Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 6

Opening night for the musical arrived about thirteen days before the cast was suitable for public viewing.

Yes, another fortnight and we might have achieved “adequate” with the possibility of “passable.” But as the maniac once said, “The show must go on.”

The music was learned and the pitches, generally pleasing. But the vignettes that separated the numbers were filled with so much wooden acting that we could have built a fort.

As to the choreography, we should have put a disclaimer in the show’s program, warning parents to cover the eyes of their small children.

There was one saving grace:

Our homosexual producer had gathered all of his flair and had designed and purchased stunning costumes. They were accessible and colorful—and as we found out later, easy to clean. They gave the show the appearance of legitimacy.

During the final rehearsal, which blended chaos with over-optimism, R. B. appointed himself cheerleader for the troupe. Whenever a note was missed or a cue ignored, he stepped in and said, “Don’t worry, guys. We’re going to do great.”

I probably should have stopped him, but before I could, one of his fellow-cast members snarled, “Hey, R. B., just because they’re dance slippers doesn’t mean you need to slip up.”

R. B. laughed, completely oblivious to the fact that he was being critiqued.

During the time of preparation for the evening’s fiasco, I made two requests: don’t drink too much water or you’ll sweat like a pig; and under no circumstances were any of the cast members to go into the lobby in costume—so we could keep the surprise of the quality costumes from the audience until stage time.

R. B. ignored both.

Feeling the need to use the bathroom because of over-watering his hole and not wanting to stand in line with his cast members at the facility backstage, he drifted his way through the halls to the lobby, where he not only used the bathroom donned in his costume, but stopped off to talk to the audience members in the foyer, who were complimenting him for his appearance.

Then, under the influence of the fumes of appreciation, he walked down through the auditorium and jumped onto the stage, where we were all waiting behind the curtain.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been any more infuriated—yet it was hardly the time for a teaching moment.

I took a deep breath, channeling my Knute Rockne, and tried to deliver a pregame speech.

I think I did pretty well, but all the cast members knew there were so many gaps in the training for the show that it was literally impossible for anything to happen short of the Hindenburg.

I still held out hope that maybe the god of dance would send angels to join us. He did not. Instead, arriving on opening night were the devils of dunce.

And I didn’t even take into consideration that the lack of preparation would be further complicated by nerves—great stage fright. There were at least five times when the musical came to a complete halt while the cast members stared at one another, wondering whose turn it was, and the audience giggled uncontrollably at the mishap unfolding before them.

I wanted to run.

The advertising had been so good that the theater was packed. There were two nights scheduled for Columbus before we hit the road—and both performances were headed toward standing room only.

Of course, I realized that once the word was passed about opening night’s bedevilment that few people would show up for the second go-round.

The little boy in me arrived. I wanted to disappear, go back to the rehearsal camp and wait for the cast to join me later. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was stand out in the lobby with my fumbling thespians. For of course, I knew it ultimately would be viewed as my fault. But I came and stood among them.

Back at the rehearsal camp, discussing what to do the next night—how to quickly simplify the choreography so as to not look quite so inept—and which songs to go over, R. B. spoke up, interrupting my instructions.

“Excuse me,” he said sprightly. “Guys, I think we did pretty good for our first try.”

Now, I’ve never been in a room with a lynch mob. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people to become so enraged that they grab someone and rush him into the forest, throw a rope over a tree bough and hang him on the spot. But I would venture to say that the cast came close to putting R. B. in a “neck-tie” that night.

I stepped in to protect him, but also rebuked him.  “Listen,” I said, “there’s nothing wrong with stinking and doing a shitty job, as long as you don’t pretend it doesn’t stink and that it’s not shitty. It was my job to get you guys ready. I didn’t do it. But it was your job tonight to give your best performance. As you go to your beds, you can ask yourselves if you did just that.”

R. B. was offended.

Matter of fact, I found out the next day that he stayed up crying to one of the girls about my “attack.”

I worked with the cast all the next day, and by the time we arrived for the second performance, we were miles further down the road than we were the night before.

Of course the problem was, the audience had decided to stay miles away.

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 4

A rehearsal camp.

It is what we called the thirteen-day period leading up to the beginning of the tour of our musical.

