Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: “Oh Shut the Stage Door and When Thou Has Done So Come Weep with Me!”

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A few days ago, my friend Michael relayed to me something that had recently happened to him. After he told me the story, I told him that he should write a guest blog about it, the event had riled him so. And he did. I hope it was a cathartic experience for him. I will say I have been waiting at many of his stage doors, one of the pack of friends, excited to see him after a performance and wish him well. If there is a more beloved Bay Area actor, I can’t imagine who that might be. Although I can’t claim objectivity on this matter. He is writing about actors, but just as much, he is writing about friends, the scenes we play with each other and the consequences of our actions.

“Oh Shut the Stage Door and When Thou Has Done So Come Weep with Me!”

I want to preface this by saying I am aware that I am an extremely sensitive person and to be an actor you need to have a thick skin, or at least so I’m told. I just looked up the expression, thick skin: Having a thick skin or rind. Not easily offended. Largely unaffected by the needs and feelings of other people; insensitive. Nope, not me. Not by a long shot. My skin is as thin as a 90 year old albino Irish woman’s. It was closing night of a production of Romeo & Juliet I was doing with an extremely talented bunch of actor friends who basically got together and said, “Hey, let’s put on a show!” No money, we provided our own costumes and did it in the round with no set. We didn’t actually have lights until an hour before we opened! It was theatre on a wing and a prayer and we were acting by the seat of our pants and it was exciting and fun and my first attempt at Shakespeare. And the great thing was people came to see it! We were playing to full houses and the audiences were young and diverse and seemed to really appreciate the show. I should mention now that we were performing in an old dance hall and not a theatre so there was no back stage and even worse, no stage door! I’m the type of actor who plots his escape from the moment the curtain goes down. I either rip off my costume and run for the stage door before the audience has time to leave the theatre, or I sit in my dressing room and wait it out until the coast is clear. I think a lot of actors feel this way and can relate. It’s just a very vulnerable time and the last thing you want to do is talk to people about the show or even worse your performance. I can be naked on stage or perform with a 103 degree temperature but having to face people after a performance terrifies me! There we lots of fellow actors in the audience on closing night and I love my theatre community here in the Bay Area, so I had to suck it up and thank people for coming out. It was going fine as I have mastered the art of deflection in a conversation! “What show are you working on?” “Did you lose weight?” “So how’s your father?” It was all going fine when suddenly I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turn around and it was an actress I had worked with a few years back, I’ll call her Pilar. Here is basically how the exchange went:

Pilar: Hi!!! (Big hug)
Me: Hi! Thank you so much for coming! I love your coat! That’s a beautiful color on you.
Pilar: Thanks! (Long awkward pause)
Me: So pretty…(Long awkward pause)
Pilar: Did you have fun tonight? (Big smile)
Me: Yes, I did! (Big smile. I can feel the blood rushing to my face.) Pilar: Good! (Big smile…awkward pause)
Me: Okay.
Pilar: Okay.
Me: Bye.
Pilar Bye-bye.

The rest of that evening involved me badmouthing Pilar to other actors and finally breaking down and crying, asking a group of supportive friends why some people have to be so cruel? Talk about a performance?! Pilar obviously left too soon and missed my best scene!!! Why did I care so much what Pilar thought and why did I react so strongly to what she said, or more importantly what she didn’t say? I guess I just don’t understand why, if she did not care for my performance, she felt the need to come up to me? Why didn’t she just leave or better yet just say, congratulations on the show. Did she feel she would be compromising her artistic integrity? Why did she feel the need to let me know she didn’t care for the show or even worse me personally. As Blanche Debois says in A Streetcar Named Desire, “Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty of.” Going to the theatre is one of my great pleasures in life. I find it especially exciting if I know one of the actors in the show. I am filled with pride and want them to have a great show. Some shows are obviously better than others and occasionally I will disagree with a directorial choice or think someone may be a little miscast. I also know what hard work it is to put on a show and how much time and energy has been spent to entertain me for two hours. So if I stay after to see someone I know, I always greet them with a congratulations, or good show or good work because they desire that! They just gave everything they had and left it all on the stage for me, the audience. A good friend suggested that the next time I see Pilar in a show I should come up to her and ask, “Did you have fun tonight?” But I just couldn’t do that to her because she is a fellow actor, a member of my tribe and a good performer who deserves my support and respect. Part of me hopes Pilar doesn’t read this. But part of me hopes she does and perhaps she will be a little less honorable to her artistic integrity and a little kinder to her fellow thespian the next time she attends the theatre. As for this thin-skinned Shakespearean, I start rehearsal on Monday for my next show and I hope all of you will come! If you don’t see me afterwards chances are this next theater has a stage door.

