Saturday, February 22, 2014

Think HUGE

Sharing the stage with the great Marilyn Maye
The word is like a seed, and the human mind is so fertile, but only for those kinds of seeds it is prepared for.
-The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz


I could wile away the hours
Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain
And my head I'd be scratchin'
While my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain
-Lyrics to If I Only Had A Brain:  Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics)

Hi there...
Today, I'm thinking of two more events that helped shape me to who and what I am today. Every day, we make choices in our lives that propel us to the next level.   
Thought is without limits. It is not enough to think big. I think positive thoughts, read inspiring books, and remember that I am part of the interconnectedness if life. I have a friend Peggy Eason who defies all odds and succeeds. She is truly one of my inspirations.
My last blog, I wrote about the events leading up to my getting to New York (including purchasing a one way ticket to New York).

After purchasing my ticket, I walked six miles back to the Grand Strand Amusement Park to show off my achievement. It was a concept that people, especially my family, could not grasp and/or wrap their heads around.
Often people are doomed to mediocrity by thinking they can only expect what is "realistic" or "normal" for most people. It is no wonder that when I was growing up, my favorite film was The Wizard of Oz. Like most people of my generation, it was an annual event. Like Dorothy, I dreamed of something beyond what seemed to me like bleak surroundings.
As everyone around me was telling me about the dangers of New York, although none of them had ever been, I kept thinking about the possibilities of a better life for me.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, the pieces were falling in place for me to make that dream a reality.
As the days led to the eventual goal day, a few events took place which solidified the reality of this happening. My friends Beth Mahar and Donna Catton threw me a going away party. They were friends of mine from
This is how I looked when I arrived in New York in 1979
Coastal Carolina's Upstage Company.
I had starred in a production of Marat/Sade a few months earlier. Just as doing that show, I was now in a zone in which I was always following my gut.

Marat/Sade was a turning place in how I perceived myself as an actor. Up until that time, I had appeared in Mame, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Night of January Sixteenth, Cheaper By The Dozen, and Oliver...all with The Theater of the Republic in Conway, South Carolina.  
Marat/Sade would take me out of my comfort zone on so many levels.
I first became familiar with this show on the
1979
backseat of our school bus in January of 1979. Cindy Kujala told me that she was an "extra" in this show and they were looking for more actors to play inmates in the asylum. I thought that was right up my alley and would be fun to look into.

I couldn't stop thinking about it on my way home from school. By the time I got home, my mind was made up...I was going to go "audition".
I decided to go to the auditions that night. I did my afternoon chores and homework in anticipation of my parents getting home from work. My mom was the first to get home and started dinner and gave me permission to go audition. 

As I started up the steps of the theater on Coastal Carolina's campus, my instincts were confirmed. A young woman came running towards me screaming, "Are you Ricky Skipper?"
That person was Beth Maher. It turns out that she had been following me since The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I played Roberts in that production and it was the first time I played a real role.
The Molly Brown House in Denver, Colorado. I visited years later.
There was a moment in which Molly mistakenly calls me Mr. McGlone. I did a "slow burn" to the audience and the audience howled! Beth told me in that instant, she became a fan. She saw every subsequent production I was in but never said hello.
Now, a year later, she was the stage manager for Marat/Sade and now, only desired to do it, if I was on board! 
It was beshert that I be there at this moment in my life. Not knowing anything about Marat/Sade, I was continuing with great trepidations but was willing to do it, if Beth would work with me.
She said absolutely and began a friendship that continues to this day. That night, the director, Cynthia Hodell, and the company sat around in a circle and everyone said a few words about ourselves and why we were there as a chalice of wine was passed around. This certainly was different from Theater of the Republic!
At the end of the evening, I was asked to read for Cynthia. I barely got the first words out when she told me I had the part of the Herald! Beth's enthusiastic endorsement was enough for her. She gave me the script and I very excitedly went home to give my parents the great news!
Marat/Sade production at the University of California, San Diego, 2005 (Directed by: Stefan Novinski)
When my parents  asked me what the show was about, I told them I did not know but that I had a lead. When I sat down to read the script, panic set in. There were several contributing factors to this.
Number one, the entire show was in verse. I had NEVER done anything like this. Number two, this show was edgy and "X rated"! I went to the first rehearsal in sheer terror. I had decided to drop out.
When I told Beth this, she pleaded for me to stay saying that she knew I could do this with me and she
Marat/Sade is set at later mental home "Hôpital Esquirol" in present-day Saint-Maurice
started working to help me "learn my lines". For the next few weeks, I lived, ate, and breathed Marat/Sade. For those of you who are not familiar with this play, the full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, usually shortened to Marat/Sade is a 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The work was first published in German. Believe it or not, it was produced on Broadway by David Merrick. It is a FAR CRY from Hello, Dolly!
As the full title implies, the entire show takes place in an insane asylum. Most of our rehearsals were improvisations of us as insane inmates.
I LOVE improv and this was a lot of fun for me. I remember one night, a security guard ran into the room because he thought I was actually attacking someone!
I remember that with some in the cast, there was a lot of frustration because more time was spent on the improvisations than on the actual script.
It has been thirty five years, but I seem to recall we spent three weeks on this improvisations.
One night, we started the improvs as usual. Then Cynthia pulled me OUT of the improv and whispered in my ear to start reciting my lines.