The cast arrived: Mittie, Dan, Ginger, Greg, Luanne, Dollie, R. B., Matt and Blythe. Unfortunately, we had to axe Blythe and Matt because we caught them sleeping together in one of the bedrooms. We had a “no fraternization” policy for the cast, and Matt and Blythe—well, they screwed it.

Somehow or another, we’d landed an amazing facility for hosting this little shindig, with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a complete kitchen and a small gymnasium including a PA system for rehearsing. The owner of the location was so impressed with our endeavors that he only charged $150 a week. Unfortunately, I think we bounced a check to him. (We made it right.)

The mornings were spent learning music. This went great. Music was what I did. We also worked on some acting. Since all the members of the team had seen movies and television, we kind of wiggled and squirmed our way into understanding the characterization needed for their roles.

But afternoons did not go so well. They were set aside for choreography. Only one of our cast members could dance. All the others were either timid or inept, leaving our three choreographers in a constant, bitchy dismay. Two of this trio were fellows who had performed on Broadway—gay men (this was back in the time when the words “gay” and “men” never appeared in a sentence together.)

The other choreographer was a “mimist” from Miami (say that quickly five times). She was a Lesbian, though our cast was so unfamiliar with the term that they believed she was an immigrant from Lebanon.

So terrible was the movement portion of the play that a reporter from the city newspaper, who came to interview me and happened to sit in on a rehearsal, joked, “Hey. Don’t give up. You can always have the claim to fame that you came up with ‘collisionography.’”

I didn’t laugh. I should have. It might have kept me from crying.

The absolute worst of our dancers was R. B. He had two left feet, and that was just on his right leg. R. B. couldn’t dance. It’s not that he shouldn’t or wouldn’t—it needed to be forbidden.

The terrifying part of the situation was that R. B. was our most enthusiastic hoofer and believed with all his heart that he was heads and tails, if not feet, above the other cast members.

One day, in a fit of frustration, Gay Choreographer 1 screamed at him, “You dance like an elephant imitating a cow!”

The only reason R. B. knew to get offended was that the fellow was spitting angry. That night R. B. packed his bags, preparing to leave—and I consoled him into staying.

I lied.

I told him I had fired the choreographer who yelled at him, when actually the guy had quit in despair. So R. B. stood tall, stating to me, “That guy just doesn’t know talent when he sees it.”

I should have said something. I should have spoken up. But I was so afraid of losing a cast member less than two weeks from the start of the show that I remained silent and let a very cocky guy walk out of the room—setting us all up for a “Great Collision.”

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 3

The next morning my phone rang at seven o’clock.

It was R. B.

With nearly a tear in his voice, he explained that he’d been up most of the night, worried about the money he would receive while traveling with the cast of the musical.

The producers had joined with me in giving to these student-actors, who would be performing the parts, thirty-five dollars a week plus all expenses. At the time, most traveling casts of this style were charging the participants for the privilege of traveling. But it felt right for us to offer the young humans a little money for their concerted efforts.

But R. B. was not satisfied with the base wage.

He explained his bills. Three times. He also shared that his father had taught him that being frugal and prudent with your money was the best way to stay happy, and free of both debt and interference from others.

He was about to tell me that he was going to bow out when some evil spirit of compromise jumped up in my soul and I said, “How about we give you seventy-five dollars a week? But please, don’t tell the other cast members.”

There were so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to start. But whereas R. B. was worried about the money, I was concerned about filling all the cast slots, and was in no mood on this early morn to lose one of them.

He agreed—with just a hint of reluctance, to let me know that he was well worth the offer and more.

As I hung up the phone I thought, “Is this going to end up biting me in the ass?”

I knew it would.

But I thought some scrambled eggs and turkey sausage might sooth my nervous soul.

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 2

There is definitely a reason that patrons of literature over the centuries have sincerely warned those who put pen to paper (or in our time, fingers to keys) that it is never wise to write something in the first person. Just too many I’s for the “eyes” which will read it.

Yes, it’s safer to let your tale be told by a he, a she, a they or even an it.

Then, if your character ends up being a scoundrel—even temporarily—you don’t have to personally wear the orange D on your chest—for Dumbass.

But when I talk to you about R. B., I must speak in the first person. These are lessons I had to learn which you perhaps already knew, or will decide to ignore.

I will simply have to own the good with the bad, the silly with the serious and the righteous with the sinister.

