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Political Penance

While chatting with my friend Colin today, we both bemoaned the fact that we’re getting sick of the election.  But – we’re also both caught up in the mess. “I’m addicted,” Colin joked, wryly.  And I’d have to say the same – I watched all three debates, I’m trolling Facebook, and I’m exclusively reading the election content on other sites.

Enough.

From here on out, I am going to deliberately look at something else when I catch myself reading too much about the election – instead, I am going to write about Hamilton. Either something about Alexander Hamilton himself, or about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or the whole “Hamilton” phenomena.  Because frankly, it’s a vision of America I like much better – inclusive, multicultural, and helmed by someone who unabashedly loves everything and everyone and is humble and grateful, and excited about what other people are doing, and is also a little goofy.

And to start- because I just got into a couple of Facebook run-ins – I have this moment from the Hamilton stage door.  It’s one of the “Ham for Ham” shows, the quick-and-dirty things that Lin-Manuel used to do to entertain the audience members lining up for a spot in the last-minute ticket lottery.  On May 4th, he invited J.J. Abrams to join him, so they could tell the story about how Lin-Manuel composed the music for the cantina scene in The Force Awakens. And…then they both sang it.

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A Kingdom For A Stage, Princes To Act

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Four centuries ago today, William Shakespeare died.  Four centuries and fifty-two years ago, he was also born.

A big part of why I got into theater was because of a presentation on Shakespeare that happened at my grade school when I was only eight, when a theater professor from the local university came to give a presentation to the third-graders at my school.  He talked a little bit about Shakespeare and about theater techniques in Tudor England – I remember especially he showed us a nifty piece of stage business that he said they used to have a fake “dog” onstage; he had a piece of fur that he draped over his arm, then worked his arm like it was a puppet of a little lapdog he was holding. We were all fascinated.

Then he closed with Marc Antony’s big speech from Julius Caesar. He told us a little bit about the plot – how Brutus had been one of the people who killed Casesar, and how everyone was mad about that now. “So can you all pretend to be Romans?” he asked us. “You can shout good and loud, before I start, because you’re all angry about Brutus. Go ahead, and then I’ll start.” And because we were eight-year-olds being given license to shout, we got way into it, shouting “boo Brutus! Down with Brutus!” or whatever.

He let us go on for about ten seconds or so, and then in this big, booming voice, he shouted “FRIENDS! ROMANS! COUNTRYMEN! LEND ME YOUR EARS!”

I have never since seen fifty-odd third-graders go from loud and boisterous to dead silence that quickly. I listened as he recited the rest of the speech, occasionally gesturing at the robe which he had on the floor to stand in for Brutus; and I remember thinking that I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying, but I didn’t care, because I knew in my bones that it was really, really important.

…Shakespeare wove his way in and out of my life after that a few times; I saw a god-awful production of Hamlet starting Richard Thomas at Hartford Stage when I was sixteen (when Laertes ran onstage at one point in camouflage tights and carrying an Uzi, I decided the production didn’t know what it was doing).  I’ve seen Henry VIII as part of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park festival.  I’ve seen a lot of off-the-wall takes on Shakespeare plays in various off-off-Broadway venues – a Mad Max influenced MacBeth, and another MacBeth which added references to Fast Food Nation and cast various restaurant mascots in the various roles.  I was nearly beaned in the face when a Mercutio lost control of a quarterstaff in a college production.  I was floored by a free Romeo and Juliet in Tompkins Square Park when their Juliet actually played the part as a giggly tween – the kind of giggly tween Juliet really was – and it woke me up to the part anew.  I made a point of seeing Dustin Hoffman in Merchant of Venice on Broadway, and I saw David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing in the West End.  I’d flown to London expressly to see the show, and had come almost directly off the plane to the theater (I mentioned that fact to David Tennant outside the stage door, when I was in the throng waiting for autographs, and he stopped signing my program for a microsecond to marvel at that, thank me and ask me how I was coping with jet lag). Earlier this month I saw David Tennant again as Richard II, as part of the “King and Country” repertory the RSC has now at Brooklyn Academy of Music, and when an actor friend offered me a spare ticket to the Henry V performance a couple weeks later, I said sure.

That actor friend is someone I had met through being a stage manager, and my life was set off on that particular path by that presentation back when I was eight.

