I suppose it started in the seventh grade, although there may have been flashes of it on prior Halloweens. But there I was in the Fall of 1960, sitting in the stands at a Queen Anne Junior-Senior High School football game experiencing my first twinges of the performance bug.
While everyone else watched the action on the field, I studied the pep squad, the cute cheerleaders and, what I thought were, the cool yell leaders. I could do that, I told myself. I should do that. Since I couldn’t throw a football, catch a baseball, or shoot a basketball, l figured I could participate in sports peripherally as a yell leader. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out that being a high school yell leader was not considered as cool as I had thought by other guys. Nevertheless, five years later, I was a yell leader. Being on the squad offered me a chance to demonstrate school spirit and perform, a need buried deeper in me than any of the blackheads on my teenage nose.
As the years passed, I rarely shied away from other opportunities to be in the spotlight, even if in the most minute ways. I could be counted on to serve as master of ceremonies when needed. I wasn’t afraid to go on stage when a performer asked for audience volunteers. I always dressed up for Halloween and when I taught, I was one of a handful of staff members who regularly participated in Spirit Week themed costumes.
In 1975, long before I moved to Portland, Oregon, I rode shirtless on a float in its Rose Parade. After moving there, I adorned the city’s first gay community float during the Rose Festival’s evening parade. I also appeared on the nation’s only locally-produced, nightly, big budget game show and defeated a four-time champ.
Give me an opportunity to show-off and I’ll take it.
When I first came out in 1970, I attended many drag shows. A year later, I was asked to perform in one as a male dancer. It was a Fourth of July pageant and, as I recall, a friend and I danced in red, white, and blue outfits in back of drag queens performing patriotic songs. My job was simple. Marching steps. Saluting. Waving flags. It was pretty basic. And cheesy. But it allowed me to revisit my yell leading days, albeit in a strange twisted sort of way. And it gave me the opportunity to witness up close the transformations of men into drag queens. This fascinated me. It wasn’t just their physical, surface changes; there was an internal metamorphosis, too, that I found intriguing.
While I had no interest in donning women’s clothes regularly, I wondered what that experience was like. Could I do that? And would it be believable? I had the chance to find out sometime later, on an Amateur Night Sunday, when I challenged myself and performed in drag. Now, this was before I discovered the gym and, therefore, was a svelte 130-135 pounds, and could pull it off. And I did. My performance was received well by the audience. But, more important, it was applauded by the bitchy, critical star of the bar’s regular shows.
That performance confirmed it; I not only had an entertainer inside me scratching to get out, but I could become other characters. I could act. However, like I have pointed out, I only exposed that persona for fleeting moments as an adult, letting life and responsibility get in the way.
Until I retired and moved to Ajijic.
I joined a writers’ group soon after I arrived. Attendees varied between 35-50 people. While my writing was weak at first and improved with critiquing and experience, my delivery, my performance, was always praised. As a result, I was asked to make a 45-minute-long presentation of my writing to a group of 200. My reading brought my words and characters to life. Soon after that, I was approached to perform in an annual lip sync show, a benefit. I accepted the challenge, of course, and have done so now three times. I have performed as stage and screen star Howard Keel, rocker Bruce Springsteen, and obscure artist performing a humorous novelty song.
So, why am I writing about this? Why am I sharing my theatrical history? Why am I boring you with my desperate need for attention? What is this leading up to?
The theatah, my friend. The legitimate theatah! All my dabbling in performance, all my smidges of experience, all my seeking opportunities to show off, have led me to a role in Lakeside Little Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady. I currently am in rehearsal, having been cast in a small, but pithy, role, as well as a dancer/singer in several of the musical numbers.
At 71, I finally have realized a lifelong dream. I have finally realized the theatah is my life.