Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Looking Back: The Gay General in THE WIZARD OF OZ

Okay, so I'm currently reading Jane Lynch's autobiography, Happy Accidents, and have discovered I have more in common with Jane than I might have first realized. For example, we're about the same age, she grew up in similar times with a similar background, we both lived in Chicago, we both never quite felt we fit in.

We were both fiercely in the closet growing up.

It's this last point that caused me to have a revelation. I just read the part of the book where Jane gets her first speaking role, as a freshman, in the University of Illinois production of Lysistrata. Jane decided, in an improv moment, to play her character as an out lesbian. Even though she was deep in the closet and actually shunned the only other obvious lesbian in the theater department, she went this route.

Coincidence? I think not.

But Jane made me think of my own theatrical experience--and one in particular. My senior year of high school, back in East Liverpool, Ohio, my school put on The Wizard of Oz as the spring musical. It was a kitschy mix of the original with some songs from The Wiz thrown in to make--the director, a gay man, hoped--hip. Since I have always loved The Wizard of Oz (clue #1 that I might have been gay), I had to audition. For the singing part of my audition, I sang "Sentimental Journey", an odd choice for a small town high school boy (clue #2).

For my stellar singing talents, I was cast in the farmer's chorus (swaying in the background as Dorothy sang "Over the Rainbow"); as a ghost in the witch's castle (I got to come through the audience in a sheet, dancing); and as one of the witch's generals.

This last part is what caused me to have a revelation. There were fifteen of us generals and we all said the same line to the single private in the witch's army. If we wanted to stand out, we had to do something to differentiate ourselves. I chose to do a nasal voice (thinking that's all it was). When my fellow cast members heard the voice, they cracked up. It took me a while to realize what they found so hilarious was that they thought I was doing a gay general.

Oh, a gay general? Sure, that was what I had in mind. Not really.

But now I wonder if it was the subconscious, closeted gay boy yearning to be recognized for who he was coming out. Even though I hadn't intended to be a gay general, I went with it and added a lace hanky to my sleeve and a sashay to my march that was so effeminate it would make Paul Lynde look butch. It was probably a horrible gay Uncle Tom moment, offensive, but I plead ignorance--on a lot of counts.

The audience loved it; they roared.

Now, thanks to Jane Lynch and her open lesbian character when she was a freshman too, I can look back at that thespian moment in my life and see it for what it was--an unconscious moment of coming out, a moment where I was recognized for who I really was, recognized and laughed at, yes, but appreciated all the same. And remembered. And, in an odd way, accepted--because I was entertaining. Bringing what I so loathed about myself and was desperate to keep hidden to the forefront was, now that I look back, revealing myself.

And the best part was, I was not hurt for it.
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  1. Those small moments when our true self shines through and we are accepted, those are priceless. Great blog.

  2. You had me laughing or sniggering just trying to imagine it. Pieces of your past make up the whole and sometimes you get greatness like you.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a marvellous moment to recall, and get self-revelation.

  4. Oh, Rick. This touched me in many ways. While not gay, I was an oddball. Thank the Whoever for theater classes and musical comedies. We, the out of step ones, found a place which warmly welcomed all sorts. I would have loved to see your General.