Forty for Forty – #4. Once More With Feeling

Editor’s Note:   The Mayans say the Earth will end on December 12, 2012. I  turn 40 on June 6th of the same year. I say I’ve got them beat by 6 months and 6 days. As a little challenge to myself, I came up with this year-long project. Forty for Forty is my bid to write 40 articles that say something about my life. Little moments or anecdotes, likes or dislikes – that made me the guy I am today. Today we’re at #37. Plenty more to come.

I was a shy guy.

It’s true. From my earliest ages through most of High School, I was the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. Coming from modest means, I never had many of the name brands nor did I rock the latest kicks. Even if I had the cash to bankroll the juiciest couture, my fashion sense was rarely tingling. I was a right down the middle type of guy. Not brainy enough to be the Class Valedictorian. Not sporty enough to be Everyone’s All American. Just a fine, upstanding, average, modest, healthy normal American boy.

Somewhere towards the end of my Junior Year, I started chiseling away at my shell. I always had a strong sense of humor and when surrounded by my close-knit group of friends I lived to make them laugh – but in the great wide open, I clammed up. Self-conscious self-doubt always zipped my lips. But when I started busting my ass at an after school job and became friendly with some fellow classmates who had previously been outside my social orbit, I started gaining a bit of vital courage. Soon, I let my voice lift a little and spoke up.

When one of these guys decided to head out for the big High School musical – with auditions occurring over the winter of our Senior Year – I journeyed alongside him. The Drama and Music Director had picked Annie and my buddy was angling for the juicy role of Rooster Hannigan. Everyone wants to play the bad guy. They get all the best lines even if they always get it in the end. He recruited me to head down with him for moral support.

When I got down there, my eyes were opened wide to a whole new world. There were kids from every grade having the time of the life – hoping to win the director over and get started on their life in the spotlight. Best of all – there was no class system for those angling to make the cast. We had representatives from all the normal cliques breaking ranks with their brethren to grab a spot on the stage. Jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, band geeks and shop freaks all dropped their prior titles and filed into the same common group – hoping to win the chance to adopt a brand new identity.

While I was only there to watch, the Director wasn’t having my excuses. He ordered me onto the stage and had me sing “America the Beautiful“. Then he gave me a page full of dialogue to read. Later on, when the auditions were winding down, he asked a small group of us (all guys) to stay behind. He had us stand around the piano and kept going round and round, having all 5 remaining guys sing a few lines. He kept excusing guys until it came down to me and my buddy. This went on and on for at least 20 minutes before he finally broke the session and told us he’d have his decision in the morning.

Turns out – we were all fighting for that coveted Rooster role. Yes, Annie’s the star but we were a tad too tall and a smidgen less chick to grab that sweet spot. And who wants to shave their head to play Daddy Warbucks? I, for one, was not ready to take on that little bit of foreshadowing. I had no idea how few days I had remaining with long, flowing locks.

No – Rooster was the fun one. The cock of the walk who gets to strut onto stage – just sprung from Leavenworth – and coerce his sister, the cruel orphanage matron Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme aimed at stealing Warbucks’ fortune.

The next day, I walked down with a friend of mine, looking to see what the cast sheet revealed. As we made the long walk down the hallway, I passed my buddy from the day before. He had a long face and the second we passed by him, I knew my glorious fate.

I GOT THE PART!!!

Two days prior, I couldn’t care less about auditioning. And now I wanted nothing less than a piece of the spotlight. Funny how things change.

That was my first taste. When I took the stage, I became someone else. That’s the obvious fact and it’s no real shocker that so many introverts find a great escape to the big stage. But what the audience doesn’t see – what happens behind the curtain – that’s where the real magic lies.

It took a decade and change to remind me of that. I don’t know what happened but sometime after I departed for college, I lost my way a little. Well, I certainly found plenty of trivial pursuits to occupy my time and as each page ripped from the calendar, I accumulated more real-world responsibility – but I just never found my way back to the stage. I have no real answers for that. That’s just the way my life happened.

Until a few years back. While Andi and I had relocated our family to the central part of the state back in 2004 – a year I’ll always remember for that sweet Red Sox Championship season – it wasn’t until 2007 or so that we really began feeling like part of the community. That’s what happens when your kids enroll in school. Hard to be a shy stranger much longer when you see the same people every single day. And as I wrote a few years ago, it seems like 2007 was the time when our house became a home and this region a major part of that. That’s how I define it when you know you are somewhere for good. While we may have grown up quite a ways away from here – this is where Colin (8) has spent the majority of his days and Aria (6) has lived ever since she first danced into our lives.

