When I was in high school, I memorized a speech from Hamlet, on my own time, for my own pleasure, and without a grade being on the line. Why would a teenager do this? I was a theater nerd, and I read that Hamlet was the role that a young actor had to perform to be a true artist. I was mocked by some, but mostly admired for having the initiative to learn the soliloquy, and in an effort to be cool I would sometimes bust out the speech at parties. One time I dislocated my kneecap when a buddy picked me up in a bear hug and put me down before my leg was ready.
There are many famous speeches in Hamlet, but I chose the “O What a rogue and peasant slave am I” speech from Act II Scene II. In it Hamlet reacts to watching some actors crying and wailing over a character named Hecuba, he is galled that “in a fiction, in a dream of passion” these performers could muster such emotion, while he was impotent to do anything about his father’s murder. I now see why I was so inspired. As I write, I am transported to that thing that stirred me to study something for the pleasure of it. It was what I wanted to do with my life.
As I was seeding the soil of my dreams to act, in New Jersey, Prince was blossoming with his artistry across the globe, and I draw no parallel in these two paths. It’s just that as the news broke, my present self feels sad, mourns, and my Hamlet self is fighting to say, “who is he to Hecuba, or Hecuba to he” about my feeling of loss for someone I never knew. Who is Prince to me? That’s a long boring story being told over and over on all media.
Hamlet is mad at the actors, for their ability to weep for a fictitious character, but he is mostly mad at himself, for his inaction. I think some artists are so prolific and so in tune with their creator and creative channel that they elevate their status from the group, (meaning humans) that they take on mythical proportions. They become more than men, they move us, and if they nurture their gift they produce volumes of material at a pace that feeds the mere spectator whenever they reach for it. This feeds as simple entertainment, but when it is so good and, when so much of the artist’s soul goes into the work, it becomes more, dare I say it takes on Shakespearian scope. I am an avowed Springsteen fanatic, it comes with a birth certificate in New Jersey. I know Minnesotans feel the same way about Prince, but Prince music is in heavier rotation in my life’s soundtrack. Bruce is great, but his slow jam output leaves much to be desired, if you know what I’m saying?
The easy take is that I am mourning my youth, as are many, but for me losing Prince is like losing Shakespeare, in, that, years from now we will explain that there was a time when we listened to music, and watched videos, and forgave some iffy acting, just to see him on stage where he was untouchable. Where a cross-genre virtuoso had no peer, where a talent and work ethic was singular. He told an interviewer that he shunned categories, but if he had to say, it would be to inspire. And that’s what dawned on me, he inspired me. And I mourn that I have so much to do, but that to inspire is all art’s purpose. His spirituality can’t be left out of the story. I struggle with mine. Not sure what to believe, or what to do. Like Hamlet, I have a “motive and cue for passion”, but I need to act on it more. Prince tells you it is the spirit, it is God (as you define him/her) that you look to serve, to help some people figure this shit out.
It is why I mourn a guy they say wouldn’t allow eye contact, which might have been a running gag on the world, who dressed like a bullfighter, and who knew what he was sent here to do. So, to jump on the bandwagon, but, at least quote the source, I say “Goodnight, sweet, Prince.”
Got a chance to kick it with long time friend Bret Ernst on the You’re On The List podcast, with co-host Pete Giovine, and guest Skyler Stone. We discussed my book, and top R&B jams. Thank you fellas, that was a good time.
In the ongoing campaign for The Drama King, my collaborator, director and editor Sam Vollen, and I have come up with a companion video to go along with the world of the Drama King. We hope you enjoy it.
You know how they say that some super successful people wear the same thing everyday, like a uniform? They do this because every decision takes up the same mental space. So picking out an outfit taxes the brain as much as deciding which side of the computer should hold the power cord, or when to let the paint dry on a masterpiece. To some that is too much of a tax to pay, so they take the clothes decision out of the equation, “I’ll wear a mock turtleneck and jeans, or a blue suit, or a meat dress, everyday.” This leaves more room for the bigger creative decisions, and leaves some super achievers devoid of fashion.
For me this makes sense because every decision I have to make is met with category 5 panic. Every outcome is either save the city or total devastation. Where to eat, which case for my phone, is it time for a haircut, feel like the joint chiefs of staff are waiting for an answer. This can be paralyzing, it’s why I eat at the same places often, it’s just that shopping in any form is undesirable, and I have to figure out my uniform. I guess this is why I am seeking therapy, and trawling the web for mock turtlenecks. Wish me happy hunting.
It’s funny what we’ll turn our nose up at, the things we choose to be snobby about can cover the gamut. It doesn’t escape anyone, you can be picky about which light beer to drink as much as you can be about drinking a Bordeaux before its time. People have beef jerky preferences, it’s not only a high brow trait.
Sometimes I think Snobbery could be added as the 8th deadly sin, it would have changed the screenplay of Se7en in a funny way, “The killer seems to only commit his murders in apartments with views of Central Park.” At very least it is an unattractive trait. I try to avoid it, but have been called out for the behavior in the same calendar day.
