RE(nt)-Cap (Connections)

Posted: November 9, 2009 in Road to RENT

October 25, 2009

I sat in my truck as the cars, confusedly, piled into the parking lot. As the time of our performance drew near I could see recognizable, yet unfamiliar faces gather around each other. They seemed to be speaking to one another lightly and fluently as my jaded emotions slammed into the sides of my ribs.

The heavenly voice made her way onto the scene and I had an urge to talk to her, to tell her how amazing she was. I grabbed my keys, took one last swallow at my already depleted Gatorade and opened the door.

I cautiously approached as she was already deep in conversation:

“I was not going to sell my soul and get nothing out of it.”

She spoke of bowing out of one of the many singing/talent reality show competitions that has swept through the nation. Half in awe, I stared at her respecting her gumption to believe in her talent enough to struggle. The other half of me devised a way to cut out her vocal chords, sew them into mine and drive off to the audition and beg for a chance to sing, even if that meant a highway chase and a 90 mile per hour freeway serenade.

I wanted to asks questions, but I tucked them away.

I walked as another lead role of the cast joined our growing group. Recognizing her from the sing through, I mentally thanked her for helping me enjoy her rendition of the rent song Over the Moon. Previous to hearing her sing it, I was subjected to a mental suicide as I listened to the track. I prayed for daybreak to come, sending the moon to terrorize other parts of the world.

We gathered in a cramped lobby and I shut down.

Around me swarmed all of the theatre aficionados speaking of this play, that play and plays of the future. I grew uncertain of interjecting in any conversation as I was a theatre amateur in, what seemed, every aspect of the word.

I didn’t know why Les was Miserable, or why any idiot would Dance on a Hot Tin Roof. I could barely pay RENT. What could I possibly say to them? The heavenly voice spoke to me.

We spoke of our experience, or lack thereof, with musicals, our backgrounds and she shared tips on voice preservation: No Dairy, No Cold Beverages and NO SCREECHING. But I was the screech king.  Suddenly a small group gathered around us and the dark-haired dude excitedly startled my wallflower stance:

“Omg Jeremy, I love the outfit. It is so RENT of you.”

I couldn’t help but think it was another dig at my wardrobe resembling stage costumes.

What I wore on any normal day of my life apparently fit the exact stylings of RENT. I guess my whole life I had been living on a stage and never realized it. I sheepishly smiled and allowed the conversations to reach around me. I wanted to absorb all I could as I treaded these waters of unfamiliarity.

A group picture was called upon.

I hesitated to join the group. I knew how these things went. The leads grab center stage, their friends gather around them and then the stragglers, me, fill in the empty spaces to establish a balance.

I had participated in various sports and activities my entire life. I knew how the people at the top acted. And when I became one of them, I vowed to never treat anyone as if they were insignificant. I would befriend them, encourage them and help them anyway I could. I knew how it felt to be a straggler trying to prove your worth, a feat that tainted my view on the elite.

I stood by the counter for a few seconds, made my way over to the group and propped to the floor trying to be unnoticed and then it happened.

She touched me.

Like Tracy in Hairspray I could hear the bells. Not the bells completely, but a buzzing that vibrated through my skin and shocked my body stiff. I dared not look over at her as to frighten her into releasing me. But, in the height of picture partaking, the fist pounder, another lead role holder, had interlocked arms with me. My thoughts flew:

Does she know what she is doing? Did she forget that I am the jock-strap?

Shots were taken and I retreated over to the closed bar to gather my thoughts.

These people are seriously breaking protocol. I am trying to be as respectful of their…

Immediately, deep in thought, I was interrupted. The dark-haired dude swept onto the scene.

“Hey, what are you doing over here waiting for a drink?”

Before I could answer him, justifying my reason for being aloof, he turned:

“Oh, you are watching the football game. Oh my, did you miss the group picture?”

I kept staring at him as if he was a mirage. For some reason he, also another lead character, had lost his way and fell upon me. I entered the conversation, finally reconnecting with my ability to speak:

“Oh yeah, I just came over…”

Again, he jumped in:

“Oh good, I am so glad you got in the picture.”

My thoughts screamed may-day.

Glad, for me to be in the picture, why? What is going on here?

As I stood there in awe that he wanted to speak to me, I desperately grabbed for something to talk about. I didn’t want to bore him. I reached for anything we may have in common, he stopped my efforts.

He spoke about auditions and his excitement with the cast. He played out his reluctance to buy high heels in a store and tickled my funny bone about how he tried to hide when he tested them out. I was relieved that he did most of the talking as I tried to absorb the essence of his personality.

