutal our career choice was. While she had never done the New York grind, her husband Bill had. For a few years he had acted before deciding to return home, thus meeting Jackie in a show. The showmance turned into 30 years of marriage and 2 children, one a computer engineer and the other a missionary. Translated, not actors.

At the start of the class, because we were all shooting for the big name acting programs, Jackie handed us a print out of the employment statistics and income of a New York actor. To say this was grim was a complete understatement. Yes, it was a ten percent employment rate and a meager yearly income. In the next breath, Jackie told us big jobs were hard to get, and some producers would try to sleep with us. Jackie also made us lists other interests we could fall back on if acting were not to work out. “I want you to know the facts.” She said.

Then as some of the kids in our class, myself included, began to audition for the big name schools, many were rejected. Luckily I got into NYU, but did not get admission by two other name schools, one being Carnegie Mellon. I was happy about NYU because it had been my first choice. While CMU’s rejection stung, I had lived in Pittsburgh my entire life and wanted to see other parts of the world. However, others in my class didn’t share my fate. Many were turned down by all their first choice schools, and the letters of rejection came like a rainstorm. Jackie assured them that they could get an undergrad at a state school, train, and then an MFA from a top program. Still, in their meltdown as their dreams were being killed they didn’t want to hear this. With the same mix of tough love and caring, Jackie stated, “Much of your life will be rejection. Don’t cry, get used to it.”

One Saturday, Jackie had us do improv, aka silent scenes. The assignment was to be as if in a given situation. There was one girl in our class, Tiffany, who stomped and whistled at a local musical theatre program in town. She was given a dance scholarship to Michigan despite her impressively low SAT score, but dropped out of the program later because she didn’t get to spend enough time with her boyfriend.

Jackie instructed Tiffany to act as if she was a working actor in New York getting on an elevator. Tiffany entered the pretend elevator like anyone. Jackie then stopped her. Infuriated, Jackie screamed, “No! No! No! Stop. In New York, if you are a working actor you are like a God. Do you know how many terrible jobs you probably had to work before you got that role! Give it some confidence!”

Tiffany took the note and tried again. With her beautiful dancer body, she stood up like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Strutting like a high priced call girl, she entered the pretend elevator and pressed the button. Yeah, she was owning it. Tiffany had it. This was my dream, to be a working performer in New York. It was my dream to enter the elevator like a sexy beast. It was my dream to be that mythical creature of envy.

So it went. I completed my BFA at NYU. To support myself I got a job delivering singing telegrams. With the comedy, sometimes I would book headlining gigs but there is no money in standup. I paid my dues doing freebee shows in basements and bars. I got some paid puppet gigs and dinner theatre stuff, but the rest was freebee theatre and film work. Yes, in order to earn one’s wings you must first be slave labor.

Over time, I have also seen that Helena, Jackie, and my parents were not being cruel. Rather, they were giving me the God’s honest truth. This profession is brutal. Over the years, as Helena said, I have seen some of my peers squander their youth waiting tables. There have been times when I was on my way to deliver a singing telegram and an old friend from studio was there wiping the table top with their hard earned, very expensive BFA. Of course we said hi, and I relayed that I was working a day job as well. Wistfully, they reminded, “At least your day job is in performing.”

Sure, I had gotten lucky with that. When performing slowed, I was forced to flyer and do promos which sucked. Still, I had really lucked out. My boss has always been wonderful, letting me take off time to audition and film whatever television spot I might land. He has also recommended me for modelling and television opportunities as well, and even let me wear the captain’s jacket on a project regarding our company and my book. Not to mention my coworkers can be seen at any swing club singing or on television randomly themselves. We are all top notch at the outfit I work at.

