Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Privileged Asshole

No, not the governor. Well, not just the governor, but all of us Amer'cans with our dainty toiletries:
The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public's insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.

"This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

"Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution." Making toilet paper has a significant impact because of chemicals used in pulp manufacture and cutting down forests.

Personally, I'm not too crazy about future generations looking back and passing judgment on the way I wipe my ass, so I intend to climb onto this nappy-wagon and do my bit. Besides, I like it rough. I prefer my ass to be rubbed a little raw. That way, I have the feeling the job's getting done right.

Just keep me away from those narrow thin rolls like you find in some of the public johns. That stuff's too tiny for my mitts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Since he's a way better Catholic than you or I, I expect to see Piyush in line for his ashes today. He has so much to to be sorry for.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One Quick Note Before Bed

Stayed in tonight and watched the Oscars. Kind of enjoyed it. A few thoughts.
  • Hugh Jackman should always be photographed full length. He looks good in medium shot and close-up, but why waste those on a dude who can stand on his own two legs way high above his own two feet the way that Jackman can?
  • I liked the way the acting awards were presented, like some star-chamber affair in which five previous winners each took turns defending and praising the talents of a particular nominee before finally naming one who had earned the right to advance to the next evolutionary stage of stardom. The women did it better than the men, but then, being women, and of a certain age - and their careers now being nil - I suppose they could afford to be gracious.
  • Speaking of gracious, the acceptance speeches were, except for maybe the one Kate Winslet gave. She was clearly so hungry for that Oscar, she practically ate it whole with her Julie Andrews teeth right there in front of Meryl Streep.
  • Bobby doesn't believe there was ever a movie called Slumdog Millionaire. He thinks it's all made up and that the whole Oscar ceremony was done in secret while this phony ceremony was being broadcast to the world and that the real big winners were Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon, but it would have been too politically incorrect for the members of the Academy to show themselves giving those guys the Oscars since a new Third-World cabal is inexorably swallowing up the old Jewish one that once ran Hollywood.
Time now for bed.

Oh, but first this little prayer.

Please, God, for once - just once - one day before I die, let me find myself in a room alone with Sophia Loren and let me get to hold her for a minute - just a minute - for an hour, maybe. Just let me put my arms around her and hold her once - or maybe twice - before I die. Did you see her there tonight, all full and round and so Italian? Standing on that stage with her right hand slung up on her right, child-bearing hip the whole time? Saucy pagan!

Damn.

Well, now good night ... I mean, Amen.

Do Not Try This at Home

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On the Street

Bobby decided we should go out today to catch a little of that elusive Mardi Gras spirit. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of it to be found, but we did come across these images: a stucco wall with shadows draped across it, a paint-chipped window shutter, and a wrought-iron gate.



Friday, February 20, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Zulu House, Or I Hope It's Enough

Around the block from me, these two guys, Levi and Lincoln, costumed their house for Mardi Gras as a Zulu float. They're getting a lot of local press coverage for it. These photos show my take on it.




Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Sign of the Times

A new boutique just opened across the street from me, a boutique for the post-Apololypctic, survivalist set. It's really cool.

I spent a little time in there yesterday, checking out the goods. They really seem to have everything we'll need to deal with the next hurricane, not to mention dealing with the potential disturbances on the street one might expect to encounter at any time of the day or night.

For instance, during my short time there, I saw packets of Mylar blankets, little vials of some kind of chemical you can drop into standing flood water (or your urine) to purify it for drinking, collapsible water jugs you can carry in your back pocket while searching for some of that standing water (or to collect your urine). They also have plastic ponchos to drop over your head during heavy rains. Lots of lip balm, and coils you can burn to kill mosquitoes.

Their streetwear collection is something to behold: Lots of cammo, of course, but also every imaginable kind and size of knife, from the oversized Bowie to a tiny penknife which is actually disguised to look like a pen. They've got your basic stun guns and tasers. They sell a little cat-face thingy whose eyes you can put your two fingers through so you can swing them and punch the sharpened metal ears into somebody else's eyes.