Ironically, I have only worked on one Shakespeare play; a gender-bending production of Hamlet, with a brilliant actress playing Hamlet as the princess of Denmark.  Ophelia was still a woman, and Horatio was still a man; it did all sorts of interesting things to the way Hamlet’s scene in each were played.  There’s also a little scene where Polonius comes to Claudius and Gertrude with the news that he’s discovered Hamlet and Ophelia’s affair – it’s usually a bit of a throwaway scene, but this time it got played for some comedy, and I was delighted at how fresh the script could still be.  But the audiences didn’t need the gender-bending to react to one of the biggest plot twists – each night, during the final duel, when Gertrude unknowingly drinks from Hamlet’s goblet – which Laertes has poisoned – at each night, at every performance, people in the audience gasped.

Theater is a path that has not always been kind to me, and at this point I’ve pretty much retired from theater. I know that I’d be doing a lot better off financially if I chose a different path. Sometimes I’m still bitter about that. But instead, what I got was tales like that – where words written four centuries ago can so grip a person such that even though they know that the woman they are seeing is clearly pretending to be the Queen of Denmark, and is clearly drinking water out of what is most likely a plastic goblet spray-painted gold, they will still gasp with shock because she has poisoned herself.

I went back to London a year after seeing Much Ado, and made a point of visiting the Globe Theater. I wanted to see more of the backstage, but there was a troupe rehearsing that day – when I went, there was a whole festival of various regional theaters from around the world who’d all come in to London to do various Shakespeare plays in their own native languages. We’d dropped in right when the troupe from Afghanistan was wrapping up their rehearsal for Comedy of Errors, so we could only walk around in the house a bit. The guide gave us all a basic Tudor-England-theater 101 talk, about stuff I’d already known, and then let us wander. I looked up at the richly painted proscenium and the Tudor Rose painted on it, thinking of the prologue from Henry V – “can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?”

In case Shakespeare’s ghost was listening, I quietly whispered to him – “thanks for everything, you jerk.” And smiled and walked out.

Spending Time With An Ex

Mother of God how in the hell did I survive this schedule for ten years.

For the past week I’ve been doing a new volunteer thing at New York’s Fringe Festival – I’m one of the “Ambassadors,” which is a sort of combination marketer/salesman/cheerleader role, involving talking the show up on social media and hosting the “afterparties” that each of my shows gets following one of its performances.  The thing is, though, that there are 185 shows and only 12 of us ambassadors – so we each got a roster of about a dozen plays to shepherd through their paces, and about a dozen such parties.

And so for the past week I’ve been heading straight downtown after work, changing into a fetching green Fringe t-shirt en route, then seeing the shows (for free, which is a plus) and then standing around outside the box office afterward like a dorky camp counselor waiting to lead a tiny handful of people to a bar where I sit hovering on the edge of a tableful of the cast and their friends as they all swap injokes and I feel like a party crasher for two hours, before breaking my promise to myself that I’m going to take a subway home and hailing a cab.  I get in at 11 pm, try to fall asleep before midnight, and then the alarm rings at 6 am the next morning, lather, rinse, repeat.

The thing is, this is exactly the schedule I followed when I was a stage manager – the hours, the hanging around the casts and feeling like a bit of an outsider because I was tech and not performer, the exhaustion born of sleep loss, the going broke born of oh screw it I’ll take a cab home.  It was a schedule I kept up all through the late 90’s into the 2000’s.

Except – when I started doing that I was twenty-eight; and now, I am forty-five.  I used to be able to pull off a solid six months at that pace, with three shows coming in on me backtobacktoback – today, five days at that pace is breaking me.  My downstairs neighbor recently asked if I would be home on Sunday to let the super in for a repair, and was surprised I was so quickly able to say yes.  “You’re sure there’s no chance you’ll wanna have brunch or something?”

“It’s my first free day in nine days,” I told him, “and so I ain’t doing jack.”

I’ve joked to one of my co-workers that this is reminding me why I “broke up” with theater in the first place. I was starting to feel burnout and sleep deprivation after only four or five years, but kept going until I was spent – I’m still recovering from that.  But – the thing about running into an ex that you really, really liked is that sometimes you can see a glimmer of what drew you to them in the first place – and I have to admit I’ve seen glints of that as well, like the sheer awe on an audience member’s face when she was watching a play that totally blew her mind.  When I saw that and told her about the afterparty, she immediately decided to blow off her plans for the rest of the afternoon and join us; she cornered the two leads and the playwright when they all arrived at the bar and spent a solid half hour telling them how amazing she thought it was as I watched their shirts all swell with pride and their faces soften with gratitude at the same time.