Over time, I have been forced to deal with the terrible politics of my profession. There have been times I wished I was male, because then perhaps I would not have to work so hard. On other occasions, I have seen some talentless nitwits ascend to heights that both disturbed and puzzled me. Note, these talentless nitwits had a certain look and connections. I have seen fluzzies sleep their way to the middle, trying to make their career on their backs. Hell, I have had male promoters assert their gender over me, demanding I sleep with them in order to grace their shiteous stage. Or when success did come my way, there were male headliners who reminded me the only reason I got any success was because there was a woman needed for the spot, a shitty dig from a jealous person. Then there were women who spread rumors about these imaginary people I slept with. Add in two creative partners who tried to throw me under a bus and stab me in the back. Then chances where I almost got something big but it fell through, or momentum that got delayed and a domino effect of setbacks. I have lived through hell and eaten shit. Yes kids, I have paid my dues.

Now I know why Helena Sharpe was as intense as she was. She was beaten up, tired, and just brutalized beyond comprehension. Jackie had never done New York, but the horror stories form her husband and former students were so intense it made her never want to go.

However, this past year, my dream became a reality. I became a performer who worked consistently. Yes, I became that mythical beast everyone speaks about in New York. After a winter of questioning if I still wanted to do this, work came pouring in. Granted, technically I have always been a working performer through the telegrams. However, this was different. I was booking big stuff.

For starters, my DVD taping at a high profile cabaret venue was a success, and people brought my DVD including several fans in Europe and Australia. Now my DVD streams online. Around this time I also got a job as a talking head for a mobile device covering The World Cup. I had always wanted to do sports broadcasting so this fabulous opportunity was a gift. After which I got a hidden camera pilot where I made several awesome contacts and it paid my rent for most of July. Add in a puppet film that made the Top 200 in Project Greenlight. Then a photo shoot with a photographer from Hearst. My book signing was a success and sales skyrocketed. For nearly four months in a row, I didn’t have money troubles and rent paid itself. I was finally that mythical creature.

However, being a working performer means work. Being a mythical creature means a lot of running around, and it sucks when you can’t fly or teleport for real. The night of my DVD taping, I didn’t feel like a diva but rather someone who was overworked and who’s brain was exploding. After the event, I was so fried I couldn’t speak. Then when I headlined the theatre, the one show was small but the other was sold out. I found myself telling the producer how to do his job. Granted, I was right but now I felt less like a diva and more like a threadbare, overworked, angst ridden lonely woman who had sacrificed the better part of a decade. The film shoots meant early mornings, and weird sleeping schedules which led to some interesting encounters aka snapping at customers and staff at Amy’s Bread because I was so worn out. Then the other late nights and projects led to more hissy fits and feeling like I was run ragged. On top of that, I was stressed because I had worked forever for these opportunities and I didn't want to screw them up. So I started to have panic attacks that scared me. 

One day, I remember feeling so tired that I had nothing to give anyone, anywhere. My mother asked me if I was dating during a phone conversation. I exploded, “How the fuck am I supposed to do that! I have no time for myself!!!”

My schedule was stressful and wouldn’t let up. At the time, I was taking a graduate level writing seminar and wondered why the hell I had even signed up. While I enjoyed the class, I always felt like it was just one more thing I had to do. My mother always called me afterwards. Sometimes I would snap on the phone. Other times I just screamed. She asked me about the photo shoot with the man from Hearst, and if I was sure he wouldn’t kill me. Looking back, she was being a mother. I yelled in the middle of Duane Reade, “Mom, if he killed me I could sleep forever. My life is fucking demanding. Could I be so goddamn lucky!!!”

After that I walked into a tampon display. If that is not the definition of winning I don’t know what is. Either way, my schedule was starting to burn me out. I yelled into the phone as my boss called me for jobs. I wasn't mad, I was just that burnt out. Eating become optional, which was probably why some of my behavior was so off kilter. Coffee became a food group. This same behavior had burned me when I was nineteen, my first year of college. Yet here I was doing the same thing as I felt overwhelmed. I didn't like who I was becoming, and I was worried about the door I was opening as the panic attacks got worse and worse. While I still did well when I was called upon for a job, my screwed up state made it hard for me to leave the house. I thought I had left April the People Pleasing Neurotic at NYU freshmen year. She was back and working harder than ever. I felt in my gut I was not worthy of the work I booked, and somehow still had to work hard just to be on the same level as my cast mates. Nevermind I was booking the damn lead. 

