Tonight was the first reading of Dustin Engstrom’s adaptation of my memoir, entitled The Cut, at Open Circle Theater here in Seattle. This is the first swoop of a roller coaster ride that I have been on for a while. I have been holding on and waiting for this evening for several weeks. I was so nervous this afternoon I thought I may throw up.
Despite the tummy ache, I feel like a very lucky man. Timing is on my side. My memoir is being published and it’s adaptation is being produced hand in hand. It may have seemed like a calculated plan on my part. But the truth is, I had a few lucky breaks. Perhaps it was kismet, but there have been some amazing people who have really been on my side as the book and the play developed.
A year ago, I could not have told you when, or even if, the book or the play would ever be ready for public consumption. What I did feel confident of was that I was ready to risk my reputation by telling my extremely complicated, and at times, unflattering story. I knew that eyebrows would raise and folks may snicker uncomfortably. Even I sometimes didn’t understand my life. However, I finally know and respect myself well enough to weather any personal or professional damage that may come from me telling my truth. The book and the play are without a doubt the riskiest and most important undertakings of my life.
The reading was rehearsed for a few hours yesterday with the eight actors. The play is being nurtured with care by Open Circle’s Artistic Director, Gary Zinter. Gary, Dustin and I sat at a table and watched as the actors read their parts from the script, seated in front of us behind music stands. The play was getting it’s first breaths of life before my very eyes. My life was now a performance. Oy! Ready or not, here we go…
I let go of so much while writing the book: anger, pain, vanity, conceit. Every chapter I wrote was an exercise in authenticity to claim my life. However, I learned something in the last 48 hours about letting go … really letting go. I instantly found myself hiding in the script with my face down as the actors began reading the play aloud. I caught myself falling backwards. By page eight of the rehearsal, I realized I needed to hold my head high. I needed to go to the next level. There were ten people in the room who need to feel strength from me in order to make Dustin’s play, and ultimately my memoir, a success.
Tonight there were about forty invited friends in the theater to witness my strength. I was responsible for their presence, but I was deeply humbled. I was the author, a character in the play, and hopefully an inspiration … but I was still scared out of my mind. I am not infallible and certainly still have feelings. I can easily be vulnerable. Yet, having my closest friends with me this evening for the reading of the play made it much easier to keep my chin up. I was supported tonight by Oscar, Jim, JR, Troy Skot, Imelda, Stephanie and Mandy. My editor from Coffeetown Press, Catherine, and her partner Jeff were also there to lend support. I certainly felt my mom and dad’s presence in the room, too.
The reading was a huge success. Dustin’s work is already strong (and will get stronger) and the actors did a wonderful job of relaying the play for the audience, without the benefit of movement or technical support. Tonight’s viewers had honest reactions in the right places and most everyone stayed for the feedback portion of the evening to give Dustin pointers on what worked and what needed tinkering before the play’s premiere in January. I was immensely appreciative of all the folks who were involved with the reading. I trust Dustin and I feel like the play is in great hands at Open Circle Theater.
After the reading, people cornered me in the lobby and shook my hand and thanked me for being so brave and sharing my story. I caught myself answering questions with poise. Amazing. The sigh of relief as I drove home told me that I am doing the right thing. I can tell my story. I should tell my story. I hope to reach people who have kept their head down in shame their whole life. I can offer insight to those who are trying to find themselves but are riddled with emotional scars.
I may be a sissy, but my dad didn’t raise no coward.
Shorn: Toys to Men is due to be released in December and The Cut will open January 14.