Posted in Life and Encouragement, Personal Reflections, The Arts-Theatre (Live)

The Character and Me: King Basillio of Spain.

Last year I started a series of articles (I said) that would explore characters I have been in plays, or seen in plays, and how I do or don’t relate to them. In my first edition, I wrote about Norbert Garstecki from The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Today, I write about King Basillio from “Sueno.” “Sueno” is an modern adaption of Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s play “La Vida es Sueno” by playwright Jose Rivera. It’s interesting to note that both plays involve a father (me in both cases) who must face decisions (poor ones) that he made in the past. In both places, those choices come back and may (or may not) end in his death. It’s also amusing to note that the same actor played my son in both plays.

King Basillio is king of a very old, and feudal Spain. He is a man who feels the duty to his country so strongly, that he’s willing to sacrifice himself and his family to save it. Basillio is a big believer in astrology and numerology, so when his astrologers bring him word that his son will be born a monster, and will destroy him, his kingdom ,and everything that this king has held dear, he freaks out. On the day his wife is giving birth, there is an eclipse and all kinds of chaos in the heavens. Basillio struggles with uncertainty until he is presented, simultaneously, his new born son and the news that his wife is dead…she died giving birth to the son who is predicted to destroy his kingdom. The King freaks out. He orders the new baby, Segismundo, to be locked away in a hidden tower where no one will ever find him. Basillio’s advisor, Clotaldo, is given charge of ensuring the boy is fed, but that he never sees a human face. Anyone who gets close to where Prince Segismundo is incarcerated, it to be immediately put to death.

Flash forward twenty five years. Segismundo has been locked away, never seeing a real human, but rather humanoid forms (masked and robed people) and has been taught language and the Bible by Clotaldo. Basillio has become a little crazy, and paraniod. He’s spent the time studying stars and numbers and fearing that his son will get out. But the King must have an heir, and he’s getting old. There are those who are plotting to try and take the throne. Basillio knows this, but he’s also become less sure about his decision to lock his only heir up. He devises a plan to drug Segismundo, bring him to the palace, tell him everything, and then see if he is the animal that was predicted or if he can be reasoned with and act like a King should. Well, suffice to say that if Segismundo was regal and kind and gentile, there wouldn’t be much of a play.

Sueno is a story about many things, love, fear, betrayal, redemption, and self-fulfilling prophecies. King Basillio feared what was predicted. To try and stop it, he took drastic measures. Rather than prevent the prophesied disaster, he actually causes it to happen. Without saying too much, the king sees all of his worst nightmares come true, and ultimately faces his own death at the hands of his son.

As I sit here writing, I am still moved to tears from that play. Even though it’s six months past, the message and the feeling of being Basillio still sit deep and fresh within me. I can relate to Basillio, perhaps more than I realized until now. I don’t have a kingdom or an empire under my care, but I do have people around me for whom I care. I do not have children, but I’ve had stepchildren and step-grandchildren. I can imagine how I would feel if they came in and started killing and destroying everything and everyone I know.

One area I can totally relate, is Basillio’s sense of duty and honor. He cares deeply for those around him and for his county. He’s willing to do what it takes to save them and protect them, even at his own expense. I hate knowing someone around me is hurting. I grieve when I cannot do anything to help alieve suffering that I see. I’ll give of my time and energy to my own downfall. People are important to me, all people.

Another area I can relate to Basillio is his level of fear. He is convinced things will happen, so he takes steps to prevent it, and causes everything he feared to happen. My dad died when I was young; we buried him on his 34th birthday. I was convinced I was going to end up the same. I’ll say that I beat that one and am much older than 34, but I almost did end up dead. There are other things that I have faced in my life that I have lived in fear of happening. In the last month I have had to stand up and face all of those that I have previously faced. I have found in my life, as Basillio found in his, that the things you fear will come and make you face them one day. The best thing is to let the fear go, or (if you can’t let it go) go and stand face-to-face with it. I have been forced to stand up and face my fears, and now I can say that they don’t have power over me.