They have a selection of police batons in different sizes. Soon they expect an order of elctricized batons so that you can not only knock some little motherfuker's knee joints out of place but gleefully watch him drop to the ground, writhing in convulsions as his gun goes flying into the street.

None of this is illegal in New Orleans to own or to carry, the helpful wait-staff informed me, as long as you carry it visibly upon your person. They also have a policy of refusing to provide service to anyone they deem unsuitable to possess these items.

Me? I want one of everything!

Monday, February 16, 2009

One Month Down, One to Go

We'll be opening The Glass Menagerie a month from this week, and my fears are already settling in. I know what you're thinking. Jeez, we've gone through this with every one of the dude's other shows, when's he gonna pack it in and just get on with it?

Well, this is my blog, isn't it?

So, anyway, we open in a month, and I'm feeling helpless. We've been rehearsing for the last few weeks in a crazy-quilt fashion, grabbing spaces when and where they might be available. But no two spaces can ever be the same, so we face a recurring sense of readjustment every time we try to walk through this thing. The actors have no way of knowing how many steps it's going to take them to get to where they want to go, and that way madness lies.

The two people I have always been able to count on for basic technical stuff have not been around, one being involved with his balls (Carnival, that is) and the other being incapacitated with a right eye that keeps going in and out of focus. I will have to manage buying fabric to block the wings of the stage on my own, and this means turning myself into a bargain-shopping queen, which is something I never was. And who's going to sew those things? Don't look at me.

I do not yet have a suitable glass unicorn whose horn we can break at every performance (I have a hard rubber one that isn't quite right, but may have to do.) We still need little side tables to hold all the other glass baubles. It ain't called Menagerie for nothing.

We can have two more rehearsals this week before having to break until after Mardi Gras because all four cast members live away from downtown, making it impossible for them to get though and past the parades that begin in earnest Wednesday night.

Whatever happened to self-sacrifice? It's art, for cryin' out loud.

Oh, well, this angst is probably pointless since probably no one will come to see the play. After all, there are no jazz hands(!) in The Glass Menagerie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Getting Over Teh Gross

And I am. I mean over it. Last night, I found myself watching some inane entertainment show to pass the time until Ghost Whisperer came on, and I'm eating Chinese, right?

What do you think this entertainment show does but flash a story about how Octo-mom's church, in direct contradiction to what her Media Madam has been spouting off about them, doesn't have a clue who she is and is certainly not in the process of mobilizing its congregation to rush on over to her house to build any add-on rooms for her litter, baby-sit them, and basically raise all 14 of her blessed events so she can have the free time it takes to run around the country trying to become a multi-millionaire tabloid star?

That was okay, I guess, but during the story did they have to keep splashing a snapshot of her exhibiting what someone on the internets has already referred to as that "clown car of a uterus"? Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, nude and pregnant, in a photograph shot by Annie Leibovitz, was beautiful and sexy. Angelina-wannabe, looking like some cracker state patrolman from the 1950's, was neither.

Can you imagine what this did to my Egg Foo Young?

And as if that weren't enough, this morning, I come across this unspell-checked and ungrammatical Craigslist missive with is non-sequitor postscript:


People, stop sharing. Or, better yet, get help. Then, if you must, you can share this crap (sorry) with your analysts and leave the rest of us alone.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Scampering Down the Family Tree

I recently came across some old photos of a few of my ancestors. I present them here for your edification.

Bigezbearlopithecus afarensis (3.7 million years ago)
On my mother's side

Bigezbear homilis (2.2 million years ago)

Bigezbear erectus (1.8 million years ago)
Exhibiting early evidence of a gene still prominent today
Lookin' good

Bigezbear heidelbergensis (500,000 years ago)
Studly great-great...great grand-daddy in late adolescence

You might be able to find some of your own ancestors here.

Theatre History - Postmortem

After I had put the period to my reminiscences of my theatrical beginnings, my old friend Dave and I rehashed what I'd written:

Dave:
Beautifully done, I'd say. And how do you feel now? Thank you for sharing the story.

There's a story I've been wanting to share with you, but I've been waiting for your conclusion, and voila! it actually fits here.

