Super Trouper

16 Jun

A blog. The final nail in the coffin that will forever keep me entombed in my geekdom. And, at last, I’m completely fine with it. I kept a blog many years ago, and I wish I could say that I quit using it because I outgrew it or I simply didn’t need the validation anymore, but the truth is – I just forgot my username and password.

Sorry. I tend to ramble when I’m nervous. First dates will do that to me. Not that I’ve been on many…my work schedule tends to get in the way of romance or, well, even friendships, if we’re being totally honest. Which we are, because…I’m an over sharer, so a blog is a perfect choice for me, wouldn’t you say? I wonder what my therapist would say. I should email her. Anyway…what was I talking about? Oh! Work. I’m in the theatuh, you see, so I don’t really know what it means to have a night or a weekend off.

I went to school to be a singer and actor. I can move, too, but I wouldn’t call myself a dancer. Neither would any of the choreographers I’ve worked with. But I’ve had some jazz and ballet training, and I’ve done West Side Story, so there’s that. (I should mention that in said production of West Side Story, I was the only non-dancing Jet. I was there solely for my voice and to fill in gaps onstage. But I was collecting a paycheck, so I didn’t care, which would seem to become a theme for the rest of my career. But more on that later). I have a bachelors degree in vocal performance from one of the best fine arts programs in any state university in Kentucky, and I got my masters degree in vocal performance with an emphasis in Musical Theatre from a private university in Oklahoma that is one of the top opera and musical theatre programs in the country. I am a member of Actors’ Equity Association – the union for professional stage actors – and I have traveled the U.S. and Japan as a singer and actor. And I played Chester the Cheetah once at the opening of a new Target store.

Oh. And I’ve been on Broadway off and on for almost 7 years. Rent, Avenue Q, Kinky Boots, A Chorus Line, Mamma Mia!…you name it, I’ve done it. But before you get all excited and start following me on Twitter (@JasonHBratton), understand that I’ve worked on Broadway shows – more than 70 of them – but I’ve never been in one. I am what I have affectionately coined a “Merch Whore.” I have spent the last 7 years working 8 shows a week selling merchandise while I’ve watched other actors do what I moved to New York to do in the first place. It’s been a wonderful survival job – I’ve worked with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known who are now some of my dearest friends (and therefore should be reading this right now…ahem); I’ve seen some incredible performers and performances over the years, including Ricky Martin, Angela Lansbury, Carolee Carmello and the entire cast of Peter and the Starcatcher; I’ve watched proudly as I’ve seen friends make their Broadway debuts or, in the case of the ridiculously talented Jess Patty, get thrown on as Eva in Evita with only a couple of hours’ notice; and best of all, most shows perform at night, so most of my days are free to theoretically audition like crazy and book tons and tons of work. Theory and reality are two totally different beasts, though.

January will mark my 12th anniversary in New York City. In those twelve years, I’ve worked more jobs than I can possibly recall. Some have been desk jobs, which I came to refer to as Death Jobs because they killed my soul. Some have been weird gigs like handing out cookies in Times Square or taking pictures of dancers dressed as cockroaches at Grand Central Station…like ya do. I’ve done data entry for the New School, I checked coats at the Metropolitan Opera House for three seasons (a dream job if I’ve ever had one, and I am completely sincere when I say that), I’ve stood outside the Today Show dressed like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and I’ve stood in Union Square in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record in a tuxedo and handed out flyers for a drug store. Anything to make enough to pay my rent and eat. The problem is, when you’re working all these jobs, you can’t audition. And when you can barely pay your rent, you can’t take classes or lessons or pay for a gym membership. And insurance? Forget about that! So what’s a slightly chubby white boy tenor to do?

He sells t-shirts.

