Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sunday Read: Caleb McMullen on Closer

I’ve always had an inclination to say yes to impossible tasks.
I had every intention of writing something articulate in some sort of essay format. However, I’m feeling particularly candid tonight. Perhaps it’s the red wine, perhaps it’s the pot. Who can say?
Tonight, being my calm before the storm, I find myself very pensive. My thoughts come in waves about how I got to where I am, producing and directing CLOSER. I started this project during the summer. My best friend Gaby had approached me with the prospect of producing and directing this play. It took three times (perfect comic humour) of hounding me about it, that I finally had to come to a decision, between continuing to live my happy little life or taking on this incredibly daunting task. As you can see, I chose the latter.
This was terrifying for me as I was still coming down from my last project, WOLFBOY. Mind you, that project had ended a year previously. So it was time for me to move on to new endeavours. My work on that project was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and I was reluctant to ever feel that insane again. However, it turns out that ‘feeling insane’ is more of a state of being for me rather than a choice.
When I came out, I did it publicly in front of the church where I was a choir boy, Sunday school teacher, and all around Jesus-Child.
I’ve always had an inclination to say yes to impossible tasks. I don’t know what my parents did that allowed me to believe that I could have and do whatever I want and be successful at it. They never tried to sway me from my choice to be an actor. They didn’t try to sway me from anything. I am so thankful for that.
When I was 13, I went on a missionary trip to Scotland. I was very born-again-Christian then, you see. To go on this trip, I had to raise $6000. I raised it, I went to Scotland. 
When I came out, I did it publicly in front of the church where I was a choir boy, Sunday school teacher, and all around Jesus-Child. I wanted to be a Youth Pastor before that. I think it was the presentational aspect of the job that appealed to me. Theatre, then, became my saving grace. And it has been ever since.
It’s alarming how many times I look back on my first year of university for primary research.
I lived a very conservative life for my first 16 years. By the time I was in first year university at the Acting Programme at The University of Windsor, I had sprouted into a full blown gay man, ready to take on the world with glitter, boas and liberal media. My philosophy was ‘try everything once’. So I did, and I’m glad I did. It’s alarming how many times I look back on my first year of university for primary research.
During this year, I started my own Drag Show at a gay Strip Club in Windsor. Imagine the shadiest place on earth. And that’s where I performed. I saw a market for something that I had seen work out very well in my hometown, Toronto. There were no drag shows in Windsor, and me being a queeny like gay man at 21, I was going to show them how it was done.
Truth was I wasn’t a very good drag queen. I didn’t always learn the right lyrics to sing, my dancing consisted of twirling on brass poles, but I was funny during my monologues. Around this time I had accidentally asked for Mormons to come to our house in Windsor and bring us a Book of Mormon. I was cooking dinner one evening and there was a knock. I opened the door to a gorgeous blond haired, blue eyed, tall handsome man. He probably played Jesus in passion plays about Jesus’ death (and resurrection). God, I hope so. Obviously I let him and his buddy in to talk to me about Jesus. His name was Elder Madden. I will never forget that. He looked like a very handsome Archie comic.
I won’t go into details, but let’s just say, if there is a hell, then I earned a one-way ticket, first-class.
This, of course, made it into my drag show. It was called The Mormon Minute. I would outline what my internal monologue was when Elder Madden would invite me to College & Careers night, a 20's Youth Group of sorts. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say, if there is a hell, then I earned a one-way ticket, first-class.
Being that it was a strip club, I learned many things. I learned that a lot of people are sad. I learned that a lot of people make choices with their life because they are sad, but there is still a part of them begging to be happy. Basically, I learned that deep down inside, everyone has an insatiable desire to be happy. However, we often lie to ourselves about what will actually bring us happiness.
There was a guy who came to the strip club maybe 3 nights a week. I don’t remember his name, but I remember my boyfriend at the time used to call him ‘fisherman’. He worked at The Heinz Ketchup factory. I do not know why I remember that.
I ended up stripping for two nights. 

Fisherman used to come in with wads of cash, mostly twenties. Often he would come in and leave with a stripper named Chase. That meant that Fisherman was paying Chase’s way, so to speak (wink wink, nudge nudge). Chase had two kids and a girlfriend, I believe. I remember fisherman tipping me as I performed in my stilettos with wig, jelly boobs and super slutty shirt/dresses. He looked like he was having the time of his life, but there was always a sadness that I noticed about him. Not just that the scenario as a whole was sad, but that there was a sadness, a longing rooted deep within him. His joy was fleeting. It stayed in the strip club.
I ended up stripping for two nights. This came about because one night a gross dude asked me if I would go to the ‘private rooms’ with him, meaning he wanted a private strip show. I was in drag at the time and I remember thinking, I’ll be damned if I’m taking all this off for a five minute dance when it took about two hours to put it all on. But, my wheels got turning and I thought about how much I had heard the strippers often make. Hundreds of dollars a night, and at the time I was very poor. I was putting myself through school.
Turns out I made a worse stripper than I did a drag queen. I think I was pretty to look at, but I didn’t have the nerve or lack of self-esteem to see me through. The business venture wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I ended up breaking down one night before seeing my friends' play. I was outside having a cigarette with my very dear friend, Chad. I was supposed to go work as a stripper after the play. I’ve never broken down like this where I had no control over my weeping. I had become so sad, so quickly. So after the play, I went home and got drunk with my friends. I never went back to the strip club.
I learned about happiness and sadness.

I look back at this time as being the gutter I crawled my way out of. I learned about happiness and sadness. I learned that what makes me most happy is theatre, acting, performance and art. I threw myself into all this and I have since found a happiness that despite all the hard work, provides me endless amounts of joy.
By the end of fourth year, I was an acting coach for second years in Scene Study, I was doing the make-up for the shows at school (knowledge I learned from my drag act), and beginning the preliminary work in producing Mnemonic Theatre’s first production, WOLFBOY.
So when Gaby asked me to produce CLOSER, there really was no choice for me. I wouldn’t have been me if I didn’t say yes. There could have been no other response.
And here we are, 9 days before opening. And I’m scared shitless, but I also know that everything will work out. I will work 16 hours a day to get everything done. Sets will be made, sound designed, play rehearsed and performance ready, costumes found, furniture procured, programme printed, lights hung and refocused, cue-to-cue, etc. etc. etc. And of course, every other detail that I can’t even imagine to come up, that will inevitably come up. I will get it done. I gathered an amazing team who are passionate about what they do and they do it well.
It’s amazing the things that we are capable of, when we dare ourselves to be bigger and stronger than our self-perspectives. A friend once told me, when I had confided in him that I felt I was ‘in over my head’, that this is exactly where I should be, because it is through moments like these that I will see my potential for greatness grow, that my personal limitations will disappear. I’m starting to believe he was right.
Saying ‘yes’, was just the start.
Sincerely yours,
Caleb McMullen | Artistic Producer | Mnemonic Theatre Productions | @mnemonictheatre
CLOSER by Patrick Marber runs from Wednesday, February 1st to Saturday, February 4th at The Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester Street), each night at 8pm, with a matinee on Saturday @ 2pm. More information about Mnemonic Theatre Productions, CLOSER, and ticket sales can be found at

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