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Renewal, Part Two: Phantom Theatre

I awoke in time for a quick shower and change of clothes before heading down for a very special showing of Michael Whelan‘s artworks. I’ve been a fan Mr. Whelan’s work since his epic painting for “Bat Out of Hell II” graced that album, not to mention the “Dark Tower” series. There were champagne toasts and speeches, but I was wrapped up in the paintings … a nice lady was also inspecting the art and we had a brief chat about heart and art and the journey between. Later I found out this was none other than Olivia De Berardinis, whose amazing pin-up paintings and drawings I’ve admired since I can remember. I was a bit starstruck.

After a decent time spent in the gallery, we made our way down the street to dinner. I manged to overcome my anxiety of new people in small crowds and made a few new friends. The food was excellent and, even after the stress of travel and the long day, i was able to relax and get into a good mindset for my spot later. And then … things started turning, and slowly started getting real.

I’ve mentioned being starstruck and how it doesn’t happen to me often. I’ve tasted a little bit of fame, so celebrities are generally not intimidating to me. Then Paul Reubens (the artist who created and performed Pee Wee Herman) walked into the party. I was floored. Here’s an artist who created work on his own terms and gained the world through a character he invented … lost it all and, through sheer determination, made an inspiring comeback. I’m not stretching to say that he’s been a hero to me. I waited until he had said hello to friends and ate his dinner, then approached him about taking a picture … I didn’t want to interrupt his evening, but I really wanted to talk to him. He was at once shy, reserved and (conversely yet simultaneously) commanding of the entire room. He was a perfect gentleman as he declined taking a picture with me. He explained it just wasn’t a good moment for him, but possibly later in the weekend would be better. No problem, I totally get it. I was happy just to have a few words.

I left a bit earlier in order to get prepared for my performance. Erika had asked me to perform ‘The Naked Truth’ to close the evening show, and I was more than happy, though suddenly nervous. Lots of people I admire and respect and I was going to … yeah. What was I thinking, right?

The closing show for Friday was in the Chapel. All the usual accoutrements of an old Spanish chapel, including a thirty foot gold wall behind the pulpit, which I dubbed the ‘Papel Climbing Wall’. Well, I thought it was funny. Performances were accompanied by Kristian Hoffman (incredible), and began with a moving performance of Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth by Lindsay Benner (serious chills – she walked down the aisle of the Chapel in a robe, holding a candle and mesmerizing us all). 12141609_892943894076628_7503997406796079952_n

The act just before me was Prince Poppycock, an operatic harlequin.  The Prince absolutely blew me away with (among other songs) the most powerful rendition of ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ since Ziggy himself. No exaggeration, the voice, the affectations … this was a broken heart proclaiming victory for all it was worth. I really shouldn’t be brought to tears just before a Naked Truth show.
(If you are unfamiliar with the Naked Truth, I describe the show here: Exposed.)

And then I was on. I stumbled through ‘Kate and Edith’ while staring out into the blackness. With the lights in the Chapel dimmed, all I could see was the spotlight, the stained glass, and a void. I had forgotten how much I rely on eye contact during this piece to flesh out the humor. One cannot mug to a black mirror. It wasn’t badly relieved, but after the high caliber of acts before me, my ‘fraud’ feeling was loud and harsh. About halfway through, I realized I had failed to prep anyone to lead the audience up … I was on my own in the dark. I very nearly fled to the backstage, and it was only the anxiety of how I might be viewed following that escape that kept my feet glued. I set up the audience for what was about to happen, and the silence was just heavy on me. I had no idea of how they were taking any of this (or honestly, if they were still out there at all). So I stripped, and I cued the music … raised my arms and … nothing happened. I could sense no movement, no sound for at least 20 seconds, which (trust me) is an eternity standing in terror in a spotlight. Then, from behind me, Poppycock stepped up, grabbed a pen and began writing, and the audience moved. I was suddenly completely surrounded and pens were moving furtively over my skin. People were frowning in concentration, some were crying and clumsily hugging me. I knew of only three specific things:

Poppycock finished and stood close by in support.
Jeff McBride came up and wrote many words .. completely covering my right shoulder. He wrote in a flourish, sober but whimsical, and honestly only Jeff McBride can accomplish that.
Through a trick of the reflections, I saw Paul Reubens’ face in the second row. He didn’t come up, but I could tell he was moved. I had his silent support.

When they were finished, I turned slowly to show the entire canvas, took my bows and left the stage. The response was loud and prolonged, and I shuddered my way back up toward ‘normal’.

Epilogue. 
I put on pants, leaving  the majority of the writing exposed, and followed Erika to a small room. For the next hour or so the audience came through in small groups and talked with me about the act. Some had questions, some simply wanted to let me know how they felt. They brought me water, and one brought me a bit of ice cream. It was surreal and beautiful. At some point I got fully dressed, because I was catching a chill. The ‘comedown’ from a Naked Truth show can be brutal, but I wasn’t alone. There was love in every direction.
Paul Reubens came in last, and alone. We spoke for over half an hour. He told me his feelings about what he saw. As private an individual as he is, I don’t feel comfortable sharing everything that was said without his approval, but he admired what I did. We spoke of art and fame and obesity. He was kind and open. I gained a friend.
As he was leaving, he paused and said,
“How about we take that photograph now?”

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