He was so light and fun and fluent in everything he said. I, on the other hand, resembled a wide-eyed deer awaiting the impact of a tractor trailer. Only, for some reason, he wasn’t like other individuals I had come to fight. He stood there, building people up. Praising them and elevating all around him in such a beautiful light. And I, just knowing he had taken time away from his regular circle to speak to the support, was lifted.

I enjoyed the conversation but I wanted him to depart. I needed time to gather myself. I needed to make sense of it all. I needed to fart. My stomach was rumbling with the nervousness of the events and I needed a release.

I also I needed the answer to the question that pulsated with my heart.

Why do they want to talk to me?

As I reached for the answer, the director called for order and the start of our performance. I fell in line, tightened my lower cheeks and allowed the wind to slowly seep through the crack. A faint hissing escaped as it departed.

(The magic of the night can be seen in the video to the right of this blog)

October 26-31, 2009

A much needed break!

The leads were fine tuning their skills this week as I was left to my own devices. I planned on stopping by, a surprise appearance to continue my support role, but I deterred myself. Instead, I tore at the piano, plucked, and kidnapped any able voice that would allow their time be stolen. My uncle was the first.

He came in the door one late afternoon with me trying to form chords on the piano. I looked like an infant trying to reach for the pedals of his mother’s car, everything horrific dissonance. I pulled him to the seat and without so much of a hello I barked my orders:

“I need help, serious help. I sounded like boo-boo the fool at practice.”

I thrust the music in front of him and showed him my problem. He laughed at my piano markings, now hidden behind stickers I bought at a music store to solidify the notes. I pointed to the ones that were mine, instructed on what I wanted him to sing and he tickled the ivories.

I had my part and now I knew the chords.

For the rest of the week I fumbled over the chords. My fingers dropped over the keys as if they were cemented blocks. Still I belted, screeched and screamed my way through the piece and when my sister-in-law came over later that Sunday, I threw her to the bench, gave her, her part and two fingered, with both hands, our way through the various notes.

I was ready, beyond ready. Never again would the music director give me that shameful look.

I think.

November 1-2, 2009

I took a seat in the front row. I nervously twitched my foot as I alternated my position from ankle across the knee and knee on top of knee. I looked at the new song we were to learn and all I could remember was that terrified individual begging to be released from his mental prison. Even then, as I rehearsed the soul stealing day in my mind, beads of sweat began to form on my head.

Next to me sat a nice gentlemen, his wedding ring glowing, matching the pride and wonder on his face. I exchanged pleasant greetings and waited, writhing in emotional pain, for the music director to begin. He assigned each their parts and that is when I knew I had to make my move.

I was the only high tenor in the front and I refused to drown alone. I looked behind me, a friendly face. It was the heavenly help that rescued me from my decaying emotions. I grabbed my things, slid my chair back, and edged close to him whether he liked it or not. The wedding ring glow dude seemed uneasy about my departure.

He lifted his left arm, drew his nose close and took a long whiff:

“I don’t stink do I?”

I knew it was a joke, but I felt the need to explain myself:

“Oh no, I just, um, he is a high tenor and I need all the help I can steal.”

The wedding ring glow turned his head. I thought I saw a sneer at my weak attempt to soothe his feelings. I hoped it was simply a laugh of acceptance.

As we made it through the piece I found myself a bit more knowledgeable of the chords than I thought. It also helped that my section received most of the melody. I leaned on my heavenly help every now and again, but I could see that I was finally taking my first few steps on my own. My legs were still wobbly, but I moved on.

The cast finally moved to the stage to block out the number.

I stood in the back looking at a swarm of people, on an already built set – the scenes from an ongoing play – and having to imagine being ten feet off the ground. On top of this, I had to figure out my characters motivation.

The choreographer began to mark out transitions and each member tore at their music scores scribbling cues to tell them exactly where they were to be at each part of the song. Not wanting to be left out, I grabbed mine too. Ten minutes into instructions I put mine down. I thought:

Coming from a dance and competitive cheerleading background I had to move my body in ten different directions in a matter of four counts, those counts equaling two seconds. For this I have seconds on end to meander through the motions.

The hard part, I knew, would be occupying myself between each transition without looking as if I was waiting for the world to spin on a hidden axis. I reached for my first time filler – A phone.

Typical.

I felt like an idiot having a casual conversation with nobody. So I pieced my part together:

I am a vendor, I have a phone and I need to make deals. YES, I WILL BE ANGRY.

Again, typical.  Angry black man.

