the Goliard
March, 2003

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A Correspondence

[Communiqué Sequence]

Epistle Four - Letter from James to Pedro

Pedro,

Enclosed is a brief synopsis of the most vital of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules governing upstaging in a musical.

  1. The fondling of body parts, either your own or another’s, while other actors are engaged in dialogue or singing is prohibited.
  2. If the curtain is raised during narration to reveal an important set-piece, no actor should be present behind the curtain to distract attention from that set-piece. Needless to say, any actor riding another actor like a pony does constitute presence and is an unacceptable distraction.
  3. One or more actors improvising dialogue in normal voices while scripted dialogue is underway right next to them may constitute upstaging.
  4. In the particular case of a musical, if improvised interjections become so loud and drawn-out that it proves impossible to hear the music cue when it comes, a more favorable balance may be desirable. (Side-note to conductors: If the music itself is so loud as to preclude an actor onstage hearing him or herself, it is likely that the audience is having the same difficulty.)
  5. In the specific case of proscenium stages, if an actor is deliberately standing farther upstage than the actor with whom he is engaged in dialogue in order to draw attention to himself and away from the other actor or for any other reason, the other actor is entirely justified in facing away from him as though he were not on stage and delivering his lines as though in a monologue.
  6. If someone onstage is either speaking or singing and others are not, the chances are that the speaking or singing person is of greater importance at that moment than the others. Whatever the others are doing to make sure that the spoken or sung lines are not heard, be it imitating barnyard animals, fondling as in rule 1 above, engaging in pratfalls, discussing the Jets game, having mugging contests or slapfights, dropping trou, whispering sibilants, or even tongue-kissing is most likely not beneficial to the scene. This rule applies at least twofold in the case of Ibsen.

Greetings from the sunny south! I will refrain from naming names of people or places to avoid possible lawsuits when these letters are made public, but thought I would send the news anyway. As you know, I’m in the middle of a run of some theatrical importance down here, and the reviews and public response have been overwhelmingly positive. True we’ve had a couple little ripples of discontent in the cast, but for the most part everyone is getting along and all are doing an admirable job. The rules mentioned above are really just for reference, certainly not based on my actual experiences.

A few days ago a gentleman in the audience disliked a joke I told so much that he suggested in a rather loud voice that I be killed.

It was about this time in 1949, or 54 years ago, that William S. Burroughs was writing letters to Allen Ginsberg characterizing Neal Cassady as an “inveterate moocher.” I thought you’d want to know.

Last week we went to the beach on our first day off. There were a few girls, both of the imported from New York variety and the local variety, and one other straight man besides myself (in my experience, the myth about all male musical theater actors being gay is untrue, the actual total running about 55-65%). The fleet was in, so the tide was up among the actors, so to speak. It never ceases to amaze me what a uniform will do to some people. The women and some of the gay men worked up the courage to ask the sailors if they could have a picture taken with them, and were disappointed to discover how many of the sailors were women.

Speaking of gay, I went to a gay bar with another actor and his boyfriend the other day. It was filled with cutouts of football players on the walls, lockers under the bar, bleachers next to the pool table (I actually won for a change, first beating my friend and then an upstart challenger with nine fingers while his boyfriend tried to sell my friend’s boyfriend Valium for $1) and basketball on the TV. Oh, but then the other screens had videos of Wonder Woman and Xanadu.

I’m not making fun here, I have a large number of gay friends and I love hanging out with them. In the Midwest and most of the rest of the country, the gay bars are the only places that play halfway decent music. But this bar at first glance seemed to have something to prove in the way of testosterone. It seemed so anxious to demonstrate its love for sports and action movies. Just an observation, though, not a judgment, and my friends felt the same.

After the gay bar I stopped into a strip club, possibly to reinforce to myself the fact that I still liked women better, and I do. What is it, in fact, that makes those women so comfortable to hang around with? Is it that they’re not wearing anything? I don’t think that’s it, entirely. My own theory is that when that part of the process is eliminated it’s more possible to meet someone as they really are. Oh, I can hear the wounded animal cries from women everywhere as they read that. Sure, I probably just need to feel I have the advantage, right? I need the women undressed because I need the master/slave relationship to be able to communicate at all? Here’s the thing, though: men don’t have the advantage in strip joints. Women have all the power. Maybe not over the management, but definitely over the clients.

Dating so often becomes a game about wondering what the girl looks like with her clothes off and whether you’ll ever get to find out. Probably for the women’s sake all the men should be undressed too, but now I seem to be describing a hot tub party I witnessed (OK, participated in) in Corvallis, Oregon, and although I was desperately in love with at least one of those women, she was probably underage and should at least have been wearing clothes, if not remaining sober. Nothing happened, officer, I have lots of witnesses.

Or it could just be that I have issues with the way the meetings between men and women work these days. These are the kinds of issues I have plenty of time to think about down here with nothing to do but eight shows a week. It takes lots of energy but not so much time, and because acting is fundamentally about relating to people, being in a show almost always resembles living in a test tube where relationships are catalyzed and destroyed. Actually just catalyzed, it’s when the relationship is removed from the test tube and asked to thrive in the world that it dies.

Incidentally, I found a great used book store down here today at long last, and from the guy behind the counter I got the locations of two more. Things are looking up.

Incidentally, it was March 1, 1954, when William S. Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg “Tangiers is looking up.” And yes, the book fell open to that page after I wrote the last paragraph. I thought about buying a book of astrology, then seriously considered a book about Tarot, but it turns out that in my life in this place The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945-1959 is the I Ching. So much for planning.

As Ever,

James

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