Sunday, January 29, 2012

Epic Bullshit #008 - Auditions (The Text)

So next Monday I'm making my return to the stage after an 8 year hiatus. And while I'm just performing one song in a friend's cabaret, I will be acting. You may be asking 'Why now?' And the answer is simple. They asked me to. I didn't have to audition for it.

You see one of the main reasons I didn't follow acting as a career is that I hate auditioning with a passion. When I was first out of school and moved to New York, and trying to make it as an actor, I still have this crystal clear memory of going to an audition for the national tour of Sunday in The Park with George. There in the waiting room there was a this guy who'd grown a full beard like George Seurat. It was not a fake. He didn't just put it on for the audition. And I don't know what he thought he was going to do for Act II, but it didn’t matter. I was just so daunted. Because I knew I didn't have anywhere near that commitment. I just wanted to get on stage and exude.

When I saw this freak waiting to be seen along side me, my body actually rebelled. I ran to this tiny New York airplane style bathroom and threw up in the toilet. It was mostly dry heaving, because I’d learned by then not to eat the morning I had an audition. But I knew right then I couldn't hack it as an actor.

Ironically, by the time of that audition, I'd actually already been cast in my first off-off-Broadway show - an original musical, written so poorly (I'm talking to you Shetl Tales: The Jewsical!) that I decided after it closed I should spend my time writing musicals myself instead of being subjected to a demeaning audition process only to have the reward be to perform in dreck so awful I didn't even invite my best friends to see my professional New York acting debut...

And of course,  one great benefit of writing your own material is that you never have to audition again.

Of course my trauma around auditions goes much further back than 1993. Perhaps 10 years earlier, when in 8th grade I was selected to be part of a special “musically talented” homeroom. (Remember back when we had homerooms? Those were the days)

I didn't have to audition for that honor either. The music teacher had watched me - all of us - through 7th grade. He'd heard us sing, seen our attitudes in rehearsals and decided there would be synergy by bringing us together. And this guy had pull.

You see, his purpose in life was to direct the school musical every year. And this wasn't some pathetic Gleek/Nerd kind of endeavor where jocks slammed slushies in our faces and called us gay. The school musical was the highlight of the year for the entire school. Even though I went to a very diverse, rough and tumble public school, and we had so little arts funding they cut our orchestra the year before I arrived, we still had an auditorium and we still had a piano and we had the most inspiring teacher I've encountered in my life. Don Rickenback. And when kids saw how great the musicals he put up were, everyone wanted to be involved. So out of a school of 600 kids, he'd have 200 in the show and another 20 teachers on stage just for good fun. We took it so seriously we even made our own albums like a real original cast recording and then pressed them on vinyl LPs. So while other schools revolved around their football or baseball teams, Cloonan Middle School was nothing if not about the annual school musical. 

7th graders of course, never get good parts, but 8th graders. We raked them in. And I was in the special musical homeroom, so my success was nearly guaranteed. My 8th grade year we were doing Guys & Dolls. What a great show. I was thrilled we weren't doing Oklahoma or The Music Man - those creaky old war horses. Guys & Dolls was tough and touching and fun. The music had swing and the roles weren't hokey. We weren't playing midwestern bumpkins. We were gonna be playing grownups. Gangsters and Hustlers. And singing about romance and love.

Now I knew I wouldn't be playing the lead - Sky Masterson. Brian Lange owned that part. He was 6'2" at 13 years old with a chiseled jaw like Brad Pitt and an inescapable, ineffable magnetism that made him seem like a God. But there were lots of other great parts. And there were lots of great songs to go around. So there was no way  I was going to get stuck in the chorus like I was the year before.

You know the funny thing is I don't remember my audition. Not at all.  That wasn't what scarred me. What I remember is the day they announced the cast. And when I say announced, I mean literally announced. They didn't post the list anywhere, instead, it was an annual tradition to read the cast list out loud - over the intercom - to the entire school at the end of the day.

