Saturday, 25 February 2012

About Me, Part 38: You'll Never Walk Alone

Towards the end of the summer 2000, I got involved in another acting gig. This time, it was a play. The director of the whodunnit film that I had been in May needed to recoup some money and decided to run a production of Oliver Goldsmith's 1700s play She Stoops To Conquer. Auditions started in August and I got to play a few minor roles as house servants. The play was a satirical comedy about class structure in Georgian-era England. Rehearsals began soon afterwards. The cast was a great mix of personalities and participating was a lot of fun. My mood was turning around. Then, came my thirtieth birthday and my family's second visit to Vancouver.


I took two weeks vacation the first two weeks of September. I considered my thirtieth to be a major, if anxiety provoking, milestone, so I was pulling out all of the stops by having my party at a comedy club in East Vancouver. I had been going to a weekly Saturday night stand up comedy series there over the summer and had seen some great comedians. I knew the organizer from the Mastery community so we planned the event, a roast; I felt confident enough to get roasted and set about inviting friends, co-workers, my White Rock area relatives and, of course, my father and stepmother. They flew out to Vancouver on September 5 and took a taxi up to my apartment where they would be staying for the week that they were in town. I had just had my hair cut and bleached, something that I had been doing off and on for about two years, but that they had not seen yet. Their reaction to it was muted, but not hostile. What I planned to tell them was about my orientation and my drag performing, particularly as the latter was well-known among my friends and likely to be fodder for the comedians. I wanted to do two things: prepare them for the roasting material and, more importantly, come out to them and include them in the life that I had built over the last five years on the West Coast.

On the Wednesday before the party, my actual birthday, we went to a dutch pancake place in the neighbourhood and then went on a walking tour of the mansions up the street in Shaughnessy. I told them about the party and they seemed happy about it. The next day, we went to Victoria; it was pouring rain. I kept coming up with places to visit, the Empress Hotel, the Miniature Museum, the Royal BC Museum and my father kept rejecting them because they were two expensive. We wound up going to the butterfly garden in the Crystal Gardens as it was free. We had dinner at Pagliacci's (still one of my favourite restaurants) before catching the coachline back to the mainland. The next evening, I made dinner and told them that I performed in drag and that the comedians at my party might bring it up during their routines the following night. Their reaction was ... non-existent. Nothing. I recall a vague nod in acknowledgment that I had said something. I held back on mentioning my bisexuality, waiting to bring it up after the party.

We got to the restaurant/comedy club in the organizer's van packed with helium balloons. The venue was decked out in paper flowers and colourful tablecloths. I attached the balloons to the chairs and booths around the perimeter of the restaurant. Friends started to arrive about forty minutes after we got there. We ate not long after everyone had shown up. The organizer then got up on stage and welcomed everyone and introduced the first comedian. The first routine was not a roast but just a routine, but good. The second was the same. A couple more went by. The last comedian was hilarious and worked me into his routine by inviting me up on stage. With only one comedian roasting things were a little awkward. Towards the end of his spot, he mentioned that I was a drag queen, but seemed at a loss as to what to say mentioning something about being careful not to perform at bingo halls and hick bars, then he wrapped up his bit. I had stumped a comedian. The applause was somewhat substantial, but not enthusiastic. The rest of the party was anti-climactic with the cake being brought out (my father had gone in on the cake with the organizer and the restaurant) and some late guests showing up. Then people began trickling away. There was a lot of joy that night, but an underlying tension also.

The following day we had breakfast in Kitsilano before being taken to Steveston to visit my stepmother's cousin for dinner. The whole day and evening there was no mention of the party or what had been said. The next day, Monday and their last day in town, my father got me alone in the kitchen asking if I planned to ... he motioned down there on himself, in other words, surgery ... I said no, that I was just performing. He breathed a sigh of relief and looking up towards the ceiling made that Italian gesture of "thank God". At that point, my stepmother came into the room. My father told her what I said. She paused, exhaling tensely. "No, no, no," she said, seeming to want to correct us. "You realize that everybody is laughing at you, not with you," she said, sternly. "My friends are fine with it," I defended. She kept shaking her head. "No one's ever going to accept you." They both went on about what if someone in the audience decided to attack me; they quoted the headlining comedian from my party, mentioning that the bit about bingo halls was serious. They did not think that it was a viable career, something that I had not said it was going to be. In the end, my stepmother said that there were things her niece and nephews did that she did not agree with, this was the same. I came away from the conversation feeling the walls go up once again. I had tried to bring them into my new life, to involve them; I had failed.

Coming back from a walk later that afternoon, my father tried to open a window in the apartment building hallway and cut his finger. In an inkling of what was to come in life, I felt a wave of nurturing energy and responded by cleaning it and putting witch hazel and a band on it. Then, the taxi came and picked them up. I saw it drive down the street, then turn a corner to head down to the airport. It was a dusk, the sun had begun to set and melancholy set in.


That evening, I went to a rehearsal for the play at an apartment of one of the director's in the West End. We rehearsed long into the night. I tried to forget the conversation from earlier that day. My second week off was relaxing. I went for a check-up regarding my anti-depressants and went up another dosage. It took a few days for my body to get used to it. By the following Monday, when I started back at work, I was back on top of the world. A friend from the Mastery who was also in the play had his birthday at the end of the month. There was a talent show and Miss Penny made another appearance "singing" "Zipadee Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, comically adding the bass part in when needed. As usual, it was a hit with the audience. It was a bittersweet performance and my last for a year and a half.

The play rehearsals continued through September and October. The third weekend of October we ran the play in five performances at the Gastown Actor's Studio on Cordova Street. It was a blast. We had learned our lines so well that we were referencing in normal conversation and over dinner afterwards. One night at Naam restaurant late at night, we could not stop laughing we were so high on the experience. I really wanted to act after this experience and I sought training wherever I could after that.


In November, I took part in a sweat lodge in Langley with some friends from the Mastery. It was a very cleansing experience. I remember the overwhelming darkness and heat and the feeling of impending death that had been very vivid ever since my mother had died. That came out and beneath that, hurt from being bullied as a teenager and not being accepted: deep emotions that came out, even while I was on anti-depressants. At some point, I panicked and tried to leave and I was given an eagle feather by the sweat lodge leader. I suddenly calmed down. Cold berries were passed around they tasted vividly delicious; I am still hooked on frozen berries to this day.

The next day, I and a few friends went to the annual holiday craft sale at the Hycroft mansion in Shaughnessy, one of my favourite events when I lived in south Granville. I was still reflective. The rest of that strange year went by quickly. I went to a twentieth anniversary John Lennon memorial in December at a nearby United Church. I also went the Mastery Choir Christmas concert. I spent Christmas itself at my relatives in White Rock and New Year's at friends in Kitsilano. We shared what we wanted from 2001. I said "More, higher, better."

To be continued ...

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