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White Girl In Danger at Adelphi University Performing Arts Center and Joe’s Pub 9/24 & 9/25

In Uncategorized by MikeJack / September 8, 2017 / 0 Comments

Many years ago, as a joke (where so many of my ideas come from) I started to imagine a musical based on the lives of the white girls in 90s era Lifetime TV and NBC Moment of Truth movies. While not a hardcore devotee of these films, they were definitely present in my childhood and were like supplementary reading for a class on camp that I took at the University of Queerness while I majored in daytime soap operas, which were always my main focus.

I even came up with a theme song that just had one lyric:

“White girl in danger! She’s doing drugs but she won’t do her homework! She’s acting vague and she won’t answer questions! Oh Lord!”

I would sing the little tune I came up with to myself over and over again when it struck me over the years.

Even though I didn’t know why at the time, I knew that lyric was meant to be sung by a black woman who in my mind looked and sounded like a mix of Nell Carter and Marla Gibbs as depicted on the the 80’s sitcoms “Gimme A Break” and “227.”

I had not yet come to a real consciousness around my blackness and therefore was unable to connect certain dots.

But the years would pass and I would come to consciousness. Painful realities about white supremacy, racism, and marginalization revealed themselves to me.

On the musical theater writing path I was on, I began to notice things.

I noticed the dearth of stories with black characters driving the narrative for sure, but I also noticed what shows would be like when black characters were either driving the narrative or present in the story in some other capacity. I noticed what their music usually sounded like and how it was used to connect with audiences (read: watered down gospel style music being belted to thrill audiences). I pondered why black characters (and particularly black female characters) seemed to live in such a cage. When Motormouth Maybelle from Hairspray sings “I Know Where I’ve Been” where has she  been really? What was her history as a black woman in Baltimore? What does she look like without a blonde wig on her head and how does she feel about whatever hair is underneath?

Outside the storytelling, I noticed conversations about “diversity” in musical theater popping up everywhere. I wrote my own take linked here:

In the piece, I address a number of topics but landed on the conclusion that best way to address what we term diversity is to just tell the truth. For me, that means centering stories around people of color–black people in particular and black women even more in particular and allowing them to exist in the world in a kaleidoscopic complexity in scene and song. For me that means thinking about how music features these characters and what relationship the songs they sing have to the audiences that gaze upon them and how we see and hear the lives of these bodies brought to the foreground. For me, it goes without saying that despite who the majority of musical ticket buyers are, I am not primarily concerned with how white audiences want to consume black stories or characters. I believe there is a way to tell black stories for black audiences without excluding non-black audiences from being able to participate, engage, or empathize. It is foundational part of my mission statement to create work that is as challenging as it is accessible.

As the landscape began to change, I started to think about the roles for black women in television. In 2012 we were introduced to Washington D.C. “fixer” Olivia Pope as played by Bring It On star Kerry Washington on the Shonda Rhimes ABC hit Scandal. In 2014, we met troubled attorney Annalise Keating as played by Broadway vet Viola Davis on Shonda Rhimes executive produced How To Get Away With Murder. Prior to that we’d been seeing Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the flagship crime drama Law & Order as played by S. Epatha Merkerson and Medical Examiner Melinda Warner on Law & Order: SVU as played by Tamara Tunie who for many years also played attorney Jessica Griffin on the daytime soap opera As The World Turns.

As I began to actually work on the musical version of White Girl In Danger, my mind turned back to the Lifetime TV and NBC Moment of Truth movies from the 90s and early 2000s. I noticed that black women were never the protagonists of these films. I noticed that when black women were in these films they usually only had under five lives or single scenes and of that, their roles were always to aid the story of beleaguered white women. I started to think about the mammy stereotype and all the ways it might have stayed with us and evolved into as all the very professional black women judges, district attorneys, medical examiners, and fixers that popped up everywhere from a scene on One Life To Live (google Judge Fitzwater and see what you find) to a black woman character pursuing and being pursued by two powerful white men over several seasons (one of whom is an assassin and one of whom is the President of the United States) on the highest rated show in Shondaland. What if all of these “powerful” black women were the same black woman? What effect could  all of that power have on a black female body and psyche?

I also noticed the real life narratives of white women self-victimizing themselves throughout history and into the present day. There was Carolyn Bryant lying about Emmett Till assaulting her and having her white femininity avenged and leading to his brutal death. There was Susan Smith who drowned her young sons and tried to frame two non-existent black men for the murders in order to start a relationship with a wealthy man who did not want to be encumbered by children (how’s that for a Lifetime TV plot?). And in the more politicized BlackLivesMatter era, there was Officer Betty Shelby, who shot unarmed Terrence Crutcher and claimed in a dramatic video how terrified she was of him and feared for her life. There are so many white girls/women in danger in American culture. We fixate on them in real life and in the stories we consume and share with each other.

But in America and in the world at large there are even more victimized black women we know little or nothing about. For every lying Carolyn Bryant, there is an actual black girl or woman who has been sexually assaulted or murdered by a white man who was either never reported on or was reported on and not prosecuted or punished. There are staggering statistics about missing/murdered/abused black girls and women who never make it into the same media space as a Natalie Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, or Jon Benet Ramsey (whose 1994 murder is still a subject of lore and fascination over twenty years later). Why is that? The easy answer is of course, white supremacy but as a writer, I am not satisfied by easy answers, especially for a subject (and subjects: black women) I believe deserves undivided attention, love, and intervention.

To be clear, I am a cis, able-bodied, black, queer man and there is an extent to which none of this is my business but the contradictions in all of this have haunted me for years now and the artist in me set out to explore.

With all of this in mind, I have been working on White Girl In Danger which is a dark musical comedy about Keesha Gibbs, an African-American teen who lives in the “blackground” of an all white world of a 90s era melodrama and seeks to prove she’s just as much of a protagonist/heroine as Meagan, Maegan, and Megan, the white girls who battle issues such as drugs, alcohol, abusive boyfriends, eating disorders, and finally a serial killer who has been murdering the town’s white girls one by one. It’s inspired by classic 90s movies-of-the-week such as “She Cried No,” “Friends ‘Til The End,” and “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” And of course, real life.

