Spring so far had been erratic, unusually warm some days, interspersed with unusually cold days, and infrequent but heavy rains. My silent clown show that I performed Saturdays and Sundays at Central Park West and 72nd Street had only been rained out once, which was good for me. I earned almost as much doing the show and making balloon animals afterwards, as I did teaching drama at Gotham University School of the Arts. Climate change may have been screwing up the planet, but so far it hadn't really affected my life. I was certain farmers and beach towns felt differently.
My live-in girlfriend, MJ, nee Marguerite Janice Van Doerner Kowalski, had come to see my clown show in early April. She had come back several times after that. She told me she was fascinated seeing another side of my character, a sweet, innocent creature who reassured and never mocked, unlike my civilian self, invariably cynical and caustic. It was a strange experience to have someone see past my protective façade, but MJ, a bright sparkly, fair-skinned, red-headed artist, was not an ordinary person. We first met at a protest rally in Tompkins Square Park and I was instantly attracted to her. As our relationship evolved, I developed deeper and deeper feelings for her, that became even more intense when she moved into my 6th floor, walk-up on East 9th Street, between Avenues C and D.
MJ was a serious artist, whose current work was an abstract form that she called neo-color field, with roots in Helen Frankenthaler's stain technique on unprimed canvas. I had been working on my play, 'Unravelings', in a work space she set up for me in her studio, where lots of her artist friends hung out. Their art babble about surface texture, centrifugal shaping, color process, form extension, was an alien language to me. They were so sincere and unpretentious that I couldn't help liking them, despite not having a passport to their land.
For the most part the artists accepted me, especially after my play reading was attended by a world famous artist, invited by my ex-girlfriend, Anitra Blavatsky, a bony, chilly artist who worked for him. I had nicknamed him 'Sophisto', the master of plastic, for his wrapping the wonders of nature in stifling plastic. I detested his work, but he had been so enthusiastic about my play that I suppressed my caustic comments and thanked him graciously, which surprised Anitra, but was appreciated by MJ.
MJ was pleased by my new attitude towards 'Sophisto'. He had visited her studio and praised her work. This gave her a boost in the art community, as well as benefiting me. She had been busy painting, preparing for her one-person show in the fall, encouraged by her artist friends who were very supportive. Their only problem at her studio was my dog Pard, a clever mutt, who I brought along whenever I worked there. Pard had to be the horniest dog in the western hemisphere, completely unsuccessful at satisfying his sexual needs. Whenever the opportunity arose, he mounted one of the artist's legs and began humping. The victim called MJ for help and she immediately restrained him. Pard had already humped one of the female artists until his red member popped out and he ejaculated on her. She fled and wouldn't return if he was there. Well, someone once said the path of art is thorny.
I had tried different ways to deal with Pard's involuntary abstinence, some reasonable, some bizarre. One far-fetched fantasy was opening a doggie brothel. Of course Pard would be its best customer. Another solution shattered by a dose of reality. My latest idea seemed very clever at first. I would get a life size, inflatable, pneumatic plastic doggie sex doll, that Pard could use regularly. When I revealed the shining brilliancy to MJ, she responded:
"Euuw.Ooky. You're not bringing that disgusting thing into our house or studio."
That was pretty definite. Once again Pard would have to do without. But my insecure loner's self was partially reassured by MJ's 'our house'.
Aside from Pard's discomfort, my life was going surprisingly well. My Hamlet class did the reading performance in one of Gotham U's 99 seat, state of the art theaters, with lighting and basic costumes of black tights and tops. It had been a tremendous success. The students had mostly memorized their lines, which I thought was an incredible accomplishment and I told them so. Then they performed with script in hand. They had worked hard, learned their entrances and exits, and mastered the blocking and stage movement. They were a lot better than some of the actors that I had worked with Off-Off Broadway.
Family and friends of the students loved what had unexpectedly become a real show. They sat through three and a half hours, with only one intermission, and at the end gave the performers a standing ovation. Afterwards there was a wine and cheese reception, provided by my department chairman, Professor Ernest Derringer, who I had nicknamed the 'emoter', for his effusive ways. His attitude towards me had changed drastically, I know not why. I was still my caustic, cynical self, but he had become very accommodating.
Ernest talked to most of the parents, especially the wealthy and important ones. He paid special attention to one of the students, Merriweather Garner, and her father, who was a Broadway theater producer and a past donor to the theater department. The students had babbled excitedly in the post-performance exhilaration for a completely supportive audience. When they calmed down a bit, Juno Franklin, a bright, aggressive lesbian, my favorite student who had played Hamlet, said loudly:
"Ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of our whole class, I'd like to thank Mr. Kensington who did such a great job."
The students applauded vigorously and a few cheered, followed by the audience. I immediately stopped them.
"Thank you for your appreciation. But this is the student's evening. They worked hard, intelligently, creatively and gave a worthy performance of the most demanding play in the English language. I just did my job. They made this an absolute adventure…."
The audience applauded and when they finished, I added:
"I gave each of them an A for the course and wish I could give them an Obie. Thank you all for attending."