Last October, I was let go from one of my survival jobs. It was an ugly affair which involved me being told I was overly emotional (that made me cry) and that I could no longer be depended on to deliver the perfection that they required in a manager. So, after two and half years, I was unceremoniously let go, which left me just working at the theatres at night. My employer – one of the few bosses I’ve ever had in New York who actually treats me with respect and dignity and seems to value my opinions – was good enough to make sure I got as much work as I could get, but that wasn’t enough, and soon I began receiving phone calls – as many as five a day – from collectors wanting money that I simply didn’t have. The conversations often went something like this:

COLLECTOR: This is ____________________ from [insert debt collection company’s name here] and this is an attempt to collect a debt.
ME (bravely holding back tears): I have told you befuh…befuh…before! (Sobbing ensues) IwanttopayyoubutIlostoneofmyjobsandnowIdon’thaveanymoneyandyouguyscallingmeeverydaymakesmefeelawfulaboutmyself!

You get the idea. So when my boss approached me about going on the road to manage merchandise for a new tour, I immediately said yes. I had always sworn I’d never go on the road to do merch. I had filled in as a cover manager on the road with Mamma Mia! a few years before, but that was only for three weeks. I didn’t want it to become my career. I wanted to act – not to sell leg warmers. But, this offer was too good to pass up. It got me out of New York. It gave me a steady paycheck. It afforded me the chance to travel and see friends around the country that I hadn’t seen in years and years. And it gave me time to come up with a game plan.

So here I am. On the road…going on week number 24 and city number 20. I’ve actually been having a blast out here. I’ve seen and experienced so much, and I’ve made some pretty major life decisions while I’ve been out here, too. The biggest decision? I’ve decided to leave New York at some point in the next year. More on that later, too. But choosing this tour was the best (and only viable) choice I could have made six months ago, and I am grateful for it every day. As my friend Tom and I would joke, I am obnoxiously #soblessed.

One of the most interesting parts of touring has been meeting the people in each city we go to. I’ve met some lovely folks, I’ve met some real douchebags, and I have met some total freaks. I mean complete weirdos (do you hear me, Portland, Oregon?). But it’s been anything but boring. I took to posting transcripts on Facebook of some of the more interesting conversations I’ve had with people while I’ve been on the road. Conversations that pissed me off, confused me, irritated me, made me laugh, made me shake my head, made me want to beat someone about the head with a leg warmer display. I didn’t know if anyone else would find them to be even remotely interesting, but my friends rallied and “liked” dialogue after dialogue, and many started encouraging me to compile them into a book of some sort. I don’t know about a book – I mean…I can’t believe that anyone else truly finds this to be interesting but me and a handful of people who have worked merch, but it’s an interesting thought. This isn’t a book, but it’s a start. Maybe I’ll throw in some interesting stories about my journey as an actor, too. Maybe I’ll post some photos that I’ve taken. Maybe I’ll sing you a 16-measure cut of “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going.” In Spanish. But one thing is for sure…if my public demands a forum in which to read all of my ramblings, I am obliged to give them what they want.

So…I hope you enjoy. And if you don’t enjoy it, by all means, be sure to tell someone who can do absolutely nothing about it – like the merch guy on your way out.

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12 Responses to “Super Trouper”

  1. Emily Calderin June 16, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Love you and love your blog already!!! You have a follower in me!!

  2. Nina Anderson June 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    I’m so excited about this! You’re a great writer!

  3. Adam Manning June 16, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Love it! When you write the book I’m getting a signed copy.

  4. Natalie Buchenberger June 17, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    Jason, you are a talented writer too! I have never been much of a theater person (meaning my experience has been limited to Thoroughly Modern Millie and Wicked) but your musings have drawn me in and made me want to know more about this magical, ludicrous, hilarious world in which you have spent so much of your life. I knew you were a genius back in high school when we would recite lines from Rocky Horror 🙂

    • jasonhbratton76 June 17, 2013 at 1:46 am #

      You’re so sweet, Nat! Thank you. “Don’t Dream It – Be It,” right!?!?!

  5. Michelle Darnell June 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Just signed up to follow this blog. You have such a talent, Jason – not only for music. I have really enjoyed reading your musings on FB every day. You have such a love for life, and a little bit of that rubs off on everyone with whom you come into contact – whether that’s in person, on the stage, or on the page.

    • jasonhbratton76 June 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Michelle, that is so sweet of you. Thank you so much! I hope I can keep giving you interesting things to read!!

  6. Craig Woythaler June 21, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    I’m sorry! I’m sorry!! It’s been a week. But I’m finally reading!

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