Archive | June, 2013

There’s Bobby and J.R. and Jock and Ellie and Ray and Pammy and Lucy and Sue Ellen Who Drinks and Drinks and Drinks…

29 Jun

ME: Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the show!
PATRON: Thank you. Be safe.
ME: …??

Greetings from the front lobby of the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas, TX. The show started about 40 minutes ago – yes, they have 1:30 matinees here (can someone explain that to me?) – and I’m waiting for the next episode of “Dallas” to download on my iTunes. I’m already on Season 2. I won’t spoil anything for you by telling you what happened in case you decide you want to start watching a 35-year old television show, but I will say this: That J.R. Ewing is a slimy bastard. It was no joke when that character became known as “the man that everyone loves to hate.”

But enough about “Dallas.” Let’s talk about Dallas.

There have been cities on this tour that I have absolutely loved and a few that I’ve loathed. Sometimes it’s the people that I can’t stand. Sometimes it’s just the city itself. For example, being stuck in a downtown hotel that’s surrounded by businesses and restaurants that close at 6:00 every night. Or – worse – being stuck in a downtown hotel where, inexplicably, there are no restaurants to be found.

Unless you have a bottomless expense account, which I do not, a steadfast rule of life on the road is to avoid eating at the hotel restaurant when possible. If the hotel’s is the only restaurant in the area, they can – and will – charge whatever they want because…well…people have to eat. If your only food options are in the hotel, at least be sure to get loyalty rewards points for the money you spend.

Our hotel in Dallas is situated downtown on the east side of Main Street, and there are lots of restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, none of them are open after the show. So last night I ventured out of my comfort zone – meaning I chose not to go to the McDonald’s across the street from the theatre again – and found a Taco Bueno a few miles from our hotel. I hadn’t had Taco Bueno since I was in graduate school in Oklahoma City, and a taco sounded really good, so I followed the directions that were barked at me by my Google Maps guide (why does she always sound pissed off?) and got my dinner and started back.

I ended up driving through the Gayborhood in Dallas which, on the heels of this week’s Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, was a hub of celebration and just crawling with people. Driving at night – especially in a new town – freaks me out and pedestrians just add to the stress. Pedestrians…and a ton of construction. I found myself yelling back at Google Maps Girl, “I CAN’T turn left there!” and “Where the hell is the road?!?!” but she never answered me back. And I swear…if she told me to make a U-turn one more time… If I didn’t love my iPhone so much, she’d be out on the side of I-30 somewhere in North Texas.

I made it back to the hotel safely. Back to the most confusing parking garage I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s very Escherian – one moment you’re on the level marked 5 Red and before you know it, you’re on level 7 Blue. Where did 6 go? And…was it purple? One day I was parked on level 3 Red, so I got on the elevator and pressed 3. When I stepped off the elevator, I was on level 4 Blue. The first day we were here, a couple of the ladies in the cast and I went to see a movie. When we went to the garage to get my car, I couldn’t find it. Like, sweaty pits “I-think-someone’s-stolen-my-rental-car” couldn’t find it. We finally found it on one of those hidden floors. I feel a bit less embarrassed now because our conductor had the same problem. Yesterday he posted a picture on Facebook of himself sitting in the lap of a cast member as they drove him around the parking garage looking for his car as he just kept hitting the PANIC button over and over again, hoping it would start honking at him. I think the assassination of John F. Kennedy is not the only conspiracy in Dallas.

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A copy of the original blueprints of the parking garage across the street from our hotel in Dallas, TX.

I’ve spent time in the suburbs of Dallas before. I’ve even been in this theatre before. Several of my friends and I came here to see our friend Julie make her debut in The Phantom of Opera here in 2000. She learned the show in Albuquerque and Dallas was her first performance city. She would go on to do Phantom on the road and on Broadway for over 6 years, I think, as Christine, as the understudy, the alternate and full-time Christine. I’ll never forget the day she called me from New York, where she was having her costume and wig fittings, and she told me she would be wearing shoes worn by Sarah Brightman – the original Christine in London and New York. By my estimation, that made her just about the coolest person I knew. I still think she’s pretty cool, but not because of the shoes or the show. She’s just a great person, and now she’s playing an even more impressive and important role – she’s a mom.

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A display at the Music Hall in Fair Park, Dallas, TX, made by company members of “The Phantom of the Opera,” including my friend Julie, who made her “Phantom” debut here.

I also remember coming to Dallas for an audition at SMU, though I can’t remember what the audition was. To work at Disney World, perhaps? All I really remember about it was driving down with a couple of friends and two days later having full-on strep throat, which had been spreading through the School of Music. One of the passengers in my car had it and didn’t tell us, and so suddenly I had it, too. On opening night of Street Scene which, as I recall, was also my birthday. In Street Scene I was playing Daniel Buchanan, a young Irishman who had just become a father for the first time. He has a arietta in the first act called “When A Woman Has A Baby” that goes up to an A or A-flat above middle C, which for me at the time seemed impossibly high. I still considered myself a baritone and singing anything over an F# seemed high. To have to sing the highest note I’d ever sung in public in front of 1,100 people was daunting enough, but to have to do it with strep throat (we didn’t have understudies) was terrifying. I somehow got through it, but I don’t remember any of the rest of the show. I just sat up in my window, holding my plastic baby, watching the rest of the company do their show through steroid-crazed eyes.

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My friend Jennifer and I backstage during “Street Scene.”

I do remember, just before curtain, our conductor for that show, a small man with absolutely no sense of humor, came down to my dressing room to give me some notes about watching him for cues. I don’t know if it was the fever or the meds or the fear or a combination of all three, but I remember turning to him and saying, “Considering I have strep throat, you’ll be lucky if the notes come out of my mouth on your cue or not.” I immediately regretted saying it, and I would never behave that way now, but to be honest – it kinda felt good. He took a step back – either out of shock or because he was afraid he’d be infected – and just said, “Oh. Well then, have a good show” and walked out. I’d like to think I gained a little bit of his respect for even going on, let alone actually pulling those notes out of my ass while my throat felt like I’d swallowed glass shards, but I also recognize that I had had a diva fit, and that wasn’t cool. Lesson learned.

How did I get so far off topic? Dallas. Back to Dallas…

It’s hard to imagine we have another week here. Yesterday the temperature reached 106 in the city. It’s supposed to cool down to the high 80’s by Monday or Tuesday, so hopefully I’ll be able to actually get out and see a few things without dying of heat stroke. I still have to make it to the zoo and I’d really love to go to Six Flags Over Texas. And I have friends in town I need to see! So much to do, so little time…

Monday I’m driving up to Oklahoma City for the first time in 12 years. Time to face the demons so I can let them go. More on that later…

Take your passion and make it happen!