During all the years working as a waiter, the work was boring and tedious and generally unrewarding. At some point fairly early on, I thought about what it would be like to be an actor in a long-running Broadway show, where you have to generate it from nothing, every single night, and to somehow develop that capacity of doing that - and bring it to being a waiter.

So I'd pretend that the Employee Entrance was a Stage Door, and when I hit the door I was the star of a long-running Broadway show. Like any great star, it was my job to generate the energy for the whole show, and to make all of the other players around me stars as well. Overall, in my own assessment, it worked.

On one hand, I guess it's kinda pathetic, but it got me through, and the guests got a much higher level of service than they would have otherwise, and it's a capacity which has served me well in other situations.

There's another chapter to this narration where I imagined what it would be like to be a Geisha and to develop and perfect all the gestures and mannerisms such that they seem to the viewer as completely spontaneous, but that's for another time....

Me:
How do I feel now? I feel sated.

Your job as a waiter is not dissimilar to how I got though most of my low days. I suppose that's how I managed to live as a functioning depressive!

And speaking of geishas, I once had to play a Japanese host serving tea to an American while telling stories. It was positively Zen.

PS - What's next?

Dave:
"What's next?" indeed. After you've berated me for coaxing this much out of you?

Do you think I can't come up with more inquiry? Just give this a little time to stew.

I read a blog post a few weeks back where you made a comment about how in your life you don't remember having made any significant contribution, or something to that effect. I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now.

My theory is that you can't be who you are and not have made a significant contribution to many people along the way. It's all a question of context. Actors are healers, and if they never set foot onstage, they heal wherever they go. As a director now, your job is to unlock the healing powers of others. The play and the stage are just the access. Or so I theorize.

I'm sure I'll have something for you soon.

Me:
I may surprise you with what I'm about to say. Maybe not.

Some of what I write is coy. I know that. I don't recall the context of the passage about my doubts of having made a contribution, but it may fit this pattern.

As for what you say about actors, I agree with that. I believe it to be true of all of us who allow ourselves to go beyond ourselves to give of ourselves to others. Have you read The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen or Servant Leadership? What about The Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila?

Wait. I'm losing it. It's late, and I just got out of a rehearsal, so I'm punchy.

Dave:
No, it does not surprise me that some of what you write is coy. ...

New question: who have been your mentors?

Me:
I'm hurt - hurt, I tell you - that you would say it doesn't surprise you that some of what I write is coy.

Or is that just me being coy again?

Your newest question brought me up short. I honestly don't believe I had any mentors. Or am I misunderstanding the question?

Are we talking about people I could turn to for personal counsel or people I may have admired and in whom I found things to emulate?

Dave:
Who among us doesn't withhold enough to create some aura of mystery? That's what theatre is.

You actually just answered my question about mentors. I had a hunch that you were pretty much self-taught as an actor, only because our backgrounds are similar and there aren't a lot of accomplished acting coaches in Acadiana. You had to invent the tools and techniques you needed to fulfill your desire to perform.

I was kinda wondering if the lack of a mentor/coach impacted the outcome of your career, but I'm really pushing the envelope on that one.

Me:
I have no doubt that my lack of a mentor contributed to my decision to play it safe and avoid the "Big Time" [Jazz Hands]. I lived in an artistic vacuum, never knowing if what I was doing had any any claim to validation. How the hell did I come to be, growing up where and when I did? I was a freak.

After all, I never had the jargon. Or, like the Scarecrow, I lacked the proper degree.

Even now, directing, if I ask an actor to pause a moment, he may shoot back and say, "You mean to take a beat?"

Actually, no. I mean to pause. A "pause" implies forward motion from one moment or action to the next. A beat is something you get from a metronome.

So, yeah, I'm still that loner trying to find a way. But, at least, nowadays, I'm old enough not to care so much about the trappings and the buzz words.

Besides, I've come across an actor or two who can respond to my little way.

I hope.
Later, we took up the theme again.

Dave:
Just some random thoughts about your account of your "acting career."

Thanks for the candor and thoughtfulness.