Again, I was playing the Herald, which is the narrator of the piece. When Marat/Sade first opened with the RSC in London, Ian Richardson played the Herald. Eventually he went on to play Marat.

As I started "setting the scene", Cynthia was placing each of the characters in their appropriate places on stage...with the "characters" they had created over the preceding three weeks. It was the greatest form of alchemy I have ever seen/experienced in the theater.
At the end of the evening, the room burst into applause. We were on our way, then we hit an iceberg.
Remember, this was Conway, South Carolina in 1979. Cynthia and the Upstage Company was really pushing the envelope with this production. Not only was their the harsh language, but one of the title characters spends the entire show in a bathtub. We were told that we had to give a command performance in front of college personnel to get permission to open.  
I thought all of this work could possibly be in vane.
Very similar to my look in Marat/Sade

I came up with the idea of playing my character as a harlequin and somehow I came up with this weird Daffy Duck laugh. The entire set was drab colors. The costumes were drab, the make up was to make everyone look ashen and sallow. MY costume was bright purples and greens, Mardi Gras colors.
My friend Russell Fowler did a photo shoot of me all around the campus in costume. Shortly after moving to New York, I left my portfolio on the stage and lost ALL of these photos!

Well, the evening came for our command/preview. I come bounding out on stage and my mind went completely blank! I could not remember my first word! Flop sweat started rolling down my neck and back. Luckily for me, the character of Abbé de Coulmier has the first lines and welcomes the audience for the evening we are about to experience. The entire time he was speaking, I was in panic mode. When he said his final line leading into mind, the words came pouring out of me with no thought of what was next. It was truly a zen moment of truly being one with a character. This bizarre play unfolded complete with VERY SOUTHERN players playing VERY FRENCH characters. "We got rots! The rots to starve!"
I told Beth earlier today tha I was writing this blog and she sent me this: "After the show, three or four very southern young men - probably wearing baseball caps approached me and asked - "Do you know the girl who was jumping across the stage with the flags?" I smiled and asked "Why?" One of them said - "She has a great set of legs!" Another one mentioned that they would like to get her phone number. I remember telling them something like. "Ricky is a boy. A very talented actor." and gleefully watching the expressions on their faces change. It was classic! I'm going to go and look for a program."
I remember the sustained standing ovation we received at the end of the evening. As excited as I was about doing this show, one thing was certain...I DID NOT desire my parents to see this. They would NEVER understand this and I asked them not to go see it.
These characters were so insane that it was impossible to distinguish between what was real and what was not and who was sane or insane. The cast was filled with a lot of  "background" extras to give the fill of a true insane asylum. My cousin Rose "Reecee" was in the show. At that time, she was prone to epileptic seizures. One night she had a seizure in the show and the audience thought it was part of the show!  
It was also at this time that I discovered the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Beth and Lynn Marlow, who was playing Charlotte Corday, were talking backstage one night and they were describing this new interactive movie experience. There were these midnight showings of this film in which the audience interacted with the movie.It was playing at the old Camelot Theater in Myrtle Beach. The more they described it, the more I HAD to go! Please understand that at this point in my life, I was probably the most a-sexual kid in the entire state, if not the entire universe! I never had a date in high school. I never went to a prom. My only means of a "social life" was through my theater experiences. 
I was not that teenager who went out with friends on Friday and Saturday nights.
There was no heavy wrangling from my parents to go out with a few friends to see a midnight movie. My parents KNEW they had nothing to worry about as far as I was concerned. 
It was discussed that we would all go to the next midnight showing after our Saturday night show in costumes from the show! 

After the show, we all took off for Myrtle Beach from the theater. I was giddy with excitement. 
I was dressed in my harlequin costume. One thing that some of you may not know about me is that I am as blind as a bat. I learned early on how to acclimate myself on stage without my glasses. Years later when I first started wearing contact lenses and I could see the faces of my audiences, I was in heaven...I still desire to see the faces of those I'm entertaining.
So, with my Harlequin costume and coke bottle glasses, I bought my ticket and we made our way to our seats. We were told what props to bring to the theater so we were prepared. 
Once we got to our seats, we were told what to do with those props and at the appropriate times. The film started and I had NEVER seen anything quite like this; I still haven't! When it came time for The Time Warp, I eagerly jumped in. I did a turn, my glasses flew off, and ended up smashed all over the movie theater floor. Oh my God! How was I going to explain to my parents what happened!?!?!
When I came in around 2:30 in the morning, although my parents had gone to bed, my dad was still awake. He asked me how the evening went. When I told him I broke my glasses doing The Time Warp, he said he didn't need to hear anymore. We would talk about it the next day. He also told me that I had gotten a rave review in The Sun News, Myrtle Beach's hometown paper. 
He said he was going to check out what all the fuss was about the next day. 
My parents came to the theater unbeknownst to me the next day with my seven year old baby brother. The show unfolded with them not understanding what was happening. Everything was fine until the guillotine scene in which one of the character's is
My parents the year before I was born
beheaded and her head is thrown around like a volley ball!   
My brother started screaming and my dad had to take him out of the theater. My mom stayed! It's a wonder to me that my brother is not in therapy today because of that afternoon. The same could be said of my parents. 
One thing is certain. Their lives were never dull with me!
These events all led to who I am today and thinking HUGE and outside the box.




    Thank you ALL who have shaped me in my journey to this point.

 With grateful XOXOXs ,




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