My So-Called Theatrical Life

Patrick’s post inspired this one…

The theatre called my name fairly early. I remember going to see a musical at what would soon become my high school. I was in the 7th grade at the time, and the show being put on was “Dames at Sea.” Up until then, I had never experienced a theatrical production such as this.

I have always enjoyed singing. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom, setting a microphone in front of me, and telling me to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” or “Top of the World” by the Carpenters. I knew (almost) every word. I was 3 years old. (And I still have most of those tapes.)

The singing bug continued all throughout my lifetime. I lived for music class. I loved to sing in Christmas recitals. And every chance I got, I would pop in The Carpenters or ABBA or Barry Manilow on the 8-Track player and sing along. I memorized words. Music became a major part of my life. (And my parents were surprised when I came out as gay. Really.)

My sister started ballet lessons at 4, moving to tap at 5. One day my mom was helping her practice her steps. She asked her to do a shuffle step, but she couldn’t remember how do it. I chimed in, “I know how!” And did the step.

Next thing I knew, I was enrolled in tap lessons too. I was 7 years old.

So now I’m singing and dancing my way to a career in the theater. Or something like that.

I took tap from age 7 until age 12. By that time, puberty was setting in, and I grew like a weed. I was clumsy, and couldn’t coordinate myself anymore. I gave up tap once and for all.

Then, at age 13, the metabolism changed. Up until then, I was a skinny, bony kid with knobby knees. In the course of one year, I gained a ton of weight. I went from a size 30 pant to a size 36 pant in one year. And I have never been able to rebound from that since.

Yet I still had aspirations of stardom. I could still sing– and better than most of the kids in my class. So I took my singing talent to high school where I hoped to hit it big in the musicals there.

“The Music Man” was the spring show in my freshman year of high school. I knew the show fairly well and auditioned for a part. And on my first try, I got a part as a member of the quartet. I worked hard– harder than I had ever worked to sing those songs. And for the most part, they paid off. In hindsight, we were probably fairly awful, but for what we were, we did a great job. I had the bug. I wanted more.

I wanted so badly to pursue theater. I was in all the musicals and shows and did everything I could to get on stage. The next year we did “Godspell” and I got a major solo– my first. It became my signature song throughout the rest of my high school career– “All Good Gifts.”

But after that, my star never shone so well. Unfortunately the director was a wimpass and let himself be pushed around by parents who had money, or by the choreographer, who he was dating. She told him to cast who she liked, so he did. And I think he hated himself for it, and we, in turn, hated him for it.

We did “42nd Street” in my junior year. I auditioned hard for Julian Marsh, the fearsome director who insists that Peggy Sawyer fill in for the injured Dorothy Brock, because “You’re going in there a youngster, but you gotta come back a star!”

My auditions were kickass. And I sang the hell out of “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street,” the two songs that the character sang in the show. I was perfect for the role. But I didn’t get it. They gave it to a senior, who was a terrible actor and couldn’t sing worth a shit. I got the part of Pat Denning, the suitor of the aging star Dorothy Brock, and a big-time wimp.

I never got the lead. I was either too fat or too bad of a dancer or too bad of an actor. Excuses, of course. But I kept on trying.

Senior year show was “Pippin.” I could sing “Corner of the Sky” better than ANYONE. Again my auditions were great. But I lost again. This time to a junior, who was skinny, blonde and cute. And who couldn’t sing worth shit.

That killed my desire to pursue theater as a career. I got the idea of living my life with all that backstabbing and bullshit out of my head as fast as I could. There’s no way I could deal with it. I’m glad I figured it out when I did. I doubt I would have lasted long.

It would be years before I let myself audition for anything again.

Today I have the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus and the Windy City Slickers. And with these, my “theater itch” is scratched just enough for me. Here, it’s all about singing, which was the one thing I truly loved anyway. I don’t have to starve because of it, and I don’t have to rely on it to live my life. I can just sit back and be in the chorus, or I can try for the spotlight. But best of all, I can just have fun doing it. Whether or not I get “The Big Solo”, in the end, it’s just about making music.

Of course, there are moments of drama, just like any other theatrical-based company. But nothing like what I experienced in high school. I’m happy here. It’s a good place for me to be.

