My hands and feet are all cut up from Gorefest*, and the other day as I washed fake blood out of my real scrapes I realized I had absentmindedly started humming "What I Did For Love." I immediately thought of Keith.
Keith A. Grassette was working as the artistic director at Riverside Theater Works in Boston when we met. He loves to tell the story of how we met as much as I do. It goes like this: "Michelle was blindfolded when I met her and she bit me." I was auditioning for the role of Helen Keller at the time. Keith loves to explain that even as I was biting one of his hands he was pointing at me with the other and mouthing "this is her" to the producer. I love to explain that I had no idea who Keith was, and had been warned to "stay out of Keith's way," if I ever auditioned at RTW.
Under Keith's tutelage I learned the ins and outs of stage production. Keith taught me how to be professional, how to show up on time, how to take notes gracefully. Over the years I acted in as many plays as he could cast me. I became his intern, I taught some of his classes and eventually became his co worker, teaching my own classes at the theater. Then, most importantly I became his friend. Once I left high school Keith and I were able to share stories over drinks, gossip about mutual friends and trade advice on shows and classes. I went on to teach theater part time for the next six years (and counting!) at Thacher Montessori. Like a child mimicking a parent, sometimes I still hear Keith's words come out of my mouth when I address my students.
One of Keith's frequent speeches to wishy washy students was the "What I Did For Love" talk.
"I got news for ya'll**," he'd say making eye contact with the pre teens crowding the stage steps. "It's not a song about a relationship. It's a song about the theater. Sometimes you make sacrifices. When this is what you love, that's what you do. You miss other things. You give up some parts of your normal life. Because this is what you love."
In college I basically stopped doing scripted theater in favor of studying improv. Keith asks when he sees me (about twice a year now), "You still just doing that improv stuff?" Keith, as a rule, does not really enjoy "improv stuff."
So I called him last week.... and I invited him to Gorefest and didn't realize until I said it out loud how much his answer would mean to me.
He's coming tonight with our friend Maureen. I haven't seen either of them in almost a year. They haven't seen me perform in almost five years.*** I'm full of giddy energy just thinking about seeing them both again and making them proud. Both of them, but especially Keith. I've watched the whole show in my mind, trying to see it through his eyes. Will he think it's as funny as I do? Will he like the music? I think he will. I have a lot of faith in the show. But I recognize the part of me that's 15 years old working as hard as I can to show my director that I've got the "chops." Gorefest is for always for everybody. But tonight, this show is for Keith.
* The stage is very rough and gritty to prevent slips. Unfortunately, that means that coming in contact with it, even intentionally, scrapes us up a bit.
** Keith is from Maine
*** With the exception of a Three Hole Punch show we did in Plymouth a few years ago.