Late in 2007, Andi found out that a local community theater – The Gateway Players – was planning on producing The Sound of Music for their big summer musical the following year. Auditions would be held in the Spring of 2008. As she has trained her whole life as a singer – from high school to college – grad school and beyond – Maria was the role my fair-haired beauty was born to play. So, she went and auditioned and landed that dream part. And suddenly, the stage was closer than it had been in a very long time.

Following their August 2008 production, which I saw twice, I wrote the following:

“…that’s the nice thing about entertainment. When you have a group of talented people so committed to their characters that they grow a second skin, it sweeps us (the humble audience) away from the rigors of our day.

This cast was that good.

Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I’ve been to a number of Broadway productions and I’ve acted in a smattering of school plays. I’d seen both ends of the spectrum.  But, I’d never really experienced community theater. I don’t mean for this to come off sounding like a review. I’m no theater critic. I just know entertainment and I know that this past weekend, I was entertained mightily. Sitting there in the audience, watching my wife’s dream come true and discovering a whole stable of talented individuals – people whose greatness I had no idea I was living in the midst of – it all just hit me in that sentimental sweet spot the lot of us have. I know some of this can come off sounding sappy but we’re not living this life right if we don’t take the chance to shed our defenses and bare our souls – to let people know when they’ve added value to our days and made even the briefest of moments meaningful.

This weekend, I ran the gamut of emotions.

As I watched my wife up there on stage – alongside the other amazing actors (their performance a tractor beam on a blissfully captive audience) – I felt equal parts pride, happiness and sorrow for her and them. The pride and happiness are easy to explain. The sorrow was a bit tricky. Let’s call it bittersweet.

They had worked so hard and so long to get to this moment and here it was and I knew that as wonderful as this weekend had become – that the old maxim, “all good things must come to an end”, was sitting out there, stage right, waiting to toss the hook on the whole experience. Tempus fugit. Time flies baby. Much like those other important milestones in a life – the march towards your wedding day or the nine month pregnancy vigil – when the big day dawns, it roars in like a lion and right back out more ferocious. It’s not until the day after, you meet the lamb. And then the vacuum fills the space as life reverts back to its regularly scheduled programming.
So, as I thrilled to their performance, I felt a nagging tug at the back of my throat. Enjoy every moment of this – for her, for them, for the community – for it is fleeting and each second deserves to be tattooed to memory. A memento that we, the audience, were blessedly humbled one warm summer’s eve by those much more talented than us. And we’re all the better for it.”

Halfway through their big show weekend, Andi told me that her costar Dave was directing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for the Fall dramatic production. He was in need of a few good men and asked Andi if her husband had any desire to act. Her response – “Nope.”

“What?!?!?!?!?”, I lobbed back. I’m aching for the change-up. So she got a hold of Dave and as luck turned out, he had a minor supporting role that he needed assistance with. I signed on immediately and jumped in with both feet. I was a bundle of nerves for sure – unable to tell my stage right from my left foot – but I was eager to learn. More importantly, I was happy to be doing something so far removed from my every day, average, ordinary life.

By the time our show closed in late October 2008, I was full-on in love all over again. It was a good run with a 4-Star review in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. And a great cast. And one of the finest experiences of my life. That’s why I signed on for this gig in the first place.

See, earlier that year, for the first time in a long time, I found myself midway through the winter in a bit of a funk. Actually, I’ll call it what it was. A full blown depression that had settled in for a long winter’s spell. And those of you who know me well, know that is very far from the norm. In fact, I really can’t recall ever getting depressed for anything more than a half hour or so in my entire life. I’m just not wired that way.

But sometime after that 2007 holiday magic had dissipated and the winter chill had frosted my bones for much too long, a deathly pall laid its cool grip on me. I think it hit me twice as hard because, as I mentioned, I don’t often get depressed. This was a brave new world that I didn’t want any part of exploring.

When the ice began to thaw and the days grew long, I found I could shake most of my unwanted visitor. But somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, it still lurked – preying on my emotions. So, I did what I often do when confronted with some random, strange ailment. Self-diagnosis. This one was easy. In essence, I needed a change.

