Single Set Drama


In high school, our Drama Club competed each year in a one-act play festival. We’d square off against other high school drama clubs in an orgy of hormones, showtunes, and Ben Nye pancake foundation. It was horrifying. It was glorious.

The challenge, each year, was to come up with something brief-yet-substantive, with a set flexible enough to travel and to fit onto more than just our own stage. As a result, someone sitting through a typical round would see a lot of single set plays. Living room dramas, dining room farces, kitchen confessionals. Keeping things small and compact typically ensured our repeated success.

I think back often to those festivals, and to the time I spent in Drama Club in general. Despite a great deal of turmoil on the home front and a deeply complicated relationship with my father, the time I spent onstage, backstage, on buses to and from competitions and to and from New York City, was a time in which I was the most comfortable with myself. In that environment, I felt utterly safe and valued. It provided a near-daily shot of magic into a life that was otherwise fraught with a lot of uncertainty. I never wanted to stop the process of transformation. So I went on to study theatre in college.

But then I “grew up,” which is to say that I started engaging in activities that I thought were pretty sophisticated, and more real than those which had protected me as a teenager. Those activities typically involved a lot of alcohol, and rather spontaneous “romantic” encounters. And even after I’d settled down on the latter front, on the former I drunkenly raged through the rest of my twenties and into the beginning of my thirties, long after drinking had any sort of even remotely magical effect on me. Oh, it was still transformative, to be sure, but I no longer transformed into anything pretty, witty or bright.

The other thing I began to notice was how very small my world was becoming. Because I was no longer particularly interested in alcohol as a social lubricant. I had no desire to be social. No, what I really liked to do was buy an asspocket of Jack Daniels, retreat to the “music room” (which in any normal house would have been the dining room, but I felt no need to entertain people in that kind of way, and so it became the room in which we put my records, the turntable, and our various and sundry stringed instruments) and drink. Drink, and listen to the same two or three songs over and over again. Drink until I felt better, which is to say nothing, and pass out.

This is what happens when alcoholism creeps up on you: you become the solitary performer in a single set play, only there isn’t any audience, or if there is, they’re walking out in the middle of it. It happened to my father, who by the end of his drinking lived in one room. It happened to me, hiding in one room and mentally staying in that one room even when I left it to go to work. It’s not particularly interesting to watch or be a part of, even as we convinced ourselves that we were the principal characters in our own great tragedies.

It’s an act that goes nowhere. Dramatic stasis. It will go on and on just as it’s going unless something comes along to change it.

So my father and I had to decide if it was worth writing a second act. It was. We did. It’s still in revisions. Generally speaking, we don’t give a shit what the critics will say.

In sobriety I found that comfort again. I’m not able to memorize lines quite as quickly as I used to, but I surround myself with magic, and with magic people (a couple of whom were in Drama Club with me all those years ago). I am acutely aware of what sustains me, and I don’t ever want to wander away from it again. And when the curtain goes down, I want this production to have been a success.

The road so far…


Somebody found me interesting enough to interview for a web radio show today. Actually, that person is my friend Lawrence, who also happens to be a close personal friend of Goth Robot.

At any rate, you can listen to it here.

I found myself in the unique position of reliving the past 20 years in about 20 minutes, as I went over the various projects I’d been involved in since 1992, when I came back to Boston to go to graduate school. And I realized that as I was recounting all of these projects and all of these experiences, mine has been a pretty interesting “adulthood,” as far as those go, despite the many years I spent avoiding responsibility and being a raging alcoholic.

I didn’t go into that. It didn’t even occur to me, really. As I talked, I found myself flashing back to so many different clubs, so many different stages (physical and otherwise). At one point Lawrence asked me, “How did you find yourself involved in all of that?” And I’m paraphrasing myself here, but basically I said that I’ve encountered people along my path who I just figured I’d tag along with for a while…to see where they took me. For the most part, that’s worked out in my favor.

Since I was a kid, I have been able to recognize the other members of my “tribe,” so to speak. I’ve just known, instinctively, that certain people are going to go along with me for as long as the road stretches. Everybody has these people. If you’re lucky, you meet them really early on. They see you at your absolute worst and most awkward, and they love you, anyway.