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: I Hadn’t Had a Bath in 20 Years!

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My friend and frequent guest blogger Michael had a medical emergency this week. I’ll let him tell you. But even before the situation passed, so to speak, I asked him if he might want to write about it. Tonight he sent me this. I do believe that when we are processing life’s challenges, it can help to sit down and write about it. And if we decide to share what we’ve written, who knows, it might help the people who read it too. I’m glad you are feeling better, my friend. You are loved!

“I Hadn’t Had a Bath In 20 Years!”

Like most people in the world today, I’m often stressed out and always carrying around a certain amount of anxiety. I’ve tried yoga and meditation but I just don’t have the patience, I guess. But I do find my peaceful place in walking. I love to walk! I just love it! I am a self-proclaimed Power Walker. I love to walk my dog, I love to walk to the store, but most of all I love to take long walks up into the canyon where I live. I call it my church. I love to power walk up to the top of the hill, with my arms swinging back and forth like Oprah as Sophia in “The Color Purple”, and look out and watch the hawks glide past me. Tuesday was a typical day on my power walk and just as I was about start my way down I felt a slight pain in my right testicle. Hmmm…Weird. 10 minutes down the hill I started to feel a shooting pain in the middle of my back. Ouch! Really weird…By the time I arrived home I was moaning and groaning, deciding if this warranted calling 911. Instead I called a neighbor and asked her if she would take me to the E.R. A drive that should have taken us 20 minutes took over an hour in rush hour traffic. I screamed and cried and prayed out load. I took my seatbelt off at one point and got on all fours in the front seat. I couldn’t stop moving. I was like a terrified Pekingese heading to the vet. Then the nausea started, “I think I’m going to be sick”, I screamed! We were at a dead stop so I opened the car door, but it was a false alarm. But now all the people in the cars around us knew there was drama going on and kept staring, waiting for me to blow!

When we finally pulled into the Emergency Room drop off point my neighbor stopped the car and I jumped out and power walked through the front doors. There were about 20 other people sitting in the waiting area waiting to be seen. I knew enough about how these places worked, that I knew I had to act fast and not hold anything back. “Um…Hello. I’m here. What do I do?! I’m in a lot of pain. Please help me, HELP MEEEEEEE!!!” I was spinning around in circles swinging my murse around me. I think somebody must have called a code: CRAZY, because the next thing I knew I was in a wheelchair sitting at a desk with a woman asking for my I.D. Just as I pulled it out, I announced to the entire ER, “I’m going to be sick!!!” Magically, a pink bucket appeared from under her desk and onto my lap. In between retching and heaving, I apologized to the entire room, “I’m sorry everybody, I’m so sorry!” I heard giggling from the peanut gallery but I didn’t have the strength nor the quick wit to deal with a heckler in the crowd, so I let it go. Next thing I know I’m in triage and I hear one of the nurses say, “We can smell a kidney stone a mile away.” A very handsome, blue-eyed nurse named Gary tells me he is giving me a drug called Dilaudid. I feel it hit me in the back of my neck and then BAM! “That’s a Lindsay Lohan cocktail”, I mumble. “Mikey likey!”

I am wheeled to another room, given an MRI, where they confirm that I have two kidney stones, one of which is trying to make its way through my ureter to my bladder. The other is a much larger stone waiting in the wings of my kidney. I am wheeled to yet another room and as the nurse leans over me checking my I.V. I notice her name tag, which reads, Stella. Given the fact I am an actor and that I am flying high on a powerful pain-killer seven times stronger than morphine I give her my best Marlon Brando, “STELLAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” She just gives me a knowing smile and goes about her business.

An hour or so later the pain has subsided dramatically and I am discharged with a couple of prescriptions and a strainer to pee through and sent on my way.

The next couple of days were filled with intermittent bouts of pain, nausea, constipation and vomiting from the pain meds. Being in that kind of pain was very lonely and isolating. It made me think about people who deal with chronic pain, people who suffer in silence on a daily basis and how lonely they most feel.

