Monday, June 17, 2013

How Robbie Rogers Lost My Respect

Look, I get it. Robbie Rogers’ return to MLS is a big deal. He’s a talented kid, he can very probably make his team better, and it’s notable that he is the first actively playing out gay man in a major team sport. But Robbie did some really selfish things on his not-very-long journey from Leeds back to the US, and the sum of those actions is a complete loss of my respect for him.

It’s not that he didn’t want to play in Europe, it’s not that he didn’t want to play for Chicago, it’s not even that he wanted to be close to home. It’s the way he went about accomplishing each of these goals that completely turned me off.

Robbie’s decision to “train” with a team he had no contract with was a little off-putting, but I was willing to let it go. He’s a young guy, he wanted to stay in shape, and LA is home for him. That’s fine. I’m also okay with him not being interested in playing for Chicago. He never had any connection to the city, contractual or otherwise, and I can absolutely understand being bitter that the rights to his services were handed over without his knowledge or consent. Again, no problem there.

Dragging the entire thing into the open to force his will upon the entire league? No. Not okay.

By going public with his unwillingness to play in Chicago and his assertion that he’d only play for the Galaxy, he effectively forced the league’s hand. MLS as an entity couldn’t be seen as mistreating such an “iconic” figure as Rogers by not granting him his wish to go home. So now there were five parties to this so-called negotiation: Rogers, the Galaxy, the Fire, MLS, and all of us.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that if Rogers tells Don Garber, “I don’t want to play for Chicago, I want to play for Los Angeles, and I don’t think I want to play at all otherwise”, a deal would have been struck. It would have been a PR coup for the league to retrieve Rogers from the bench on a third-tier English team in the first place, but giving him the chance to go home would have been an added benefit…if all of this was done under cover of darkness. Everybody would have won.

Instead, Rogers posted on Twitter about needing to be near his family during this time, attempting to recruit the media and the public to his cause. And it worked; MLS got the trade figured out (with a supposedly complicit Mike Magee on his way to Chicago), LA got another high-profile player, the league got all the good press of being the first “big five” league in the US with an out active player, and Rogers got back on the field.

I find myself in the extremely complicated position of having helped lead a successful Pride Night recently and hating the bleeding guts of the only out male player in the league. I want to call attention to the many gay athletes that came before him and remind everyone that this is less historic than people want to believe. I want to remind everyone of Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Esera Tuaolo, Andrew Goldstein, Jason Collins, and Sheryl Swoopes.

Robbie is not an icon – he is not the first gay athlete, he is not the first out gay athlete, he is not the first out gay male athlete, he is not the first out gay male athlete in team sports, he is not the first out gay male athlete in “major” team sports. He is (arguably) the first out gay male athlete in “major” team sports to appear in a game.

Have we covered all of the “firsts” now? Can we stop talking about this? Can I feel safe in considering Rogers to be a jackass for the way he forced the trade? Can I, as a gay man, give absolutely no damn about the fact that Rogers is the only gay athlete in the league and judge the hell out of him for the same things I’d judge straight athletes for?

Robbie doesn’t get a free pass because he happens to be more interested in pants bulges than in cleavage. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a guy who used all of us to force a trade to another team. That’s not okay in my book, and he’s lost my respect as a result.

Author's note: This entry was originally written for another website, but the site's editor declined to publish the post.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Single A to Triple A

In baseball, players move frequently from one level of the game to the next. Top prospects dance quickly up the ladder of minor league franchises to the majors, while middling players and flameouts can spend careers only a couple of rungs up that ladder.

This week, I decided I wanted to try and take a step or two up that ladder. I traveled to New York City to audition for the world premiere of the stage musical of Newsies.

Now, some background: I have been infatuated with Newsies since I was about 12. My third year in the summer theater camp I attended was supposed to be my last (I was going to outgrow the program). So I was virtually guaranteed a major role. I had been disappointed and confused at the selection of a show I knew nothing of. And after watching it, I liked the premise but was wary of the lengthy kiss scene at the end (hey, I was 12!).

Long story short, I fell in love with the show as we worked on it, in particular the music. Santa Fe killed (and still kills) me, and Seize the Day and Once and For All just stuck in my head for hours on end.

