Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Identity on the Catwalk, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I got to participate in a fashion show that served as one of the fundraisers for the annual Nisei Week in Little Tokyo. I was happy to be one of the volunteer models, anticipating the automatic sense of community I feel whenever I attend a Japanese American event.

I knew I would be one of the older volunteer models, wearing the casual and sporty Georg Roth shirts, and serving as a live mannequin for the Asiatic Citron designs. But I was still relieved when I arrived at the Biltmore Hotel and saw that I was not the oldest model.

I am not the tallest or handsomest guy, even as a volunteer in a community event. But I am a bit of an Attention Whore, still, and I know how to ham it up. I know how to fake confidence, if needed.

When the male models lined up backstage to go on for the actual show, any slight nervousness or insecurity faded away as soon as I heard the plucky opening notes to Duffy's "Mercy." It was the perfect struttin' music.

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Duffy's vocals came clear and confident through the speakers as I focused on taking strong, measured steps. This wasn't a paid gig, so what did I have to lose? I put one foot right in front of the other, a la Bob Fosse, all the while adding just the right amount of sassiness to my walk - not too much.

And the women were screaming. They started screaming from the audience as soon as the first male model appeared on the catwalk. Without looking directly into the spotlight, or at anyone in particular I remembered to play to both sides of the house, as well as to the center, just as I had been taught in my early years of dinner theater.

I paused at the end of the runway to pull the corners of my collar up while shrugging my shoulders in a forward roll (hammy). I stole a few more seconds of stage time and lowered my sunglasses just enough to peer above the lenses at the audience before making my sassy way back upstage (hammier).

And it wasn't about me. I was relaxed because it was about the men's shirts as well as the women's fashions. It was more about the contestants for the Miss Nisei Week pageant, who performed their own dance number to Michael Jackson music.

And of course, it was about the Nisei, which literally means "second generation" and refers to the Asian Americans that were born to immigrant parents.

I'm proud to be my own small version of nisei, having been born in California after my father brought his Japanese bride from overseas. It is a privilege to be one of the many faces in this specific and many-faceted community. I feel lucky to be able to actively participate in life this way, even if just for a brief afternoon of fantasy role playing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Songs

Last week I went to my first singing audition in over a year. I almost chickened out, too. I had actually cancelled my audition appointment, but then I was cajoled to show up anyway, just for kicks and giggles.

I had nothing to lose, so I went and sang. We even danced a little at the audition, which was for a revue at a dinner theater. The audition went well and I realized that I had panicked for nothing.

I did not get the show. I was a little disappointed but more relieved. The time commitment was pretty grueling, with night time rehearsals going until 11:00 pm. Not bad when you're a struggling actor waiting tables and can sleep in, in the mornings. Not a good choice, though, when you need to stay awake forty hours a week at a day job.

I will wait for the next audition, for the right opportunity.

Last week I had my first private voice lesson in forever. That went well, also. I asked a friend to recommend a teacher and the instructor turned out to be exactly what I was looking for - someone with an extensive background in musical theater and one who is able to guide me to songs that are age-appropriate for me.

My new voice teacher recommended "I Am Adolpho" as a good comedy piece for me. The song is from "A Drowsy Chaperone" (look it up on youtube - it's a hoot!). I found a reasonably priced collection of vocal selections from that musical on ebay.

The new instructor also pointed me toward musicnotes.com, a web site where you can pay to download music and print it out, for an average of about $5.00 a song - and all legally, too! I am amazed at the Age of Instant Gratification that we live in (and I am, perhaps, a little too easily impressed).

I made my first music purchases online tonight: George Michael's "Kissing a Fool" (to replace the copy I had bought more than twenty years ago and have since misplaced), and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City" (youtube that one, too, if you don't know it!).

Lately, I have been doing vocal warm ups during my scooter ride into work, working on increasing my range, both with the lower bass notes and the higher falsetto notes. I have noticed an improvement in my breathing capacity, something I have practiced and benefited from in recent jogging and swimming.

I look pretty youthful for my age, but I will never again be cast in a young leading or supporting role. I can never be one of the teenagers in "Grease" or "Hairspray" or "Bye Bye Birdie." I will never be able to play Jack in "Into the Woods," one of my dream roles.

But I may still have time to get cast in a production of "The Full Monty" some day, or maybe land a featured part in "Little Shop of Horrors." I may be too old to ever play Matt in "The Fantasticks" again (my first musical in high school), but I could get cast as one of the fathers or maybe even El Gallo. Even just thinking about the possibilities is enough to perk me up.

I need to get new head shots!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Congratulations - It's a Gay!

"Mom? Dad? There's something I have to tell you. I'm gay."

For the second time this year, a friend told me that their young adult child had just come out to them. I was asked for advice, even. As much as I am willing to share (over share?), I first emphasize that I am not a parent, so I don't know if I can offer proper advice.

That never stops me, though.

If your daughter or son tells you that she/he is gay, here are a few pointers based on when I had come out to my own parents:

1.) Don't try to place any blame, especially on yourself. It is not your fault, nor is it your child's fault. It is a waste of time, mulling over the last eighteen years or more, trying to figure out what you could have done differently. To me, that would be equivalent to trying to determine why your child ended up in a heterosexual marriage and produced biological children.

2.) Don't ask, "How could this happen to me, in my family?" This is not about you - this is about your child. Ironic as it may seem, this is not something to take personally. How could this happen to you? Because it is not a terrible, horrible thing - the earth will continue to rotate. It is a normal situation, more common that you may originally think. Plus, it's damaging to displace any perceived negativity onto your child's self esteem.

3.) Do be willing to listen. Gay or straight, most adult children are squeamish about talking to their parents about sex in general, let alone their sexuality. As I had said to my friend this weekend, try to see your child's coming out as a means of opening the lines of communication. If you can tell your parents you're gay, you should be able to talk about almost anything!

4.) Avoid the despairing and initial gut reaction of, "But you'll never have any children of your own." There are also straight people who are not able to have children of their own. And just as despairing is the fact that there are too many children in this world who will never have any parents of their own. This can be an opportunity, not a limitation.

5.) Do continue to accept your child. If demonstrating acceptance is not part of your normal family routine, then what better time to start practicing?

I also advised my friend to focus on the resources that are available today, both for young adults who are newly out of the closet and for their parents, such as looking online for the nearest PFLAG chapter. I wish I had had such information available - and so privately - in the pre-Internet days when I was struggling internally with my sexuality.

I also asked my friend if it would be appropriate to offer my congratulations. As Ellen DeGeneres memorably asked in her sitcom, "Why can't we say, 'Good for you!' when someone comes out? Why shouldn't our reaction be, 'Good for you - you're gay!'"