There are two upcoming opportunities to see a work in progress concert version of it this month. One will be on Sunday September 24th at 3pm at Adelphi University in Long Island as part of the Jonathan Larson Legacy concert series that I was invited to participate in as a 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant Recipient. The second concert will be the very next day at Joe’s Pub at 9:30pm as part of the Musical Theatre Factory’s 2017-2018 season kickoff. I am excited to share where I am with the piece at the moment and work with direction by the incredible Tamilla Woodard,  Music Direction by Darius Smith, arrangements/orchestrations by Adam Wiggins, and a cast which includes: LaToya Edwards, LaDonna Burns, Molly Hager, Bonnie Milligan, Christiana Cole, Liz Lark Brown, Eric William Morris, Sarita Lilly, Rheaume Crenshaw, and Larry Hamilton.

I hope to see you at one or both of these performances. If you can’t make the Joe’s Pub date but can make the Adelphi date, don’t let the train to Adelphi deter you as it’s a very easy train ride to Long Island and then shuttle buses from the train station and back scheduled for ease of commuting to the city.

Link for Adelphi here. Use code MRJ10 for a discounted $10 ticket.

Link for Joe’s Pub here:

Hope to see you there!

 

Some Updates!

In Uncategorized by MikeJack / February 21, 2017 / 0 Comments

When it rains it pours!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any updates but some good stuff has happened recently so I thought I’d share:

I am thrilled and honored to be the recipient of the 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant along with 5 other awesome writers.

http://americantheatrewing.org/program/jonathan-larson-grants/

I am similarly humbled to be the recipient of the 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award along with 11 other recipients.

http://www.americantheatre.org/2017/02/15/lincoln-center-announces-2017-emerging-artists/

It feels pretty nice. But these honors and career advancements come at a time when the country I live in is taking a dark U-turn toward the gates of hell. The irony of that is not lost on me. But I take it as a sign that my purpose truly is to use my art as a form of resistance against all forms of tyranny, whether it be imperialism, patriarchy, or white (House) supremacy. And so as they say in the streets … that’s what’s up!

A Strange Loop (Tonight at Feinstein’s/54 Below) – A Long Read

In Uncategorized by MikeJack / April 26, 2016 / 0 Comments

strangeloopfacebookevent17 copyTonight at Feinstein’s/54 Below at 7pm and 9:30pm New Musicals at 54 is presenting a concert version of my musical A Strange Loop (tickets can be purchased here–use discount code LOOP35 to get 35% off the cover charge in the main dining room only).

A Strange Loop is a piece I have been working on in some form or another since about 2003, when I graduated from college and found myself living in Jamaica, Queens in an old lady’s bungalow on the 2nd floor for $400 a month. I was 22 years old and it was an odd and challenging time for me because I had fled Detroit to get away from my black upbringing and all of the baggage that I felt came with that–things like having to go to church every Sunday and being a part of the drama and intrigue of a small Baptist church, or waking up with headaches and dents in my forehead from the doo-rags and skull caps that were worn to ensure I maintained “brush waves,” or very poorly (and very barely) hiding that I was gay from the world while at the same time not even having a clear or confident assertion of what being gay meant for me specifically.

It’s hard for me to track where my self-hatred began. Did it start in middle school, when it was clear that I was “different” but had no ground in which to plant my feet in order to thrive in the truth of who I truly was? Was it in high school in the circle of other black gay boy teens I met and wanted to fit in with and who I sought brotherhood and camaraderie with and whose identities and marginalization were so similar to mine but whose points-of-view on the world and themselves couldn’t be more different? Was it within the confines of my family who had no idea how to support me emotionally at that particular time or in fact, that I was desperately in need of a particular kind of emotional support at all? I don’t blame them really because I gave them absolutely no clues about any of this and that was because I didn’t even recognize the need in myself. The self-hatred was totally normal to me.

Particularly after coming out to myself and then to this community of black boys which then opened up the possibility of exploring sexuality, which I felt nothing but apprehension and even more self-hatred about. Because suddenly, with the closet door starting to open, I realized that I had nothing to wear. I felt completely ill-equipped to come into my own power sexually, socially, emotionally, or politically. All I saw was a fat, black/not-black-enough, gay, effeminate, nerdy, lisping wet dingleberry of a person dragging from one room to the next. I imagined that every gay boy (and in particular, every black gay boy) who saw me was laughing behind my back or shrinking away in revulsion at the thought of me as a sexual person. I taught myself very early on to turn off any kind of signal that I was interested in anyone in anyway for fear of not only their rejection, which in my mind, was a given, but it was even deeper than that–I almost felt like these boys were royalty and I was a subject and if I did not properly prostrate myself before them, I would be in violation of the law and tossed into a dungeon set for subsequent execution.

Again: my self-hatred game was STRONG.

And so at 22 years old, I was living in New York, the supposed mecca of gay liberation and I was anything but liberated. Wherever I went, there I was. Because I had nothing else, I started writing about it. But not about it as much as from within it. The piece was a monologue entitled Why I Can’t Get Work, which was at the time, a very real problem. I was living in old Ms. Ruby’s house in Jamaica, Queens with her very loud, rambunctious autistic nephew Donovan, broke, saddled with student loan debt, no marketable skills and a fucking playwriting degree. Why I Can’t Get Work detailed the isolation of what it felt like to be me at that time (and also embarrasingly, the infatuation I had then with Craig Lucas, John Patrick Shanley, Tony Kushner, and Rufus Wainwright, all white men I now hold in low-to-no regard in my more militant black old age but I digress). At that time, I was calling the protagonist, Darryl:

DARRYL

So uh, I’m doing all this temp work ‘cause “the market’s bad.” Which is this expression that’s sort of driving me outta my head lately. ‘Cause it sounds like all those people you ever hear rambling in the all-knowing-New-York- Times-Reader-voice when they say

(imitates)

“Now uh, I don’t wanna talk partisan politics … uh ‘cause uh, you know, the ‘market’s bad’ … and uh, the problem with America really is we need to stop supporting Israel … and uh, I was gonna sell my house but not uh … since nine-eleven, you know the market’s bad.’” Or whatever. So in the meanwhile, I’m temping. Whatever they’ll give me. Mostly administrative stuff, mail room, reception. But then my mother’s calling me on the phone with that Southern Sunday sadness in her long distance voice, wants to know, “Darryl, what you gonna do with a BFA degree?” Well, a war’s on now, so I guess nothing. Anyway given the current circumstances, in my head, I made up an image of this old Russian woman who wanders around New York with a mouth full of bloody piano keys instead of teeth. ‘Cause that’s how I feel sometimes. She walks around New York, turns down 14th Street at Union Square with her lips in a singing circle ready to sing alto for me in my own personal choir; maybe a song from Three Penny Opera. And sometimes when things get really bad, I say, “she’s my New York agent” because of course, I wanna move to LA by 2005 and have either a sitcom or a first-look deal with Scott Rudin even though I’ve heard all the rumors about him and then it hits me that I’m fresh outta undergrad writing all these plays about DL black men, or a mother and daughter talking about abortion or Jesus as a hostage victim like I know or anybody cares. Which I guess all goes to show why I can’t get work.

