Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Curtain Time

I have always had a very nostalgic feeling for the theatre.

In fact, everything involved with putting on a show has always felt like it’s been in my blood, the make-up, costumes, the brotherhood of actors and the gambling with an audience. I’m surprised I haven’t tried to do more with this enthusiasm, though I suppose a difficult case of shyness probably has something to do with it. There’s just something about the idea of a box with a curtain in the front, opening to reveal a world that could be anywhere that soothes and excites me. I just love it.

I’m not sure where this comes from. My actual stagework has been, to put it kindly, limited. I did the usual sort of school plays. I was one of the King’s children in The King And I and actually had a line: “Walk on water?” I did a short A.A. Milne one-act play called The Man In The Bowler Hat which was extremely funny and I remember garnering my share of laughs. I debuted as a semi-professional as one of the workhouse boys in a local production of Oliver! For that audition I sang a Mad Magazine parody of California, Here I Come! called Cleopatra, Here I Come! that went on to say:

Caesar’s dead, but don’t be glum!
(something something), night time and day!
I’ll woo ya, sing to ya!
Hear me, Cleo, when I say that

I would gladly walk a mile
Just for your Egyptian smile
Open up that River Nile!
Cleopatra, Here I Come!

And that, incredibly, got me the job.

I realize looking back that I have sublimated this basic urge to perform in a number of ways. Going on the radio was a sort of theatre for me, with the same feeling of preparing a show backstage and then opening the curtains. The musical performances I’ve done have felt the same. The adrenalin just gets flowing when it comes to organizing something for an audience, something that, if not Art, at least carries with it the imprint of its maker and the aspiration to be something more than the sort of entertainment you could find anywhere.

And, of course, it is not lost on me that this very thing you are reading is once again another form of theatre. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I suppose. In another age, I like to think I would have been a vaudevillian, doing sketches in baggy pants with buxom chorines.

All of this is merely prelude, though, to the story I really mean to tell. The story of my greatest performance, witnessed only by a handful, but which I like to think haunts them still. To tell it, we must travel back to a nondescript high school in the Philadelphia suburbs circa 1970. To understand it, well…

You may decide, like those who were temporarily trapped that day in the jewel box of my imagination, that some things were never meant to be understood.

Next: A Raisin In The Stunned


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