Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 5

R. B. really liked girls.

They did not share his interest.

There were many reasons for this.

First and foremost, R. B. had an opinion on almost everything, which he spoke clearly and loudly, leaving little room for input or variation on his stance.

He also thought of himself as being macho, trotting through rehearsal camp without a shirt, which might have been effective had he not sported the motif of skin and bones.

He was very religious, making it clear that women were equals except when they were married. Then they needed to be submissive to their husbands.

And finally, he maintained the hygiene standards of a twenty-four-year-old single man whose mother apparently gave up on confronting him in his early teens.

This did not stop him from trying.

The female members of the cast often looked over at me haplessly, wishing I would stop R. B. from flirting. I did occasionally step in when it was obvious that his overtures border-lined on verbal rape. But R. B. never missed a beat.

Then one of the sponsors of our show caught wind that we had gay men as choreographers. Even though these “sodomites” had left, during the process of their departure, they had outed our producer as a “penis preferrer.”

The sponsor was outraged. He requested a meeting with me to find out what I planned on doing with this obvious sinfulness in the organization. I invited the cast to the meeting so they would be privy to all conversations, with nothing done behind their backs.

The premise was simple.

My sponsor, who was named Tim, was telling me about my producer, who, ironically, was also named Tim, accusing him of being “homo.”

Tim, the sponsor, assumed that once I understood the situation, I would kick my friend and producer to the curb, restoring righteousness to the surroundings. He also let me know that the other sponsors, who were not as religious as he was, also did not approve of the producer’s lifestyle.

When Sponsor Tim was finished talking about Producer Tim, I sat and stared at the cast. I was curious to see if anyone would speak up.

They sat quietly. It was an era when, even if you disagreed with the treatment of homosexuals in America, you had a tendency to keep your mouth shut so as not to uncork the wrath of the religious right. Also, the mental health professionals of the time considered same-sex relationships to be “aberrant behavior.”

R. B., who had never lacked a prejudice or two, spoke right up, saying, “I think that Tim has to go.”

Feeling some need for comic relief, I patted the sponsor on the back and said, “Tim, you don’t have to go.”

There was a much-needed laugh in the room. However, it was quickly swallowed by the monster of intolerance.

R. B. did not think I was funny.

“You know what I’m saying!” he said. “We can’t have a homosexual working for us and think that God’s going to bless!”

Bouncing off R. B.’s theory, I asked the cast, “Do you think Jesus would kick the homo to the curb?”

You could tell they wanted to say no, but remained mute—like we all do when yellow seems to be our favorite color.

Sponsor Tim pursued. “You know I admire you,” he said to me. “I know you’ll do the right thing.”

“Thank you for that,” I said. “Truthfully, Tim, I don’t know what the right thing is. But I know what the right thing is for me. I’m looking at something called loyalty. I don’t know how immoral it is to be a homosexual, but I do know how immoral it is to be disloyal to a friend. The only reason you’re sitting here tonight talking to me is because my friend, Tim the Homosexual, believed in this project, got investors, and even arranged for this beautiful facility wherein we sit. I consider that to be good fruit—and since I know that good fruit doesn’t come from a bad tree, I think I’m going to stand with my buddy and keep working with him out of loyalty, because I consider it to be true morality.”

Tim the Sponsor glared at me like I had just been belched on the beach by a huge whale. There was the inkling in the room to applaud, but it was quelled by provincialism.

R. B. stood up and left.

Amazingly, Sponsor Tim accepted my stance and said that because he loved me, he would honor my decision and not interfere. If you think about it, that was remarkable.

After the meeting, R. B. came into the room, where I was alone.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to quit the play,” he said.

I didn’t say a word. After a long pause, he continued. “Sin is sin and wrong is wrong. Even if we think we’re defending for the right reason, evil still lurks to destroy us.”

As brave as I had been with Tim the Sponsor, I suddenly was worried that I was about to lose a cast member nine days out from the premiere. I buckled.

“Listen, R. B. Give me a break,” I said. “I’ll check into this. If there’s truth to it, we’ll cross it when we get to it. Okay?”

R. B. peered at me for a moment and then sprouted a smile. He stood to his feet, hugged me and sauntered out of the room.

All at once, I realized that he had never intended to quit. He just really enjoyed threatening.

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.”

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