“.. till the lights go on and the stage is set, and the song hits home and you feel that sweat…

It’s my job to be different than the rest, and that’s enough reason to go for me… it’s my job to be better than the best and that makes the day for me….”

“It’s My Job,” by Mac McAnally, as performed by Jimmy Buffett

As I write this, it is approximately four hours from my “call time” to get to the theatre, and the tingles of nervous twitches are starting. This is something I have known for many years now, this antsy feeling as the time nears for me to put on whatever costume I am supposed to wear and perform in front of an audience. Some people say things get easier with time… some people are wrong…

My first official stage time came with a play called “George Washington Slept Here,” a comedy written by the incomparable Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. The local community theatre group was presenting it, and they needed a “precocious 11-year old kid,” as called for by the script. In essence, they needed a smart-ass kid who could toss lines with adults. For some strange reason, a friend of my parents thought of me. Go figure…

Little did they know that, when I got that first laugh, that first audience reaction, a monster awakened.

I was too young to even think about really being nervous, but, even then, waiting for that first curtain to rise, I was unable to sit still. I started wandering around backstage, talking to myself, singing to myself, doing anything to keep myself moving. I had never been on stage, outside of those silly pageants we did in school, but I knew this was different entirely. Folks had paid money to see us do this show. This wasn’t the “How Arbor Day Began” thing, with paper bag costumes and the “awwwwws” of everyone’s mom and dad. This was a major deal, and I could feel that difference.

These days, I have so many shows under my belt, it’s hard to really count the exact number. I did shows through high school. One of my majors in college was Speech Communication and Theatre, so I did shows all through college. I went from college back into community theatre, and, in those first two years, I did almost every show the company put on. Real life jumped into vogue, and I was out of it for a while. But I missed it like one would miss an old friend who moves away.

When real life decided to knock me to my knees, I was in a dark and very scary place in my head. But, that old friend who moved away decided to come back to visit. Some very good friends literally dragged me into audition for our community theatre production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” I was on the fence about auditioning until I had that script in my hand and felt those house lights blaring down on me. I knew the show, and knew it well. One of my professors in college had once told me that, while I was a talented actor, I was never going to be able to “hold a lead role,” because I “just wasn’t a leading man-type.” But “The Odd Couple” has a lead role that not only was my type, it was practically written for someone like me! For those who do not know the show, the lead roles are Felix Unger, a fussy, anal-retentive control freak, and Oscar Madison, a sloppy, carefree, unkempt soul who only lives to make himself comfortable in his own sloppiness. Yeah, Oscar Madison was written FOR me.

I had so much going on in my life in the year or so prior to this show, I was in dire need of therapy, and being able to rant like a madman, carry on, yell, threaten, and throw tantrums for 8 weeks of rehearsal was the best medicine I could have received. And, once again, I was hooked.

I went back into my old routines. My superstitions about pre-show, my rituals, spending time getting into my zone, they all came back to me, and, damn, it felt good. I felt alive again. And in those moments, I knew that, whatever life may bring me from that point on, I was not turning my back on the theatre again. It was not a question of whether or not I liked it. It was a part of my life that I had let slip away, and with its vanishing, a part of me had gone as well.

And now, I am in yet another show. The first week of performances was a blast, and we kicked the hell out of the show. I did the last two shows of the week with what I now know to have been a low-grade sinus infection, complete with a nice 101-degree fever, and had a ball doing it. I just thought the buckets of sweat I was draining was extreme nervous energy. Then I got home after the last show and realized that I had not stopped sweating yet. Oh, well…

It’s about three hours now to my “call time.” The nerves are tingling a bit more, and I have one of George Romero’s zombie movies on the TV (don’t scoff… it helps me think… sue me…). I have my mp3 player on, ear buds in, and a nice mix of high-energy rock and easy trop rock is making a groovy roller-coaster ride in my head. I am entering my “zone.”

The folks in the cast with me may think I am a little crazy, all my rituals and superstitions and such, but that’s okay with me. I have never been known as one to do things in a “normal” fashion. I have my ways of focusing, my ways of finding my mindset, and they work for me. Some people just sit and think. I have to move. I spend a couple of hours watching a good horror movie, or a WWE DVD, anything I can follow without really hearing it, and I keep my music flowing. I start powering the caffeine about two hours before show time. I get to the theatre as early as I can and get in costume quickly. Then I put the mp3 player back on, crank up the tunes, and start walking back and forth in front of the stage. I sing to myself, I walk with the rhythm of the music, and I prime myself up for the audience response.

And when that first laugh hits from the crowd, damn, but it feels good. It sends lightning through your soul and makes you feel alive like nothing else can. You radiate on that stage like a turbine, pumping out the energy and letting that crowd feed on it.

And when the show is over, your energy is gone, but the applause as you bow, well, it’s like a cold drink in the desert. It makes that hot, arid run all worthwhile…

Until the next day, when you start it all over again…

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