A Life of Creation
By: Richard Botto CEO of Stage 32
My experience performing in theater started abruptly. My parents, looking to bridge the gap between the end of baseball camp and the beginning of the fall school season – and by looking to bridge the gap, I mean looking to keep me out of the house – decided to enroll me in theater camp. I was eight.
This, I was told, was to further awaken my creative side. I would say my mindset was 80% reluctant, 20 % curious. I had always been a creative kid – I enjoyed writing, and God knows enough people who, usually within five minutes of meeting me, had labeled me a “ham”.
On the first day of camp, the lead instructor – a ham if there ever was one – asked the kids why they were there. “Who wants to be an actor?” and a dozen hands shoot up. “Who wants to be a director?” and a few more hands burst into the air. “Who wants to be a prop master?” and all hands hang toward the ground.
For some kids, this was their second or third year of camp. They were the veterans. They received the glory jobs. They ran lines, directed the action, plotted the music. The rest of us carried wood for the set, painted wood for the set, picked splinters out of our fingers. Fun, this was not. Until, suddenly, it was. The sets we built started to take shape. The actors held props we created. There was a sense of team - of all members of the camp pulling on the same side of the rope.
Our play was to be performed on the last two days of the summer. My role in the production was to move set pieces around in between scenes. I remember, quite clearly, running out on the stage, grabbing a wooden bear at its rump, looking at the curtain and thinking There’s an audience out there. And even though they couldn’t see me, the excitement that they were, in some small way, there to witness something I had played a part in was overwhelming.
My second year of camp, I did get to perform in front of an audience. I had two lines. And I delivered them with the same vigor and tenor I imagine Paul Revere used warning the minutemen about the British invasion. (I was asked to “tone it down” for the second show.) Then, in my third year of camp, something unexpected - I was chosen as the lead. It was a moment of glory and pride... followed by weeks of paralyzing fear. I was no actor; except, as I was constantly reminded, I had been chosen from over twenty kids. Perhaps I was an actor.
Overall, and with all due apologies to my mother’s critical analysis that I “slayed it”, I’d give my performance a solid B+. My memories of those nights are the blurry, but warm amber kind reflected in old photos. They’re both moments frozen in time, and moments in motion, catapulting toward a life spent creating.
In the years that followed, I became more involved in stage performances as an actor, writer, and director. I attended a plethora of Broadway and off Broadway shows, hoping to glean something from each, somewhat more interested in the pieces of a performance, the writing, and the direction than the whole. Over time, perhaps out of convenience, I found myself drifting more toward film, first, acting in some student movies, then a few shorts. My writing bug bit again, and I began penning screenplays. On occasion, I would have an idea or two for a play, but for some reason, I kept shoving those to the back-of-the-mind file. And then, something interesting happened...
I had written a script called Rocket’s Red Glare. Set in Bayside, Queens during the bicentennial year of 1976, Rocket’s is about faith – religious, yes, but also the faith you put in people, your marriage, and your neighborhood. It's about decay – of the spirit, one's will, and the body. It's about boundaries – both forced upon and self imposed. It's about the loss of innocence as seen through the eyes of a child growing up in a nation in decline.
It’s a New York Story. It’s an American story.
And, it was a movie... Almost. While working on another film, I was approached about developing Rocket’s. With the assistance of two other producers, we raised the bulk of a 3.5M budget and had a commitment from a very desirable actress for the lead. Without getting into the gory details (and they’re usually gory), the whole thing fell apart just as things were coming together.
Now for the interesting part. Heartbroken at flying so close to the sun on (with thanks to George Constanza) wings of pastrami, I left Rocket’s behind and began working on the next script. Over the next month, remarkably and independent of one another, I received two calls from theater producers, one in Chicago and one in New York, both of whom had read Rocket’s and wanted to know if I would have any interest in turning it into a play.
I thought about it...It made a hell of a lot of sense. The script is very theatrical.
For a time, I explored the possibility with the New York producer. I gave him some time to put things together and “Pat the right people on the back”, as he put it. But, alas, the people he patted didn’t want to turn around. So we parted ways.
But, my love for the theater had been rekindled. I recently started work on a new play and Rocket’s is still getting passed around.
Recently, I ran some lines with an actress friend of mine who had just scored her biggest part to date in a play debuting in San Francisco. There’s one scene where she steps to center stage and delivers this scorching tirade toward her onstage husband, the anger percolating below the surface until it spills over full boil. She went after it with everything she had, the passion rising from her gut, until seemingly exploding from her brain. And then she stopped. Her eyes shut. She took a deep gasping breath. She opened her eyes and looked at me. A small smile crept onto her lips.
“Is there anything better than this,” she asked?
“No,” I said. “No, there’s not.”
Richard Botto is an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and producer. He is also the CEO of Stage 32 (www.stage32.com), a free, global social network boasting 150,000 creative members from 186 countries. Prior to launching Stage 32, he was the owner, publisher, and editor of RAZOR magazine, a national men’s lifestyle magazine which had a readership of 1.5M at its peak. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.
CEO Stage 32