I put the thought in my pocket and moved on to how my character would interact. However, it seemed as if everyone had it figured out for me. For some reason, no matter who I interacted with, they felt the need to hit me. I had to re-evaluate myself:

Okay, look. If my character was in New York, he would most likely have a gun. So I am gonna physically beat the breaks off the next person who lays a hand on me.

I thought too soon.

I found myself interacting with the heavenly voice. I went to offer her something and she swung at me.

I had had it.

I swung back. She retaliated. I swiped again. Pretty soon we, both in unison, were swinging our opened palms at one another, chests cocked back and heads turned to the side. We resembled two debutantes engaging in their first catch fight, white gloves intact. We noticed how ridiculous we looked.

Hinged at the waist, we both broke into laughter at how completely insane we came off. The heavenly voice, in full throttle laughter proclaimed:

“We were really throwing blow like we were about to fight.”

I agreed.

I left that day, still confused about my character but a bit more sure of what it could be.

As I walked towards the stage two individuals were at the piano. One girl, with an amazingly colorful hoodie, one in which I would steal given the chance, was standing next to a familiar face that I had only seen once. He was another lead character, and with obligations to another show, his attendance was sporadic.

How could he possibly be doing another show, learning a new show and have the lead in both and still be sane?

I admired his tenacity. Even more so, I admired his style.

He wore a beanie that resembled many of mine, his oversized, inflated pants were screaming for the release of air, as was evident in the holes that exposed his knees, and his whole persona simply fit the character he was to be. I had an epiphany.

Hmmmm, if he was his character, maybe I am mine. I just didn’t know it. But wait, I wouldn’t do anything my character did in real life.

My confusion only increased.

I sat idly by and waited for instructions. We reviewed the song, fixed the broken pieces and then hit the stage as our bodies were called for an all out performance.

I, on the other hand couldn’t go all out, I didn’t even know what to go all out as.

I went through the motions and adopted different personalities as I moved along. Oddly enough, none of them seemed to work for me, except one instance. The choreographer yelled out at me, excitement radiating her already energetic body:

“Jeremy, that thing you just did during the slow motion section; it was genius.”

I was a genius. I was the genius of slow motion. Still, it felt good to be the all-knowing on something.

We moved from section to section, each body looking more sure of themselves as mine continually tried to work out the mechanical kinks of ridged dance placement. Every motion didn’t have a beat and the suspense of slowly making my way to my next spot, the music bleeding out the seconds that drowned me in insanity, was unbearable. To make matters worse, my time to sing was lurking in the distance.

I needed specific instructions.

I found a spot on the stage and placed my back against the wall. I began to writhe in pain, trying to match the agony that played out in my mind. I tore to my last position before my moment to ignite the auditorium arrived. As I watched a guy with glasses repeat a phrase I began to see the lines of acting and reality starting to blur.

Next to me a girl stared on in confusion as if she had no idea what was going on. I matched her stare because I had no idea what was going on. The repeated phrase the individual I stared upon recited was lost in my already fleeting comprehension of stage placement. Plus,I just wanted to sing, to bring words to life.

I began.

“How do you…”

Nothing.

I was getting nothing. The emotions were still stale and my breath tasted hot. I pressed forward.

I moved into my transitional phrase:

“How can you connect…”

And that is when it happened.

A fear like no other gripped me, paralyzed me. I tried to find the words to the song but all that escaped was:

“…aba…aba..abaaaaa.”

I was a dying sheep all because he looked at me. Beanie man, with the torn pants, looked me straight in the eye and a force, like none that I had felt, began to pull me in. It was almost as if he was standing right next to me. I panicked.

His face was turning beet red and his body wretched as if tiny hooks, which were once embedded in his skin, were being slowly yanked from his flesh. It was all too much for me.

I looked away.

I tried to move forward but all I could do was think about that instance.

Why did he look at me? Why did he choose me? Didn’t he see that I was trying to connect with two-voiced, dance partner or the heavenly help, friendly familiar faces? Why did he interrupt my sight line? What was he doing to me?

The choreographer released us for a break and I ran to the bathroom to relieve myself, figuratively and literally, of the pain in my lower stomach.

As I punched through the door, I looked to find my favorite urinal. When my eyes refocused to the dimming light, I saw that someone had occupied my space. It was him.

Grrrr. He is who I am trying to escape.

I took a position on the other side of the five plus foot wall that separated the two urinals and began to go through the motions.

