Archive | February, 2016

The Most Beautiful Thing In The World

29 Feb

Tonight has been a night, friends, and it’s got me in an emotional frenzy.

For the first time since I left the tour, I caught up with my Kinky Boots family (or at least what’s left of it) at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando for their closing night performance before they head off to Fort Lauderdale.

12805685_10153969731062813_3493693842101490074_n
Friends, I was not prepared for the whirlwind of feelings that would come over me seeing the show as an audience member. I first headed backstage at the recommendation of the Company Manager to help say “Happy Trails” to one of our original tour cast members, Ricky Schroeder (not that Ricky Schroder). Because I was always out in the front lobby selling merchandise, this was the first time I’d ever actually been backstage for a Happy Trails (with the exception of my own Happy Trails for Evita), and even though I’ve been away from the show for over a year, I was so moved to hear everyone singing Ricky off just before his last show.

I was able to see a few of my old tour mates backstage before I had to head out to my seat, including two of my dearest friends from the show, J. Harrison and Patty, and, of course, Ricky. While I was thrilled to see them, it was a little bittersweet that I was only got a few minutes with them before they’re off to another town. Because of our schedules, I just wasn’t able to see them at all while they were here this week and somehow 5 minutes tonight didn’t seem like enough time. But I knew that was the best I could get, so I was somewhat prepared for that and had come to accept it.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the feelings I had being backstage in a theatre again with those folks, getting hugs from people I haven’t seen in a very long time and feeling as if absolutely no time had passed. People were hugging me, asking me how I’ve been, how I’m liking Orlando…and for some reason, that surprised me. Yes, I’d been on the road with these people for several months, but for some reason, I was shocked that they would actually remember me for some reason. I know that sounds absurd, but the fear of being forgotten or feeling insignificant is something I think I’ve always struggled with, and tonight it reared its ugly head.

In the time it took me to walk from the stage door to my seat inside the theatre, a lot of feelings started to come up and a lot of memories came flooding back. And surprisingly, none of them were bad memories, despite what you may have inferred from all of my previous posts. I didn’t immediately think of the stupid questions and irritating customers and endless double show days with no breaks – my thoughts went to the trip that some of us made to somewhere in the woods in Washington, just outside of Seattle, or when some of us took a road trip to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, or when J. and Patty would come and hang out at my booth during the show when they were still swings and I became incredibly nostalgic.

I was only with the Kinky Boots tour for four months, but I just realized tonight that in that short time, I had become part of a family that I am so proud to be a part of, and I was welcomed back as if no time had passed.

When the show started, I sat back and thought to myself, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen the show all the way through since I saw it on Broadway three years ago!” And then my friend Joe, who plays Don, walked out onstage and started his pre-show scene reminding patrons to turn off their phones and I started to get choked up. But it wasn’t until J. and the Angels (including the last two original Angels, Juan and Ricky) came out for “Land of Lola” that I lost it. The song is fun and upbeat and I was sitting there weeping. I was so, so proud of J. and Juan and Ricky, but especially J., who started out as a swing and literally never set foot on a stage for the first 3 months we were on the road and has since moved up to brilliantly playing the lead in the show. Patty, too…she moved up from a swing to playing Pat every night, and she’s wonderful, as well. (A swing, for those who don’t know, is someone who fills in the gaps when an understudy has to go on, which is a grossly understated description of what they actually do…it is probably the hardest job in theatre).

I was proud of them all. Even the new cast members that I didn’t know, but especially my friends, and seeing J. shine onstage just moved me so much because honestly, no one on earth deserves this kind of success more than J. does. He is one of the kindest, sweetest, funniest people I’ve ever met and he’s stupidly talented to boot. His heart is so genuine and he has high expectations of people, which I appreciate, and all of that heart comes across in his performance as Lola. He is joy personified and I love him dearly.

It was strange, though, to see the show with a new cast. As wonderful as the new cast is, I missed the faces, voices, timing and nuances of the people that I heard and sometimes saw in the time that I was with the show. And suddenly I started to miss everyone terribly. I especially miss our nights gathering in someone’s hotel room to watch American Horror Story. I miss opening night parties. I miss being part of that family.

