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The Only Thing Worse Than Making Theatre is Not Making Theatre [California Seething]

The trouble with addiction isn’t that it’s expensive. It’s not that addiction is self destructive, all consuming and extremely harmful to family and friends. No, the trouble with addiction is that it’s fun. I mean, don’t get me wrong- it’s not fun watching your teeth rot or selling your parents’ TV or being dead- but, at some point or another, whatever you’re addicted to was lots and lots of fun. After all, no one gets addicted to painful diarrhea or putting together Ikea furniture or watching Andy Rooney- because those things suck and you can’t get hooked on suck. This is something we all learned watching Rachel Leigh Cook smash up her kitchen in the 90’s.

Sure, she’s making a point that heroin is bad, but she’s having so much fun doing it, that you just want to stand up and cheer: Smash that glass! Break that plate! Crush that brain! Hurt those friends! Kill that Clock!!!! RUIN THAT LIFE!!!!! WEEEE-HAW!!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!!! HEROIN’S FUCKING AWESOME!!!! (ATTENTION IMPRESSIONABLE YOUNG PEOPLE: Heroin is not fucking awesome. It’s bad. Don’t use it. Be smart and stick to stealing your mothers’ pills. She got those from a doctor!)

As much as I enjoyed Trainspotting and Calvin Klein underwear ads, heroin was never my thing. Hell, it takes the doctor 45 minutes just to find a vein so he can check my cholesterol (it’s FINE, Mom) and there’s no way I’ve got the time to do that 8 – 10 times a day just so I can take a nap afterwards. I’m simply much too busy- largely because I inherited my father’s addiction- I’m a Workaholic (“It was you, alright, I learned it by watching YOU” Come on-  it’s a classic!)

Of course, he has an MBA from Harvard, so his addiction actually made money whereas I’ve got a BA in Acting & Directing from SUNY Albany, so my addiction just makes my friends not want to hang out with me because they’re sick of pretending they like the crappy shows I force them to go to (yeah, uhm, sorry about the Cancer Musical, guys. Not sure what I was thinking there. The sock puppet “Tumor Bears” were totally inappropriate.)

Actually, over the last couple of years I’ve gone from being a full blown addict to more of a recreational theatre-maker (hey, I can give it up whenever I want) who goes on the occasional massive bender of producing outdoor Shakespeare.

During these benders, everything in my life goes to shit. My mind is like an overstuffed roll top desk with every tiny drawer stuffed to capacity with endless lists of unsolvable problems (I hope you liked that metaphor. It just cost me all my Millennial readers.) Problems like: I need a trash bag full of confetti by 6 PM and I already broke the only shredder in the office (making confetti); two actors dropped out because they couldn’t handle the stress of acting (hey, it’s harder than it looks.) (wait…wait…no it’s not); the postcards are finished and beautiful and ready to pick up from the printer…in San Bernardino (#printerischeapforareason) (#yeahsowhatifijustusedthecheesytwitterhashtagpunchlinegagsofuckingsueme.) My stomach feels like I’m slugging back shooters of grapefruit juice, lactose and hydrochloric acid, my already irritable bowels reach Andy Rooney like levels of dissatisfaction and grumpiness (I hate that guy!) and my blood pressure goes through the roof (it’s FINE, Mom.) During the entire project I can’t stop counting down the days until we strike and bitching about how I’m never, ever going to volunteer for anything like this ever, ever again and then, as soon as the set comes down I’m fucking miserable because I have nothing to do.

