Lock Haven has this thing called Millbrook Playhouse. It’s an old, converted barn with a smaller, cabaret-style theater attached. Every summer, dozens of talented singers and actors come to Millbrook from New York City to pad their resumes. It’s called Summer Stock. It happens every summer in small towns all across the middle Atlantic and New England states.
These actors and actresses have had mild success on Broadway but have yet to score a leading role in anything of note. So they descend on small towns like Lock Haven for their chance to star in productions they would otherwise have no chance to star in on Broadway. It’s a win-win, really. They get to pad their stats, and small town residents get to experience quality productions of live theater without having to take a trip to New York City.
Millbrook also gives local aspiring actors, actresses, and musicians the chance to perform with some very talented people. A Music Director will come from New York and spend the summer (they also needed to pad their stats), but rarely do professional musicians come along to fill out the orchestra. Those spots are always filled by local musicians. Local musicians like me.
One summer, Millbrook opened the season with Grease. I played drums for the production. The way this particular production was staged, the pit musicians were actually visible from the audience. That meant we had to dress up every night. Usually it’s just shorts and flops and who cares because no one can see what’s going on behind the curtain. But not for this show.
Wardrobe decided all the musicians should wear these hideous pink tuxedo shirts. Presumably, we were “portraying” a ’50s doo-wop band, which meant hideous matching outfits. So every night, we musicians would dress for the show in the dressing room alongside the talent.
There was a member of the stage ensemble that everyone called “Big Gay Bob.” This nickname was exceedingly accurate, as he was very big, very gay, and presumably named Bob. As a member of the pit, I didn’t really interact with the talent. Maybe it was because I was a little shy, maybe it was because we all had pre-established stereotypes of what the other was: we thought the actors hated having to spend the summer in a podunk little town; they thought the locals were all rednecks. There would be no mingling.
But I wanted to change that. I wanted to show Big Gay Bob and all the other New York folk that yes, we were small town, but we could still interact and talk and get along and hang out just fine. So I hatched a plan. I decided to strike up a conversation with Big Gay Bob while we were in the dressing room before a show. I even had my “in.” I was going to talk about my tuxedo shirt and what a hideous garment it was. We would laugh, he would admire my self-deprecating ways, and a friendship would blossom. This was the intent. Unfortunately, when it came time to actually formulate words into a coherent sentence, this is the sorely misguided, poorly planned, blend of nouns and verbs that spewed forth:
“So, you like this pink shirt, don’t ya.”
I remember seeing the words leave my mouth. I remember wanting desperately to reach out and grab them mid-air and stuff them back inside my idiot mouth. But alas, I could not. The words landed in Big Gay Bob’s ear and he said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
And I just….ugh. There was nothing I could do. There was literally nothing I could say to walk that embarrassing opening salvo back.
“I just, no, I mean, the shirt is, I didn’t mean that you, I, it’s, uh…”
“Mm-hmm,” he said, as he turned and walked to the other side of the dressing room.
You like this pink shirt… what the hell was that? I might as well have said, “Hey faggot, you like this faggy pink shirt, don’t you, faggot.”
My attempt to build a bridge of commonality between me, the redneck drummer from the redneck town, and Big Gay Bob failed in spectacular fashion. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression effectively ended any chance I had to make a second one.
So if you’re out there, Big Gay Bob, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to make fun of you. I was trying to make fun of me and that awful shirt I had to wear. I’m just really bad at, you know, talking and stuff.