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There is Something That I Have to Tell You

It is something that I don’t like to talk about.

If you know me in person you know I prefer fun, happy topics. I love irony. I like to make you laugh. I’m a musical comedian, for goodness sakes. We’re calling Dog Opera a “comedy” by Constance Congdon because it is very, very funny, but there is also a touch of drama and some very heartbreaking, poignant moments. It’s a dramedy, if you will. There is, however, something else you should know.

Aside from telling the story of a gay male and his straight best friend and their separate failed dating lives in NYC, Dog Opera also tackles the AIDS epidemic. ‘Congdon wrote this play to reflect the time when AIDS was considered the plague, a death sentence, an utterly terrifying shock to our world. We have come a long way, but spreading awareness and educating people is still a top priority, right here in our country. I still find Dog Opera’s message to be strong, relevant, and timely.

Personally, it hits close to home for me…and this is what I have to tell you. This is one of the (secret?) reasons I am pouring my blood sweat and tears into Producing and Starring in this production. Why keep secrets, though? You know I am nothing but honest in this blog, so here goes.

I lost my Uncle Kurt to AIDS on July 7th, 1987. Right smack dab in the middle of the crisis, when there was no treatment. He was my Mothers’ youngest brother and he passed at the ripe age of 21. I was just a small, blonde-ish 7 year old girl, happy and full of energy and he was cool and fun and loved me, so, so much. He was also incredibly handsome, see?

He looks a LOT like my Grandmother, and she was (and perhaps never really got over being) devastated.  No one really knew what to say to my brother and I to explain what he passed from, we were so young, it was still so new and everything was confusing. My Grandmother could barely speak the words herself. The family told us it was cancer, later on when I hit my “wise” pre-teen years my Mother explained to us that it was AIDS. I had began to learn what cancer was and wanted to know what kind he had, wanted to know specifics, like teens do. It was a difficult topic of conversation in my family, to say the least. I remember her sitting my brother and I on the couch in the living room and having this conversation. I remember the sun coming through the windows. I remember all of this so clearly, a bright picture in my mind. I’ve never told my Mother how much I appreciated her telling me the truth. My Mother has always been a crafty person and loved her brother with all her heart. She has one of the original squares in the AIDS Quilt. Here is a photo of her square for my Uncle Kurt:

Do you see the “We Love You?” The music notes are there because he was a masterful pianist. I wish I had a clip of his music to share with you here. It was so beautiful. I am sure there is not a day that goes by that my Mother or Grandparents don’t think of him. My last memories of him are oddly vivid. I hope it’s OK if I share them with you. This is harder than I thought it would be. Bear with me.

In his remaining days, my Grandparents chose to care for my Uncle at home. He rested in a room they made “his room” in the downstairs of their house, because he could not go up the stairs. I imagine he was home because there is nothing the hospitals could do anyway, and they wanted to be close to him. The last time I saw him, my Mother took me over to the door to his room because he wanted to see me and I wanted to see my Uncle. We opened the door slowly and I poked my little blonde-ish head in. He was laying flat on his back, and he was incredibly thin and fraile. He lifted his head a bit and smiled at me, told me it was OK to come in. I painfully remember the skin lesions all over his body. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those, but you don’t forget them. The way he looked was so shockingly different from how he looked when he was healthy that it scared my 7 year old self. I went to him but I was too afraid to hug him.

Many years later, I laid awake in bed one night thinking about him and could not sleep. I ran down the stairs and bawled my eyes out to my parents about how I “never got to say good bye” and feeling bad that I didn’t hug him when I had the chance. They told me that it was OK, that he always knew I loved him and I was just a little girl. That night, he came to me in a dream. He was smiling, healthy, happy. We embraced. Message delivered.

Now my 30-something self is doing a play that also deals with the topic of AIDS, and that is obviously no accident. I’ve told everyone how I wanted to produce and star in this play because it is funny, the role is so right for me, the characters are so great, I love the playwright…etc, etc. But the truth that you now know is that it’s much more than that. This play is a journey for me, in a very special way.

We have a very limited run November 1st – 4th at The Little Times Square Theatre in NYC. I hope you’ll support this production and come see it, now that you know everything…the last step is to join in on the experience with me, my co-producer/co-star Jason and our dazzling cast & crew. I hope you will.

Click Here for Tickets or Call (212) 868-4444 and press 1 to purchase by phone.

For AIDS info, awareness days, and more click here.

Comments welcome.

Do What You’re Good At, Damn it.

I work from home on both Monday’s and Friday’s. That is how my company is set up. On these days it is just me, the cat, and my company-provided macbook pro, sitting at my table or in the comfy chair that’s too close to the TV, typing away. Sometimes I take Zumba in the morning or head to an audition in the afternoon and answer emails before and after. I glance at my blackberry and respond as needed. When I am in the office, I have my own office. My boss and co-workers are extremely smart and friendly. The kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and my commute for the 3 days a week in the office is under 30 minutes with no subway transfers. My hours are around 10am-6pm. I’m also pretty damn good at what I do.

A lot of performers in this city insist that you cannot have a dayjob and still pursue a performance career. Um, yes you can. I audition all the time and submit myself for projects daily. I was upfront about being an actress/voice over talent/musical comedian in my interview. I was also upfront about how much I kick ass as an Executive Assistant and had the resume’ and references to prove it. My company gave me 4 weeks of vacation time my first year in order to, in their words, “pursue my creative goals outside of the office.” Before this, I spent a few too many long and torturous years in jobs where I didn’t belong and wasn’t respected until seeking out this dream position. It didn’t fall into my lap. I searched for it, interviewed 5 hours for it, and negotiated it before accepting. I have to respect their needs and get my work done, but that’s a give-in. I don’t need to lie to or try and take advantage of a company that is actually supporting me. I just do what I’m good at, and I’m good at this job.

Is it going to be hard to leave here it if my acting career takes off and I can no longer do both? Of course! It’s awesome here! Did I mention the snacks? However, if my prime time comedy sitcom debut comes calling (hint hint: Modern Family), I’ll answer. But right now this job is going to allow me to pay off my NYC-in-my-20’s debt, hold up my half of the bills, afford fantastic classes to further my acting skills and produce my own work. Long story short: Do what you’re good at. If you think you’d be an amazing receptionist/waiter/bartender/yoga instructor/nanny/teacher/chef /whatever go do it and make some money already. We don’t all have to be starving just to be artists. Having money in your savings account is not going to turn you into a greedy monster with dollar signs for eyes. If you’re an actor, you already know new headshots and improv classes can be expensive, so get a move on and hit the pavement (craigslist/monster/mediabistro/recruitment firms/actual pavement.) Don’t spend too much time on the “what’s if’s” about the future and especially the “what others say” either and pave your own path, damn it. We’re not getting any younger.

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