Let me begin by saying that I wrote a musical. Fifteen songs plus little interludes sprinkled among them which I referred to as “widgets.”

I was very proud.

Actually, most of the musical was written in less than three months—with a song or two trailing off to coincide with the calendar year.

I got my band together and we recorded the music on a reel-to-reel tape system, overdubbed through a cassette machine, until we had something that sounded like an entire cast performing the tunes.

I had no idea what I was going to do with this collection of lyrics, notes and melodies.

I played it for an old buddy of mine in Columbus, Ohio, who immediately fell in love with the whole idea surrounding the project—so much so that he decided to make it his pet purpose. Before I knew it, he went out and secured fifteen people to invest in this endeavor, giving us a whopping ten thousand dollars to do something with what we had.

I was young. I probably should have taken it slow. But honestly, those two words—“young and slow”—rarely appear together in Earth’s environment.

Therefore I went into a professional studio and hired musicians to record the soundtrack and decided to put together a cast of nine characters for a twenty-five-city tour of the United States of America. This would be a daunting task for someone who knew what he was doing, let alone for a sheep in the woods, unfamiliar with the ravenous wolves.

My first step was to hold auditions.

I thought people would flock to have an opportunity to travel for two months across the great American plain—to sing, dance and act in front of audiences in hometown theaters from Pennsylvania to Texas.

I was wrong.

About twenty-five people signed up for the audition, and they all came with three questions:

  1. What am I going to make?
  2. How much does it pay?
  3. What will be my remuneration?

On the night of the audition, they all came in having much less talent than ego. Also, they were more greedy than giving and critical than appreciative.

Chief among them was a fellow named R. B. He was a sweet enough guy, but his New England upbringing had led him to believe that he was one of the Sons of the American Revolution.

He had exacting demands:

He didn’t want to audition the way everyone else did. He wanted to set up his guitar amp and sing his own songs instead take a crack at mine.

Also, he was so nervous to audition in front of the rest of the contestants that he demanded a private room. He sang a hair off-key, breathless from nervous energy. Yet, he still had just enough of a voice to be considered.

I was young, too eager, and uncertain whether I would be able to fill all the positions from the handful of souls who came out for the trials.

I gave in too much to R. B.’s requests.

I just didn’t know if I would ever find other people to staff our show, so I was careful not to close a door to anyone. Through that experience, I learned that sometimes if you don’t close the door, all the flies come in.

Four days after the auditions, still having three spaces to fill, I hired R. B. to be in my musical and travel with the cast. I made the decision after about three hours of a back-and-forth conversation with myself that went like this:

“Sure, he doesn’t have…”

“But then again, maybe…”

I learned, from this first encounter with R. B., that when you base your future on maybe, you always end up with what will be—wishing for what could be.

Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 1

Flops, failures and flunk-outs.

I learned more from these than from any blessing that ever came my way.

I shall be candid and tell you that I’ve garnered practically nothing from success—except that it tends to make me over-rate my ability.

I knew a fellow.

We were acquainted with each other for twenty-seven years. Sometimes we were friends; other occasions, enemies. It was always spicy.

He died thirteen years ago.

Yesterday he came to my memory, and I realized that for all intents and purposes, nobody knows about R. B. I think even his family may have allowed his image to slip from their minds.

I learned a lot from him. (Mostly through those aforementioned flops, failures and flunk-outs.)

But there were times that were rich with emotion.

And all the encounters were chocked full of experience.

I’d like to take a while to tell you about that twenty-seven-year journey, one story at a time. They won’t be long—and I certainly hope, not tedious.

If they end up being boring, it’s only because I failed to tell them well.

But at the end of our journey—whenever that happens—I hope we will share the value of learning instead of just assuming.

For the sake of his privacy, we shall refer to him as R. B.

The first time I encountered him was right after I finished writing a musical…

Confessing… July 4th, 2015

Jonathots Daily Blog

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IX.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

Mack was gay.

Actually, in 1980, such a term did not exist. The nicest word we had for people who pursued that lifestyle was “homosexual.”

Mack never told me he preferred men. I never asked him.

Mack was my friend but also my benefactor. He believed in my ability to be creative, and thought the things I came up with were worth promoting.

So when I wrote the musical, “Mountain,” Mack got right behind it, insisted we put together a cast to tour across the country, and on his own, raised $10,000 to fund it.

