In 1993 I was volunteering at the Affirmations LGBT Community Center in Ferndale, Michigan. At one of the Center’s events I met a man who was directing a local production of Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart. I was not surprised that he would network at the Center to promote the production. Given the play’s themes it would naturally appeal to Affirmations demographic. I was surprised, however, when he invited me to audition. I’d never auditioned for a play before, much less acted in one. Still, I thought; why not! What did I have to lose? Surprisingly, I was cast.
I am confident in saying the decision to cast me had less to do with my dazzling reading than the limited selection of actors interested in a lesser known play being produced with no budget, at an outdoor venue, in a less-than-desirable Detroit neighborhood. Still, it was a minor turning point in my life.
I met some great people, not least the producer, Rich, and his partner, Marty (“still makes a fine brownie”) with whom I became good friends. We did a few more shows together. Meeting people on these shows opened up a wider social network that included both gay people and theater people. I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that these two groups sometimes overlap.
One of the plays I did with Rich & Marty was a production of Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey. Billed as “the first AIDS comedy”, I’d seen the play in NYC. In the early 90’s it was nothing if not timely. At auditions I didn’t get role I wanted but I was cast. Honesty requires me to acknowledge the person cast in the role I wanted was outstanding, far better than I would have been. It was a good production with a great group of people. We were indoors this time, thank goodness as it was winter, albeit in an even scarier Detroit neighborhood.
Sometime later, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre decided to mount its own production of Jeffrey. One of their long-time directors had passed away. He’d been scheduled to direct a play in their up-coming season so they decided to substitute Jeffrey as a kind of tribute. I’d never worked with AACT but I knew the play so I auditioned. Once again, I did not get the role I wanted (and this time I would have been better than the person who did!…but I’m not bitter) but I was cast. It was another great group of people and a fun show. It also led me to become involved in AACT.
Over the next few years I worked on a lot of shows with AACT. I learned that I liked working backstage even more than onstage so there were lots of opportunities to stage manage, run lights, run sound, build sets, work props, work running crew, etc. Sometimes there was more drama backstage than onstage but it was almost always fun.
Working as an assistant director on a production of Medea, I met the parents of the two young actors who were playing the sons Medea sacrifices at the end of the play (Oops! Spoiler Alert!). The parents ran another local theater company and also taught acting. I worked on a couple of shows with their company but what I really loved was taking their scene study classes. Again, I met great people. I never kidded myself about my talent or skill as an actor but I enjoyed the process and took it seriously. Scene study was all the fun of performing without the time commitment of rehearsals.
Some of my best memories of the Ann Arbor years involved local theater. And it is surprisingly easy to draw a straight line from the that first social encounter as a volunteer at Affirmations.