Thursday, August 17, 2017 19:22

Cast Blog: Lady Tramp

Lady TrampHello, Earthlings. I’m Lady Tramp, and I guess it’s time for me to tell yinz my story. I’ve got to be honest: I’ve stressed a lot about writing this blog. There’s so much to say, and it seems important to get it right.

Prologue: Baby Thespian

I grew up in New Kensington. Rocky Horror came into my life just a few weeks after I turned eighteen; at the time, I was an awkward, post-punk, burgeoning burnout of a half-gay baby thespian with Bohemian sympathies who couldn’t even fit in with the drama club.

Suffice it to say I was a weird kid, okay? Stuck in a town that boasted at least one bar and one church per downtown block (but almost nothing else), I was surrounded by a distasteful mixture of geriatric drug addicts and stuck-up middle-class PTA moms and I was asphyxiating.

So one night, my (two remaining) friends made me watch this stupid fucking movie with them and then begged me to drive them to Oakmont to see it…live? Ish? The movie didn’t make any sense to me at all, but…well, did you read the above paragraph? I was just excited to breathe anywhere else’s air.

I owe those two friends a lot for dragging me to The Oaks that night.

Before I even entered the theater, I knew that these were my kind of people. As we approached the doors, someone broke off from the cluster of people from whom a billowing cloud of tobacco smoke was erupting: a blonde girl in a purple suit flounced up to us with a cigarette in one hand and a tube of lipstick in the other. This girl was cute as a button and obviously in the cast (I was pretty sure she was supposed to be Janet), but she obviously had some pleasantly rough edges to go along with her sweet, bubbly manner. In case you’re wondering, this was none other than a baby Mighty Mouse (you know, the cute blonde one who plays Frank and always shows the audience her butt).

Anyway, she asked if any of us were “virgins,” and of course I knew that I was, although I wasn’t sure how that was going to be remedied. I proudly received my “V” and entered the theater.

It was ridiculous. People were running around in all manner of garb, from jeans and T-shirts to sparkly lingerie to just plain underwear. Cast members were shouting at each other across the theater. People were dancing, yelling, laughing, cursing, drinking.

My first thought was, I need to be a part of this. Where the fuck do I sign up?

That was on April 2nd, 2011. I joined the cast at their very next meeting.

Act I. A Hot Mess

For the next year and a half, I threw myself into the JCCP with utter abandon. I never missed a show, rehearsal, or meeting, even if it meant calling off of work. I spent a lot of my time at what we called “El Casa de Estrogen,” where resided three members of cast and where a lot of my best memories take place. I attended zombie walks and cast “family” dinners. I danced and grinned and Time Warped. I learned how to sew and do stage makeup. I traveled to Kentucky for a Rocky Horror convention. I was consumed.

This was, undoubtedly, where I belonged. Here, I was not only accepted for all of my quirks, but they were appreciated. I’d walked into a world where people of all shapes and sizes ran around in their underwear and received massive rounds of applause for it. In this world, the conversations ranged from raunchy to intellectual to personal, sometimes all in the space of one afternoon.

My new family was incredible. An eclectic mix of millennials, the cast as I knew it during the first leg of my Rocky journey consisted mostly of twenty-somethings with a deep love of all things weird. Most of them were, quite contentedly, living in apartments with roommates and working random jobs to support their various hobbies. Some were college students or graduates, but others were dropouts like me or had skipped it altogether. I was floored. They were all so free.    And as I made the transition from a horny self-professed spitfire of a rookie into a real, functioning JCCP member, I started to find myself a place in this wonderful group of headcases.

Real life was tossing me around like a pinball at the time (that’s way too long of a story), but the JCCP provided for me a home, a sense of constancy, friends, support, fun, and fulfillment. I was making huge mistakes in my own life, but within the cast I was starting to gain some ground. Near the beginning of 2012, I played Columbia for the first time. Although I’d been having fun playing Magenta and Janet up until then, Columbia was excitable, passionate, and fucking sparkly. The role, even then, was comfortable for me in a way that felt like sliding into your favorite jeans. Or your favorite fishnet stockings. Tip-tapping around the stage in a sequined bustier was more fun than I’d ever had at Rocky before, and all of my castmates agreed that I had truly fit well into the role; to this day, Columbia is by far my favorite role to play. It was also in 2012 that I started directing shows sometimes. For those who might be wondering, we do rehearse and we vote in two directors per month who team up to make up cast lists and coordinate rehearsals and such things.

