There are years and years of theater that have run into one sort of amorphous blob in my memory, a period where my mom and I were so involved in the local community theater that we had involvement in every single production for over two seasons straight. After getting sick of spending hours doing homework while rehearsals for “Of Mice and Men” went on, or taking the bus from school to the theater to work as an assistant stage manager on children’s Christmas shows, I was a latchkey kid who lived off of T.V dinners while mom hung lights and built sets.
When you’re already a geeky, weird fat kid, the theater can be either a blessing or a curse. It was a humble community theater in an old factory in the Ward in Guelph, full of minor (and not so minor) dramas, an eclectic cast of characters, a full bill of plays ranging from the typical Arthur Millers to the more obscure to the downright absurd from our in-house playwrights to the Christmas pantomimes that I will loathe for the rest of my life. We had a real skeleton on loan from the University of Guelph once, for a production of ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Solution’. Cue doing homework in between laying down spiking tape or sitting in the empty auditorium during rehearsals. Somewhere in this time is where I gained my affinity for queer, over the top parties, involving nudity, tarot cards, bicycles, fire, glitter and games of hide and seek. Here too, the obscure literary references and the flair for the dramatic and the need to be the loudest, weirdest and funniest in a room.
Shakespeare roles as written for Samuel L. Jackson.
“Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war… motherfucker.”
“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou? Motherfucker.”
It’s here that we howl over Richard the Third, and here that sets my expectations for quality, highbrow, bawdy humor.
Once, as a teenager, I wake up in our house, downtown Guelph, and pick my way over sleeping musicians in the living room to gather my bag and shoes for school. Somebody is still clutching drumsticks. A neighbor tells me, “You and your mom should really do ‘shrooms together,” before retreating into his home for months on end, his soul apparently consumed by a succubus masquerading as a female temptress. A house bong belonging to our roommate lives in the pantry on a shelf beneath the baking supplies. One of my piano teacher’s friends is forever offering me and mine pot infused chocolate chip cookies. The first time we get drunk, we cross the road to the river and rent a canoe and trawl up and down the Speed River for hours, narrowly avoiding disaster thanks only to the summer dry shallowness of the waters.
There’s a boy a couple of years older than me sitting on our porch. His phone is ringing and he answers. “No, mom, I’m not drinking,” he says, truthfully, although he has just set the large house bong down beside the damp, sorta mouldy porch couch that he’s seated upon with a few other members of our theater troupe. He hangs up on the call with his mom and pops a Doritos in his mouth, conspiratorially whispering “Motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ Doritos plane…”
Backstage for a production of Lost in Yonkers, a lesser known play rather than one of the Norm Foster’s or Arthur Miller’s, I watch in horror as my tenth grade coding teacher, who is also the mother of one of the young actors, reaches into the back of his pants and pulls the waistband out, exclaiming, “Campbell, are ye wearing clean underwear!?”
It is not the first or the last ‘teacher’ crossover that occurs. I also see my eighth grade history teacher star in a dramatic production of one acts, which included full frontal nudity and a variety of compromising positions, accents and catchphrases.
Perhaps not least of all, I recall with alarming clarity, closing night parties, one in which somebody rode a bicycle over the edge of the stage in the dark, early morning hours in which bad decisions are made, and another in which a young man, leaning over a Oujia board with a look of disbelief in his eyes, lit the lapel of his collared shirt on fire and declared it a sign from the spirit world not to continue to fuck around.