I am where I am because I’ve made decisions and landed in the right bars and had my heart broken by exactly the people who were supposed to break it. And so I’ve played heroin-addicted housewives and played drums on songs about giant space pussies and read Ally Sheedy’s poetry aloud wearing nothing but my underthings and shared my high school diaries with total strangers all because of being in the right place at the right time. And that all led to puttin’ on a play about UFOs and boys and the Virgin Mary, and having Goth Robot turn up in the audience one night. And Goth Robot introduced me to Lawrence, who as it turns out knows my brother. Crazy. Awesome.

And then I also get to do this a lot, because of that whole “recognize your fellow wayfarers” thing:

Think I’ll keep trudging that road to happy destiny and see who else shows up along the way.

Bad Girls Upset By Learning Lines


I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like, because most of my energy is going into this:

After ten years of being in semi-retirement from pretending to be other people, I’ve taken on this project with my friend Ad Frank. He and I have been wanting to do this for ages, and the stars had finally more or less aligned enough for us to get it together, throw it against the wall, and see what sticks.

But, oh, I am so damn terrified.

It’s not that I haven’t performed at all in these past ten years. It’s just that the type of performing I’ve been doing (in bands and with Mortified) is a lot different than what I’m undertaking right now. It’s virtually impossible for me to forget my “lines” when doing a Mortified show — my “lines” are right in front of me, in my diary from 1986. Having been away from being involved in theatre (onstage anyway — in an adminstrative capacity I’m immersed in it on a daily basis), it’s safe to say that I have become quite…rusty.

Learning lines. Dear, sweet, gentle Jesus…how was I able to memorize all this stuff before? In high school, my friend Jon started referring to me as “the walking script,” because I’d not only know all MY lines, I’d know HIS lines, the lead’s lines, everyone else’s lines, AND the stage directions. They’d come spilling out of me like ticker tape, effortlessly. In college, I absorbed scripts for 4-5 plays a year, all the while taking classes, maintaining a decent GPA, and tutoring in the school’s Writing Center. Oh, and binge drinking.

When I moved back to Boston to go to graduate school, I was writing scripts, performing them, learning the scripts from the other writers in my collective, drinking, sleeping with a series of bass players, drinking, working three part-time jobs, drinking…and I never had to call “line.” Never, ever…never.

Now – my God – it’s so much more difficult. I’ve begun having those dreams. You know what I’m talking about, if you’ve done any acting on any kind of level. You completely blank out, there’s no one there to prompt you, and people start leaving in droves. Almost every night I’ve been having this dream, waking just before the audience starts throwing putrescent, fetid produce at me.

It’s been difficult expressing how very terrifying this all is, because so many of my friends know me as a PERFORMER, and the ones who’ve known me for decades — dating back to my “walking script” days — laugh it off. “You’ll be FINE!” “You’re not CAPABLE of forgetting lines….you still remember lines from Thespian Night 1988!” And I smile, tightly, and I thank them, and then I go sit on my bathroom floor and weep. I am certain that I’m forgetting huge chunks of dialogue. I am certain that no one is going to laugh at the funny stuff. I am certain that people will start fidgeting and looking at their watches, the way you do when you’re sitting through an obvious turkey.

How did I do this before? The bicycle analogy is simply not applicable here.

But I need to a grip on myself, here. I have deliberately surrounded myself with a cast of people who love me and whom I love, including Jon. I adore working with Ad; he is one of the most brilliant musicians I know and he makes me laugh every day. Coombsie is also on board. I have this amazing safety net all around me and it’s a safe bet that the audience will be mostly comprised of people I know, and who will not throw rotten food at me (I think). And the show itself is so great, and its creator, Jo Carol Pierce, has become something of a fairy godmother to me. I think in my heart I know it will be fine, but I’m predisposed to worrying. As though worrying and obsessing will work in my favor, somehow.

It’s less than a week until the show. We were supposed to be doing two performances, but rather awful circumstances crashed into those plans and we are left with a single performance. This is something else that has shaken me and left me more than a tiny bit upset, but we’re soldiering on. The show itself is bigger than us, and certainly bigger than any problems we’ve encountered along the way. I want to, as Jo Carol says, “feel happy and truly loved,” and for the most part, I do.

I just wish I wasn’t so nervous, that’s all.