When I expressed my dream of being an actor one day, it was never dismissed as stupid or frivolous. Their feeling was - "Hey, why not?" Give it a try." When I tell my fellow actors this, they are amazed and a bit jealous because their parents were not always that supportive. But mine were different - I guess they were natural born hams who loved the idea of having a child in show business and secretly wanted to be part of it themselves. I started taking drama in junior high and doing mostly short sketches. Saturday Night Live was just a few years old then and Gilda, Lorraine and Jane were my inspiration. I had to beg to stay up at least until midnight on Saturdays to watch the first 30 minutes. I would be exhausted but happy the next day at church thinking about the nerd sketch or the killer bees instead of the scripture - to me comedy was a religion because it helped your soul feel good and isn't that what religion should be about? My dad used to laugh at my impressions. He had a great laugh - full, hearty and sincere - even if he was just humoring me. My parents were usually pretty good about that - allowing us to create and not putting it down like a lot of parents would have back then. With five kids, I imagine it would have been easier to let us be us then to expend the energy to make us into something we're not. I guess they had the wisdom to know that was a losing battle.
It was great to grow up in a household where you could have an imagination and be allowed to use it. My brother Steve also has a wicked sense of humor and when we would rift an improv together - it was pretty funny. In fact when I went to try out for a Mental Floss improv workshop for the first time - he was right there with me. Now, he's an attorney by day and a iPhone App creator and novelist by night. My brother Bill was serious as a kid but in adulthood has developed a good knack for the tall tale. My sister Kathy was ernest as a teen - full of angst and willing to protest the Vietnam War but now, she dabbles in theater and has done some very solid performances at a theater in Tallahassee. She also enjoys photography. Sharon, my younger sister, used to do drama with me and was also really funny. We'd get pretty silly together growing up. She's now a professional photographer with her own studio. So there we were, five creative very different kids and two parents in a small one story four bedroom, two bathroom house where you needed to learn the fine art of getting along because there just was not enough room to be able to go off by yourself and sulk.
When I started to work with the improv group Mental Floss, my parents were there at the first show. They loved it and loved me in it. It was a great feeling to have that sort of support especially as you were taking that tentative first step out into the theater world professionally. They were supportive in the good times and when things started to go bad in the group - they were there for me and encouraged me to do something which was hard at the time - leave a well established group and start my own. I used to be one of those people who would put up with a certain amount of theatrical crap as long as the prospect of performing was dangled in front of my nose like a carrot. I would jump through hoops for that group only to be denied the chance to perform over and over again even after I had established myself as a solid player. If you've ever worked with an improv troupe or a theater company and there is not a strong hand to keep the actors (or inmates) from running the asylum - chaos ensues and the actors with the biggest egos start to call the shots and force out the anyone they perceive as a threat. I would come home crying, not sure what I had done to have some of the key guys who I thought were friends turn on me. My parents, especially my dad, were there to tell me that it was bullshit and that I was better than that. He would tell me if I wanted it bad enough, that I should start my own company. So I took his advice and it was one of the best, hardest and most exhausting things outside of parenthood that I have ever done. I got away from an un-supportive passive-aggressive boyfriend who was in the group and made me feel like I was never good enough. Thanks to my dad, that fear of being on my own turned to anger and then into action. I started the Eclectic Company Comedy Troupe and never looked back. They would come to my comedy shows and sometimes they were 40% of the audience, but my dad's contagious laughter would fill the theater and it felt like a full house. I knew that I could do anything.
When I met Max, I knew that I had found my creative soul-mate. He was the first person that I ever dated who didn't put my dreams of performing, directing, writing and producing down. That was his passion too, and he got me. His stuff was more David Mamet plays and grittier fare, but we balanced each other out - after being together 25 years - we still do. My parents saw how much he respected me and how happy I was when I was with him. They overlooked the fact that this was just not going to be a guy who would wear a suit and tie to work each day - that just was not the man I was destined to marry.
So after we had been married a few months, Max wanted to make a movie based on the life of the Mississippi Delta Blues artist Robert Johnson, a legendary musician who many believed had sold his soul to the devil. Max wanted to expand on certain mythic aspects of the story including casting me as the bisexual she-devil that would lead the main characters to their deaths. It was going to be a movie that was at least 60 to 75 minutes and it would take a huge amount of planning to accomplish. Max would shoot some on super 8 film (back in the early 1990's you could still get it - but it was hard to find and it had to be mailed off to be developed) and the other on VHS video. When he told my parents about it, my dad was intrigued (although I'm pretty sure Max left out the part of me playing the demon murderous whore). My dad was excited about the prospect and wanted to help produce it in exchange for one thing - on the credits he wanted to be listed as "Best Boy." He would always chuckle when he saw that credit in a movie. For the record, a "Best Boy" is the first mate of the chief lightening or electrician on the set who is also known as the gaffer. So for $2,000, my father got to have his dream along with helping to finance Max's. Gentleman in Black (which was produced years before the Will Smith movie series Men in Black) started filming in early the summer of 1993 and that adventure is a blog unto itself. But suffice to say that my dad has a cameo role as a prison guard and loved every minute that he was on the set. My mother was the set photographer and it was great to have them there cheering us. When they saw the finished product, my dad let out a "hurray" when he saw his name next to "Best Boy."
Since then, I've had the courage to start two improv companies - The Eclectic Company and The OTC Comedy Troupe and I've learned to be myself creatively and not let other people define me artistically. After my dad died in 2002, I realized that I had lost touch with doing improv - I was teaching it but not performing it as much as I wanted to and it had been about three years since I had actually stepped on-stage as an improvisor. I got back into it to help me work through my grief at having lost my biggest supporter and the man who was always there for me. Every time I hit a milestone with the OTC like getting 250,000 views over a year for our web-show, I'll think about Dad and how much he would have loved it - watching it on-line and giving us suggestions in the chat-room. He'd love Steve's Apps like If You Give a Conservative a Cookie, Bill's work with for the disabled, and Sharon's and Kathy's photography- because by creating we're expressing who we are which is something he always encouraged.
Luckily, I've passed that love of the theater onto my kids and they even look forward to seeing an OTC Comedy Troupe show. It's great to have them in the audience and just when I think that a line or sketch is not working, I'll hear my son Daniel's infectious laugh - not a deep or full has his grandfather's but still serving as a giggly prompt for the rest of the audience to have fun and laugh with us. I think about my dad when I'm about to go on stage and be that brave actor that we used to see when I was a kid. Maybe I'll inspire someone out there to take a shot and fall in love with performing and want to make the world a better place through laughter. There are so many things that I'm grateful to my father for. Allowing me to be who I am is just one of many but most of all - he'll always be my Best Boy.