Or the show involving aerialists and jazz drummers, which began with a speech from the show’s creator that was basically his artistic mission statement – but he was so eloquent that it got me thinking about my own creative life.  And then after that show, three members of the cast and two band members dropped by the beer hall we were stationed at, and they were lively and young and welcoming and eager and friendly, and I spent the next two hours in a heady freewheeling anarchic conversation that ranged from coming up with a ranking system for Tom Waits albums to passionate discourse on Where To Find The Best Ice Cream In New York to the origins of Scientology to How Stupid Tinder Actually Is When You Think About It, all mixed in with giggling and teasing each other across our beers.  We actually stayed long enough to close the place – I didn’t notice how late it was getting, and the talk was smoothing across my brain like a balm; it’s the kind of talk you have with casts on the tail end of a long day at a tech rehearsal when you’re all much too exhausted to give a crap whether people think you’re making sense, and the mental checks you put on yourself that stop you from saying the weird ideas all fall down and you find out that everyone else is just the same kind of weird you are.

But that kind of exhaustion hits me harder now and it takes me longer to bounce back, and after a couple more days I’m going to have to give my ex a hug and say it was great to be here again, and then go on back to where I am now.

Just Call Me Ms. Neeson

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I’ve been laying low in here due to some day job issues – nothing bad, just something I need to focus on.

However, something else happened at work today – an unrelated thing – that let me draw on a very unique skillset.  Without getting into the particulars, I got into work this morning and found an email asking me to start work on a specific set of tasks – and that I would need to have them complete by Monday.

This was the first I’d heard of the need to do these tasks.

And these tasks usually take a week.

But I have a secret weapon: I was a stage manager for ten years.  And solving problems on the fly and on short notice is precisely what stage managers are for – I have diagnosed an injury and prescribed first aid with a single glance from across a theater, I have created an all-new sound effect with only two minutes’ warning, I have re-designed the lights for a show while the show was still going on when some fuses blew.  I even once joined a dance routine in process on a stage because that was the best way for me to unobtrusively make my way over to an injured performer and carry her back off to the wings.

And when I saw that email, after the two minutes’ panic, I felt that familiar “click” in my brain and I slipped into Stage Manager Mode – and the series of tasks I had to have complete by Monday and which usually take a week were done within only four hours.

….I still got it.

When I Knew Them When

So, yes, I worked in theater for ten years.  I actually studied acting, got into stage management instead, and spent ten years at it.

And I’ve seen a lot of people go on to other things.  Mostly I’ve seen people turn up in bit parts in films – I watched one actor I know beat up Oscar Isaacs at the end of Inside Llewyn Davis, and a former acting studio classmate had a stint on a short-lived show about classic-era Hollywood on AMC.  Plus all the people with guest spots on Law and Order.

But four people have gone onto fairly major, “oh yeah I know who you mean” status; one of whom just had her big break.  And fortunately, all of them were fantastic people.

For example.

I studied acting in college, as part of New York University’s partnership with the Lee Strasberg Institute. I had classes on campus, but the bulk of my acting training was there; and I was there pretty much all day three days a week, as were all the other NYU students in that program.

The NYU students were there often enough, in fact, that we all started recognizing each others’ faces from passing each other on the stairs on our way up or down to one class or another.  Most of the time we’d maybe just nod, maybe smile a bit, but there was one guy who was a year ahead of me who always, always, would smile broadly and say, “hey, how ya doin’?” as he passed me.  Not just me – he did that to everybody.  He had such a broad, friendly smile that I always found myself smiling and answering back, even on the days I was half awake.  A few times over the next couple years, we’d also sometimes pass each other on the street or elsewhere on NYU’s campus – and still, every time, his eyebrows would lift in recognition, and he’d nod and smile and still say that same “hey, how ya doin’?”  And I’d always smile just as warmly back, even though for the life of me I never knew the guy’s name.

I think he went on to a different studio after a year or so, and graduated ahead of me, so I never found out who he was – until 1999, when I saw an X-Files episode about an alien who’d fallen so in love with baseball that he was living undercover as a member of a Negro League baseball team in 1947.  I recognized the broad smile on the alien’s human guise, and at the end I finally learned his name – Jesse L. Martin.  Somehow I’d totally missed him in Rent, but caught him in Law and Order a year or so later.  And I’m still waiting for that biopic of Marvin Gaye he’s apparently been trying to make for years now.

