Something super weird happened the other night: I pulled a total diva move and passed out backstage after a show.
I haven't been in a show in almost two years, but I've been doing this play, and we were in hell week (the week where everyone's there until all hours of the night for a week of tech and dress rehearsals and then the show opens for the weekend and you just gotta keep going). It was hot backstage, we were all wearing about six layers (for me that included pantyhose, a turtleneck, a suit and tie, facial hair, a wig cap, and a wig). I didn't have it nearly as bad as some of the other actors (I wasn't wearing a prosthetic nose, for example), but I felt like I was having a hot flash in all my layers, underneath the stage lights. We all joked about how hot it was.
Apparently I was the only prima donna who couldn't take it, though.
It was opening night, and after the show I went backstage, having changed into my comfortable street clothes, to wait for my cast mates to grab a celebratory glass of wine. I think I even said "Let's go get a glass of wine," and then the room was spinning and I was going down. My last memory was saying "Guys, something is... I feel..."
It was fucking scary. When I came to my sweet and wonderful cast mates were standing around me with water, ice chips, a cold washcloth, and a plate of food which they insisted I eat. One of my cast mates even spent the rest of the evening fanning me, skipping the reception altogether. I felt so affectionate towards all of them. Also super embarrassed, particularly when I jumped up to run puke up all the cheese and grapes they'd fed me. Thank GOD I made it to the bathroom. Partially digested cheese? NOT CUTE.
Nothing like that has ever happened to me, and it sincerely freaked me out. I made sure to eat and drink a LOT the next night and I was fine. There was another reception that night, the official opening night reception. I was tired AF (again, undoubtedly not nearly as tired as some of the other cast and crew) but I had been cheated out of a glass of wine by diva-ing out the night before and I was looking forward to making up for lost drinking time.
I walked into the restaurant, full of that post-successful-performance glow, and was soon greeted by an older man with wiry gray hair and hipster glasses.
"Are you the girl that climbs up on top of the bunk bed?"
"Yes," I said, smiling. We had had fits over making that particular stunt work, and I was ready to launch into the story for this patron's benefit. However, he had other things in mind. This man, whom I had never seen before, grabbed me by the arm, turned me around, and unabashedly checked out my ass.
"I recognize you better from behind," he said, releasing me.
My mouth fell open; I was stunned. But beneath the shock there was a steady course of fury beginning to race through my veins. I excused myself (after he assured me that he had enjoyed the front of me too, and wanted to know if he could get me a glass of wine).
I decided to leave. Hot, angry tears stung the back of my eyes as I walked out to my car, and here's why.
I have a family. My husband, my children, and I are all sacrificing so that I can be in this show. My job is fun; it's my passion, but it's still a job. It's work, and it's fucking hard work. What someone sees onstage is the tiniest tip of the iceberg. At home, before I leave for work, I cook dinner for my family to eat in my absence, dinner that I won't see or touch until 11pm or later. My husband leaves early from his own job, dashes through the door, and gives me a quick kiss before I brush past to leave. I take our only family car, I drive an hour in heavy rush hour traffic to reach my place of employment. My husband feeds, bathes, and puts our children to bed by himself while I am at work.
My job is wonderful, and I love it, but I'm not playing at this. This isn't a joke job or a hobby. I went to college and studied theater. No, I did not study "waiting tables." (People have actually said that to me.) Studying theater is like studying literature and philosophy and history and music and dance and politics and art and business all rolled into one. Stage work is the most vulnerable art form you'll find. Getting onstage means putting yourself out there to simultaneously do your work and be judged for it by people who have no credentials, night after night after night.
Most people I've talked to have no idea what it takes to put on a show. They don't know all the administrative and behind-the-scenes work that goes into making theater a success. They don't know the months and years, the tears, the anxiety, the stress that precede the day they step into the lobby to be shown to their seat. They don't know the writing process. They don't know the method for director and actor. They don't know the desperation with which the actor is trying to connect with the audience.
That man who carelessly told me he recognized me, not for my craft, not for my talent, not for my hard work, but for a single part of my body, didn't know I had fainted backstage the night before. He didn't know, or care, that instead of coming there to be insulted by him, I could have gone directly home to reheat my dinner and finally eat, that I could have kissed my children goodnight that evening instead of even being on that stage at all, climbing on top of that bunk bed. He wasn't aware that I was busting my ass (no pun intended) to bring live theater to him, to leave everything I have right there on that stage so that he could walk in and sit there, watching, and thinking whatever he wanted about me, about my body, about my work.
Sexual harassment is hardly new, but I'm not used it. Since that incident I have realized what many women have to deal with on a daily basis. We watch "Mad Men" and can't believe the way men used to think they could treat women, but how much has really changed? It's still there, just hushed up. Now women are expected to report sexual harassment, putting the pressure on the victim to make an uncomfortable situation that much more uncomfortable by calling attention to it, or worse, risking her job.
I'm not the only woman and mother who has to work herself to the point of exhaustion to make her job a success, while she balances family and friends and home at the same time. Surprise: we don't do it for the "compliments" men give us about how great our tits look. I never again have to see the man who thought he had the right to put his hands on me and look at my body and say whatever he liked about it. (Lucky me!) What if he was my boss? What if I had to see him every day and my choices were to risk my job, make my job harder by tattling, or just put up with it? Is this what so many women are facing every day? I cannot fucking imagine.
I decided not to leave that night. There wasn't much I could do about the icky foulness of a random theater patron, but I walked back into that restaurant with as much courage and confidence as I had left after that, with two things on my mind.
Number 1: The compliments I will accept sound as follows: "You looked beautiful up there." "You are so talented." "You are a natural." "You worked so hard!" "You're phenomenal." "THANK YOU." (I heard all of these from other, more awesome people who came to see the show.) No one has the right to touch me without my permission. No one has the right to look at me that way. No one has the right to talk to me that way. Women who have to deal with this bullshit on the reg: I am so sorry. You don't deserve it. You are not your tits and ass; you have so much worth. And if you have to kick someone in the nads to remind him of that, SOBEIT.
Number 2: That man thought he would put me in my womanly place as subservient, frail, bashful. Instead he reminded me that my chin belongs in the air, my shoulders back, my spine as tall as its full 5' 10" frame will go. I am a fucking fabulous woman. My value to my family, to my friends, to the world cannot be measured. I'm intelligent, I'm beautiful, and bitch, I work with passion till I faint, then I get up and do it again.
YOU ARE WELCOME, SIR.