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Love Is All Around

28 Jun

Isn’t it strange, the things we remember? Stranger still are the things we didn’t remember we remembered until we’ve remembered them!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon visiting Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Southfork is the ranch on which the fictitious Ewing family lived on the long-running television series, “Dallas.” The show is currently enjoying a revival of sorts with the new series of the same name which focuses on the next generations of Ewings, and a lot of the show is now filmed on the ranch. (During the original series’ run, only exterior shots were allowed to be filmed there per the agreement with the family that actually lived in the house).

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on "Dallas."

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on “Dallas.”

Pulling up to Southfork yesterday brought back so many memories of my childhood, even though I don’t recall anyone in my family actually watching “Dallas.” My Mom used to make fun of Linda Gray, who played Sue Ellen Ewing, and the way she would overwork her mouth when speaking. But seeing the ranch, I immediately starting singing the “Dallas” theme song to myself, and walking into the Visitor’s Center, I was confronted with a room full of tacky Texas souvenirs (there is a book called, “The Art of Boots.” Who knew?) and a handful of “Dallas” related merchandise. On the walls were huge black and white headshots from the late 70’s of Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes…all the stars of the original show. The prop gun that was used to shoot J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) in what would become the second most-viewed episode of television in U.S. history (the final episode of M*A*S*H* still holds the record for the largest audience in American history) was on display in a glass case. A wave of nostalgia started washing over me, even though I was only 2 years old when the series began.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on "Dallas," on display at Southfork Ranch.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” on display at Southfork Ranch.

From the Visitor’s Center, we were driven over to the mansion on a tram which was pulled by a giant green John Deere tractor. The ride was a good 10-15 minutes, though it only took me 5 minutes to walk back when the tour was over. (Side note: I was surprised to learn from our guide that the original “Dallas” series was seen in over 95 countries around the world in more than 50 languages.) As we drove up to the house, I had a strange feeling that I’d been there before. We walked into the back patio door and suddenly I felt like I was back in 1978. As I mentioned before, none of the interior scenes for the show were filmed inside the house, but the current owner decorated the inside of the house to replicate what it may have looked like in the late 1970’s. Big floral patterns, earth tones, maroons, dark navy blues, lots of mirrors and crystal and carpet, tassels…just absolute tackiness by today’s standards, but the height of sophistication back then. It reminded me of one particular dress that my Mom had – I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fabric it was, but whatever it was, it was flowy and most certainly synthetic – and the wide-collared shirts my Dad used to wear. It also reminded me of being in my Aunt Carol Ann’s Tudor-style living room, watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear in 1983. If these little tidbits are floating around in my head, what else is up there, I wonder?

I had done some research before I went to Southfork, so I knew not to expect to see the actual sets from the show, but seeing the house and, in particular, seeing the gate that leads to the house, was a real thrill for me. “Dallas” and Southfork are such a part of popular culture and history that I was really glad I went to see it. Sure, it’s 25 miles outside of Dallas, but I had a car, so it was fairly easy to get to.

Getting to Mary Richards’ house was another story.

One of the things that I’ve really loved about this tour is doing research for each city that we go to. I like to find weird things that most (read: “normal”) people wouldn’t think to do…like going to Southfork Ranch when they visit Dallas or finding the house that was used as the exterior of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Mary Tyler Moore,” which is the actual title of the show, premiered in 1970 and ended exactly 4 months to the day after I was born, so I never saw it in its original run. I’d heard about it – I mean, I’d seen “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” but I had no idea what “I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda” meant. I saw the episode of Oprah where she talked about how the show had influenced and inspired her and then Mary Tyler Moore walked out and surprised her and she became a blubbering mess in front of millions of people. And I remembered seeing Mary toss her hat in the air. But I didn’t know the show.

Then Valerie Harper went public with her terminal cancer diagnosis in March. Even though I’d never seen one episode of “Mary Tyler Moore,” the idea that Rhoda was dying upset me. I don’t know why I was so upset by it – like I said, I’d never seen the show and I certainly don’t know Ms. Harper personally – but there was a deep, visceral sadness about her illness that I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it upset me because I have already known too many people who’ve died from cancer. Perhaps I was just moved by her astounding display of strength. Perhaps I was upset because I’m getting to a point in life where the people I grew up watching and admiring and emulating are starting to die off and it’s made me realize that the people I admire – and the people I love – aren’t going to live forever. I’m 36 years old and, remarkably, I still have three of my four grandparents. My parents are starting to talk to me and my brother about their wills and the benefits of cremation vs. burial. I’m getting older. Maybe that’s what upset me about Ms. Harper’s announcement. It made me realize my own mortality.

In any case, out of curiosity and respect for Ms. Harper, I decided to see what all the fuss was about “Mary Tyler Moore.” I watched the first three seasons on Hulu+ in three weeks. One of those weeks, we just happened to be in Minneapolis. I knew the show had been taped in California, but Mary had clearly been in Minneapolis to film shots for the opening credits – including the famous hat toss – so I did a quick Google search to see what I could find. There is a statue in downtown Minneapolis of Mary Richards tossing her Tam o’Shanter right in front of Macy’s. The first morning we were in town, I found the cross streets and headed straight there. Standing on the spot where Mary threw that hat into the air felt strange somehow. It almost felt magical. History had been made right on that spot. Maybe it didn’t change the world…but maybe it did.

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The Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mary Richards – the character played by Mary Tyler Moore on the show – was a single woman in her early 30’s who had a career, her own apartment and a love life. She didn’t need a man to support her. She confronted her boss about equal pay. She was awkward and funny and sexy and she was something TV had never seen before. This was good television, folks…even (or perhaps especially) by today’s standards.

The more I watched, the more I fell in love with the characters – especially Mary and Rhoda and their nosy landlady, Phyllis. I wasn’t sure if it even existed, but I did a quick search to find out if the house that was used for the exterior shots of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building was in Minneapolis and, if it was, if there was any way I could get to it without a car. As luck would have it, the house was still there and, after a 20-minute bus ride and a mile-long walk, I found it. Things had changed a lot in 40 years – trees are taller and paint colors have changed – but you can tell it’s the same house. Apparently the previous owners did some cosmetic work to the front of the house to make it look a little less like the “Mary and Rhoda House” because they have so many visitors in their front yard taking pictures – like me. In fact, while I was there, I met another man who had driven 45 minutes just to get a couple of snapshots of it for his wife. I had noticed the house was up for sale and he mentioned to me that the asking price was $3 million. Sounds fair to me for a piece of iconic television history.