Briefly, in 2002, I was the assistant stage manager to a musical about vampires someone was “workshopping” – we never did the show for an audience as such, it was just a test performance with a bare-bones staging for an invited audience of potential investors.  We rehearsed for a handful of weeks on location at a high school, then did three performances and that was it.  The cast was full of young fresh-faced musical-theater folks – chorus parts and bit parts off-Broadway or Broadway, but no one who’d Made It Big yet.  Our lead was a young woman named Cote, with a fabulous voice, stunningly gorgeous face, and a sweet temperament; but I was too tied up and busy with juggling the show to pay much notice.

Then six months after we’d closed, I was browsing in a kitschy shop in Chinatown and felt a tap on my shoulder.  I turned around, and there was Cote – who broke into a huge smile.  “Kim!  I thought it was you!” she crowed, giving me a huge hug.  “I haven’t seen you in so long, how are you?”

“….I’m honestly stunned you remember me,” I admitted.  The crew doesn’t always enjoy the same level of bonding during a show that the cast does, and as the assistant stage manager I thought she’d have noticed me even less.

“Of course I remember you!” she chided, and we spent the next ten minutes catching up.  I told her about the shows I’d been working on since, and so did she – in fact, she’d just gotten a role in a musical in Los Angeles, something based on The Mambo Kings.  “It might even go to Broadway if we do well,” she said, excitedly.  “Wish me luck!”  I cheerfully did.

Sadly, the Mambo Kings musical wrapped up in Los Angeles.  But Cote decided to stay put there, and went out on a couple of auditions – and fairly quickly, she was cast in the show NCIS playing an Israeli Mossad agent named Ziva David.

I didn’t even know about it for a couple years, until one day I was channel-surfing and came into a rerun of one of her episodes.  I dined out on that news for quite a while – when I mentioned this to my parents over dinner, my father nearly dropped his fork and gasped, “you worked with HER???”  Mom explained that Dad had a wee crush, and Dad spent the next five minutes pumping me for details.

The show happily put Cote’s singing voice to good use once, in an episode where her character was working undercover as a night club singer.  The episode only used about twenty seconds of her singing a jazzy cover of a Tom Waits song, but they filmed the whole thing just for fun.  And to bring things full circle, some hardcore fans of the show even dug up a recording of her big torch song from that vampire musical, and have used it to make scores of NCIS-themed fan videos. I ran into the playwright from the vampire show a couple years back and told her about that; we both agreed it was unbelievably surreal.

A year after working with Cote, I worked on something called American Ma(u)la surreal show about a dystopian future United States.  The ensemble cast cannonballed their way through all sorts of wacked-out parts – a robotic president, a Ru-Paul-esque talk show host, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, and there was even one moment where one actor played both a Mississippi state trooper and the trooper’s dog simultaneously.  A guy named Colman played Thomas Jefferson – among other parts; his favorite part, though, was that of a homeless man who kept wandering around the background of another scene, in search of his best friend and periodically calling out her name.

And through an unbelievable twist of fate, his character’s friend’s name was “Kim.”

Colman had a looooooooooot of fun with that.  We staged the scene so Colman was wandering around in the audience on his search, periodically shouting “KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!……KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!”  as he made his way to the stage proper.  About halfway through his search, he would pass by my control table – and on a couple of nights, he would stop at my table, turn to me with a mischievous grin, and holler his line directly into my face: “KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!” before moving on.  For the closing night show I got him back by putting on a mask of Oprah Winfrey right before he stopped at my table, to freak him out.  He barely flinched.

In the years following, I heard of Colman appearing in one or another thing in passing – small shows, a spot on a sketch show, things like that.   I friended him on Facebook early on.

And that’s how I’ve basically had front row seats as his career took off – first with a one-month stint as Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway.  Then with a part in the ensemble for the show Passing Strange, where he stole the show with a stint as a performance artist named Mr. Venus.   That lead to a cameo in the Spike Lee film Red Hook Summer, followed shortly by another turn on Broadway in The Scottsboro Boys – he’s the one in the red coat, in a role which later saw him win a TONY nomination.  And then back to the movies, where he turned up in the very first scene in Lincoln  – and in fact, delivers the very first spoken line.  And then biggest of all was this year – he plays Reverend Ralph Abernathy in Selmaand so I’ve been seeing his face all over the posters and trailers as well (in 90% of the scenes in the trailer, Colman is standing either to the left or right of David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King, and Colman’s also the one who bolsters his spirits in a jail cell).

I have to be honest, I was hoping to see Colman’s name in the Best-Supporting-Actor nominee list this year, so I could say I worked with a nominee once.  Next time.