During the bows, I was of course one of the first people on my feet, and I was a mess. Tears streaming down my face and my heart full of love, and then I saw Ricky’s face and he was going through his own breakdown as the cast gave him a special bow for his closing show. Kinky Boots won’t be the same without him and I believe that, like the rest of us who’ve left the show, he won’t ever be the same because of Kinky Boots.

I went to the stage door again after the show to give out a few more hugs and catch the people I hadn’t been able to see backstage earlier, and I was able to chat with Ricky just a little more before he headed back to his hotel. We talked about Orlando and what it was like to work down here and how things at Disney were and auditions and that kind of thing and then he said something that I just loved. He told me that when people ask him what his favorite memory of the tour was, he tells them it was our little group trip to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The “Murder House” trip, so called because we also stopped in Boulder on the way to see the Jon Benet Ramsey murder house on our way to Estes Park. We all sat in our ZipCar outside the house and chanted, “MUR-DER HOUSE! MUR-DER HOUSE!” while we listened to the most epic 90’s playlist I’ve ever concocted. We’re weirdos. Now, I know that Ricky has a billion amazing memories of this tour to take with him, but that he even considers that trip to be one of the highlights makes me so happy, and it makes me miss the camaraderie that comes as part of being on the road together.

10730898_10105154722192325_829078583951543042_n

What I didn’t get to tell Ricky is that he is also one of the highlights of my time with Kinky Boots. As I’ve written before, my grandmother died only three weeks into the tour and I wasn’t able to go home for her funeral. The entire company was so kind to me – Joe Coots came up to me at the opening night party in Tempe the night she died and gave me a huge bear hug and then introduced himself to me, because he’s that kind of guy – but one of the many acts of kindness that still stands out to me during that time was Ricky posting something on Facebook about seeing a movie that Friday – the day that Granny was being buried – and allowing me to invite myself along to keep my mind off not being at home. I hadn’t actually met Ricky in person yet – I’d seen him backstage briefly – but it wasn’t until we went to the movies that I actually met him and he welcomed me as if we’d known each other for weeks. Because that’s the kind of person he is. Whether he realized it or not, he helped me get through that awful day, and I’ll never forget that. I’ve never seen Ricky without a smile on his face, I’ve never heard him say a bad thing about anyone, and I’ve never seen anyone work quite as hard and consistently as he does onstage. He’s a good egg and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things await him when he gets home to New York. And I’m so glad I could be there to see his last show.

The ride home tonight was a long one because there were a lot of things going through my mind, remembering some of the wonderful times we had and thinking, strangely, that I kind of miss being on the road and wishing that I was in New York again so I could audition more. Anyone who knew me on the road, including the Kinky Boots gang, would know that this is the complete opposite of what I wanted when I was actually on the road, and I know well enough that even if I did go back out on the road, it wouldn’t be the same. But I wonder, is that chapter of my life completely done? I don’t know… I just don’t know anymore.

Advertisements

I Always Feels Like Somebody’s Watching Me

11 Feb

Well…maybe I don’t always feel like somebody’s watching me, but sometimes it’s fun to give myself the creeps.

As I wrote in my last entry, I have started walking. A lot. I’m averaging about 3 miles a night now, not including the mileage I get just walking in everyday life, so I’m getting in anywhere from 5-9 miles a day now. It’s during those nightly walks that I really get in the steps, though, and to keep myself entertained while I’m walking, I’ll typically listen to whatever music pops up on my iPhone (SEE ALSO: Beyoncé, “Formation.”) But a couple of times a week, I get a special surprise when two of the podcasts that I’m following release new episodes.

I’m new to the world of podcasts, and I’ve recently discovered Fireside Mystery Theatre and Chilling Tales: The Podcast, and I gotta tell ya, guys…I’m hooked. Fireside Mystery Theatre is a storytelling podcast based in the tradition of radio dramas from the 30’s and 40’s. They perform their stories live from September to May at the Slipper Room in New York City’s Lower East Side and they have a whole slew of back episodes to choose from. Recently I listened to Episode 8 (April 10, 2015), which included three Irish ghost stories and I was completely taken in by them. The musical interludes between the stories were wonderful, too.