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Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis’ apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

I wonder where the current generation will make pilgrimages to seek out the happy little nuggets of their childhood? What will be their nostalgic mecca? What would be yours? Have you been there? If you have, I would love to hear about it.

On The Road Again…

27 Jun

(This entry was originally started on Saturday, June 22, 2013). Greetings again from the back of the auditorium at the Majestic Theatre in downtown San Antonio, where apparently the end of the world is at hand because I’ve sold out of magnets. I’ve also already been told that the flashlight that I have to grip between my teeth as I attempt to count money and fold shirts in total darkness is distracting. Distracting to whom, I’d like to know? The only people who could possibly see it are the volunteer ushers – meaning they get to see the show for free in exchange for showing up and putting people in the wrong seats. Sorry folks, I have a job to do.

Speaking of jobs, I figured I would give you a little more of a behind-the-scenes look at tour life. So many people ask what it’s like, and so few people understand it, I thought it might be a good idea to write about it.

Mounting a show to go on tour is no easy task. The sets and lighting must be built and rigged to be strong enough to stand up to 8 shows a week and the rigors of traveling, but they must also be built to break down and fit into a semi truck. Our show started with 6 semis, I think, but to reduce costs, our producers found set pieces that could be cut from the show, which eliminated one of those semis. On those trucks are the set, lights, wigs, wardrobe, props, my merch booth and storage hamper, stage and company management office consoles, company trunks (one storage bin for each cast, crew and staff member – except me), the “deck,” or stage floor that is specific to our show that is laid down on top of the existing stage floor and a whole host of other things that I don’t know anything about.

Side note: Back in the day, when the original tours of Phantom of the Opera were still out, the show’s set was so large and complicated that they had two decks – one that would be used in whatever city the show was in and one that would travel ahead to the next city so it could be installed and ready when the rest of the set arrived for load-in.

On Monday, our 5 semis will roll into a new town and pull up to the theatre’s loading dock(s). I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine the trucks are numbered in a certain order so they know which one gets unloaded first, second, third, etc. Once the trucks are unloaded, I have no idea where they go. In Tempe, AZ, they were sent to a parking lot about 20 miles away, where they sat for the week, baking in the desert heat.

Once the trucks are unloaded, the crew starts actually putting everything in its place. In our company, as with most, we have a Head Carpenter, Head Props man, Wardrobe Supervisor, Head Audio man, Wig and Makeup Supervisor and Head Electrician. In addition to the department heads, we also have three carpenters, two electricians, one assistant sound person and one assistant wardrobe supervisor and our wonderful stage management crew of three that travel with us. In each city, we also have the local crew who fill out the tech crew. That means that all of the people who travel with us, in addition to loading in the show and making sure everything goes where it should, have to teach their locals what their jobs will be in the show. “You go here and move this,” “You stand here and hand her this,” “You go here and change so-and-so into this dress and these shoes,” “You follow her and put his wig on her,” “You follow so-and-so with your spotlight.” And they do all of this typically in less than 18 hours, just in time for the cast and band to arrive to start sound check on Tuesday afternoon. Our crew works incredibly hard.

While all of that is happening, the cast, the band, company management and I are traveling. Depending on what the company has voted on, some shows may have Mondays off and travel on Tuesday, arriving to the hotel only to turn around and go to the theatre to do sound check and the first show of the week. We did that for the first three weeks of this tour, and it was rough. So the cast voted to travel on Monday instead, allowing us to have the majority of Tuesday free to rest until it was time to go to work. So now we travel on our day off, which, to me, isn’t a day off at all. Depending on how far we’re traveling, we might fly or take a chartered motor coach to our next destination. Flying might sound like the easiest or most comfortable option, but I assure you – I look forward to bus days. When we fly, we have to leave the hotel at least two hours before our flight. We have to be sure that our suitcases are each less than 50 pounds. Depending on the airline, we may have to pay for our luggage, which is reimbursed to us, but…like I say about writing things off on your taxes – you have to have the money to pay for it up front before you can get money back. There have been weeks that I’ve spent $120 on luggage fees alone.

And then there’s security. Getting checked in and through security is always a challenge with this many people. Company members have the ability to opt out of the company flight if they choose to, which means the company will give them the amount of what their ticket would have cost. The company member must then book his or her own travel to the next city, making sure that he or she gets there in time to get to work. We generally have to commit to company travel three or four weeks before the actual travel date, so our company management is always thinking three, four or even five cities ahead.

Also, according to Actors’ Equity Association contractual rules, if we are housed more than a mile (it might be a mile and a half) from the performance venue, the company is required to provide transportation…usually in the form of a rental car which must be shared by four company members per car. Because I am not technically part of the company, my employer must secure a rental car and insurance for me in each of these cities. Even though our Company Manager is pretty great at getting me parking passes for discounted or, in some cases, free parking, I typically end up paying $8-$10 a day in parking. And then there’s the cost of gas… See how it all adds up very quickly? This is in addition to paying my salary, my per diem, buying my airline tickets, buying the shirts on which our merchandise is printed, the actual printing of those shirts, shipping that stuff to me every week (sometimes from coast to coast), paying the office and support staff back in New York… And then royalties and “cuts” have to be paid out to the producers and the venue, which usually takes between 15%-25% of our gross sales. Is it any wonder a sweatshirt costs $50?? This is not a cheap business to be in.

(I’m now writing to you from the lobby of the Music Hall in Fair Park in downtown Dallas, TX. It is Wednesday, June 26, 2013). Tuesdays for me generally involve coming into the theatre three hours before curtain (typically around 4:30pm) to unpack and set up. Merchandise for this show travels with a rolling booth, or “road case,” that is specifically built to stand up to months of traveling. I also have a road hamper, which is exactly what it sounds like – a big hamper with a wooden top that locks. That’s where I store all the mannequins and lights for my display, and I use it for storage of back stock (T-shirts, leg warmers, sweatshirts, etc.). Essentially, it’s my traveling stock room. I also have four steel grid panels back with steel diamond plate sheets. These four panels are tied together with plastic cable ties and they serve as a backdrop for my booth. Think back to your 7th grade science fair project display board, only bigger, shinier and much heavier.

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My booth setup in Dallas.

I set those up first. Once they’re in place and tied together, they stay where they are because they’re too heavy to move, so I always check in with the local venue’s facility manager to confirm where I’m supposed to be set up. Then I decorate the grids with hanging mannequins dressed in our merchandise, add the lights, roll the road case in front and voilà! I’m ready to work. Kind of.