Years pass. I act some more, fall out of acting for a little while, then leap into a deep end of acting in the world of community theater. Some cohorts tell me I've got a nice voice, and over time my confidence in my dancing grows from a 0 to a 5 or a 6 on a scale of 10.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I discover that the world premiere of Newsies was having an open, non-equity call in New York the first week in May. I waffled for a while about going, but when every single person I mentioned it to encouraged me to do it, I sucked it up and went.

Much like minor league ballplayers, I made my pilgrimage by bus. And also much like minor league ballplayers, I stayed in a low-rent accommodation. A youth hostel, to be exact. My experience there could probably fill another blog entry, but suffice it to say the comedians hired by a youth hostel aren't very funny, the roommates like long nights, and the cacophony of language made sleep difficult.

The morning of the audition dawned early-ish (before 8 a.m.), and I staggered through my morning routine before triple-checking which subway I was getting onto and which stop I was getting off at. I made it to the audition studio with only one or two panicked moments of "I'm going the wrong way!", 15-20 minutes after they started accepting sign-ins.

In that time, one hundred and eighty-eight people had signed in.

Well, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I signed in and found a seat in the back corner. The tension (and the sexuality) were palpable. You could smell it. After some time just sitting and collecting my thoughts, we were told of the process. There would be several groups of about 30, each of which would go in, learn the dance, and then be judged on that. No singing was mentioned.

Damn. That was my ace-in-the-hole. I thought I'd found a perfect song, one that was basically Santa Fe, but for an animated movie.

My call wasn't for several hours, so I killed some time at Dunkin Donuts (which had an "internet cafe" but no outlets - seriously?). On returning a couple hours before my call, I discovered the studio was nearly deserted.

Apparently in the hour and change that I was away, a few groups had gone in and completed their audition, while the rest of us weren't around yet.

The room would fill back up again fairly quickly as 1:30 approached, and the folks in charge of the holding room told us the group system was being abandoned and we would go into the audition in groups of 30 based on whoever was around. So I ended up in a group two hours earlier than I should've.

We were herded into a second holding room where everybody dropped their stuff and got into whatever attire they were going to wear for the dance. The anxiety was growing, as the friendly conversations among auditionees tapered off and we all focused on the task at hand.

Moving to the actual audition studio, we lined up Chorus Line-style and learned the dance combination in sequences of 8 beats. By the second set of 8 beats, it was clear to me that this was going to be an exercise in futility for me. I could probably get the steps down over time, but it wasn't going to come together for me in 15 minutes. One count of 8 featured four separate 360-degree turns and a jump.

I mean, I knew Newsies was a dance show, and that this whole little excursion was a pipedream at best, but I had hoped I'd luck into an audition I could handle.

Naturally, I was in the very first group to dance for the choreographer and Paper Mill Playhouse artistic director. In my group was some little kid (auditioning for Les, I assume) and one other guy. I don't think any of us really brought it, but I didn't fall down.

The problem for me with dance is that I'm six feet tall and all arms and legs. Even if I know what I'm doing and commit to it, if I don't have a dead-on musicality and fluidity, I'm going to look like an idiot. Case in point:

Yeah, I'm the one with the giant swinging arms. I suspect I looked worse in New York, where I didn't know the steps and I had giant swinging arms.

Anyway, following the audition, we were herded back into the second holding room for a few minutes, after which one of the producers came in and listed 8 or 10 names (mine, obviously, was not among them) to stick around. Everybody else was free to go.

It was a shame, I had put a lot of thought into what song I was going to use for my audition, and I was never going to have a snowball's chance at using it. And considering I'm "a singer who moves well" on good days, Newsies was probably not the show for me anyway.

The benefit to me was that I gained a sliver of confidence in my dance, believe it or not. Bad as I'm sure I was, I estimate I danced better than 35-40% of the people there. And considering I have nil formal training, I figure that's not all that bad, really. So if nothing else, I know I can handle pretty much anything short of what they gave me in New York.

So no, I'm not going to be making a paid-acting debut with Newsies. Would I audition for something else? Sure, if it were a singing show.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Boston in 60...okay, more like Boston in whatever time I have

In the summer immediately preceding my trip to Washington, I talked the Boston Globe into publishing my summertime excursion undertaking, which I called the Boston in 60 Project. The goal was pretty straightforward: go out into the city every day for two months, and shoot/write up everything you do. I wanted to go see and do all the things I had taken for granted in my lifetime of living in and around Boston. The Swan Boats, the Warren Tavern, etc.

