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…