At least once a week I receive a delivery of merchandise to the theatre. Depending on how many boxes, where they’re coming from, how they’re shipped or how desperate I am for stuff to sell, I might get three or four deliveries – all on different days. Every item in the boxes that are sent to me must be hand counted to confirm the inventory count. That means every magnet…every keychain…every poster (they come in boxes of 250-300 pieces) must be counted by hand. I like to bundle the magnets and keychains in fives to make the inventory count at the end of the week easier. I also learned a great technique for dividing the posters into groups of 20 back when I worked at Avenue Q (we had four different posters, so every week I was counting between 750-1,000 posters!). Anything to make inventory easier at the end of a long week.

During the week, I basically have my days free to explore each city or stay in my hotel room, if that’s what I want to do. I generally choose to go sightseeing. My road life is much easier by far than anyone else involved in this show. Understudies have rehearsal once a week. We have 9 new cast members learning the show here in Dallas, so they’re in rehearsal all week and watching the show or “shadowing” backstage at night. Stage management and our conductor are at all of those rehearsals, as well. Soon they will have a “put-in” for the new folks, meaning they get one full run of the show with the rest of the cast, costumes, sets, etc. before they start performing the show regularly. The crew is always busy doing something – repairing things, tweaking things, painting things, washing and repairing wardrobe, setting wigs… And things are still changing. This is a pre-Broadway tour, so even after being on the road for nearly 7 months, the entire cast is in rehearsal this week learning new dialogue, blocking, choreography, lyrics… I cannot imagine having to relearn entire chunks of the show after doing it for that long. Muscle memory is so much stronger than you would think – it takes incredible concentration to change things this late in the game.

Sunday, being the last performance day of the week, is inventory day for me. I have to go in and count every piece of merchandise that wasn’t sold to balance my numbers at the end of the week. I typically do this between shows on Sunday, although in San Antonio, I was so busy that I actually had to go back and do the inventory count during the evening show, which is never easy to do in the dark. Once those numbers are entered into the computer, I deal with money. I’m a bit anal retentive when it comes to cash – I like it to be “faced,” meaning all facing the same direction. I find it’s easier to count that way, and the bank typically likes it, too, when I go in for a deposit. Once the money is taken care of, I have to pack up and have my stuff ready to go by the time our Props Master sends crew guys out to roll my booth, hamper and panels away and put them on the truck. Monday morning, if I’m able, I find a bank, deposit the money, get change if I need it, and then drop off all my paperwork at a FedEx dropbox to go back to the office in New York all before traveling to the next city.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Dallas is the 20th city on our tour. That means I have been through this process 20 times. The first time I had to my end-of-week paperwork and strike my booth in Pittsburgh, it took me roughly an hour and 20 minutes. I have it down to 45 minutes now. Load-in takes half an hour. I can count in a delivery of 7 boxes in half an hour. I found out in San Antonio that I can fold 84 shirts in a little over an hour. Some days I feel like Mary Poppins cleaning up the Banks kids’ nursery – sometimes it’s just easy peasy. Other days it seems nothing is going right. I guess that’s true of any job, though.

Anyway…that’s a look at how a show travels and, specifically, how my job works. Hope you found it to be somewhat interesting. They’ve just done the water drop. That’s my cue.

And That Spells Dallas! My Darlin’, Darlin’ Dallas!

25 Jun

The last two days have been incredibly busy. Sunday was our last performance day in San Antonio, and we had two shows. Between shows I had to count in my inventory and then after the evening show I had to tear down (the theatrical term is “strike”) my display, pack up my booth and make sure everything was secure enough to be packed onto the trucks and moved to Dallas.

Yesterday we travelled from San Antonio to Dallas by bus. Traveling by bus is much easier than flying, in my opinion, but it’s far less comfortable. In terms of time, though, it was the logical choice. The drive was a little over 4 hours. Had we flown, it would have been a 5 hour ordeal getting 50 people to the airport, checked in, through security, etc. And I’m sure it was a lot cheaper, too.

We’re in Dallas for the next two weeks, so we don’t have to worry about traveling again until the 8th, when we’ll fly up to Kansas City, which will be my last city with this tour. I’ll go back to New York for a few weeks, probably spend a week at home with my family in Kentucky, and then I’ll be back out on the road with another show. It makes my head spin to even think about it.

I have to run to the bank before I go to the theatre to set up for tonight’s opening. I’m also going to try to make it to the Sixth Floor Museum (formerly the Texas Book Depository – a.k.a. where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President Kennedy. Or did he…?) this afternoon. It’s only a few blocks away, so I hope I can fit it in before I have to go to work. If I’m going to to do that, I have to run. Have a good one, y’all!

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

23 Jun

Dear People of San Antonio:

With the sale of my last magnet at yesterday’s matinee, the world has officially begun to end. This is only confirmed by the fact that my credit card machine died just before intermission and you were asked to pay with cash.

Please evacuate the building slowly. Considering this is a Sunday matinee and the show is not quite over yet, I know that you are already on your way out. Please use caution, however: Anything faster than a snail’s pace could lead to injury or death.

No, really…get out of the building.

Yippee-kay-yay,

The Management

A Hunk-a Hunk-a Burnin’ Love

22 Jun

BARTENDER: What size do you have that shirt in?
ME: Large, Extra Large and Double X.
BARTENDER: So, do you have it in medium?
ME: I have Large, Extra Large and Double X.
BARTENDER (Clearly confused): Oh.

Today I am writing from my merch booth at the back of the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. My booth is actually located inside the theatre, which is pretty common in smaller houses like the ones on Broadway. On tour, I’m usually set up in the main lobby of the venue, which feels like it’s miles away from the auditorium and my fellow company members. I often feel pretty isolated, but it’s the nature of what I do here.

I felt pretty “out there” in high school, too. I went to a school in Louisville that had developed a reputation for being kinda rough, and I was terrified to go there. My middle school had been on the border of two high schools’ bussing routes, so most of my friends went to J-Town High School and I ended up at Fern Creek, where I knew almost no one.

I made several friends – I’ve always been more comfortable with a small group of close friends than a large group of people I barely know – and we were all misfits in a way. My friend Natalie got me hooked on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and we would sit in class and quote the movie rather than studying our algebra equations. My friend Amy and I would send each other notes, trying to make the other one laugh by quoting the song “I Touch Myself.” And then there was Mrs. Burton, who I thought looked just like Phylicia Rashad in her “Cosby Show” years and treated me like as her peer.