2012 was a long year. We had a ton of specialty shows that year in addition to our regular shows. In March, we had a Rocky/Shocky double feature; in April, we put on a Redux show (look that shit up if you didn’t see it; there are pictures on our Facebook page); in June, we had a “gender bender” show; in July, a Batman-themed show and our trip to Kentucky; in September, Stephen fucking Chbosky just happened to stop by our show (video of that also exists, methinks); a pirate-themed show capped it off. We also underwent a huge shift in our cast’s government—and, like any group of friends, we had our share of personal tiffs and dramas to fill the interim between shows.

And then, suddenly….

Intermission. Ghosts

…we lost Rocky.

20th Century Fox very rudely changed their copyright laws or something (I’m no fucking lawyer, okay?) and The Hollywood Theater could no longer screen Rocky Horror, or any number of other Fox movies, in DVD or Blu-Ray format. That left either actual film, which I understand is not easy to come by; or digital projection. A digital projector costs, like, my yearly income (not that that’s saying much, harhar). Nonprofit single-screen movie theaters do not, unfortunately, have my yearly income just lying around, and so began the JCCP’s Rocky hiatus.

I won’t lie to you—some of us (yes, including me) sulked over it for a while. Still, we had been going balls-to-the-wall for over a year, and the break was much-needed. Besides, this opened up some seriously cool opportunities to shadowcast other movies. That sort of thing is much easier to pull off when you’re not scheduling around Rocky shows as well. When all was said and done, we were going to make the best of our break and support the theater’s fundraising efforts as best we could. We lined up dates to shadowcast Clue, Reefer Madness, Grease (kind of), and Cry Baby.

Now, I wish that I could tell you that my enthusiasm only increased as the months went by. I wish I could tell you that I was an integral part of getting Rocky back and making the most of things in the meantime.  That was not the case, though.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of fuck-ups to correct, a lot of debt to pay, and a lot of healing to do after almost two years of chaos. So, around the beginning of 2013, I started to distance myself from cast. I still showed up to meetings, rehearsals, and shows, but that was the only time I ever spent around my JCCP friends. I had to throw myself into work to repay my student loans and I had (reluctantly) dragged my sorry ass back to New Kensington to move back in with my parents. I like to think I was a big part of Reefer Madness 2013–I helped to shape up the hardest choreography we’ve ever done—but I faded into the background after that. Some of the cast still remembers it as the time that Lady Tramp disappeared for like six months.

(Seriously, watch Reefer Madness. Not the old black-and-white one, the newer one starring Fabulous Floop from Spy Kids and Sarah Marshall and a kid with really cute dimples. Great movie.)

We finally got Rocky back in July of 2013. And I got back to Rocky near the end of that year; in fact, I remember talking to Sideburns at our Halloween show (it was the last show we did at the Oaks, incidentally) about missing the cast and wanting to become more active again now that I’d finally found a semi-comfortable groundwork to put my feet on.

It took a few months, but I started to make the JCCP a priority again.

Act II.

So, to sum it up, Lady Tramp came running back with her tail between her legs, and of course, it was a while before I was voted back in to direct any shows. 2014 passed by in a blur as I put my best foot forward: I helped with the dance corps again during Reefer Madness that year. I played as many new characters as I could and tried to perfect the ones I’d already played. I put more effort into my costumes, and eventually, I was back in the JCCP’s good graces.

It was in 2015 that I really started to come into myself (four years later, jeez). For those who don’t know, Reefer Madness is my all-time favorite movie, and I love every second of the grueling rehearsal process for such a difficult show. It’s a great challenge and extremely rewarding when it goes well. And in 2015, I was honored to be voted in as a director for Reefer. I threw myself into it like I’d never done before. I typed up at least a bazillion blocking scripts (fucking blocking scripts; if you’ve never made one, DON’T). We had dance rehearsals at least once a week, and while I was worried that my enthusiasm wouldn’t be shared, I’m very proud to say that the dance corps and the whole rest of the cast really showed a lot of motivation and pride in the work we did on Reefer.

