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    Monday, July 20, 2009

    LHK: How it Happened

    I’m at a popular karaoke bar in San Francisco—The Mint. Every few minutes, another person gets up, hoping in their heart-of-hearts that they will somehow have that “Susan Boyle moment” ... no one does. And yet, they come back again and again. There’s something simultaneously beautiful and tragic about that. Love is much the same way, we reach for the stars, yet often fall flat on our faces. There is no great love without risk of humiliation.

    I try to avoid karaoke because my mother was America’s first (non-Asian) karaoke hostess, and so I grew up in somewhat of a karaoke dynasty. The episode, “Christmas in Baltimore” (which had to be cut in this presentation of LHK to conform to the 90-minute festival format—LHK firmed, tightened, and toned—covers this history in greater detail.)

    When I first moved to San Francisco, I met a very interesting older man named Byron Bentley—unlike any gay man I’d ever met before. He had an enormous collection of snakes. We weren't best friends, but we worked together for a few years, and saw one another every few weeks there afterwards—but he had an enormous impact on my life. He met his partner in rural California during high school; they’d moved to SF in the 70s, were still together in their mid-40s, had always been monogamous, and still had sex constantly! This pretty much challenged every belief I ever had about relationships (particularly same-sex relationships) on so many levels; beliefs I didn’t even know I had. And, though, I didn’t necessarily want what they had, it certainly expanded what I thought was possible—not just in relationships, but in life. I thought I was protecting myself with my non-negotiables—my “lists” of what did and didn’t work for me—but instead of protecting myself, all I was doing was limiting my own dreams. When I finally confronted what I was doing—how I was quietly sabotaging the very things I longed for—only then, did things start to change, but something terrible happened first.

    In 2003, Byron died very suddenly after an aneurysm—and my own life had changed so much as a result of knowing him that I basically had to start writing to get through that terrible grief. LHK is the result of that process—a series of extremely funny, and sometimes tragic episodes from my life, each set in a different city, each at different times. I have not a single answer to life’s great questions, but I did change my life by constantly putting myself in challenging (and often mortifying) situations, and my wish is that this “blind hope” that led me through these experiences might at least entertain an audience; if not leave them with a sense of hope about what more might be possible in their own lives.

    A version of LHK opened at a tiny theatre (as in, the size of a large restroom) with the notion that I'd just perform the show, work it out, and build and build. But I woke up (Christmas Eve 2005, I'll never forget it) blind in one eye, and had to start a two-year series of eye operations, eventually just making the situation worse—legally blind in that eye, and double-vision with both, which I still have. I had to close the show, and felt so incredibly defeated.
    I decided I'd work on the show while I was recovering—and my friend (another performer and now producer) Bruce Pachtman, put me in touch with W. Kamau Bell. I disagreed with all of his suggestions, but he was ultimately right, and that changed everything. Kamau comes from comedy but has a very specific, effective and individualized format for bringing out the best in a performance—yet, no two pieces of his direction look anything alike. The only similar thread is the powerful and impactful end results.

    There is also a community of artists he's attracted, free of the ass-kissing and clique-ishness I find in most arts communities—yes, it’s true, there are cities certainly more conducive to "making it big" than San Francisco, but I have never seen a community, overall, more focused on the craft rather than the "scene.” Cities around the world I've lived in are major characters in my pieces, and I hope audiences come away with more than just a story of a disturbed romance. LHK is about the intersection of the humiliation we must all risk if we hope to find love, and the tendency we have to “melodramatize” our pasts.

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