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Señora Burton in Mexico City.

Mrs. Burton was my Spanish 101 teacher, and when I started studying with her, she had just graduated with her Masters degree and had completed her certificate of fluency from the University of Mexico City. And she was Ms. Harris then. I had a huge intellectual crush on her – I wanted to know everything she did. And she was funny. For me, she will always be “that” teacher – the one who inspired you to always do better.

I don’t know why or how it came so easily to me, but I picked up Spanish very quickly and Mrs. Burton took me under her wing. Once every couple of weeks, we would have in-class Scrabble day, where we would pair off into teams and play Scrabble in Spanish. Because I had progressed so rapidly, the only person I could play against was Mrs. Burton. She pushed me. She encouraged me. She believed in me. I adored her.

My sophomore year, I ended up in Mrs. Schenck’s (pronounced SKANK) Spanish 102 class. I didn’t mean to be the know-it-all, but it became fairly evident that I was more advanced in the language than she was, which made us both very unhappy. I was sure to get back into Mrs. Burton’s 103 class the next year. By that point, I had gone with her, another teacher and a few other students to Mexico for a week and by that point I had decided that I was going to follow in her footsteps and get my Certificate of Fluency in Mexico before going on to be an interpreter. That would mean I’d have to learn a third language, at least. Two more if I wanted to interpret for the U.N.

Mrs. Burton had me reading novels in Spanish. She had me reading her college textbooks. In Spanish. She was giving me a college-level language education while simultaneously teaching high school Spanish 103 to the rest of the class. I was getting special treatment, but it was because she believed in me, and to be fair – I deserved it. I was that kid that would go home and literally study the Spanish-English dictionary to increase my vocabulary. I was a nerd, and she embraced that. I had found a kindred spirit!

Some time during my sophomore year, I got the name of a young man in Argentina with whom I would write for almost a year. He would let me practice my Spanish and I promised him I would help him learn English. We talked about Argentina, South America and, of course, the Peróns. It was such a joy to get letters from David. It was a challenge to read his letters, and I was happy to tackle it. I wore out my verb conjugation books and dictionaries trying to decipher his dialect. My brain was working at 110%, and I loved it.

During that time, my parents and their best friends, Paul and Carol, started a side job cleaning office buildings at night to make some extra cash. They would drag me and my brother along and we would vacuum and empty garbage cans and ash trays and we would get a little extra in our allowances at the end of the week. I actually enjoyed it because it allowed me to listen to my Magneto and Daniela Romo cassettes that I’d bought in Mexico City on my new Walkman (remember those?). And then one night I noticed Carol putting a tape into her Walkman, and on the cassette cover, among several other weird, colorful logos, was the face of a woman, surrounded by what looked like a sun, and underneath was written in big, uppercase letters: EVITA.

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The cover of the Daniela Romo cassette I bought in Mexico City. Her big hit was “Desnudo,” which means, “Naked.”

I remembered David writing to me about Evita, so I asked Carol what it was. She said, “Oh! You should listen to this song. It’s called, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” I think you’d find it to be really interesting because you love Spanish so much.” (Carol was an elementary school librarian, and was always ready with cross-curricular suggestions. I loved her dearly.) So she let me borrow her cassette. It was “The Premiere Collection: The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

The tape wasn’t cued up for “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” It had been rewound all the way to the beginning, and when I hit play, I heard something so strange and different and wonderful that I immediately fell in love. The sound of a huge pipe organ, a thumping bass line and synthesized drums hit my ears. Then an opera singer started singing, “In sleep he sang to me/In dreams he came…” What was this? I listened to the whole tape. Twice. “Memory” was on that tape. I didn’t know that Barbra Streisand song was in Cats! (Hers was the only version I had known until then). And I was shocked to learn that Carol, who went to church with our family, had been listening to music from Jesus Christ Superstar. Wasn’t that sacrilegious?

I became a man obsessed. As soon as I could save up the money, I asked my Dad to take me to the big record store (remember those?) on the corner of Hurstborne Lane so I could get the tape of Evita. I wanted to learn more about her, and that seemed to be the most logical place to start. I put the tape in as soon as I got home and sat in front of my stereo for the next 70 minutes and didn’t breathe. I had never heard singing like that before. Who was this woman singing “Buenos Aires?!” And what in the world was she saying?!? That was the first time I ever heard Patti LuPone sing. It was the first time I knew that Inigo Montoya (“You killed my father. Prepare to die.”) could sing. I must have listened to it all the way through at least 5 times that day. The next day, I asked Dad to take me to get the Phantom of the Opera cassette. We listened to that one in car on the way home because I couldn’t wait. We listened to the overture. About 10 times. My Dad must’ve thought I’d gone crazy, but for me, something had clicked.

The overture to Phantom made me want to learn to play piano. “The Music of the Night” made me want to sing. Patti LuPone made my head want to explode. I very quickly got in contact with my friend Jenny, who played piano very well, and had the Phantom of the Opera sheet music on her piano at home. My Mom found a used piano for sale. Pretty soon I was set. Jenny would come over after church every Sunday afternoon for our weekly lesson, and in the meantime, I would practice “Music of the Night” instead of scales. Sorry, Jenny.

One day, as I was riding somewhere with Jenny, she said to me, “You know…Phantom is coming to town next year. We should look into getting tickets. Or, we could just get tickets to the whole season!” I had no idea what she was talking about – which season? Spring? Fall? I don’t do summer. – but I was in! I loved Jenny. She was in college, but, like Mrs. Burton, she treated me as an equal – not as some idiot teenager, but as someone who had something worthwhile to say. And simply put – Jenny’s a sweetheart.

I talked to my parents and convinced them to buy me a subscription to the Broadway Series for my birthday and part of my Christmas. According to the advertisement, in order to secure tickets to Phantom for the ’93/’94 season, you needed to have a subscription for the ’92/’93 season. When you renewed your tickets for ’93/’94, you would be guaranteed your season seats for Phantom, which was coming to Louisville for the first time and was guaranteed to sell out all six weeks.

That first season was amazing. Guys and Dolls starring Lorna Luft, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (was that also sacrilegious?), a play called Breaking Legs, The Secret Garden and Les Misérables. I was in deep, y’all.

