Tuesday, April 28, 2009
There's a time where the Ham needs to be cooked
I did -at one time-want to be a famous successful superstar. I cannot say that is the case currently. I have a job at a skilled nursing facility for very frail elders. I greatly enjoy my job now and feel I have discovered a new purpose. I have a loving supportive boyfriend and terrific best friend. -All that's missing is the lovely home to entertain in and the two beautiful dogs. PTBD (Pedigree to be determined). I have, however, dropped all my dreams of having a hit TV show or winning an Oscar. Acting for me these days is now something I have to do every once in a while because well ...I have to. This is why...
Despite the rumors, I was never a child star. In fact I was the furthest thing from it. I used to hide behind my mother's skirt-literally! I can still remember clinging terrified to her slightly unshaved leg as some strange looking loud person asked, "How old are you sweetheart?" Yep I was shy! No kidding! I had big brothers and cousins always explaining to their curious friends why I looked down at my feet, "He's shy but it's okay because that means we don't have to play with him" I played with my trolls (the little pygmy looking dolls with the wild colored hair) quietly in a corner for hours on end while they rode off on their bikes ready to burn or blow up something. I was good with it.
"Paul the Actor" was created in junior high actually. I was cast at the age of 13 in a high school musical of Man of La Mancha. Sancho Panza was the role and it got the whole shebang going.
(There were earlier plays, There was a performance at age 8 as the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland that my mother loves to bring up every so often but that didn't reveal the performer I was soon to become. It had nothing to do with my talent that made that performance memorable, it was the costume- a brightly multicolored afghan and a hockey helmet with Chenille antennae but Sancho was the one that created “the hunger)
It was so intense and it wound up becoming a drug that was like no other. At the time I wasn’t even aware of its existence. All that was on my mind at that moment was the fear of making an ass of myself. I wasn't even sure I could sing at that point.( I have a lovely voice btw) I was utterly terrified of getting up on stage and having ALL those people look at me! I was sure that being in the chorus was the best place for me. I was even surer I would die if I were forced to do it. The leggy and perky musical director had a gleam in her eye when she wanted to confirm I was auditioning. Yes –of course I was auditioning but I wanted to be clear. I ONLY WANTED TO BE IN THE CHORUS! She had other ideas. You should know now that I wasn’t always a chubby man but I was a fat boy too. Not hugely obese but definitely a little chubbo. Sancho Panza was described as a fat little bag stuffed with proverbs. I wound up playing that fat little bag. You expected her to cast a little chubby latin guy? Hey this was Northfield, Vermont in 1978. Be real. The only slightly Latin thing in town was the Ortega foods section at the Super Duper.
Back to that hunger I was telling you about. Man of La Mancha wound up being the show where I got bit by the acting bug When you hear an actor or other performer talk about being "bit by the acting bug", they are referring to getting applause or making the audience react vocally in some way. If the actor/actress tells you that they are talking about the divine experience of inhabiting the character, I can assure you that they are bullshitting you. Actors are real good bullshitters. Actors obviously are ONLY attention whores, but every so often one gets jazzed on the artistry associated with it and they end up becoming artistic directors when they grow up. It was clear after opening night of this little high school musical that I was an attention whore. Little did I know…I was an attention whore waaaay back when.
Since I was the baby in the family I was used to getting all my family's attention. I was a real Momma's boy and was very accustomed to her affection. My elder brothers are very good at reminding me that I got MANY more privileges then they did. (Baked Alaska on my 13th Birthday for one-oh did I mention I was Gay?) It's when it all went away that truly appreciated all this fussing over me. There was actually period where all my attention from my parents evaporated. Don't judge them because I assure you that they had a very good reason. Between the ages of 9 and 12 of my childhood was overshadowed by my brother Matthew and the attention he required. Matthew had developed a brain tumor, and he died at age 15. He was 5 years my senior. My mother became a shell of her bubbly expressive self and my father who was typically emotionally unavailable became even more so after Matthew's death. We became kind of a sad little trio Mom, Dad and myself. My two older brothers were significantly older than I so they were not privy to that sadness so up close. Danny got married right out of Harvard and wasn't around that much and Peter...well Peter had a rough time of adjusting from the 60s to the 70s. He refers to it as the years he amused and abused himself. He was definitely a part of my life on and off -because he lived with us from time to time- but I didn't pay that much attention to him. I ended up not paying attention to my parents either. I immersed myself in my imagination by holing up in the tiniest spaces of the house and creating these nests with pillows and blankets and sleeping bags. Hello? Can we say womb? I dreamed of becoming rich and living in the Beverly Hillbillies mansion. I didn't dream of performing though. That came AFTER I had actually done it. It came post Sancho Panza. At any rate –I had gone from living All about Paul Andrew to depressed little family all lost in their own worlds. Sancho would become sort of salvation of sorts.
