Thursday, December 20, 2012
I go back and forth, between feeling I should be more age appropriate in my performing desires (blah, boring) and saying to hell with it, age be damned. I lean toward the latter (for now), constantly inspired as I am by other people's performances.
Favorite Aunt Pat bought tickets to Donny & Marie's Christmas show at the Pantages. It was her early Christmas present to me. I had been reading good things about the show on facebook, but neither of us expected to enjoy the show as much as we did.
The show was a good mix of traditional Christmas songs, pop tunes, and the Osmonds' well-known hits from forty years ago. All age groups were in the audience, so it was a great show for those of us old enough to remember when they were "a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll" on their Friday night variety show.
There were no Ice Angels skating on the stage . . . But I didn't know that they would have a chorus of dancers! Four young women and four young men added a lot of fun energy to the numbers. It was like watching a topnotch revue on board a cruise ship.
Marie jokingly inserted references to Nutrisystem, and Donny kept lording over her the fact that he had won his round of Dancing With the Stars. Donny is 55, now, and I watched closely as he kept up with the other male dancers less than half his age. The guy rocks like the white boy that he is, in the hip hop numbers, but the point is that he still rocks!
And they look good, both of them, on top of being as vocally strong as ever. I don't have five decades of lifetime performing to fall back on, the way that the Osmond siblings do. But I am inspired! If they can still kick it on stage, then I still have a few years left to continue auditioning for local shows.
I can't wait!
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Well, there went six years of my life.
I was fired from my job last week, from the film school in LA.
I am okay, grateful, even, which was a little surprising.
I am fine, mostly because I am covered, financially, even emotionally.
It was not completely unexpected. I had been spoken to, earlier in the year, about the option of leaving on my own, voluntarily. Instead, I asked for a probation period to attempt, once again, to improve my performance, to increase my numbers.
I am only mildly devastated, if at all (Am I in shock? Will I feel it later, like a paper cut?). It was a good job, a great job, even, at times. But I didn't love it. I enjoyed the customer service aspect of it, but not the sales part. I didn't want to take advantage of anyone.
I didn't hate my job, but I wasn't thriving in it. Mostly, I just focused on being grateful to be employed at all in our recent economy.
But no more commuting in freeway traffic, at least for now. No more forty-five hour work weeks, and no more Saturday open house shifts once a month.
It was my first real job after years of waiting tables between far-too-few performing jobs in theme parks and on cruise ships. So, for that I will always be grateful, my first real world work experience.
For now, I will focus on cleaning the clutter out of my house. I will be the anti-hoarder (except for the Furbies, of course). I will inquire about volunteer opportunities while I search online and apply for job positions. I will practice my musical theater songs for upcoming auditions.
And I will write. Now I have no excuse not to start blogging regularly again. I will make an honest effort to complete the rough draft of my young adult novel, Scooter Boy. I may even put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, to jot down a first draft of the drag queen revue that's been bubbling around my mind for the last few years.
I will meditate on where I want to be six years from now, and let that help me make my decisions over the next few weeks.
I will remain optimistic, even though I know I may not be able to keep feeling so every single day.
Phoenix rising, again.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Paul was short, short enough to fulfill the five foot tall and under requirement for the costume. He wasn’t a dancer, but he must have attended the same dance audition that I did for the Electrical Parade at Disneyland.
Paul was cast as Mickey Mouse in that parade.
I didn’t know Paul that well, even though we had both graduated from Norco High about a year before we were first hired at Disneyland. I knew who Paul was. I think he was albino, his pale skin and white-blond hair making him distinctive, in addition to his height. I think his eyes were sensitive to bright light. He wore sunglasses in his senior portrait for the school’s yearbook.
Paul had helped out with the football team, I’m not sure quite how, I’m ashamed to say. I never paid much attention to the football games, even when I was playing in the stands or for the half time shows with the marching band. I think he may have helped with game statistics or something.
It was among the football team that Paul was called by his nickname, “Radar.” I read an interview with Paul, I think in the school paper, where he was quoted as identifying with the character of the same name on the T.V. series “M.A.S.H.”
A year after graduating from high school, Paul and I sometimes carpooled to the Magic Kingdom together. I still didn’t get to know him very well. He was nice and polite, but quiet. Once inside Mickey Mouse though, he had the proper enthusiastic energy while atop the big, round float lit up like a Christmas tree, bouncing in tempo to the light and peppy electronic parade music (“Baroque Hoedown,” it was called).
I was probably too closed off to Paul. At nineteen, I was dealing with coming out of the closet that summer, trying to find a compromise between my sexuality and my Christian upbringing. I wasn’t comfortable talking to Paul about what I was going through.
In recent years, I had heard that Paul already passed away, I don’t know how or from what. I was sad to hear it.
In the almost three decades since that first summer at Disney, my strongest memory of Paul was on the last night of the Electrical Parade. Backstage, before that last parade of the summer season, Paul sat with his Mickey head cradled in his lap. He held the pale rubber face and black fur-covered ears as one would hold a beloved pet, rocking back & forth.
Paul was saying goodbye to Mickey. It was too much like someone saying goodbye before having to put a family pet down, so bittersweet.
Being Mickey Mouse may have been the best thing to happen to my classmate who was born five feet tall. Paul had the energy and the experience to audition into the park’s Character department, as I did after the summer parade ended. But perhaps the daytime shifts were not an option for his sensitive eyes, even though his head would have been covered, his eyes shaded by dark, cartoon lenses.
Wherever Paul is now, I hope he’s still bouncing to the beat, as happy and as energetic as his former alter ego, free from any limitations.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
I survived my last scooter crash last week, on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012. As much as I hate to have to admit it, that may have been my last scooter ride ever, at least, on the freeway.
I am comfortable splitting lanes, going in between lanes of cars on the freeway, passing everyone and beating traffic. It's legal, here, in California. But my scooter is small, freeway-legal though it may be. I know I'm practically invisible to other motorists.