The project was pretty successful; I still hear about it from people today.

I bring this up because after a meeting at UNO's on Huntington Ave. yesterday, I traipsed back toward my apartment through Northeastern, where I spent five years of my life and money. And it occurred to me in that long walk that I had taken it for granted as well, in many respects.

So as what may be my final community theatre show for the next several months begins to heat up (we open in 4 weeks), I wondered about the practicality and feasibility of reviving my old project. In reading the entries again, I'm reminded of the joie de vivre that came from walking out the door every day knowing I was going to see something cool. And if I could recapture even a fraction of that energy at the cost of some photography, some writing, and a handful of bucks to get in, then maybe it's worth it.

I couldn't do the every-day thing, of course, I do work for a living. But maybe a once-a-week outing, or an as-I-can setup would be successful.

Consider this a call: if you have any thoughts about this, do let me know. What did I miss in Boston in 60? What should I go do again, since it's changed in the 3 years since? Who wants to come along?

Thursday, October 07, 2010


In the not-so-distant past, I wrote about community theatre's blessings and curses; how that special artform brought you in close contact with people you could get along phenomenally with, and completely lose touch with following the cast party. In that same post, I mentioned that the instances in which I've escaped that fate were few and far between, and it looks as though they're growing fewer and farther.

One show in particular brought me close to a couple of people my age. Throughout the rehearsal process, the run of the show, and even for several months after that, we were thick as thieves. We hung out at trivia, went to shows other companies were putting on, and just visited each other and talked online all the time. I thought I'd finally found people in this little realm whom I could call and hang out with on a boring Thursday night.

But it occurs to me now, seeing the situations that surround us, that community theatre friendships are inevitably victims of circumstance. None of the paths our lives are on are likely to cross again; I work in marketing, and I have the flexibility to continue to perform on-stage to my heart's content (hence my three-show fall). Neither of them do: one is in graduate school and the other is attempting to do the same. And the places we've moved and the changes we've endured have apparently rendered it impossible for any of us to meet in person. I've most recently seen one of these people in, I believe, June, and the other even less recently. Phone calls and instant messages are less frequently answered, and invitations to go out and grab a beer and a bite are, without fail, rebuffed.

I shouldn't be disappointed. I should have seen this coming. After all, it happens every time. I just got my hopes up a little too high when the process took that much longer.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Remember when?

In response to a Twitter question I couldn't answer in under 140 characters:

2004 was the year of the Red Sox for Northeastern. It was also my freshman year, and as an overexcited genuine Red Sox fan living in Kennedy Hall, I lived in incredibly close proximity to Fenway Park throughout the storied playoff run. In fact, I found myself rioting celebrating outside the park on, I believe, six separate occasions that October.

The majority of those incidences were entirely peaceful. Following the win against the Angels and the first three wins against the Yankees, Lansdowne Street was a bedlam of jubilation, rather than that of destructive mentalities.

But the final win against the Yankees, after Game 7 (where the result was never really in doubt), the mob got unruly.  BPD officers were summoned to try and control the crowds behind the Monster, and several patrolmen were armed with specialized guns that fire pepper pellets.  These pellets are designed to disperse crowds; think projectile Mace.

Well, at some point during the evening, a BPD officer found cause to fire his pepper pellet gun into the crowd. The shot struck an Emerson student in the face, and she lay bleeding on the sidewalk.  Naturally, since this was the fifth such riot in only two weeks' time, several news organizations had photographers stationed near Lansdowne Street to respond to the riots celebrations. The photographer for the Boston Herald took a picture of a then-still-alive Victoria Snelgrove as she was treated on the sidewalk.

Snelgrove died between press time for the Herald and morning reveille. The Boston Herald had a picture of a bloodied (but, I repeat, alive) Victoria Snelgrove on pages A2 and A3.

Cue mass outrage.  The unwashed masses hollered in protest at the callous treatment of Snelgrove by the Herald, despite the fact that she had not died when the paper went to press.  Every journalism class in Boston discussed the merits of publishing that photo.  But NEU took it one step further and removed the free Boston Herald copies throughout campus.

