Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hello, New York! from Kyle Cameron, star of CRANKED

Well, here we are. I still can't get over it. I'll never forget the moment I arrived at the theater and saw my photo on the marquee. People in my line of work literally dream of that moment, and many don't get to experience it. And the fact that our marquee is right next to one that has Mary-Louise Parker's photo on it? I mean, she's famous! Like, for real famous. You don't find yourself in that kind of company very often... I'll be forever grateful to Green Thumb and the New Victory for that moment.

It's so great to be performing here in New York. It's certainly more glamorous than most of the 100+ communities where we've performed. But the real treat is doing a show that's so relevant to people no matter where we are. Stan is such an honest character that people can't help but get caught up in his story. People everywhere leave the show feeling exhilarated, shaken, amused, frightened, empowered and thoughtful. All of these feelings, expressed by audiences in communities everywhere, are clear signs that what we are doing is not only delivering a potent message, but also just plain good theater.

As you may know, I play Stan, a 17-year-old freestyle rapper coming to grips with life after meth addiction. Throughout the show Stan tells us stories – pretty terrifying stories – of his experiences with the drug and how it nearly ruined his life. At first, Stan comes off as a cocky brat with a chip on his shoulder, but under all the bravado is a pretty normal, struggling kid. A talented kid, for sure, but basically a kid like most others his age. He's learning about independence, fighting authority and trying to figure out his place in the world. Something we can all relate to in our own way.

Playing Stan has been an interesting challenge for me because, apart from the fact that we're both performers, we have almost nothing in common. I grew up in a really stable, loving family, and have always been very close to my parents. I never got into much trouble, and I steered clear of drugs and alcohol basically until after high school. I never had to deal with the pressures that Stan deals with. I mean, sure, I was a teenager, I had my struggles. But they never escalated to the point where I turned to substances to numb my pain.

Which, of course, is the other major difference between me and Stan: I've never struggled with addiction. I've never even tried meth. And that's no secret; I tell audiences that in almost every talkback. This is totally foreign territory for me. And the challenge of playing someone not only going through a rich emotional struggle but also in a pretty messy physical and mental state has always been what's kept the show alive for me. Frankly, it's exhausting. But I've done over 250 performances in the past three years, and I've always said, “If it were easy, I'd be bored by now.”

Now, everyone says that the magic of theater is that the show is different every night, and that's true. But because CRANKED is a solo show, the audience is literally my only acting partner. So it's like there's a different cast at every performance. This has kept me on my toes, and has also taught me a lot. The show has changed so much since we opened in October 2006. Lines have been cut or altered; some scenes are handled differently now. Basically, Stan is a richer, fuller character because of what I've learned about him through the eyes of the 68,000+ people have seen this show.

Anyway, I should wrap this up because it's getting long. And because ... I'm in New York! I should be out exploring Soho and Greenwich Village; Central Park and the Empire State Building... I visited New York as a teenager, but it's different as an adult. And of course, on off-days, I'll be going to see shows. I finally saw In The Heights the other night (after listening to the cast recording for months), and I'm looking forward to Equus, August: Osage County, Wicked, and of course, Hedda Gabler. I mean, you can't perform in the theater right next to Mary-Louise Parker's and not go see her show, right?

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