Well, not miserable, per se- I love having the time to hang out with my wonderful wife and ungrateful dog, it’s just that all of a sudden everything in my head gets really clean and quiet like a brand new iPhone 4s (Gotta get those Millennials back!) Suddenly, I’ve got all this spare time and excess mental energy on my hands and I have no idea what to do with myself. I mean, there’s only so much time I can spend writing angry emails in my head to corporations that I hate (Dear Tracfone: Congratulations on finding the country with the stupidest, most useless and most incomprehensible customer service reps alive. That’s truly a remarkable discovery! Please let me know where this magical land of total ineptitude is so that I can have it bombed out of existence and force you to move your call center to a country where they actually speak fucking English and can solve a problem in one phone call and less than three hours.) So how the hell do normal people do it? What do you do with your time? Is this why people collect stamps??? I always thought they did it so they’d be too bored to kill themselves. Anyhow, here are some thoughts I had about how I could spend my spare time and mental energy. I’m really hoping one of these can save me from falling back off the wagon and producing an all-hipster version of Twelfth Night in a parking garage in Chinatown between midnight at 5 AM.

Read great works of literature

This is one of my favorite recreations. Recently I read Hemmingway’s masterpiece The Sun Also Rises as an assignment for my Book Club for Dudes. When it came out, this book was a scandalous account of the “Lost Generation”, dissipated aristocrats and cynical intellectuals cast adrift by the brutality they experienced in World War I and the social upheaval that resulted from the War, told in Hemmingway’s revolutionary terse and journalistic style. Today, it reads like the Twitter feed of The Most Interesting Man in the World:

“I have got arrow wounds. Have you seen arrow wounds?”

“We dined at a restaurant in the Bois. It was a good dinner”

“He was a good trout and I banged his head against the timber”

“The bullfight on the second day was much better than the first”

“I like an olive in a martini”

It appears that if you came back from World War One with your balls shot off and your brains scrambled, you hung out in Europe with beautiful women getting drunk, fishing for trout and going to bullfights. These days, Hemmingway’s protagonist would come back from Afghanistan to Lubbock to find that he can’t get his job back at the Wal-Mart and his fiancée has shacked up with the bouncer at her strip club and taken his two kids with her. 20th Century: 1 | 21st Century: 0.

The problem with reading is that it’s a pretty passive activity. Even if Hemmingway’s alter ego is boozing and brawling his way through Europe, I’m still just reading about it on the toilet with my underpants around my ankles until my feet fall asleep (Great. There go all the female readers.) Philip Roth makes me feel much less inadequate. All his characters do is jerk off, hate other Jews, get old, and fear death — shit, I can do all that AND send out a rehearsal schedule — I’m a friggin’ Rock Star.

Still, if I’m looking for an activity that combines the intellectual stimulation of reading with the thrills and aggravation of theatre, then perhaps I should consider:

Becoming Politically Active

This has potential. I truly believe that there is no finer way to use your time and energy than devoting it fully to a political cause that you truly believe in — assuming of course, that you agree with me politically. If you don’t, like, if you’re a Republican, well, have you considered knitting? Macramé? Backgammon? How about hunting? I know how you people like to shoot stuff, you can pretend the ducks are Arabs or poor people or Dick Cheney’s hunting buddies (Holy crap- am I actually nostalgic for that?? WOW. This decade suuucks.) In fact, if you are a Republican, might I recommend that you spend the next thirteen months mastering an incredibly complicated and difficult skill- like, oh I don’t know, attaining Nirvana or performing brain surgery- something that will force you to focus completely and block out all those petty distractions like voting. We can even have a big talent show on the first Wed of November in 2012 and you can show us all what you’ve come up with. Hey, since us Liberals will be in charge, we’ll get the government to pay for it! Yee-Haw!!! Free Healthcare and Anchor Babies for everyone!!!! (And…there go the Republicans. And possibly also the Democrats. Shit!)