That’s the definition of happy accident. Through Andi’s casting and one random conversation with my wife, I’d stumbled upon the treatment for exactly what ails me. That meager supporting role opened up a whole new world – the perfect complement to my normal, corporate nine-to-five job.

And as great as I felt coming together with such an awesome, diverse cast of wonderful people, I basked in the immediate post-show reviews:

“I hope you take this as a compliment… I really HATED you!!!”
– Random Audience Member #1

“You’re a complete bastard!!!”
– Random Audience Member #2

“As your mother, the woman who played a major role in your conception, I can only wonder – where did all that RAGE come from?”
– My Mom

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to up my game and take some meatier challenges. In May 2010, I took on one of the leads in “Love, Sex & The IRS”. While the reviews weren’t kind it was a great experience. And in order to really thrive in this environment, you need to roll with the punches and get right back up. Learn from your mistakes or to shield yourself from the critic’s barbed arrows.

Earlier this year, I grabbed another challenge; disappearing into layers of make-up, guzzling gravel for a nice weather-beaten voice, and shrinking below mounds of blankets to play a withered 90-year old man in “Murder’s in the Heir”. And in Act 2, the quick change allowed me to play that bastard’s sweet young grandson. The reviews were much kinder this time and I must have been doing something right for the critic to think the old man was played by my Dad and not the same actor (me) in both roles.

While Andi and I have a one show per person rule while Colin and Aria are so young, I did step in and pinch-hit for the big Summer Musical this year, “Bye Bye Birdie” – something I’ve wanted a piece of ever since I first saw Andi sing and dance across that stage.

That’s where I am today. Writing from the early morning melancholy of the post-show letdown. It was a fantastic production that really made my summer. And like these things always do, it was over before we knew it. One of these days, one of us really needs to learn how to slow time. It really would help us hold on to these moments a little closer than we currently manage to squeeze them today. Alas, time is a slippery beast.

Around this time last week, I shared the following with my cast mates:

“As I write this, we’re all snug in our homes on Tech Week eve – enjoying the final few moments of R & R before we hit the slipstream. Next thing you know it – all the hard work we’ve put in to “putting on a show” will be a distant memory. And it’s always a staggering crash that follows this week long rush. That’s how these shows go. You come together at the beginning – some of us old friends – some newbies who no doubt learn the ropes pretty quickly – you bond fast and furiously and then the next thing you know – you’re right back to your normal routine; wondering how time can fly so fast and what the hell you can do to slow it all down next time around. That’s what’s coming the second we wake tomorrow and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. A week will drain in a blink of an eye.

But we can embrace it. We’ll treasure this week – and more importantly – we’ll hold tight to each and every second spent together, entertaining our friends and family, next weekend. And while we always have our memories to look back upon, we’ll want eyewitness accounts. We’ll want people to walk away – completely awestruck at the talent they live amongst.

I’ve had the chance to take part in a number of productions. This one marks my first musical and sure, I may just be “Fainting Guy #12” and “Shriner #3” but the point is – these productions soar on the combined efforts of everyone – no matter how big the role. We have the chance to fly high – and nothing propels a performance more than an energetic and enthusiastic audience.

I have no doubt that somewhere in the audience next weekend, someone will settle in to their seat and feel the next two hours melt – with one thought ushering them out on that late Summer’s Eve.

“I want a piece of that magic.”

So – spread the word. Let’s pack this place – rip the roof off it – and inspire a dream or two as we drink deep of this magical elixir that most communities have but few people ever divine. We’ve found it. Let’s share it.

Let’s break legs!!!”

I meant every word of it and hopefully it proved a potent prediction of good things to come.

There’s something magical about a musical – especially when all the cogs come together and transform into something more than an elaborately constructed machine – when it all clicks and becomes freely flowing art, you know you’re breaking legs, tickling funny bones, and touching hearts.

That’s what we did Friday night. That’s what we did on Saturday evening too. And on Sunday, we brought the entire house down.

On Sunday morning, I sent the following out to the cast and crew. Just a little rundown of some of the treasured memories I will covet a lifetime. I picked one per person. There are so many more to choose from. And no doubt, everyone else has a list so unique from anything I jotted down.