The audience applauded again and when the students went to change to street clothes, Mr. Garner congratulated me.
"I'm very impressed with what you accomplished with students in such a short time."
"They worked really well. Besides, we had more time than a showcase."
He laughed, then handed me a business card.
"Call me if you do something I can see."
"As a matter of fact, sir. I'm staging a production of my first full length play, 'Unravelings' in this theater on the next two weekends."
He got the particulars and told me he'd try to make one of the performances.
I went home that night singing 'Give My Regards to Broadway'.
The production of my play at the 99 seat theater, the 'Hickenlooper' Theater, named after the donor, had come about in the strangest way. The Hamlet class had been going so well in early April, and Ernest was so pleased with our progress, as well as acting so benevolently towards me, that at our next meeting I had daringly asked if I could use one of the department's 99 seat theaters for my play showcase. Wonder of wonders. Instead of outraged rejection of my presumptuous request, he asked me about the play. When I described the staged readings, and 'Sophisto's' endorsement, perhaps I fibbed a little about his commitment to attend a production, Ernest's antennae went up. I added that other noted artists and theater people would attend and Ernest went on full alert. He looked at me appraisingly for a minute, then told me I could use the same 'Hickenlooper' Theater the last two weekends in May, that I would be using for the Hamlet class production.
I thanked Ernest profusely and almost danced out of his office. But I restrained myself and didn't do the cavorting 'I've got a theater dance', until I was in the hallway, much to the amusement of the students I passed. But I had a theater and a play. All I needed was a cast, designers, a tech crew and enough money to pay for the production. My theater career was taking off like a guided missile. I had rushed to the 'Hickenlooper', sat down onstage with a feeling of proprietorship and phoned the actors who did the reading.
By some coincidence, they all were free that evening and I asked them to meet me at the 'Hickenlooper', which name gave them all a laugh. I arranged with security to let them in and direct them to the 'Hickenlooper'. The rent-a-cop, who might have to risk his life to protect the sons and daughters of prosperity for the minimum wage, asked me no questions. I could have invited al Qaeda bombers and if they were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, no one would have checked their backpacks. It didn't surprise me. Why should Gotham U. be different from so many bastions of capitalism that paid minority security personnel a pittance, to guard valuable lives and property. A moment later I forgot social issues, studying the jewel box theater that was mine, mine, mine, for at least a few weeks.
I gave the actors a tour of the theater, especially backstage, with real, live dressing rooms, air conditioned luxury and the green room with comfortable chairs, couches, a refrigerator, microwave and a wi-fi connection. They were suitably impressed, as they were accustomed to the equivalent of skid row settings where they performed Off-Off Broadway.
"All this can be yours," I crooned expansively, "for a wonderful showcase-like production of 'Unravelings', which you read so well."
"Tell us about it", Jessica said, not masking her excitement.
"I have the theater for the last two weekends in May. If you all make the commitment, I'll pay you $50 a week for two weeks of intense rehearsals, and $100 a week for the two weekends of performances, on Friday and Saturday nights." I had given them a few minutes to absorb the information and register the numbers. "The only way I can do the show with so little lead time is if all of you do it. Why don't you check your schedules, think about it and get back to me tomorrow."
My aplomb was only skin-deep, because it felt like the fate of my world was in the hands of actors, very precarious vessels. But before I could say anything else, Jessica had said:
"I'll do it. What about you guys?"
Alan and Ron said yes, but Derek held up his hand.
"Let me make a quick call."
He phoned a friend and asked him to sub for him at the restaurant, disconnected, then said:
We had worked as hard as theater people ever could, and at the same time I made sure to give my Hamlet students my best efforts. Somehow the students had heard about my play and started coming to the theater in the evenings and watching rehearsals. They avidly soaked up everything we were doing and the actors, enjoying the youngsters fascination with the process, played a little more to the audience. One of the boys had asked if he could video the rehearsals, and I agreed, as long as he gave me a copy. I made certain to be the same person with the actors that I was with the students, except I worked them harder.
A week before the Hamlet reading, Juno had asked me if the students could come see my show.
"Sure. If you come the first week and come back for the second, you'll see an evolving show."
"What's the difference? Aren't the same actors doing it?"
"Yes. But they'll grow in confidence, and I'll make changes during the week."
I hired a lighting designer I knew who offered to run the lighting for an additional fee. I gladly agreed. MJ coordinated the costumes and was my stage manager. The actors adored her. Anitra promoted the show and got 'Sophisto' to come. He brought an entourage to opening night, as well as another famous artist, known for his sculpture of popular images, like dogs and rabbits, that sold at auction for prodigious prices. Ernest made introductory remarks praising me. The audience loved the show and enjoyed the champagne afterwards. I praised the actors and Ernest. So I was becoming a politician. Everyone praised me and I went home that night feeling so good that my only regret was that my family wasn't there.
The two weekends had flown by in an instant and I barely had a chance to savor the play. Mr. Garner, the Broadway producer, came to the last performance, with his daughter. We had talked for a few minutes after the curtain and he said the show had potential for Off- Broadway. He told me to call his office and make an appointment to discuss a possible production. I thanked him effusively and said goodnight. All my theater fantasies were bubbling and simmering just below the surface of my cool exterior.
