Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Jake Regrets: Theater in the '80s

Summer 1987: Raise a Ruckus
Sheriff Sam's Saloon, Adventureland, Des Moines, Iowa

Ain't no time to sit and brood! Raise a ruckus tonight!
Those stirring words launched six sweaty, high-kicking shows a day, seven days a week at Adventureland's orange-and-creamsicle-hued Sheriff Sam's Saloon in the summers of 1986 and 1987. And for the vast majority of the performances, I was shaking my bony ass right up there on the stage, squished into my slim-hipped, high-waisted jeans held firmly at my ribcage by a snappy pair of suspenders. I have no idea how I still have working testicles 20 years after I last peeled myself out of that costume, but I carry with me to this day the ugly personal truth I learned that summer: I look really, really, really bad in orange. And I was half of the orange couple that summer (the others being red, yellow and pink … and thank goodness I wasn't the poor guy in pink), so millions of audience members and seven other cast members are still working to focus their eyes after watching me flail around on stage in a blur of jangly elbows and knees, marzipan skin, and orangy orange-orange plaid.

January 1988: Disney audition roadtrip
Somewhere in Oklahoma
Katie and Mike (the Raise a Ruckus pink couple) and I decided that our C-level amusement park experience in Iowa was just the stepping stone we needed to launch ourselves into our collective dream job: dancing at Disney World! We somehow missed the audition in nearby Chicago, so we piled our poor college selves into Mike's beat-up old jalopy one cold weekend morning and road-tripped to the next nearest city on the audition tour: Dallas (or Ft. Worth or some other city in that general area). We got there, we had pretty decent auditions, we all got damn close to making the final cut, someone stole my Les Miz button off my dance bag while I was on stage, and then we piled in the car and headed home. But not before stopping at a cheap motel for the night, where we recorded for all posterity just why I didn't find a husband until I was 39 years old. Where should we start?

The hair: Sun-In is a friend to nobody. Least of all a dark-haired scarecrow with ghostly skin.

The shirt: I was a Manhattan Transfer freak in the '80s. And not just because I thought Alan Paul was totally dreamy. I saw them in concert only once, and I came home with a pale neon pink (because confident men wore pale neon pink in the '80s) batwing sweatshirt emblazoned with that forced-perspective tuxedo image from their eponymous 1975 album. In teal. And since there wasn't a natural fiber in it, the thing never faded!

The jeans: Reverse tie-dye! With bleach! At wacky angles! Like what a bar mitzvah clown might wear! In prison!

The curtains: Totally not my fault. We were poor college kids in a cheap Oklahoma motel room on a roadtrip to Disney rejection. What the hell do you want from us? Toile?

1989ish: Kennedy Center lobby
Intermission, Tyne Daly's tour of Gypsy
Nothing says I sit down to pee quite as efficiently as a bow tie. I taught myself to tie a bow tie when I was in high school, while all the other kids were doing more useful things like—oh, I don't know—hanging out with each other and forming meaningful friendships. I thought my little Madras plaid bow tie made me look so cool that I went out and bought a bunch more bow ties in all kinds of colors and patterns. Which makes this plaid one kind of a gateway bow tie. One reason I was so good at tying bow ties was those glasses. Their lenses were so expansively huge—like the Hubble telescope!—that I barely had to bend my neck to look down and see what I was doing. Big glasses + small bow tie = man who goes to the theater with his mom. Every time.

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