Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor's Life For Me?

Picture it. Sicily. Er...uh...sorry. New York City. 2003. A young man fresh out of theatre school comes to the city to "make it". He had been performing since he was 5 years old. (Suck it, all you other kindergarteners who wanted the only speaking role in Peter Rabbit! You should have learned how to read sooner!) He had stars in his eyes and bells on his toes, ready to conquer the glittering grey slab of a city he landed in that fateful summer. Fast forward eight years and he's living a low-rent version of The Devil Wears Prada with a language barrier (since he doesn't speak simian) and scant prospects for getting ahead. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing since he would rather chew tin foil than parlay his current job into a career. What happened? How did he get from there to here? What comes next? And what in the world does it all have to do with Disney? Keep your wits about you, kiddos. We'll try to get it all straightened out.

This doesn't look unlike
me at 10. But i was fatter.
So, that young man was me. Anthony. No kidding! I just felt like I had to clarify on the off chance that it was still hazy for anyone. Allegedly, I was an actor once. Looking back now, I see a few Disney connections throughout my illustrious educational and community theatre career. I was off to an auspicious start, getting the lead in Chicken Little in first grade (we're talking the late eighties here, so far before Disney's feature, but long after the short) and every other show up until fourth grade, when I lost the title role in Johnny Appleseed to one of my best friends, Jason. Why?!? Was I no longer talented? Was it the pudge that was magically beginning to appear where none before had been? Was it because Jason was a blonde? I was perplexed. Ultimately, it drove an immovable wedge between us. Our friendship was never quite the same, but that's showbiz, kids.

Me on the right. Impressive costume, no?
Around the same time I also failed to land any of the prime rolls in a production of Through the Looking Glass, an adaptation of the Lewis Carroll book that CAST (Center for the Arts- School of Theater), my home away from home / the youth theater I belonged to, was mounting. When the cast list was posted, I scanned the page, looking for my name and found it following "Daisy #2....." I was crushed. No amount of TLC from Mama could placate me. I cried like I had just been told that I'd lost the lead in a show on the Broadway. Finally, Mama called Peggy, the woman who ran the theater and one of my heroes, and asked her if she could talk me down from my abnormally-dramatic-for-a-pre-pubescent ledge. After five minutes, Peggy made me believe that Daisy #2 was the most important character in the story and I was the most committed Daisy #2 ever. I learned the old, and valuable, "no small parts, only small actors" adage during that production. It has served me well. Thanks, Peggy!

Sing yo face off in that dramatic lighting, gurl!
I continued performing all through lower and middle school. The arts are where I found my solace. If I didn't have drama and music, I don't know what would have become of me. (Side note: The arts in schools are important, y'all. They save lives.) I performed "Candle on the Water" with two friends for a competition where we were required to conjure a scenario to introduce the song. We figured that dragons and lighthouses and the rest of Passamaquoddy would be a bit too much for the straight-laced music judges and so we decided to portray three orphans- two of whom were being adopted, leaving the third behind. Cue the emotive ballad. Even at twelve, I was working on perfecting my Helen Reddy.

High school came and I decided that I wanted to pursue acting as a career, much to Mama's chagrin. She wanted me to be an optometrist. Whoops. The closest that I came to Disney during my high school years was playing Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors the summer before my senior year. It's the show that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote before they caught Disney's attention and it's one of my faves. Seymour was one of my bucket list roles. I also fell head over heels in love with the girl playing Audrey, which made me re-question my sexuality two years after I cracked the closet door. Awkward, huh? (Update: I'm still gay.)

When college hit, all things Disney were moved to the back burner as I became a "serious" actor who did "serious" work by Kushner and Sondheim and Euripides, etc. Though there was a lot of child-like joy surrounding those years in my life, it was sadly devoid of the mouse. After graduation, I moved to New York City and soon thereafter landed my first professional gig in a children's theatre tour. I played Peter, the oldest brother, and an evil gnome in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was me (the gay boy), two straight guys, a lesbian and a thirty-year old virgin Mennonite (who was the most well-adjusted of us all) traveling with our stage manager, luggage, set and costumes in a van built to seat five.

Yup. That's me on the left.

We performed our show across the eastern half of the country from Florida to Flint, Michigan, with a stint in Amish country. I will never forget the chubby Amish boy in traditional garb and a bowl cut hiding under his teacher's arm because the witch terrified him so much. I guess that's what happens when you don't have a TV. But they are allowed the fanciest, pink, maribou-feather-topped, scented pens, apparently, because that's what the little girls handed us to sign autographs with after the show. The whole tour was fascinating, but three months packed like sardines in a maroon van is enough to drive anyone batty.