After the tour we parted our ways but not our affection.

A few months after we had finished our business, he called me and told me he had a lead on someone who wanted to sign my musical and publish it.

He only required one thing from me. The publishing company wanted a score of the music. In other words, they wanted all the music written down on staff paper in a fashion that could be read by musicians and performed.

It was at that point that I should have told Mack that even though I was able to compose music, I had no idea how to score it.

I didn’t. I didn’t tell him.

Oh, I had my reasons.

Since I had last seen Mack, I had moved away and was working in a terrible situation. One of my children had been hit and run by a car, and I was in the midst of moving to another community to acquire a new job.

It’s the classic situation–when we transform our circumstances into excuses, which we turn into reasons. But the reasons soon lose their power and have to be fortified by lies.

So at first I just cited my circumstances to Mack. He was understanding, but persistent. So I made promises.

But then when I failed to meet my deadlines, I had to move to excuses and then try to manipulate them into reasons, and ultimately ended up lying.

And of course, the greatest lie was when I sat down and tried to write the score of the music with my limited ability, and ended up with the manuscript equivalent of manure.

I sent it off anyway.

Mack trusted me, so he forwarded my work to the publisher, and ended up humiliated because the material made no sense whatsoever.

Mack forgave me–but we never did business together ever again.

I tried to justify it. I remembered the few occasions that I told him I didn’t know what I was doing instead of recalling how I insisted I would do it anyway.

I owe this fine person a huge apology.

I also need to realize that every time I’m tempted to pretend I’m something I’m not just so everyone in the room will feel that I am “hip” or part of “the gang in the know,” that I do much more damage than I ever thought possible.

The truth is, God has blessed me.

If I don’t think His blessing is enough, my exaggerations and lies will not make it any better.

 

Mountain Music

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Hurt, Heal, Praise … June 29, 2013

(1927)

dancersThe most difficult road to take to achieve humility is the highway of humiliation. Yet for some reason, it’s the most popular.

Many years ago, I wrote a musical called Mountain. Humbly I offer to you that the composition was really quite good. I had some friends in Columbus, Ohio, who let me use their studio very reasonably and we put together the music for the production. In the process of doing so, we stirred up a lot of interest in the community. So when it was announced that a two night premiere would be held,  tickets sold quickly and we realized we were going to have a hit.

Our job? To come up with a cast who could perform the piece and portray the material adequately. We selected our individual members but failed to consider that most of the young folk we had placed in the roles had grown up believing that dancing was “of the devil,” and the rest of them were just hellish dancers.

The musical required some choreography. Even though the music itself came off very well, and the acting was sufficient, the instructors we selected to teach our entourage how to do live stage movement were far too advanced and left our fledgling foot-flyers completely confounded.

So on opening night, the portion of the show that required choreography was an absolute disaster, leading one observer to refer to it as “collisionography.”

Unfortunately, the theater was nearly packed. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. I was young, impetuous and unfortunately, too quick to want to give up.

But from somewhere down deep in the bottom of my socks, I found the faith to get up the next morning, realize we had another premiere to do, and instead of being angry or frustrated, took the cast and worked on simplifying the dance portion of the show.

We were all hurt.

Life is not a journey of avoiding hurt, but rather, a continual odyssey to be healed.

The only way my cast was going to be healed was by believing they could actually find something to do onstage that was within their grasp, and that they could have another opportunity to prove their ability.

The second night was fantastic–night and day difference. Unfortunately, the crowd had shrunk due to the bad reports about the faltering footwork. We didn’t care. We had been hurt the night before and it was time to heal. And heal we did.

Our confidence soared and we went out on a tour to twenty-five cities, getting better and better each night–because our healing turned into praise.

I will never forget that experience. It is a constant reminder that being hurt has absolutely zilch nobility or value unless you immediately set a process in motion to be healed. All healing is then confirmed by the presence of praise.

We have to learn this in our society:

  • Hurt people are determined to hurt. They don’t mean to–they just duplicate what’s inside themselves out to others.
  • Healed people seek healing.
  • And people of praise are always looking for reasons to praise.

So the next time you get in a  mood and think there’s nothing that’s any good anymore, take a moment and trace back in your life to find that unhealed hurt. You will be surprised at how much brighter the world looks when you have shed some light … on your own pain.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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 Jonathots, Jr.!

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