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.

Desperate Acts

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A few days ago, my friend, “Susan” and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance.  I said that I liked this person, but I said, “She’s just so desperate.”  Susan chortled and said, “Well, I feel pretty desperate myself sometimes.”  It kind of surprised me because I do not think of Susan as desperate.  She is one of the most beloved people I know and I know she knows it.  But her statement made me think a little about what desperation is and how we are all a little desperate. And if we are artists, I think we want to be desperate.  Forgive me for being obsessed with William Inge, but so many times last weekend, I thought about how desperate Inge’s characters are.  Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba is desperate to feel vital again.  Hal in Picnic is desperate to find his way in the world. Elma in Bus Stop and Millie in Picnic are desperate to leave their small Kansas towns.  Sammy in Dark at the Top of the Stairs is desperate to make friends.  And of course, my favorite desperate Inge character is Rosemary Sidney who gets on her hands and knees begging her boyfriend to marry her because the thought of another year as an unmarried schoolteacher living in a rented room is too much for her to bear.  I’ve seen the scene in skilled hands and less skilled hands, but every time I’m moved to tears by the, well, the desperation.  And I think about how desperate William Inge was .  One of the interviews from the Saturday night program included one with a niece who recounted a conversation she’d had with Inge where he told her his life had been a failure.  This is a man who won an Oscar, a Pulitzer and wrote four of the most successful, profitable, beloved plays of the 1950s. Perhaps he always had a voice telling him he was a failure and that made him desperate to create the characters and stories that touched our lives so deeply. In the last couple weeks, I’ve thought so much about why I’ve started this blog.  It’s fun to get compliments and see which stories get the most traffic, but I also feel so vulnerable at times, even foolish.  I’ve had close friends make fun of the blog.  Granted, there is something desperate about a 44 year old man plunking away on a keyboard, offering his hopes, revealing his shames.  And I do feel like Rosemary.  With every awkward sentence, I’m beseeching a reader who may or may not be reading this, “Marry me, Howard.  Please, please marry me.” Here are Rosalind Russell and Arthur O’Connell in that scene from the original movie of Picnic.

Who Am I Anyway, Part 2

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I found a few more Black and White headshots.  Looking at these pictures made me think about the times I had my pictures taken. My first headshot shoot was a photographer I found in Backstage. I had been in NY a few months, fretting about not having a headshot. He lived in Stuyvesant Town and took pictures out of his living room. I picked him because, even though I was very closeted at the time, I thought he was cute. He kept telling me to imagine the camera was a pretty girl that I liked. My second headshot shoot was with a fashion photographer my friend Tania knew. I worked as his assistant for a day and he gave me a discount rate on the session. I actually enjoyed working as his assistant, being on set for a catalog shoot at a loft in Chelsea. I don’t know where that picture is, but I do have the requisite jean shirt that was de rigueur for every 1994 actor headshot. When I moved to LA, I had to get new LA headshots. My favorite photographer was a guy named Sandy Spear. He lived near Sycamore and 4th and he’d take his pictures in the neighborhood. I think he charged something ridiculously affordable like $80/ roll and all you needed was one roll, because he was a great photographer. Also, his wife had been in the Off-Broadway production of the Real Live Brady Bunch as Marsha. I just looked him up and it looks like he lives in San Diego and is still taking pictures. I also had a photo shoot with a maitre d’ at one of the restaurants where I worked. He insisted on taking every actor’s picture. The one thing I most remember about the guy is that he kept slices of brisket in his suit jacket pocket so he could snack when he got hungry. The pictures aren’t too bad, but the Olin Mills type back drop blending with the Lance Bass frosted tips I had at the time make it look like there are fireworks coming out of my head. My last black and white photo shoot was a guy named Timothy Fielding in 2002. He asked me if I wanted to do half b & w and half color, I said no, I didn’t think the color trend would last very long.

Who Am I, Anyway?

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A few years ago, I started collecting old black and white headshots. I love them. I like color headshots, too, but I think there is something so romantic and dramatic about the b & w’s. When I look at my old headshots, I want to start singing, “I really need this job, please God, I need this job…” Here are a few pics from my collection. Every one of them tells a story. Also, if you’re reading this and you want to send me YOUR old b & w headshot, please do.