Ten years ago yesterday, my little brother got married. It was a big and beautiful wedding. Friends and family from all over. There is this great photo I have got to scan of my grandmother when I was walking her down the aisle during the rehearsal. I can't remember what we were talking about, but it was something completely inappropriate and we both burst out laughing. Her expression is priceless.
Ten years ago and a week ago, I closed THE 24th DAY at 7 Stages in Atlanta. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
A year earlier, I started a theatre company with people I went to college with, but friends shouldn't let friends work together. (Whenever I go to high schools and talk about life after high school, that's the first thing I tell them: DO NOT go into business with your friends.)
It's not even worth writing about the politics of what went down. Whenever I think of those people I get so angry I literally see red like Uma Thurman in KILL BILL. Only Anne, my dear Anne Stainback, stayed my friend. I got a "friend request" on a social networking site from one of those guys not long ago and I was like, "are you freaking kidding me!?"
I started The Labyrinth Theatre Company and a year later I went SOLO Productions. The play was my first show.
I worked the playwright for months. The playwright gave us the exclusive rights to workshop the latest draft. At that point, it had only been performed in Los Angeles with Peter Berg and Noah Wyle. Theatres all over the country wanted the play and I got it. The play was famous because Berg and Wyle were both on their doctor shows at the time and they were constantly getting injured. So "Is there a doctor in the house" was usually the go to line for the press.
I spent the first year producing with Labyrinth, but I also wanted to act. I was hoping that this play would be the closing show of the first season and I would get act in it. (It's a two person drama).
I had to leave my own theatre company and start a new one. Again, it's funny and sad as to WHY I had to leave my own company, but whatever. That was a decade ago. With the help of new friends, I was able to get it up and running.
But the real drama was behind the scenes. The Peach Buzz (the local gossip and celebrity news section) of The Atlanta Journal did weekly updates on the drama.
Starting with Mitchell Anderson.
At the time, Mitchell (who now owns the very delicious METROFRESH in Midtown Atlanta) was just off PARTY OF FIVE. He had recently come out and he was living part time in Atlanta with his boyfriend. He agreed to play the Peter Berg role. We shot the above PR shot about five months before the show was to open. Because of his schedule we only had two weeks of rehearsal before we opened.
We were nearly sold out before we started rehearsals. Of course everyone in Atlanta wanted to be five feet from Mitchell Anderson. It's a two person play and we were doing it in the black box theatre. 99 seats. It was very, very intimate. There were times we felt like we were in their laps. And it's odd to be performing intimate scenes when you can almost reach out and touch an audience member.
An hour before our first rehearsal, I got a call from his agent. Mitchell was dropping out. He had just been offered a play off Broadway and was on his way to the airport. (I believe this was the exact moment I began to hate agents).
I nearly had a stroke. I remember climbing under my desk and rocking back and forth. But I wasn't going to cancel it.
I called the director. I told him. He asked what were we going to do. I told him the show was going on if it meant me and a sock puppet.
That night we started casting. We called in just about every hot male actor in the city. And we found our guy: Quint Von Canon.
Quint was coming off a successful run at Actor's Express. I was sitting on the ground the entire time he auditioned. Lawrence Keller, the director nodded at me, signaling "this is the guy."
I stood up and realized, I'm way taller than him (even in the picture above I'm hunched down.). Lawrence assured me he would direct it so we were rarely standing next to each other.
In the play, (if you've seen the movie, I played the role James Marsden played. Scott Speedman played the role Quint played) Quint's character picks me up at a bar and takes me home. After some small talk, he asks me how many men I've been with. I say, "not many." He gets creepy. I want to leave. He locks the door. I finally get out. But I stupidly come back and he proceeds to beat and torture me for the next hour and a half.
And I do mean BEAT. I had so many bruises, I looked like a house had fallen on me. I had to cover up the bruises every night. I spent most of the time being chained to a chair or a sofa. I was slapped, punched, thrown, and strangled every night. It was a blast!
But when you are THATCLOSE to the audience, it can be very disconcerting for them. It was not easy to watch. And when you are ten feet from someone screaming for their life, it's not exactly fun.
But back to Peach Buzz... They were the first to report that Mitchell was leaving the show, but the show must go on. They also reported all the incidents that went down every week.
It wasn't that the show was cursed. Far from it. We just used "plagued with problems" as our PR twist.
I had to cut my hair off (buzzed around the sides) which had now grown to my shoulders, because my hair got caught in duct tape. I had to go to a chiropractor for five months because I got my neck twisted during a performance. (I felt like Meryl Streep in DEATH BECOMES HER. I couldn't move my neck. I had to twist from my shoulders).
I bit my tongue at one point, right before a ball gag got stuffed in my mouth. When he finally took the ball gag off, I spit out a pint of blood.
The funny thing is, our "safety" word was "faggot." (It was the only word in the script that didn't come up. Every other possible bad word was used.) So if at any point during a fight, something went wrong, we would say the safety word and the lights would go down. The funny thing is, I was screaming "faggot," but my tongue was so swelled it sounded like I was saying "f__you." I kept staring at the light booth and our poor people in the booth were like, "is he saying the word?!"
I nearly broke my arm when I missed a mark slammed into the back of the sofa.
I went to the emergency room twice for x-rays. I thought I cracked a rib when I got slammed onto the kitchen table.
I locked myself ON the set during a performance. I couldn't get out of the apartment.
I stripped three pairs of handcuffs (meaning I came out of them). I had to drag the sofa across the floor while being chained and cuffed to the sofa. When I would pop out of them, it was like, "great, NOW what?" Quint and I were constantly having to improvise for moments like that.
And then there were the times we missed marks and took punches and kicks.
But it was the most fun I ever had. We had sold out houses every night and it affected people unlike any experience. I had a much different take on the role than Marsden did. And it was a blast to play a bad guy. The script was so much fun and the dialogue was rich. It was an intense battle between two people for two hours. And once you were on the ride, you weren't getting off till then end.
(I do have to say, I was really not a fan of the very ending of the play. My character went from one extreme to the a jaw dropping reveal and it was like having to hit a really high note every night which led to a melt down. I really hated having to scream, "I'm not sick!" about a dozen times.)
No one in Atlanta knew what the play was about. They thought it was a sexy thriller. So when it was revealed that Quint's character was torturing me because he's now HIV positive and he thinks he got it from my character years earlier... well, things turned in the audience.
Ce Collins (now Senft!) came running upstairs one night telling me about how she heard in the lobby that men were breaking up with each other. We could hear through the ceiling one night, "you're just like the guy in that play!" (Which we quoted all the time.)
Jennah Singleton was my guardian angel. She was there for me every step of the way. Moe went through huge life changing moments during that play.
I realized how much theatre can change people. We got fantastic reviews. I remember being in line at the Publix in Ansley Squre one night and the guy in front of me turned around and screamed at me, "because of your play, my boyfriend broke up with me!"
Everyone in the line turned and looked at me. I still had the blackeye make-up on. I didn't know what to say.
We closed the show.
A week later, Andy got married.
The next day I went sky diving.
It was fun. But it wasn't the adrenaline rush I thought it would be. I think because all the guys that I jumped with were trying to scare me, I wasn't scared. I remember saying, "I just produced theatre. There's nothing you can do that can scare me."
Later that night, while Jennah and I were walking back from Joe's on Juniper, celebrating that Patti French agreed to do a one woman show, two men ran up behind us, saying, "hey! Hey!"
I turned around and one of them put a gun to my temple.
That adrenaline rush I was looking for ten hours earlier... yeah, I got it.
To be continued.