Three years after American Ma(u)l, I did a show about the American and Chinese ping pong friendship games from the 70’s; a funny, sweet little show which imagined the outcome of an American team member falling in love with a Chinese team member.  The production was a joy – the technical stuff was fairly simple, the script was sweet, and everyone in the cast and crew was a delight; our female lead, Constance, not excepted.

But Constance also had a little spice to go with the sweetness.  She was just starting to get sick of playing the very kind of ingenue parts we’d put her in, and tried to break out of the “cute” mold whenever she could.  But she was hands-down adorable, so it was a struggle – a couple times in rehearsal, I’d hear other cast members in the room utter heartfelt “awwwwww!”s as they watched her.  One time she did something so adorable that we all cooed, and she stopped the scene, turned to us all and barked, “I’m not cute, dammit!” before picking the scene up again.

She really livened things up in one late rehearsal. One of the other cast members was more proficient in Mandarin than she was, so she sometimes pumped him for language lessons.  Then one day she learned some special words elsewhere – and spent most of her down time showing off her new knowledge, teasing him with a stream of utterly filthy talk in Mandarin that the rest of us were chalking up to “language practice”.  We had no idea what was going on – they maybe were a bit more giggly than usual – until suddenly he burst out in English: “what the hell did you just say about my penis???”  The director and I gently encouraged her to play nice, but we were laughing too.

A few years later, Constance moved away to Los Angeles; she got some small movie roles here, some small parts in TV there.  And then, two days ago, she made her debut as Jessica Huang in the show Fresh Off The Boat.  

I didn’t recognize her face at first – but I definitely recognized the attitude.

 

Intermission

This is always a weird week, isn’t it, if you think about it?  That dead week in between Christmas and New Year’s – the big shindig of Christmas or Hannukkah or whatever is past, but it’s too soon to really call the holidays “over”.

I’m back at work all this week, but a lot of people are still out on vacations or family visits, and the rest of us are kind of half-assing it – catching up on some long-standing niggling things that we had to keep postponing, and now we finally have the chance now that no one is bothering us.  The office I work in takes a casual approach to work wear anyway, but a lot more people are turning up in jeans.  I’m actually the only person in my entire section of the floor, and am indulging in playing music as I work (here’s where everyone who passes by discovers that lately I have a fondness for Macklemore and the Blues Brothers).

It’s the same at home – my roommate is still with his family in the Midwest, so I’ve been more putter-y there as well, tackling some longstanding closet organization projects and kitchen weeding.  I spent most of the day Sunday reorganizing my cabinet o’ cookbooks (I have 126 of them, and that’s even after selecting 14 to get rid of; I think I have a problem).  I’ve vaguely nudged my friends Colin and Niki about catching a local neighborhood custom with me, the sounding of the steam whistles at Pratt University; but other than that I’ve made no plans for New Year’s Eve, and if they can’t make it I may honestly just sort papers and then go to bed at midnight. Take a walk New Year’s Day, and otherwise just putter.

It doesn’t feel right to tackle anything big or begin anything yet. The real work will come on Monday, when the New Year has started in earnest and everyone’s back in the groove.  Plus, the work of getting Christmas up and running – and let’s face it, it is work – is finally done, and you need a breather.

Honestly, it feels an awful lot like when I was doing theater, and intermission came along. I couldn’t be in-active – I often had a list of niggly things to do, props to check and lights to tend to, scenery to have moved, cast members and audiences to herd. The cast was also tending to niggly things like the button that they saw falling off their costume or the tag in their underwear or the fake moustache coming loose, or even such mundane things as having to pee or eat an energy bar or have a long drink of water.  But we weren’t doing Big Tasks – it wasn’t ready for the Big Push of the next act just yet.  We needed a break, and so did the audience, and we were all taking it; getting things sorted for the next push.

And I always got antsy towards the end of intermission, too – when everything I needed to do was done, but I still needed to wait for time to pass, for the audience to get back to their seats and the fifteen minutes for intermission to run out. I’d often devise entire fussy tasks for myself just so I could be doing something rather than just waiting out the clock.  Ultimately they helped – the few seconds fussing with the prop table kept it more organized, or tying a curtain tie more securely ensured it didn’t unfurl itself onstage accidentally during the love scene or whatever. But it was mostly nervous energy burning itself out because I was anxious to just start on the next phase, but couldn’t.

