Expecting wine and cheese and a room full of judgmental hipsters, I braced myself to perform my work as a writer for the first time ever. Getting dressed that morning, I was focusing on the fact that my audience might not even have ever heard of Patti LuPone. What would they make of my showqueen babbling?
We take those skills with us into much of our social interaction as we grow up and beyond childhood. Friends come over to your house and you want them to see your stuff. You go to their place and check out theirs. It’s fun to go to Jane’s house because she has a cute puppy or Dick’s because they always have Oreo pops. People like to come to my house and watch Patti LuPone videos. And I like to show them.
When I became fastidiously obsessed with Patti LuPone in high school, there was no YouTube. I could watch Patti on “Life Goes On,” but if I wanted to see even something as mainstream as the Evita commercial or her singing Anything Goes on the Tonys, I needed to find someone who had taped it off of TV.
So I was ecstatic when I realized that our family friend Kenn (already then my uncle’s ex-boyfriend) was a huge LuPonephile and had many video clips to make my mouth water.
One summer I attended a pre-college program at Barnard (for some reason, they offer a co-ed summer program) and spending a month on my own in New York City (we lived in LA), I was able to make a plan to visit Kenn at his house. He has since described my posture that afternoon to me as looking like I was about to leap off the couch and pounce, and that is pretty much how I remember feeling. He had so much cool stuff! For hours, we sat watching Patti LuPone and various other Broadway stars in clips from a myriad of different performances – no fast-forwarding – because we were watching his collection on one VCR and copying it on to the other so I could take it home.
When I got back to my dorm, all my little faghags in training were dying to collect in the lounge and watch Kenn’s Broadway videos, or as much as they could between classes and studying – I of course, just held court playing that six-hour tape on a loop like some kind of showtune film festival. I remember one guy walking in on my enraptured harem and saying, “You’re watching A New Argentina again??” All I could think then was that I would never tire of watching Patti flail open her mouth and arms, exploding cascades of vibrato building up to that high G.
And indeed, it’s 17 years later, and I’m still really, really, really into that video. But over time, I’ve realized something else. This is Show & Tell. That summer at Barnard, just as now, I could watch these clips alone, but I am invested in my friends seeing them. I remember quoting to my dorm-mates Kenn’s funny lines, pithy deconstructions of the all-over-the-map things on this tape – not just because Kenn had instantly become my hero as a smart, funny, New York gay man who’s obsessed with Patti LuPone, but also because I wanted my friends to enjoy the videos as much as I had, I wanted them to have the full context to appreciate them.
When I eventually moved to New York and began to hang out with Kenn on a regular basis, we continued to share with each other, and other friends, our favorite videos of our favorite performances and our funny, pithy commentary on them. Another thing we began to do together is sing. Since college, I have loved singing karaoke. I don’t like karaoke bars or lounges where you sit around listening to random strangers sing, waiting for your chance in a room too loud for conversation. I like a private room, with a small group of friends (although I’ll kill an hour alone sometimes, you know, to workshop some new numbers…) where we sit quietly and listen to each other, encourage each other, offer helpful hints, constructive criticism, throw in a hand adjusting the volume or the key…
Recently, Kenn and I (and Kenn’s wonderful boyfriend Matty, and our mutual friends, those very good-looking gay boys, Jeffery and Cole) have started to karaoke at home. (There are quite a few karaoke tracks on youtube, many with lyrics that light up just like at a karaoke place.) Just like at the karaoke places, we have all asserted our claims on our signature songs, the result of hours of practice and the satisfaction of knowing the lyrics, knowing where the key sits in your voice, being able to tell your friends a story with the song, knowing they like it… Last week, in advance of our plan to hang out at my house the five of us this past Saturday, Kenn emailed us all with song suggestions for us, homework in a sense, new numbers for which he thought we were well-suited, and which we were expected to prepare to perform. Cool! Wait, Jeffery was having problems learning the lyrics to “Mack The Knife” and Cole and I wanted to switch songs (I traded him “Love for Sale” for “Another Hundred People”), but we were all game, we were all excited, especially me.
You see, that afternoon, I’d gone to Erin’s Markey’s artist salon. Contrary to my expectations, there was no wine and cheese, and only six people were there, including me and Erin, and the group of us (within which, enough people knew each other that it didn’t feel like six strangers) began with stretching exercises – damn, I wore the wrong pants!
But listening to these people’s work, hearing them speak, looking at their drawings, photographs, faces, and ultimately doing a monologue from my Patti show, I realized that this is just more Show & Tell. This is what I always do.