Oh, I can’t believe that I almost forgot to mention this, but I also landed the role of Jimmy in Reefer this year! I’ve never played such a difficult role. This role was like a long-distance sprint over multiple terrains. My pants tore twice with the enthusiasm of my many long, mindless humping sequences. This kid is on fire throughout the whole show and he’s pretty much on-screen the whole time. When the movie opens, he’s a naïve sixteen-year-old falling in puppy love with a little All-American girl with blonde curls and eyes the size of dinner plates; Jimmy Harper might as well be in a Mickey Mouse cartoon for all his bouncy, animated movements and lightning-quick expression changes. Through the careful application of marijuana (“America’s new drug menace”), Jimmy turns into a twitchy, sex-crazed reefer fiend who guilt-hallucinates a show tune starring Jesus and Joan of Arc. Ultimately, he becomes a zombie and then is saved from execution by Franklin D. Roosevelt, with whom he then shares a really long musical number about how propaganda will save the country.

(Seriously, this movie is gold.)

Reefer Madness 2015 is the crowning jewel of my achievements in cast thus far. The show wasn’t perfect and there is infinite room for improvement, but what fun would it be if there weren’t? The point is, I rehearsed and rallied and typed and scheduled and literally, at one point, bled for this show until it was really fucking awesome. Not perfect, not professional-grade, but fun as hell and something to be extremely proud of.

It was at the end of April that I was voted in—unanimously!—as the cast’s treasurer. This job is not easy, people. I’m entrusted with the cast’s funds and merchandise, and the fact that it’s such a difficult job only drives me more. You’ll see me at the merchandise table during shows, selling T-shirts, bondage bears, prop bags, toilet paper, stickers, and my soul on occasion; I’m responsible for making and acquiring all of those items and for making sure that they sell well. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming, but it’s a big responsibility and I am humbled to know that I’m trusted with such an important job.

This past weekend, I played Riff-Raff for the first time. This role was a huge deal for me, personally, and I have to say I was blown away by the support of my fellow cast members and the audience. This was a role that I could never have envisioned myself playing, when I first joined the cast. I’m a very showy actor (had you noticed?) and it’s hard for me to break myself of the toe-pointing, “dancy” aspects of Columbia that drew me to play her in the first place. But I’ve grown so much as an actor in the past four years, and I’m proud of my performance. I can’t wait to play Riff again. He’s completely out of my comfort zone, and I’m looking to change that.

If you’d told me four years ago that I would be the JCCP’s treasurer, directing and starring in our most difficult production, playing the huge variety of roles that I have with the cast, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have thought I could pull off Jimmy or Riff-Raff or even Brad, for that matter, or that anyone would ever trust me with cast funds. But here we are, and I couldn’t be more excited to be standing where I am.

Epilogue. Time Meant Nothing, Never Would Again

No one outside of the Rocky community and a few friends of mine understands why I put so much time, effort, and money into the JCCP. I’ve stressed and bitched and moaned and spent really egregious amounts of money on costuming. But that’s the thing, you guys. You get out of something what you put into it. You can’t walk around demanding payment for services not even rendered yet. You give first, you show what you’re made of and how much more you can grow, and then you deliver. And at that point, it doesn’t matter what money you’ve received for it or how many awards you got. People will start to see you for how great you are, because you’ll have shown them. And you’ll have shown yourself.

I joined cast thinking that I needed to choose a predetermined path—whichever I wanted. Then I had to follow it as it was laid out in front of me. That was life: a straight line between birth and death.

NO.

Here’s the most important thing that the JCCP taught me.

Life is not built around a standardized set of life occurrences. Life is about being happy and fulfilled and you can have that, no matter how you choose to obtain it. Don’t let anybody tell you that your seashell collection is stupid. Make as many cat memes as you want. Love football and musical theater in equal parts and get good at them, devote all of your time to them. Look back and remember how shitty you used to be at the piano and thank your deities that you dropped that early on in favor of building dollhouses. Go to work, but just enough so that you can buy glitter glue for your scrapbooks.

And for the love of God, do not be afraid to challenge yourself.

I’m still learning these lessons every day. I still limit myself all the time; I can be my own worst enemy. But that isn’t fair to me. I’ve thankfully surrounded myself with an enormously talented, encouraging, compassionate group of people and sometimes, I can’t believe I’m one of them (let alone one of their leaders). When I doubt myself, I can count on my friends, my castmates, to push me, believe in me, inspire me, and love me even when I fuck up.

By the way, at this time, I’ve played Brad, Janet, Riff-Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Rocky, Eddie, the Criminologist, Dr. Scott, Trixie, and a Transylvanian.

That leaves one more role.

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