This week we’re taking a slight diversion away from our normal “how to” vibe, and treading out into deeper waters.
If you’ve read the byline below, you know that I’m currently a standby in the NYC Off-Broadway mainstay, The Fantasticks. And since you’ve been following the StageAgent blog religiously, you know that as a standby, I’m often in a Starbucks during most performances (it’s a tough life). Well, circumstances have resulted in me being on for the last couple of weeks as Hucklebee, one of the Fathers in the show.
My initial response was, “Damn, there goes all my free time.” I mean seriously, I have two guaranteed hours (four on two-show days!) to write, to plan, to concentrate on what’s next, to make a grocery list…you get the idea. As a parent of two small children, time is at a premium. But you may think I’ve completely missed the boat, that I should be elated at having a performing opportunity—and you’d be right, it just took me a couple of days to get here. Well, a couple of days and a close friend who reminded me that performing is always better than not performing, and a wife who said simply to do the job I was hired to do.
So I’ve been doing the show, and after a few performances, it began to feel comfortable and, dare I say it, enjoyable. I’m truly blessed with a giving, loving, talented cast, who were there for me when I said some…questionable lines…let’s say. Soon I’ll be back to my coffee and protein bistro box (pretentious twit), but for now it’s a blast.
That isn’t to say that it all comes without challenges. There was the stress of being ready, as this was my first time going on in any of the roles I cover. June was a crazy busy month, with school ending for my children, their activities coming to a close (dance class, gymnastics), new activities starting (summer swim team, more gymnastics, theatre camp is coming)—frankly I’m exhausted. And with school ending, I’m the primary caregiver as well, as that lady that makes our lives possible (my wife) works 50-60 hours a week. Caring for the kids is an all-day job, and when I’m relieved of duty at 6:15 pm, then it’s time to go to work!
I know, I know, poor me—I’m getting somewhere I promise.
A weekend or so back (Pride weekend, I believe), I was walking from the show to my car (I drive on Sundays when the parking is free) when I locked eyes with a woman, probably around my age. I nodded in that weird New Yorker “I’m acknowledging you, but I promise I’m not crazy” way, and kept going, but about ten feet later, I feel her tap my shoulder. She said to me (and all of this is paraphrased to the best I can remember), “Excuse me, but didn’t I see you in The Fantasticks last Saturday? The show was so great!”
I thanked her, and we struck up a short conversation. Her name was Ellen, and she too was an actor. Her family had just come in from Texas, and her mother wanted to see two shows, Les Miserables and The Fantasticks. I remembered the performance she was at, and it was a good show, with a lively, responsive audience.
We were slightly above Hell’s Kitchen, she lived in the neighborhood. I told her I used to live close by, but moved to New Jersey when my wife and I had our first child. She seemed lovely, genuinely interested in praising the show and chatting with a stranger. But as we began to say goodbye, she said this, and it practically floored me:
“Well, you’re married, have two kids, a great show to be in, you really are living the dream!”
I swear the blood ran out of my face. I thought, “Wow…if you only knew.”
Look, I preach a lot of positivity and self-love and self-reliance, but let’s be real for a moment. This life is hard. I’ve talked before about the sacrifices and the lack of money and the disappointment and having to pick yourself up over and over and over again…it’s exhausting. And sometimes, maybe even lots of times, we as actors choose to complain. We have to let out these feelings of discouragement. It’s only human, and we aren’t to be punished for it, but it can take over and become our default position.
I’ve been super lucky in this career: two Broadway shows, four National Tours, lots of amazing Regional Theatre—yet somehow I tend to retreat to how little money I’ve made in my lifetime, or how quickly those two shows (which I loved) closed in New York, or how I’m not certain where my path is leading as I get older. Currently, though I’m absolutely proud to be part of the New York theatre tapestry if you will, even my current job can seem like a glass half full. I think it’s a terrific show, with great people and a timeless message, but let’s face it, we’re not Wicked or The Lion King. It can be hard to be a simple, sweet, and sentimental show when you are surrounded by flying monkeys and herds of animals.
I thanked Ellen, wished her luck and continued to my car, half smiling with gratitude yet shaking my head. “If she only knew… .”
But she does know. It was me who didn’t. Everything she said was absolutely true, and as I repeated this story a few times, I began to realize it myself.
I’m sure there will come a time…or many times…when I fall back into the old habits of diminishing what I have accomplished. A director friend I love told me once, “You know how New Yorkers survive? They complain. They look at each other across the subway car and say, ‘man, it’s @#$%ing hot outside.’ They take solace in a short of shared misery.” Maybe we as actors do exactly that, we share our misery so it eases the sting, until we can celebrate a new win.
So for me, a little perspective and a lesson learned. Ellen, if you’re out there, if this message somehow reaches you (go viral troopers, serve your dark Web overlords!), good luck to you again, and thank you for stopping me.
And also, thank you for stopping me.