Senior yearbook photo, Dickinson College, 1993. Who’d’a thunk?

I am not good at holidays. I lack that (honorable, healthy, and near-universal) human characteristic that motivates people to schedule time off, to pause from daily routines, and to take special note of historical events on their anniversaries. So National Coming Out Day takes me by surprise when it rolls around on October 11 of each year.

In my (half-hearted) defense, I “came out,” at least in my own mind, on May 8, 1993 at a concert I’d put together just after graduating from college. When one plans such an event (at least when “one” is I), one tends to have “once-and-done” expectations of the fête. So when I realized that today was “the day,” I jokingly posted a three-word announcement on Facebook:

“Psst. I’m gay.”

Most of the comments were of the sort I expected:

  • “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?” (from my sister)
  • “What the HELL?” (from my very sarcastic, very aware seminary advisor, a specialist in apocalyptic literature and staunch ally to LGBTQ causes)
  • “Does your husband know?” (from a friend with whom we just had dinner recently)

When people who know me well take “the gay thing” as an unsurprising part of who I am, the tongue-in-cheek responses are understandable. And it might seem… odd… that when just about anyone who knows me as more than an in-passing acquaintance knows that I’m married to a man, I feel a need to keep “coming out” publicly on October 11 each year.

Why bother, really? What’s the point? There are a few possibilities:

One possibility is that I crave ego-fueling, plain & simple. As with many of my public posts, my “I’m gay” post was intended at first to bring a chuckle. But scrolling through the comments has been, frankly, deeply meaningful to me. There’s something profoundly affirming to see so many expressions of solidarity and support, especially at a time in history when LGBT existence is losing its grip as a “socially acceptable identity” (and if you’re not sure what that means, count yourself lucky).

I can also hope that part of me is seeking practice at being brave. The other day I read a post by Robin Sokoloff that blew my socks off. To read about the no-effs-given bravery of a woman who’d had enough of male privilege… of society’s blind-eye, head-down, don’t-interfere acceptance of atrocious, violent, inhuman sexism… put me, quite frankly, in my place. I’m embarrassed to say that I saw myself in the pasta-focused onlookers in her story, and that my presence at that scene would probably not have made a difference. And it’s no wonder, really—I still feel my body tensing with fight-or-flight preparations when I use the phrase “my husband” with a new acquaintance for the first time. As an educated, English-fluent, currently physically enabled cis white male of comfortable socioeconomic status, I have a lot of privilege cards to play, and I want to be better at making waves when it’s called for, and better at recognizing immediately when it is called for.

But I think, most of all, I make offhand, off-the-cuff, (apparently) effortless “coming-out” gestures because I remember being a closeted teenager, and I’ve known plenty of closeted adults, and, in a nutshell, the closet is deadly. Trying to hide, to minimize, to excise a part of one’s identity leads to crippling self-hatred and deep, painful shame. But at least as bad as the damage we do to ourselves are the consequences to others of the poor choices we make when we’re hiding in closets, whether we’re trying to prove to others (or ourselves) that we’re “not really like this,” or whether we’re turning our backs on our values and our wisdom, and seeking outlets for desires we’ve been locking inside like a pressure cooker.

Someday, I trust, a gay kid will be able to say the words “I’m gay” for the first time without fearing that his family will disown him, that his faith community will try to “cure” him, that his employer will find a reason to terminate him, or that his government will demote him to a less-respected class of citizen. We’re not there yet. But I know that, even now, even in the midst of all the… stuff… that’s going on in America right now, no one needs to feel alone.

You are not alone.

Psst. I’m gay.

Resources you may find useful

  • The Trevor Project, a lifeline of phone, chat, and TXT resources for LGBT youth considering suicide
  • GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”), a national organization that works to improve an education system that too frequently allows its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students to be bullied, discriminated against, or fall through the cracks
  • LGBT Center of Central PA
  • PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians And Gays)

Ask just about any professional performer what the most stressful part of their career is, and they’ll answer in one word: “Auditions.”  We never get over it, somehow—no matter how long we’ve been doing theatre, no matter how well we know the material, no matter how “right” we know we are for the part, auditioning always seems to generate a special kind of stomach-knot.

That’s why I’m thrilled to announce a new opportunity for Musical Theatre performers of all ages in Central Pennsylvania: The “Second-Saturday” Audition Workshop series!

From 10 AM to noon on Saturday, September 8, and continuing on the second Saturday of each month following, I and a plucky group of MT performers will gather in the upstairs common room of The Perfect 5th Musical Arts Center in Mechanicsburg to practice audition material and “workshop” it—identifying strengths and opportunities for improving each performance, so every performer can bring their “A Game” to their next audition, whether it’s for a community theatre production, a college admissions audition, or a professional gig!

You don’t have to have an audition in your immediate future to participate—remember, your goal is to get so solid on your audition material that you can do it even with a roomful of disinterested strangers judging you. So even if you’re looking ahead to an audition that’s a few months away, it’s a great idea to start preparing early, and then to bring your material back for multiple sessions so you can celebrate your progress and increase your confidence as the date draws closer!