But sometimes I still wonder what would have happened…

All work and no play

This week was a killer. I gotta tell you. I survived though.

We had five proposals going on at the same time. That’s a lot, folks. Every manager was scurrying around as if they had matches stuck up their asses. It was as revolting as it was humorous. And frustrating.

I think I put in about 17 hours of overtime this week. That, too, is a lot. At least I get paid for it!!

In addition, I had three big projects that I have been working on at home that had to get to the next stage. So when I got home from work, I went right back to the computer and continued to work. Of course, those projects are all pro bono (no pay), but they still had to get done.

So you can see why I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been a busy boy!!

On Friday I had lunch with a new chorus boy. Very cute, very nice, but very much on the rebound after an awful breakup. So, while we had a lot in common and I’d melt into a pool of goo if he asked me to date him, I am not expecting any miracles. Friends it is. I can deal with that.

Saturday I auditioned for a solo in the CGMC show, “In The Mood.” Not sure how that will go, but I think I did pretty good.

I’m really excited about this show. It’s all great music from the 30’s thru the early 50’s in the style of such legends as Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. My kinda stuff. Patrick Sinozich, our director, has arranged all the pieces, and they are, as always, amazing. Add in lots of “Choralography” and tons of dancing, and it’s going to be a heck of a show. I’m trying to get my mom, sister and brother in law (I have never called him that before) to see the show. I hope they can make it.

OH and if you should happen to visit CGMC’s website, they now have an online store where you can order both of our CD’s! Just click on the banner and it’ll bring you right to it. (Hint… I have solos on BOTH of them! Our new CD, “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” is perfect for Valentine’s Day (whether you love it or hate it), So buy copies… many copies!! 😉

While you’re at it with the online ordering, if you are a big fan of nuts (and who isn’t?), you need to check this site out. Pua, The High Priestess herself, was promoting her newly found sister Lokelani’s Kanake Nuts on her blog the other day, so I decided to try some. Tres YUMMY! So stop by and order a bag for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. Mahalo. 🙂

Johnny Carson: The Family Parallel

I don’t know of one person who wasn’t saddened by the recent passing of Johnny Carson. Myself included.

I loved the guy. Didn’t know him at all, of course, but I felt like I did. That’s the kind of person he was. He always seemed much younger than his years let on. He was the grandpa I never had– the one who told funny stories and laughed in spite of himself. And he was always there (except on the nights when Joan Rivers or Jay Leno was there; then he was probably playing golf.) But still, he was a wonderful sight to see every weeknight.

A lot of interesting things have come out about Johnny Carson since, or just before, his passing. One of which was the fact that, over the course of the last ten years, he has been ghost-writing jokes for David Letterman. I thought that was somewhat cool… after all, after the big fight over Johnny’s spot went in Jay Leno’s favor, this was maybe somewhat of a way for Johnny to repay Letterman. In any case, both of them worshipped the guy and owe their careers to him.

The second was the fact that Johnny Carson died of Emphysema.

It was no big secret that Johnny smoked. In early shows, he smoked right on the air. Everyone did. It was the “cool” thing to do. “Sophisticated.” It made him look more powerful; more debonair.

This particularly hits home for me, because as I have mentioned previously, my mother also suffers from Emphysema.

It’s a horrible disease. It literally robs you of the ability to breathe. You simply are not able to produce a large enough breath in order to put oxygen into your bloodstream.

The disease is an excruciatingly slow killer. Imagine strangling someone. Oh come on, you know you have imagined it once or twice. But seriously, visualize this. Your hands are wrapped around a person’s neck and you squeeze, cutting of the air. Emphysema does exactly that, only it doesn’t do it in just a few seconds. It literally shuts down the body’s ability to breathe and produce oxygen, bit by painful bit.

My mom has been suffering the effects of Emphysema for the last 10 years. When she was diagnosed, she only had to use concentrated oxygen for part of the day. Now she needs it 24/7. If she didn’t have her positive outlook, I don’t know how she could have made it through those ten years.

Thankfully, Mom stopped smoking years prior to this happening. Many people don’t. In fact, some people continue smoking while breathing in the oxygen.

The point of all this is simple. Smoking kills. If you are smoking, please consider quitting. If you are quitting, keep it up. You will do yourself so much good by never picking it up again. I don’t know how anyone could even start.