I didn't want to lead you into any discourse, but you illustrated something I've been contemplating in my own life and its implication for the future.

I call it (for lack of more accurate terminology) "Killing the result." It's about arriving at the threshold of something you've worked for and/or dreamed of, and seeing that you don't want it after all.

In a world where "everything is possible" (which is probably accurate) when we have our dreams within reach they seem to lose their allure. I think the most apparent reaction is, "I don't really want it," but there are correlated conversations, such as, "I don't really belong in that world" and some financial concerns, like I'll starve if I pursue that goal.

Nobody warns you about this happening.

Does any of this make sense at all?

Me:
It makes perfect sense. Add one more, though: Wanting the core, the essence, but not the trappings.

Dave:
Precisely! As my mother is so fond of saying, "I don't care for all that, me." ...

I wonder if we're culturally averse to fame and fortune.

Personally, I love all that, me.

Me:
That's funny.

I think, for myself, I probably never wanted the fame. And, as for fortune, well, I have a decent retirement pension that carries me from the beginning to the end of the month.

I kind of like being that strange old man at the back of the house at all those performances - who could he be?

Dave:
See I think that there's an intrinsic shyness about you that you've never copped to, at least publicly. Like most actors I know.

Me:
How should I have "copped to" it? I always thought it was pretty obvious.

I will "cop to" feeling weird (neglected, dejected?) after a performance when audience members rush the actors, often knocking me aside, to gush over them. If they know who I am, the have no idea what I do.

After all, don't all actors spring forth from the froth like Venus on the half-shell?

Dave:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWyCCJ6B2WE

Me:
You're still an evil little man, Dave ...

Dave:
I work at it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fat Men Have Moves

Early last evening, I'm making my way home from a just-canceled rehearsal (don't ask), and I'm about three feet from the gate to my building as I approach two guys with bicycles on the sidewalk.

The one further from the street is holding onto his bike while he leans against a building. He's tall, dressed raggedy in greasy clothes, with long, dirty brown dreadlocks hanging past his shoulders. His buddy is short and also greasy and raggedy but with a buzz cut. He is releasing the chain lock from his bicycle nearer the street.

Behind me is another person, walking hard and fast to pass me by.

Just as I reach the cyclists, shorter guy swings his bike over to form a V with big guy's bike. I'm in between. As I stop, fast walker swings around the outside of the barricade and keeps on walking.

I stand still and look at the two guys.

Shorter guy says, "Sorry," and moves his bike to let me pass.

As I reach my gate, bigger guy says in a deep, maximum-security-prison voice, "You had plenty of room."

In that instant, I realized I had two options available to me.

One, I could totally Bale-out on his ass or ...

Two, I could stop and turn and say in a reasonable manner, "I'm sorry, sir, we seem to be having a misunderstanding. When I stopped between you and your young friend, I did not mean to imply that either one of you was inconsiderate or ill-mannered. I was simply pausing to allow you the chance to either continue your conversation or decide on your next plan of action, whether it be to stand there unmoving for the next ten minutes or so or to turn on your heels and drop-kick me to the ground, beat me senseless, take what little cash I had on me along with my ID and bank cards, as well as, gosh, the keys to my building. With those keys, of course, you could have gotten into my apartment, slaughtered Bobby and made off with whatever semi-valuable objects you could manage to carry off on your bicycles. No, no, no, I simply meant to extend you the courtesy a gentleman is taught to extend to others. I certainly meant no offense."

I said a moment ago I had two options. Actually, I had three.

My remaining option was to open my gate, swiftly rush in, and swing it shut behind me before running like a girl back to my apartment and the safety it provides.

And so I am here this morning to log this post.