The hunger was born on opening night of Man of La Mancha at Northfield Junior High School. I was positive when I set foot on stage that I would die of a heart attack. I played the fat little bag stuffed with proverbs and Mike Osbourne played the Lunatic Knight Don Quixote. I should mention that Mike was Captain of the Gymnastics team and well...I was COMPLETELY in love with him. Art imitated life as I played his oh-so-loyal manservant. I even had to sing in front of the entire town of Northfield about it! Aldonza/Dulcinea (played by the awe inspiring Mary Fifield) asks Sancho why he puts up with his nutty friend. (Since this was a high school production Aldonza was just a messy lazy girl and not a prostitute). Sancho sings a song titled " I like him"
"I Like him. I really Like him. Don't ask me why or wherefore I Liiiiike him"
My fate was sealed in more ways then one with that song. Not only did I make the audience laugh, I outed myself in the process. Making the audience laugh. Now I am sure if they did a test on comedians and comedic actors that they would find that their serotonin levels sky rocket when they get a good, loud, long, laugh from a huge crowd. I was deliriously high as the show stopped because we had to wait for the audience to compose themselves. What was I doing that was making them do that? I had no idea but I DID know I liked it and....I wanted MORE! That wasn't the only rush I would experience. Then came the hard stuff; APPLAUSE! My God -I thought my chunky little 13-year-old body was going to float up to the Gymnasium ceiling! As I was back stage preparing to bow I heard the audience cheer and clap harder for specific actors. I gotta say -to this day-It struck me as a really world class cast! It became my turn to bow and the roar of approval from the over packed gymnasium felt deafening and I am quite sure that's what heroin feels like. It was all over after that night.
I got a little grand and strutted around the Northfield Jr-Sr High like my shit didn't stink. My classmates accused me of being stuck up but I didn’t care -After all I was friends with all these popular upper classmen. THE CAPTAIN OF THE GYMNASTICS TEAM WOULD SAY HI TO ME IN THE HALLWAY. (Did I mention he was really hot?) My worldview became one colored with the thought that I was destined for greatness.
So 27 flash-forward years later. I am 40. I had attempted to set the world on fire and tried to feed the beast that was born in Man of La Mancha. All I had managed to do was become a name in the Gay San Francisco Theater Community. It's really no different than becoming the local actor or actress that is used over and over again in the Community playhouse. The Gay and Lesbian Community of San Francisco are like a small town within a town. Not quite what I had envisioned, but there were certainly some exciting times. It was odd but I was calm when it occurred to me to let go of aspirations of fame through theater. I was terrified of what it would feel like IF it happened and now I was thinking about it. I had a cousin who moved to New York to become an actress and came back a few years later (I think) and cried when she told us she wasn't going to be an actress. Her pain was so palpable. I stuck my jaw out and I thought "I WILL NEVER GIVE UP" I would NEVER let that happen to me. -but it did. I calmly let my dream die. I thought, "Oh what a sweet relief, I don't have to do this anymore I can make strudel and design Christmas Tree Decorations. “My other self had other ideas. Paul the Actor grew into P.A. Cooley -an irreverent little Gay scamp that always played every funny, bitchy best friend. "She" (who looks like a "he") wasnt going to go quietly. So I ended up letting her out twice a year, but I try to make her do different things. Like drama instead of comedy and playing not so lovable characters. She's a hungry bitch and she loves her public. Luckily like weaning yourself from any drug -the laughter and applause were needed less and less. I think she has resigned herself that she may end up turning into a writer or a director and get her praise (hopefully) in written form. Who knows how often I will let her have her time in the sun. I have other plans and I'm afraid I am in charge so she'll learn to live with it.