When we lived in England, we had gone to the theatre a few times. We saw Topol in Fiddler on the Roof, Richard Harris in Camelot, and my Dad and I saw The Pirates of Penzance. I fell asleep during all three. And I was terrified of Fruma Sarah. For my birthday one year, Mom and Dad took me to see show in the West End called Bugsy Malone, which was directed by Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. I remember sitting in my seat thinking, “Is this where Mickey sat?” The show featured a cast of pie- and egg-throwing kids – literally all of the cast were under the age of 16 – and starred a  young Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Years later, as I was selling her kids some Shrek ears at a performance of Shrek on Broadway, I told Ms. Zeta-Jones that I had seen her in Bugsy Malone. She smiled and said, “Oh, you were the one?!” and gave me a $20 tip. She will always be tops in my book.)

That summer, my family moved to Paducah, Kentucky, because my Dad got a new job. Jenny and I kept our season tickets even after my family moved to Paducah. That was part of the agreement of moving – my parents promised that they would get me up to Louisville for all the shows. They knew what moving the summer before my senior year meant – how hard that would be – and they kept their promise to try to keep me happy.

When I went to register for my new school, I had one class opening that needed to be filled. I had heard the school had a great choral program, so I signed up for Show Choir. I didn’t know you had to audition for it…I just assumed you signed up for it and you were in! I got to the choir room my first day and met a kooky, lovely woman named Donna Green, who told me that she only had one opening for a male voice that year and that I would need to audition to officially get in. She took me into a small room with a piano and had me sing through “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tale” and she showed me some choreography (step-touch, paddle turn – pretty much like my Discoveryland! audition) and she told me I was in! I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was excited.

I went back into the choir room and met the people who would become my family for the next year. In fact, I made so many friends in that one year of school because of the choir (and probably because I was fresh meat, too) that I didn’t even care that we’d moved. I missed my friends from Louisville, but being in Show Choir gave me some visibility and, believe it or not, street cred in the school, and being a new kid on the block (not the one with anxiety issues) who made it into Show Choir was kind of a big deal. I don’t think I ever let it go to my head – and if I did, I apologize to everyone at Reidland High School – but I finally felt like I fit in somewhere. The Show Choir kids were silly and talented and popular and I was a part of that. We made sequins look cool, y’all.

Show Choir was the first time I’d ever felt like part of a group. The whole gang slept over at my house one night. Some of us went to Graceland together. We had Jolt Cola parties (we were wild and crazy kids!) and we were there for each other when one of us needed support.

Our big end-of-the-year show was called “Collage: Celebrate the Victory!” I don’t remember what victory we were celebrating, exactly, but we celebrated it nonetheless. Each of the three choirs performed in the show – we would take turns being featured – and then there were the group numbers where all of us would sing together. We even did an entire Phantom of the Opera section of the show. I got to make my own mask for “Masquerade” (which was pre-tty fabulous, if I do say so myself) and I got to sing “All I Ask Of You” with my friend Shanna. The Concert Choir did a “Newsies” medley long before it ever became a stage musical, and they did lots of flips and turns and jumps, too. The ladies of the Show Choir did a “Sister Act” medley that was pretty spectacular. The men got to do “Little Darlin’,” and I got to do the spoken solo. (“My darlin’…I neeeeed you…”) I’d always find the oldest woman in the front row and take her hand and embarrass her. What? I was funny!

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Our program for Collage ’94

We also did a medley of Elvis tunes, with each of the guys dressed as Elvis in various stages of his career. I chose to be Elvis in his heavier jumpsuit-wearing days and I got it in my head that it would be funny if I snacked on something during the number. I cleared it with Ms. Green, and the first night of the show I showed up with a box of Twinkies (remember those? Too soon?). We snuck into the back of the house and as the horns started blaring “duh duh daaaaaaaaaaaah, duh duh duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” all the Elvii ran up onstage and took various Elvis-like poses. I shoved an entire Twinkie in my face, making sure I smeared a little all over my mouth for effect, and I started tossing Twinkies into the audience. They were wrapped, of course. I specifically remember hitting one woman on the head with one. I hope she enjoyed it as a snack later.

As the number progressed, the masticated Twinkie in my mouth morphed into a big ball of sticky, doughy goop and I couldn’t swallow it. As everyone else sang, I chewed and chewed and chewed, but it just wouldn’t go down. All the while, I kept doing the choreography. My partner for the number, Stacey, knew something was up because I wasn’t singing, and she kept looking at me with a quizzical, “What the hell is wrong with you?” look on her face, but we kept going. I managed to swallow the big wad of cake, but it got lodged in my throat and I started choking. I’m not overdramatizing right now – I was really choking on a Twinkie in front of 1,000 people. But I kept dancing. At one point in the song, the choreography required that Stacey and I stand back to back, link arms, and I had to flip her over my head. That dance move saved my life. It basically replicated the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the snack cake from my throat, allowing me to breath again. As if nothing had happened, I swallowed the cake with a big grin and sang my little blue face off. And no one was any the wiser. The show, as they say, must go on.

The choirs all sang at graduation, too. As I walked up to the front in my cap and gown, I got a huge lump in my throat – not of the Hostess kind – and as we turned to face Ms. Green and the music started, she mouthed, “I love you guys,” and I fell apart. Instead of going to hang out with my fellow graduates that night, or even my family, I went to a lock-in with some of my Show Choir friends, which just felt right.

A few months later, I’d be with my Show Choir family again, though in much sadder circumstances. One of the guys – Michael – had been killed in a car accident just a week or so after he got his driver’s license. It was the first time I’d ever known anyone who’d died other than my great-grandfathers who had both lived to be in their 90’s. It didn’t make sense. But we all came together and supported each other. That was the last time I saw most of that group, though several of us are still friends on Facebook. And I still keep in touch with Jennifer, my best friend from that high school, though not as often as I’d like. Twenty years on, though, I still consider her to be one of my nearest and dearest.

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My Show Choir

If you’d have asked me in 1993 what I thought moving to Paducah, Kentucky would mean for me, I would have answered, “It’s the worst thing that could ever happen to me.” I was so wrong! Ms. Green’s choir – and her encouragement – led me to pursue private voice lessons, which led to me getting a scholarship to Murray State University and got the ball rolling for a whole lot of great things. Some of that credit goes to Jenny, too. Mrs. Burton’s support and encouragement and her absolute belief in me gave me the invaluable life skill of speaking a second language, which has been more useful than I ever imagined, and she sparked my curiosity about travel and culture and customs. So to those two great ladies, I say a great big, ¡Gracias! Estoy tan agradecido á ambos.

I’m Beautiful. And I’m Here.

21 Jun

A MOTHER and HER DAUGHTER approach my booth.