Although it would seem like becoming politically active is great substitute for theatre, it’s just not a viable option for me. The problem is, when it comes to politics I care too much and too little at the same time. I get so worked up about my opinions that I can’t even listen to NPR in the car for 10 minutes without screaming at the top of my lungs about all the crazy fucking right wing nut jobs who are tearing this country apart and foaming at the mouth like a rabid liberal dog (NOT to be confused with a Blue Dog Democrat- they are evil worthless bastards) until my wife has to change the channel to JACK FM to shut me up. Listening to JACK FM, btw, is like finding old high school acquaintances in the “People You May Know” section of my Facebook page- I get all excited and friend them all right away, thinking about how amazing it will be to reconnect with them and then after a couple of posts I remember how incredibly lame and annoying they really were and why I never connected with them in person in the first place. It’s just like that hearing that stupid “I would walk 500 miles song” on JACK FM. I always turn it up when it starts because I’m psyched that I recognize it and I think it’s going to be totally awesome and I want to rock out and then I remember that it is THE most painful, annoying and asinine song of all time and I have to turn it down before my ears start to bleed, but, of course, I’m stuck listening to it because if I change back to NPR, I’ll have a rage induced aneurism and die (I’m FINE, Mom). (High school acquaintances on Facebook who are reading this post are, of course, excluded. No offense! Don’t leave me! I need all the readers I can get.)

As exhausting as it was for you to read that sentence, imagine how exhausting it is for me to live like that. Certainly, you can understand why I have no energy left over to actually do anything about the abysmal state of the world which I spend so much energy decrying. I barely have the strength left over to sign a petition online or post a Paul Krugman article to my wall, let alone schlepping down to City Hall and camping out on the lawn to protest economic injustice. And frankly, if there’s one thing I loathe more than economic injustice- it’s camping. I might consider getting involved in the Occupy Marriott Courtyard or Occupy Holiday Inn campaigns to protest the inequities of business travel (No Justice! No Pool!, 1% of Americans get 99% of the waffles- Wake Up America! Wake up and go get some waffles before they’re all gone! Come on already- breakfast closes at 11!!!!) but that’s about it.

Plus, using politics to quit theatre is like smoking meth to quit drinking cocoa. Which is to say, not a good idea.

So, clearly, I need to find something that is as intellectually absorbing as literature, as engaging and participatory as political action but that I might actually be able to motivate myself to follow through on. So…maybe:

Finishing home renovation projects

Right, so let’s be real here for a second. This is what I really should be spending my free time doing. While I have crossed a few things off the list like redoing the floors and putting a shed in the backyard, I’ve still got a small handful of things to take care of like: replacing the kitchen cabinets, replacing the kitchen sink, finishing the landscaping in the front, putting in a dishwasher, building out a pantry, finishing the landscaping in the back, putting in a new fence, replacing the kitchen counter, fixing or replacing the bathtub, putting in a new backsplash, replacing the bathroom floors, replacing the kitchen floors and painting every square inch of every wall in every room. Oh, and something about putting in French Doors in the bedroom to the backyard, but if Renovation Realities has taught me anything, I should be able to knock that one out in a couple of hours on a Sunday.

Anyhow, there is absolutely no shortage of challenging projects for me to take on which could have an extremely positive impact on the quality of life in my household and the value of my property. So many things to do, that the only sane response is to procrastinate even writing about them to another blog post because the prospect of actually dealing with them is overwhelming and terrifying. As the Chinese saying goes “The journey of one thousand miles begins with sitting on your ass, watching a Psych marathon all weekend, and ignoring all the shit you have to do because you’re too much of a pussy to deal with it.”

Maybe if I watched Tim Allen’s new show I could learn how to be a manly-man and deal with all this crap. It’s more likely, though, that I would just have to add “Get a new TV” to my list after I throw a hammer through my existing one and then I’d have to procrastinate by watching Psych on my laptop. (It’s OK. I don’t think I had any Tim Allen fans as readers, anyhow. They don’t like things that are funny.)

Right, so it seems that I need to find something that is as intellectually absorbing as literature, as engaging and participatory as political action, and as manly and challenging as home repair. Clearly, there is only one possible choice:

Follow professional sports

Come on- what did you think I was going to say? It’s not like I’m gonna go off and open a restaurant or work with lepers or something — I love sports! Following sports is intellectually engaging, there is no end to the level of analysis that one can do. To truly understand what happens on the field of play, you need to understand not only the rules and mechanics of the game in question but also statistics, strategy, history, sociology, psychology, physics, physiology and- during the good ole’ days of steroids- chemistry and biology Trust me, the true sports geek can make the guys on The Big Bang Theory look like Tim Allen (I hate that guy!) BTW- Thanks Congress for fixing the steroid problem in Major League Baseball. Good call doing that instead of regulating the lending industry (sarcastic slow clap.)