(Before I close out this mammoth, rambling, meandering Forty for Forty – I wanted to reprint what I wrote to all of them. If you didn’t see the show, this might be too “inside baseball” for you but as this site has become my digital diary, I need to record this for that day – hopefully long from here – where I need to slip into the comforting pool of nostalgia for a little pick-me-up.)

So, here’s just a handful of the memories I’ll carry with me a life time:

Rip inventing a whole seedy, underbelly to the sugar-coated streets of Sweet Apple. Who knew Loop-the-Loop and Midnight Swim could prove to be the gateway to one’s demise?

Kevin and that Perry the Platypus Hat. Just once, I want to see him walk out on stage with that blue number instead of his normal cap, and really shake up the town. “Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today.”

I joined with a month to spare and thought it was Herculean that I could learn ONE WHOLE LINE and a small handful of choral parts. Emily joins with something like 15 minutes to go before the curtain raises and learns the whole entire show!!!

Gail constantly telling me to keep my voice down proving that irony is alive in well in the Fifties!!!

Joey constantly telling me that I am bald, telling William “Braveheart” Wallace he fought for nothing, and striding out to do a song called “The Telephone Hour” without the one specific prop that really makes that song make sense. Geez Joey – at the very least you should have just whipped out a cell and started texting all those girls you harass in that ditty.

Renee joining in with the Humphries’ “Lot of Livin” Adult Dancers – wait, I thought this was a family show?

Mike Dupuis – What happens under the table, stays under the table.

Jeanne Dupuis strolling over to me and saying that one day, she hopes I’ll write her eulogy. After what happens under the table, she might be writing mine first.

Stewart making a “Mama”, his director (ahem – wife) and the rest of us so proud by nailing Albert opening night. And a special bonus memory of Stewart always coming to me late in the show, after he’s nice and moist – and asking me to fold the collar down over his tie.

I’d like to say that playing Joni’s right hand man was my favorite highlight in working with her, but technically I’m her left arm – which if you’ll excuse me, I have to go powder.

Rebecca for carefully choreographing all those under, above and around the table shenanigans and then trusting a motley group of dumb guys to try and make it work. And somehow, it all came out beautifully.

Poor Kristin is always privy to my inane ramblings. And this time, she’s with the press. Don’t print that.

I could listen to Mary tell Dennis to “Shut Up” over and over. Especially when Dennis is ready to tell us Conway Twitty errrr, Conrad Birdie is Coming – a few moments AFTER Conrad has already arrived on stage.

And Bobby, today’s your last day to mangle your line and yell “All Aboard” at the most inappropriate times!!! Pat if he does that – remember. He’s new!!! Go easy on him.

Lynn’s Mama is a force of nature – the Mother from Hell. The Bumble Bee Tuna line kills me every time.

Cheyenne is not only a Gateway Summer Musical pro at this point – she also gets extra points for babysitting my kids once upon a time.

Linda’s Maude is as tough as they come yet she still found time to give my face a fairer shade of Ed – as just the latest in my long line of make-up consultants. Today – Stewart gets to put on my Happy Face. On second thought…

You want true professionalism. Ashleigh banged up her leg yesterday in mid-performance, hobbled around back stage – and still hit every number with style. I get a paper cut and I’m out for the season.

Lara has an awesome voice, made a very tasty bread and has liked each and every one of my Updates on this Wall. That makes her the best person in this cast!!! 🙂

So, Simone may not be packing a pistol in her dress unlike last show but MAYBE in her hairdo. The jury is still out.

Allen is my Shriner-in-Arms. When I yell assemble, he’s right there gassing up the Shriner Mobile.

Con-Brad is ever so dreamy. Even in leopard-print.

My fondest memory of Paige is her nightly excursion to the Boy’s Dressing Room. It didn’t matter what state of undress we were in or what state of disrepair the room was in, she always waltzed in with a “I’m coming over here because this room is much cleaner and more fun” than our neighbors to the right. Of course, the girls had better snacks so everything equals out in the end.

As for Billy – night after night, he woke up just in time to steal the show with his mugging pantomime. And being paired up with him for bows, I could bask in the enormous wave of applause that greeted us the second the audience caught sight of our resident crowd pleaser, Billy. I would pretend that all that love and adulation was for me. But I know better. And at the end of each day, I go home and cry. 🙂

No one ever attends to a fainting Sue Adams. What kind of backwater burg is Sweet Apple – one where people don’t even have the good sense to keep their drinks off a props table?

