Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Importance Of Being Honest

“Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.”- Allegedly the last words of Oscar Wilde.

True or not, this has always been one of my favorite quotes, and I can certainly imagine Mr. Wilde uttering it as he drew his final breaths. Old Oscar never had a problem thumbing his nose at the stodgy conventions and hypocrisy that was Victorian England, and if ever a person knew how to carpe diem, it was him.

Artists are like that, you know. There’s something inside them that just refuses to cooperate with the standard operating procedures by which the majority of the world lives. But if there is a blind spot in the psyche of the artist, it is in his or her inability to suppress the truths that lie within them. They simply cannot hold it back.

Oh, it’s not from lack of trying. Anyone who has the blessing (and the curse) of the artist’s soul can tell you to the number the amount of day gigs they’ve had in an attempt to ‘fit in’. Wilde himself was married, sired two children and took a job as an editor of Woman’s World Magazine for two years, while at the same time carrying on an affair with the love of his life, Lord Alfred Douglas, whose nickname was “Bosie”. Of course Constance Lloyd Wilde, Oscar’s wife, found this an impossible situation and the couple divorced in 1893, leaving Wild and Bosie free to be together.

Naturally, his openly gay lifestyle did not play well in Victorian England. He was eventually arrested for “gross indecency”, which resulted in a two year prison term at hard labor. He died destitute in Paris, but it appears he did it on his own terms. The lesson here is that if you are going to live la Vida Wilde, you’d better be willing to accept the consequences of doing so.

History is rife with those, like Oscar, who have said why not?-and as a result, have changed the world. But I’m sure there are far more unknown examples of those who have said the same thing and exited planet Earth with unfinished dreams and ideas that plunged them into madness, like Vincent van Gogh for instance. Did you know that he never sold a painting during his lifetime?

Surviving life can be a difficult thing sometimes, can’t it? Now I know that sounds a bit oxymoronic, because in the end, no one survives life, but it’s that period between the moment you come flying out of Mom and flat-lining the heart monitor to which I refer.

To my mind though, since you don’t have a choice about shuffling off this mortal coil anyway, you might as well enjoy it while you’re here.

Look, sometimes the lease you get on life is great and wonderful for the run of the contract, and sometimes you end up destitute in Paris. That’s just the way it is. Usually, there’s a little of both sprinkled across your time here. It seasons you, sometimes saltier, sometimes sweeter, and often with red hot pepper. But that’s just it; you never know. And it’s the hope that it will get better that keeps us off of the bell tower with the high powered rifle. It’s knowing that somewhere down the line, something good will happen to offset those days of abject misery. So, why not just hold on and ride the wild stallion at top speed across the plains, instead of galumphing down a county park bike path on a swaybacked old horse, whose only goal is to get back to the corral in time for lunch?

I can’t tell you how many days I’ve awakened recently, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and said to no one in the bedroom, “Oh shit, I’m still here?” when all I really want is to assume the fetal position, pull the quilt over my head and drift off to painless sleep forever. It’s not that I’m totally depressed and suicidal; it’s just that I’m so tired of having to continually prove my respectability to those around me. I know that many of my friends look at me and sometimes think, “When IS she going to get her act together?”

And then, I have a day like last Wednesday, which was simply magical.

As you may or may not know, last week I premiered something called “Julia Scotti’s Comedy Test Kitchen” at the Dark Horse Pub in Philadelphia. It is an experimental kind of show with music, singing, and of course, comedy. My core belief in this thing is that if you take professional artists, who love what they do, and turn them loose in the most creative environment possible, they will rise to the occasion and create something special onstage. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed and neither was the audience.

We’re in a tiny room upstairs at the Dark Horse that seats about fifty to eighty people, tops. We have no budget, no props, horrible lighting and sound, and little or no rehearsal time. The players get a meager stipend for their efforts; maybe just enough to cover gas, parking with a little left over for a burger. Yet last week, this group, which included Comedians Chris Rich, Regina Baker and Justin Gonzalez, our piano virtuoso and arranger Marty Krzywanos and I managed to put together a two hour variety show that somehow lifted the audience and us to a place that we hadn’t known before. I know that  the cast, including grizzled old me, has been flying all week-so much so, that it wasn’t until today that I could begin to put it down in writing. Ever since the show, I’ve been asking myself over and over; what happened there and why? And for that I have to go back to Oscar for an explanation.

Wilde and his contemporaries were believers in the school of aestheticism, ‘art for art’s sake’. The backbone of what they did was to create, not for moral or symbolic purposes, but rather to have art just be. Our little troupe of players approached the show in the same way. All we wanted was to provide an environment in which our imaginations could run wild; one that was free of the demands that our professional shows ask of us and just do it for us because it made us laugh. We wanted to deliver a presentation in which we didn’t have to bow to agents or club owners’ whims, who generally don’t know quality, and who always consider the money first. For us, instinct, coupled with a firm belief that the audience would take the ride with us, was the gas that powered the show. For once, the performers were in charge, and we rocked the house for two solid hours.   

Even the audience got involved! Toward the end of the show, we did a faith healing sketch which called for the cast to line up and be healed by me, the minister. Several members of the audience were so comfortable that they got up, came to the ‘healing place’ and knelt down with the others, like extras in a play! It was so unbelievable that after the show, when the cast met in the back room, we were beside ourselves!

I don’t know where this show is going or what its future is. But I am firmly convinced that we got off on the right footing, with the proper attitude. Performers need to fail, fall and conquer in order to get to the wondrous place onstage and thus, set the bar higher for the next time. We did all of those things last Wednesday night. And we will do it again this Wednesday when some new cast members join us. Whatever is going on up there at the Dark Horse Pub, it is very special. And I can’t but help think that all of us involved are going to be changed by it in a very positive way.

So thanks to the cast, to the Muse, Van Gogh, to Oscar Wilde and all the others who have dared to step out of line a bit over the centuries. And now, either this blog goes or I do. I think it will be me.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat! Abbondanza!

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