My body constantly ached for no reason whatsoever. Exercising become near impossible as I always felt so wan, weak, and frail. My refrigerator broke, and rather than fix it, I kept food in the top part because it chilled my perishables to some extent. So when I did eat, I got very sick. I was too busy to have my appliance repaired, so I just kept getting sick. 

One evening, as things got bad, I was lying down on my stomach to sleep. My mattress felt uncomfortable so I readjusted it not once, not twice, but three times. Finally, I realized it wasnt the mattress. Going over to my mirror, I saw between my coffee diet, forgetting to eat, and getting ill when I did that I had lost so much weight my ribs were actually piercing my skin in my selected sleeping position! This is what I had always wanted, but now my dream had become my nightmare. Tired and feeling alone, I cried myself to sleep. 

Life got worse before it got better. I began to feel as if my performances were off, and blanked out during assignments because my brain was so tired. During a visit home, my mom told some old neighbors of mine from back home I was coming to a party. I yelled and screamed at her to the point of being abusive for making this decision without my consent. If anyone else would have spoken to my mother like this, I would have killed them. My mom told me to shut up, and informed me I could leave early. While these neighbors are great people that I adore, I fell asleep at dinner. My mother walked me home and put me to bed. 

The next day, my dad noticed the dark circles under my eyes. More often than not, I was distant like the Martin Sheen character in Apocalypse Now. My father, concerned, informed my mother I needed to rest. Did he think I was lying when I spoke about my schedule? I was a working performer. We didnt look like divas because we were working Goddamn it. I was one of the few, the proud, the gainfully employed stage performing and paid. Where was my metal?

Shortly after my meltdown at my family's house, I spoke to my mentor. A Broadway vet named Melina, she told me I needed to continue to rest and recommended I get educated on nutrition. She also suggested I get my refrigerator fixed. During our session, we discussed now it was okay to say no, and how the word yes was wonderful, but not when your dance card was overloaded. 

Things slowed down shortly thereafter. I took Melina's suggestion, educating myself on health and exercise. I consulted my trainer mother about what foods were best for someone with a stressful life, and filled my refrigerator with them. That is, after the thing got fixed. I also began to spend time with my friends, and realized that they liked me for me regardless of how my career was going. While it meant leaving my diva at the door, I hit open mics just to remember how it felt to have he sheer joy of making others laugh for the right reason. I wrote jokes. I dreamed new puppet characters. I drafted scripts. To feel inspired, I read plays and watched movies by genius directors with actors I loved. Once upon a time, I had done this as a teen in Pittsburgh. Yes, the same teen who dreamed of being a working performer. 

It got worse before it got better. When the phone stopped ringing, the panic that I would never work again set in. I wanted so desperately to go to the next level that every audition and writing packet submission had my bloody claw marks all over it. Then I realized that in my quest to prove to everyone that I could be a working performer, I had forgotten to be a person. In a career that demands I be a human, I had turned into a robot that kept going. The problem is, I am not a robot that can keep going. I am in fact a person. Working or not, despite popular belief, I was not a mythical creature at any point. I had worked so hard to prove myself to so many people, and in the end I was just becoming a crazy woman. 

However, things got better. One change I got was a commedia event where I worked with an ensemble who was all very good. There was no weak link amongst us. For the most part improv, it was amazing how well we all worked together. There was no stage hog, and everyone took turns with the spotlight and we supported each other. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I didn’t feel like the girl who had been on TV or the one who’s film was at a certain spot in the competition. I wasn’t obsessing over who was paying attention to me. I was onstage making people laugh and that’s all that mattered.

Once upon a time, that had been all that mattered in my journey. I got onstage because I liked to tell stories, entertain people. I wrote because I liked to tell my own stories. Then in my flashback, I saw poor Helena, who had been beaten by the eternally honest city I have come to call home. While she was happy as a professor and mother, all she ever got in New York was low/no wage theatre work. She would have died to switch places with me as a young woman. Jackie had been proud of me when I got admitted into NYU, and whenever she is asked she chirps about her student who went to New York, is on television, and is still there. Yes, I am doing all the things she had been so afraid to do. 