(a pause)

And then my Dad’s calling me on the phone. With that delayed reaction flashback love as bright as Vietnam burning in voice. And I’m glad to hear from him but I say,

(bored)

“I’m okay.” ‘Cause his love is too ripe for me to take unconditionally. Oh, and he’s a drunk too. Then he says,

(imitates)

“heyyyy, son. I just called to check up on you.” And oddly enough with no malice, I say, “I ‘preciate that.” And we hang up on each other. Then five minutes later, we actually hang up the phone.

(pause)

But in the space of that five minutes, it all comes bubbling to the surface; how I felt. How the little boy felt. How Detroit felt. What it looked like. ‘Cause every Sunday in Detroit was lying across the orange not even shag carpet after church with Mom in the kitchen making brown, white, and green and Dad reading the newspaper; me lying on the orange not even shag carpet trying not to focus on how much I hated the way light came in the living room with my Calvin and Hobbes comics spread before me as gray as the eye could see and it was in that precise moment that I realized I was a puppet in search of a blue fairy. Which is probably the worse metaphor I’ve come up with to date and yet another reason why I can’t get work; writing or otherwise. So I go shopping to forget about it all, but still thinking about last night, last night being relative to every night of my life. Watched “The View.” Plotted Star Jones’ death. Watched Diane Sawyer talk about the connection between hardcore porn and General Motors–go figure. Watched Paris Hilton. Train wreck. Watched R Kelly. I hate that nigga. Watched the Whitney Houston interview; goddamn. Watched Peter Jennings and Ted Koeppel talk about the next fiscal year, nuclear arms, racism, etcetera, and I thought about that word–etcetera. I often use it to describe myself on Yahoo Personals or Gay dot com because it describes everything. Including the feeling you have before you’ve moved on but after you’ve accepted that your pain is your own despite who may have caused it; which, at least I was really glad when they said they wouldn’t reinstate the draft. And it’s really great I’m not suicidal ‘cause if I were, I’d be dead.

(a pause)

And on his birthday, I watch clips of Martin Luther King Jr. on Oprah and I keep thinking: why couldn’t he have just been a homosexual? ‘Cause of course, I want everything to be gay and awful ‘cause I can’t hold onto the meat of things. But also, sometimes it seems so embarrassing that Martin was ever here given how it’s all fucked up now, Race, racism, nonviolent protest in a violent world, etc. It’s embarrassing. As embarrassing as a bad yo-Mama joke. As embarrassing as this revolution they keep talking about in spoken word poems on HBO DEF Poetry Jam. But hey, all I know is what I wish and what I think. And my mind seeks to destroy things: people’s ideals, American complacency, and meanwhile I’m going all white girl on everybody saying, “where is my happiness? Where is my happiness? Where is my happiness” … which I got from “The Hours”— a movie that I’m ashamed to admit moved me a little but thank God it didn’t win an Oscar and thank God nobody black won that year so I could know for myself that blacks winning Oscars isn’t a thing anymore. It’s been checked off the like, you know, collective unconsciousness’ you know, “to-do” list. So that must be why I can’t get work. ‘Cause I’m so cynical. But yeah, hey, I’ve been seriously thinking about freedom these days too; I really have.

(a conscientious pause)

‘Cause here’s the deal with me. I didn’t come out to myself until I was 16 years old and later in college they tell me in “coming out discussion group” that it’s a lifelong process but that’s not what I told myself in the mirror that night with the lights off for a dramatic flair after sitting up all day getting hard reading a passage describing a naked man’s body in a Clive Barker Novel–Clive Barker who I later find out has a black husband which for whatever reason seems like “WHAT THE FUCK?,” but meanwhile I’m in the dark convincing myself that I’m gay–but what about all those fags I used to run with in high school? I thought I’d crossed that finish line a loooong time ago; I mean, c’mon, a lifelong process? I mean, fuckin’ A, man! See, I didn’t come out to myself until I was 16 years old and I felt 16 like a prison sentence, especially in light of all those guys from the “black gay teenage story line” of my student film of a life who ran around with their dicks in each others’ mouths and assholes, I mean, even if Shysuanne did just die from AIDS, I just wanted to run like a wolf with them from bar to bar to Palmer Park and fag-skating on Mondays at Northland Roller Rink after choir rehearsal. But all I got was a 6-month thing with a boyfriend who refused to blow me ‘cause I pre-cum a lot and a procession of old men trying to fuck me in various and sundry bathrooms but then Shysuanne did just die from AIDS so maybe I was right. And there’s nothing I love more than being right. It’s just like the other day this guy tries to pick me up while I’m waiting for the 6 on my way to rehearsal for this play I wrote and my first thought is, “what if he’s got AIDS? Condoms are bullshit, what if he’s a gift giver who’s trying to lure you somewhere to infect you on purpose?” And this is all me in my glorious gay 20s when I should be laughing AIDS in the face and daring it to come after me. But this is not what they taught me in high school health.

This is not what Dad taught me about his cousin Melvin who apparently ran around on his wife for years smoking crack and fucking men on the DL and got AIDS; something the Taylors hold against him in that patient, Christian way black families are so renowned for. So even though in that moment waiting for the 6 I think, “maybe he’s just into you,” I think right after that, “he probably just wants to gay bash you.” So that’s where I’m at; a bitter custody battle: thought versus thought and thought wins.

