At the parking lot, walking towards the Insular Life building, the venue of the final show of Rude Mechanicals’ and Tuloy Foundation’s rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar, I told my son: “Max, Papa used to call this place his battlefield.” I was thrilled—not only because I was going to watch a live performance in a theatre with my 17 month old that night, but because he was going to watch a show in the very same theatre I performed in for the first time as a professional actor.
Insular Life Theatre was my battlefield, and walking into it that night was as nostalgic an experience as I’ve ever had. The place looked the same. It smelled the same. And while it felt different since I was coming in as a spectator rather than a performer, all the old feelings stirred themselves up all too easily.
As we shimmied to our seats, I knew that Char was thinking of something else entirely. I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but tell Max about my very first performance, as Nick Bottom, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I told him that I was scared and that my I was sipping short, shallow, and nervous breaths. My dear friend and co-actor Chino came up to me, rubbed my shoulder, and said: “Just enjoy it, brother.” It could certainly have been condescending, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I wish I could’ve told Char something with the same effect to calm her nerves about Max. But if I told her to “just enjoy”, she would probably give me the evil eye. Instead, I assured her that if anything went wrong, I would simply take Max outside the theatre and walk around.
It turns out, though, that I didn’t need to. Max, like a trooper—like the most amazing trooper in the history of troopers—like, I dare say, a stormtrooper—sat through the entire first act. Like a cultured stormtrooper with his father’s theatre DNA. He sat and he watched, over pursed milk-ingesting lips, as Judas and Jesus and the Disciples and the Jews sang about God and their fates. And then at the end of Act One, he clapped and clapped, as if he knew what he was doing. I was so very proud.
During intermission, I carried him out and took him to the front of the stage. (He kept pointing there after the applause simmered down.) When we got there, he motioned that I place him on the stage itself. I told him that I can only put him there after the show, because the stage still belonged to the performers, and we must respect performers. Part of me felt like he understood, but he was probably just distracted by the audience milling about behind him. I couldn’t help but feel proud, though.
After the show, during company call, I took him to the stage, as promised. Max stood alongside proud and exhausted actors, and he looked delighted. And then the actors all crossed to stage right to listen to their director, and Max ran with them—this tiny baby, alongside dozens of happy sweaty actors. It looked like a happy Lion King stampede. I freaked out and jumped on stage and caught him, thanks to one of my friends who stopped Max, making sure he wouldn’t get Mufasa’d. And then Max became sad.
Maybe it was because he was prevented from doing something he enjoyed. Maybe it was because a stranger made physical contact him. I’m not sure. Part of me is worried that picking him up snuffed out a just-kindled desire for being onstage in front of an audience. But if this whole experience has taught us anything, it’s that I shouldn’t underestimate Max.
I can’t wait to be in a theatre with him again.