Many kids from my Pre-College program went running after that summer. They wanted lives, and conservatory training coupled with a job plagued with economic uncertainty was too much for them. Then my peers from my Saturday class at Point Park, aside from one who is on Broadway periodically with the voice of an angel, none are acting. Getting rejected from the big schools crushed their young spirits, and they didn’t want to sign on for a life that would continue to reduce their self-esteem.

As I realized that, I came to see being a working performer is not a chore or burden but rather a gift I am continually humbled by. This year in particular, I have been blessed to work with amazing casts and crews, and have a plethora of co-stars that I adore as artists and people. I wouldn’t want to trade them for anything.

My phone is ringing again. This past Friday I filmed some talking head commentary for a television show, and then filmed a movie Monday. My dad’s friend from high school is using I Came, I Saw, I Sang as a part of her book club. God willing, my phone will continue to ring. As the opportunities get bigger, I see my dream of performing at Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House with my puppet children becoming a reality. Of course, in there my manager needs some things from me and blah, blah, blah. Yes, I have one now. That was another gift of my hard work this summer.

As my workload increases, I will try not to run around like a crazy woman from one of those Netflix horror films. Instead, I will take care of my body, but most importantly, myself. This is not just for me, but everyone who dreams of being a working performer trying to earn their wings. Like Tiffany did once upon a time in our acting class exercise, I will own that working performer skin. I will own it everywhere I freaking go. Lord only knows I have earned it.

But before any diva strutting can be done, I must first get something to eat. Haven’t quite had that second meal of the day yet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Moonraker (Shirley Bassey)

Before he went ape shit, I had a friend named Pablo. Relax, he was a good dude before he went ape shit. How did he go ape shit? I’ll get to that. Anyway, I met Pablo through Dale and Joe. As usual, Dale had planned an event, and he invited everyone and their mother. Pablo was a guest, and he had known Dale’s friend Benedict from The Ball Scene. Benedict had known Chacho, and therefore we bonded. As I chatted with Benedict, he introduced me to Pablo. We then discovered Pablo also knew Joe from the art scene. The world is not that big I suppose.

Pablo originally hailed from Venezuela. However, his mother was Russian, hence his fair hair and other fair features. He had trained as an architect in his homeland, and had been somewhat successful. However, he had burned out on architecture and had been quite gifted visually. So when he moved to the US, he began work as a costume designer. Some of his past clients include Lady Gaga, Madonna, Nicole Kidman and anyone else in Hollywood. Not to mention he helped design some of the costumes on Broadway. Once, I went to the costume shop with Pablo before a dinner date at The Dish. Not only was the experience amazing, but he was so talented it blew me away.

Right away, I liked Pablo because it seemed he had more dimension than the Lost Boys and Lost Girls who flew about in our Peter Pan circle. Before coming to New York, he had been married in Venezuela. Pablo had always known he was gay, but he was part of the generation where that wasn’t an option, especially in the country where he was from. Gay, straight, you had to get married and that’s the way it went. However, Pablo eventually came out as his marriage was falling apart for reasons having to do with the fact he was gay. At the urging of Sophia Loren, Pablo remained good friends with his ex-wife and even helped her obtain passage to America. Not to mention he is a very dedicated father to his daughter, and loving grandfather to his grandson and granddaughter. When his daughter Angelica told her father she wanted to get married, Pablo objected. He told her to just live with her now husband, have children, and not get the government involved. Most fathers would object to their daughters living in sin and having children out of wedlock. Not Pablo…

One thing I loved about Pablo was his big heart. Usually, he was trying to help someone. Through Dale, Pablo became acquainted with our less than law abiding friend AJ. Before going to jail, AJ had been sentenced by the court to Haven House for drug treatment. There, his roommate was a kid by the name of Mohammed, or Mo for short. The disenfranchised and disinherited son of Jordanian royalty, Mo had gotten busted for cocaine. While he had girlfriends, and some very beautiful, Mo believed he might be gay now that he was sober. Mo tried to solicit AJ for sex, but AJ declined because he didn’t want to be the experiment for some straight boy.

