BRILLIANCE, STAGE-DOOR JOHNNIES, and THE COMPLIMENTS OF STRANGERS
He approached me from a high bar stool, far stage left, behind the speakers. I hadn’t seen him before the show, because I was too wound up. (Why didn’t I do just one more run-through that day? Gah, LINE ANGST.) During my set, which was first, I didn’t see him, because the stage lights at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern blinded me to just about everyone except the front row. And after my set, I was just watching and enjoying the cavalcade of drag kings and gender-bending burlesque and queer folk songs and high-femme glam queens that shimmied and belted their way across the stage. (Bar Wotever: seriously, it’s WOTEVER, and it’s invariably astonishing! So honoured to be a part of it.)
By the time intermission rolled around, I was ready to stretch my legs and generally make myself available in case any of the audience members wanted to chat me up or ask about my show. That’s why I do these showcases: to push my visibility beyond my immediately accessible circle of friends and their friends. I WANT to meet strangers. But sometimes they can be a little strange
This guy reminded me for some reason of James Spader (the older Spader, like, Secretary and later, not Pretty in Pink Spader). Maybe it was the old eyes in an otherwise smooth face. He was reasonably pleasant-looking, and maintained not-sketchy eye contact, but he was wearing a suit, which weirded me out a bit. Yes, Bar Wotever is supposed to be Wotever, but you don’t often see a suit there, unless one of the drag kings or dapper butches or done-up transmen are wearing it.
He offered me a cigarette, instead of a drink, which I thought was very specific. I went outside with him; it felt like he wanted to chat. Once out there, he talked a bit about how great the night’s line-up was; “I’m straight,” he saidâ€”DING, red flag, anyone who has to say that they’re straight while at a queer bar, um, noâ€””I mean, I’ve got two kids”â€”DING DING, a couple of red flags, doesn’t mean you’re straightâ€””and I love coming here. I think they do some great work here.
“Like tonight,” he continued. “I thought you were brilliant.”
Thanks, I said.
“No, really. That was just amazing. You just captured my attention. Brilliant.”
Thank you,I’m glad you liked it.
“I guess I’m sounding like a groupie, but that was so, so brilliant.”
I was closely watching his face at that point and wondering how drunk he was, or how much he was staring at my tits. I didn’t catch him at it, but that doesn’t mean anything. You never can, with the pros. They’re that good at peripherally eyeballing titty that you can’t actually catch them at it. Maybe his voice was a little bit leeryâ€¦?
“Such energy, brilliant.”
No, seriously, STOP. You don’t know me well enough to be talking to me like that.
Friends and lovers, they can praise me as much as they want. I can think of maybe one person who, if they stopped mid-thrust, blinked through the sweat, and said, “You were brilliant tonight,” I would totally buy it, laughing and moaning the whole time. My loved ones don’t have to tell me why they love my stuff, and they don’t have to repress the lechery, either. It’s nice if they can give me concrete reasons, especially if they have a theatre or writing background, but it’s not necessary. They will have seen enough of my work that I trust their judgment AND I know they aren’t laying it on thick for any ulterior reason.
But strangers. Hmm. They come in three categories:
Reviewers can DEFINITELY praise me as much as they want, but for it to be a useful review they need to be specific as to why. They should try to repress lechery. Ideally they have seen enough theatre work in general that I think they know what they’re talking about.
New fans may gush a little, but at some point they stop and buy me a pint of cider. They may take a few cards, or they immediately follow up on Facebook. They ask questions. They write a private email or Facebook message thanking me. There’s no lechery; they’re just happy to have seen me.
Stage-door johnnies hope that their targets are insecure, and they prey on those insecurities. These guys think that I should be so grateful that they love the work, that I will fall like a ripe plum into their hands.
I can’t always tell the difference between fan and stage-door johnny until after the encounter, but I think this guy was the latter. He could/would not stop, and as far as I could tell he wasn’t there in a reviewing or arts-producing or regular-theatre-goer capacity, so why should I trust his judgment? He said he was going to tell his cousin in Oxford about my appearances there; sure, I said, go ahead. He said he goes to Edinburgh (Fringe) every year, and that he would find me there. Promises on pavements, I thought, and nodded my head and smiled. Right, Johnny. Right.
Of course I want to believe that I’m brilliant, that my work is brilliant, that I am the most charismatic thing to walk the boards. I’m working on it. I want to shine. But I won’t get there fueled by people shining me on.
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