Stage Fright and Superman

Our mother put us on stage when we were five. I’m still not sure whether she did so because we couldn’t afford a babysitter, and Dad was away, or whether she really wanted us to begin a Life on the Stage; regardless, it did make a huge impact on me at the time. Evan (my brother) and I played little Chinese children in a production of “Teahouse of the August Moon”, which to this day I know nothing about… all I remember is that we got to wear cool little “coolie” straw hats, and large robes, and chinese slippers. There was a live goat on stage, too, and it was part of our job to keep the goat from eating the set. Sometimes the goat got rambunctious, and tried to tear into the styrofoam “jeep” that my brother and I sat on most of the play.

It’s interesting to think that I was in no way conscious of the audience that filled the playhouse each night. As far as I was concerned, being on stage was just another fun place to be, and wasn’t that different than the playground at kindergarten, or the musty museum that my father worked in, or our large backyard that led into a cluster of trees. There were rules that you had to follow, just like any other place (don’t talk until it’s your “line”, don’t fidget too much). That might be why you are supposed to never work with children or animals in theatre. They steal the show because they’re not in character; they’re completely unfazed by the concept of creating a world on Stage, and watching this is charming.

Maybe children that grow up in a mortuary are completely comfortable with death, or at least dead people. Children of scientists don’t get spooked by bugs or snakes or other creepy things. Skydivers that dive with their kids raise children that aren’t afraid of heights? I jest. But it seems to me that children of actors aren’t prone to stage fright. I’ve never had it. I’ve certainly been nervous about being on stage before, I get butterflies every once and a while, usually when I feel unprepared for something I’m about to do, but never outright fear. The stage for me is the most comfortable place I can think of being. I’d rather stand in front of a crowd of ten thousand people than be in a room with four or five strangers.
My room mate is different. She can’t imagine anything less fun than to be singled out on stage, in front of a group of any size. She’s acting as stage manager for the Cabaret, and last night we went over the curtain call, when we figure out who takes a bow when and how. It was suggested that I bring out the crew that has been so instrumental in making this production a reality, and everyone agreed that this would be a great idea. But this morning my room mate admitted that she was absolutely not going to be a part of the “crew bow”. Stage fright.

In some ways I can’t even fathom someone being that uncomfortable with being on stage. But again, there are plenty of things that I hate doing, and mostly out of fear of them. Or at least intense discomfort. As I said, being in small groups of people I don’t know spooks me. If I’m not a center of attention, and therefore don’t have a “job” to be doing, I’m the guy in the corner at a party that is sitting by himself, looking really awkward and trying hard not to. If I spend too much time by myself, for whatever reason, this behavior gets worse. I’ll gradually become more and more anti-social until I finally come up with weeks worth of excuses to never leave the house. I’m a home-body, and prefer to be alone. I used to think (but still use the excuse) that the reason I never hang out in local bars here in Charleston is because I’ve spent most of my life playing in them, but I think that’s a lie. I just have a hard time being comfortable in most social situations.

Why? Who knows. I think that at some point I realized that the only place that really did make me feel at home was the stage. Anywhere else was an aspect of my “Clark Kent” alter-ego, and that was the way I could explain away my shyness and feelings of discomfort. I would always be better on stage. Able to leap tall buildings and all that.

This is a blessing and a curse, I know. A blessing because I have had and hopefully will continue to have the opportunity to entertain people for a living, and it just happens to be something I love with all my heart. That’s great, isn’t it? But a curse because it’s not typically a secure or lucrative way to live, being on stage. And sometimes, a curse because it’s so difficult: so personal, and difficult to escape, even in my ‘alter-ego’. When a rehersal goes badly I can’t go home at five and have a drink and forget about it. It does tend to crush me for a while. It does take an enormous amount of drive and determination and even a little bit of talent, qualities that every artist I’ve ever known questions about themselves, constantly. When I look into my future, sometimes, I wonder if I can do what my mother is doing, at her age. A full-time actress who has found a job that is extremely secure by theatre standards… and yet she still deals with the very real possibility that it could all go away by this time next year. It’s inspiring, and frustrating, at the same time.

I won’t lie. Sometimes I wish that Mom had taken Evan and me to her big corner office in a high-rise office building in a big city, where she was a successful lawyer, instead of the tiny community theatre where she was a successful actress. And I would have grown up loving old dusty law books and late hours studying the ins and outs of our government’s rules and regulations and then make a fortune by the time I’m 35 instead of loving the smell of an ancient theatre house and the late hours playing rock music and and barely paying rent. Sometimes I wish that it was easier to be Superman when I’m not on stage.

But mostly I feel pretty lucky to have a Home that is always there for me, in every town and city in the world, and hope that I always feel that way. And I can’t honestly say that if I ever have kids I won’t bring them on stage with me to “corral some goats” of their own.