MOTHER (to HER DAUGHTER): Which shirt do you want?
DAUGHTER (timidly): The black one.
MOTHER (to ME): She’ll take an extra large in the black shirt, please.
ME (to HER DAUGHTER): Well, these are are regular-cut shirt – for men – so I think an extra large is going to be too big for you. I think you’d be better off with a medium, actually.
MOTHER: No. She’s bigger than you think. She needs an extra large.
ME: OK. (Pulling out an XL. To HER DAUGHTER) Take a look at this and tell me what you think. I still think it’s going to be too big for you.
MOTHER: It’ll be fine. Thank you.
ME (to HER DAUGHTER): Well, if you decide later that it’s too big, you’re welcome to bring it back and exchange it for a smaller size.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have started following Amanda Bynes on Twitter since her bizarre behavior and arrest in the past few weeks. I fully admit that I followed her on Twitter only because I was curious to see just how crazy she really was. Part of me, however, was hoping that people were somehow just misinterpreting what she was trying to say – that she wasn’t as bad off as people were reporting.

What I’ve learned from Ms. Bynes’ tweets is that she is obsessed with her looks, and more specifically, changing them. When she’s not fighting some sort of Twitter assault against “the haters,” she’s talking about how excited she is for her surgeries. And then tonight she tweeted something that really upset me, because it goes against everything that I believe we should be teaching young people – particularly young women – these days. She wrote, “It doesn’t matter if you feel sexy if you don’t look sexy.”

From the time I hit puberty, I knew something was kind of different about my build. I developed leg hair very early in my development and my Mom, who was younger then than I am now, made jokes about the hair that was starting to grow in various places on my body. I know she didn’t mean any harm by it – I think it helped her cope with the idea of having a teenaged son – but it made me incredibly self conscious. I stopped taking my shirt off when I went swimming. I must’ve gone through a bottle of roll-on deodorant a week to try to avoid body odor. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body and having my Mom ask me about it just made me feel even grosser. I was mortified when my grandfather once hugged me and then felt my cheek, telling me it was time I started shaving. I was well aware that my body was changing and I really didn’t want anyone else pointing it out to me.

As I got through puberty and settled into myself a little more, I didn’t really think about my body so much. I still wouldn’t take my shirt off in front of anyone, but I didn’t worry anymore that I was weird-looking or awkward. I made it through high school and college without any real issues. The braces came off my teeth. I never had acne. Sure, friends would comment on how big my calves were now and then, but that was pretty much the extent of it. It was no big deal. Once I got to grad school, things changed.

Show business is, unfortunately, a very image-based industry. In undergraduate school, it never occurred to me that I would eventually be limited to being cast in certain roles based on my appearance. That all changed with my first audition in graduate school. The first show of the season was My Fair Lady, and auditions were held before we even started classes.

I had heard that it was very difficult to be cast in a show at my new school. The talent pool at that school was quite deep, so I was really pleased to get a callback for the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who sings “On The Street Where You Live” in the show. I sang a cut of the song at the callback and waited to see if I would make it into the cast. As it turned out, I was cast in the “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” quartet and I was also to understudy Freddy. I was really excited, flattered, honored and a little bit scared. The day the cast list went up, I went down to the office of our Director of Opera and Music Theatre to thank him for casting me in the show. It was only our second day of class, and I wanted to start off on the right foot.

Things didn’t go quite the way I expected. I knocked on the door, introduced myself and thanked him for putting me in the show, adding that I was really excited to get to understudy Freddy. I was expecting a simple, “You’re welcome. I look forward to working with you.” What I got instead was, “Well, if you were 20 lbs. lighter, you wouldn’t be the understudy…” That was the moment that I became painfully aware of my weight. Over the next two years, Herr Direktor would repeatedly come back to it to keep me in check.

The final show of my first year in school was Sweeney Todd. Everyone wanted to be a part of that show – especially me. I would have been happy just to be in the ensemble, but I secretly had my heart set on the role of Anthony. If I recall correctly, auditions for Sweeney were to be held at the beginning of the spring semester, just after we returned from Christmas break. Herr Direktor, who was also my acting teacher, had warned each of us in his acting class to be prepared to face our neuroses in our acting final, which would be held one-on-one with him in the male ensemble dressing room just down the hall from his office. The final was a three-parter: 1) A prepared monologue, 2) Presenting a monologue using song lyrics and 3) Herr’s neurosis analysis.

Parts 1 and 2 went pretty well. Part 3 had me terrified. I honestly didn’t think I had any neuroses – I was only 22! I wasn’t even really sure what a neurosis was! He had assured us, though, that he knew us better than we knew ourselves. Part 3 of my final was being told that if I expected to land a role in Sweeney Todd, I should consider losing 15 pounds.

I wasn’t cast as Anthony, but ended up with what I now consider to be a much more interesting role – Tobias Ragg. Toby really gave me an opportunity to act as well as sing. It also gave me the opportunity to sing “Not While I’m Around.”

In 1985, Barbra Streisand released her first Broadway album, which included amazing arrangements of “Putting It Together,” “Somewhere” and “Not While I’m Around.” My Mom has always been a big Barbra Streisand fan, and I distinctly remember sitting in the back seat of my Mom’s car one night, listening to Barbra, and as that song began, my Mom looked at me in the rear view mirror and said, “This is my song to you.” In the show, it’s a song sung by, for all intents and purposes, a child to the woman he loves as a mother. As sung by Barbra, it is essentially a promise from a mother to her child to protect and care for him as long as she’s around. I had forgotten about all of this until we got into rehearsals. One night, as we were doing a sing-through with the entire company, just before my song, our conductor whispered to me, “Make them cry.” Suddenly it all came rushing back to me, and the song – and the role – took on a much deeper meaning. The night that my parents flew in to Oklahoma to see the show, I could barely make it through the song. Even though I was singing in front of 1,200 people, it felt like I was just singing it to my Mom. I had told the story to some of my cast mates before curtain that night and I couldn’t look at my Mrs. Lovett or our conductor because they were both teary-eyed, too. It was one of the most wonderful moments I’ve ever had onstage. I felt like I had finally come into my own. I’d done something right.

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Things continued to go well at school through the next fall semester. Herr Direktor and I had pretty well kept out of each other’s way, even though I had been cast in every mainstage show (all of which he directed) since I’d entered the program. I got to my last semester and started to put the final touches on my Masters thesis and recital. According to the rules of the university, I was able to choose my graduate review panel, and I deliberately did not choose Herr Direktor. Even though he and I had figured out a way to work together, I was certain he would make my thesis approval a living hell and I didn’t want the stress of dealing with him. He approached me one day, asking why I hadn’t selected him and then told me he needed to be on my review board and that he would speak to my graduate advisor about swinging him in. I emphatically told my advisor that I did not want him on my board, and to his credit, he defended me and my board choices and would not allow Herr Direktor to push his way onto my review board.