All of us have a Basillio inside of us. We can learn from this example that fearing something will cause it to happen….I didn’t believe it, but I do now because I’ve experienced it. I encourage everyone else to do the same. Yes, it’s scary, and tough, and may be a miserable experience as you go through it. I can say that it’s not as bad as I feared it would be.

If you ever have a chance to see the play, I encourage you to do so. Meanwhile, embrace the fear before it swallows you.

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Posted in Life and Encouragement, Misc Notes, The Arts-Theatre (Live)

The Character and Me: Norbert Garstecki

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of blogs on characters in productions (Live Theatre, Movies, TV, Etc.) where I plan to write about how I can (or can’t) relate to the character and choices they make.  I’ll admit, this is the most difficult blog I think I have ever planned on and then written.

I am currently playing the part of Norbert Garstecki in the play The Great American Trailer Park Musical.  This part is a “first” for me in so many ways, and it’s also the most difficult part I’ve ever played.  As the name of the play implies, the play is a musical and it is the first one I have ever done.  The play is the first one I’ve ever done at the venue.  It’s also the first time I’ve played a character like Norbert.  While there are some ways that I can totally relate to Norbert, there are sooooo many ways I can’t…or at least I didn’t think I could…until tonight.

Norbert Garstecki is a middle age man who has made some poor decisions that brought him to the place he is in the show.  Norbert was a star athlete on his high school football team.  His eye is caught by the beautiful and alluring star “mathlete” (star of the math team and perhaps the math club) Jeanie.  Norbert gets together with Jeanie so she can tutor him in the Geometry class he is failing; the sparks fly and the passion kicks in.   As is so common with hormonal teenagers, they fail to take appropriate precautions and Jeanie becomes pregnant.  Following a “shotgun” wedding, Norbert and Jeanie move into a trailer park and try to live as adults…even though they are not ready.  To this effect, they quit school, Norbert gets a job and Jeanie stays home with the baby.  A few years later, Norbert becomes careless while caring their son, and the baby gets taken. The trauma causes Jeanie to develop Agoraphobia which is a fear of going into public places.  For twenty years Jeanie refuses to come out of the trailer that she and Norbert live in.  Norbert continues to stick by his beloved bride but after nearly twenty years, his patience is gone.  Norbert is broken hearted as his lover has become more of a roommate.  Norbert misses being close to his lover and misses going places with her. He longs to have the passion and connection back that he once had with his friend, lover, bride, his wife….Jeanie.   As the play begins, Norbert is storming out…he’s at his wits end and just doesn’t know where to go or what to do; he’s exhausted every mean and method he can figure out.

Norbert longs to have the passion, and connection back with Jeanie and misses the fiery, energy filled “go-getter” that he married.  Soon, however, Norbert meets Pippi.  Pippi is the new girl in town, the new girl in the park, an exotic dancer, and has all the qualities and characteristics that he once saw and misses so much in his wife, Jeanie.  Needless to say, passion and fire flair and turn into a full-blown affair.  Norbert has made a lot of bad choices in his life, and this is probably the biggest.  Try as he might, the affair is not hidden from the neighbors, and eventually Norbert gets caught “in the act” with Pippi.  I won’t tell you too much more, but will simply say that the remainder of the play looks at the struggles of Norbert as he sorts through what he’s done and the feelings he has for both women, Pippi as she seeks to find some stability and connection with Norbert, and Jeanie as she struggles with what she should do about the affair and with her fear of leaving her “safe” trailer.