Chilling Tales is another storytelling podcast, but it has less of a “radio drama” feel about it and is more straightforward storytelling with actors voicing the characters or a single narrator. The first night I discovered the podcast, I was at home, cooking in the kitchen with only a couple of lights on in the house, and by the end of the second episode (Horror S’more-er: Chilling Tales Goes To Camp), I was checking the locks and windows in the house and turning on as many lights as possible.

It takes a lot to genuinely scare me. After living in New York City for as long as I did, there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen or experienced and, believe or not, after years of terror threats and heightened alerts and raids on your apartment by the FBI, one becomes desensitized to a lot of things. Or at least one tells oneself. After some time in the city, I became less worried about being blown up in the subway than I was about being blown away in a hurricane or bodies falling on me from the high-rises in Midtown. (This actually happened, by the way – not a body falling on me, but I happened upon a suicide scene on 6th Avenue one day on my way to work. The body had landed on the sidewalk just next to an outdoor café. The police had brought in city buses to park on each side of the corner to block off foot traffic and onlookers. It was not a pretty scene. And I would have expected my pastrami on rye to be comped.)

All that being said, one of my favorite things to do at one point in my time in New York, was to walk from work at the Metropolitan Opera House, where I used to work coat check, to the subway on 57th Street, while listening to a suite of music from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” You should try it sometime. It’ll really freak you out. So now, while I’m walking around my darkened neighborhood late at night, I listen to people telling spooky stories. And I find myself looking over my shoulder. A lot. Because the one thing that does scare me is people jumping out from behind things or sneaking up on me.

When I was in third grade, my next door neighbor’s dad took me and a few of the kids in the neighborhood to a radio station-sponsored haunted house. We were all far too young to get in, but Kevin Ray’s dad knew some people who let us in – or he convinced them that we were old enough…I don’t know – and we got into this place.

Looking back on it, I don’t really remember many of the specifics of the place – it felt like there were a hundred different rooms that we went through and I remember thinking we were never going to finally be done with it, though the reality is there may have been a dozen or so different rooms and scenes. But what I do remember still haunts me.

The first room I remember walking through was a large, open space, with a walkway on the left side of the room, and Satan pacing the floor on the right side of the room. Now, I know, that sounds kind of hokey, but I was maybe 9 years old and, in addition to Satan, there were also dozens of fallen angels behind bars, reaching out into the walkway, begging us to save them. As a kid who went to church regularly, this terrified me on so many levels. I may have cried…I can’t remember.

The next room I remember featured a doctor eating the guts out of a body on an operating table. Just, y’know, yanking them out and shoving the slimy, bloody entrails into his face. And then he sawed off their head. Duh.

And finally, the last room we came to was a huge space with just a coffin set up near the wall at the far end of the room, furthest away from the door. The tour guide told us to form a circle in the middle of the room, holding hands and closing our eyes, which immediately made me suspicious, but I closed my eyes, anyway, so that maybe I wouldn’t have to see what was inevitably about to happen. A few seconds later, there was a lot of screaming and I heard someone passing behind me, so I opened my eyes to find a mummy in the center of our circle, getting in everyone’s faces and making mummy-like sounds (I’m not even sure what those are), and Dracula, who had risen from his coffin, running around the outside of our circle, thrusting his head between us as if he were going for our throats.

Well, I was done. I bolted for what I thought was the door, only to find that I had accidentally run myself behind Dracula’s coffin, which set me into a panic. Kevin Ray’s dad came and rescued me and we proceeded to leave through a giant door that had black plastic hanging from it, like a meat locker. That’s the last time I’ve ever willingly set foot in a haunted house.

That night, perhaps in an attempt to apologize to all of us for subjecting us to that nightmare, Kevin Ray’s dad took us to Pizza Hut, where we all sat at a booth. We didn’t all fit, so we had to pull up a chair to the end of the table, which is where I had to sit, and as we were waiting for our pizzas to arrive, I remember hearing Hall & Oates “Private Eyes” playing over the PA system.

