A memoir by Jason Cooper
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Jason Cooper. All rights reserved.
mas·och·ist: noun (in general use) a person who enjoys an activity that appears to be painful or tedious.
We all love something that hurts us. Bad boys, cigarettes, cream cheese frosting. Everyone has at least one thing in their life that we return to time and time again, no matter how many times we get kicked in the teeth. Like most red-blooded Americans I am hooked on sugar and white flour, I am an ex-smoker, and I am on and off the Diet Coke wagon so often it could give you whiplash. But the most masochistic relationship I have is the one I have with the arts. More specifically with the performing arts. Well, if we are going to strip it down to specifics, with performing. Ok fine, with the spotlight.
I am a theatre artist, which means my chosen craft likes to push me face-first into the mud every chance it gets. What is my reaction to these repeated blows to my dignity, one might ask? Simple, I keep coming back for more. Want proof of my masochism? Well, here you go. Last week I had the privilege of starring in a local theatre company’s production of La Cage Aux Folles and was putting the finishing touches on the regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning Grey Gardens: The Musical, being produced by my very own theatre company. It would have been our second production. I say “would have been” because as I sit here writing this, I – like the rest of the world – am in quarantine. Months and months of hard work gone – poof – just like that. Both show casualties of the great Coronavirus shut down of 2020. But theatre folk cannot be stopped so easily. Instead of sitting around of licking our wounds and feeling sorry for ourselves, we plot our comebacks.
1. Disco Baby
If there were a list of criteria for people who’d grow up to be performers I’d check all the boxes:
– youngest child: check
– from a broken home: check
– gay: check check check!
The desire, nay, need to perform has been with me for as long as I can remember. By all accounts, my yearning for the spotlight predates my ability to speak. According to my older siblings, I was singing along to disco records before I could put sentences together. Some of my first utterances were picked up from Leo Sayer’s You Make Me Feel Like Dancin,’ and I don’t think “bad girls toot too beep beep” is all that common in the vernacular of most four-year-olds. I was forged by the fires of Disco.
I could usually be found in our family room stacking 45’s on the turntable of our stereo. The stereo was the type that looks like a liquor cabinet with a speaker on the side. I think this type of stereo might have been mandatory for every household in the ’70s. I would sing my heart out along with the records while performing very intricate and cutting-edge choreography for a captive audience, which consisted solely of my mother until she always seemed to have to make an urgent phone call all of a sudden. I was undeterred; the show carried on without her.
Performing runs in my blood. My grandmother – a bawdy divorcee – was a genuine, bonafide, “Tiny Bubbles” singing, sequins wearing lounge singer. I have vivid memories of going to hear her sing at the Holiday Inn lounge & bar and listening to her sing Feelings while I drank a Shirley Temple. When I would go to her house, I would try on her hairpieces and lip-sync to Olivia Newton-John records. My Grandmother loved it, and her early encouragement just fed the fire in my belly to be a star.
I used to force my cousins to sing and dance to songs and choreography I made up on the spot. Then we’d (I’d) nag the rest of the relatives to watch us. All the adults would ooh and ah and say “how cute,” then go back to their highballs. Later all the cousins would play hide and seek, or we’d go outside and play. They weren’t as committed to Show Business as I was. I am pretty sure at least one of my cousins still actively hates me for these make-shift talent shows.
Sometimes I could corral the neighborhood kids to participate in my “plays” but they could not take direction, so we usually just ended up playing He-Man. But when I was alone, be it riding my bike, or taking my bath, or falling asleep at night, I was preparing for my future, polishing up my interview skills and rehearsing my acceptance speeches.
Tomorrow’s chapter: First Love
Jason Cooper has worked in professional, regional, and community theatre for over twenty years. After receiving his BFA in theatre performance he spent three seasons with the award-winning Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN. After working in theatres all over the country for a time, Jason settled in Chicago and worked with The Chicago Dramatists, Apple Tree Theatre, and Red Moon Theatre before returning home to Louisville to become a high school English teacher. Locally, Jason has worked extensively as an actor and director primarily for Pandora Productions, CenterStage, The Bard’s Town, Derby Dinner Playhouse, and Stage One.
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