Today is October 18, 2016. Seven years ago, today, the first national tour of Monty Python's Spamalot closed. It really was the show that changed my life. My Spamalot adventure, from leaving my house in Harlan County, Kentucky for NYC rehearsals, to taking the chain mail off for the last time in Orange County, California, took nearly four years. I spent more time doing Spamalot than I did earning my BFA.
I saw I lot of North America. I started a whole new network of wonderful friends and colleagues. I made a lot of money. And—and this was a surprise to me—I didn't have to explain myself for the first time in my life. Strangers on planes, local news anchors, taxi drivers, and high school acquaintances on Facebook who could not fathom my life as a working actor unless I was on TV, even they knew what a Broadway musical was, even if it was a touring Broadway musical.
The first time I was asked on a plane (from Boston to Chicago, I believe) "So, what do you do?" and I was able to say, "I'm in the national tour of Spamalot. It's a Broadway musical." I got back, "Oh, yes! I know about that!" And what I heard was, "Yes! You count! You exist and are of value."
And in the next moment I realized that over the years on planes from Chicago to Sacramento to work at The Sacramento Theatre Company, or to Indianapolis to work at The Indiana Rep, or to Atlanta to work at Theatre Emory, or to St. Louis to work at Metro Theatre Company, or to Ashland, Oregon to work at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or or or or or... I always had to explain myself. Sometimes at length.
"What is that?"
"That's a community theatre?"
"You get paid?"
"But, have I seen you in anything? Are you on TV?"
But what I heard was, "You do not count. You've made bad life choices. You're irresponsible. You are of little to no value."
That's what I heard. I didn't know it at the time, but that's what I heard. And I only realized that when the moment came that I didn't hear it. When I didn't have to explain myself.
At the end of the Spamlot tour, with the guidance and assistance of some really good friends, I moved to New York. For the first time in my life. Seven years ago.
And now I've got one more national tour and five Broadway shows to my name. I've even been on TV once*. Fleetingly. But I put it in my bio. Yep. Sure did. Because thirty seconds on broadcast TV means to more to most people than thirty years on stage.
The not-having-to-explain-oneself is a drug. I'm kind of sorry I found it. I'm not proud that it makes me feel good. But I'm very clear that it only makes me feel good in little spurts.
I just wanted to mark that.
[ thumbnail image : Christopher Gurr as Mrs. Galahad : photo credit : Francesca Russell ]
* it has been pointed out to me, correctly, that I have been on TV twice now. I was thinking of my brief appearance on Madam Secretary last season, but I also was on Good Morning America recently as part of the Cats PR machine. Turns out GMA is way more impressive to the general populace than Madam Secretary. Now I'm up to sixty seconds on TV.