Sports are emotionally engaging, but since the stakes are much lower, I don’t reach quite the same fevered pitch of foaming rage that I do when talking about politics. After all, the worst thing that could happen if the Jets lose is that they might miss the playoffs and I’d have to cheer for someone else to beat the Patriots. If the Democrats were to lose, though, then women could lose the right to choose, poverty and hunger would continue to skyrocket, global climate change would intensify, wreaking havoc everywhere and civilization as we know it could very well crumble (of course, the same thing is probably going to happen if we win. Why do we suck so much?)

Sports are participatory — I mean, not in the sense that I would actually ever consider “participating” in playing sports — that would just be silly — but in the sense that I can participate very actively in speculating about sports and even get involved in fantasy games based on the performance of my favorite teams and athletes. Some people say that playing fantasy sports is a poor substitute for actual atheltic activity, but they’re completely wrong. The whole point of fantasy is that it’s better than reality. I mean, sure we all like watching porn, but would you really want to date one of those girls? She’d probably be totally needy and you’d end up having to go to dinner with all her incredibly annoying porn-star book club friends and hearing them go on and on about anal mishaps at work and how The Secret Lives of Bees was “like, seriously, you guys, the saddest book everrrrrr.”

Sports are more fun than home renovation. Uhm, yeah, well, having your colonoscopy video put on YouTube with commentary from the two old guys on the Muppets is more fun than home renovation, so this one doesn’t really count for much.

Unfortunately, even following sports has its drawbacks since not all sports are worth watching. While football and basketball are terrific — hell, even college basketball is pretty damn good, baseball is so boring that even the pitchers in the clubhouse need to get drunk to watch the games (at least in Boston) and hockey would be terrific if they didn’t have all that swishy skating around and puck slapping nonsense to break up all the awesome fights and body checks. So, the fact that this year there may not be any NBA basketball due to the prolonged and contentious labor battle taking place between millionaire players and billionaire owners (It’s the 1% taking on the .001%. Hoopers Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Gold Chains!) is positively terrifying as it means that there will only be watchable sports (i.e. NFL football) a couple of days a week and I’ll have to resort to playing Fantasy Federal Mediation to get my NBA fix (FANTASY TIP: Start David Stern- he’s 2-0 in lockouts.)

So, there you have it. Following sports may come close- but there really isn’t anything I have found that is a substitute for the utterly addictive joy and agony that comes with making theatre, no matter how dumb it may be to do it. I suppose there is always heroin, but there’s no way in hell I’m going down that road and I think that the more mature Rachel Leigh Cook on Psych would agree with me.

I guess I’m just going to have to keep on producing a show here and there and learn to enjoy the relative quiet in my head and my life in between. And you know what — that’s pretty great — like I said earlier, I’ve got an amazing wife, mediocre dog and a full time job in theatre which, frankly, already keeps me pretty busy (case in point — I wrote this at work on a Saturday.) There are a lot worse things I could be doing than hanging out on a Sunday afternoon watching the Jets lose and screaming at the television (but not as much as I would be if the Republican debate were on) and ignoring all the work I need to do around the house. Like, for instance, camping out on Wall Street to protest injustice. Yeah, that would be A LOT worse (Damn it. I just lost the 99%. Oh well, at least I’ve still got the readers with money. Hey, maybe I can get the Koch brothers to pay for my next show. Oh my God, can you imagine? That would be amazing. I should totally start working really hard on that right away. Oh boy. Here I go again. Well, I was bound to fall off the wagon sometime (I’m FINE, Mom.))

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