Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 90: The Actor's Nightmare (A Story of Asian Will...#getit?)

Let me take you back to February 14, 2012....

Like every other Valentine's Day, I try not to spend it loathing those who are laying trails of rose petals, depleting the shelves of champagne bottles, and guaranteeing themselves one very expensive night of sex.

Instead, I planned on taking a solo bath while playing John Mayer's "Love Song for No One" on repeat while hopelessly texting various ex-boyfriends as I await my delivery of Thai food meant for two.  Unfortunately not just a Valentine's Day routine.   Happily not just a Valentine's Day routine ;-)

This February 14th was different though.  I thought to myself, "I'm on the road, I'm in Chicago, I like myself and I love my job.  I'm going to buy a new journal!".  Yelped the nearest bookstore and non-chain coffee shop and was ready to give myself a gift of an afternoon full of positive self-affirmations.

4pm rolls around, just about the time any decent night owl theater actor stumbles out for breakfast and just as I slide on my puffy coat and sunglass my even puffier eyes, my hotel phone rings.

"Hi, It's Monica.  So, Jake is sick.  You're on tonight."

I responded, "oh, okay.  Cool.", but actually thought to myself, "oh, okay.  Tonight Chicago will see it's second St. Valentine's Day Massacre.".

3 hours and 30 minutes to death at the hands of a couple thousand Chicago theater patrons of whom, I assumed, I would ruin their romantic night at the theater.  (American Idiot, romantic comedy of the year! Hah!)  Took the time to tweet:


You know that terrible cliche actor choice when someone is stuck between a rock and a hard place and they start pacing back and forth like its supposed to mean something?  Well, I'm confident I logged about three miles around my little hotel room.

I had my script out.  I had the OBC album blasting in the background.  My shower was running hot water to steam my voice and possible force me to sweat out yesterday's heavy rationing of Maker's Mark.  I had a guitar across my lap when I realized that every time I went to finger a chord, my hands went instantly numb.  

Here's how it works:  Everyone has an understudy.  I've known I was understudying Will from the day I was offered the job.  Since that time, I've had a few rehearsals, done some homework, memorized some lines and kept an ear open whenever possible between learning and doing my own track.  But no matter how much you prepare-  the day you get that phone call-  Life becomes an ignited canon and you are the ball.  

An hour passed and I realized I had gotten nothing accomplished but a shower to the sounds of Michael Esper's voice.  So I had an open dialogue with myself:

"Kelvin.  Go to the gym.  Relax.  Breathe.  Stretch.  What you know is what you know.  You don't have to prove anything.  Just sing the right words.  Text your parents."

6pm.  1 Hour and 30 minutes to death.  Time to get my Will look on.  Tattoo, costume fitting, and dawn the traditional blue streaks among my blonde streaks. (I didn't get pictures of ANYTHING as I was in serious prep mode.)   Still denying the reality that this was in fact going to happen, I was indeed going to have to sing "Nobody Likes You" in front of people as opposed to myself on an treadmill.

6:30.  1 Hour til I meet my maker.  The entire cast assembles on stage.  I run "Too Much Too Soon" over and over and people are throwing bag and guitars a me, and I get pushed around on the couch.  I get a message from our stage manager that the Will guitar is broken and in the shop.  I think to myself:  The Good Will is broken, The Good Will Guitar is broken.  The audience will have to deal with the broken performance tonight.

7pm.  30 minutes til the curtain rises like the blade of a guillotine.  I'm in a foreign dressing room trying not to disturb any of Jake's things.  I run through a few harmonies for "21 Guns" and "Last Night on Earth" which I conveniently sing the opposite vocal part faithfully for the last 3 months.  Microphone....check.  Guyliner....check.  Grip on reality..... not so much.

7:31pm.  The curtain is late as per usual.  I have to be on all fours on the bed as we do our "Fuck Time/ShitMotherFuckerMotherFuckerGoddamn".  Everyone is giving me a thumbs up and a look of "you got this", "I've got you",  "you're going to be great".  But I can't shake the feeling that I'm going to let everyone down.  I sit on the couch and feel the fabric beneath me.  I take a remote control in hand and close my eyes through the entire first chorus of "American Idiot" trying to meditate and calm my mind and open my heart through the madness that is our show.

Cue the oh so familiar song where the melody is the same but the words have all changed.  But only for me.

I remember Leslie and I making out and her lovingly whispering in my ear "you can wipe the sweat of your face".  I remember burning my finger with a lit cigarette as my smoking dexterity hasn't developed.  I remember standing center stage during the final monologue desperately searching for my line that was coming soon but not in my mind- opening my mouth and there it was.  I remember being in a fetal position way too long.  I remember looking into that baby's eyes and even though they were blue, they belonged to me.  I remember chugging "holy water" and accidentally regurgitating all the water onto my lap making it look like I pee'd which I desperately had to do in real life.    

I remember blinking and it was over.  

I had a final reassuring nod from Van and a butt pat from Tommy and pretty much everyone else for a job well done before curtain call.  I didn't die.  And as American Idiot 99.99999% of the time receives standing ovations, I held my breath in fear that I was the link that didn't connect that would cause the audience to glue their asses to their seats.  They stood.  They applauded wildly.  I was safe.

All said and done.  Understudying can be terrifying.  It is also artistically fulfilling.  As an actor, your eyes have to be completely open.  You suddenly gain an even deeper trust and appreciation for you supportive cast and crew.  You hear the words all new again and gain a new perspective of the show that inspires new meaning even after months of work.  

With that, I thank my cast first and foremost for being so kind and having the most wonderful of praises for Tuesday.  I am humbled every day and in awe of their talent.  And I thank my Twidiots who sent so much love before the show, and I read every tweet to fill up my tank! 

In my career.  This will go down as a highlight.  I got to do a PRINCIPLE role in a major Broadway First National tour.  That is something I thought I might not ever be able to do as an Asian actor.  That is why I thank our producers Steve, Tom, and Ira.  I thank our creatives Michael, Tom, Jared, Johanna, and Lorin for having faith in me and taking the chance.  I thank Jim, Carrie, and Jillian at casting for their honest and progressive casting choices.  From the bottom of my rage filled heart:  Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Alas, Asian Will debuted at the Oriental Theater.....   yup.  That just happened. 

The only remnants of Asian Will.  My Will tattoo in my hotel room after a cool down whiskey and ginger. 


  1. Just elated for you! And while I would NEVER wish for anything to happen to Jake...perhaps he could take a nice long nap on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis ;) And then come back for the night time perf. so I can see your JOS epicness!!! <3 YOU!!!!!

  2. And I may or may not be crying.
    I've said this before, your writing is fantastic, this gave me CHILLS.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this out for us.
    I was literally shaking with YOUR pre-show nervousness as I read this.


  3. I'm with Neda. I cried a little when reading this. Thanks for a peak into your mind that night. You are amazing and I have no doubt that you not only did you live through it, you amazed the audience & took their breath away. Also, I agree with Lola. We love Jake, but seeing you both in one trip would be perfection.

  4. One of the best blog posts I have ever read! You made us feel like we were there even though we couldn't be. I can't believe we missed your Will by just a few days

  5. Congrats!!! Sounds like an awesome night was had by all. I love the backstage look at this crazy show. You know people say performing should alway just come in flashes like that. The moment you can sleep your way through it's not working out. Agree with Lola, I don't wish ill on anyone, but I do love catching some understudies.

    Can't wait to see you and the rest of the crew in St. Louis!

  6. Did I mention I cried a little reading this in the McDonald's near the theater in Chicago...I really felt your nerves expressed through this. You are a great writer!!