by Mark “Mom” Finley
June 1, 2015
One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be interesting!
Especially considering that most of the time my point of view comes from looking through fuzzy, caterpillar-sized, false eyelashes, under a bumped up wig, poured into a fabric made from something not found in nature, while carefully teetering on 8 inch platform heels and trying not to spill my cocktail!
I know, I know: I’ve had so many returns. Maybe you’d prefer if I just stayed gone! I suppose there are plenty of you that have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, and others of you haven’t got a clue who I am at all. The best thing to do, then, is to get everyone on the same page.
Shall we begin?
I was raised by two amazing parents, along with two older siblings, in Centralia, WA. It’s a thriving dairy town in southwestern Washington whose original name was Centerville because it’s exactly mid-way between Seattle and Portland, thus making it the perfect place to stop.
When I-5 opened, no one needed to stop anymore, and they didn’t, thus turning Centralia into the tiny dairy town that isn’t famous for anything anymore, except maybe The Centralia Massacre (a horribly violent and bloody affair that occurred during the city’s first Armistice Day Parade between the American Legion and members of the IWW), the birthplace of Merce Cunningham, who many consider the Father of American Modern Dance, and me (a legend in my own mind)!
When I was 11 I realized that I was happiest when I was on stage, so I did everything I could to continue doing just that. I began travelling to study and perform.
After studying Japanese music, dance, and kabuki theatre in Nagasaki, Japan, I attended California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (I was accepted at 14. Precocious, huh?), only to leave and finish my schooling in NYC at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). I was one of 28 hand-picked students – the largest first year class they’d ever had!
The 1980s were an amazing and terrifying time to be in New York City. During school there I still found time to work in theatre, either onstage acting/singing/dancing or backstage costuming/hairdressing. I was also doing whatever I could to keep from thinking about the fact that, on Valentine’s Day in 1984, I had been diagnosed with the new gay community killer, AIDS, and given a prognosis of 6 to 8 months to live. After burying friends, on an almost daily basis, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.
I quit my job, signed over my lease, and took a change of clothes in a Danish school bag to JFK Airport where I asked the United Airlines desk where their next flight was going. They said Seattle. I said: “Great! I know people there.”
That was nearly twenty-five years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.
Knowing that I was “flying stand-by,” as my dear friend Larry Lefler used to call living with AIDS, I purposefully did everything I could to work in theatre, even if that meant writing and starring in my own shows. I was quite successful for several years, until I finally started getting sick. So much so that I decided that, rather than wither away in front of people, I would bow out gracefully.
Little did I know that would only be the first of many times that, just when things seemed to be going well, my disease would rear it’s ugly head, and good ole Mom would have to take another bow. My life was slowly, but surely, crumbling around me. Everything was changing.
My light at the end of the tunnel came from an unlikely source: Dr. Warren Dinges. Warren not only knew obscure Monty Python references, but also determined that I was more likely to die of old age rather than complications due to HIV.
That was five years ago!
It’s taken me a long time to fully comprehend it. I’ve had to completely reprogram the way I looked at everything. In doing so, I realized that there was a huge empty hole in my life that needed to be filled. Theatre was the only place I’ve ever been truly happy. It was the thing that kept me going through even the darkest of times!
But theatre in Seattle changed quite drastically since I was last in a show. I have always preferred a room of fifty to a hundred seats, which is manageable. But they, like so many other things in Seattle, have gone away. The theatres that are left now know that they are a rare commodity and, unfortunately, charge as if they’re even rarer! Running the numbers, the only right-sized rooms at which someone could feasibly make a little money doing a show are located up north in Greenwood and south in Columbia City. I did appearances at both. The audiences were light (and I’m being kind).
I had all but given up on finding the right space when a friend asked me to look at Gay City’s Calamus Auditorium. Honestly, the thought of auditoriums conjure up bad memories of my childhood in Centralia, doing shows in the Classitorium with prefab metal and plastic tiered seating, industrial grade tan indoor-outdoor carpet, and acoustical tiles covering most of the walls and the ceiling!
But, when the doors opened and the lights came on, it took a minute for my eyes to focus and truly grasp what I was seeing: a black box theatre, tall and deep, with existing lighting rigs, sound, backstage, and a capacity of perhaps 75 people. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears. It was not only perfect, it was available, and completely affordable.
Once again I find myself starting over, but this time will be the last! I lost my way for a while but have found my true love once again. And to top it all off, I’ve been asked to write a little weekly something for y’all as well. Life is great!
Here’s hoping that you’ll join me here on the interwebs, the blog-o-sphere, or whatever you want to call it, every Monday. I’m sure I’ll figure out something interesting to talk to you about! Lord knows I’ve been through enough.
Be good. Behave. Treat others better than yourself. Always wear a clean pair of underwear. And remember: you’re not alone. You’ve got me!
M’wah – M.