After meeting Mo during a visit to AJ,  the two became pen pals. What Pablo didn’t know was his former jet setter friend had both a girlfriend and boyfriend in the drug treatment facility. Yes, Mo was dating a homo thug and a 50 year old ex stripper who had more work done than Lisa Rinna and less human skin than Joan Rivers when she was alive. So Mo saw the perfect target in Pablo and began to con him for all he was worth. In between jobs and barely able to pay his rent, Pablo began sending Mo money. He also bought him a cellphone and an internet hot spot. Yes, Mo was rolling Pablo like a barrel.

Disgusted at Mo’s behavior and how he was sucking my kind hearted friend dry, I confronted Pablo with my concerns. Pablo got indignant and refused to hear me. He explained he consulted his Tarot cards daily, and the spread he kept getting informed him that his current mission in life was to help Mo. I told Pablo the cards were wrong, and clearly he was being used by a spoiled brat who was opportunistically gay or straight depending on where he got the better deal. Pablo then continued to be resistant, explaining the cards helped him make all the decisions in his life and they had never been wrong. Yes, the big decisions that included moving to that discount house in East New York, dating a man who was heading up an internet scam, and now being ripped off by a manipulative trust funder. Yes, those very bad decisions. I didn’t know what was worse, the fact he believed so deeply in the Tarot or the fact he actually thought these decisions through before he made them.

As he chirped away about the power of the Tarot, Pablo revealed a psychic on the street had also alluded to Mo several years earlier. She said Pablo would help a man with dark hair and dark eyes. Pablo was elated when Mo matched the description. The scammer also informed Pablo the devil was after his soul, therefore he was having bad luck. Pablo took out $10,000 in bank loans so this woman could defeat the devil. Needless to say, he was $10,000 in the hole and his luck did not improve. Satan 1, Pablo 0.

I have worked as a reader, and I quit for one reason, the people who go to psychics. However, my mentor Kathy, a Roma woman who has been doing this for 10 generations, still reads people. I sent Pablo to Kathy, who is not only a skilled psychic but actually tries to help her clients for the greater good without swindling them. Kathy gently tried to tell Pablo that one should not read their own cards, because it would and could make a person crazy. Eager to get Pablo on track because he clearly lost his mind, she persuaded him to let his feelings, gut, and faith do the talking. Kathy also predicted Mo would turn on Pablo. Granted, it didn’t take a psychic to see, that. But we all felt it didn’t hurt for Pablo to hear it from yet another pair of lips.

While Pablo didn’t believe her, the fallout was bad. Mo tried to blackmail Pablo, and told anyone who listened that Pablo was trying to use Mo for his money. Meanwhile, Pablo had the stealth of Frankenstein. To boot, the workers at the rehab facility took no mercy on Pablo and laughed at him when he revealed what happened. Again, no crystal ball needed.

Soon after the Mo disaster, Pablo began to take a series of classes in consciousness reaching. He sent me a link describing the curriculum, and the concept seemed promising. Pablo spoke at length about how his Tuesday evening class changed his life. For the longest time, Pablo dreamed of opening his own costume shop and getting away from his deranged alcoholic boss. Now with the help of his classes this dream might become a reality. Perhaps my friend had found something after all. When he talked about his new found educational endeavor, he seemed to make sense for a minute.

A minute......                                                                                                                                                              
As Pablo progressed into the consciousness reaching program, his overall manner changed. Before, Pablo had a variety of thoughts and feelings. Now he was a wide eyed, smiley, warm and fuzzy, one note automaton. Pablo believed consciousness reaching held the key to existence and the future. As he spoke, my skin began to crawl. Pablo began to sound vaguely like the founder of Heaven’s Gate, the leader of the Kool-Aid drinking space ship suicide pact sect. I still remembered that man as a child from newscasts. Now his likeness was staring at me.