The guy driving the huge pick-up truck saw me. He was in the carpool lane and he inched over to his left. I felt safe enough to pass him on his right as I accelerated. The vehicle in front of him did not see me. The woman driving that vehicle was crossing the double yellow line to jump out of the carpool lane into the lane on our right. I was too close to her. I couldn't brake and/or swerve in time to avoid colliding with her.
My candy-orange scooter bounced off of her car, and then hit the bumper of a second car in front of hers. I was aware of flying off of my bike, clearing the windshield (thank goodness!), and doing what felt like a rather spectacular single flip before hitting the pavement. The driver of the second car that I had hit stopped in front of me and got out. He asked if I was okay and told me to sit up. He was wearing a sheriff's uniform and he was speaking into his phone.
In less than five minutes I was surrounded by other police cars and fire department vehicles. I couldn't help noticing that I was also surrounded by several young and attractive officers and fire fighters. Using shears, they sliced through my work slacks and dress shirt sleeves to see if any other external injuries could be located. I was glad I had chosen an outfit that I didn't care about losing.
Before the other vehicles arrived I could feel the sprain in my right ankle. I rotated it gently. There wasn't much pain but it was already swollen. I removed my helmet and propped my right foot up on it. Sitting there on the 10 freeway, cars going around our collision site (some of them honking, even), I was thinking to myself that I was going to have to get my ankle checked out at the hospital. I could still probably make it to my friend's play that night, "Prelude to a Kiss," I thought, even though I might have to miss work that day. I could still be back on stage the next night for "Miss Saigon," I had thought, even though I would probably have to stay out of the dance numbers.
X-rays at the first hospital confirmed both a dislocation and a fracture. The need for surgery was also confirmed. I heard the words 'fibula' and 'femur.' I wasn't going to be able to finish the remaining three weeks of "Miss Saigon" performances. I wasn't even going to be able to go to work for a while. I was acutely aware of how lucky I was to come away alive and in one piece, that nothing else was seriously injured besides my ankle, other than a few bruises and scrapes.
I felt both humbled and extremely fortunate.
I was later transferred to a second hospital, one a mile away from my home, which made me much happier. After a comfortable night, surgery was performed the next day.
I'm on crutches now, but even luckier - I haven't been taking the painkillers at all. I haven't even filled the prescription, which includes a narcotic, so I am not anxious to take it. The pain is minimal. I've only been taking Tylenol once a day.
I am anxious to get back to work, to get back to my regular routine and regular pay. But I may have to wait a couple of weeks or more. I have been instructed to rest and keep the foot elevated so that the bones can heal properly, along with a couple of pins or screws that have been placed inside.
I could be sad about not dancing for the rest of the show this month. But I am optimistic about auditioning for shows next year, the year that I will be turning forty-seven. Anxious as I am to get into my car and drive to work using only my left foot, my biggest motivator to stay put is the possibility of dancing again in 2013.
I will miss my scooter-riding days. I'm not sure if that was my last scooter ride ever, but it was the last time I'll commute to work on the freeway on one. I have been pushing my luck for too long, and drivers in L.A. are crazy. Riding a scooter and passing other cars has shown me a number of people texting while sitting in traffic.
I'll miss you, scooter. Thanks for the feel-good days of driving in sunshine and good weather. Thanks for the feeling of freedom I had felt while driving at safe and leisurely speed rates. Thanks for the adrenaline and euphoria during the faster speed rates. Thanks for the me time and all of the songs I had playing in my head while I rode. Thanks for quiet time and meditation I accomplished while riding.
I'll miss you. But I am very thankful to be alive, to have the chance to start over and rebuild from only a fractured ankle.
The photo above is courtesy of the BFF Kathy files.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Drained, emotionally drained.
I already knew going in, before rehearsals started, that I would be crying quite a bit while learning the music and blocking for Miss Saigon. Even just in first vocal rehearsals, sitting around a piano with the cast, I had to bow my head to weep as quietly as possible while Nicole, our "Kim," sang the moving solo, "I'd Give My Life for You," a heart wrenching song of love and devotion sung to the character's small son, "Tam."
I was glad I was sitting in the back row.
Tam is played by Kyle, a six-year-old actor. He looks like and reminds me of my nephew, who is the same age. Kyle also looks the way my college-age nephew, Shane, did so many years ago, when Shane had auditioned for the very same role.
It's difficult for me to handle when Nicole/Kim is singing to Kyle/Tam in rehearsals. I see my own mother's face as I watch Nicole sing about parental devotion and sacrifice to Kyle, who is a tangible and corporeal representation of my inner child and vulnerability.
And I am absolutely loving the entire rehearsal process. I am trying to be consciously aware of how much I appreciate the opportunity to be part of this amazing and special project. Many of the cast members, from as young as 17-years-old to almost-my-age, have done the show before. A few of them were in the national tour. The directing and creative team sincerely care about and respect the story of the show and the way it's told.
It is not a "happy show," but it is a joy and a privilege to be part of this cast that is synchronized in unspoken understanding and a willing, mutual effort. Everyone demonstrates a high level of professionalism in that they all know how to show up, and shut up, and focus on the task at hand.
I told a coworker that one of the reasons I'm enjoying the rehearsal process so much is because this is one of the first times in my life that I feel as though I'm in the middle of a storybook, bringing it to life.
But oh, how we cry. During a climatic scene in the second act, when the iconic helicopter swoops in from above, we are screaming at an uppermost level of desperation as Vietnamese villagers, pleading with American G.I. soldiers to let us in past the border gates and fences, begging them to save and rescue us. Every cast member has been so genuine in their individual performances that we all seem to feed off of and support each other. The only way I know how to pull off the level of desperation needed for that scene is to think of my late pug, Caesar, as I scream to be united with my son. With the heartbreaking cries and pleas of the other cast members, the desperate tears flow easily.