On that fateful afternoon in the beginning of February, 1983 everyone in my homeroom was abuzz that day. We were all so hopeful. So confident. So excited. And just before Don announced what busses had arrived to take us home like he did at the end of every day, he read off the list. Within moments, my homeroom was like a lottery where everyone won something. First Brian (no surprise there), then Lyssa Dansky as Adalaide, and then Jeff Tuttle as Nathan Detroit, Marc Harris as Nicely Nicely, and Chucky Bond got Big Jule.

But then…as I kept listening for my name over the shrieking excitement of everyone around me, I heard Don's silky baritone switch gears and say:

"Bus 33. Your bus is at the platform. Bus 33."

I've never been so crushed in my entire life. And suddenly in a moment, I understood how Supervillans get created. Because my only thought was. “I'm going to prove him wrong. If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to learn how to sing, how to act, how to write, compose, direct and dance better than any of these idiots he chose over me. And then I'll show him. And he'll know.”

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Epic Bullshit w/David Rodwin #007 - Coffee (And why I drink it when I actually hate it)

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Epic Bullshit #007 - Coffee

It’s the new year and yesterday I was so excited to be able to walk again, after almost a month laid up with a sprained ankle, that I walked 15 minutes all the way down to my regular coffee house where I was about to get a coffee… when I remembered that I hate coffee. I’ve never liked it. And yet I still get it every time I go out to work because it feels stupid to get tea.

You see, my parents instilled in me a belief that when you go out to a dining establishment you should get something you can’t have at home. Why go out and spend a bunch of money to have spaghetti and meatsauce when you could have just made it at home? Get the Penne Puttanesca. No way mom’s making that. Expand your world. Makes sense, right?

But when I go out to write in a café (which is nearly every workday these days), I’m in a deep quandary. I need to buy something (it’s the least I can do for sitting at the Cow’s End for five hours at a stretch), but I can’t bring myself to order tea. Why? Because I have it at home. Lots of it. Why? Because I like tea. And I hate coffee. More importantly, I don’t have a coffee maker at home, and I never have. So whenever I’m out, I have coffee. I doctor it with sugar and cream to make it palatable, but the acrid burnt taste of adulthood always leaves me wanting to wash my mouth out afterwards.

But it’s a new year and today I took a stand and refused to have coffee. I got a wrap instead. (Avoidance is a great way to begin the new year, right?)

And now I just remembered, I lied.

It’s true I’ve never bought a coffee maker, but once upon a time, I got a free coffee maker. Appropriately, I was living in Seattle at the time. And I knew nothing about coffee. It was 1993 and Starbucks had yet to dominate the world, but I’d heard of them and they had a dozen stores around town. My second day there I went to the one in Queen Anne as I was waiting for a futon shop to open. (Sleeping on top of my luggage in lieu of a mattress in an apartment without head the night before was not something I planned on repeating.) 

And when I walked in the wood-paneled joint, with airy light and beautiful high ceilings the first thing I saw was the Starbucks beverage information flip-charts. You see, back in ’93 people had no idea what was in their crazy drinks – not even in Seattle, so they had diagrams showing what was inside. I was a novice myself, but I noticed in all their diagrams, there was one common factor – Espresso. So I figured before having any fancy drinks, I should start with the basics. I sidled up to the barista, and told her I wanted,
“An espresso.”
“A single?” Clearly I hadn't considered all the options and I lost my confidence for a moment. I was about to walk out in shame failing to order my first Starbucks beverage.
“No. No.” I reconsidered. Then I did an emotional about face and put on my big cowboy pants. “Make it a double.”
I’d never felt so confident in a choice… until they called my name and handed me what I ordered. This was when they still had real ceramic containers for those ordering for "here". So balanced on a tiny white saucer was a mutant giant white demitasse like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Bereft of a modern handle, like an ancient chalice, I had to cup it with both hands. And when I peered over the rim, I saw inside, at the very bottom, there resided a thin film of black sludge these slackers called “Espresso.”

I stared at the gloop incredulously. And then I decided I was not going to be subject to their insanity. True, I ordered it, and I was going to get it down my gullet… but on my terms.

