I performed in the last season of Paul Greene's Wilderness Road at the Indian Fort Theatre in Berea KY in the summer of 1980. A recent graduate of Estill County High School. That tender place between high school and college. Parents still caring and champions for the boy they couldn't believe had a driving license, much less a high school diploma. Fresh from my World Champion Clogging Titles. Hee Haw and Grand Ol' Opry appearances (thank you, YouTube, for not coming along until years later).
Dad drove me to the audition at the Chapel at Berea College and at first they said, "No." Dad, my champion, stepped in and said, "Give my boy one more chance."
I took the stage (chapel) one more time and belted what I'm sure what must have been a Southern Baptist hymn that contradicted the whole notion of musical theatre, but what the closeted theatre liberals at this somewhat conservative production must have found cute and enchanting. To this day, I don't know what my stage dad did behind the scenes, but it must have been a page from the Lorna Bell Bundy Playbook. (He may have even written that for her: He's long dead, but he was first.)
I was cast.
Two weeks later, mom and dad drove me to Berea for my seasonal stint as what still to this day I consider My Summer as a Chorus Girl.
Last words from Dad, when he dropped me off at the Senior Dorm at Berea (which HE had negotiated--- Really Good Digs), before the Goodbye Hug. "There are effeminate people in theater. That does not mean they are....he did not complete the sentence. GAY."
These people took their historic place in Kentucky outdoor drama seriously. I loved being around the cast that had, in some cases, been cast locally, and more times than not, from mysterious places from the hell of what was then summer casting just so you can put something on your resume.
You would think I would have come out of the closet that summer. After all, I was the one in the Senior Berea Dorm that had the Evita White Album. But I was afraid.
I was afraid of me. I now understand that I was afraid of me. Not dad, mom, conservative upbringing: Me.
I did not come out that summer. At all. Even with the Evita album. High Flying, Adored. Too afraid. Weak is different from terrified, to be clear.
As RENT plays this summer, in my own now-proclaimed hometown, I have chosen not to attend. One could say it is because it is too damn hot to leave the house. One could say I've seen the brilliant Pulitzer Prize, Tony Winner 9 times. Enough Already. But there really is no excuse other than this:
It is simply too emotional of a theatrical experience for me to imagine outdoors, amongst the smuggled sangria and blankies and well-intended local theatre supporters.
No doubt, the audience will experience joy, pathos, and sing along (is there a RENT HEAD front row?).
I can't go. But I sing the body electric for all of you who are there. The various sponsors, including Ace Weekly, Joe Artz and the SummerFest Team. The amazing director T. Bonner who I stood on the line with in A Chorus Line years ago in the Lexington Musical Theatre production when I performed the role of Mike. "I Can Do That". And truth: I really couldn't. But the applause was addicting.
So, I'm not going. I've written One Last Song.