I’ve got vague ideas about what I want for the year ahead of me and how I want that to develop – writing more, traveling more, returning to keeping a paper journal – and part of me wants to jump in now, but another doesn’t.  It’d feel like starting things before the cue’s been given.  And on New Year’s Day and that weekend I’ll finally crack open a journal and write or even sketch in it, and then maybe take myself out hiking like I’ve promised myself I’d do next year – but that’s 48 hours from now, and until then it just feels wrong.  So I dig through my closet and find all the blank journals people have gifted me over the years and gather them in one place; or I salvage weird baking ingredients from my cupboard and use them up in making homemade granola bars I can slip in a day pack for a hike, or I finally sit down and try out the hundred pens cluttering my desk or I weed through the dozens of shoes cluttering my closet, getting rid of the ones that don’t work so I can more easily find the ones that do; and in time the next act will start and I can get going in earnest.

When I Ruled The Wings: True Stage Manager Tales

For ten years I was a theatrical stage manager – a job that people often realize, when they meet me, that they don’t quite “get”.  Once, after I’d been home for a visit, my grandfather and mother were chatting about me a bit when Grandpa finally gave her a sheepish, baffled look and meekly asked, “So….what exactly does a stage manager do?” 

An unpredictable everything.  That’s pretty much what they do.  We do a lot of administrative work and above-and-beyond catch-all stuff during rehearsals, and then during the performance phase we come in early and set everything up, check all the lights and sound effects are working, fix them if they aren’t, check all the costumes and props are in place and in good shape, fix them if they aren’t, and then make sure the cast and crew is all there in time and call them if they aren’t.  And during the show we cue all the lights and sound and troubleshoot the myriad tiny things that go wrong, and then after the show we wait until everyone has gone home and sweep up and put everything away and lock up and then come in early the next day and do it all again.

Sometimes we’re like Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction – we’re the ones that have to step in and fix it when some kind of disaster strikes.  Fortunately everyone else has the grace and the respect to stand back and let us do it, which – truth be told – is often all the situation needed, is for someone to just get on with doing something rather than panicking.

For example –

TRUE STAGE MANAGER TALES, EPISODE ONE – THE PANTS

We were about midway through the run, midway through that afternoon’s show.  I was the stage manager for the company I worked with the most, one that does older American works.  I’d just finished setting everything up for Act II, and just finished giving the cast their five-minute warning before we started again.  I was actually on my way to the crowded bathroom when the lead actor, Tod, came to me, slightly panicked.  “Uh, I got a problem,” he said.  “The fly on my costume pants just broke.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.  He showed me – he’d zipped the zipper up, but the teeth had come apart, leaving his fly yawning wide open.  He’d struggled to pull the zip back down again to no avail.  “Oh my.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, “I have my jacket on all through Act II, and I have a safety pin here – if we pin it closed I can get through the act and then fix it overnight.”

“Oh, that’s good!”  I said.  And then stood, expectantly waiting for him to take his pants off.

He stared back at me a couple seconds.  “Uh…we need to do that while they’re still on me, right?  Or else I wouldn’t be able to get them back on.”

“Oh.  Oh, right.”  I looked down at his fly again, then at the big diaper pin he was handing me.  Then at his fly again.  I took a deep breath.  “Tod,” I finally said, “I apologize in advance for fondling you way more than we thought I ever would.”  And then I crouched down at his feet.

I was able to slip the pin into the fabric, catching both halves of the split on it.  But the pants were heavy wool, and it was a really stubborn pin.  And so for three full minutes I struggled to get the pin closed, trying desperately not manhandle Tod overtly – every time I tugged at the fabric to get a better purchase I risked squeezing him, and every time the pin slipped open I risked poking him.  He just stood still, stoically bearing it while I pinched and poked and wrestled and cursed, and all the while time was ticking away and the show would have to start again.

And then at some point I happened to glance up – and I saw the entire rest of the cast had gradually come crowding back into our half of the wings, and were standing around us in a circle, watching me in fascination as if I were trying to juggle knives.

I just stared back at them all, then hissed, “Could we maybe have a bit of room, please?”  They all blinked, apologized, and stepped back.  And a second later, the safety pin finally clicked home.  Tod thanked me, relieved, and I stood up, took a deep breath, and calmly told everyone that it was “time for places, Act II.”  Wordlessly they got into place.

…I’ve actually run into Tod since then – he lives in my neighborhood, and we’ve both since drifted away from theater.  And while we’ve sometimes reminisced, neither one of us has ever alluded to the fact that at one point in our lives I was squeezing his crotch in public.