I took MJ and Anitra to a late dinner at an expensive steak house that was way beyond my budget, but the last wonderful month warranted a celebration. MJ was her usual loving self and Anitra was unusually warm, probably due to my recent accomplishments. But so what. All was well in my little world and there was the possibility of a bigger production to come. I may have depleted my savings, but this was what it was for. And I had actually gotten up the next morning and did my clown show at Central Park West and 72nd Street. If I was careful about expenditures, my savings would grow again. MJ, who had a trust fund, had offered to finance the production, but she understood my refusal and my need to do it myself.
The only thorn in my side was Pard, who had spent a lot of time alone while I was busy with Hamlet and ''Unravelings'. MJ had been taking him for his morning and evening runs, so he was glad that I was back to my usual routine. The warming weather was making him increasingly horny. I hadn't given his problem much thought since MJ's absolute rejection of the pneumatic doggie doll, so it was time for something new. I wracked my brain, but all I could come up with were the silliest ideas. MJ laughed when I proposed disguising him with a fur coat and claiming he was a new breed. She laughed even harder when I said I could pretend to be blind, wear dark glasses and a cane, and have a sign that said: 'seeing eye dog needs sex'.
No brilliancy arrived, no matter how hard I wracked my brain. I was embarrassed that I couldn't find a solution to Pard's ongoing doggie frustration. I idly wondered if dogs could get the proverbial 'blue balls'. I decided not to mention to MJ the crude idea of adopting a bitch from the ASPCA, letting Pard use her, then returning her. Somehow I didn't think MJ would go for it. So I patted Pard fondly and said:
"Sorry, pal. I'm still trying. Hang in there."
He put his head on my knee, looked at me woefully, as if to say: 'how long, boss?'
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. His chapbook Remembrance was published by Origami Condom Press, The Conquest of Somalia was published by Cervena Barva Press, The Dance of Hate was published by Calliope Nerve Media, Material Questions was published by Silkworms Ink,'Dispossessed was published by Medulla Press, Mutilated Girls was published by Heavy Hands Ink, Pavan and other poems was published by Indigo Mosaic and Iraq Monologues was published by Atlantean Press. A collection of his poetry Days of Destruction was published by Marie Celeste Press. Another collection Expectations was published by Rogue Scholars Press, Dawn in Cities was published by Winter Goose Press and Assault on Nature is being published by Winter Goose Press. His novel Extreme Change was published by Cogwheel Press and Acts of Defiance is being published by Artemae Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.
Interviewing A Broadway Virtuoso:
Lavender Wolves Literary Journal: The editors at Lavender Wolves Literary Journal found your piece in particular incredibly fascinating. Do you have any advice to aspiring writers who have not been published before who would like to establish their voice as a literary writer? We know writing fiction and stories in general are difficult, but what do you suggest certain writers do in order to see their diligent efforts be displayed in literary journals, particularly shorts stories and fiction? Do you think the internet has aided these writers or hindered it in anyway? Why or why not?
Gary Beck: Fiction writers have thousands of outlets for their work, via the internet. They should read the magazines they want to publish in and see if they fit.
·LW: You mentioned in your biography that you grew up in New York City. How has growing up in this part of the world helped to sculpt who you are as a writer? You have also achieved unprecedented success with your work as a theater director as well. In what ways is your current job related to the literary market? How did you get into this particular field?
GB: New York city is the financial, cultural and poverty capital of America. All these elements shaped me. I started writing poetry at age 16. I got involved with theater at age 17, in a very zany experience.
LW: Do you think there is a marriage between music, literary journals, and theater? Why or why not? Furthermore, does music influence your writing in any way? Has the evolution of music and theater aided the literary market in any way?
GB: Music is an ever present element of theater. I see no relationship between theater and literary journals, except they publish plays and obscure criticism.
LW: How do you feel about rejection as a whole? do you remember the first time your work was accepted? Conversely, do you also remember your first rejection upon submission? What was going through your mind during these pivotal moments of your literary career.
GB: Acceptance and rejection has never been a significant factor in my work.
LW: What prompted you to write this piece that was accepted? What sort of inspiration did you draw from as a result of producing this piece? Was it spontaneous, or something you really had to think about before you even wrote the poem?
GB: I've written a series of 'doggie stories', a diverting contrast from my more serious work.
·LW: Who are some of your favorite poets and writers, and why do you consider them to be your favorites? Of those favorites, which poet or writer has had the greatest influence on you thus far and why?
GB: Poe, Whitman, Elliot, Mallarmee, Lermontov, Dreiser, Wolfe, Steinbeck. Whitman and Steinbeck each explored the soul of America.
LW: At this stage of your career, you have established yourself, having appeared in numerous publications in print and online. however, all writers want to accomplish more. What sort of plans do you have moving forward? Or do you have aspirations that you still would like to accomplish in a professional capacity?
GB: I need to develop a large, diverse readership.