I am exhausted. And I am at my happiest, my most content, from the fulfillment of doing what I love best and from the satisfaction of getting to be part of such a high quality production. It has been worth the lack of sleep. It hasn't been too bad during the daytime, sleepy at my job's desk, and yet, feeling peaceful and grateful while I anticipate the evening's pending rehearsal.
I have been listening to the music from this show for two decades, now. I should have made more effort to get into a production of it much earlier in my life, even for the national tour. But I have lived a lot of my life in the "better late than never" mode. Now, as an older performer, the young women of the cast affectionately call me "Auntie," partially because of the "mama-san" character I play in the opening bar scene. It is an endearing moniker that warms my overly-emotional heart, reassuring me of the bond we have already formed in our little theater family.
Yes, better late than never.
For information about tickets and show times, please visit Candlelight Pavilion's web site.
(The photo above is from the rehearsal of of yet another emotionally-charged scene where soldiers intimidate and abuse the main character, Kim)
Sunday, July 22, 2012
An interracial baby boy was born, recently, to two of my coworkers. "Aunt Peter loves that you had an Asian baby!" I joked. Neither the mother nor the father, who both laughed (thank goodness), are of Asian descent. Their newborn son just looked rather Asiatic in his first twenty-four hours.
I'm glad I can make people laugh with my feminine nickname. And I'm glad I feel relaxed about making fun of myself . . . now. There was a time when I didn't laugh about my silly moniker.
"Prissy, your Aunt Peter is here," Jerry would say to his cat when I came to visit.
Years ago, Jerry and I had become close friends at work. He was very supportive when I first came out of the closet and struggled, as a young adult, to try to find a compromise for my sexuality and Christianity. He had always been there for me when I needed a shoulder to lean on, especially the shoulder of a Christian friend.
Jerry was also willing to provide a listening ear when I started attending a weekly support group for ex-gays. It was a twelve-step program for Christian men who wanted their sexuality to stop interfering with their spirituality, however that may be interpreted.
In our effort to become complete as heterosexual men, one of the key theories we learned was the importance of shunning all things feminine from our personalities. I explained this to Jerry, and pointed out how damaging it was for him to address me with a feminine title.
And I had to emphasize that I was being completely serious.
The irony is that Jerry was not the most masculine of my friends, although he swore he was straight, from the day I had met him. Compounding the irony was the fact that we had worked together in entertainment - for Disney. Most of my friends from Disney and theater naturally had a finely tuned sense of gaydar. And most of those same people thought Jerry was very, um, "sweet."
Years later, as a single man, Jerry was still maintaining his heterosexual status. And it was years later that I finally went back to school to major in Gender Studies. Two years of soaking up the liberal and interesting perspectives of this field made me more open-minded about people's sexuality, including Jerry's.
Having been raised in a Christian family, it took a while for me to detach from a "black or white" lens. You were either straight or gay. You were either Christian or you were not. Learning about human sexuality helped me to appreciate all of the in between shades of greys, and pinks, and lavenders of people, including Jerry.
I also learned to appreciate the notion that "shunning all things feminine" is rather misogynistic. In the simplest nutshell, some men don't want to identify with women because it is beneath them. If women are inferior to men, then men should not want to be associated with any of their traits or qualities.
I love being Uncle Peter to my nieces and nephews. And I adore being an honorary auntie to my friends' children. I look up to quite a few women in my life: my own Aunt Pat, my dance teacher, Dede, and the CEO of our workplace, a role model for graciousness. It is an honor to emulate them, knowing even just a small part of the obstacles they have had to overcome.
So, I embrace the feminine in me, and the masculine. I love and accept that which is one hundred percent Peter Varvel.
(The photo above is of BFF Kathy's two children, Abby and Jonah, and me. At least they still call me Uncle Peter . . . for now).
Friday, July 6, 2012
Someone had asked me, years ago, if dancing took me to an almost spiritual level. He had heard that performing could be a religious experience for professional dancers. I regretted having to tell him that while I had enjoyed performing on stage, I hadn't experienced that euphoric ideal yet. I hated having to disappoint him.
Although I was 23-years-old, at the time, I was emotionally young, still. But I wasn't truly a professional dancer, even after achieving my desired status as a paid performer - at a dinner theater! I had started late in life as a dancer, getting my formal training after I had turned eighteen and had moved out of my parents' house. It would be years before I would even begin to comprehend the spirituality of dancing.
But I did enjoy those performing-induced endorphins early on. The natural high from physically exerting my body while performing live for an audience was addicting. I wanted more.
That was a long time ago. In the last few years I have been feeling a little angry, now and then, about my dancing days being behind me. Having started so late, I realize how lucky I am that I got to dance at all.
But it wasn't enough. I had wanted more, so much more. So I've started performing again this year, age be damned.
I will start rehearsals soon for "Miss Saigon." I have been walking around work feeling a quiet joy of anticipation, walking from my office past cubicles, thinking about the most recent dance audition that helped me get cast as one of the ensemble.
Now that I am older, I'm just grateful that my body can still "do it" when I go to the rare dance audition, grateful that I can still pick up the steps and execute them at a fairly strong level (thank goodness for all of the workouts of lifting weights, jogging, and Pilates). It is mortally exhausting, and yet I still have the urge, the drive to dance, to perform!
I think about the martial artsy/military-esque routine for "Miss Saigon's" audition, and the angry Vietnamese soldier I was trying to put forth. It was almost like a removal of my conscious self, in typical actor fashion. I got out of my own way to let another persona inhabit the dance and the movements and the storytelling.
While going over the dance audition in my mind this week, I realized that I was able go to that other place outside of myself, and into performance euphoria.
And I think, finally, at my age, I'm beginning to understand more about what it means to reach a more spiritual level via dancing.
Better late than never.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
"Marsha Grisham?" he asked. "Oh, I've worked with her. I was one of her dancers"
JB meant Martha Graham. He was pretending to be a name dropping braggadocio, a character that made me and other coworkers laugh. We knew by his barely perceptible tone of sarcasm that JB was well aware of getting the name wrong.