Megan is my stage wife for two scenes and doesn’t even mind if I faint and knock her eyelashes out. Sorry I left you and got hooked on Loop-the-Loop, honey.

Tyler’s newsman getting the hot scoop, and never failing to warn me during the Courthouse scene that Conrad Birdie is secretly bringing Communism to Middle America. No wonder we all fainted. I knew it couldn’t just be that blinding, glorious, shiny belt buckle that turns me into a raging, panting jungle beast.

Dave Corkum and John Morrill may be saving the day by bringing the tech and lights to life but secretly they are conspiring behind the scenes to get me to lose that hat I wear in the early Sweet Apple scenes. I’ve been told it looks ridiculous. That I look like death. Or a gangster. But let’s be honest here. It’s a pimp hat and Sweet Apple is now my town. I’m taking it over.

Unless Michelle Morrill rides in and takes my costume back to where it came. I’m sure the raccoon I fought in the costume room would be glad to have its soul mate back.

Oh wait, that’s sitting on Nick Adams’ head.

There’s no greater stage manager than Kathie Grenier. See, I thought that would get me a spotlight – but then I realized she would need to tell Dave and John to make it happen, and as long as I’m wearing that hat – those guys are leaving the theater bathed in darkness. BUT that does not take away from the fact that Kathie is the Greatest Stage Manager of All Time*. (*And that’s how you get extra Skittles.)

Paula can’t believe I remember her name. Neither can Chris. Well as this post proves, I’ve got everyone’s number – errrr, name.

Plus, Lou-Ellen helpfully quizzed me at Eighty-Ates last night. Another great memory that soured when Jeanne Dupuis thought I was Lou-Ellen’s dear hubby Dave and started hitting on me. Which begs a question? Why was she hitting on her friend’s husband? Which begs another question? What is Lou-Ellen doing with Dave? Which begs a third question? Why is Dave threatening to Photoshop my head on ever single Real Housewife of Beverly Hills if I don’t end this rambling manifesto sometime soon.

The Shriner Creed:
On Dress Rehearsal day, on Production night,
No women shall escape our sight
Let those who wear silly red hats atop shirts of white,
Behold the power… the Shriner’s light!”
SHRINERS ASSEMBLE!!!

Luis plays the greatest falling down sober drunk.

Bill’s Mayor will Never, Ever, Ever get my vote again. His town is falling to pieces. But, he does remain the sole cheerleader of the Ed Humphries “Lot of Livin’” Adult Dance Squad so that’s got to be worth something.

And while Sam’s Kim gives Rip such fits and starts at the mere mention of Mussolini, her lovely singing voice just makes mine sounds like gravel rolling down endless sheets of steel roof plating. Why am I in this show again?

The other Sam dropping like a ton of bricks each night in the Courthouse scene, brings the house down. Best. Faint. Ever!!!

Julia’s Ursula is awesome – sending poor Con-Brad running and screaming from Sweet Apple the second the mere threat of “Or-Geeee” is raised.

When I signed on to the big summer musical, I had no idea it was one of those body-switching comedies. I just know that Jarred (sp?) has swapped bodies with some 40-year old dude whose likely playing Pokemon somewhere while our Jarred continues to regale us with 100 Reasons Why Gilda Radner is the Greatest Comedienne ever. I’m almost 40 and I don’t even know half the stuff he’s talking about.

Nathan and his boys nearly steal that Telephone Hour with their booming bass bravado. But back stage – Nathan and I have conspired to pitch Gateway on a 7-part Stephen King’s Dark Tower musical. I’ll get started on the lyrics as soon as this post finally ends.

Gwen should get top-billing as Lady Liberty.

The twins were greeted to the future Tony Award Winning cast of Bye Bye Birdie serenading them with Happy Birthday. Not a bad way to close the night and herald in a whole new year.

Kiel and the Orchestra brought amazing musical accompaniment – even when forgetting to show up with, you know, a book of music.

Barbara and Larry – This show is for you!!!

And of course, We Love You Pat. Oh yes we do!!! (P.S. Do we have a show?)

Thanks to all for making my first musical (since early college) such a precious memory – a shining tile in my own personal life’s mosaic.
I’ll never forget this. Not even for an instant.

As for me, I have but one last directive guiding me forward – hopefully for years to come.

Once more… with feeling!!!

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