And if you find you are having trouble breathing, or if you notice you are getting tired faster and faster as time goes on, please have a pulmonary function test done. The quicker you diagnose yourself for pulmonary disease, the better.

Apparently, Johnny Carson didn’t find out about his Emphysema until fairly recently. An earlier diagnosis could have saved him, if not for a long time, for at least a few years more. It’s sad that he had to die, but hopefully some poeple out there will hear his story and realize that they, too, could end up the same way.

It just scares me to think that my mom will have to go through what he went through someday.

Things that make me go AAAAAUURRRRGGHHH!

10. People who put cracked-up milk crates and plastic chairs in parking spots because they feel that since they cleaned out the spot, it’s theirs.

9. All the internet security on my computer sometimes causes my Email to hang while sending. I have stuff in my outbox that just isn’t going anywhere.

8. Pouring milk in a bowl of cereal and noticing, just before taking a bite, that it has gone sour.

7. Forgetting for the third week in a row to set my VCR to record “Desperate Housewives.’

6. Meeting a cute… no… HOT new Chorus member and having him tell me that he just got out of a 10 year relationship and is “still a bit fragile.”

5. My hair, which is seriously out of control and cannot be tamed at all. I must get a haircut soon. (Yes, Jake, by a REAL stylist.)

4. Having two concurrent design projects to work on that are due by Thursday… OUTSIDE of my real job.

3. Knowing that I’m not getting paid for either of those jobs because I did them pro bono.

2. My bank account, which is seriously depleted until, oh, February 7th.

1. The fact that it’s almost 4 in the morning and I am typing this post.

Oh well, that’s what I get for being a blog addict. 😉

Inspiration amidst the snowflakes

After I got out to move my car yesterday morning, I settled down with some coffee and readied myself to enjoy a day of doing absolutely nothing.

Well.. almost nothing. I had a project I had to get some work done on for one of my Chorus friends who works for one of Chicago’s AIDS service organizations. I’m designing the poster for the Chicago Ride for AIDS, which is sponsored by TPAN, which stands for Test Positive Aware Network. My friend is one of the directors of TPAN and asked me if I’d be interested in designing a poster for the Ride. I wouldn’t be paid, but the chance to do something for the organization, not to mention the exposure, was something I couldn’t pass up. So what a perfect day to work on it!

After a few good hours of work, my friend Ricardo called. He was a few blocks away and wanted to grab some lunch. I was hungry so I agreed, and he stopped by before we headed out.

We made our way to Argyle street, which is also known as “Little Vietnam.” Over the last 30 years or so, many Vietnamese, Cambodian and other Southern Asian people have settled in this area. The shops along Argyle street reflect this in their wares, their food, and their character. Even the Argyle El stop sports a large red “Pagoda” to reflect this area’s culture.

For years, this area had been pretty shady. It isn’t a reflection on the Vietnamese at all, it’s just a factor of the change in the area from decade to decade. Many of the storefronts have gates in front of them, and some even have full metal garage doors. When I moved to Chicago 8 years ago, you were afraid to walk along the street at night. Now it isn’t quite so bad. The area has changed again. Many new residents have moved in, and the area is on an upswing. Thankfully, this isn’t driving out the Asian people. They have made a home for themselves here and the area would be greatly lacking if they were suddenly forced out.

So Ricardo and I decided to visit a Vietnamese restaurant that he had been to a while ago, saying that the food was excellent. We trudged out into the snow and began our journey.

The wind was starting pick up by now, and the lake effect snow off of Lake Michigan was starting to really kick in. But we kept on going.

The restaurant was warm and charming; one of the larger ones in the area. I had never been there before, but the food was, indeed, excellent. I had some Wonton soup and Kung Pao Chicken, which was stir-fried instead of deep-fried. Spicy and tasty.

After lunch, we decided to walk along the street to look for a gag gift for our friend Jeremy, who was celebrating his birthday that night at Crew. We were also looking for something nice, but there’s always some fun treasures to be found at these merchant stores, so it’s fun to stop in and take a look. Besides, the snow was getting worse.