(a pause)

And I say this knowing very well that I can manufacture attraction towards any man I see, like when he comes to tell my writing class that life is shit and we’re all probably gonna die of cancer (which is all you have to say to make me fall in love with you) and a little voice goes, “hmm … would Craig Lucas fuck me?” Or the next class with all his sweet sixty eight dollar words and long standing problems of virtue and happiness and Democratic Socialist bullshit that I sort of love and don’t understand, I’m like, “would Tony Kushner fuck me?” Or John Patrick Shanley, God Shanley, who has the last of the truly great laughs and who in my imaginary world would be a homosexual and not just any homosexual, but a really aggressive top. Well, if only for my sake, I guess. And I think, would any of these men see something in me I don’t see in myself? Could they give me some of that fire? But it doesn’t even have to be them. It could be some old Indian cab driver or the sales guy at Radio shack. It’s any man. Go figure. It must be my Daddy complex. It must be my fuck-me-harder-complex. But who cares, right? I mean I can’t even go after guys. Why? Well, I don’t go after guys if for no other reason than I don’t want to get my heart broken ‘cause no thank you; heartbreak? Gotta box full of that shit. Little shards like old broken Christmas ornaments. And even more importantly, I’m one of those people who wants some thing out of it. I don’t accept that musical theater song that says “the choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not.” ‘Cause I’ve been there. Case in point; I recently made a pass at a good friend of mine ‘cause I was convinced that he was playing hard-to-get and needless to say, Darryl got the smack down. It was the nicety-nice smack down but you could definitely feel the sting. And so I shook that ornament box to hear the jangling of my one-way love. ‘Cause it’s like … like everything else in my life, like with my parents; oh, there’s a story. Jesus Christ. When I was 17 I came out to my parents; which, kids, don’t try this at home; but dumbly enough, what was most devastating in my mind was not that I was now exposed as a fag but that I was no longer the more favored child. Look, I don’t know if I was the more favored child but I always thought I was better than him. He was better looking, I was smarter. He was blacker, I could sing. He had the big dick, I had been to France, Luxembourg, and Israel. But as I sat there in my Nautica bathrobe and broke everybody’s heart, Jake was the only one in that room crying. I mean I know Mom and Dad were upset or whatever, but Jake is the only one I remember crying. Oh and it killed me totally! But I laughed at him crying. In my head. Laughed while his grown ass, this loser college dropout ran into the dining room fucking sobbing and banging his head against the wall while Dad rocked him in his arms like a newborn saying

(imitates)

“he dunno what he’s doing.” I thought to myself–briefly a villain–“I know exactly what I’m doing”–all while sitting there laughing at them all. In my head. And the laugher went on like this for months until I summoned up the courage to lie to them that I wanted to change and be straight. But never mind that. ‘Cause this is all after a thousand dollars worth of therapy and running into my therapist and her white husband and their biracial daughter at the opera with my mother and her nosy friend we don’t speak to anymore during the intermission of “Porgy and Bess.” And me talking to Dr. Kliger about “what a marvelous coloratura the actress is!” while my black mother is right across the room with her nosy friend we don’t speak to anymore. Such a scene. My black mother and her black son at the opera in the mezzanine in the rich white folks’ box seats because my black mother was willing to pay the extra money for she and her black son to sit with the white folks so they’d know they weren’t better than us. And me loving my black mother for this while I shake Dr. Kliger’s white husband’s hand and tell him that it’s nice to meet his white self and hating my black mother for this two weeks later when we’re at our last family therapy session and she asks me like it’s some sort of social pleasantry “why ain’t you tell me you saw Dr. Kliger at the opera?” As if I would’ve been like “oh, hello, Mom! Hello, Friend-We-Don’t-Talk-To-Anymore! This is the woman who has been hired under the pretense that she will shrink the fag away until he’s this big even though everybody knows deep down that it’s all shit and lies! Isn’t Bess a marvelous coloratura?”

(a pause)

But whatever. ‘Cause ultimately, the bug up my ass is that I thought once I came out with it, this gay shit with my parents, it was over; I thought once I came out with it, this love shit with my friend, it was over. That there would be freedom in the truth and in being so emotionally open and that I’d be all ennobled and that like, Nordic gods with winged feet would come down and whisk me off to some majestic mountain peak. But again, I just shook that box of broken ornaments full of my heartbreak.

(a pause)

But I didn’t get sad. What I got was that anger that disguises itself as sadness and refuses to let you cry no matter how much you want to. And it usually grows into this feeling of “oh well, no one cares;” which, aggravating as that is, there’s a violin loveliness in it to have to say yourself “you are on your own!” Hmm. Maybe that’s why I can’t get work. ‘Cause I refuse to be a man about that?

(a pause)

And oh, look, the World Trade Center is falling down.

(sighs)

So a little overwhelmed by this point, I’m done shopping, a seesaw of bags down 14th Street when I realize I don’t live in Manhattan anymore. So I turn back, headed toward 8th Ave to the E-train, back home to Jamaica, Queens where I live in this little upstairs apartment of a little house owned by this hunched over little old lady who always wears a headwrap and jogging pants that cling to her little legs and who always tells me how sad life is and how it didn’t turn out the way she thought it would every time I come down to pay the rent. And the thing is, I never used to feel black before I moved out here. And I bet according to Bell Hooks or Toni Morrison or Amiri Baraka or whoever else probably hates me, this is even more so because I’d take Rufus Wainwright over Alicia Keys any day of the week. ‘Cause I’m an assimilationist, I guess. But being from Detroit will do that to a nigga.

(a pause; beat boxes)

“You run from things that you think are gonna weigh you down.” Certain cultural baggage. And this realization kills me inside as I get off the train and warily don’t smile past the Army Reserve guards waiting at the exit turnstile at the Jamaica station on my way to the Q83 bus stop. ‘Cause I used to think I was person. I used to peel [sic] BLACK the layers of my skin until I found the dirt and the agony like … like … like … a harmonica versus an accordion; that was the war I was searching for inside myself. ‘Cause I was angry or THOUGHT I was angry and I’m not blaming anybody but my life was this ridiculous hurting for a boy who had tried but could not find the difference between himself and a Tori Amos song. So I tried instead, to find all these ways to deny my experience; to say “I am not in pain.” Over and over like an incantation. French, German, even conversational Spanish, which to my knowledge, is not conversational.

(whips out his “resume”)

Or more importantly, resume language with bullets and subheadings¾

(a la Rod Serling)

DARRYL TAYLOR

666 Shithead Way

Bumblefuck Queens, NY

Email: walkingwounded@hotmail.com

WORK HISTORY

ADMINISTRATIVE SCREW UP                                           1981¾Present

(mimes shooting a pistol)

  • Bullet one. Did not cry at the front desk/reception area of a busy college residence hall during senior year because student loans would soon be due and friend had just canceled dinner plans.

(mimes a rifle)

  • Bullet two! Did not think father’s coworker was about to give him a hug when he was actually just reaching for a stapler.