This did not sit well with Herr Direktor.

Casting had begun for the last show of our season – the last show I could do In my school career. It was The King and I – a terrible choice for what was basically a music conservatory full of white kids in the middle of Oklahoma. I knew the only place I could possibly fit in that show was as Lun Tha – Tuptim’s love interest – but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be cast in the role. What I expected even less was being cast as the non-singing Kralahome, who was required in the first scene of the show to be shirtless. Shit.

As I had with each show, I thanked Herr Direktor for putting me in yet another show, and his response this time was, “Don’t think I didn’t know exactly what I was doing by making you take your shirt off in this show.” I immediately went on a diet and hit the tanning bed for 20 minutes a day for four months straight. By the time we got to tech rehearsals, I was as brown as a biscuit and had lost about 10 pounds. Jazz and ballet class had helped tone me up, as well, but I still couldn’t bring myself to take off my shirt in front of everyone. I wore a wife beater as a way of slowly easing myself into the idea of exposing my torso in front of my closest friends. I couldn’t even begin deal with the idea of 4,000 people seeing me shirtless in one weekend. To their credit, my cast mates were incredibly supportive, and looking back at photos, I looked really good. In the throes of it, though, I just knew I looked awful. I had a panic attack before our first performance.

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During the photo call for The King and I, we were setting up for the final scene of Act One. The King has called all his wives and advisors in to pray to Buddha because he has heard the British are coming, and Anna and the King are testing each other’s will, seeing who can bow lower than the other. The entire company was onstage, and many of their families were out in the house taking photos and waiting for us to finish up to go home. We had professional photographers in the house, as well, in addition to the show’s crew. There were a lot of people there. I was situated downstage, next to Anna, sitting with my legs folded under me, my hands pressed together at my sternum, trying to sit as still as possible so we could just get the shot and go home. From the back of the auditorium, in front of all of my colleagues, their parents, etc., I heard, “SUCK IT IN, BRATTON!

Since then, my weight has been a constant concern. Only recently, ironically, my muscles have also become an issue.

I’ve always had large calves. I don’t know how they got that way…they’re just big. The last time I had a costume measurement, I think they were 18” around when flexed.

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About three years ago, I started working with a marketing and promotions company that hired people to work as brand ambassadors to promote various companies. I got the job through a friend and it paid really, really well for what it was. I quickly climbed the ladder at that company and began managing for them within a couple of weeks of being hired. I was one of their top brand ambassadors and a go-to for most of their major accounts.

Two summers ago, they hired me to promote a television network’s summer lineup. There were eight of us – four men and four women – and we had been dressed in identical clothing at the request of the clients: a branded t-shirt and hat, white ankle socks, blue sneakers and khaki capri pants. Throughout the day, our manager would gather us up and have to take a group photo – tuck the shirts in, untuck them, roll the pants up another half inch, roll them down, etc. For some reason the client just did not seem to be happy with the way we looked.

At the end of the shift on our first day (the promotion was to run a week), I got a text message from the project manager back at the office asking me to come back to the office for a meeting when I finished up. I knew that couldn’t be good, but she assured me it was nothing to be nervous about. She just needed to chat with me.

When I arrived at the office, she took me into the conference room and closed the door. “Jason, I can’t even believe that I’m about to say this to you because you’re one of our very best, but I’m afraid we aren’t going to be able to continue the promotion with you. It has nothing to do with you work – you’re the best B.A. we’ve got. It’s just that the client has decided to go with a different look. I’m so sorry. They feel that they need another girl on the team. You will, of course, be paid for the rest of this week, but you won’t be needed any longer. I hope you understand.”

I didn’t understand. If I was the best brand ambassador they had, why had they specifically chosen me to be let go? There were three other men on the team, but I was chosen to be fired. Why? She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give me any more answers. No specifics. I might have believed that they really did just want to have another girl on the team…until I was offered $500 in addition to the remainder of the week’s pay to keep quiet. In hindsight, I know that it was essentially hush money for them firing me based on my looks. Was I too fat? Did they not like the way my legs looked in the awful capri pants they’d put us in? What was it? No one would tell me.

Around that time, I also started noticing people on the subway reacting to my legs. People would nudge their friends and point and whisper. I saw at least three people on separate occasions taking pictures of my calves with their smartphones. (Here’s a tip if you’re trying to sneak photos: People can see reflections in your glasses, so don’t pretend that you’re playing Angry Birds when one can clearly see their own legs reflected in your Ray Bans!) One man actually ran across 8th Avenue to stop me on the street to say “Damn! I ain’t never seen legs like that before!” A bike messenger passed me once and said, “Damn, bro! I wouldn’t want to get kicked by you!” At that point, I certainly would have been happy to give him a swift kick. A woman actually grabbed one of my calves and said, “I’m sorry – I just had to touch it.” I felt like I finally had an idea of what life must be like for women with large breasts. Each time these instances occurred, it sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, frustration and self-loathing. I felt like a freak, so I ate. There were long, tearful come-to-Jesus talks with my roommates. And I ate. I wore long pants regardless of the heat. And I ate.

I found a wonderful therapist in New York who helped me sort out a lot of things and put a few things in perspective, but even after two years with her, I still struggle with my body image. I find that I dress to blend in – to not call attention to myself. To hide. Not a good thing for someone whose career depends on standing out. I’ve gained a good amount of weight on this tour just because of the nature of touring. It’s hard to eat “well” on the road with no kitchen. Traveling with a bunch of dancers who have the most incredible bodies I’ve ever seen makes it hard, too, but I have to say, not one of them has ever made me feel badly about my body. I know how hard they work and what they have to sacrifice to maintain their build, but I also know that they love to eat. And nothing gives me more pleasure than to see a ballet dancer shove a Double Quarter Pounder in her face on a travel day.

As someone who struggles with his inner fat kid demons every day, it makes me so angry when I read things like Ms. Bynes’ tweet. “Sexy” or “beautiful” or “talented” has nothing at all to do with what you look like and everything to do with how you feel about yourself. Weight can change. Your hair changes colors or falls out or grows where you don’t want it to. Skin wrinkles. All of that is simply cosmetic. It’s what’s in your heart that matters. So to Ms. Bynes I offer this challenge – rather than being so concerned with getting your nose “fixed” and paying thousands of dollars to a plastic surgeon, spend that money on a therapist who can help you fix whatever is broken inside you.