"I wrote a play. A little one-act about Watergate..."
-Max Fischer, Rushmore.
Probably the best experience of how I learned who I was as a person was the time I worked on a specific theatre production in the winter of my senior year of High School.
It was the winter of 1998, and was a pretty sloppy, warm winter if memory serves. I was actively involved in the theatre program at this point. I signed up to work on the one act play that term. One difference, this year we would be going to a one-act competition. Apparently, our high school used to participate in the competition every year, but dropped out because it was too straining on the students.
However, this year, we were the first class to go back. It was an exciting time for us; the thought of our school returning to competition after a ten-year absence was too much.
I sat down with Jef Hall-Flavin, our director extraordinaire, and no, that is not a typo, he really spells his name with only one 'F', and told him what I'd been up to since working with him on his two previous shows. Jef was not a teacher at the high school, and therefore, I can call him Jef instead of Mr. Hall-Flavin, which quite frankly is a bit of a tongue twister anyway.
I got the position of Technology Director/ Projectionist. You see Jef had discovered Power Point and was now incorporating graphics into all of his shows. That's where I fit in. I was in charge of these projections and was technologically talented, while Jef was the exact opposite. So there I was, high on the crew ladder, feeling all superior and talented. It was wonderful.
Now, here is probably as good a spot as any to add this one little bit of information. The old Eden Prairie High School Theatre leaves a lot to be desired. On a purely esthetic level, it is butt ugly. Whoever decided that "Rust" was the 'it' color in the seventies and early eighties was either blind or permanently stoned. The walls of the theatre were plastered with this terrible color, as was the carpet, and every third chair. The other two colors that graced the chairs were the equally nauseating yellow and brown. No wonder I was always backstage, at least I could watch the shows without having to see those terrible colors.
The play was called The Woman without a Name. It was actually in all reality a full size play that we had to cut down to a one-act, single serving play. That was the first chore, and I call it a chore because there wasn't an ounce of fun to be found in the whole process. Everyday, we'd come into rehearsal only to be presented with new script cuts. It was tedious and annoying.
The idea of Jef's was that for every so often we would bring up a slide telling the date. You see, the whole play is a flashback of someone reading this woman's journal. So every so often I would bring up a date, showing the date the journal entry was written. To be frank, it's a bleak play and it takes place during the turn of the century. There are at least two or three good fatalities in the play, which is pretty high for the shows I've been involved with.
The set even incorporated the screen as the main point of the show and I , valuable techie , would project these images from behind the curtain (insert "Wizard of Oz" joke here). Anyway, I kept wanting to project a movie onto the screen. I'm a hopeless movie buff, what can I say?
Anyway, as the cuts kept coming, the slides became farther and farther apart, and I became more and more bored backstage. It became so far apart that the highlight of my job was when I was in charge of the handgun one actor pulls on the rest. It wasn't real, but could have easily passed for it. I also enjoyed playing with it backstage during my long breaks in between slides.
I also often thought about what it would be like to re-score the entire show to songs from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." I would have gladly gone out there to perform "Sweet Transvestite" if it would liven things up even the tiniest bit. But then again, I do this with all the shows I work on except for the musicals.
Anyway, our first performance was at the "One Act Festival" which was not an actual competition, but a festival where we would be able to gauge public reaction to our little mobile tearjerker. I remember we scored pretty well with the judges, and the reaction was rather good. It helped that the show went off without a hitch.
Then my brother decided to get involved and ruined everything. He was put to work by Jef to help out backstage. My brother got one of those walkie-talkie headset things, and loved it dearly. It really went to his head and he became really cocky. I wanted to punch him, or at least shoot him, if that lousy gun wasn't fake.
Then came the regional competition, which was our first actual place in competition. We were nervous, but still a well oiled machine and the performance went well.
It came to the presentation of the awards and we were nervous. They announced the third place. We weren't it. We shrugged it off. They announced Second Place. We weren't it. We resigned ourselves to the probable fact that we were fourth place.
"I knew I should have gone out there and done 'Sweet Transvestite'" I said to myself solemnly. In retrospect, that alone probably would have gotten us the fourth place spot.
Instead they announced the first place award, and we were it. I freaked out, in fact we all did. I couldn't believe it. I started to cry, that I remember vividly. I hugged everyone from the production, even Jef, which was kinda weird.
First place and Second place winners progressed to the semi-finals. We were off and running. Then all hell broke loose.
The play was going just fine for awhile. Then things started to go wrong. Jef forgot to give me the pistol. I didn't notice this until about ten minutes before Randon, he was the actor who needed the gun, was supposed to go on and threaten everyone. I tried to flag my brother over to me, so I could tell him to go get the gun from Jef, but the little bastard wouldn't come over. I eventually went to him, and he immediately told me to go and sit back down, but I was Big Bro, and would have none of that. I whispered, rather harshly, for him to go get "that f**king gun and give it to me." He went and got it and got back two seconds before Randon had to go on. I distinctly remember sitting at my projector, and seeing my brother slide across the floor, bringing the gun to Randon, who was waiting by me. It would have been damn funny if I hadn't wanted to kill him so badly.
But the show, in the opinion of the judges, couldn't be saved, and we ended up in third place. In the bus that night, Jef read what the judges thought of our death obsessed, abortion referencing, bleak beyond bleak play. They said we could have tried to lighten it up a little. How? The whole play was like that. I kept reacting out loud to the reaction from the judges with such wonderful and non-bitter words like "Bite Me" and "Shut up" among others. I think there was a "Piss off" in there somewhere. The lightest part was comparing Randon's gun to his actual hand. It was more of a hand cannon. Too bad the script didn't call for him to fire the gun. We could've had fun with him being knocked on his ass.
On the way home from such a let-down of a competition, Randon and I came up with a crazier and more deadly ending for the show. We decided that Randon should gun everyone down at the end. Needless to say, we never implemented this ending, partially because of out of respect for Jef, and partially because we could never find a good enough sound effect for multiple gunshots.
I learned plenty from that show. I learned that there is no such thing as a "sure thing" no matter how much John Cusack says there is.
The other thing I learned was the our beloved Jef was gay. Now, I am not disapproving of the gay community, of gay culture as a whole, but it was a bit of a shock, because Jef was the first openly gay person I knew. It was never said plainly, but it was obvious. First off, he was helping sew costumes, which isn't that weird. Except that when he was putting the needles and thread away in his sewing box, he pulled out a piece of material and said, "This is what I wore at my wedding," and he pulled out another piece of material "And this is what my husband wore."
It was a wake-up call. "Hey, this guy is gay," I thought, "and I'm all right with that." I have been an active supporter of the gay and lesbian community ever since, even though I myself am straight.