(mimes a rocket launcher)

  • BULLET THREE! Did not abruptly leave a friend at movies with guy she met during the movie once it ended because it seemed easier to make transition smooth than to stay and figure out if I was about to get dumped by the friend which of course, I was, because the friend of course, ended up leaving with said guy to go eat at some East Village Indian restaurant which was understandable because the guy, of course, ended up being heir to some sort of multi-million dollar inheritance and who, of course, tried to, of course, get into her panties all night, while I, of course …

(overwhelmed but continues)

… walked past past Dojo, past Tower Records, past K-Mart on my way home to my dorm room where Billy, my of course annoyingly faggy Jewish musical theater loving roommate would invariably be crying on the phone to his mother about how “emotionally blocked” he was. And that whole journey home I was just … sadness, sadness, sadness thinking about it, thinking about it, thinking about it, thinking about these things, thinking about how I ended up alone once again even when all I’d wanted to do that night was go to the Angelika with my friend to see this stupid movie about Jeffrey Dahmer while my friend, ultimately I hear, kept her panties on and left the guy with blue balls and purposely never called him back even though he was richer than God but–BUT, punch line; he was white.

(a pause)

And this is us laughing ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee about the whole thing over fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread at the Pink Tea Cup on Grove Street because we, of course, know exactly what kind of niggers we are.

(snap-queen/Cindy Adams)

Only in New York, kids! Laughing at the absurdity of a whole night!

(a pause)

SKILLS.

(dee-jays it on the turntable)

Sk-sk-sk-skills. Microsoft Word, Excel–kind of, Outlook Express, changing the subject, and stealing all the free condoms from the RAs in my dorm before graduation from undergrad so that I could always jack off without making a mess on the sheets or my needlessly hairy stomach so that I could always justify not taking a shower before job interviews tomorrow, “tomorrow” and “job interviews” being relative to every tomorrow and interview of my life; which, I need to remind myself not to eat in the morning so that when some handsome man in a surprisingly boring suit asks me, “so what brings you here to us today? Or, why do you want this job?,” I don’t throw up or fart.

(a pause)

REFERENCES. Available on request. So. There’s my resume. Would you hire me for your boyfriend? Your son? Your assistant?

(a pause)

Anyway, I’m home now. It’s two or three months after I’ve moved in and I still haven’t put all my shit away but that’s okay I guess. So I put the groceries up and prepare a bowl of Ramen noodle spaghetti, home just in time for “All My Children,” just in time to have the thrill of watching Erica Kane walk into a room.

(a long searching pause)

So I guess I am in pain. There, I said it out loud. Finally. Harmonica versus accordion. That’s the war I’ve been searching for inside myself and I think I’ve found it. I am the protagonist here. The protagonist. The agony. The agon. Agon. Agon. Agon; what a word. Apparently it means “the struggle” in Greek or Latin. They taught me that at school and all I heard from this frighteningly beautiful word was … scores and scores of choirs of Christmas angels telling me how normal this all is and that I should relax because I’m only 20-something and that everything would eventually be all right and

(gentle but thorough mocking)

“you’ll get a job/ you’ll get a boyfriend/you’ll get your parents’ approval/your friends’ll appreciate you … someday; c’mon, Darryl; just think about someday all the time; think about Liz Phair and what her journey was like out of the underground indie rock scene in Chicago into so much fame and other bullshit that she eventually had to quote-unqote sell out/practice interviewing yourself for Time Out or American Theater Magazine/pretend that Alice Walker dedicated a novel to you and called you like a sweet spirit or something ridiculous like that/pretend that Bill Cosby went on Larry King Live and called you a disgrace to the race/think about things like that and then someday you’ll be a success.” So okay. I guess that’s enough.

(a long pause; not quite satisfied)

And I might be able to accept all that in theory, but then there’s this jealousy in me like a silk red scarf blowing in the wind. A jealousy that Franciso de Goya painted Don Manuel Orsorio instead of me, me, a far more suitable subject at 3 months old and even now in my glorious gay 20s, looking up into my mother and father’s eyes wanting to have my picture taken.

(Someone takes a picture. Fade to black.)

FIN.

And that was that. That monologue was performed at a youth theatre festival I used to be a part of at the old Center Stage NY as part of Rebel Verses. I cast an actual underwear model (who really wanted to get into acting) as Darryl, which tells you again just how deep the river of my self-hatred was but c’est la vie.

Along the way, music began to enter the piece, the piece began to change, I began to change, the piece began to change again and again and again and as I look back on that piece, I am surprised by how much empathy I have for “Darryl.” I am also surprised by how, for as much as I’ve changed and let so much of the self-hatred go, I am still him. And he is still/now me. Someone once told me “we contain a multitude of forces.” And I think that’s right. Without giving too much (more) away, tonight at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 15 black gay men are going to take to the stage to refract a feedback loop of one facet of what it can look like to walk inside a black, gay man’s skin with intelligence humor, vulnerability, and rage. I’ve previously talked about “diversity” in musical theatre and how important it is for theatre makers to decenter whiteness. Well, here we are being the change we want to see (and have always been) in the world.  This is only the beginning. Join us at 7pm and/or 9:30pm and prepare to get your wig knocked back.

 

Diversity in Musical Theater!

sm04About a year ago I got drunk while live tweeting the Tonys and did a joke video with the catchphrase “Black Lives Matter but not in the theater!”

A few months ago, I was invited by musical theater writing team Michael Walker and Kyle Ewalt to be on a panel that would be discussing the lack of diversity or more urgently, the ever present whiteness of musical theater.

A little over a week ago, I awoke to a Facebook message from a black friend alerting me to the fact that I’d gotten a shout out and link to my website in a blog written by white actor and writer Brett Ryback about, among other things, the increasing lack of diversity in musical theater or more urgently, the ever present whiteness of musical theater. You can read it here:

http://brettryback.com/2015/08/03/race-and-the-new-generation-of-musical-theatre-writers/

My first reaction to Brett’s shout out was panic because I haven’t updated my website in over a year and I worried briefly that his linking to my site would drive people here and further expose the extent to which I am not exactly the world’s greatest musical theater business person. For me, the business of being a musical theater writer is an extremely taxing and soul sucking one. There’s so much about this business that seems to be about relentlessly promoting one’s “brand”, saying “ameezing,” and “theenk yo” a lot, and pretending that you are famous–all things I fail at miserably because I have to work a day job and am thus, less available to participate in the business part of this business which is one of the reasons I have to work a day job instead of more doggedly pursuing my art, blah, blah, shampoo, rinse, and repeat with sour grapes.

But it was also flattering to be shouted out by Brett in the context of so many salient points about an important set of issues that the musical theatre community is only very slowly waking up to–and in the same breath as Lin Manuel Miranda who, from what I understand, is changing the musical theater game like a true gangsta with “Hamilton” which I will likely never see because I’m the brokest nigga ever, I can’t with lotteries and that shit is EXPENSIVE AS FUUUUCK! WHY DO MUSICALS HAVE TO BE SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE?!?!? DON’T THEY ACTUALLY WANT PEOPLE TO SEE THEM?!?!? DO WE NEED TO ASK RUMPLESTILTSKIN TO SPIN STRAW INTO GOLD SO WE CAN GO TO THESE SHOWS?!?!?

