The idea strikes me thus:
I have a plan for a story.
I can create literary magic, and no one can stop me.
I’m going to invite one of our featured readers out to see another reader’s show.
We will all go out and talk about the show.
And I’ll learn so much I’ll have never been smarter in my whole life.
When I run this by Janna she’s all, “That sounds great!”
“You should come! Do you want to?”
“Awesome!” I tell her.
She tells me, “I’m very busy, but know that I’ll be there if I can.”
The day of the event I find myself, after a hard bike ride from Chicago and Leavitt to Belmont and Halstead, panting sweaty on the interviewee, Kelsie Huff. I tell her of my bravery and bike riding acumen.
Kelsie assures me, “It’s okay, you don’t even smell bad!” By the end of the night she’s the hottest girl to ever call me a douchebag. Needless to say, I’m twitterpated.
Anthony’s sketches are solid. He looks good on stage, comfortable in the skins he wears from scene to scene. His sense of space is enough to transform the black box place from blink to blink. He introduces characters in natural ways, and lets you in on what’s going on without being needlessly expository.
The ambiance is minimal but effective. He keeps an old duffle bag at his feet, and his costume changes in the bag. Next to that, directly in front of him, is a creaky amplifier and an old style microphone, atop which is a construction spotlight. The bright light shines in his face causing him to blink and squint, casting a shadow above him. He changes from dirty clothes to dirty clothes in front of you, he does this with dignity, in silence, and without shock or worse, worry.
The last sketch I find myself looking away from his near naked body and up at the shadow this character casts. There is a puppetry at work as the shadow copies his movements and skin, only elongated, choppy, distended and awkward, his shadow is that of a poorly constructed marionette, a stick figure with Popeye arms. It feels right, it conveys the essence of the man he now plays, pantsless and drunk, 5am, this embodied man calls out to an ex-girlfriend from an apartment parking lot, flubs a rehearsed speech and tells her shut window that he loves her now, that he doesn’t have her, and that they can go back to being together.
I try to catch Kelsie’s eye and point her in the direction of the magic on the ceiling but she’s intent – admiring bare skin and the artistry at work therein.
“If you liked it, come back and bring friends. If you didn’t like it, come back and bring some people you don’t like.” This and a wry smile ends the show.
I’m elated, a little hopped up on adrenaline, I want talk about the show with these people. “I was mesmerized by a laugh in the crowd. I couldn’t find it,” I tell Kelsie. “I kept looking over my shoulder. There was a distinct laugh but I couldn’t find it, who was it?”
“Yeah?” She asks. Thoroughly convinced I’m a goofster, she smiles. She has a charmed smile, it starts to lift off at the same time, but it crests with the left side higher than the right, leaving her with a look just short of a wink, as though we are in on something together.
Janna, having showed up a little late, rushes over to a friend of hers, Mary Kate, in the crowd. Then she dances her way down the aisle and back to us.
A smile washes over her face as I drop a mint into the palm of her open hand. “I’ve invited Mary Kate!”
“Oh no! That’s too many people for an interview, I fear.”
Janna looks at me puzzled, “Dan, don’t be silly, this is a Here’s the Story event. We invite everyone! A gathering of friends just makes for more varied and better stories anyway! Besides, she’s awesome and I love her. She’ll probably teach you something.”
Mary Kate had heard me say no and starts to object but Janna quiets her and I acquiesce. She is right after all.
Anthony, Mary Kate, Janna, Kelsie and I all head to the Pick Me Up Cafe for the “interview” portion of this story.
But I am alone with Anthony when I ask him to, “Tell me that story.” Pointing at these horrible scuffs on his hands.
“Oh, anger management issues. I just lost my cool.”
“Yeah, it’s not like a story or anything, it just happened. I wasn’t even mad, you know? Just frustrated and stupid.”
“But your hand!”
He sighs, meek in the shoulders, he examines the scabbed-over cuts on his knuckles. Anthony says, “My family was in town and I just find them frustrating. Like I said, I wasn’t mad or angry it was like two seconds of frustration.” He frowns through his thick black beard at me.
“Glass?” I ask.
“No, a wood door. My sister was just saying something and I just smacked the door, it was almost meant to be playful.”
The girls come back to the table.
Later Anthony says, “Not me. Every day, before a show, I am sure, I am absolutely without a doubt convinced, it’s going to be the last time I ever step foot on stage again. I don’t know why I put myself through it, in those moments I don’t see why I show up to do the show. Every night I’ve done this show in particular. It’s just pain and anxiety in every crevice of my being. I fucking hate it. I wanted to film this show and I couldn’t even get myself to function well enough to pull out the tripod. Something as simple as setting up a tripod became impossible. Every Tuesday I’m sure I’ll never do this show again.”
Janna whispers, “But every Tuesday the lights go on and you do it again.”
“Hrmm? Yeah. I guess I do.”
Back in the moment and the conversation about his hand Anthony says, “The aftermath of anger is when my emotions will change faster than at any other time. It’s sort of a miracle how fast emotions change after the boiling over point. I will be angry and that might build slowly but when I act out in anger, it’s just immediate how stupid I feel.”
I tell him, “The thing I hate most about anger is that whenever I feel it, it just feels impotent. Sure, I’m angry but what does it get me? Nothing.”
The girls look at us with sad eyes.
Mary Kate says, “I remember the only time we fought or like the only time we fought it was after an improv show that really upset me, because it was bad and I was explaining why the choices they were making were clearly, objectively poor—they were not getting laughs and then trying to play it off like, ‘Oh we’re trying to be shocking, we are trying to offend you,’ but they weren’t being shocking or offensive, they were just being bad actors—and you kept defending them. I could feel myself getting upset but then there was a realization that I don’t like this feeling inside me. So I told myself to be okay with you liking the show, and I immediately let all of that anxiousness go. The frustration immediately vanished.”
Kelsie says to us, “I have anxiety and go through all that stuff you’re talking about,” she indicates Anthony, “but I’ve sort of honed it down to the one second before I go onstage.”
Janna laughs, “Just one second?”
Kelsie nods in the affirmative, “I like to be efficient,” and the rest of us laugh.
Reflecting on this, I am renouncing that anxiety wrought from shows and performance. I’m done with it. I see no advantage there. I don’t know about you, but I can get into funks, especially with things like anxiety or fear. Funks where I tell myself, I’m just the sort of person who gets nervous before shows. Or, like I used to tell people I was scared of roller coasters. But I didn’t have to be. Before this night, before thinking about it like this, the moment before performance wrecked me too. The most dreaded moments belonged to where a stage loomed. But fuck that feeling. I don’t need it.
When we first started doing Here’s the Story shows, the first one was just a party on the stage. The second was a story swap where we all sprawled out on it, and in a way that’s because we want to confront that artificial anxiety. There is a lot to explore there, why anxiety happens, how it affects your adrenaline and your five senses, but ultimately the stage holds no power, no authority that you don’t give it.
At the last show, we announced it from our seats, sitting or standing, bouncing about the chairs. If the whole world can be your stage, let it be a fun one to play with. And remember to invite everyone!