"I've also worked with Alan Hayley. I was in one of his original dance troupes."
I'll always keep a special place in my heart for JB, and not just because we can carry on entire conversations by quoting Bette Midler lines from Beaches, or from the Divine Miss M's comedy album "Mud Will Be Flung Tonight!"
JB: "One time I mixed Midol with speed - I had my period six times in one day!"
Me: "But I had to give up speed . . . I started to understand what Charo was saying."
JB: "Where're those Hebe's that wrote this act?"
JB taught me something important about comedy that I will never forget. I am not naturally funny, as much as I would like to be. I admire funny people, people like JB that can keep us in stitches.
"If you're going to make a comment in jest," JB explained, "if you're just being facetious, make sure to say it in a character voice, so people will know you're joking."
I can be one of the most inappropriate people I know, with what comes out of my mouth. I'm still learning, even at my age, the balance of when it's okay to let loose with inappropriate remarks, and when to censor myself. JB's advice has been useful more than once while trying to achieve this balance. I'll always be grateful to him for that.
When working with dancers and talking about favorite shows, the jazz and burlesque styles of Fosse inevitably come up. And JB would inevitably pipe in.
"Bob Foster? Oh, I've worked with him."
JB is also a skilled and talented photographer. The photo above is a kind of spontaneous moment that he had captured of the two of us.
Monday, June 25, 2012
I was resistant to the film version of The Hunger Games when it first came out, earlier this year. I hadn't even read the book, yet, but I didn't want to indulge the concept of teenagers murdering each other, even in fictional form. Even so, I knew I would give in to this most recent book-to-movie fad immediately if I just gave it a chance, judging by the comments I had read on facebook.
And hooked I was, when I read the first book cover to cover during my vacation.
I appreciated the symbolism of the lethal competition, especially in the main character's rebellion against government control. So many graphic, vivid, and even shocking scenes described in the book, scenes that I couldn't stop thinking about.
When I returned from vacation I found myself replaying the gruesome attacks in my mind, while jogging, including the venom-induced death by Tracker Jacker mutant wasps. The deadly insects seemed to be a corporal representation of the slings and arrows we endure in life, emotional and otherwise.
While jogging, another favorite fairytale death came to mind: the iocane powder scene from The Princess Bride. I thought about how the hero, Wesley, masquerading as the Dread Pirate Roberts, had spent some time slowly building up an immunity to iocane powder.
I told BFF Kathy that maybe we are able to build up an equivalent immunity of the emotional iocane powder in our lives. Whatever upsets us, whatever our own version of Tracker Jacker wasps are that we feel attacked by, maybe we need to embrace it. Maybe we can absorb the pain and venom of some situations, and process it in order to survive it, become stronger.
I don't want to hurt other people, but neither do I want to be hurt. I would not want to kill competitors in something as severe as the "Hunger Games," but neither would I want to be killed.
On an emotional level, instead of deliberately hurting others, even in self defense, can't I just build up enough strength and immunity to be able to withstand minor attacks? Given a choice, I would rather not, of course.
But we all know that we don't always have a choice in these matters, in our own individual lives. So I aim to make constant effort, to continually improve the odds in my favor.
"I have spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder."
~Wesley, The Princess Bride
Friday, June 22, 2012
It's been a good year for shows, so far.
After singing in the geek chorus for Geeks! The Musical, I got to be part of Inland Valley Repertory Theatre's production of Hairspray. I didn't get the part I had auditioned for, Corny Collins, the television host. But later, I was asked to fill in for the role of Male Authority Figure, a role that covers the bit parts of school principal, prison guard, and Mr. Pinky, the flamboyant dress shop owner.
The role also included Mr. Spritzer, the president of the Spritzer Hairspray company, who is in cahoots with the villainous Velma. Boy, did I have a good time! Once again, I felt lucky that things worked out the way that they did. Most of my performing experience has been singing and dancing, so I value the opportunity to do any non-singing, non-dancing parts.
Mr. Spritzer turned out to my favorite character. He ended up being a prissy, uptight, mousey, and nervous conservative, the way he came out of me. At first, all I could hear in my head was Droopy's voice (that nasally, sad sack cartoon dog) in the way that I vocalized the company president. Spritzer's posture was perpetually hunched over in the way I "felt" him, physically, constantly wringing his hands in worry, and always wrinkling his nose, as if he smelt something distasteful. He was also very jumpy, startled by any sudden dance movements of the teenagers-on-TV, or flinching at any musical outbursts during the songs.
I was a little disappointed not to be in any of the dance numbers, age-inappropriate as it may be for me, for this particular show of nostalgia. But I was happy just to be in rehearsals, watching the younger cast members dance . . . dancers half my age or younger, many of them young enough to be my daughters or sons.
My mother attended a performance with my Aunt Pat. She said, more than once, "I can't believe I'm old enough to have a son playing older characters on stage!"
Yep. I'm just glad that there are age-appropriate parts for me to audition for, still. I'm grateful for this production of Hairspray. Each and every cast member was amazingly talented. The production and directing team was on top of their game. I was impressed with how efficient and organized they were. And we all bonded so quickly, in a supportive atmosphere of mutual respect and admiration.
I'm sorry I missed the chance to be part of their production last year - Chicago! - but I'm grateful to get my foot in the door with them this year, and to have the chance to make a good impression.
I hope I did.
It's been a good year for shows. I was just cast in an upcoming production of Miss Saigon, as part of the Vietnamese ensemble. This is a show I have always wanted to do, and I continue to be grateful for performing opportunities, for dreams come true.
I can cross a couple more wishes off of my bucket list.
The photo above is of my new friends Jamie, as Velma Von Tussle, and Cesare, as Corny Collins, in Inland Valley Repertory Theatre's production of Hairspray. The one on the left with the squinty-eyed sourpuss face is yours truly. Photo credit: James Isaac Creative
Thursday, June 14, 2012
♪♪ Vacation, all I ever wanted . . . vacation - had to get away! ♫
It was a week of sleeping in, a week of overeating and underexcercising. It was a week of doing nothing except swimming and laying out by the pool during the day, and talking around the dinner table late into the night. There were a couple of day trips, but mostly, it was a week of catching up and just enjoying each other's company.
