Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'm famous!

Older friends will remember my old life: from 1989 to around 1996, I spent an inordinate amount of time in theaters.

No, not that kind. This kind:
Yeah, that's me. I actually volunteered for this.

This review was for a play I did with SNAP! Productions, an non-profit company which formed to raise money for the Nebraska AIDS project.

I worked with SNAP!, Shelterbelt, the Playhouse, Chanticleer, the Norton, The Firehouse, etc etc etc. There was lots of good work and lots of schlock. But playing Biff in Death of a Salesman and Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof put my picture on the front page of the entertainment section of the Omaha World-Herald. I made a few appearances on local TV news "entertainment" segments, and I was the face of Cox Cable Omaha for a few months. I've had strangers walk up to me and repeat advertising tag lines.

My picture's probably been in "the paper" over 30 times.

All that ended 15 years ago. I'm still a performer, after all, but now I play to an audience of 20 college students rather than 600 paying customers. I'll let you guess which is scarier. Actually, I'm not teaching right now becasue I'm writing my dissertation pretty much full-time. And I've tempered most of my publicity instincts that I used in my PR career at an ad agency, newspaper, and volunteer gigs for local non-profits.

So when the Omaha World-Herald photographer came into the "Y" on Monday while I was riding an exercise bike, I put my head down and tried to act invisible. She was reporting on how Omahans were coping with our recent snowpocalypse, something about how we stick to our routines even as 10 inches of powder fall from the sky. But I was one of only two people in the cardio room at the time, so she had to change her angle. She took some shots of the only other guy there, but then she wandered over, smiled, and asked if she could photograph me. Shit.

I'm vain. I adore attention. I love playing to a crowd. But I also try to dampen those enthusiasms because they can hinder other aspect of my life. My current intellectual work, for example, suffers if I let my need for attention distract me from the slow and lonely plodding required to complete a dissertation. 

But this photographer was clearly disappointed not to find a room full of folks at the Y. She asked if I took pride in sticking to my routine in the face of winter hardship, and I told her that I always try to ride outside--only 10 inches of snow and cold could compel me to endure cardio work indoors. We chatted for a few minutes, she took some notes, and away she went.

This experience taught me two things: I've changed. And so has the newspaper industry. 

One: the last time I was about to appear in the paper, I had closed a bar with some woman (I actually can't remember which one), and we went to the paper at two in the morning to pick up a copy of the bulldog edition. Part of my anxiety about that review was economic: I was directing and producing that piece, so the review had a pretty big effect on the theatre's future. Part of it was vanity, too. But 20 years later, I still haven't seen a hard copy of the "YMCA" story. I really don't care about adding yet another clipping to the file my mom kept for all those years.

Two: the first few times I was in the paper fifteen years ago, I'd get calls. Lots of them. Lots and lots. Everyone read the Omaha World-Herald.  This week, only four people I know saw the piece: my friend Bryan, local blogger, racer, bike shop manager, and former World-Herald staffer; Brad, the only man my age who's still a daily subscriber and a former radio reporter; my Aunt Barb, who's pushing 60; and my friend John, who's still in advertising and art-directed the Safe Sex poster all those years ago. 

Here's irony: the theme of this post has been my ambivalence about self-promotion. But it's appearing  on my blog, a form which is all about self-promotion. And it concludes, fittingly, with the picture itself:

Coda: I'm not as vain as I used to be. How do I know? Because I'm okay with posting a photo that makes me look like I'm fifty f*cking years old.....

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A later addition to the above:

My God, it's all here: an ambivalence about fame, an anxiety about difference and disability, some critiques of shoddy poetry, and a healthy disdain for capital accumulation. I haven't paid any real attention to this track in a long time, but now I realize that Mozzer beat me to it. Every single time.

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