I said before that I, personally, can and can’t understand Norbert and his behavior.  Let me tell you first the ways I can relate to Norbert.  Now, you’re about to learn a lot more about me that you may EVER want to know, but here it goes… When I was in high school, I was a kind of “Big man On Campus,” though it didn’t start that way.  I was never a sports star, but I became involved in student government in my Junior year.  My senior year, I lived on my own and supported myself while doing countless activities on campus…things that did not go un-noticed.  I wanted to become a radio DJ and had a bright future ahead.  I received several scholarships and had the chance to go into college and then into radio.  I had even been given a scholarship from a local radio station and an offer of an internship at the station once I was in college.  Like Norbert, I had a promising future….but I fell in love.  Unlike Norbert, I did not get anyone pregnant…I had enough sense to put on protection when I finally “gave myself away.”  Like Norbert, however, I moved away from all the promise and potential.  I put my life (desires and future) on hold for “family.”

I don’t know about Norbert, but My family life was not good growing up.  My father was a professional photographer who excelled in his field.  Three months before he was killed in a car accident, his accountant had told him he’d be a millionaire in six months if he kept going the way he was.  We buried my dad on his 34th birthday.  My family was never close and my mother had mental…issues.  The one thing I always craved and was jealous of were the big, close families.  Rather than perusing my dreams, I continued to peruse “family.”  There’s a line in the opening of the Great American Trailer park Musical that states, “‘Ain’t no sense wanting what you can’t have; no sense dreaming like a fool.”  I wish I could have given myself that advice…and taken it…when I was young.  Call me a fool, but I kept wanting what it seems I couldn’t have: a big, close family. I ended up being engaged twice before finally getting married.

Yea, I’ve been married.  Norbert’s been married once.  I was married four times, and divorced the same.  As an actor, I believe I have to make it big in Hollywood because 4 divorces is a requirement to even get into the industry (just kidding).  I can relate to Norbert putting his family first; it’s what I believe any real man will do. Now, Jeanie (Norbert’s one and only bride) developed a mental disorder after they were married.  I have to say that I can relate here; My first wife had a multiple personality disorder known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, the second was Obsessive-Compulsive as well as being addicted to booze and drugs, my third had Asperger Syndrome as well as being Bipolar, and my third had Bipolar, Depression and Munchausen Syndrome.  Like Norbert, I understand what it means to be married to someone with a mental illness.  My last three wives’ spent almost all their time planted in front of a television, much like Norbert’s wife Jeanie does.

In The Great American Trailer Park Musical (GATPM), there’s a point where Norbert states, “I can count on one finger the amount of kisses we’ve shared in the last five years.”  Norbert is an affectionate guy, as am I , but he’s in a marriage where there is no longer any affection or love.   All mine were like that.  Norbert, I understand….except where I don’t. Now we start to get into the places where I have really struggled with playing Norbert.

Norbert meets Pippi and eventually a torrid, hot, passionate love affair starts.  I have struggled with this sooooo hard.  It’s taken me a long time to even begin to understand Norbert because this is where we have really differed.  In all four of my marriages, I had opportunity and invite to become involved with another woman.  Believe me, I was tempted to cheat, just as Norbert is.  In my case, I (being the ever dying romantic, and a man who does everything possible to try and be true to my word) chose to remain faithful to my bride.  I made a promise to be faithful, and I was.  So it’s been a real struggle for me to “cheat” on my “bride” in the show, even though she’s only a bride for the show.  “How can I justify,” I ask myself, “cheating on a woman I swore to be faithful to?”  It has always been a struggle for me to wrap my mind around why someone cheats on their spouse.  If you can’t endure living with them, then get a divorce!  That’s what I did!   Maybe you look down on me for breaking my promise to stand by them faithfully forever.  I simply will respond that when your “other” is unfaithful, abusive, or destructive that it is time to get out.  When respect and trust are so far decimated that there is no hope of ever getting them back, then it’s time to get out.

I will give Norbert credit where credit is deserved:  Norbert sticks with Jeanie for 20 years. If you add up all the years I’ve been married, I’m ashamed to say that I fall far short of that.

Why does Norbert cheat?  I didn’t understand, but now I think I do.

