Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Back For More
Man, I had a hell of a time last night.
I did a reprise of my solo show "Breathe With Me" at the People's Improv Theater last night and I had a blast.
I rocked, I rolled, I was the Loch Ness fucking Monster.
And the really incredible thing is that the rehearsals had gone so badly--even the most recent ones, where you think--you hope--you had gotten beyond the basic stupid mistakes.
But there I was, flubbing lines, using the wrong words, forgetting whole sections of the damn show--I was ready to jump on the next freight train out of town.
And to top it off, I came down with some kind of stomach bug, which I'm pretty sure was stress-related, because I feel better now--knock wood.
I was so angry with myself, wondering why in the hell I had taken this on. I don't have enough on my plate, I've got to contend with this nutty vanity project to boot?
Who wants to see some middle-aged bald guy from Brooklyn rant about the misery in his life? I wasn't sure I wanted to see this kind of spectacle and I was the freaking star.
The weather really sucked, too, along with the time of performance. Monday night at 9:30? Who the hell wants to come out at that time of night?
Then something interesting happened. Cheryl Smallman, who was doing her show, "Dreamless" on the same bill, had hired a tech person to take us through a rehearsal at the PIT theater a few hours before show time.
When I was on the actual stage, doing my show before two very real people--as opposed to screaming at my refrigerator like I had been doing for the past several weeks--everything came together.
I did the entire 30-minute show without once looking at my notes, which I had on a podium nearby. One day I'll go up there with no notes at all, but right now I'm still chicken.
What if I went blank up there on the stage and couldn't remember a word? This wasn't a silent movie, after all.
The rehearsal went so well I couldn't believe it. Cheryl was crying at the end--in the good way, and I actually shed some tears myself when I got to a part about my mother.
I decided I wouldn't let illness ruin all my hard work. The show really must go on and I thought that feeling rotten would in some way make me sharper, make me work harder, as I was starting the show in my own end zone, so to speak.
I don't recommend this as a regular strategy in the face of a difficult job, but I was hurting for some positive energy.
We had a few hours to kill before the show, so I got a turkey sandwich at a nearby deli (bleech!) and then I went over to the New York Sports Club on 23rd Street and Eighth to enjoy the sauna.
Only I didn't enjoy this particular sauna.
It started off innocently enough, with me sitting there in a towel minding my own business. Then I notice a guy near me scratching himself beneath his towel.
Hey, we've all been there. When you get an itch below the equator, you have to take care of it.
But this wasn't an itch, or at least not that kind of itch. The movement began to look awfully familiar, rhythmic, you might say, and then another guy sitting next to him began doing the same thing.
Then the second guy let his towel fall back, exposing much more than I wanted to see, and starting pinching the first guy's nipple. I felt like I had wandered on to a porn movie set--in a towel.
Okay, now this is the part where I really needed an NFL referee to storm into the sauna, blow his whistle, throw down his flag, and nail these losers for unsportsmanlike conduct.
I'm not sure what hand signals he used for this kind of infraction...well, come to think of it, I've got an idea, but I'd really rather not think about it. Just as long as he put a stop to these bizarre goings-on.
Unfortunately, there's never a ref around when you need one, so I sat there squirming and wondering what the hell I should do.
They both bigger than me--physically, I mean; I wasn't terribly impressed with their equipment...even though I was trying not to look.
I don't know if the staff would have been terribly sympathetic if I told them what was going on in the sauna. This is Chelsea, after all, not Poughkeepsie.
Two other men were in the sauna and they kind of looked at the yankees and they kind of didn't, but no one complained.
Let me be clear: I don't give a rat's ass about your sexual orientation. I care about how people conduct themselves in public.
You feel the urge, good for you. Just get a goddamn room and do whatever the hell you want. When I take a sauna, I want a sauna, not an orgy. Any questions?
I was feeling so good from the rehearsal, that I looked to the ceiling, and said to myself, Lord, I know you want me to witness this activity for a reason. I just don't know what it is, so if you feel like cluing me in, now would be a great time. I'll even take notes.
I didn't get an answer, so I finally bailed, showered and got the hell out of there.
I was annoyed, repulsed, and more than a little worried that I'd be in the middle of my show when an image of the Dong Brothers would pop into my brain and derail my train of thought.
God bless 'em, I thought. Do what you want. But if you come to my show, you keep the zippers closed.
I went back to the PIT, met up with Cheryl again, and took a seat. A young man who presumably worked for the PIT was watching an episode of "Firefly" on his computer and I started watching over his shoulder.
I was going on second, like I did the last time, so I sat backstage by myself, listening to Cheryl's show, shadowboxing in front of the mirror and trying not to have a nervous breakdown.
Cheryl finished,came backstage, and gave me a desperately needed hug. Then the strains of Smokey Robinson singing What's So Good About Goodbye? came on and the announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Lenihan..."
As I got into the story, I really felt like I was acting, not just reciting. I was shouting and moving around the stage like a Superball fired out of a cannon. I went nuts.
I'm kind of repressed, but I realized that there is no sense holding back anything once you're on stage. People don't pay to see someone look down at his shoes. They want a show.
My best bud Hank had given me the greatest advice early on, when I agreed to do my show a second time.
I had thought about writing a totally new piece, but Hank said I should do "Breathe With Me" once again and "really inhabit the character" this time out.
That was such a great of way of putting it. Inhabit the character--even it's about my life, I'm still a character in this story, and I have to make him believable.
I complain so much about all the work that goes into these shows, but once I start doing it, I really love it.
Where else can you run your mouth for 30 minutes, talk about your personal problems, and generally piss and moan without someone interrupting you?
I used one prop, a key on a very attractive key chain from Royal Bank of New York, which I don't believe exists anymore.
It was supposed to be the key to my family's house and the only reason was because I kept messing the line regarding the key.
I figured if I held a real key in my hand I'd get by this particular part without a mistake. And I did.
I was three-quarters of the way through the show when I became convinced I had forgotten something. I thought about looking over at my outline, but it would have been so obvious, so mood-killing, I just couldn't do it.
It's too late, I shouted at myself, just keep going.
It turned out that I hadn't forgotten anything, that I covered all the scenes without checking the cheat sheet once.
And I'm happy to say I got through my performance without thinking of my sauna companions.
One of the more satisfying moments came when people in Cheryl's group came up to me and praised my work. It's great to hear from your own peeps, of course, but when strangers give you the thumbs up, you know you're on the right track.
Big thanks to Hank and Paula, my blogging amigos Eleanor of Creative Times and Petra from Bed-Stuy Blog, and Jason from MeetinNewYork.
You all gave me a great jolt of confidence just by showing up.
Now I have to go back to looking for work...