I often look at six and a half years ago as the moment my life changed entirely. That "and a half" is the difference between my saying my life changed for the good, and indescribably for the worse. It was six and a half years ago that I returned from my single longest acting contract, and was feeling artistically and creatively stifled. I was acting, yes, and I was loving every second of it, but I wasn't creating. I wasn't generating the art rattling around in my brain in the form of ideas. So I called Marcus Thorne Bagala, my longest collaborator, and together we planned a project of classic showtunes reimagined in today's radio genres. We didn't know it yet, but that was the very first project of Charging Moose Media. "and a half" later, I sat by my father's bedside working on one of the tracks for this album as he passed away.
The Dichotomic Nature of my 2016
Grief is a hard thing for me to talk about. This year has taught me more about grief than I thought I ever would learn at 26/27; and given me a pretty constant, oppressive sense of sorrow to boot. They come and they go at the strangest times, in the strangest ways.
Today, I realized in looking at my calendar, is one of the most important days of my father's life. Today's the day he ran for mayor, running a campaign that absolutely gave the incumbent - who by trickery was listed as both the Republican and the Democratic candidate on the ballot - a run for his money. He had under 10% of the total money to work with of his opponent, and received 40% of the vote, absolutely annihilating his projections. He was told he'd never make it into double digits, and he blew that concept out of the water.
He was told he'd be gone in less than 72 hours. He lived almost 6 more days.
He taught me a lot about fighting even when the odds are against you.
As I sat next to his hospital bed in Philly, we had a lot of time to talk, and I had a lot of time to talk at him when he couldn't join in anymore. We talked about lots of things, from his past, to his hopes and dreams for me, to New England sports, to politics, to family. In his final days he was so thankful of the people who had come into and out of his life. He spent most of his time asking after certain people, or making sure that I would reach out to certain people he wouldn't be able to. People. It always came back to people. So when I talked at him, I told him stories about people. Some that he knew, some that he'd never have the fortune of knowing. I told him about people from my past, and my present. I told him about my fears, my dreams, my accomplishments, my failures. I told him I loved him.
If I learned anything from the experience of watching my father drift away into a sleep from which he'd never return, and then living alone in his house for months, taking care of his business, and then dealing with the emotional, mental, and life fallout from all of that, I learned that loneliness is sudden, oppressive, and often arrives without warning. And without people, people you trust, people you care about, there's almost nothing that can beat it back. And there will be times where those people won't be there, can't be there, and you have to face that loneliness yourself. So what do you do?
Me? I create.
Don't Get Cute With It, It's My Job
In my college directing class, a fellow student once said (in response to a question of what directors need to do to get a performance out of an actor),
"My high school teacher told me that being actor is being willing to stab your soul on stage in front of everyone day after day after day."
In response to this, our directing teacher (the absolutely incredible Wendy Dann) said,
"Well be careful now, don't get cute with it, and certainly don't get romantic about it. Actors have a wonderful job, one that they are blessed to live every day and to be a part of, but it is a job. It is no more important than anyone else's, in theatre, or outside."
This was a very important moment for me. You see I love my job. I love everything about what I do. I wake up in the morning and I am proud to say that I am an actor. I am proud to say I am a member of the theatre community However in my experience, there is a love and praise for actors, but that love, and those praises are not extended to the millions of other members of the theatre community, the ones who aren't going out on stage every night. This offends me. There is an entire side of the theatre community that is happy to let themselves go unappreciated, and under-loved by most, and they do so with a smile, and with a passion for their job that I can only respect and feel admiration for.
During my time in a BFA Musical Theatre program, I was so surprised to see this problem perpetuating itself as soon as people arrived as freshmen. There were many who treated BFA Performance majors like they had a right to the school that the other theatre majors did not. I made it my mission to have the class of 2012 be a true community, with cross communication and love across majors, and I am proud to say that I was not the only one who worked hard at this goal. Our class worked as a whole to break this stereotype, and we truly loved each other, regardless of major, regardless of theatrical position, regardless of intended career goals. We came together as a community, not as a group of segregated theatre artists.