Hell, people, this is New Orleans!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Theatre History, Part 6

Gradually, through college, summer stock, a turn in New York, hoping for a break, and final settlement in New Orleans, the obstacles to my ever becoming a working actor began to solidify and assume concrete shapes:
  • Although I loved rehearsing, I became bored with performances. It would take me another ten years or so to figure out the illusion of the first time and how to keep things interesting to myself by bringing the kind of day I'd just had onstage with me.
  • The constant mystery why, when some people saw striking beauty in what I might do onstage, others would remain unimpressed and unmoved.
  • The realization that a life as a working actor would mean constant renewal; auditions; rejections; a run which, if successful, would seem never to end; the resulting limitations and strictures on the number and the range of roles I'd be available to assume.
No, I needed and desired security, structure, a roof, and lots and lots of meals, a normal life, a job, a partner, and friends to share my pleasures with. I needed to eliminate hurtful, negative people from my associates.

Eventually, I ended a run and didn't audition for the next big thing, or the one after that, and I simply never came back again for more. My job began to require more attention from me as I began to advance up the ladder of a career I had stumbled upon. I had never conceived of having a career when I was young. A job was just that. A career implied devotion, care, an ability to dot and cross one's i's and t's. These things demanded concentration and a willingness to surrender time. And I did enjoy my career, I loved it.

Because, at some point during my years away from acting, I had made the discovery that I was, in fact, an actor, and that was, in fact, what I was doing, every day, every week, every month, every year. That was what I was and, what I ultimately, in my solar plexus, am.

Now I direct plays, but I am an actor's director. Now that I am older and, therefore, younger than I was when I was younger and so old so many years ago, I have been granted my fondest wish: the company of actors.

Nothing could be more joyous.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Theatre History, Part 5

As I began to acclimate and settle in to the Burke Hall Theatre experience at USL, I also began to make friends with people who seemed to hold ideals similar to mine. We would roam together in packs, comfort one another and encourage ourselves to keep faith in those things we believed in.

I began to recognize and codify the types of people who gravitated to our little world.

First and foremost were the Stars, people who lived to walk across a stage and sit upon a platformed throne so others could watch them admiringly and admiringly listen to the timbre of their voices. They established a contract with their audiences that read, "In consideration of your attention and approval of me, I will allow you the right to admire me for the duration of said attention and approval; no further compensation under the terms of this agreement/contract shall be stated, implied, or required."

There were the Mickeys and the Judys who wanted nothing more than to - gosh! - put on a show. The show, of course, must be fast and funny with none of that mental-process stuff rattling around in their technicolor brains. Theirs was a theatre of freewheeling insouciance without cares, concerns, thought, or calls to grow and change.

Then there were those I would call the Empathics, people who would have seemed shadowy, apart, quiet, and watchful. These people acted because they were meant to act. They had to act. Acting was their means of reaching out, of speaking, of being understood. They were the shape-shifters, the chameleons. They existed to inhabit creatures, characters, other than themselves. I was, by my nature, one of these. The other ones affected me like vampires, draining my energy, leaving me exhausted, smothered, and as weak and in pain as if I'd drunk poison.

I've wondered recently if we weren't all narcissists, and I think now, yes, we were. The Theatre Department at USL, like every other place in the world of the Arts, was a place of many little ponds, each pond graced by the presence of its own Narcissus gazing down upon its surface. But there are many types of narcissists. If you were to walk around this place of many ponds, you would find variations in the gazes of those figures lounging at the edges. While this one might be complacently regarding his own reflection in the water, and that one might be laughing at the slight distortions made by the ripples lapping across the surface, there would be another one staring, not at the water's surface layer, but into the pond itself, striving to see what it was that stirred within the darkness deep below. This was the Narcissus that risked the danger of slipping in.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Intermission

I've been rereading these Theatrical History passages I've written, and I believe I need to take a step back. I need to recollect the reason for my having written them.

My friend from my old college days asked some days ago: What happened to me to keep me from achieving the promise some people ascribed to me in my youth? What was it that kept me from claiming some legacy that was manifest to them?

I think I know, or, at least, I think I might be near to understanding why I turned my back on dreams that may, or may not, have been mine, but were held close and dear by some others.

In order to proceed, I will have to redefine those two words, "failure" and "success", in terms that will have a reverberant meaning to the life I have chosen to live.

Theatre History, Part 4

As much as I desired transcendence in acting, at USL the faculty was determined to keep its students' feet on the ground and and bogged in mud. None of that arty-farty mumbo-jumbo for us. For us, it was pacing, projection, articulation, memorization, blocking, and obedience to the director's whim.