As I stood there I had the urge to ask him what he was doing on the stage and why he was in so much pain. It was almost as if he wanted to tell me something, only I was too theatre illiterate to get it. So, for some reason beyond all my understanding, my mouth, at the most inappropriate time, began to move.

“Hi, I’m Jeremy.”

WHAT!?!?!

Did I really just break bathroom protocol?

I used to threaten urine stained pants to any of my friends that decided they wanted to speak to me at the urinal. Urinal time was private, sacred even. All conversations ended upon approach and resumed at the sink. And here I was, introducing myself like the barricade between us gave off some false sense of security. I waited for him to respond with:

“Yeah, and I’m peeing.”

In that moment I wanted to melt to the floor and slither underneath the door. I looked down and realized where I was. I solidified my dissolving emotions and waited for the chastisement.

He spoke his name. His hand reached up and waved. My body tensed and I held back the need to yell. I retreated into myself again.

Was I supposed to touch shake his hand? Oh no, this crap is getting too weird.

This whole theatre world was changing me. It was as if upside down was, oh wait, no upside down was still the same and gravity still existed, but I was doing crap that I had never done before. Beanie man spoke again:

“Yeah, we shared a moment of angst on the stage.”

I couldn’t help but think, with my eyes now glued to the wall ahead of me, a nervous smirk distorting my face.

Yeah, a lot like his one.

I begged to slip into temporary unconsciousness. As I stood there, waiting for the moment to end, it felt as if I were banging my head against glass that just wouldn’t shatter. I prayed for the sweet release of the shards of glass, feeling them pierce my every facial nerve, however, I simply, after washing my hands, walked away with a throbbing headache.

I took my place on stage and waited for the music to begin.

As the part drew near, I imagined our last encounter as being a fluke. I made my way over to where he was, my assigned blocking, and finished my last phrase.

“RENT”

I turned, expecting to see the glowing face of my dance partner, I needed familiarity, but there he was again. Same expression, same angst and the same pull. This time I studied it.

As I glared into his face, his hands contorted and trembled compassionately, I couldn’t help but see how wrong it all looked.

I would never do that.

Still, that pull he had reached over to me, I felt it in front of me. It asked me for help. It begged me for help.

But what could I do?

And then, it took one last thrust for me and pulled me in. Instantly, I wanted someone to help me.

The feeling felt so wrong and yet my body eased into it. I turned to the fake audience that would be decorating the seats and I begged them for help. I limped forward, in agony, and I implored them for help. I dropped to my knees and I screamed for their help. And when they did not reach out for me, my efforts in vain, I crumbled to the floor knowing help was not on the way.

It felt so wrong.

It was so right.

All of my calculations of movements only hinted at one thing. I was too stuck in my ways. I needed to let go of my behaviors. As Yoda magnificently stated:

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

So, if everything I was used to felt right, then I had to replace it with the wrong. Because, for some reason, in that setting, wrong was right.

I took to the task.

Yes, I rekindled my need to talk on the phone and silently yelled at my contact. It felt so wrong.

I hit on one of the other cast mates, in character, and, in character, I was slapped. It felt so wrong.

I showed my weaknesses. Wrong. I wiped a tear away. Wrong. My dance partner, before I reached beanie man, grabbed me, us sharing a moment of helplessness. Wrong. And then I faced him once again. Wrong.

His face turned red. My eyes swelled. He writhed in pain. I matched his efforts. He turned, I twitched. And soon we were engaged in an un-choreographed sparing of emotions.

It felt so wrong.

I couldn’t help him, and he couldn’t help me. Yet, he did.

Everything, from that moment on, felt so wrong.

It was all right.

He showed me that it was all right to be wrong. He taught me to let go, to embrace my emotion on stage.

I embraced it.

I jumped in my car, found the highway, rolled my windows down and put my foot on the gas. It felt so wrong.

It was.

Five seconds later, I grabbed a hold of reality, ascended the windows and dropped down to the speed limit.

A two hundred dollar ticket. Wrong.

Trivia

Can you guess the character I was trying to portray?

(RENT CAST, FAMILY, and some Friends are Excluded from this)

There will be three prizes for the order in which the answer is correct…

1st Prize – A one page summary of what I felt when I first met you, or a memorable encounter

2nd Prize – An elaboration on one of your favorite characters in the next blog

3rd Prize – A mention of your favorite animal, name or play in my next blog

Trivia for RENT Cast?

What phrase in La Vie Boheme am I at war with having to say, with some serious soul searching  involved? (Bonus if you can get both of them)

(TIA T. Can only guess for the Bonus)

Prizes to be determined!!!

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

__________________

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.

-Chinese Proverb

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