For more details and to register for one or more sessions, see the “Projects” section of my website or contact The Perfect 5th.  I’ll look forward to working with you!

 

I wrote the following as an “open-ish” letter to the cast of a high-school show I music-directed back in 2014, and originally shared it with them as a post to the cast Facebook group, on the day of the “Apollo Awards,” a local fundraiser event that mimics the Tony Awards, but for high-school musicals.  Seems like every year at this time (and sometimes at other times) I feel an urge to revisit these words.  So, to anyone who’s found a calling in “show biz”:

Well, folks, today’s the day.  By the time you call it a night tonight you’ll know whether our work together is officially “Apollo-Award-winning,” or… or not.

It would be an overstatement of my noble indifference for me to say I don’t care about tonight’s results.  I do care, though not by much, and not because I hope we “win.”  The “not by much” part is a symptom of the wisdom that experience brings: I’ve “won” awards and competitions with work I was dissatisfied with, and some of my best work has “lost” recognition I felt sure it deserved.  (And I have a feeling I’m not alone in that.)  The “I do care” part is because I know how tempting it is—not “especially,” but certainly at your age—to base your sense of self-worth on the opinions others express.  And I’ve known people whose artistic souls have been crushed by others’ failure to appreciate their gifts.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with looking to others for affirmation.  A big part of growing up is deciding whose opinion should matter to you, and whose shouldn’t.  (And the most important part of that process, IMHO, is realizing how much smaller that first group is than the second.)  We define those groups—and re-define them—slowly and carefully and often painfully, as we realize that seeking “this” person’s approval has tended to bring us exhaustion or frustration or even pain, and that “that” person has continued to offer us affirmation and encouragement and loving challenge even when their opinions felt irrelevant or outdated or unwanted.  Defining those groups is something you never ever finish with, and it’s a task only you can do for yourself.  So it might seem like only an arrogant jerk would offer someone else advice on that process.

But I, as you know, am just exactly that kind of arrogant jerk, so here’s my take on it:

The “Apollos” judges don’t belong in that first group.

If we take home “best in” every category tonight, it doesn’t mean our show was better than we thought it was.  It doesn’t mean we told the story better than we thought we had.  And it doesn’t mean we didn’t make the mistakes we thought we made, or that we couldn’t have done better.

And if our show isn’t named for a single award, it won’t mean that our pride in our work was misplaced.  It won’t mean that we didn’t overcome the challenges of cancelled rehearsals and condensed timelines.  And it won’t mean that there weren’t moments—I saw them on your faces—when you couldn’t believe art that powerful could come out of your bodies and voices and souls.

So here’s my challenge to you: decide NOW whether our production was worth the time and heart you put into it.  Decide NOW whether you’re proud of the work you and your teammates did.  Decide NOW whether we did good work together.  And then, before the judges even open their mouths, decide who else on the planet has a right to try to change your mind about any of that.

When you get the hang of that, you’ll be an artist.

Which is really just another word for a whole human being.

Let it fly, my friends.

With gratitude and respect,

David

Dr. Seuss's "Grinch"There are so many things I hate about Christmas, that I struggle to list them in order of hatedness.  Granted, I can name three or four things I hate about Christmas at a moment’s notice, any day of the year, but when I really sit down to focus my un-charitability toward the holiday?  Hoo boy.  Look out.  Consider:

I hate Late-October Christmas, in which jacks-o-lantern are chased away by (or in many cases share porches and storefronts with) Christmas decorations, as though we fear we won’t survive the 54 days between the bucket of Baby Ruths and Smarties we scored from our neighbors, and the sack of trinkets we expect to receive from family, friends, and an inexplicably jolly elf with unnerving home invasion skills.

I hate Aircraft-Diversion Christmas, the holiday mocked by Chevy Chase movies but misguidedly imitated by so many, in which the light pollution of competitive gaudiness and flair renders invisible the tranquil beauty of stars in the winter sky.

I hate Cookie Christmas, in which we prepare ridiculous quantities of labor-intensive, horrifyingly sweet, unjustifiably gaudy confections and distribute them to friends and family, all while patting our slightly-less-svelte-than-we-wish-they-were bellies and chuckling demurely, “oh, no, I really couldn’t.”

I hate Santa Christmas, by which children are indoctrinated to associate material wealth with good behavior—as though the Koch brothers were the kind of people we want our children to grow up to be—and by which kids learn early on that the people who teach us wrong from right clearly don’t have a clue how the world actually works.

I hate Suddenly Religious Christmas, which pretends that December 24 is a more important day for spiritual community than, say, September 10, and accepts rote recitation of mythology in place of authentic, disciplined relationship with transcendence.

