Friday, November 25, 2016

Cutting My Teeth at Diamond Tooth Gertie's

When I arrived in the Yukon, it was late August.

I had that past October, still enrolled in school, been invited to participate in a tradition of the Drama Department - the Brown Bag Theatre, Halloween edition. To that end, I’d memorized "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe. Some months, and many miles later, I arrived in the Klondike and, as I was standing outside the general store - which was pretty much the only store in all of Dawson City, a small town in the Klondike with Gold Rush charms - I saw a handbill posted for a Talent Show at the local casino, a place called Diamond Tooth Gertie’s. There were cash prizes, which was a great incentive for me, since I was nearly penniless, and homeless in a land that would soon become freezing, deadly cold. When I looked to see when the talent show was to be held, however, I realized it was that very night!

So off I went to the library (a library I would, in the following months, get to know very well) where I found a copy of "The Raven" which I then photocopied. This was 1996; there were no iPads, no smart phones, and only in the coming months of that dark Yukon winter did I begin to learn, within the safe confines of that library, how to surf on the first tides of the information tsunami that is the Internet.

"The Raven" was a bit of an odd choice, one might have argued, considering the lively venue - but it was the only thing I could commit to memory in such a short time. In fact, most of the rhythmic, poetic, horror story was still in my memory banks. I just had to jog my memory, really. After rehearsing for a few hours, I went and signed up.

Performing to a casino crowd was quite different than to the silent and attentive audiences from my previous experiences onstage. I watched the acts I had to follow, and the raucous gamblers who were only half-listening. When it was my turn, I said with some confidence to the stage-hand that I didn't need the mic because I was capable of projecting to an auditorium. He insisted I take the mic, and it was probably well that he did.

I went on, and spoke as if I too longed for Lenore. I had some inkling of what that was like, since I'd just had my heart broken - probably the main reason I hit the road and left school in the first place. But then something happened - the stage-hand interrupted me halfway through the poem for some technical reason. He called out to me from offstage, and when I broke character to give him an inquiring look, he waved it off, and so I struggled to find my place and start back in. This was the first time I ever lost my place in front of a crowd. My cheeks flushed hot, and I was filled with a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

Once my performance was finished, I left the theatre in a bit of a huff. I felt like any actor must feel when his act is botched by some fool who didn't have a valid reason for cutting in: I was furious. Also I felt a fool for even trying. It hadn't seemed like the audience had been paying much attention at all.

The next day I was flagged down in the streets of Dawson by the Talent Show Coordinator, who chanced to be about. He was a giant of a man - tall and beaming and full of happy purpose, reminding me of one of the teachers I had a good report with back in the school which I had just dropped out of.

At any rate, despite the interruption, I must have done fairly well, as this beaming man announced to me that I'd won second place in the Talent Show and received $125. He paid me in the local currency: casino chips from Gertie's which I discovered could be used to buy myself some much-needed food.

-excerpt from my Autobiography, "Ink, Knives, & Kink"

No comments:

Post a Comment