Technically, it can't be proven (as far as I'm aware, anyway) that the removal was in response to the Snelgrove picture. But I don't recall there being any exhortations to the contrary from NEU administration. After another outcry from the student body about the injustice of the papers being taken, they were eventually restored. For the remainder of my college career (ending in 2009), the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, NU News (later Huntington News) and NU Voice were all available to students if they knew where and when to look.

The cowardice of the NEU administration wasn't forgotten by the JRN students, though.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to save community theatre

I experienced a collision of worlds today, and from that debris I’ve got a half-baked idea that I want to get some feedback on.

Eastern Mass. is flooded with community theatre groups, advocates, participants, and audience members. Inside route 128, it seems as though each significant town has its own theatre group (or two), and each group has its own identity and set of core members.

The last few years, however, have not been kind to some of these groups. Each has suffered various levels of attrition as their most senior members have retired from active roles and the economy’s trouble thinned the numbers of audience members. But some groups have suffered more than others. There are several theatre groups out there that are getting left behind due to a lack of resources and manpower, and there are several theatre groups in danger of folding.

Community theatre isn’t about survival of the fittest, though. If we can save these groups and help restore them to a level at which they can sustain themselves again, and renew the promise of old glorious productions, we, as community theatre devotees, should do what we can.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been contributing in a substantial way to the redesign of the public image of one particular theatre group. We’re conceptualizing a new, more modern logo, creating a stronger and more helpful website, and coordinating an all-fronts PR campaign. The team undertaking these tasks has evolved quickly into a well-oiled machine that seeks out candidates for individual jobs and manages all of them to rejuvenate a company’s image in a short period of time.

Why couldn’t that become a freelance gig?

Assemble a team of “stage ringers” whom a struggling theatre group can contract with. On this team are several consultants who each have an expertise in one particular facet of a theatre rejuvenation project: a website designer, a PR guru, a social media whiz, a graphic designer, a nonprofit manager, a fundraising expert. This team adds the group’s president (a community representative) to their team for the duration of the project, and together they decide on a direction of the redesign and go to work.

What’s more, each of these consultants is a theatre advocate, so the groups with which this team would partner can trust the experts to have the group’s best interests at heart, and the instincts of an old stage friend.

Because this is a freelance group, and because this is a passion for each of the members of this “crack team”, each consultant would accept a discounted fee for their services. This would make it more affordable for the groups interested in the project. And if even that proved to be too much for the group to afford, the consultants who could afford to work pro bono could do so and the others would pass.

It seems to me like a win-win situation: this crack team gets paid for work in an area they love, and the group gets a low-cost redesign that can rejuvenate a flagging group. But I’m sure there are steps I’m missing – what are they? The more I think about this, the more I wonder if it’s doable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Theatre sandbox

Today is the audition for my second Summer Scene production. Of all the shows I've ever been connected with, Once on this Island is probably the one with which I have the most exposure. So naturally, that's the show I chose to do in my second year (the first was Seussical, which I can get passionate about in no time). But I'm going to encounter a similar challenge: enrollment. I had to make Seussical work last year with only 12 kids, and I've got to make Island work with only 14.

The great benefit of the program is that it can be very sandbox-like: it's a summer camp, these kids aren't doing it because they're going to be going on to Walnut Hill or Tisch, they're doing it because it's fun and they like the idea of getting up and putting on a show. So their enthusiasm (without the inherent competition and diva-like symptoms) gives me the flexibility to try some new things. Last year, I had a concept for how the entire show was going to emerge from a television. And it did. This year, I want to take Island and "Nutcrackerize" it. And I will.

That's why I love this program: it's laid-back enough that I can still make "let's just have fun" our primary motto, but the kids take it seriously enough that I can try some ideas I have.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Between the ears

I don't generally like doing the "pet peeve" blog posts, but a pattern has emerged lately that's become disturbing to me.  People have an incredible capacity for good, but they also have an incredible capacity to not think.  That old axiom that we only use half (maybe less) of our actual brain potential? Feels true of late.

Without giving any details, someone I know has been repeatedly inconvenienced, left out to dry, and overlooked by people he has to deal with every day.  I wish I could elaborate, I really do, but for a whole host of reasons, I need to keep my mouth shut.  But the extent to which he's not thought of by people who should know better doesn't reflect well on the operation.