Private eyes (clap!)
They’re watching you! (clap! clap!)
They see your ev’ry move…

I’ve never been able to listen to 70’s soft rock the same way since. (If only I’d developed a similar aversion to pizza…) I was convinced that someone was behind me – Satan or perhaps that weird-sounding mummy. Convinced that they had followed us to Pizza Hut and were planning to finish me off before the pepperoni pan pizza had even arrived. That they were watching me (clap! clap!)…that they saw my ev’ry move. Like demons and mummies do. I think I maybe ate half a slice which, even at that age, was unheard of for me. I couldn’t be bothered to eat – I was on poltergeist patrol.

To this day, I have never wittingly stepped into a haunted house again. I’ve been that guy who holds people’s bags while they go through the house or runs down the hall with his eyes covered, screaming, “I’ll punch you! I swear, I will!” when the dorms decided it’d be fun to have a haunted floor. I flat out refused to go to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights this year, even though I could have gotten in for free and all my co-workers begged me to go, but I am 99% certain I would have gotten myself fired for assaulting the first performer who jumped out at me with a chainsaw. Homie don’t play dat.

But I can creep myself out with ghost stories and Bernard Herrmann scores and that’s enough for me. Because I can turn it off whenever I want.

I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear that song, though. And a craving for Pizza Hut pan pizza. Not today, Satan! Not today…

 

Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore

3 Feb

Greeting and salutations, Dear Reader. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with me, despite my lengthy absence. So much has happened in the last year and I’m anxious to tell you all about it.

In last year’s big cliffhanger (OK…it was more of a series finale with the possibility of a spinoff), I was about to leave the Kinky Boots national tour and move to Orlando, Florida to pursue my dream of performing at Walt Disney World. You’ll recall that I was quite anxious about the move and the return to the “real world” after being on the road for so long, and those fears and anxieties were for good reason, and unfortunately, many of those fears have become reality.

Now, I don’t mean to start this reboot on a negative note. Let me first start off by saying that I did, in fact, get myself a job at Walt Disney World, but not as a performer. Within a month of moving, I was hired as an Attractions Host at Magic Kingdom, working at Big Thunder Mountain – the wildest ride in the wilderness! I spent nearly 10 months at Old Man Thunder before I was transferred to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I am now an Attractions Host at the new Star Wars Launch Bay. I enjoy my job at Disney very much, though it is not by any means where I want to be in my career. Performing in the parks is still the goal, and I’ve been auditioning as often as I can, time and health allowing, for Voices of Liberty, the Dapper Dans, Finding Nemo: The Musical and other shows around the parks. More on those auditions later.

IMG_5993

Me on my last day at Big Thunder Mountain.

In addition to working at Walt Disney World, I also landed a job selling merchandise – surprise, surprise! – at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which admittedly I knew nothing about when I interviewed for the job. Many would agree that I still don’t, but I do a very good job of faking it. I still can’t tell you what the horcruxes are. I’m not even sure that I spelled “horcruxes” correctly. Don’t you judge me!

Adjusting to life in the real world has been difficult. Money is, as always, a constant struggle for me, which was one of my greatest fears of delving back into reality. My money management skills are pretty much non-existent. Of course, I had to have a car, so I got a cute little green Kia Soul and named him Elliott (SEE ALSO: Pete’s Dragon), and then I realized that 90% of Kia Souls on the road are also Elliott Green, but I still love him. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out how much my car payment was going to be, though. I hadn’t had a car in 14 years and had just quit my job and had no prospects on the horizon. It was no exaggeration when I dramatically exclaimed to my Dad, “It’s fine! I’ll just get a third non-existent job to pay for it!” Even though I work nearly 55 hours a week between the two jobs, it still isn’t enough to cover all my expenses. I’ve fallen way behind on my student loan payments – again – but on the bright side, one of my credit cards is nearly paid off thanks to the credit consolidation plan I started before I went out on the road. Once that’s paid off, I can start applying that money to my loans. So there’s that.

