Earlier, I told you about my antics in a college production of Grease and now I’m back with another helping. After getting slimed by Crista like I was on Double Dare, I wasn’t sure it was safe (or sanitary) for me to ever have a part in Grease again. Despite that, I ended up stepping in to direct the official Fat Camp version of Grease with my friend Rhea after the original director hired had an emergency and couldn’t come to camp.
As we were discussing the play over many drinks at lunch, Rhea convinced a more intoxicated version of my regular self that I should be the Teen Angel. Figuring it would be a blast, I forgot for a second that I can’t sing and immediately agreed to it. Who doesn’t love a Beauty School Dropout and, really, does it matter if it sounds good?
After a few rehearsals, the show started coming together nicely but we felt like my entrance was a bit boring and should have a wow factor (or about as wow as you can get at Fat Camp)…We discussed it and were throwing out ideas about how to spice it up, when her face lit up and she said “Oh My God, the Teen Angel appears to Frencie to offer advice and look out for her, so how funny would it be if he was dressed like a Fairy Godmother in a big frilly dress? Sarcastically, I replied “Why don’t you just hang me from the ceiling like Peter Pan while you’re at it” and as soon as it was out loud, we both knew how funny it could be. I had said it more as a joke, but the more we discussed it, the cooler it sounded to lower me from the back balcony over the audience while I entered singing.
Imagine the looks I got as we went from one woman’s store to the next so I could try on dresses and find the “perfect” one. Tell me which part you think is more embarrassing: A) That I was guy in all these women’s stores trying on dresses or B) That when questioned about what we were doing, Rhea said “What’s so weird about it? It’s for Fat Camp” as if that answer provided any sort of clarity.
Back at camp, we spoke to the maintenance guys and they thought it was hysterical and got to work on creating a swing for my entrance. My vision was of a chariot being lowered from the rafters by professional machinery; their vision was a piece of wood with a rope tied to it. Guess what we got? The latter vision. Obvious red flags should have went up – but I was sober very little that summer and you know how I commit to a role!
On the night of the show, I got into costume and went up in the balcony to wait for my sound cue. As I sat there hunched over, so that no one would see me or realize that I was up there, I couldn’t help but have second thoughts about this whole stupid idea and the scenario that was playing out. I had a bad feeling about my entrance and then became horribly aware of just how awful I looked. Sure, I was a guy in a woman’s dress and floppy wig, but it wasn’t even funny-ugly – it was just an ugly sight. I had frills everywhere and realized a little too late that maybe pink wasn’t my color after all. With my albino white skin and that light pink dress, I looked like a deformed porcelain doll…I was in good shape back then with a full head of hair mind you, but dressed as a woman, I looked like Lady Gaga without the ya ya’s. Who lets a guy with a flat chest wear a dress and forgets about the knockers?
As we were coming up on my cue, the guys holding the ropes couldn’t even look at me without laughing. I was seated on the swing waiting for Frenchie to say “If only I had a guardian angel tell me what to do” and I then I would say “You got your wish sister!” and launch into Beauty School Dropout. That’s what’s was supposed to happen – but as I said “You got your wish sister!” everyone in the audience turned and looked up at me and the music started to play. The guys that were supposed to lower me on the swing over the lip of the balcony and then down to the ground pushed my backside instead of pushing the swing, causing me to fall out of it.
No one screamed louder than me because it almost scared the shit out of me as I was pushed off the swing and grabbed at the ropes to hold on. As I fell, one of the guys holding the rope grabbed my hand and I was dangling there like Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. Needless to say, trying to sing the song through the screams (mostly mine) and hysterical laughter (everyone else’s) was to no avail. The music played on and at first, I still tried to keep singing the song as they were trying to pull me back up into the balcony.
As I was dangling there like a pendulum, I couldn’t help but think a) good thing I wore underwear and b) good thing the pair of underwear I chose wasn’t my festive American Flag G-string and then c) fucking let me go already!
I checked afterwards to make sure, but it’s not actually written in the stage directions on the script to scream “Asshole, let me go” at the crew members during the show but sometimes you have to improvise. I also never learned the old tuck and roll trick either because when I got my wish – and they released me – I dropped the rest of the way down and hit the ground like a rock to even louder laughter and clapping. I wasn’t really mad that not even one person in that audience tried to catch me or tried help me before, during, or even after the fall, and I also wasn’t mad at the piano player who didn’t think to stop playing the song at all during it either. I know what you’re thinking “It could have been worse” but that’s not the end of it.
I didn’t get hurt in the fall unless you count my pride – cause that bitch was a-hurtin’ fo Sure! I also didn’t get hurt by the dangling swing that I fell out of repeatedly smacking me in the face and noggin as I dangled there. All of that might not have been so bad or embarrassing if at the exact moment that I was shifted out of the swing and started to plummet, my dress hadn’t gotten caught on the balcony ledge and started to ceremoniously rip off me layer by layer. After they finally let me go and I fell to my descent, the remaining tattered material just gave way around me. Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark let me tell you something: you are not innovative – I was falling out of the rafters during a show years before you!!!
I did my best to try and keep some parcel of my dignity intact as I did what I could with the performance but imagine how difficult it was to try to get up off the ground and make your way to the stage in boxers and a few strands of taffeta around your neck and chest. God only knows when and where I lost the wig, but I was a mess. I held my head up high, tried to keep from laughing and sing the rest of the song and exited stage right.
After bearing witness to one of the best spectacles she said she has ever seen, my sister Marlene came backstage with her arms overflowing with the multiple pieces of material she had recovered from the wall, floor, and along my trail through the auditorium. With tears in her eyes and trying to hold in her laughter, she said (handing me the pile of material) “I think you forgot this out there…Words cannot even describe…Was it supposed to happen like that?…I thought you might have really gotten hurt there for a second there but…” and then we just burst out laughing. We didn’t even wait until the end of the show, we literally left right then and went to the bar. Not the best tactic if you’re the director of said show, but I had enough and needed alcohol immediately.
I must have been out of my mind to think that it would work in the first place – me and coordination go together like asparagus and a golden shower…Even though it didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned – I was more like Frank the Tank than Frankie Avalon – it was really funny and everyone loved it. You know the old saying: It may not be Broadway, but even at Fat Camp – the show must go on!