And that, my dear folks, is my last professional gig in NYC. It got me my Equity card and since then it has been a popcorn garland of rejection. That was over five years ago and since then I've done one small concert and traveled back home to play one of my other bucket list roles (Leo Frank in Parade) at one of my hometown theaters. At this point I've realized that I'm not cut out for the business part of show business. I love theatre for the sense of joy, discovery and community that comes when you put a group of creative people in a room together, give them words to bring to life, and let them discover. Increasingly the scene here feels like I'm back in middle school lunch room and not being allowed to sit at the cool kid's table when that feeling is exactly what I got into the theatre to avoid.

In my last role as Leo Frank in Parade. I love this shot.
I also did some writing here and there. I wrote a play that I'm very proud of, but can't quite wrap my brain about getting it produced. I don't know the right people. I didn't go to the right school. So I watch an abundance of mediocre theatre happen around me and it makes me feel hopeless. I miss the spark that used to happen when I was surrounded by people who weren't being strangled by their need for success. As y'all know by now, Tom and I are planning our exit from New York soon. There is nothing that excites me more than becoming a part of a smaller, more close knit theatrical community again.

All of this came up the other day because I remembered a monologue that I had written a few years back when I took a playwriting course. On the first day, after we walked in and sat down, the instructor asked us to write a monologue. I launched into one about a young man who had a love of Disney but was scared to take his boyfriend with him to the Magic Kingdom. I decided to share it with y'all. Please feel free to use it for your next big audition or Acting I class.

We all know deep down that it's rather deceptive, really. The whole concept of "The Happiest Place on Earth". The bright colors and parades. The smiles and laughter. The music flowing out of everywhere from the roofs and lampposts to the bushes piping in The Music Man on a loop. The complete lack of trash anywhere. I mean, how does that even happen? Is there a trash fairy brigade with latex gloves and work boots under their tutus flitting around collecting discarded Mickey wrappers and Mickey cups and Mickey bags? An endless volume of Mickey waste.

Yet, we adore it. I know at least I do. Every square inch of manufactured joy. It makes me feel completely happy. That same wonderful, safe sense of happy that I used to feel when I was a pudgy ten-year-old sitting too close to the TV immersed in a worn-out VHS tape of The Parent Trap or Beauty and the Beast. Or Freaky Friday. The first one without crack-headed Lindsay Lohan. Or The Little Mermaid. God! I wanted long, red hair and fishtail so bad! Or at least the doll, which mom and dad were loathe to buy me but did anyway. After my endless pleading.

So I can understand why you would think coming with me to Disney would be fantastic. It's completely logical. But I'm telling you- Disney park plus boyfriend plus me equals inevitable doom. And that makes me sad. I'll never have the Disney wedding of my dreams. Or Disney commitment ceremony of my dreams. Whichever. Because my relationships are vulnerable to a curse. Each one I've had that included a blissful, carefree Disney excursion has ended tragically. Tragically. We're talking about what it takes weeks of nothing but Dunkin' Donuts and Gilmore Girls marathons to recover from.

I can't do that with you. Firstly, I've been feeling chunky as of late and can't afford the binge. And secondly, because I think I might love you and I want you to stick around for a while. So, just give me a week in Florida and then I'll come home and we'll watch Aladdin together. I'll even bring you back one of those collectible pins. Just be here when I get back, OK? Let's try to give this one a happily ever after.

It is completely autobiographical. I had horrible luck with taking men to Disney. We would have an amazing time and then soon after our return, the whole thing would go to pot. Luckily, that streak of luck was broken with my husband, Tom. We share a love of Disney and have been to Disneyland twice and Walt Disney World once. We even got engaged in the Haunted Mansion. Strangely enough, we are also both actors who have learned to appreciate an actor's life outside of the pressures of making it our living. Either central Florida or southern California is about to get two more performer/writers who got fed up with this cold city of concrete and ambition and are ready to make some art!

My next role? Here's hopin'!
Of course, one day I would love to marry these two passions. I would love to write or perform for Disney some day. Nothing would make me happier than being a writer in the Imagineering department or playing Marlin in Finding Nemo the Musical at Animal Kingdom (which happens to be one of the best musicals playing anywhere these days, including Broadway, where one of the other best musicals, Book of Mormon, was also written by Nemo's Robert Lopez). Who knows? Maybe one of these dreams can still come true someday. One never knows, does one? For now, I will be happy just taking a step closer to the things that bring a sense of joy and fulfillment to my life because those are the things that are important to keep close.

1 comment:

  1. Can I just say that I cannot wait to meet you! haha This was very funny and beautifully honest. I'll keep my eyes open on the Disney Theatrical Group board for you! I do also agree that the Finding Nemo Musical is a lot better than most Broadway shows I've seen which is so sad when you really look at it. Again, sending you and Tom good luck vibes. Cali and Fl would be lucky to have you guys! -Chelle