I don’t believe in glory days. Or, rather, I don’t believe in the recognized usage of the term. Over time, it has become my belief that every day has the potential to be a glory day. Sure, some days are better than others, but for the most part, 16 hours is plenty of time to do something extraordinary, or at least fulfilling. It’s been my experience that dwelling on the past is, for the most part, counterproductive. It never hurts, however, to acknowledge moments of the past that hold a certain significance. Moments that helped define who we are today and, in a way, make future glory days possible.
Take this, for example: Ten years ago today, was opening night for the debut of my ghostly tragicomedy Rain Damage. It was the first and last time that play would be produced on stage. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but only as a preface for what ended up being a trip down memory lane, with stops along the way at various points leading up to the premiere. There was a lot going on at that time. Not much has changed really, except for the upheavals I mentioned earlier.
I could have no earthly idea just how big those particular upheavals would be, but that’s life, isn’t it? We blithely go about our business until somebody removes a manhole cover, plunging us into darkness and excrement with no visible means of extrication. And so it was that ten years ago this week, blissfully unaware of what was coming, I was myopically focused on bringing a rare, cathartic disclosure to life on stage for the very first time – a semi-autobiographical examination of events that had played out two decades before, when a man I cared for deeply committed suicide and left me wallowing in a cesspool of grief and recriminations.
It was a ghost story, of course. Aren’t we always at our most haunted when tragedy has left us completely shell-shocked? That play took me ten years to write, after ten years of trying to process the events leading up to it. Now another ten years has passed since it debuted. Thirty altogether, not counting the two years I spent shopping it around. The ghosts aren’t nearly as active as they once were, but they’re still out there, lurking in corners. Waiting for those rainy evenings when they are at their most effective. Maybe that’s the power of culpability.
It’s odd to think about, but that play virtually wrote itself, even though it took years to complete. Or rather, each of the ghosts who figure prominently (yes, they are all LOOSELY based on real people) took their sweet preternatural time getting around to setting records straight. As I recall, each act – there are three in Rain Damage – was written at a different point during the mid-to-late 90s and early aughts. Some were more painful than others and required a lot of rewrites to make sure everybody was happy. Well, satisfied anyway…
The finished product had been shopped to every alternative theater troupe in the Phoenix metro area – with nary a taker – and I was beginning to wonder if the script was a little too esoteric and, to be quite frank, static for the stage. I had all but decided to shelve it until some time when I could revisit it and, perhaps, attempt some revisions, when my co-conspirator and then-muse Scott Pierce decided it should be staged at Soul Invictus, the performance space we had established together a year earlier.
Honestly, I was more surprised than flattered, especially after he had read the script and still wanted to produce it. Up until the moment he made that fateful decision, all he had ever heard was my elevator pitch, which was more a slow meandering trip down the alterstate on smoky, booze-filled nights. Intercut, of course, with diatribes about the sad state of theater in Phoenix. I figured he was just feeling sorry for me. Or being a friend.
I also figured he would take one look at the finished product and play the same card all the other theater troupes in the city had dealt out for the past couple of years. A gay ghost story, wherein the protagonist is coming to terms with his inevitable mortality through visits by not one, not two, but three former lovers, with varying degrees of purgation? That was a hard sell even in Phoenix ten years ago. How times have changed…
But he did, and together we assembled some of the best talent working within the alternative theater community to bring Rain Damage to life. We had amazing sound and lighting designers, dedicated to creating a truly virtual experience, from the thunderous timed blackouts to the “sounds for a rainy evening” playing out in the apartment’s radio. Props, costumes, make-up – everything was perfect. And then there was the set. Gods, I loved that set.
With limited resources and a passel of ingenuity, our crew was somehow able to create an entire, albeit cramped, apartment on the tiny stage of our little performance space. It came complete with a rain machine, which sprinkled tonic water (backlit by a black light for that eerie glow effect) against a real, 12-paned glass window for the duration of the show. The ghosts made their entrances and exits via that window, during thunderous blackouts. It was a good effect.
The reviews were pretty good, too. One of my dearest departed peers, Neil Cohen, wrote in Echo Magazine, “Salcido, who in the past has given us engagingly intense performances on stage… now definitively proves his chops as a thespian with Rain Damage, creating a moving portrait of regret and abandonment against a backdrop of a storm that will haunt you long after you have left the theater.” I remember thinking at the time, “damn, that makes ME want to see it!” The theater community in Phoenix lost a little bit of its luster when Mr. Cohen shuffled off his mortal coil a few years ago.
Another review, this one by a reviewer at the Arizona Republic with whom I had an on-again-off-again love-hate relationship, actually shifted gears by delivering my favorite line, “The path to redemption has never been so raw, nor a haunting quite so personal, which is a good thing for anybody wanting to avoid the same old clichés being trotted out on Valley stages.” Considering we at Artists Theatre Project – our resident troupe – were usually lumped in with those other “Valley stages,” you can imagine that statement came as quite a surprise to us at the time.
We also got a few nice mentions in other Valley periodicals and many who came to see the show told me afterwards how much it had touched them. One night a lesbian woman I had never met before came up to me afterwards and hugged me with tear-filled eyes, telling me how nice it was to see something that validated her own experiences on those long, lonely rainy nights. It really did have that effect on people. I was very pleased and felt a bit vindicated, even though not one of the people I had submitted the play to in those years before we staged it ourselves even bothered to attend. Typical.
So, why has the play never been restaged? Simple, really. I never sent it out after that run. Catharsis achieved, I tucked it back into a drawer, along with newspaper clippings and photos, and got on with my turbulent life. A year later I would be cast opposite Donny in Psycho Beach Party and life would get even more complicated. I spent a lot of the intervening years not even thinking about that play, to be honest. And now ten years have passed, again, and I find myself revisiting a story over three decades old.
So much has changed since then, including my reclamation of the term “glory days” from the past tense to the present. My emphasis is now more on film than theater and my inclination is more toward comedy than tragedy, but every day is still a new adventure and there’s always something new to learn. I think my definition of “glory” has changed a bit, too. It isn’t necessarily about the spotlight, anymore. Nor is it about building expectations. It’s more about doing good work and putting it out there. Some will love it. Others will hate it. Still others will simply be indifferent. No skin off my sack if I enjoy the experience, y’know?
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that theater doesn’t play nearly as large a role as it once did in my life (too many smoldering bridges, I’m afraid), I am currently in rehearsals for a new one-act play entered into the Las Cruces Community Theatre’s One-Act Play Festival. This one is new, as opposed to last year’s entry, which dated back 20 years or so. I may not be on-stage, or even behind it, anymore, but I am still dabbling. And I find it very easy to switch back and forth between scripting for screen and stage. That’s not meant to be braggadocio – I’ve been making a living as a writer for over 30 years, it’s only natural that SOME part of it has become second nature.
The exercise has not been without its challenges, especially with a full slate of film projects in the works, but I am getting a lot out of directing my latest burlesque. For one thing, I’m working with two of my favorite actors: my partner and muse Donny and the wonderfully gifted Karen Buerdsell. For another, we’re making each other laugh during rehearsals – which is a good sign, especially when presenting a comedy. The fact that one of Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules Of Writing is “laugh at your own jokes” tells me I must be on the right track. So, I think I’ll just enjoy the experience of bringing yet another of my creations to life on the boards, without the ghosts and the emotional baggage this time around, but instead just for the fun of it.
In my opinion, that is exactly what glory days should be all about.