One part sugar equal to the amount of liquid helped it, but not enough. When I put it to my mouth and tested the ratio it clung to my lips like a perverse charcoal-based Chapstick. So I ravaged the milk bar and only stopped my experiment when I’d filled the fucker to the brim. Maybe six times as much milk as bean residue. And part of me thought this was the proper way to do it. I mean…why else give me such a big cup?

After that debacle I decided I’d be safer with my own coffee maker to experiment with at home. I got it free through Gevalia. Actually, my mom, concerned I wouldn’t have friends since I didn’t drink coffee, had signed me up for a monthly subscription to their coffee which came with a free coffee maker. And in truth, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in this strange enclave as well being a lifelong tea lover. But once the coffee maker arrived, I never even turned the thing on.

Until six months later I finally found cause to. 

Despite being an outgoing 23 year-old working with scrappy little incestuous theatre companies, after half a year in the Emerald City, I’d never once had sex. Hell, I’d never even kissed a girl. An ambiguous, semi-open, long-distance relationship with my college sweetheart kept me keeping to myself, but then one night it happened. She was a lovely lass unadorned of the glittery ways of girls and bereft of make-up as was the way of the locals there. And she had the voice of a Walkürie packed into an impossibly tiny pixie frame.

We had a quiet sex. Tentative, restrained, unsure. And I woke in the morning to see her flinging on her clothes and rushing to the door. I called out and she said she was just running out to find a latte. She’d be right back. I said she didn’t have to leave. I had a coffee maker. She gave me a patient, but patronizing smile and left. I’d never felt so unworthy. She was older, an adult. Or at least she carried herself like one. I was just a kid who didn’t even know the importance of a latte in the morning.

I lived at 5th & Wall in the Denny-Regrade - on the edge of Belltown and 5 blocks from the Seattle Center Tower you see in post-cards. It wasn’t as lively or transgressive or as gay as Capitol Hill, but it was an up-and-coming neighborhood with enough crackheads and drunks to make this former New Yorker feel at home. I had a crappy little deli a block away, and they had coffee. But if she’d gone there, she’d have been back already. 
(This was my place. And yes, that is the monorail track leading to the Tower. I could hear it woosh by hourly.)
There was a 7/11 three blocks away where I’d gotten the worst cup of coffee in my life trying to stay warm the night before I hit my first Starbucks, but she wasn’t stopping there.

Five blocks away was real civilization – The Crocodile Café where everyone in the SubPop nation from Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins played. Not that I ever heard them. I was busy writing musicals... about Star Trek. But even if she’d gone there, she’d have been back by now.

There wasn’t a Starbucks anywhere near me. But Seattle is small. I didn’t even have a car. I got everywhere on bike. Everything was close together. And yet after 10 minutes she hadn’t returned. Clearly the coffee was a pretext. I wouldn’t be seeing her again. And I curled up in bed - sad I’d screwed it up before I even began. And she was special. She was gentle. She sang to me. Songs I’d never heard before. I put my ear to her chest and she whispered me “La ci darem la mano” from Giovanni and I’d just start to purr (see link below). I didn’t know the words at the time, but it was clearly a song of seduction. She sang it to me under tempo like a sultry southern lullaby. And I was hers... if she wanted me.

Twenty minutes had passed and I finally gave up hope. I would have to scrape myself up to face the new day alone once more. I stepped up to my coffee maker and decided I had to learn to use it, so I measured out some scoops into the golden mesh filter and poured in the water. Perhaps if I got up early and filled the room with the scent that made her morning start, next time she would stay. Whoever she would be the next time.

And then, thirty minutes later, there’s a light knock on my door. I was amazed. I lived in an apartment building, but it had the security of a college dorm, so she’d gotten in easily. And now, there she stood, latte in hand in a cup with the familiar green mermaid - as though she hadn’t run out on me at all. As though she was going to return this whole time. She was out of breath. And simply said.

“You can’t get a decent latte anywhere near here. How do you live?”

I smiled and kissed her. And though I still hate coffee, every time I hear Giovanni I think of her thin lips and glorious voice... and how much I fucking hate what coffee does to people who are slave to the bean.


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