Disclaimer: I use no real names in this account, in fact no names at all aside from the playwright, not out of respect for those involved, but because I, in all honesty, don’t remember any of them.
This actually happened, as God is my witness. But there’s no way God would ever admit to seeing it.
It was summer, 2005. Being a struggling actor I was, naturally, poking around the “gigs” section of Craigslist for acting work, when I stumbled on an audition for a stage production of a play called Making Porn by Ronnie Larsen. The ad was urgent—the lead actor had just dropped out and they needed another one ASAP for a 6-week run in St. Louis that would open in two weeks. “There is nudity involved,” it indicated at the end. I was interested. There was no overthinking. As an actor—even a working one—you inevitably end up spending more time mucking around rooms and offices than dancing around stages and sets, so I was itching to just work. Plus, catering at the Music Center was barely paying the bills, and the job was paying $600 a week—an unheard of sum for non-union theater.
I emailed them my phone number and my headshot (no, the other headshot), and they called me within the hour. I drove to the valley, to a small theatre around Magnolia and Vineland, and read from the script in front of a male casting director and a female producer. When I finished they asked me to take my shirt off. I did. “We’ll let you know,” came the four grating words you learn to take with a grain of salt.
On my drive home to Hollywood my phone rang. It was the producer. “You got the part,” she said, rather excitedly. “We leave for St. Louis next week.”
She explained to me the general storyline—my character, a straight, unemployed actor, in order to support himself and his wife, does gay porn, which she cheekily referred to as “Gay For Pay.” She said they typically cast a gay porn star to play the lead but since their gay porn star cancelled, and I, a straight guy, walked through the door, the audience would now be much more likely to buy that a character played by an actual straight guy would be conflicted doing gay porn than they would watching a famous gay porn star “attempting” to be “conflicted.” And apparently there was a quote-un-quote celebrity in the cast—Dan Renzi from Real World Miami (Okay, that’s the only name I remember).
“One more thing,” the producer said before hanging up. “We just want to make sure you’re… that you’re, you know... doing okay down there.” I chuckled, I mean how could I not? “We’ll be okay.” She sounded relieved, and I couldn't stop smiling.
But when I pushed “end” on my flip phone sudden pangs of a kind of anxiety I had never felt before consumed me from head to toe. What did I just say yes to? I started to seriously consider backing out—deleting their number, the email correspondences, and going into some serious Walter Palmer caliber hiding. Fuck. The entire play was resting on my shoulders. I needed to learn 40 pages of lines in two weeks, we didn’t even have time to rehearse before opening night, and, oh yeah, the being-butt-naked-for-85%-of-the-play part of it—that’s what I didn't want to face in a million years.
Our cast of six flew to St. Louis the following week, and miraculously got through opening night without a hitch. The audience, packed with mostly boisterous, middle-aged gay men, had a blast. During one scene I had to sing while I was wearing a thong. I hadn’t sung since 5th grade chorus (Hi, Ms. Gregoryk), and had never worn a thong.
Before I tell you what makes this the craziest theater story you will ever hear, I'll say this about being naked for the first time in front of an audience—the first 30 seconds were the most frightening, the most humiliating, and the most uncomfortable 30 seconds I’ve ever experienced in my life. Thirty-one seconds into it, though, and I'd forgotten I was naked until I walked off stage. I knew I had reached a milestone as an actor—no more was I scared of anything. I was also never more thankful for my mom not happening to be in St. Louis and inadvertently stumbling into a show featuring her butt naked son.
We were midway through the show when all hell broke loose. I was waiting in the wings for my cue to go on stage, when the stage manager busted through a side door: “We’re being arrested.” At first me and the couple other actors who weren’t on stage thought he was kidding, I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t just a mindless strip tease, it was a legitimate play with one might even say a touching narrative, but when he b-lined for the audience we knew he meant business. “Sorry, Folks,” his voice wavering as he faced them, “the show is officially cancelled tonight.” The audience laughed and cheered, figuring it was all part of the act. The confused actors on stage followed him back to the dressing room, and before you knew it naked and half-naked men too aghast to question the validity of anything were making a mad dash for their belongings, throwing on whoever's clothes they could find, fleeing through a back door, sprinting to a fence and scaling it, being careful that nothing hanging out, if you know what I mean, got caught on anything sharp. I’d found a pair of shorts. Others weren’t so lucky.
Three of us made it over the fence, and with our half-open suitcases and duffel bags—shirts and underwear hanging and falling out the sides—we ran three or four blocks to an alley down the street. We all stood there completely vexed and out of breath, too shocked to utter a word. After a few minutes we wordlessly crept back to the theater like we were in an episode of Walking Dead, and noticed the stage manager and the rest of the cast huddled near the front door with pieces of paper in their hands. The actors had been cited for “Public Nudity,” and the stage manager for orchestrating it. Because the theater was connected to a bar, it was “illegal” to be naked anywhere on the premises... and being in the Bible Belt of all places didn't help. Everyone had the same burning question: “Why was this not known/not worked out before we got here?”
The question never really got answered. After 1.5 performances, Making Porn St. Louis was shut down forever. The next evening I was back at the Music Center, fully-clothed, passing out fancy hors d'oeuvres to rich people who didn’t appreciate it.