Monday, December 15, 2003

Best Christmas Pageant... Ever...

This is a story I have to begin, well, at the beginning. (I was planning on telling you about my weekend, but you'll get much more than that!) About a month or so ago, Jeff and Steve both called me about a problem they had. Steve was directing a show that he'd cast Jeff in... that Jeff couldn't be in for nearly half the shows! They were asking for my help... because they knew I was a sucker who couldn't say "NO".

The play was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a children's play. Now, I like children about as much as I like the color white; on most days, I'm completely ambivalent. But considering that Rosa had just had her baby, and considering how much I've been hurting over it, my first impression was that I would more than hate this show. The last thing I needed was to be reminded of the children I would never have with Rosa.

Maybe this is why I only went to two rehearsals.

But, with the clarity brought on by a week in Oregon (not necessarily something you want to put on a travel brochure), I was able to put in one show two weeks ago and start my full week on Wednesday.

Friday night, I knew I had four more shows ahead of me but that would be it and I would be free, with no more thoughts of children to bother me. It went as any other and I returned Saturday. Saturday, I had everything packed up because I knew I wouldn't be coming back home until Sunday night. Saturday's matinee went well. As we tidied up after the show, I mentioned to Lori, our stage manager, that I would hang out for a few hours, until our evening show. I'd brought my book, so I'd have plenty to do. She said, "No. Why don't you hang out at my place? It would be far more comfortable." She lived down the street - by the beach! How could I say "NO"? (Oh, wait. I can't.)

The shoreline, a short walk from her house, looked wonderful and I thought I might like to talk a bit of a walk. "Go ahead," Lori said. "I have to run some errands but I'll leave the front door unlocked." Leave the door unlocked? How could you consider...? But, then, I realized... here we were in this well-to-do San Clemente neighborhood... we're not in the hood where I grew up. "Ok," I said, and went for a bit of a walk. Afterwards, I returned - the door unlocked - and read for a bit. Lori invited me to stay for dinner - BBQed salmon and potatoes - it was really nice. In fact, it reminded me very much of hanging out at a friend's house whose mom made dinner... when I was 12.

I returned to the theater that night and we had our best show yet. I told Teresa, my leading lady, that I was stealing the laughter. "I'm a laughter magnetic!" You know, I was getting into the whole thing... one day before it would be over.

After the show, I headed down to San Diego. Tim insisted on drinking - I'm surrounded by alcoholics... thank god - and we stayed up until the wee hours talking about the kind of stuff you talk about after several vodka&cokes... you know... stupid shit. (Tim put on 80's music and kept saying, "Remember this song?") I didn't want to wake up the next morning. I was having the coolest dreams - and for me, that's saying something! But I had to get up, which I did at 9am, and slowly, through exhaustion and the slightest hangover, pulled myself together and got myself on the road by noon.

I made it to the theater in time, more or less, for my 1pm calltime. I was tired. I was making silly jokes to try to jar myself awake - yep, they met the real Ken. I told Teresa that I'd call her "Muffin" on stage. Then, about a half-hour before showtime, noise erupted from the boy's dressing room. One of the boys, John, screamed and two parents pointed to me and said, "Go in there." Up until that point, Parents would get involved. Parents! People who had borne children! Breeders! Pro-creators! Not me! What did I know about kids screaming? I was no parent... which really should have been apparent! Apparently, it wasn't. Teresa gave me a look and in I went.

I shut the door behind me.

Within, there were three boys. Trevor, who I guessed was the oldest one and who I didn't like from the beginning because, when I was his age, I was far geekier than that with my bottle-bottom glasses and wiry hair. Jerk, I thought. Matthew, the kid who played my son, Charlie. For his age, whatever that is, he's a pretty solid little actor and a nice kid. I hoped he'd be on my side. John, the kid was sitting on a countertop, crying. Oh no, I thought. One of those. He reminded me of myself at his age, maybe eight, far, far too sensitive. I cleared my throat. "Okay. Look guys. You gotta help me. Now, the parents sent me in to settle you down but I'm not a parent. I'm like you guys... but bigger. Now, if I don't do what they said, they're all gonna be mad at me. It'll be my butt. So, could you help me out and chill?" Sounded good. Sounded like something from a movie.

John's crying grew worse. "I hate it when people say mean things about me."

Trevor: "We were only trying to help."

Matt: "That's why they call it 'criticism'."

Shit. Wrong movie, I guess.

I looked at Trevor and Matt. "I said, Chill," I said in my most adult voice, not one I use very often. I turned to John. He was really upset. I put my hands on his shoulder and said, "Look, I know what you're going through. Anybody whose ever been on stage knows what you're going through." I had no idea what he was going through. "But you gotta pull it together. We got a show to do." Then, he started telling me about all the things he hated and how upset he was and... well, he started to sound a lot like this Blog, actually. Here was a kid who was crying out to be heard. I remember! I was once his age, the kid who got picked on... you know, cause he was a dork... and I remember! Wasn't anybody listening to this kid? That was half the problem. I remember wishing nothing more in the world than to be listened to... which, I guess turned me into a writer. I wanted to take John's father and beat him with a bat. (Except I'd seen his father... and he could hurt me.)

Lori poked her head in. "You got everything under control," she asked.

"I will," I answered. Still, there was a long way to go. Being an adult wasn't helping. I had to think fast... like a kid! I asked them about the Lord of the Rings movies, if they'd seen them. We talked about Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk and, thankfully, it was soon showtime.

I'd never been more happy to see adults.

The play commenced. There's a place towards the beginning where I had the line, "Could you spare some supper. I haven't had a square meal in three days." It's a throw-away line. Stupid, really. Then, I realized what the play was missing was a little Dickensian character. So, I got on my knees and said, "'Scuse me, mum. Could ya spare a lit'le suppa? I hav'n't had a squa' meal in fffreee days!" This always got the audience roaring... or, at least, helped work the stick out of their butts. This scene starts when I'm behind a door and Teresa opens it for me. So, there I was behind the door. I put on my best beggar face... and then I realized I was being watched by about four or five little girls - all a'giggle. Great, I thought. I have a following.

Kids love silliness... and I am rather known for that, I guess.

Later, I ad-libbed a bit of business with Matthew (um, Charlie, I mean). The audience didn't get it - they were an insolent bunch that day - but it was so fun watching his face light up at the idea of a bit of improv.

Near the end of the show, Charlie (er, Matthew), and I switch robes - actually he gives me mine... it's a long story - and, as always, Stan (one of the other adult actors) helped me into it. It wasn't the first time that I was struck by his kind, gentle, unassuming, humble nature. You don't meet many actors like that... or many people. Several of the parents thanked me for my work in the show as I walked into the wings for my last scene. What a nice bunch of people!

But I couldn't finish the play without one surprise.

I walked out on the stage.

Teresa said, "You're not going to wear your bathrobe, are you?"

I replied, "Why not, muffin?"

Teresa laughed and snorted.

My work was done.

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