Pablo chirped about not only consciousness reaching, but expanding his mind and astral projection. He claimed now that he had reached the “new evolution” he was capable of anything. Pablo explained before he had been a victim. Several years previous he had been gay bashed in a deli by rowdy teens. Bruised and bloodied, he had gone to the police. The people in this consciousness reaching class explained that his mistake was going to the police and disrupting the lives of these young men. He should have not complained and kept going. As Pablo explained, “There is no good, there is no bad, there is only existence.”

My mouth hung open. Pablo had lost his fucking mind for real this time. Then Pablo explained that I needed to attend a class with him, and that it would change my life. I asked Pablo how much the classes were, because I was curious. He said $500 a semester. I pointed out to Pablo that I was too broke for such a thing. Pablo explained, “If you visualize the money, it will appear.”

Meanwhile, Pablo was living off unemployment in between jobs. Plus he was still paying off the bank debt from his psychic friend debacle, and Mo had put him in the hole as well. Currently unable to pay his rent, he had to bargain with his landlord not to be evicted. As I sat there shocked at the anti-logic, he attempted to coax me again. Then it hit me, my buddy Pablo had wandered into a new aged cult.

My mind exploded and my heart broke at the same time. I had grown up around cults, and knew exactly how they operated, and Pablo was the perfect target. Yes, I can still see the mega church, it’s monolithic structure. I still remember how people joined, and were told they couldn’t talk to others unless they were “Christians” aka members of this church. When questioned about their beliefs, they were defensive and explosive. Members were forced to give a third of their yearly income to support the organization, and if they would not and could not contribute they were ex-communicated. 

Additionally, their youth group encouraged it’s members to bring children not associated with the church. If so many new members joined at the end of the month, there would be a pizza party.  

Determined to take over the town, this same church stated an in-school youth group. They claimed it was only a Bible Study in the summer. Each child in my family was approached by a member at one time or another with a mission to save our heathen brood and bring us to Jesus. The student leader would gather others in the group around the flag pole each morning and lead a prayer circle. There were promise rings and interjecting of Jesus and doctrine in class arguments. 

Their adult leader, a man named CT wandered our cafeteria looking for fresh blood. Half way through high school, we got a new principal who was creeped out by CT and his Children of the Corn. He had the Pied Piper expelled from the cafeteria. The principal was correct to be suspicious. Shortly thereafter, CT was arrested and convicted of molesting children. Touching and healing in the name of Jesus, I know.

My instincts were dead on. I Googled the group Pablo belonged to. Others who had left the organization wrote about their experiences, and claimed that yes, this was in fact a cult. During their seminars, no one was allowed coffee, cigarettes, or cellphones. They claimed the coffee and cigarettes were mind altering. Translated, it was their job to screw you up. Oh, and the contact with the outside world would connect you with friends and family members who would scream, “Are you out of your fucking mind!”

Classes in consciousness reaching could be as many as 12 hours. Some teachers did not even allow for water and bathroom breaks because it delayed and interrupted the process. Then I found out the founder was living in France as a fugitive. During one seminar, a woman who was a diabetic was denied her insulin because it was “mind altering” and “interrupted” her consciousness reaching. She went into shock and died. Oh, and this Messiah also embezzled his own organization for a few million so he and some babes could eat and drink all day on a tropical island. Then again, we all reach a whole new level of consciousness when we are getting a lap dance by a Penthouse Pet and slipping $20s in her G-String.

Pablo had made some shit decisions before, but this loaded cow pie took the cake. Yes, he had joined a Jim Jones like cult, and I worried he would be forced to go to a Jonestown. Not even L. Ron Hubbard was as creative as these assholes and he wrote science fiction. That is when I decided I had to put a stop to this.