But I digress.

I met Brett last January as a weeklong participant of the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at the Goodspeed Opera House where I had been invited to develop my piece “A Strange Loop.” Like Brett’s shout out on his website, I felt a 30/70 combination of flattery and panic. On one hand, it felt great to actually be selected to participate in this respected writer’s colony because of the quality of my writing. It gave me a small sense of professional legitimacy in an industry that can often feel so exclusive and cliquey when you’re trying to climb your way up. On the other hand, it felt unnerving to be walking into such a respected community to share an essentially autobiographical piece that is very explicitly about a black gay man who is in conflict with his own experience of himself–a piece that is explicitly from his own unique point of view–a piece that endeavors to force the hegemonic white gaze of the audience to lie dormant and see things as he sees things as a black, gay man. It was unnerving because like most things, I was going to be revealing some uncomfortable aspect of myself in front of a bunch of white people. The same white people who were and are, to my eyes, usually the exclusive recipients and administrators of these kinds of residencies, commissions, and musical theater awards, But gasp, those same white people were into it. And if my spidey sense was accurate, not in an even remotely racially patronizing way. They were legitimately into it. And on some level, I’m still unpacking that.

But here’s the thing: commercial theatre is a business like any other. Producers and theaters decide the appropriate ratio of art/entertainment to commerce in order get butts in the seats when investing their dollars in putting on shows they hope will be successful. Theatergoers then decide with their dollars where their butts will be sitting in theaters all over the country. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, at this point, the majority of those butts are white. And how open are those white butts to spending two and a half hours with characters, songs, and stories that have little to nothing to do with them? How open are those white butts to spending two and a half hours having to empathize with that which is unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable to them? How open are those white butts? It’s hard to say because those white butts are so rarely asked to do any heavy lifting in that regard. Those white butts are so catered to, powdered, diapered, and put to bed with the theatre that is presented to them for mass consumption. There is a strong and consistent supply and demand for whiteness on stage. I repeat: commercial theatre is a business like any other.

I recognize that every play is not going to be to my taste. As a consumer of media–theatre in particular, my only requirement is that whatever is happening on the stage make me think and/or feel. The great gift of theater is that it allows you the space and time to test your empathy. As a person of color, I am asked to extend my empathy to white people of all stripes in every piece of media I consume every day of my life. I can’t tell you what it is like to repeatedly sit through movies like “Juno” with its spunky pregnant white teen heroine or plays like “The Way We Get By” by Neil LaBute with its awkward white step-brother and step-sister who comedically fall in love and have sex with each other in a plot that would have been laughed out of even my very white intro-to-playwriting colloquium at NYU where I once had the comic misfortune of having the whitest actors read the blackest playwriting scene ever in a Kenneth Lonergan master class again IN A ROOM FULL OF WHITE PEOPLE.

So strike that: yes, I actually can tell you what it’s like. It’s boring as shit. It’s boring because it’s usually the same recognizable or interchangeable white actors spouting the same brisk, hip or hipster white dialogue on the same white American Naturalism set, written by the same popular white American author in the same white artistically directed theater in front of the same white audience. Another way of saying this is that it’s boring because it’s usually pretty clear that these plays are consciously or subconsciously for and about white people which is another way of saying that most of the plays I have seen in New York City over the last 16 years I have lived here are dependent upon white supremacy. And I believe that white supremacy is super boring–artistically speaking at least. But white supremacy is also super profitable. Remember those butts I alluded to earlier?

But let me be clear: just because I think the white supremacy of the American theater is boring doesn’t mean that I don’t think there aren’t some great white writers out there whose work deserves all of the attention and support it can get. To this day I still lose sleep over a David Adjmi play that I saw a staged reading of in 2000 or 2001 called “Strange Attractors” as part of the Cherry Lane Mentor Project. While there were ZERO people of color in it, the depth of thinking and feeling in that play successfully tested my empathy. My response to that play was basically “this nigga knows what’s up!” Another person of color may have felt differently–I wouldn’t know of course, because I was the only person of color in that particular audience (more on that later).

Everything I feel about plays goes double for musicals because musicals are harder to write, harder to direct, and harder to produce as they are dependent upon even whiter butts demanding their money’s worth for their white supremacy as well as the whitest critics writing for the whitest critical establishments–critics whose credentials were very likely earned in the whitest academic and/or theatrical communities where anything non-white can only be evaluated in terms of the cold white gaze. That’s a lotta damn white supremacy, right?

In his blog post, Brett discussed his perception that today’s wide swath of young musical theater writers are writing shows that seem bogged down by white supremacy. He strongly encouraged these writers to be more inclusive in their work–to paint their fictive worlds with more color–to strive to make the theater look more like the world we actually live in. I applaud his passion but I feel of two minds about his call to action. On one hand, I encourage white writers to embrace the diversity of today’s world in their work because yes, it is ridiculous that audiences should be subjected to play after play or musical after musical telling stories that offer seemingly universal insights into the human condition and yet somehow exclude the existence or any aspect of the experience of people of color. But I’m also wary of the knee-jerk, inartistic liberalism that can sometimes manifest in well-intentioned theatre pieces that are slavishly inclusive of people of color but traffic in emotional and/or intellectual dishonesty with their characters and stories.

Writing for theatre is fucking hard. It requires single-mindedness, perspective, craft, and determination. When you add music to the mix, it gets even more complicated because of the pluralistic ways music can function in storytelling. And when you add people of color to that, talk about intersectionality!

Brett also mentioned the dearth of musical theatre writers of color in places like www.newmusicaltheatre.com, a site that is “dedicated to the distribution and promotion of a new generation of musical theater writers.” On that we agree. There needs to be more of a consistent spotlight shone on musical theater writers of color–particularly black women in my view. While we have heard the belting and “screlting” of countless black women on the stage, we have not heard from black women musical theater writers (or black women musical theater directors or hello–black women musical theater producers!) nearly enough. Kirsten Childs is one name. Sukari Jones is another. There must be others. Repeat after me: we need to hear from more black women writers!

But whether you are a white musical theater writer or a musical theater writer of color, I would advocate for something that is maybe a little less politically correct but definitely on the side of art in terms of what makes it onto the stage:

JUST TELL THE FUCKING TRUTH.