In Mother Courage, I made the mistake early on of asking for an explanation of a cross from UR to DL (that's Up Right and Down Left), and Dr. P, the director, rushed from his place in the auditorium to the apron of the stage and shouted that I was to do what he had told me to do because he had told me to do it, and let him make it clear he would brook no insolence from the likes of me. He had earned his Ph.D., and I, of course, had not!

I was a very young eighteen-year-old, sheltered throughout those years, and now unprotected for the first time in my life. I knew in that instant that I would never make that same mistake again. But how to save face, how to go on, how to cope?

I reasoned then that since I had a certain intelligence, I would figure things out for myself. I would continue reading the forbidden canon of books on acting theory and build my parts in solitude. I had lived a secret life for so long, it was an easy choice for me to make. Self-expression in a small Louisiana town back then was not an easy thing to do, better to live in one's mind, dream, and wait. Back then, I'd only encountered people remotely like myself during those few years at the seminary in Ohio. Down here, I didn't yet know if there might be others like me.

So I shut my trap and learned my blocking. I was familiar, and perfectly comfortable, with the odd psychic split that occurs in actors when they are performing and, at the same time, observing themselves from the back of the house. I'd done that all my life. It was simply me. From "out there", I began to see the pictorial value in the blocking. From "inside", I discovered reasons for the action.

I learned my lines. There was a standard way of doing this at USL, as well. Periodically, Dr. P would sit us all down for a speed read. I found this useful, though I noticed it carried its own danger, as it was possible to set the phrasing of the dialogue in implacable rhythms that would never vary.

I learned to pick up cues. That seems so funny now, but it was an important element Dr. P drilled into us.

And I learned to fix any mistake that might occur onstage right then and there and then go on.

None of these lessons was wrong. I needed to learn them, and I don't regret having had to endure the process, but that process only fostered my loner existence. I had so wanted to belong to a group of other people like myself, to share myself with them and they with me, but, no, that was not to be. It was still necessary that I stay quiet and keep my thoughts to myself.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Theatre History, Part 3

My college days were glory days for me. Away from my family, I was feeling my own charisma. Back then, if anyone even knew me in my hometown, they knew me as Joe and Mary's son or Russell and Jimmy's brother (in fact, at my father's funeral some years later, there were people who came who were startled to discover there were three sons and that I was not an interloper just there for the doughnuts). At the seminary, I had first experienced the strangeness of being me. Now, I was learning to deal with the me I was becoming.

Don't let me sound as though I were a BMOC. I don't believe I was, although David, my friend - who instigated this search into my past - might disagree since he was looking from the outside. I don't believe I ever was. I think I was more like a toddler discovering my world. And I liked it a lot.

But not everything was rosy at Burke Hall. I had expected college to be a portal to the performance of Important Works. The time was certainly right for it, the late sixties/early seventies.

Experimentation was exploding across the stages.

Tom O'Horgan had hurled hippies onto the New York stage with Hair and would follow with his outrageous production of Jesus Christ Superstar, with its alien-inspired costumes and head pieces, its amoebas on poles, and shimmery lame' around hips.

Peter Brook premiered his Midsummer Night's Dream in which the actors flew on trapezes and walked on stilts, all in a white box.

But at Burke Hall, for every Brecht there would be a Jezebel's Husband or some other such waste of time and work.

While everyone there seemed eager to do all things, I exhibited my contrariness by staying away from those things. I wanted "truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion".

And I made an interesting discovery.

By not stepping from play to play, by sitting them out and going to classes, spending time with friends over coffee at the Student Union or the nearby Pitt Grill, riding daily on that little yellow school bus, I was avoiding a different type of pit into which those "pick me, pick me" students seemed to be tumbling. They were learning "takes", poses, and fluttery gestures - mannerisms.

I soon found that when I did audition and when I won a role, I was green. I hadn't a clue how to act. I had to start from the beginning, learning, building brick by brick, listening, watching. I had to find a voice, a walk. Acting, although perhaps once natural to me, was hard.