I went to my friend Dale, both with my suspicions but also for backup. Like myself, Dale has had close and personal experience with cults. While I grew up on the periphery, Dale had grown up in an actual Waco-like compound. Yes, Dale was a cult child. His parents joined a sect that separated from the Catholic Church. Started by an ex-nun who believed she was The Virgin Mary reincarnated, she claimed to meditate and God sent her orders. Due to this connection with The Holy Spirit, she claimed all should obey her. Women were not allowed to wear makeup, men were not allowed to shave, and children had to attend church 3 times a day as to prevent promiscuity, drug addiction, and homosexuality. 

When Dale was 15, he ran away from the cult during a church service and became a street kid in LA. He already knew he was gay, and in order to support himself he escorted. In order to deal with his life he did drugs. Looks like the 3 church services a day backfired on The Virgin Mary reincarnated.

Dale confirmed my findings, but assured me an intervention, no matter how well intended, would fail. “You need to let him see these people for who they are.” Dale explained. We both agreed this was only going to end badly.

As time went on Pablo was promoted from passenger on the crazy train to conductor. Pablo continually tried to convert myself or anyone else he met, and preached the importance of consciousness reaching. With a wide eyed enthusiasm of someone being fitted for a straight jacket, Pablo explained because of these seminars he had the ability to expand his mind, read the minds of others, predict the future, and he even knew the day the world was ending. Pablo also confided in me that he was learning to use his powers to teleport and levitate. When I called balderdash, Pablo explained the leader of the group claimed levitation was possible. The worst thing was, my friend was not only serious but sober as a judge.

Pablo informed me of the date of the world’s end, and how we would lose our power. At the time, I had just written my book. Pablo apologized for not buying a copy. He told me he knew I was a good writer, but if the world ended he might be dead and therefore would have no use for reading material. I had no words for that other than, “Good luck with the end of the world. See you on the other side, Pal.”

So Pablo invested in about 300 jugs of water. He also build a shelter out of firewood in the court yard of his apartment building, a fortification for the fire storm that was to come. Pablo explained while he might be taken, he would not be destroyed but go to the next level and evolve. He then explained to me that the only way I could join him was to start attending weekly class. I declined. The world did not end, and Pablo was stuck with 300 big jugs of water.

Several weeks after the end of the world failed like I a quadruple amputee climbing Mount Everest, I got a call from Pablo. Attending an advanced consciousness reaching seminar, he informed me he had been  “inauthentic” with me. Pablo read me the letter explaining he had behaved this way because he felt I was “crazy.” It was a look who’s talking kind of moment. My friend was gone, and the gravity of the situation was worse than many of us had suspected. He was on the spaceship headed to a nonexistent astral plain. However, underneath was still my buddy, the one I had long talks at The Dish with. Yes, the one who told me to call my mother so she wouldn’t worry because he was a parent. The one who designed costumes and made the world beautiful. I loved that person, and not the brainwashed creature he had become. So I told him I loved him and it didn’t matter.

Then I hung up the phone and stared into space for about a minute with the nagging question of “What the fuck just happened?”

Pablo soon became promoted to Director of Education, and started to recruit everyone in our circle with increased zeal. The pitch for membership had failed on Dale and I, but some of our other friends weren’t so lucky.

One was Rodney, who is an intelligent fellow with a degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon. Rodney went to a consciousness reaching class because Pablo had spoken so highly of it. No to mention he was at a crossroads with his life, and thought this might give him what he needed. When Rodney went, they tried to recruit him for more classes. Reluctantly, Rodney signed up. Before his session, a cult representative called him and tried to get him to sign up for a complete package explaining it was the only way he could reach the new evolution. Rodney explained the seminar made him feel good, but he also had a hunch there was something terribly wrong with this group of people. That is, especially since they assured him that he was wrong for mourning his grandmother’s recent passing from cancer.

Their words, “A body is just a body, and death is just death. She went to the new evolution. Don’t be sad. She is evolving on another plain.”

Then Pablo talked my two friends, Brian and Olivio, a gay couple who has been together forever, into attending the seminars. While not gullible, both are open minded. Within seconds of entrance, both described having an eerie feeling and left. However, somehow this cult obtained their contact info, and was calling my buddies multiple times a day in order to sell them classes. When they failed to pick up the phone, these people would call under another number. To say Brad and Olivio were spooked out is the understatement of the year.