That’s the only edict I would issue at this point. If your cast is all white, is that the fucking truth? It may be! But you need to ask yourself the question each and every time and not only when you’re casting it but also as you’re writing it. Race is a construct, so in that regard, it is arbitrary, but racism is a practice–and one that is often subconscious or defacto. And it’s a practice that affects all people of color everywhere. It’s a practice that affects white people as well and I would argue (with help from Toni Morrison) that it may even affect them worse.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S7zGgL6Suw]

All of this is to say that unless your play or musical is set on Mars (and even then …), your story is absolutely going to be in inhabited by characters who have lived in a world where racism and white supremacy have impacted them in some way. Even if it’s not the subject of the play, it should be as much a given circumstance as the weather, or what happened yesterday in the world of the characters or the dramatic question of what makes today different, i.e., the breaking of the ritual that starts every story ever told. So I would challenge any musical theater writer to factor the given circumstance of racism and white supremacy into at least their thinking about their shows just as much as their BMI charm songs or their “bro characters” or their JRB inspired ostinatos. Doing that work is not easy. It will force you to move out of your comfort zone as a writer but it’s worth it if you are truly interested in creating complex, dramatic pieces of art and entertainment. In that same vein, I would encourage creative teams to tell the fucking truth by thinking more deeply about who we will be seeing on the stage in terms of casting. Are you making an offer to the same waifish blonde white actress you saw in a Juilliard showcase years ago to cast as “an ingenue” in a musical about falling in love in New York? What would happen if you cast the darkest, thickest black actress you could find? Are the consequences really so dire for the storytelling? Do you even think (or know) about colorism? Can you move beyond the outdated notion of “types”? Do you have to go to the surly Adam Driver clone who is just perfect for that gritty Adam Rapp play? What would happen if you broadened the scope of your theatrical nepotism? So much of theatre seems to have to do with who is friends with whom or who is sleeping with or has slept with or is friends with someone who has slept with someone who has money and/or access. If that has to be the case, then sleep with somebody black, brown, Latino, Asian and also broke as hell if that’s what it takes for your paradigm to shift.

Because white supremacy is the order of the day in commercial theatre, I always do a count at every play or musical I see. I stand up before the show is starting and I count the people of color. It’s usually less than 5 and that’s truly depressing. But I think we are primed to change that. And so to producers, artistic directors, and development associates, I would encourage you to tell the fucking truth by looking beyond the white women of a certain age and economic background for your subscriber base. A few seasons ago, I went to Playwrights Horizons to see Robert O’Hara’s play “Bootycandy,” which to this day, is the only time I have ever felt truly seen as a black, gay man on stage. When I walked into the theater with the white person who got me a comp, I saw more black people in Playwrights Horizons than I had ever seen in any New York theater in my entire life. The person I was with said “we’ve never seen this many black people in our theater ever.” Misquoting “Field of Dreams” I said, “if you build it we will come.” And so it is. People of color are hungry for media that acknowledges and/or explores our existence. And we are increasingly going to be the audience you are left with after the blue haired old white ladies of Manhattan (and Manhattan Theater Club) die. So why not start cultivating us now and in perpetuity?

I am in the unique and blessed position of being both a creator and consumer of theatre. In everything I write, I want audience members to think and feel deeply regardless of the color of their skin or their station in life. I want them to empathize even if I am presenting a world that is wholly unfamiliar to them. In everything I see, I expect the same. For that reason, I believe that white creators and producers of theatre have got to get their arms around the fact that snobby, eye-rolling black gay intersectional bastards like me (and others) will be sitting in their audiences in larger and larger numbers with both open hearts and high standards and expectations.

 

33 Thoughts: A Birthday Meditation

In blog,personal,Uncategorized by MikeJack / January 27, 2014 / 0 Comments

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday and I’m really into it.

The biggest reason for that is because in the past couple of months, I’ve turned a corner and gotten to a place where I can really acknowledge and appreciate the things I do well without equivocation. And I’m learning how to acknowledge and appreciate the things I do well without getting too attached to the idea of a self. And that balance feels really important. So happy birthday to me!

And since one of the things I do really well is run my mouth, I’m kicking off my Jesus year minus a crucifixion and cutting straight to the ascension with 33 thoughts that represent where I am today.

1. Justin Bieber is such bullshit. When I think about the hotness of the spotlights we shine on that imitation crab, I could just fly into a Hulk rage.

2.  We throw around “ist”, “ism”, and “phobia” so much that they have been rendered virtually meaningless. The comfort we feel from our ability to identify and call others out allows us to ignore the pain of just how little we actually do to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

3. I am a musical theater writer you should know. More on this in days to come.

4. I adore Kenya Moore even when she’s completely out of order.

5. It doesn’t matter how crazy someone is acting on the train; they always know which stop is theirs.

6. Black gay men need to step it up. Step one: stop reading and start writing.  #yaaaaassssssss

7. I smoked weed for the first time Friday night. And … it’s not for me.

8. By smoking weed for the first time, I believe crossed the divide of being the good little black boy that I always imagined my mother and father raised and I am still grappling with how fragile identity actually is.

9. I have finally accepted that my penis is the size that it is. That’s huge. My acceptance, not my penis.

10. I do not live for the applause plause as much as the royalty checks checks. Time to get a move on, I guess.

11. I have this new thing with my 8 year old niece where I try to make her “eat her vegetables”. She doesn’t like “New Attitude” but she does like “I Will Always Love You.” So we’re getting there.

12. I recently had a realization that because our lives are finite; bound by two points, there are times when you can feel change happening at a rapid and sometimes frightening pace. I am in the midst of one of those reality storms trying to keep balance on my surfboard with as much grace as I can muster.

13. I may never vote again.

14. The second wave feminist in me is at war with the dick sucking black gay man. But there may be peace talks soon.

15. So far I don’t have a problem with the show “Looking” but watching it does reinforce the fact that I have to write myself into existence. No one else is going to do it, which is pretty damn exciting.

16. As of this posting, Zsa Zsa Gabor is still hanging on. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

17. When I was growing up and I would casually refer to someone as a friend, in an almost accusing tone, my mother would ask “what’s a friend?” I used to think she was just being ridiculous and mean. Now I wonder.

18. Single camera documentary style sitcoms are what’s wrong with America.

19. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is not a feminist. It’s cool that she’s not but she’s really not. And if she tells you that she is, tell her that you’re pretty sure she really means that she is a CAPITALIST.

20. Molly Hager, Molly Hager, Molly Hager: muse.

21. I’ve lost almost 70 pounds this year and I’m still too fat for anonymous sex with most of the men on Grindr and Scruff. That rather puts it all in perspective I’d say. Equality does not extend to the bedroom.