We stopped in at a store a couple doors down from the restaurant. We started browsing the toys, the fuzzy slippers, the tacky hats and the exquisite scarves. We were greeted by a kindly older lady who asked if we needed any help, and we said no, we were just browsing.

As we snaked through the store, we made our way to the glass counter.

“Oh my, look at all the jade pieces,” Ricardo said.

“Oh yes,” the lady said in her thick accent. “Jade is very healing. It can protect you from danger and evil.”

“Yes,” Ricardo replied, “I have heard that about it.”

“In fact,” she continued, “This pendant saved my life.” She pulled out from behind her collar a small Buddha-shaped pendant in deep green jade.

“It’s a Buddha,” Ricardo and I commented when we saw the pendant.

“It’s the mother of Buddha,” she corrected us. “She saved my life one day. I would tell you the story, but you probably would not believe me.”

Being that we had nowhere else to be, and we were both intrigued by her story, we encouraged her to tell us. So she did.

“When I was in Cambodia,” she began, “and the killing was happening, I was with my children… I had seven children, and one baby. The guards were coming through the neighborhoods and killing. I was so scared. People were running so fast and the crowds were so big. I tried to keep my children together. I held on to them as I ran. And we ran so fast and so hard to get away. And then, I lost one of my children. I couldn’t find him. And I prayed. I prayed to her. (the mother of Buddha) to help me find him. I prayed and prayed and prayed.”

“I stopped running and prayed. And I looked for my child. And the crowds ran past me and then they were gone. And as I prayed, I noticed the guards. They did not see me! I was standing right there, but they did not see me. They had their guns and they were ready to shoot. But I was not shot. And I kept praying that I find my child. And then I found him. And I grabbed his hand and I ran and kept on running. And the guards, they never saw me.”

“This was in 1975. The movie “The Killing Fields” was just a small portion of what really happened. I lived through it. I saw the bodies. I saw the killing. And the way they would kill people.

“The people were starving, so they would put sacks of rice out in the streets. And the people were so hungry, they would run to the sacks of rice and pick them up. But they were booby-trapped… mined. The people would die in the streets and the bodies would stay there for days… weeks. Nothing was safe. Nobody was to be trusted. People starved to death all the time because you couldn’t trust anyone. One of my babies died because I couldn’t get enough food.”

“After I escaped the guards, I continued on the run until I reached Thailand. I went to the American embassy and got in contact with my sister, who had moved to America already. She arranged to have me and my family moved with her.

I have lived in America ever since. And I have been grateful for my life, for my family and for my health. And I have learned in life that one must never, ever remember the past. The past is gone. It is dead. You must look to today and to the future and do good things for people. There is no place for evil.”

She then took out a book of pictures.

Since I came back here, I have no money. I don’t want it. The money I make from my store, I give back. I give back to the people of Cambodia who are still rebuilding. They need food and schools. I help them build schools and feed the hungry people. I have gone back four times since I left. I help the sick, I feed the babies, and I care for the elderly.”

Picture after picture showed the lady in front of us helping to build schools, feeding hungry children and meeting with dignitaries. She was dressed beautifully in some pictures and simply in others. The smiles on the faces of the children were unforgettable. To them, she was like royalty.

“So many people have nothing. They live in poverty. Yet they are happy because they are no longer at war. But there is so much that needs to be done, so much rebuilding to do. And whatever I can do, I do.”

Ricardo and I were in awe at the story being told to us. We had no idea that we would meet such a remarkable person in such a simple little store. This lady survived the “Killing Fields.” She survived war, starvation, and even the death of one of her children because she was too poor to feed them all. She made a life for herself of giving back to those who were less fortunate. It was almost too much to bear, but you couldn’t help but be moved by her story.

“All of my surviving children are happy, they are healthy, and they are educated. They have good jobs, good homes, and good lives. That is the best thing I could have done for them. I don’t need money. I just need to give to charity and help other people. This is what I live for.” The lady in th
e store said to us.

We never got her name. We didn’t even buy anything that day. But on that cold, snowy afternoon, our hearts were warmed and our minds opened by a lady who had lived a far greater life than either of us could ever aspire to. As we made our way out of the store and back into the blizzard, we knew that in a small but special way, we had been blessed by this lady and her story. And it made the day seem just a little bit brighter and warmer because of it.