It was the second reunion with the dancers from my first cruise ship contract. It was also an anniversary of sorts. It has been twenty years since we were all first hired for Princess Cruises; two decades since we had first met each other in Los Angeles for rehearsals.
The women all look as young and fit as they did at the last reunion a few years ago. They could literally fit into their show costumes, still. It was the boys who had put on the weight, I must confess.
Susanna, originally from England, is currently living on the island of Mallorca with her partner and their son. Located near the coast of Spain, we all agreed that it would be a fun and affordable destination for our get together. Susanna found a marvelous rental home with ten bedrooms, and more importantly, right next to the beach! (pictures to follow in a future post).
Rather than going out every night for dinner, we order a truckload of groceries and mostly cook and clean together, morning, noon, and night, during our reunion week (I mostly help clean - mostly - since I don't actually cook). We have always worked well together and played well together, this little group of ours. In our first contract, we had organized cruise ship activities during the day and danced in stage shows at night. And we discovered that we genuinely enjoy each other's company.
Staying in for most meals made it easier to feed the six children that came to Mallorca with their "mums" (as the English say). The kids, ranging in ages 3 to 11, were content to divide their time between the backyard pool, the pool table indoors, and the Wii video games. I enjoyed watching them play a new video game called "Skylanders," complete with collectible, electronic-interactive figures.
There's not much to report about our week on the island. It was not an exciting trip, which is exactly what I wanted in a get-away excursion. We took the kids to a local pool park, and went on several water slides. Incredibly, they were anxious to get back to the pool at the villa (as they called it). "Look around you. You're surrounded by pools!" one of the Mums pointed out.
I was anxious to get back to the villa to finish reading "The Hunger Games," which Dan-from-Chicago had brought. He's not from Chicago, actually, just the greater Chicago area. But that is the five syllable moniker I have been using for almost two decades, now.
I loved going to buy groceries with Susanna at the local supermarket. I heard both the local Castellano Spanish that Mallorcans speak, as well as Catalan. The latter, though musical to the ear, was all Greek to me.
I also loved the many scooters that islanders drove on the roads. In addition to the smaller sized engines, I saw many maxi-scooters similar to the Kymco scooter that I ride, as well as other brands similar to the Suzuki Burgman and Honda Reflex. As I had heard was common in Europe, I saw many more smart cars on the island than I do in Los Angeles. Mini Coopers were abundant. Hummers would have been out of place there, especially on the smaller roads.
Jo's husband, Paddy, joined us for a few days. We had met him in the past, an Englishman who has both our friendship and our admiration for his continuing career. Paddy has been performing as Amos (AKA "Mr. Cellophane") in the current West Side production of "Chicago." During our holiday (as they also say) Paddy encouraged me, more than once, to continue blogging again. He was very complimentary about my writing and posts.
So, here I am, writing about "what I did over my summer vacation." And I thank you for it, Paddy. I'm thankful for the continued support and love of such fun friendships, for more than twenty years, now.
Here's to twenty more and beyond.
Friday, March 23, 2012
I finally had my chance, the opportunity I had been waiting for.
"Angelyne, may I get a picture with you?"
The Legendary Fixture of Hollywood was all business. "Sure," she replied, "if you buy one of my tee shirts."
I had already seen her a few times in the Hollywood neighborhood where I work, right near Sunset and Vine. Most of the time I will see her conspicuous, Barbie-pink Corvette parked outside of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Once, she even waved to me from the Pepto-Bismol 'vette when we passed each other on Hollywood Blvd. I assumed it was because she thought my wee little smartcar, all Tweety Bird yellow, was as cute and candy-colored as her distinctive ride.
So, I was prepared. I usually get a triple shot espresso at CBTL before rehearsal or a work out. I knew it would only be a matter of time before bumping into her again.
Angelyne led me outside to her famous car parked at a meter. She opened the trunk which contained stacks of white cotton tee shirts, all printed with her image. She charges $20 for a shirt and a photo.
I only had $19 in my wallet. "Can I borrow a dollar?" I asked Amanda. Fortunately, my coworker was with me at the time - she took the photo for me with my phone's camera. Amanda is young enough to be my daughter. She had no idea who this brightly colored, drag-queen-like woman was.
"I'll give it to you for $19," Angelyne told me, "since you were so nice and asked me politely."
Angelyne had a cameo in one of my favorite guilty pleasures from the 80's, "Earth Girls are Easy." So, I was thrilled to get both a photo and a souvenir tee shirt for such a bargain. Angelyne is a living icon from that particular and favorite decade of mine.
Why is she so iconic and famous? (at least to middle-aged and older folks). People mostly know her from her pin-up style poses on giant billboards in the same Hollywood neighborhood. I remember reading an article where Angelyne claimed to be famous for absolutely nothing.
I also remember reading that she had claimed to be Marilyn Monroe's body double in films. If that's true, that would make Angelyne - when did Marilyn die? 50 years ago? - in her 70's, at least.
She looks it, too, despite the obvious face lift . . .s. But, surprisingly, she looks a lot better up close than I had expected. I'm a bit disappointed that she chose to cover part of her face in the photo, but the woman sure knows how to pose and showcase the most of her considerable assets.
Despite her advanced age, Angelyne also knows how to stay current and fashionable. While spotting her around Tinsel Town in recent years, I have seen contemporary adaptations to her trademark Barbie doll outfits, including bright pink Uggs.
The trunk of her Barbie 'vette also contained a rubber purse that was in the shape of a chicken. I had seen the same purse on the new Asian pop channel, Mnet, featured as a recent and trendy item of fashion.
"Cluck, cluck, cluck" Angelyne chanted as she opened the purse for me to place my nineteen dollars in. "Give a buck, give a buck, give a buck."