22. I’m not mad about it though.

23. I still hold that Joni Mitchell is the mother, Liz Phair is the daughter, and Tori Amos is the holy spirit.

24. But where does that leave Stevie Nicks and Suzanne Vega? I may need to come up a different kind of ranking system.

25.  I’ve always wanted to start a club called FOR BLACK GAY MEN WHO FEEL WEIRD ABOUT THEMSELVES AND NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT OVER RED WINE (FBGMWFWATANTTAIORW). Not only am I the president, I’m also a member.

26. Because I have other things to say than #yaaaaassssssss

27. I still lie to my parents about my writing. I’m still afraid they wouldn’t understand.

28. Even though I recognize it as self-defense mechanism, I still look at it as a personal failing.

29. I finally bought a pair of those sexy brightly colored briefs that white gay boy model types wear and it wasn’t nearly as humiliating as I thought it would be.

30. I am not Trayvon.

31. Even though Golden Girls was far superior, I’m Team Designing Women all the way.

32. When the night has come / and the land is dark / and the moon / is the only light we see / no I won’t be afraid / oh I won’t be afraid / just as long / as you stand / stand by me

33. There’s a lot more where this came from. Stay tuned.

A Strange Loop

sm03This morning I woke up to starting writing. As is my habit, I first checked my email. There were two new emails; both from a singer/performer I admire and have been friendly with and worked with once in the past under a rather difficult set of circumstances. The subject line of the first one read “favor.” The subject line of the second read “re: favor.” I thought, “oh, how nice! I haven’t seen [redacted] for like 2 years and now [pronoun redacted] is reaching out to me for something!” Well, actually that was my second thought. My first thought was “I haven’t heard from [redacted] in such a long time so this is probably one of those ‘I’m-in-a-foreign-country-and-need-money” spam scams. Either way, I clicked on it and read this:

Can you please take my name off [song title redacted] video?

I bristled. This is not the first time this has happened.

2 years ago, I put on a concert at the Beechman Theater called Good Clean Music: A Michael R. Jackson Song Thing. It was an evening I put up in response to a certain amount of backlash I encountered as I prepared for a concert I put up 3 years ago at Joe’s Pub called So Fucking Gay: Another Michael R. Jackson Song Thing. In the program for Good Clean Music I explained in a note entitled Why Good Clean Music?:

In terms of why “Good Clean Music” specifically, one would need to understand the number of times I’ve been told that a.) I use so/too much profanity, b.) I write about sex so/too much, c.) my lyrics have no emotional core, or to a lesser extent that d.) I write too much pointedly gay themed material. To that last point, I will say that about a year ago, I presented “So Fucking Gay: A Michael R. Jackson Song Thing” on National Coming Out Day at Joe’s Pub and it was the toughest concert I have ever together. Not because of the administrative difficulty, which I have come to expect, but because it was the first time I encountered actors telling me that their agents didn’t want them to sing my material. Or that even though they had happily sung for me before, their agents wanted me to take their names off a youtube clip of them singing a particular song so they could reposition their brand or that they would sing one “gay” song but not another. And I get it. The ensemble of a non-Equity regional tour of Hairspray is calling. Ooh, burn.

Part of the context for that is that while I was preparing for So Fucking Gay, among the many calamitous things that happened, another singer who I had worked with on Dirty Laundry, my first public New York City concert at Ars Nova in 2008, called me out of the blue, and again, when this happened—and to be fair, this singer couldn’t have known—I was in an extremely emotional fragile state and seeing [possessive pronoun redacted] on the caller ID of my then flip phone filled me with boundles delight. We hadn’t spoken in a number of years and I thought that it was the universe’s way of letting me know that the adversity I was facing with So Fucking Gay was not for naught. Imagine my surprise when it was the singer asking me to please take down a youtube video of a song [pronoun redacted] had sung for me 4 (FOUR) years prior because [possessive pronoun redacted] agents were trying to re-brand [possessive pronoun redacted] for I dunno, superstardom—who the fuck knows? I was devastated and angry but I sweetly agreed over the phone and made the video private and then promptly unfriended this person on Facebook. Up until then, I had operated from the position that I needed to give everyone the benefit of the doubt—that I needed to stand aside and not take these kinds of things so personally because well, you know, it is commercial theater and who am I to ruin the careers of these burgeoning superstars with my confrontational material? But I decided in 2010 to take a stand. I vowed from there forward that I was drawing a line in the sand with performers who do my work. I decided: “I’m gonna be a pimp walkin’ musical theater asshole too!” You cannot have it both ways with me. Either you’re cool with my work or you’re not. And in the end, it’s like Emily Dickinson wrote:

“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too?”

I opened the second email:

In fact, I would rather you take it down and repost without my name in the credits. I respect your work and I was happy to participate in the performance but don’t want my name attached to this video online. BTW not singling you out– I make the same request whenever someone posts vids of me doing their work without my permission

Okay, fair. I didn’t ask for permission when I put up this video three years ago. And I haven’t been in the regular practice of doing so because all of the singers I have worked with have been friends who have been happy to be associated with my music. So I guess at this point, I know in a very real way, that that isn’t as universally true as I’d like it to be and I will make it a point to start asking more regularly.

In some ways this specific person asking me to take down the youtube video is random but not totally surprising—[pronoun redacted] had initially balked at [possessive pronoun redacted] name being in any press materials for So Fucking Gay because being associated with something so flagrant and uncompromisingly homosexual might ruin mainstream performance opportunities this performer, (who is, in fact publicly homosexual or more publicly homosexual than not from where I sit) might have in the future. That email came less than 24 hours before the phone call from my other redacted friend. But it worked out. The singer changed [possessive pronoun redacted] mind and agreed to be in the show with [possessive pronoun redacted] name in press materials. The performance happened and the youtube video went up.

I’m currently working on a musical theater piece entitled A Strange Loop. A Strange Loop is about a black gay man who trusts people so little that he’s created an inner world of disappointment that ultimately he controls. He has only himself as a reference for the pain and suffering of life and love and beyond. Like a cactus, he retreats inward for his emotional sustenance. He does not reach out his hand to you assholes for validation. He already knows you won’t give it and even if you do, you’ll just take it back somehow and knowing that fills him with a strange sense of power.

The other night I was with my White Woman and we stumbled back across this aspect of myself. With tears welling in my eyes, I told her about how I rarely acknowledge that I need nurturing beyond myself.

I am tough and I am resilient but I need nurturing beyond myself. I am not a cactus.