I believe that Norbert is like me in that he holds a sense of responsibility to his bride.  I believe he loves her and wants/hops to see the woman he fell in love with come back.  Norbert is a romantic, I believe.  He holds the faith that the woman he loves is “still in there” and will come out “any day now.”  Norbert tries to woo Jeanie out to do things with him.  As it happens, Norbert finds someone who is everything Jeanie was, but is them NOW.  How beautiful is a woman who is confident, driven, a go-getter, in touch with their wants, needs and desires, and who doesn’t really need you…but want’s you around just because they feel happy around you!  Isn’t that what life is all about…finding someone who will love you for you and doesn’t need or want anything from you but you because they are sufficient for and comfortable with themselves? “So what if he’s plain, and a Rockefeller he’s not…He’s got a beat up old car, I have to hold the door closed when we go out (in it) …” Pippi sings of Norbert, “…but he’s my tallest star, don’t care who you are… it’s alright as long as I’m with him and he’s with me.”   Who wouldn’t want someone to love you like that?  Don’t we all want to be loved for who we are, where we are, and have someone be “complete” just by being around us?

I’m really starting to understand!  In fact, I was in tears at tonight’s show…”real, American tears” streamed down my face as I felt Norbert’s struggle. Norbert is torn between these two amazing women that he has fallen in love with!  One is here, now, with him…loving him as he is.  This one is  strong, sexy, vivacious, at his side…and everything (NOW) that the other love was (back them) and he hope to see again.  On the other side, the woman he swore to be faithful to, the woman he has spent 20 years with, the mother of his child, the love of his life…the woman who was (and he hopes will be again) everything that the other woman is right now!  “My God!”, I said to myself, “I understand why Norbert cheated!  I understand why he is struggling and what he is struggling with!”  Now, intellectually, I kinda got it….I have an improvised monologue that I’ve extrapolated from a song I (Norbert) sings that I expanded on……but tonight I really got it.  Tonight, I felt the struggle, saw the lives, saw the history and the fights and the scenes that came between the scenes we see in the play…..I got it.  I now understand why Norbert cheats….but I don’t condone it.

Now I want to say, if someone has cheated on you, don’t just throw them out, but don’t just take them back, either.   Make them earn your trust and respect back; if they want to and if you are willing to.

While I never cheated on any of my wives, I did have one who cheated on me….apparently, quite a few times.  I did give her a chance to redeem herself, but ultimately had to terminate the relationship. “Here’s the cord.  You cut it, “I said, “and you’ll never see me again…or we can work this out.  The choice is yours.” She cut the cord, but tried to come back later….nope….sorry.  So I say what I say having gone through it.  I was not the cheating spouse, but rather the cheated on.

Norbert was a hard character for me to get in touch with.  Usually, I have played comical characters and/or comic relief.  I’ve had major roles where I played a “clueless” husband (See How They Run) or a frantic fiancée (Arsenic and Old Lace).  The roles I’ve played have typically been easy for me to pull off. In the play The Dining Room, I played a whole slew of characters including a cheating husband(but I was “cheating” with the woman who really was my wife at that time) and the only other role where I cried on stage.  “Norbert” has forced me to pull from all the other characters and roles I’ve played, PLUS pull on real-life experience, AND manufacture things to connect it all.

As Norbert, I’ve had to do things that I normally wouldn’t and were really hard for me.  Laugh if you must, but I had to grab “high school” Jeanie’s ass and stare at Pippi’s boobs popping out of her shirt.  Even with approval AND encouragement from the actresses playing the parts, I struggles with this because these are against MY character.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want to be close to someone and get to know them really well before I even begin to think in that direction.  Even if/when I’m at that point in a relationship, I’d have a time doing those things in public.  I believe that it stems from the way I was raised and from trauma I’ve experienced earlier in life.  That’s a story for another day.

To sum things up, out of the 18 shows I have done over the last four years, Norbert Garstecki has been the most challenging, not only because it’s my first time doing a musical, but because it’s my first time playing a character that is so different from me, my beliefs, my values, and my character.  Playing him has, however, given me a deeper understanding and sympathy for people in other situations as well as helped me reach places in me that I didn’t know were there.

That’s no mishaguyas.