Hmm. What else rhymes with 'cluck?'
Sunday, March 18, 2012
There is joy.
Last night was the closing night for "Geeks! The Musical!" I have loved and enjoyed playing a wannabe goth kid as part of the geek chorus ensemble, singing and dancing through various fictional scenes at the Comic Con.
There is so much joy in rehearsals for "Hairspray," watching young folks dance and sing in various numbers. I wish I were still young enough to be one of them. Instead, I have four brief but distinct moments on stage in my role as the Male Authority Figure, playing a flamboyant dress shop owner, a stern school principal, a gruff prison guard, and a prissy president of a hairspray company.
There is pain. The community of theatre friends on facebook are mourning the loss of a beloved friend who took his life this past weekend. I didn't know Johnny B. that well. It's been over two decades since we were last in a Disney show together. I saw him in recent years, working out at 24 Hour Fitness, or walking along Sunset Blvd. near my job in Hollywood. Johnny was tall, good looking, and talented. He had played many leading man roles. More recently, he had been performing in a national tour of Mama Mia.
To someone like me, looking in from the outside, Johnny seemed to have everything. What was he going through? What led him to the decision to end his life?
There is more sadness. We lost one of our pugs, recently. Prudence had been steadily deteriorating in dementia. She wasn't the same dog anymore. She didn't even want fresh chicken, anymore, the pre-bedtime treat that she and our other pug always get. I read about the loss of other beloved pets on facebook. A Disney friend is losing her golden retriever to cancer, so her family is making every day his best day for as long as they can, taking him to the beach, feeding him steak, and putting the top down for open-air car rides.
Two weeks ago I went to the memorial service for the father of one of my school friends. A close friend in England, whom I'll see this summer at another reunion, is watching as her mother loses a battle to cancer. I feel we are at that age, that it's just part of being middle-aged, watching more friends have to survive and cope with losing a parent.
Queen's song, Who Wants to Live Forever, keeps playing through my mind.
Despite that, I keep telling myself that we must remember the joy. It has been harder to do so on some days, especially this past week, and yet, I feel it cannot and should not be denied.
(The photo above is from the night that Bubba Brent and BFF Kathy - two high school band geek friends with whom I have bonded for life - came to a performance of "Geeks!" along with Domestic Partner. Joy!)
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Just checking in . . . the past week has been insanely busy.
I didn't get cast as Corny Collins in "Hairspray." I didn't get cast at all, at first. But then a few days later, I received an email asking if I would be willing to fill in for the Male Authority Figure role.
The role of the Male Authority Figure in "Hairspray" switches from playing the school principal, to the president of the Spritzer Hairspray company, as well as to Mr. Pinky, the shop owner of the Hefty Hideaway (as portrayed by Alan J. Wendl, pictured above, in John Waters' original film in the late eighties). I think I even get to be the Flasher in the opening number! As my Bestest Gurlfren', Eddie, said, "That's an honor since it's the cameo that John Waters played in the film version of the musical!"
I had already said yes to being in the singing ensemble again for "Geeks! The Musical!" since I didn't think I would be doing "Hairspray." I am now rehearsing two shows, and there are only two rehearsal dates during the next month where I need to be in two different places at the same time.
Only two rehearsal conflicts! I feel lucky.
Dance rehearsals for "Geeks!" have been fun. I have missed performing. I have missed working on full stage productions. Even though the hours are insane this month and next, with the day job and night time rehearsals, I am feeling happy and fulfilled.
I have been getting about five hours sleep a night. And I haven't been drowsy at my desk during the day.
I feel lucky.
I'm downing vitamin B12 twice a day. I think that's what has been keeping my energy consistent and level.
"Welcome to the 60's" - WOO HOO!
Monday, February 6, 2012
I had almost forgotten how auditioning is much like exercising: that, ideally, it should be done regularly and consistently in order to stay in shape. I still get nervous at auditions, especially when singing. I'm a little more relaxed when dancing. I had been to three good auditions in the last month, and one strange one.
I messaged the choreographer-friend of a small, upcoming production of this show near our neighborhood. I asked him, 'Are there any age-appropriate parts that I can audition for?' 'Just come dance!' he included in his reply.
I was glad they were dancing people first, before asking anyone to sing.
The dancing was fun, appropriately stylized for the nostalgic story set in the early 60's. I was invited to callbacks later in the day, to read for the TV host character, "Corny Collins." I took turns singing one of the character's solos from "Nicest Kids in Town" with two other guys called back for the same role, both of them younger than me.
I didn't get the part. I was a little disappointed. Maybe I should've asked to audition for the part of Tracy's father?
The dancers' notice said that male dancers should show up to the audition in athletic wear. They were looking for strong, athletic dancers. I interpreted this to mean that they were looking for muscular and physically fit dancers - men who are masculine enough to convincingly play heterosexual soldiers.
Again, I was glad we were dancing first, glad that there was a separate call for dancers-who-sing to be cast in the ensemble. The dance combination started with high marching steps, followed by strong punches, and then leaps and turns. I was panting, trying to pace the flow of oxygen to my body. I was grateful for recent workouts, both for cardio and for lifting weights. I was also grateful that I had swigged a triple shot of espresso before the audition.
I don't think they were wowed by my singing. Still, I felt happy just to be asked to stay and sing. It felt good that I was able to be strong and confident in my dancing. I hope to hear from them. Rehearsals don't start for another two months, so I'm hoping I still have a chance.
The Show that Shall Remain Nameless
I don't want to type any key words in this blog that will wind up in search engines and cause me to be . . . unhidden. Let's just say that I went to an audition in Hollywood, at that place of worship that is the 'ology of Scients. The audition notice stated that the show had nothing to do with that particular place of worship, that it was just using their facility, on their property. All seemed well, at first, as I walked between the immaculately clipped lawns and into their clean, airy lobby. Everyone person I walked past offered me a verbal greeting and a smile. I was the only person in the small theater with the casting director.
