The Hardest Part Of Show Business? The Hellos and Goodbyes.

10 Oct

Greetings from 32,000 feet above somewhere in Alabama. This morning I left Indianapolis and the company of Flashdance to go to St. Louis, where I will meet up with the national tour of Evita again.

The past three days have been difficult for me. I’m a very tender-hearted person, though I try my best to keep that from people. It’s one of my greatest assets, but it’s also my Achilles’ heel, and people take advantage of it. I’ve never been good at saying goodbyes, which makes being in show business tough because it seems like you’re always saying goodbye to someone. I thought I was going to die when I had to say goodbye to my friends in Japan. I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever died of a broken heart, but I was sure that I was about to be the first. I didn’t die, but it hurt for a long time. It still does from time to time, but not as badly.

Friday my replacement flew into Indianapolis to start his training. I tried to fit 10 months of experience into three days of training, but there’s only so much you can do and, as harsh as it sounds, there are just some things he has to learn for himself. It was a real challenge for me to let it all go – to not get picky about how the shirts were being folded or how he counted his money. I had to remind myself that it’s no longer my show and he will do things his way, but I got frustrated nonetheless. Flashdance has been my baby since the show opened in January and I’m very protective of it. I’m sure my replacement will be fine, but I really had to distance myself from him and the job while trying to teach him how to do it properly. It was also hard for me to remember sometimes that all of this is new to him, so he was going at a much slower pace than I would have. It wasn’t his fault – I know he was overwhelmed and it is a lot to learn in a short amount of time – but my frustration wasn’t just about teaching him the job. It was also – and mostly – about the impending farewells.

I spent a lot of time on my own when I first came out on the road with this show. I didn’t know anyone and honestly, I needed some alone time to regroup from what had been a very trying autumn in New York. Meeting people is difficult for me – despite being a performer, I am terribly shy when meeting new people and I’m not the type to go up and introduce myself or invite myself along if people are going out. If I’m being completely honest (and isn’t that part of what this blog is for?), I was also terribly intimidated by the cast, not only because of their enormous talent, but also because they were working actors and I was not. Because I felt I was a failure as an actor, I assumed that they would, as well, or just assume that I was a talentless hack whose only real skill was folding and selling a t-shirt. I was relieved to find that that wasn’t the case at all.

I remember when I started selling merchandise at the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, before I became the manager there, I was standing outside with a rolling merch booth, setting up for walk-out. I looked up and saw two beautiful young women walking out of the lobby and I immediately recognized both of them and wanted to crawl into a garbage can and hide. One I had gone to school with in Oklahoma City and the other I had done summerstock with in Louisville nearly 5 years earlier. They both were surprised to see me and came over to chat. It turned out that they were both in the show – Lyndy was the dance captain and Jess was covering Cassie and a few other roles. These girls – my peers and colleagues – had made it to Broadway and I was selling t-shirts at their show. Just around the corner, my friend Jeremy had just made his Broadway debut as Enjolras in Les Misérables at the Broadhurst. My friend Brandi was next door in the chorus of Spamalot. Lyndy and Jess were in A Chorus Line and my friend Julie was playing Christine twice a week in The Phantom of the Opera. All of them performing in Broadway shows on the same block. And I was selling merch. I was so embarrassed and ashamed and I made a half-hearted joke about it to Jess and Lyndy. They were both so wonderful about it – one of them said something to the effect of, “We have all done random jobs to get by. We’re just happy you’re going to be here with us.” It wasn’t condescending. It wasn’t fake. They meant it. But this feeling of being “just” the merch guy has always been there. I’m a full-time manager now with insurance and a livable wage and I’m seeing the country and I am incredibly grateful for it. I take great pride in the work that I do, but the truth is, I’d rather be performing.

The intimidation factor coming into Flashdance was exacerbated because of two people in the company in particular: Rachelle Rak and DeQuina Moore. Rachelle (we call her Rak or Sas) has been in more Broadway shows than I can count. She’s what we call “old school Broadway” and her reputation often precedes her. Rak doesn’t take any shit off anyone and she will tell you what she thinks without sugar coating it. You know what you’re getting with her, which is something I really admire about her. I knew of Sas not only because of her résumé on Broadway, but also because of a charity event called Broadway Bares – a strip show featuring literally hundreds of dancers and Broadway stars to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Sas has done Bares a lot and I was familiar with her because of a video clip I’d seen of her doing a Wonder Woman number one year. I have a thing about Wonder Woman, and Sas looked amazing in that costume.

I also knew about Rak because of a documentary film that was made about the audition process for the revival of A Chorus Line. She was up for the role of Sheila and in the film, she is seen at a callback 8 months after her initial audition. The audition panel behind the table (the producer, the choreographers, the director and the casting agent) said that they didn’t think she’d given them the same audition this time and would like to see her do it again, only this time trying to do what she did 8 months ago. She did the scene again and when it was over, before walking off the stage, she told the casting director that she wanted to see him backstage. Their conversation isn’t in the movie, but Jay Binder comes back to the table and tells the panel that Rachelle wanted to know whether she’d booked the show or not before she left, which is almost unheard of in this business. It’s ballsy. Like, big, brassy bull cojones kind of ballsy. The kind of thing that can put you on a casting director’s blacklist. The documentary shows the very tail end of the conversation between Rak and Binder and, understandably disappointed and hurt, she leaves in a bit of a huff. That’s the impression that the film left of her, anyway – that she’s pushy and bitchy and ungracious, and I was terrified of her.

