In a play about strippers, I was cast as a waitress. And a lawyer. I don’t like roles I’ll age out of. I played a 65 year old woman when I was in high school. So I never feel like I’m aging. I’m just growing into the roles I was already playing.
On the first day of rehearsal for the aforementioned stripper play - called Top Shelf Gash in case you wondered if we had ANY class at all and my mother loved it by the way - I was excited and a little nervous. I didn’t know anyone in the cast except for one person, and these people were a tight knit group. I was brand new. So I made sure to get there early, and I waited. And waited.
I was at the wrong space, because this was an itinerant company and we rented 15 different spaces to rehearse in and I apparently couldn’t read a goddamned calendar COOL, I’ll just take a cab to the right space then.
Everyone was very nice, and we read this ridiculous play out loud and I had no idea what was going on and I didn’t care. It was funny. It was weird. The jokes were a combination of crude and elaborate, obvious and beat-you-to-death obvious, and subtle. There were a lot of references. A lot. I didn’t think people made plays like this.
They didn’t know me at all, but they threw an extra role at me because they wanted someone to say the name of the restaurant where the scene took place. It was called Vagitaria. Because of course it was. Shameless Ball, Shameless Company.
The director, Nick Digilio, just told me to come up with a few specials. Me? Just...rattle something off?
They didn’t know I was improv trained. They didn’t know this is what I do. They just assumed I would catch the ball if they threw it, because why else would I be there? Catch the fucking ball, let’s all move on. So I did.
My specials were mostly puns involving vegan food, and it ended with this one: “And lamb. You can’t eat him, we’re just going to bring him out and you pet him and tell him how special he is.”
I was in. Also, I was in an onstage pun war with our Artistic Director, Scott OKen. I do not recommend that. Ever. It’s brutal. And I loved it.
I was addicted then. I would become a company member two years later, after acting as consigliere while in a band with all of the company’s leadership.
I was in this shit now, son. How deep? Oh, man.
This Shameless Ensemble. This group of crazy people. I have held these people while they wept; I have shared holidays with them, invited them to my wedding and my home. I have cried with them. I have helped them get home safely, and held their hair when they’ve thrown up. They have helped ME get home safely and been blissfully unaware when I’ve thrown up because I am a GODDAMNED PROFESSIONAL.
I have seen audience members literally piss themselves. I’ve also seen them be forever changed by something they saw that no other theater would put on stage, for better or for worse.
I have fought with these company members and made up and fought again. I have been half naked on stage for them. I have loved and lost and loved again with them around to hold me up. I learned to cartwheel and rollerskate for them, to fight better, to write better, to be the straight woman, to step up, to SIT DOWN, to respond faster and smarter, to lay it on the line like Triumph. To be present, to be right here right now, Jesus Jones. To say ULTIMATE a certain way. Ultimate. To enjoy lawsuits. To know what a fart room is, what shit bird is, what a reach around means IN A SHOW, what a DON’T DOOR is, and when and where to make a list moment happen. I have learned to stop, to collaborate and to listen. To constantly ask, “OH IS THAT RIGHT.”
To scream chants in bars on command.
(leads room in chant)
WHAT TIME IS IT?!?!
(Room responds perfectly)
You see that? That is commitment. And a liiiiittle bit of a cult. IT’S OKAY we are a really nice cult and you're all invited.
These are the teachings of this shameless family. As my career grows, I can look back over ten years of being a company member and know that I got most of it from them. I am now aging gracefully into the roles I’ve had. Just last month, I shot a short film about strippers. I played a waitress. I think I did a pretty good goddamned job.