I hate “It’s-The-Thought-That-Counts” Christmas, that condescendingly self-righteous holiday that serves not to liberate its participants from blatant consumerism, but rather to justify their perceived need to purchase self-worth by wasting money on unnecessary, unwanted gewgaws that, in a slightly less imperfect world, would hit the dustbin along with the wrapping paper, saving the recipient the awkward “It-Was-A-Gift” period during which they are socially bound to pretend they appreciated the gesture.

I even hate “Merry Christmas,” as a phrase.   For musicians and religious professionals and retailers and medical professionals and so many others in service positions, December is the busiest, most stressful time of the year.  Generally, if I can make it through a day in December without cursing anyone out I call it a success.  “Full of cheerfulness or gaiety? Joyous in disposition?” Take that and lump it, and just let me go home and lock the door and be alone with hubby and the cats until January, thankyouverymuch.

And I hate—heaven help me, I hate so excruciatingly, rage-inducingly much—Retail Christmas. The jingle bells that underscore every commercial for the last 25% of the year… the countless (but expensive) things “’tis the season” for… the way one can’t shop even for everyday necessities like groceries without suggestions that one really should be spending more money than one had planned to.  How I loathe Retail Christmas, to which the American economy is inextricably yoked, on whose under-the-wire profits solo business owners and megacorp execs alike depend, and at whose altar so many of the other things I hate about Christmas bow!

But most most most of all, I hate “Real-Meaning-Of” Christmas: the insidious ways our culture tries to convinces us that we’re wrong to question any of it—that if we speak out against mindless tradition, compulsory pleasantries, or consumerism, we’re committing a mortal sin against the Holy of Holies.

Kids, cover your ears.

Bullpucky.

I mean, pardon my French and all, but this is something about which I feel quite strongly.  And I feel strongly about it because (don’t tell anyone) I really, really need Christmas.  But I need a different kind of Christmas than the one that I drown in for far too many weeks every winter.

I need the kind of Christmas that finds divine, world-redeeming purpose in a child born out of wedlock to a political refugee and her fiancé.

I need the kind of God who would surrender omnipotence and omniscience to fully understand the hungers and fears and uncertainties of humanness.

I need the kind of good news that is delivered late at night to dirty, exhausted, hard-working tradespeople, because the folks whose power was handed down to them find it threatening, and collude to silence it.

So every year I climb on my high horse, put on my Grinch face, update my non-gift wishlist, take lots and lots and lots of deep breaths, and start counting down the days until January.  Not because I have a right to claim my own kind of Christmas—though I do—but because I have a feeling I’m not alone.

What kind of Christmas do you need?

(My good friend, the amazingly and multi-facetedly impressive Sarah Jebian, recently asked some of her colleagues if they’d be willing to write blog posts that Sarah could share with her voice and acting students in her monthly newsletter.  Here’s mine:)

I saw it coming.  I knew a solid 8 bars before the high G# that it wasn’t going to come out.  We had learned the notes and marked the breaths and identified the vowels and done all of those other Things You’re Supposed to Do Before You Sing a Song.  He’d even taken a good, low breath before starting the piece.  But as the key changed into the last refrain and the momentum started to build, I saw the self-consciousness chiseling itself into his forehead: was his soft palate high enough? his tongue low enough? his ribcage maintaining noble posture? his base of support sturdy enough?

The irony, of course, is that all of these things are important to consider as you’re building the muscle memory to get your body through the “money note” moment of the song. But focusing on them in that moment is lethal to the art.  And telling yourself not to think about them is as effective as telling yourself not to think about pink elephants.  So what do you put into your mind when you don’t want to think about how hard it is to be an excellent singer?

Great songs are great songs because they tell great stories.  They’re great because they say something to us, or help us to say something we didn’t know how to say ourselves.  Because great music has power—because the world is a different place after a great song has been sung well.  And that power, I believe, comes from a singer’s immersion in the story—in the world of the song.

I stopped my student during the last phrase before the high G#.  “Wait a minute,” I said.

Then I asked him the six questions I ask just about all of my students at some point about every song, every monologue, and every scene:

1. Who are you?

What is your character’s origin story? What archetypes do they echo? What assumptions, values, “baggage” do they carry? What is their super-objective in the play?

2. Whom are you talking to?

What is their power dynamic with your character? What power do they hold over others that you don’t?

3. What do you want from your partner?

There will usually be a text-specific answer and a more essential, archetypical answer. (At the Alsedek Theatre School we call this latter category your “Essential Action,” an idea our founder gleaned from conversations with William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, and other students of the Atlantic Theatre Company.)

4. How important is your goal?

What are the stakes if you fail? What is the reward if you succeed?

5. What’s in the way?

What (or who) is making it difficult to achieve your goal? What tactics might you employ to overcome those obstacles?

6. How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

What behavior from your scene partner will let you know you’ve accomplished your goal?

We talked through the answers to these questions for several minutes, and as we talked I saw the furrows in his forehead loosen, his shoulders drop, and his breathing slow.  The desperate attention to technique relaxed away, and in its place I saw a heartfelt need to tell this character’s story.

“Now,” I said.  “Sing.”