On Thursday night, a friend suggested I try a hot bath before bed. I hadn’t had a bath in 20 years! I’m a shower only kind of guy, but thought it was worth a shot. I filled the tub and put on my New Age Essentials channel on Pandora. I laid there in that hot water and thought about the last few days and what I had gone through. I felt like a little boy again, minus the Mr. Bubble. I felt so aware of my body and my breath. I was comforted by the warm water and my breathing. I had found my peaceful place again. I dried off and went straight to bed. The next thing I knew it was 6:03am and I went to use the bathroom, and without any bells and whistles or drumroll or pain even, out popped my kidney stone. It was about the size of a small black pepper kernel. That tiny little thing had caused so much pain and suffering and brought me to my knees.

Looking back on it all, I think that that hot bath was a turning point. It was such a moment of self-preservation and being totally aware of my body and what was happening and accepting the pain and truly surrendering.

I do feel a little like a ticking time bomb now with that other stone waiting for the perfect inopportune moment to escape my kidney and send me back to the emergency room. But until then I will continue to take my power walks and my new nightly hot baths to find my peaceful place. I might even pick up a box of Mr. Bubble.

These Are the People

tenneseeI’m reading Costly Performances right now, an account of the last few years of playwright Tennessee Williams’ life, written by his friend, Bruce Smith.  It is a funny, sad, informative, salacious read.  Last night, I read a passage about the opening of his last Broadway premiere, Clothes for Summer Hotel.  It did not look likely that the reviews or following box office would be good, but after the show, as they stepped into the alley, Tennessee and Bruce were met by a group of fans.  One man, in particular, held out a stack of books and said, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Williams, would you be kind enough to autograph these for me?”  Bruce Smith, who was there, thought that the fan was imposing too much by asking Williams to stand there in the rain and sign 12 books.  Williams graciously signed each one and then moved on to every person standing in this line, people who probably not had even been inside the show for financial or booking reasons.

When Smith asked him about his graciousness in what was a trying time.  (His play did open to poor reviews and the show only lasted a few days on Broadway.  Furthermore, the opening date had been decided to coincide with his 69th birthday, so they were en route to a less than festive birthday party/opening night party.)  Tennessee only said, “These are my people, I know these are my readers, people whom I’ve communicated in some quite human and genuine manner.  That man who wanted me to sign all those books, I know he’ll have to sell them, probabbly to pay his rent.  These are the people I relate to and for.  They’re all so far removed from the group inside the theatre.  And to think that some one critic in there is going to decide against their being able to see one last big play of mine.  I could feel it as we sat there during the performance of the play.  They’re warming for the kill, baby, they’re warming for the kill.”

I can’t stop thinking about the image of Tennessee standing in the rain, signing autographs and making connections to people like, well, people like me.  Around that time, I was a 12 year old boy who spent every Saturday at my local library.  About 12 was when I discovered, and discovered would be the word, the play section in the upstairs aisles at the Independence Public Library.  I would sit for hours and read plays and leaf through the pictures in “The Best Plays” series.  It was my window into a world that I dreamed I’d be a part of.  It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.  So, when I read this, it affirms what I always believed when I read Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, or saw Jessica Lange do A Streetcar Named Desire or watched Night of the Iguana and Summer and Smoke and Suddenly, Last Summer on TCM.  I know what Tom was trying to leave behind when he told Laura to blow out her candles because all of these characters and stories had been written for me and about me and to me, like a love letter.

Paula, Paula…

jessica-tandy-bestfriends9A few years before Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for playing Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy, I discovered her in a movie called Best Friends that starred Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds.  Best Friends is one of those 80’s romantic comedies that played on a constant loop on HBO when I was growing up and Jessica Tandy was the reason I watched it every time it aired. I didn’t know who she was or that she’d originated the role of Blanche Du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, all I knew is that she was in the scene in the movie that made me laugh every time I watched it.  I would rewind the scene over and over so I could hear her say the line again and again.  Why did it make me laugh so much, who knows?  For whatever reason, it tickled my funny bone.  I was pretty excited to find the clip on Youtube; I had to do some serious sleuthing to find it.  The video quality is poor and the movie is a little dated, but when she got to the line, I laughed out loud.  And then I rewound it and watched it again.