Five Guys, and a side of Yellow Fries
I knew this town wasn’t my typical audience. I have a one woman show about being a first generation Asian American female from a Chinese immigrant family who grew up in New York City and moves to Los Angeles to pursue acting, and somehow finds God. This kind of show just doesn’t normally fly in a small town in Ohio because wellI…I’m just different. I knew that and I was prepared to see audience members bored, annoyed and worse, shocked. But I wasn’t going to take it personally. This is me before the show.
Then I got on stage.
And it was capital W, WEIRD.
There was one old guy, 30 seconds into my monologue already looking at his watch. That same old guy was opening a candy wrapper 30 minutes into my show. 30 minutes before the show ended, I was certain he was going to walk out even though he sat in the front and knew I would totally see him do it, too. It was a room of people who stared at me. Maybe I’m not that funny, but I mean, I say motherfucker in Chinese a billion times. That’s funny. Maybe my story is so foreign to them that they were still processing the fact that English was coming out of my life, but I mean, I spoke perfect English the WHOLE TIME. Maybe I just wasn’t their cup of team, which, I get.
At times during the performance, during those few seconds when I turned to become another character, I thought, how can I give Tom the sound/light guy a signal to black me out NOW. Let’s end everyone’s misery NOW. What if I just trip and fall and have to end it? I even started editing the piece down while I was in it, so I could get off stage. That was how uncomfortable and exposed I felt on that stage, in front of eyes I felt I just could not win. But I wanted to get to the good part at the end with God, so I trudged along.
Here and there another thought would creep in. You belong here. You have a right to your story. You have a right to be here. Even though I was getting close to zero encouragement from the audience, TOO BAD, I had the stage and I had the figurative mic. And with that, I kept moving from scene to scene and 75 minutes later, I finished my last line and waited for the black out.
No black out.
So I sat there in my chair for way, too, long, waiting for a black out, that never came.
So more staring at me, in the silence.
Okay well that’s the end guys, I said.
I did a quick bow.
There was a polite applause and I walked off.
WTF was that?
I had never experienced anything like that before. I fucking shared my heart, sobbed on stage, stood in the light — and I felt like the audience was impervious to my story. Wait. I have experienced that before. Ha. Ha.
That’s kind of my family story. That’s kind of how I feel sometimes as an actress amongst a crowd of corporate-successful friends. That’s kind of talking and realizing the person listening is actually not listening. It’s actually quite common. It’s familiar but each time still holds a deep sting.
So what I mean when I say, I’ve never experienced anything like this before, was this feeling of pride after my heart on the table vulnerability. And the pride was not connected to the audience’s reception. I was proud of what I did. I gave myself to the room and I let it go. I was me and I was fine that they didn’t take me in. I took up space and it felt good. I’ll probably not be back here again, so it’s all going to be okay!
Then the other 5 white guys who are also performing at this festival and I, go to the bar. One guy thanks me for making him chuckle and making him feel depressed. He says he wants to introduce me to one of his LA producer friends. And then another guy starts telling his story, the most heartbreaking and beautiful and unexpected story I have heard in a long long time. (I vow to help him create a show.) The kind where you realize, Shit Nancy. You have been one judgY motherf-er assuming shit about this guy, and you don’t have a clue. And then another guy shared more of his story and I wanted to say yes. And this goes on.
And there I was, the OSU/Penn State game on and a live band in the background, eating wings with 5 white guys that I thought I knew, but have humbled and challenged me hard. They all have stories that made me care to a depth I didn’t expect. They all are people who matter and care and see the world in a way that matters.
One guy started riffing on his life and asked the group if there was a story in there. I had to hold back my tears because I couldn’t believe he doubted there was a story in his life. Every single person has a story. Every single person has permission to tell their tale. Of course, some will be funnier than others in their delivery, but every single person can use their voice for good and for helping us see a more nuisanced and beautiful humanity. I believe that. My measure for “success” with my solo show is the openness to share their story in those who watched my show. If even one person comes up to me afterwards and talks about their family or life, victory! The movement happens one at a time.