Snobbery, in some cases, is making an assumption. It’s saying, I know what this is without trying or before experiencing the object or event. It is also a cultural and societal dick measuring contest, but I’ll live to tell that story another day.
This example brings me back to Florida, which, apologies to Florida, is not often thought of as the arts and letters State. In this bait and tackle shop of a community lives a small professional theater named American Stage, in St. Petersburg. It is an Equity house that has produced more than 25 years of theater, and once, many years ago, helped me find ballast on my rocky artistic path. My time at American Stage, which I chronicle in my book The Drama King, was an artistic life vest. It’s presence on my line graph has carried me forward to this very day. I should make a pilgrimage to this place once a year, alas, I do not.
A few months ago, I was back in St. Pete, visiting family for a graduation, and my girlfriend had a health crisis, that added an unfortunate B-plot to the festivities. My brother and his wife planned among other events a night at the theater, which was in the middle of its run of the John Logan play, Red. Since leaving New York I must admit that I don’t keep up with the New York theater scene. I was unaware of this play and its London and Broadway success. Sitting here now, I am making a note to turn off sports talk radio and to get the Sunday New York Times once in while, so my snobbery, I mean culture muscle, doesn’t atrophy.
I think snobbery and ingratitude are co-mingled – perhaps I should speak for myself. In the haze of hospital visits and lack of sleep, I was not looking forward to the play. Inconsiderately, I shared these feelings with my ailing girlfriend. “I don’t want to see this slow ass ponderous play about a guy and his paint brush, I hate that bougie shit, I have other things to worry about than this high brow, impractical bullshit.” I said. “Why don’t you go, it might inspire you,” my girlfriend said. I began again and was interrupted, “Why don’t you go, so you can stop ranting at my bedside.” I went to the play, toots sweet.
I was less than enthused on the way to my brother’s house. I was stressing out as the logistics of getting 10 people to the theater on time started to unravel. My theater snob iterating that “It is unacceptable to arrive to the theatre late, curtain is 8PM sharp.” We got there in time to hear the bells chime that it was time to enter the theater. I had a stirring in me, seeing the set and holding the program I started hearing from that bug that bit me all those years ago. I scanned the space, trying to locate where the sound and light booth were, and looking up at the lights. I scanned the room and braced myself against the tension of whether the crowd would settle in and pay attention, which since we’re talking about snobbery was a note to myself.
Looking at the program I saw only two characters, which means the actors would have to handle a ton of dialogue and knowing the likely rehearsal time had me worried. I needn’t have worried. The actors Gregg Weiner and Andrew Perez were up to the task. The play is a fictionalized account of the artist Mark Rothko and an assistant he hires, berates, and maybe teaches along the way. The plot centers on the commission of a mural for a restaurant, but really leaves room to discuss and battle over the nature of art, what is art, what is color, where does the intellect come into the picture. It is a full length one-act play, performed with no intermission. It went by with more ease than I expected it to, and got me thinking in the ways the playwright intended, which is to say it has many levels. The stagecraft was stellar at every turn. I wanted to read the script to see where the words were interpreted and where the author had crafted the scene. I could feel the collaboration, the professionalism, and the Floridians eating it up.
This is where the snobbery and gratitude lines came to cross. I had a chance to opt out, my girl was in the hospital, I wasn’t sleeping, I needed a minute to myself. The last thing I wanted was this appointment to keep. And, yet, this piece of art about art in an artistic desert was doing more for my battered psyche than a nap or some mindless television, or god forbid scanning social media. It was good. It was about something. It was, dare I say, invigorating to my spirit. It was doing its job.
I grew up in a family that appreciated the arts. Museums and books are a shared passion for all my siblings, and my parents. It dawned on me as I sat with my family and the next generation of it, that this art thing is passed down. It was being absorbed. If it is done well it feels like it relates to you in a specific way — for me, because I’m an actor and performed with this company many iterations ago, for my sister, who was an art history major and didn’t need the notes in the program to know about Mark Rothko. I wonder what it was for the kids, my nieces and nephew? Maybe it doesn’t matter, there will be a time when they remember, which is another thing that art does.
So as I circle back, I was being snobbish, because I didn’t want to watch a play in Florida, when I wouldn’t in LA, and I was reminded that those actors on stage were just like me when I take the stage as a comic. Unknown to most, but talented, and all they really need is for someone to give them a chance, which I don’t mean in the industry sense, but a chance to be seen as they proceed to do art, the industry caring or not caring to varying degrees. There are artists out there, grinding, cranking out good work, in places some snobs would call godforsaken outposts. And all they need is a place to show their wares, and I am one of them. The note to take for me, is sometimes being in the audience is part of the process. And sometimes in the last place you expected you are inspired.
A track record like the one at American Stage is something to be proud of, I thank them for a great night at the theater, on Earth.