Tackle Boxes

I dropped a line in the middle of a monologue on Friday.

You know what? I have to go back a little ways. There’s more to it than that. Let me tell you two stories.

First. We were doing a bus and truck tour of “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, a complete rip-off of the movie that was playing in the theaters at the time. I was Quasimodo (the jokes, the jokes) and the director/producer had offered me the challenge of creating the physicality of the character on my own, as well as design and build the prosthetics, which completely thrilled me. It didn’t even occur to me that I had been conned, and was now financially responsible for something he should have had a designer do – I didn’t care, I loved it.

It did mean that I had to start getting ready an hour before the rest of the cast, and it took me a half hour longer to get out of make-up at the end. Now, this was non-union and they were paying us a fortune but also treating us like shit. We’d have a show in Wyoming one night and the next show was in Nebraska, so we’d load the set, drive all night, get to the theater, build the set, sleep for five hours on the floor of the dressing room (*four* hours for me) and then do the show.  Everyone got sick, everyone was exhausted and when we realized that the half week at the beginning and end of the tour weren’t being counted, we had to refuse to go on unless we got paid.

I loved it. I loved every second.

Our last show was in Las Vegas and as was usual, the last half hour I was by myself in the dressing room. I cleaned my face and loaded up my make-up kit. My Ben Nye Tan #2, the Mary Kay white that I used to open my eyes on the inside, the different maleable putties I created the face with, all the brushes and sponges, along with a small collection of talismans from shows past – they all fit into what is actually a fisherman’s tackle box. And as I loaded up the case, I looked in the mirror and caught my own eye and realized… I wasn’t gonna do this anymore. I didn’t know what I *was* gonna do, but I was done with *this*. I haven’t opened the case since, and it’s getting close to 20 years.

Next. My marriage was in trouble and I was fighting like crazy to save it. My wife at the time had lost her bearings and didn’t really know what she was doing. Desperate to have a career, she made the same mistakes that a lot of young women in Los Angeles make, but I was trying to forgive her and I was trying to keep the whole thing working. When she said she needed her own apartment, I helped her get it and gave her our car. When our marriage counselor met with us (just the one time) she pulled me aside and said it was time to let go, but I don’t give up that easily.

The night she moved out, I dropped by her place and she wasn’t there, so I waited. It got to be later and later, but I knew she was coming back and I was worried about her, she was off on her own. So I waited. I sat and waited as 11 o’clock became 2 o’clock, became 6 o’clock, the whole night sitting outside her apartment. I was terrified, something had happened, she could be in a ditch somewhere, so I called her dad to see if he had heard anything.

He listened to me, said nothing for a minute and then said, “Son. I love you. I’m always gonna love you, please remember that.” And that’s all he said. He didn’t say goodbye, it was like in the movies. The phone just stopped.

I wrote to the Gideon members yesterday morning and told them that I do not want to be considered eligible for acting roles within the company anymore, and that I would no longer be acting with any other company either.

Making this decision is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve done.

When I closed up that tackle box of make-up, what I had decided (I only realized later) was that I was no longer going to do plays I didn’t love. If that meant I wouldn’t be on stage for long stretches, so be it. Then, after living in New York for a few years, I decided I would only do the plays of playwrights I loved. Soon after that I decided I would only do plays directed by people I respected. It’s a rabbit hole, and I kept going down and down and down.

I’ve produced things that meant almost nothing to me, produced them for *years*. Whenever I write music and it gets criticized, I almost always a) agree and b) start over without any sense of loss. I wrote an entire two act play some years ago and we did a reading of it – Mac and Jordana started giving me notes and I just held up my hand and said, “Y’all, there’s nothing there. Don’t worry about it, it’s gone.” And I didn’t feel the least bit bad about it. All of this is blue collar stuff, you just keep doing it and eventually you get better and then you get good.

But as a little boy, I dreamed about being an actor on stage. My teenage years were defined by performing, I just went step by step, adjudicating my life purely based on how the last show went, and when the next one was coming.

As I drove to the theater on Saturday, I thought about the costume racks and the dressing room lights, I thought about character shoes and two minute public showers with five other randomly gendered people, I thought about cleaning the kitchen while I run lines and I’m not gonna lie to you, I cried the whole way there. Because I knew it would be the last time I was on stage.

I dropped a line in my monologue. And while it’s no big deal, and while the audience didn’t care, and while the director and the other actors didn’t care, and while even *I* didn’t care that much, there’s a reason I dropped the line and a reason I couldn’t recover. I had never really committed to this project and never completely gotten off-book, and I have spent so little time on stage lately that I have no skills.

In a moment, there on stage, I had the same realization that I had on the phone with my ex-father-in-law – the marriage wasn’t in trouble… The marriage is over.

This last production, I had my two favorite directors in the audience. My favorite playwright and one of my favorite producers saw it. Even two of my favorite non-theater people in the world popped over from across the street. I would love to do one more show, to let my little sister see me on stage or to do something that my son and daughter could see. And maybe I will, maybe I’ll change my mind about this in ten years. People get divorced and don’t speak for decades and then get back together again.

I would apologize for the drama and the public statement, but first of all it’s my damn blog – what did you *think* I would be talking about? – and secondly, despite the fact that I don’t actually serve the pieces I’m acting in very well, I’m still being asked to do plays all the time. Partly because on one level I’m quite good and partly because I’m a boundless enthusiast and hopeless optimist when it comes to what I think *can work* on stage. But I need to say, in public, that I’m no longer doing this for anyone – not for my best friend and the love of my life – not anymore. I love her so much, but it’s time to let her go.