After a lengthy vacation from Pablo, I saw him at a get together our friend Jason was having. A satellite in Dale’s circle, Jason has a normal office job and is not involved with the art, party planning, or music world. At first when I saw Pablo, he sounded better than he had in a while. He mentioned he had gotten a new design job, and actually liked this boss. Pablo had also lost weight and joined the gym. Perhaps he had left the cult too. Maybe I had my friend back.

No such luck. As we spoke, we both revealed that we realized the anniversary of our dear friend Joe's passing was approaching and we admitted we were both thinking of him quite a bit. Pablo admitted he had been dreaming about our departed comrade, and we reminisced about the good times we had with him. 

Then in the next sentence Pablo said, “You have been thinking a lot about Joe because he is getting ready to transport you to the next level of consciousness. Do you feel dizzy lately? It’s because Joe is expanding your mind. This was revealed to me in the last seminar.” At that moment, I knew I had to cut Pablo out of my life on a permanent basis. While I loved him, I didn't love what he had become. This was farther out there than the rings of Saturn. 

When I disassociated with him, most of our friends followed suite. Either he was trying to recruit them to have their consciousness reached and expanded and it weirded them out, or they were tired of hearing about the latest cult teachings. If that wasn’t the case, Pablo’s terrible decisions based on cult teaching or Tarot Card readings left his support network of friends tired and drained from his hair brained antics. So after he declared he reached the rank of Metaphysical Wizard on social media, the last remaining members that still spoke to him backed away appalled and frightened.

I received no updates on Pablo until yesterday. Brian and Olivio called me and told me our favorite conscious reaching and mind expanding guru had turned up on their doorstep puking his guts out. Apparently one of his fellow cultists convinced him a mixture of acid, crystal meth, and mescaline would help him reach a whole new layer of evolution. This cultist explained these drugs were not meant to be abused but simply to get in touch with the deeper meaning. Well, Pablo’s body didn’t get the memo, and Brian and Olivio were forced to take him to the ER. As the staff gave him his much needed straight jacket, Pablo screamed he was a Metaphysical Wizard and could levitate and teleport. He yelled, “No Earthly matter can tether me!”

As this information was revealed, I was rather aghast and disappointed to say the least. I told Brian and Olivio that Pablo was so trusting and kind. Fed up, Brian snapped, “No, he’s a freaking goon and a gullible one at that.”

I told Brian I had not wanted to say that. To which Brian said, “April, we need to call a spade a spade, and when we lose that ability we are fucked.”

This latest development in the life of my cowder headed compatriot upset me and shook me for the rest of the day. Especially in the next breath when they revealed Pablo had been urged by the cult leader not to pay rent, but to actualize his existence instead. They informed him rent and money were material things and he was bigger than that. Housing Court of New York City had yet to encounter consciousness reaching, mind expanding, and new evolution. Translated, they evicted him.

Later, that evening, I saw my friend Wade and told him what happened. Wade is a former Ford model who is as beautiful as he is wise and kind.

He said it best, “When will people stop paying for God? Why don’t they take a look, take a breath, and realize that He is right here all around us?”

My friends are committed. They have been committed to me in times of disaster, and when they make a bad decision, they are committed to that disaster as well. Then there are times that they should be committed. I believe Pablo is enjoying the cuisine of the psych ward as we speak.

Recently a perspective suitor read my blogs and ran like he saw Godzilla. Sure, my friends go to jail and my friends join new aged cults. They can be dunces. But they are my dunces and when they fuck up, they go big. There is something to be said for that. It makes us all real. It gives us all humility. Best part of all, even at his worst, Pablo still had my best interest in mind. Like the rest of my friends, even as he is being led away screaming on a gurney in a psych hospital, he's true blue. 

So when Pablo is out of his straight jacket and decides to return to Earth, I will be right here waiting with an ice cream sundae we can split at The Dish like old times.