Label My Character Type, Not My Life
We all made it through High School, so we all know what it's like to be labelled. See what I did just there? I just labelled all of you as High School graduates, but it is at least possible that I have a reader who is as of yet not finished with High School. It's so second nature for human beings to look at someone and categorize them for easy reference. Why would someone want to meet "Adam" when they can simply shake Adam's hand and instinctively know all there is to know about "Preppy Math Kid". It is a vicious part of the human psyche and one that I've seen people eagerly try to change in this world, and also perpetuate on a day to day basis. It goes beyond calling someone "American", there are connotations that go with it. I would bet that for a good majority of Americans if you say "Muslim" their first instinct would be to think of an Islamic Radicalist. Why? Because somewhere along the way our culture decided that those two things were synonymous. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Adam's existence as a Preppy Math Kid might only come so far as his clothing, his interests, or even so far as how he carries himself and his books as he walks down the halls.
For me? It's pretty much an every day occurrence. In Theatre it's an unfortunate occupational hazard. A necessity of the trade. There are so many 23 year old Irish actors in New York, it's absurd, and if you're looking for ONLY 23 year old Irish actors, you better put in your casting notice that this is all you want. This lets those who are not 23 year old Irish actors that they need not apply. Yet in doing so I've been given a label, a designation by which I know I pass a test. Just like in High School. Except the difference is that I have made it a requirement of my life to exist beyond labels. You see, while I recognize labeling and typing as a necessary evil to the Theatre industry, it is an evil I don't mind. In order to fit a part, you must first, indeed, fit the part. Much of the theatre canon is written to make a point about a group of people, and you need someone from within that group to make the point, consciously or subconsciously.
In my own life, however, I have always been one happy to do what I want, enjoy what I want, know those who I want to know, and strive to continue to live that way. Just today I was remarked on as an "enigma" by a wonderful person who gave me so much joy at that description.
These people got it wrong.
Last night a friend of mine asked me for some advice on a relationship she's trying to get into. I won't say who she is so that I can say, publicly, that she had been making some stupid decisions regarding how she was going about this thing (sorry darlin' for when you read this!). In a nutshell she had created a relationship around a cute form of playacting, so that neither party had to fully commit to the relationship. This gave both of them an out when it started getting to serious by going "hahaha, isn't playacting fun, but it's all just for fun!" I've realized through self reflection and from reflection of conversations I've had with friends in my life, that many of us do this exact thing at the initial stage. We create a simple out in order to protect ourselves from actually feeling anything or from feeling any pain. The problem with creating this out, is that when one party really starts to feel more, the other is never sure if it's playacting or might possibly be really interested. That is a very very stressful place to be, it causes a lot of anxiety, and more often than not, causes the confused party to take the out to save themselves the possibility of being hurt and humiliated. I am very guilty of this same problem at times, but it's always easier to offer advice rather than follow it.
That being said, I was trying to find an analogy to help her understand an alternate method of approaching the situation, and how to solve the problem of the pesky "out". In my incoherent, very often nonsensical ramblings, I stumbled across what is absolutely the best analogy I've heard for how to live your love life to the fullest. I would like to share it with you all now, I call it "The New Englander's Guide to a Fulfilling Love Life".
I posted this on Facebook last night, but here I'll try and say it a little more eloquently and less from the hip.
Taking the step towards a real, honest, fulfilling relationship is like getting into a frigid, cold ocean in New England. Everyone in the world makes it at least initially up to their ankles. From here, the population of the earth splits into two types of people. The first type of person, everyone is guilty of considering. Absolutely everyone is tempted to wade in slowly. This makes the most logical sense. By slowly allowing your body to get used to the cold until you are all the way in you never have to experience the cold in an overwhelming way. It seems like a way to cheat your way into experiencing the full ocean without having to face the fear of the initial shock. There is one problem with this method, however, and itaffects 99.99% of people who choose this method. These people always make only halfway. As the cold spreads up their legs, a relatively non-sensitive part of the body, they are lulled into a false sense of security in that their body is easily capable of dealing with the cold water. However as soon as the rigid water reaches their crotch, and the ocean interacts with quite possibly the most sensitive part of the body, it's too sensitive for them. These people jump upwards and backwards, anything to avoid having to feel in the most sensitive parts of their body. They return to thigh level and announce that this is far enough, and that they never really wanted to go into the ocean in the first place, just "get their feet wet". They will continue to stand, content and proud in themselves that they went even this far with such a challenging feat. They will splash around, laugh, talk, and have a great time comforted in the fact that they are "in the ocean" even though they are less than halfway in. They will, at least a few times briefly submerge their sensitive crotchal region again just to prove that they can, that they are brave enough. They will scream, and laughingly run back to the safe depth, and tell their friends about how wonderful it is to go into the ocean. The problem is that they're submerging such a sensitive region for all the wrong reasons.
Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.