The cold reading went well. I was asked to read a monologue and then to improvise the part from memory. I also sang, acapella. I had done well, apparently, well enough to proceed to the next level. I was invited to speak with a staff member upstairs in an office.
I saw the books on the shelves and pamphlets spread out on small tables. I was being introduced to what the place of worship was all about, and how successful acting careers and celebrity status were potentially part of what they were able to offer. Red flags waved madly inside my mind. After a few minutes of polite listening and unflinching eye contact I told the staff person, "I'm going to stop you there. Thank you for your time." I grabbed my bag and walked quickly out of the office. The staff person's voice followed me. "Please do me the courtesy of not walking away from me and at least listen to what I have to say."
I felt claustrophobic, trapped. "This is the strangest audition I've ever been to," I replied. "I'm too nervous to stay."
It took a few hours for me to shake off the nervous, creeped-out feeling. I felt duped.
Last night I attended an open call for the musical Merrily We Roll Along. I don't know the show at all except that it's yet another one by Stephen Sondheim whose music is challenging and substantial. I am not as confident singing the more "legit" vocals of Sondheim, compared to the music of Hairspray or even Miss Saigon, and there was no dance audition. But they asked me to come back next week for call backs, and that always feels good.
I'm getting my audition muscles back in shape. And I did get cast again, in "Geeks! The Musical." I had participated in a staged reading of it last year, and I'll be in the singing ensemble again, for a more fully developed production. Performances will be in Hollywood, during the first three weeks of March.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
The bank is my stage.
Well, it is outdoors anyway, right out in front.
What do some grownups do for fun? We randomly start dancing to recorded music right out in public, in front of God and everyone, in a seemingly spontaneous manner.
I have always wanted to be part of a flash mob, and I will be performing in my first one tomorrow - Sunday, at 1:30 pm, in Hollywood, at Sunset and Vine.
I apologize for such short notice but apparently that's part of the whole deliberate process, the sorta'-kinda' almost-last-minute notice. It's to keep the element of surprise in it, at least to some degree . . . I'm guessing.
We will be tap dancing in sneakers, on the front steps of Chase bank, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. If you're in the neighborhood around 1:30 pm, keep an eye out for a large group of people dressed in the simple uniform of white shirts and black pants.
We will be tapping to Madonna's "Ray of Light." The rehearsals this week have been a joyful process for me. I love to dance, and I love working on a live performance with other dancers and performers.
My new friend, Fran, was the one who told me about Flash Theater L.A. (you can find them on facebook). Fran was one of the singers in last month's performance for "A Little Tokyo Christmas." She asked if I was available to tap dance in tomorrow's performance, the first of twenty flash mob performances scheduled for this year!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
There is much that I am able to take for granted, having the freedom to live as an openly gay man. I am not constantly viewed by women as potential marriage material, thanks to current times and my geographical location.
How awkward would that be, always?
I was lured once, in the mid 90's, during my first contract in Japan. I met Hiromi at a small gym in the suburban city of Miyazaki. She was one of the few women that came to exercise in the independently owned facility. She didn't speak any English, and my Japanese was limited. Still, we were able to make enough conversation for her to learn that I was 29-years-old and from America - and single.
I can't remember who invited me to dinner, whether it was Hiromi herself or her friend, Keiko. I went to the apartment home of Keiko and her husband, which seemed like neutral territory, a gift box of cookies in hand. I had lived in Japan before, so I knew not to show up as a guest empty-handed.
Dinner felt stiffly polite and mostly comfortable. Keiko and her husband had two daughters, and I am always more relaxed around children.
"Wasn't the casserole delicious?" Keiko asked me in Japanese. "Isn't Hiromi a good cook?"
I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but I had the feeling of being baited. We finished dinner and dessert, and I made sure to thank both Keiko and Hiromi before saying good night.
I didn't tell Hiromi I was gay. I didn't want to step on any one's cultural toes, so I felt it would be polite to stay in the closet, at least around the Japanese who were not my coworkers. In the mid 90's even the Japanese male dancers were still talking about "my girlfriend in Tokyo" (which was the same thing as the "my girlfriend in Canada" claim made by the closeted puppet in "Avenue Q").
I saw Hiromi a few more times, but only at the gym. I finished my contract and went back home to America.
A few years later, I returned to Japan for a second contract. I renewed my membership at the same little gym. I didn't see Hiromi, not at first, and not at the gym. She had gotten married and had become a mother.
I was a little relieved.
Hiromi had married one of the regulars from the gym, a man slightly shorter than me, and more physically fit than I could ever hope to be. Her husband had won a local body building competition. A picture of him, holding his first place trophy and wearing only his competition briefs, was prominently displayed on the gym wall. I was glad that Hiromi had landed an honest-to-God straight husband.
I left my second contract feeling less guilty about Hiromi.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Me and my petty problems. This is how hard my life gets, or not hard, I should say: I let a Chinese woman upset me in the supermarket parking lot. At least, I think she was Chinese. She was definitely an immigrant, her English spoken with an FOB accent.
I was already annoyed with her. She had been behind me in the checkout line, and she had started loading her groceries on the conveyor belt before I had finished unloading my own cart.
Out in the parking lot, I should have just glanced politely at her flyer. I should have just smiled and thanked her for inviting me to her church. But no, passive-aggressive me - mostly passive - still wishes that I had more of a backbone, so I try to practice standing up for myself when I can.
"Oh, no thank you. I'm gay."
"You can be fixed," she countered. "Jesus can fix you."
"No, you're wrong. I disagree." These are two specific phrases that I have been trying to employ more in any conflict.
"You have to repent! My daughter was fixed, and you can be fixed, too!" (her daughter was gay? "was?") [is, probably, still] Her silent husband stood a few feet away, by their car.
"You're wrong!" I repeated as I got into my own car, slamming the door.
I wish I didn't let a situation like this make me so upset. I considered that she might have been feeling none too good about our conversation, either, maybe even worse than me. She was someone very much like my mother, with good intentions and just trying to do God's work, trying to do what she thought she was supposed to do.
