the glamour of show bizJune 1, 2010
So, I’m in this play.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I did actually get an undergrad degree from Northwestern in theatre. (Note the pretentious “RE” spelling. ) For many years of my life this education seemed pretty useless. Sure, I can amuse people at parties with funny voices, but that hardly seems worth 80K. Over time, I found many ways to use my skills in performance in things like event planning, education, research, public speaking etc. but didn’t do much of what I would consider “acting”for a good ten years. You know, besides pretending to give a shit about how many bottles some rich douchebag has in his cellar.
About 8 years ago, I got back on the horse. Headshots. Agent. Expensive haircut. The whole shebang. I felt like a legit artist again and perhaps even more equipped to handle the biz. Knowing I could make a living doing something else gave me the ability to walk into an audition without reeking of desperation. I had that much more life experience to draw on and a comfort level performing that I had never experienced before. What I’ve noticed recently is that post diagnosis, where once I was comfortable in auditions, I am now fearless. I honestly don’t think there is a director in this city that could really intimidate me anymore. And I’m enjoying it.
Last year during my brief period of sorta kinda remission, I did a leading role in a wonderful show with some truly inspiring people. The pay was pittance, but I really felt like I had my A game back. I was able to do hours of physical comedy and (thank ya jebus!) chemo brain did not affect my ability to memorize lines, which had been a huge fear. My life as an artist was coming back to me! And, as happens to many cancer patients, one crappy CT scan changed everything in my life once again.
After another surgery, a shift to a life of indefinite chemo and some serious hair loss, I wondered if I’d ever act again. Over the last 18 months, I’ve managed to slowly get back in the game. My agents have been FANTASTIC throughout this process, sending me on countless voice over auditions when my hair prevented me from on camera work. (Huge thank yous to the crew at Shirley Hamilton!) I got a fabulous new wig, hooked up my home recording equipment for more voice work, and started to shop for headshot photographers once again. The one thing I just couldn’t bring myself to do was look at theatre auditions. I had a genuine fear that I couldn’t handle a rehearsal and performance schedule anymore. Two big slices in my ab muscles have made me even less flexible than I was before cancer. And what about the effects of chemo brain after all these new drugs? I recently put frozen peaches in the cabinet with ziplock bags instead of the freezer. I don’t even want to think about what’s happened to my ability to memorize text. I was scared to audition for anything, lest I discover I was no longer capable of working on stage.
And then I got an email in my spam folder. An unassuming message inviting me to audition for a play I’d never heard of for a theatre company I’d never worked with. Huh. That’s weird… I skimmed the email half expecting to see an embedded ad for Viagra or stuffed animal fetish porn. OK. Looks legit. Oh wait!…the show is directed by David Cromer! For those of you outside the world of theatre, David is a pretty big deal. (I think he would be highly amused if he read this though. Maybe even give a good spit take from an adult beverage.) David recently directed a now famous production of Our Town that had been running on Broadway for about two years. He has landed a couple of Broadway musicals since then and come to be quite the darling of the critics for now. He’s been acting and directing terrific stuff for years, but only recently has the established thee-a-tah elite deemed to fuss over him. Anyhoo, I was suddenly kinda freaked out and excited all at once. I hadn’t seen Mr. Cromer since I took a master’s class in Chekhov scene work about 5 years ago. (Yeah, that’s as big a hootenanny as you imagine.) I simply had to go to this audition.
Sparing all of you the hand wringing details, I had a pretty decent audition and David was mercifully already aware of my disease. The chit chat part of auditions can be incredibly awkward under normal circumstances. I can only imagine what it would be like to add “Oh, and just an FYI; I have cancer.” Best of all; I was offered a role in the show. In fact, the whole experience so far has been surprisingly free of gaping mouth cancer drama. The costume designer totally rolled with my whole IV/ fanny pack thing. He mused that it just might make my character seem kinda butch, but if I wanted, he would happily stitch “chemo, not lesbo” on my device. He’s a good egg.
As you can imagine, when meeting a new cast of 50 (yes, 50!) actors, I don’t exactly open with “Hi. I’m Chris. I have cancer.” But over the course of these first few rehearsals, I’ve felt comfortable sharing my situation with many of my fellow cast members. Not one has gone bonkers on me. This is a huge testament to the folks in this show. I know a whole bunch of thespian types who would flip out upon learning news of toe fungus; stage four cancer might make their heads explode. Drama Queens are a professional hazard in this biz and I am quite relieved to meet so many generally well-adjusted folk involved in this project.
I think I unconsciously decided to tackle my rehearsal and chemo and social schedule like the Tasmanian Devil. I’m just gonna go and go and go and no one can stop me! Until I hit a wall and sleep for 14 hours. That day was today. I have been working a part time desk job during the day, rehearsing at night and drinking my face off over the holiday weekend. I should probably add that I did this for two days while actually on the drip. I guess I’ve been trying to prove to myself that cancer won’t impact my ability to act in my “new normal” life. Perhaps this was a tad unrealistic. I felt like complete crap all day today. Unable to really sleep and yet, unable to really function either. I barely made it through a shortened rehearsal today without napping on the poor 20 something blocked next to me on a couch. Two iced coffees and fear of appearing unprepared saved me.
While I certainly understand that I can not keep up this rock and roll lifestyle, I also believe that testing your stamina now and again is useful as well. No, I can’t work and party like a frat boy, but I can handle a lot more physical activity than I would have guessed. I’m glad I pushed myself. Yes, I lost an entire day to recovery, but now I know how to plan and adjust for tech week and performance weekends. I feel I proved to my body that I can “tread the boards” without any coddling or special treatment. All I need is a costume that hides my IV connection. In the world of storefront theatre actresses, that’s pretty low maintenance.
During rehearsal tonight, I spent 2 hours perched on the arm of a couch that a college dorm might discard. It would be pretty damn uncomfortable for anyone under normal circumstances, but I have an impeccably-positioned set of hemorrhoids that rest on the one cheek I get to perch on the uncushioned part of this crappy sofa. I thought more than once about asking to be placed somewhere else on stage, but then I’d have to tell a room full of 60 actors and designers that I have blisters on my butt. I decided to tough it out. Maybe I’m not as fearless as I thought.