How Sean Became Sebastian – Part VIII

Sebastian Cummings
Sebastian and Angela backstage during The Madwoman of Chaillot at Rutgers University

During my second semester at Rutgers University I took my first Theater classes. I had Acting I and Playwriting I. In these classes I finally felt at home, it was as though I was a mutant and I had been admitted to Professor X’s school. The first show I saw in school was a student production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. There were two performers who’s work felt far superior to the rest of the student’s work, their commitment was unmatched and I remembered thinking, “I want to be just like them.” The theatre department was small, so it was only a matter of time before I became acquainted with everyone and more importantly, before I met the woman who would be my best friend throughout college, Angela. You know those people you meet and it seems like you’ve known each other your entire lives, they understand every reference you make, your favorite TV show is their favorite TV show, you have the same astrological sign…. in high school that was a girl named Sasha, in college, it was Angela. We met for the first time after playwriting class when we were both waiting to speak with Paul, our eccentric professor. He wanted us to audition for the department’s production of The Madwoman of Chaillot. At this point, my confidence was rising, but I was still very shy and the idea of going into an open audition, where everyone can see everyone, frightened me. But, I also knew if I didn’t take this first step, I would never reach my goal.
When I showed up to auditions, I met a guy my age named Rob. He was acting as the monitor. What first brought him to my attention was that my professor would ask his opinion on everything and I thought, “why does he care what this guy thinks so much? He must be super talented or something.” I was given a side when I entered and had about 5 minutes to look over it before I was brought in with a number of other new actors to the department to read the scene. I was nervous, but there was something about acting that made it easier for me to put myself in a vulnerable position. Once I started, it was out of my control. It was as though speaking the first few words of a script would cast a spell, allowing the spirit of the character to use you as a medium and relive these moments. I felt confident in ways I never had before. For once I didn’t worry about whether everyone hated me because I was gay or if people thought I was stupid or anything. It felt like a safe place. After doing the scene the first time, I felt great, but I remember thinking, “hmmm, that didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted it to, I know I could have done that better,” But, little did I know, theatre was about finding that “place,” not instantly arriving there and Paul, our professor asked us to do it again and gave us notes and I remember thinking, “I can do this again? You want to work this out?” Granted all auditions don’t go that way, but for once I wasn’t afraid of not being perfect, of, as my parent’s would say, having no common sense. In theatre there was no right and wrong, it was more about feelings and just as someone insultingly said about me recently, I have a lot of feelings.
I was cast in the play as a supporting character and I was far beyond excited. I had lines and like most new actors, that’s all I cared about at the time. My relationships with Angela and Rob continued to grow, separately. We were all in the play, Rob and I worked opposite each other, so we spent every rehearsal together. Angela and I had class together and like best friends do, saw each other every moment in between our other classes. By opening night, Rob and Angela were both my best friends, but they never spoke to one another. While Angela was clearly my BEST friend, my relationship with Rob proved to be more interesting. Rob was closed off with most people, he had a wall up and spoke to people in a performance kind of way; his voice would deepen, he would bring his shoulders back and overuse his eyebrows in communication. But, with me he would be more honest and sincere and so it felt as though our relationship had more weight. We would sit in his dorm room and talk about performance and moving to New York and discuss our theatre peers and all things best friends did, but this relationship was also special because it was my first time being close with a male friend since elementary school. It felt special. But, one thing I noticed about Rob, was the closer we got to one another, the more he would follow up by pushing me away. If he wad a particularly intimate conversation one day, I could count on the fact that the next day he would pretend he didn’t see me or start talking to me like he did all the other people, with that deep, “I’m tough voice.” I hated that, but I was young and went along with, tried to fix it all the time, “what’s wrong with you?” And he would snap back, like he was under a spell and me calling him out would bring him back to reality. I remember one particular day, Rob was being extra distant. I walked up to him and said “hey,” and he kept walking and that brought the Gambrel out of me, like nothing at that point ever had (Gambrel is my mother’s maiden name). I went after him and said, “I know you just heard me talking to you.” He kept walking and I thought, “fuck this shit.” I had never seen anyone behave that way, what was his problem? I continued to talk until he acknowledged me and finally he said, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
“why?”
“I don’t know, just because.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Okay, don’t believe me. We’re still not friends”
“Clearly something else is bothering you and you’re to afraid to talk about, so you’re taking it out on me.”
And suddenly, he stopped. I was right. I didn’t even know all that, I was just upset and running my mouth. He invited me back to his dorm to talk about whatever was bothering him, which had nothing to do with me, but all I could think was, what is wrong with him? Who does that? My thoughts were interrupted by him saying, “I wish you were a girl, you’re the only kind of person I could date. You call me out all the time when I try to push you away. No one ever does that.” Now, this was the first time anyone had ever said anything like that to me, it wouldn’t be the last, but that’s not the point. At the time, I was 18 years old and I knew something wasn’t right about all this, but I didn’t know what. I also knew after saying something as heavy as that, he was bound to push me away even more than he ever had.
One day I managed to hang out with Angela and Rob together for the first time and they got along well and I remembered leaving them together and thinking, this is great. They are getting along very well. Not long after, Rob came to me and said, “I want to hook up with Angela. I can tell she’d go for it.” I forgot to mention that Rob greatly enjoyed hooking up with women that liked him, but he didn’t care for very much and I thought, “You can’t just screw over Angela.” So, I told Angela about his mo and she said, “I don’t mind. He invited me to watch a movie in his room later this week. I’m gonna go.” Angela was okay with it… okay, then it’s not so bad. She made a choice, she’s an adult, but then why do I have this overwhelming feeling of anxiety?

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