Growing up, I'd always been told that I was lazy, and I was finding out that I was not. Not really. And I liked it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Theatre History, Part 2

College was a revelation to me. No, make that the Theater Department at the University of Southwestern Louisiana was a revelation to me.

There I was, each weekday morning, by 6:00 AM, trundling down Highway 90, sitting behind old man Chick Barnett, who was steering his little yellow school bus, which had been the general mode of transportation to USL for us country kids from Crowley for years and years. My brothers had ridden that bus. Driven by old man Chick Barnett. There was a history there. Written on asphalt by old man Chick Barnett.

My first few days on campus, of course, were confusing. Nobody had told me how to do college. And I was disturbed to learn I would have to take a public speaking course. I knew there was no way I could stand up in a room and speak extemporaneously or with well-researched notes inked legibly on index cards arranged just so. I would have to find a way. But I managed. I had no choice.

I wasted no time, however, in auditioning for my first play, Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, in the Bentley translation. I knew I could be wild and free speaking words already written.

I won the part of Eilif in Mother Courage, and that was the first role in the first play that I had ever done - other than the roles I'd acted in my mind.

Unlike all the other people in the cast and all the others who'd auditioned for all the other roles, I was the one who had never set foot upon a stage before in my life. I think the seminary might have had a senior play once a year, but I hadn't made it to my senior year there, and no one at my high school in Crowley would ever have dreamed of putting on a show.

In Lafayette, though, in that theatre at Burke Hall, at USL, I knew I could do it, get it - that part - and play it. None of my hometown people would ever know about what I was doing or see it or anything, so I had nothing to worry about.

At the audition, I discovered I was as competitive as any of those high-school football-team classmates who'd ever humiliated me, as lethal as they could be, and as famished with blood-lust, something I had never known about myself or experienced within myself before. Something I would never forget.

I positioned myself to read toward the end of the evening and was able to sit and watch the others and pass judgment on this or that of what each one was doing. And find ways to improve on what was going on ahead of me.

And all the while, a voice was murmuring in my head, "I can do that. And better."

And damned if I couldn't.

Theatre History, Part 1

My old friend from college, who should know better, recently wrote me and said:
Here's the other question I've been wanting to ask you, and this one has been languishing in dirty archives for decades.

The problem is that I don't know how to frame the question in a way that I'm certain won't be uncomfortable or sound judgmental. It would be better asked and answered over cocktails, but I think there's probably a good reason we never got drunk together.

Here goes: of all the people I've known, and certainly of all of the Burke Hall flotsam and jetsam that floated around circa 1968 - 1973 (I know you graduated in 1972, but I've extended the parameters), you and probably Marilyn ... were two of very few who had the looks, talent, and ambition to succeed as Actors of the American Stage. I know what happened to Marilyn. What would you say happened to you? What interrupted your career? (Not, of course, that I have any judgment about how you've lived your life.) I just wonder what your assessment is of how it all turned out.

You can refuse to answer if you prefer.

--David
I should have refused.

What interrupted my career, indeed? Indeed, what career?

I always used to say that Vietnam and the draft lottery kept me out of graduate school immediately following college, graduate school being the springboard that would fling me up to the stars. But how long can I hide behind that one? Nixon ended the draft before the year was out and my number called. And what could graduate school have done for me besides handing me a set of initials to attach to my name instead of "Jr.", which I never was?

Maybe it was my inability to leave my parents, especially "my nurturing Cajun father", a second time. The first time had been when I left home at fourteen to enter that seminary in Cincinnati. That wounded him terribly, and I knew it did, but I went anyway, lasted two-and-half years before giving it all up for another dream that I could transfer to a theatrical arts high school somewhere in an East Coast state. But "my nurturing Cajun father" had other plans for me once he got me back into his arms, and they didn't include my ever leaving home again. I soon discovered that sulky teen angst suited me better than dangerous rebellion and flight from regular meals and a roof.

So I sat in my bedroom and dreamed and waited out my high school years.

It would be in college, USL, right there in Lafayette, where I would find my tribe and my country.
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