There’s also my health. I would like to go on record to state that I never missed one show while I was on the road. Not one in two years. I was healthy as a horse. But here in Florida, I have been sick with something almost from the day I got here. Allergies, colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, strep throat, the flu…you name it, I’ve had it since I moved here. I’m sick now, in fact, getting over some sort of malady that laid me out at home for two days. But I can’t afford to call out of work, so I plow ahead, shortening my lifespan by a few years with each mucus-filled shift. I know that most of this illness stems from the other thing that has been difficult to adjust to: the weather.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Floridians…we live in the Devil’s Armpit. It’s hot, moist and, frankly, sometimes smelly down here. I’ve never lived in a place where a summer rain shower (and by “shower,” I mean “deluge”) actually makes the temperature hotter than before. I have accepted Swamp Ass into my life and should just go ahead and buy stock in Gold Bond powder to foolishly attempt stop the chub rub and chaffing between my thighs. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand to try to soak up all the moisture, so just accept the Swamp Ass and move on with your day.

It took me about three weeks to accept that every time I stood up from my seat on the shuttle bus from the parking lot or from a chair in the break room, I would leave a stamp of sweat behind. Sure, you can try to slide out of the seat to wipe some of it away, but after a while, you just give up. It’s a sad, sick, disgusting part of life down here and I hate it. I worked a parade shift once in August in which I sweat so much that I was sent back to change clothes because it looked like I’d wet myself.

I miss the snow! I miss the cold! I miss the air!

“But what about the good things,” you ask? “Surely something makes it worth being there!”

Yes. The people I’ve met down here make it worth it. I’ve made wonderful friends at both of my jobs. Getting to go to Disney World pretty much whenever I want to makes it worth it. Mickey and I are very tight, and I get to talk about Star Wars all day long. I even run into Darth Vader – sometimes, quite literally, run into him – backstage and he scares the bejesus out of me, because I get to be an 8 year old again. At work. And that’s awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible Guests and made Magical Moments for people and

Me and Neil

That’s me behind Neil Patrick Harris.

have gotten choked up over meeting the coolest little kids on the planet in their cute Princess gowns and their little Darth Vader costumes. I’ve seen people weep over being chosen by a wand. I even got to perform at Epcot this Christmas as part of the Candlelight Processional, finally singing again and getting to do it behind people like Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. And one of my best friends in the world, Brance, moved down here this summer and we’ve played mini golf and watched movies and played in the parks and shopped for Star Wars t-shirts and I’ve loved getting to spend that time with him. I’ve hung out in the parks with my college friend, Sara, and her wonderful husband and totally amazing daughter, Nora. I’ve seen old friends from all aspects of my life when they’ve come to the parks on vacation and I get to see my Mom and Dad more often than I did when I lived in New York because my Dad works in Tampa for a few days every month, and we meet up for dinner when he’s near.

So things aren’t all bad, and part of the reason that I’m rebooting the blog is to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, y’all – the struggle is real – but I’m not alone in this. And I’m still pursuing my dreams. I’ve started taking better care of myself and taking control of the enormous amount of weight that I have gained over the last 3 years. Oprah and I are doing WeightWatchers and I’m making excellent use of my new FitBit Surge, walking an average of about 14,000 steps a day. More, if I’m able. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas gifts I could have asked for. And I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month.

FitBit Report

Almost every night, I take a screenshot of my FitBit summary and post it to Instagram (jasonb1976) and Facebook, mostly to keep myself accountable and excited about going out to exercise, but hopefully to also encourage others to do the same. Tonight, a friend of mine from the Evita tour sent me a message on Facebook to let me know that she was inspired by my FitBit posts and that she’s about to embark on a 28 day fitness challenge that’s making her a bit nervous. She wrote, “Long story short..it’s going to be hard for me but I was thinking about your posts and they just put a smile on my face and made me excited to work toward a healthier me.” Guys. Pick me up off the floor. I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. I have inspired someone to work toward being healthier!?! That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me. If I can inspire her, maybe I can inspire someone else on here, too. And then I can inspire the world! Or at least take over the entire tri-state area!

Next month I’m moving into a new living situation that I think will be better for me both financially and emotionally and, as you can see, I’m writing again, which excites and scares me. I’m under very strict guidelines regarding what I can and cannot write about with both of my jobs, so please understand if I don’t mention work very often. You won’t get any secrets out of me. Nor will you get free tickets, but that’s another entry for another day.

So there it is, folks! Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore. I look forward to seeing you again very soon. May the merch be with you.