And then there was DeQuina. I knew of her, as well, from her work on Broadway in Little Shop of Horrors and Legally Blonde as well as the “Turkey Lurkey Time” scene in the movie “Camp.” So I was already intimidated by her because she really is stunningly talented and beautiful. Our last night in Pittsburgh, I turned on the TV and there she was on HBO in a movie called “Joyful Noise” with Queen Latifah and one of my idols, Dolly Parton. When she boarded the bus the next morning to head to the airport, wearing her gigantic sunglasses and struggling with two oversized bags, all I could see was her standing between Latifah and Dolly and I thought, “Lord! She ain’t gonna have nuthin’ to do with me!”

What I didn’t know was that two months later, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I’d be out with Rak and DeQuina after a show, laughing and having the time of my life. Walking with the two of them down Bourbon Street, we darted in and out of bars as they danced the night away and I stood watch over their bags and drinks. I don’t dance in public unless it’s choreographed and I’m getting paid, but my jaw was on the floor the whole night as DeQuina and Rak wiggled and shimmied and Cha Cha Puus’ed™ their way down Bourbon Street. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time, and I loved the feeling of walking through New Orleans with those two gorgeous women on my arms. I was honored and flattered to have been one of the cool kids that night.

A few nights later I ran into Rak again on the way out of the theatre. We walked back to the hotel, arm in arm, having a very honest and heartfelt conversation about “the Business” and Rak’s experience with “Every Little Step,” the Chorus Line documentary. The Sas that I had seen in that film and that everyone thought they knew from her Broadway Bares numbers wasn’t the Rachelle walking down Toulouse with me. Behind the glamour and the glitter and the showbiz is a genuine, kind, loving, no nonsense woman with a heart as big as her smile, which is huge. She gave me invaluable advice and encouragement and opened up to me in a way that I never expected. I no longer felt like I was a cool kid for the night, but an actual friend.

Rak left us in April when her contract was up. DeQuina and I were both heartbroken, but I know it affected her more because she and Rachelle had become very, very close. Because of our schedules – her in rehearsals and doing press and me visiting or staying with friends in almost every city we went to – DQ and I didn’t hang out as much as I’d have liked to until Kansas City, which I thought was going to be my last city on the tour. By then a good chunk of the cast had left and been replaced, and in Dallas we welcomed a new company member named Doreen to the show. She was going to take over the role of Louise in Chicago, so she started rehearsals in Dallas and had her put-in in Kansas City. Doreen would come by my booth every night and say hi and our first night in KC, when the temperature was around 105º, she bought me a cherry Italian ice to help me cool down. It was the best and most appreciated Italian ice I’ve ever had.

When I left in July, I didn’t know if I’d be coming back to Flashdance. There were so many people in the company that I was going to miss and with the uncertainty of my future with the show, it was really hard to know how to feel. I didn’t know if I should say my goodbyes or not, but if I didn’t, then I might never get the chance. It was a weird situation and I was actually quite happy to get to come back in Memphis for a few weeks. Knowing that I had a definite end date allowed me to get some more time in with my friends before I had to give a definite goodbye, but at least I’d have some closure.

Memphis was, beside New Orleans, maybe my very favorite stop on the tour. We had four extra days off there, and I made sure I got to spend time with everyone I could. We certainly created a lot of memories there, but I spent the majority of my free time with Doreen, DeQuina and a handful of company members with whom I had really bonded. We ate ourselves silly, saw all the sights and even had a religious experience with the Reverend Al Green.

Indianapolis was my final stop on the Flashdance tour and honestly, it was a huge  letdown after Memphis. But I made sure I went out after the shows and spent time with my friends, trying to get in as much face time as I could with everyone before I had to leave.

I wanted to give everyone something as a going away gift from me to express to them how I felt – a combination thank you note/love letter that would somehow let them know how much they really meant to me. I wasn’t sure what to do, but then I remembered the videos that my friends in Japan had made before we left – slideshows set to music. Tony had made one using every single photo he’d taken since day one of the tour. Katie had put together a slideshow including video she’d taken and photos that all of us had posted on Facebook throughout the tour. I remembered how moved I was by them and how much I treasure them now as a reminder of that incredible time together, so I decided to do something similar.

I shared the video with the Flashdance family before I posted it publicly for everyone to see. Because I had seen so many of my friends on the road, it only seemed fair to share it with them, as well, because they had made the experience just as meaningful for me as the company had. I was sad to realize that the majority of the photos I had taken didn’t include anyone from the show because I had spent so much time by myself when we started. Pictures with company members started showing up about midway through. It made me wish I’d spent more time with them.

After the final performance in Indy, after we’d loaded out the merch booth, DeQuina, Doreen and one of the show’s dance captains, Lynorris, came over to my room and we watched “The Butler” together. During the movie, Lynorris and DeQuina pronounced that they thought that I would have most certainly been right there, fighting alongside them for their rights if we were living in the 60‘s. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but I was often the only white boy in our little group. And they were right – I would have been right there with them. I can’t imagine a world in which they could not be my friends. My family, even.

All of us were a little choked up over the movie, but when it came time to say goodbye to the three of them I couldn’t hold back my emotions any more and I went into the ugly cry. After they left, I packed up the last of my stuff and went to bed – still crying and contemplating going downstairs to say goodbye to the entire company the next morning. I knew if I did that I’d embarrass myself, so I stayed in my room until I knew the bus was gone. It was a sad day for me.

So I have started a new adventure with a new group of people – most of whom I don’t know. Many of whom I haven’t even met yet! I miss my Flashdance friends, but I have to get past that and start making new friends, which is hard for me. But Flashdance proved that I can do it. I am one of the cool kids. They just don’t know it yet. Thank you, Flashdance family, for teaching me that.

Take your passion and make it happen!

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