ten years ago i was headed into my sixth year of living here. i was running around like a chicken with my head cut off -- working as many as four jobs to make sure that my rent and bills were paid. then, exhausted, i would throw whatever was left of me into my art. by then, i had figured out how to create and develop my own work. a ten minute monologue with music about one of my freak neighbors for PS 122's avant-gawd-a-rama had turned into my first one person show. eagerly, i threw myself into developing another idea. guitarrorist elliot sharp and i had formed an acoustic duo -- he wanted to call it "frogs for snakes" after some obscure blues lyrics but i wanted to call it "hoosegow" and somehow i talked him into it -- and released a critically acclaimed cd, mighty, on homestead records. i would perform with james "blood" ulmer a lot -- but it would be awhile before we would record anything together. i was in and out of bands: singing standards, swing, jump blues. anything and everything. somewhere in there, i was busy gigging out and creating my own sound, and getting better at writing songs and lyrics. in retrospect, what i had wasn't that good but i loved the process and i was improving all the time. or rather, i was becoming more myself in the art that i created. the art was looking and sounding more and more like who i really was, not what anyone wanted me to be or what i felt i had to make myself into, to get over on anyone, to be popular or to make money. in the moment, that seemed to be all that mattered. that, and surviving nyc.
they say that when you come to nyc as an artist, things take off immediately or they happen within five to seven years. i knew that something was about to happen. but what?
i don't know how i heard about the audition for the first national tour of RENT. i know that i saw a blurb about it on the evening news, along with interviews of people who'd driven in from as far away as california and who were camped out across the street from the public theater on lafayette street, waiting for the doors to open so they could be seen. i remember having a feeling that i would get that show right then. it's the same feeling you get when you know that someone is going to be your friend when you meet them, with nothing to prove you right. you feel it and you just know.
i remember going down there to audition and seeing a line of pup tents and sleeping bags and people dressed up like caricatures of the original cast, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee and singing and being "on" for news cameras and waiting and waiting and waiting. the line went from the door of musical theater works across the street from the public theater all the way up the street, around the corner and down past mc donalds on broadway, on and on and on, finally ending in front of tower records some three or four city blocks away. not an organized one-person-behind-the-other line. there were a jillion people and they were all over the place. i saw that line and i thought, there's no way i can be seen for this today -- i have to go to work! that's when i thought, i've done all i can. if God wants me to be in this show, He's going to have to figure out a way for me to get in. i put my headshot and resume in the appropriate box and i left.
believe it or not, they called me. it seems that the dramaturg that was sorting through the headshots had seen my very first one person show and remembered me, and suggested that i come in. an audition and five callbacks later, i'm in the original cast for the first national tour of the hottest show on broadway and i did it with no agent, no manager, no representation of any kind. understand the odds here, folks: they saw over 6,000 people in five cities and they only needed twenty one. and i got it. you don't necessarily have to beat odds like that to originate a role. more often than not, you're only auditioning against a few others, not thousands -- especially if it's non-union or for no money because it's a workshop. my role? basically, i had gwen's part: i was the bag lady (et. al.) and i sang the seasons of love solo but i also understudied joanne jefferson.
here's the kicker -- every cast is supposed to be a visual reflection of the original and the part i was auditioning for was a big girl's role. at the time, gwen must have been a 16/18 at least. i was a size 6 on my way to a size 4. why didn't i get typed out ? you know -- when they look at you and decide if you're right for the role or not. according to director michael grief and music director tim weil, they heard me sing and they changed their minds.
interestingly enough, jonathan larsen's official title for that role is "voice of heaven."
all of a sudden, i was no longer non-union. all of a sudden, i was a professional actor. all of a sudden, my parents got off of my back. after years of listening to them complain about my life and how i was wasting it, their abrubt silence was deafening. wierdly, they knew all about RENT. they'd seen the 20/20 special about jonathan larsen and his demise and the audition made the news where they were in atlanta. they couldn't believe i actually got the part. as a matter of fact, my father didn't believe it until i showed him the contract. but that's another story...
i was making more money than i ever had in my whole life. i was in AEA (for theater) and SAG (for film/tv). i had health insurance. i had a pension, fer cryin' out loud. and groupies. it was very strange. in a way, it still is.