Driving, too, you see it.  When I'm driving in the right lane of a highway, passing an on-ramp, and a car entering the highway is timed so that he would merge in just as I would pass him, I change lane.  It's really not that hard - it keeps traffic moving at the same speed, it's courteous to the driver entering, and it's safer than playing chicken with an unknown quantity.  But nine times out of ten, the person on the highway doesn't have the cognitive function to notice this, look around, and make an adjustment.

My patience runs out when people can't be bothered to process information and make a reasonable decision. If the decision isn't to my liking but is reasoned, I can accept that. It's when substantial amounts of viable information are ignored that I get frustrated.

Friday, May 14, 2010

In nomine

Let me just say right from the outset that this post started out as another "what have I read lately" review post. And I'll mention those quickly, but in my head the topic rapidly evolved into a "holy crap, how did all this religion stuff appear in my life at once" post.

On the book side of things, after I finished The Wild Things, I moved on to a nonfiction I've had on the shelf for some time, Vows. It's the biography (written by their son) of a priest and ex-nun who marry, and their struggle to reconcile a relationship they see as perfectly holy with a Catholic Church that disagrees.

It was an interesting book, a little slow-moving at first, but a not-insubstantial indictment of the speed with which the Catholic Church allows for change. And the Boston-centrism of the narrative helped keep me involved.

Following that, on the boy's suggestion, I read Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible!. This one I ran really hot-and-cold on. The opening story, about the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve, reminded me very, very clearly of The Creation of the World and Other Business, an Arthur Miller play I acted in my senior year of high school. So much so, in fact, that I started to get angry and wonder about plagiarism.

The rest of the book just didn't really thrill me. The boy built it up for me before I picked it up, so I suspect my expectations were too high, but alas. It was the same when I passed along Nameless to him - I had built it up to a point it couldn't achieve.

At any rate, the subject of those two books, combined with a resurgence of interest in Jesus Christ Superstar (centering on the fact that I saw it again last weekend) just startled me with how much religion can appear without even thinking about it.

Does that happen to anybody else? You can go ages without thinking about some big concept like religion and suddenly, bang, there's three instances in short succession and you can't help focusing for a little bit?

Wistful for a beast

I'm not one of those guys who takes fantastic care of his car. I don't take it in for oil changes as frequently as I should, I don't get it washed (it's gonna rain anyway), and I certainly don't name it.

But lately I find myself increasingly wistful for a machine I treated like crap in the 6 years or so I owned it.

I'm talking about my old Jeep Grand Cherokee. A '95 model, the thing lasted me longer than I probably deserved to have it last. I finally admitted it was time to move on when the rear wheel bearings, ring-and-pinion, and differential all started to go at the same time. That's $1500 of repairs, at least, and the car definitely wasn't worth that anymore, so I sold the thing for what I could get ($475) and got a '99 Taurus with more problems than it let on.

But that Jeep, man, that Jeep. The beast saved my life once when the driver's side front wheel came clean off the car when I was traveling at 65 mph. State cops later said if I'd driven anything smaller than my beastly SUV, the car would have rolled and I probably wouldn't have walked away from the accident completely unhurt.

And despite how poorly I treated the thing (go 6-7,000 miles between oil changes, leave it out in the elements, etc.), the beast took everything I threw at it, chimed "thank you sir, may I have another", and kept right on rolling.

I loved that car. It hurt a bit to have to move on from it when I know it still has life. It felt a little bit like abandoning an aged pet cause it got an ear infection but was otherwise okay. I've found it worse because there are so many mid-90s Grand Cherokees out on the road still - it's as though the world at large is rubbing it in my face that my car couldn't make it.

(Of course, there are nearly as many if not more late 90s Ford Tauri out there, but still.)

My Ford and I haven't yet developed that symbiotic relationship that my Jeep and I did. Of course, that's probably a function of so many things needing fixing on the Taurus (engine skip, coolant flush, new tires, needed brakes and bearings recently, transmission slip), and frankly, I'm not sure it ever will reach the level my old Jeep did. It's a terrible thought, but once I'm settled wherever the boy and I end up living, I want to start thinking about how long it will take to save up for a better used car.

Until then, however, I'm going to remain wistful when I see a mid-90s Jeep on the road, because I should still be driving one.