It would have been better, easier, to just fake it and play the game, to just smile, nod politely, and pretend that I would actually consider visiting her church.
I am still learning when it's important to be fake and when it isn't.
I am still struggling with how honest to be with my mother. She gave me another Christian DVD for Christmas. She asked me if I had heard of the speaker (no). In his DVD, she told me, he speaks about how he was healed of "sexual brokenness." My mother thought that both Domestic Partner and I could benefit from the DVD.
We're sexually broken?
I'm used to receiving Christian self-help books and materials from my mother, so I try not to get too upset about it whenever I receive something new from her. During the post-Christmas clearing of clutter, I threw the DVD into the garbage.
"Did you watch the DVD yet?" she asked me this past weekend.
I lied. "No, I haven't gotten around to it. I added it to the pile of other DVD's I've been trying to get to, most of them still in shrink wrap."
Passive-aggressive, right? It makes me angry. I'd really like to tell her that her view of me as "broken" is damaging. I have been her son for almost 46 years. As long as she keeps thinking that there is still something about me that needs fixing, I will never feel accepted by her.
I always think about asking her if she would be willing to consider the other side(s) of the issue and read any books or materials from PFLAG.
How long do I nurse these decades-old hurt feelings? How do I let go of these grudges and still maintain a relationship with my mother?
My mother is almost 70. I may have to fake it with her for only another two decades or so, maybe less.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I didn't know if I would be asked back again, this year. If I wasn't invited back, I had made up my mind that I would not feel jealous and left out. I would be supportive, instead, and buy tickets to cheer on my friends. I would not be the old Petty Pete that I'm still trying to leave in the past.
The second annual "A Little Tokyo Christmas" was performed last month, at the East West Players theater in downtown Los Angeles. I was asked to return, to sing and dance, and I was very happy to be included. I didn't really invite anyone to come see me perform (I know . . . a bit hypocritical). BFF Kathy couldn't believe that I almost didn't invite her and her children.
The holiday show, while well above community theater level, is definitely a hodgepodge of a community show, much of it cheesy and even corny - which I love! The cast consists of Asian American actors, directors, and playwrights, some with notable stage and screen credits. Actors such as Tamlyn Tomita, John Cho, and the radiant Amy Hill volunteered their time to be part of a one-day-only event with two performances. So, for someone like me, it is a fun privilege to get to play on stage with so many talented folks.
Tamlyn was on 'glee' this season, so, of course I had to foist myself on, I mean, talk to her. I get starstruck too easily, so I have to make some effort to rein it in and not geek out too much with "recognizable names" such as her (or "gleek" out, in this case). Rodney K. was also back in the show this year, my unofficial mentor and role model for how to age fabulously as a Japanese American gay man.
This year's theme was "A Little Tokyo Christmas goes to Las Vegas." We opened with the tune made famous by Elvis, "Viva Las Vegas." Other acts included a Supremes medley and an elf toyshop sketch mimed by a superb acting troupe. There was also a beautiful trapeze act worthy of any Cirque du Soleil show, and a rousing performance of "Proud Mary" toward the end of the second act (I couldn't sit still in my seat during the dress rehearsal for that one!).
Not very Christmas-y? Well, we had a theme to adhere to, as much as possible, and everyone contributed with their strongest talents and fortes. Really, though, it felt more like a Motown Christmas during rehearsals, which I had suggested as the next theme.
One of the numbers I sang in was a Four Seasons song called "Let's Hang On." I wasn't familiar with the tune but I was thrilled to learn and perform a nostalgic doo-wop number. I absolutely relish singing any type of four-part harmonies, and adding dance moves puts me right into performance heaven. I don't know if I'll ever accomplish my goal of being in a production of "Forever Plaid" or even "Jersey Boys" but performing this one Frankie Valli/Four Seasons song allowed me to live out that fantasy for a bit.
I love the instant family atmosphere that I always feel with this particular theater group, with friends both old and new. I love the perspective it provides of being part of the Asian American communities in Los Angeles. It's always like a fun reunion whenever I am part of a project with East West Players. And it's a chance to meet the younger, up-and-coming actors, dancers, and singers, some of them already well established in the professional theater world.
If there is a third annual A Little Tokyo Christmas show, I'll give you a little advanced notice here in this blog.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
I had a few days off from work this past week. I went to the Long Beach aquarium with BFF Kathy and her children. Kathy and I realized it had been six years since we had last visited the aquarium. Her youngest, now seven, had crawled around the outdoor play area in his diapers last time. "Squirt the baby!" young children had yelled while he splashed about in the small puddles. Kathy said his diaper had inflated to full size, being super absorbent (with no wings, however).
We arrived early, not finding any of the freeway traffic we had anticipated. While waiting for other friends to arrive, we ran across the street to Pike Place and looked at the holiday decorations. Naturally, there was an ocean theme infused among the green and blue Christmas trees. The clam shells were big enough for a 7-year-old to crawl in. Kathy's camera clicked away as her kids sat in one of the boats. Almost instinctively, I perched myself upon the bow of the tiny ship and struck what I hoped was the beautiful pose of a carved, wooden mermaid. I think it worked. You decide.
In my mind, I am a mermaid while I listen to Madonna's song, "Swim," if only symbolically. It is a song of meditation for me, of baptism, and of death and renewal:
I can't carry these sins on my back, don't want to carry any more
I'm going to carry this train off the track, I'm going to swim to the ocean floor
Crash to the other shore . . .
I envision pushing off my old self, shuffling off my mortal coil, at least from the waist down, liberating a deep lilac, shining lavender tail to swim toward a newer version of myself, toward more of the life that I want to live.
2011 was a good year, but I want to work on pushing past some of my old self, and morphing toward reaching my goals, swimming closer to accomplishment, including my writing goals.
I have a good life. I am safe. I am free. Sometimes I forget to focus on those facts, but I am always grateful when I remember them.