Love the One You’re With

posted by Mary Birdsong, Rich and Famous cast member

Let’s face it—we live in a time in which one of the most prized possessions can be an autograph, preferably of someone rich and/or famous. Want an autographed football with the signatures of the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team? No problem. It’ll run you about $3,000 on eBay. But if you don’t have that kind of money lying around, and want something a bit . . . sexier, how about a Tomb Raider movie card with Angelina Jolie’s autograph? That’ll run you a mere $389.99. (Do you think Miss Jolie feels insecure when she sees that she can barely fetch 10% of what the Steelers can? Don’t feel bad, Angie. Even Chuck Heston only grabs $50.00 for his autographed movie card, and he played Moses for criminy’s sake! He parted the Red Sea!!! What seas have YOU ever parted, Angie? Hmm? What about a lake? Ever parted a lake? No? All right then, how about a fjord? Hmmm? No? No. I didn’t think so. So stop your belly-achin’.)
If the thrill of obtaining an autograph on the internet makes people giddy with fame-phoria, just imagine what it would feel like to get that autograph in PERSON! Imagine thrusting a plain white index card into the talented hands of your favorite thespian or athlete and demanding that they sign it for you, then watching in real time as they put pen to paper and prove that they’re at least smart enough to write their name. Now that would be something to write home about, or at least blog about.

Girl, are you in luck. What if I told you that Angelina is singing the entire Gershwin canon at an intimate cabaret venue in the Castro? Wouldn’t that be something? Yeah.

Well, that ain’t happenin’. But! Even though the four-person cast of John Guare’s Rich and Famous may not be either rich OR famous, we have something else going for us. We’re here. We’re willing. It puts me in mind of a lyric from the Stephen Stills song:

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with. Love the one you’re with. Love the one you’re with. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo. Doo doo doo.”

I just wrote “doo doo.” Like… a hundred times. Hee hee hee.

And if it’s autographs you’re seeking, I’m pretty sure that all of us in the cast can write our names. In fact, I don’t wanna brag, but I have notoriously excellent penmanship. Yeah, I know. It’s pretty cool. I try to downplay it a lot because I don’t want the common folk to feel bad when they see me signing an autograph using my near perfect “Palmer Method” technique with my just-sharpened #2. Seriously, don’t get down on yourself if you don’t have this gift. And it is a gift. I can’t take credit for my neat handwriting. It’s just something the good Lord graced me with I guess. Do you think it’s great acting chops that helped me get ahead in this business of show? Nope. Good looks? Unh unh. Hilarious comic timing? Nah. It’s penmanship. Or as we postfeminist feminists like to call it: penchickship. There was no audition required for me to be cast in the awesome roles I get to do in this show. I simply had to take a written exam. I had to write my own name, and the name of each of the five characters I play (Leanara, Veronica Gulpp-Vestige, Allison, Mom, and the “Lookalike.”) Needless to say, I aced it. I’m awesome.

Anyway, for all of you seeking autographs of the “rich and famous,” I’m afraid you’re shit out of luck. But what would you say if I told you it’s very likely that you could get four autographs of the “financially solvent and occasionally recognizable?” I thought so.

To ensure certain success, here are a few pointers . . .

1) Do your homework—no actor can resist a fan who is familiar with specific roles we’ve played. The more obscure the reference the better. So before approaching an actor, do yourself a favor and Google them. Then lie about how much you loved us in X, Y, and Z. Even if we know you’re lying we’ll still love you for it.

2) Tell us you came from very far away just to see us. (Even if very far away to you means you came from Chinatown. That counts. You don’t have to give us specifics. Distance is so relative. Maybe you have really short legs.)

3) If you don’t have a program for an actor to sign, print something out from the internet with our picture on it, preferably from several years ago. We’ll get distracted by how thin we looked back then and sign anything you want us to.

4) Get in on the ground floor. Think of this like playing the stock market. Buy low, sell high. If you spot someone who has that je ne sais quoi (or someone who is just plain HOT), but is not yet famous, go for it. Chances are that if you wait long enough, their ship might come in, and won’t YOU be sitting pretty if it DO?
All of the above tips are primarily for approaching an actor at the stage door of a live theater event, where autograph requests are expected and encouraged. Amateur stuff, really. Almost anyone can get one there. But to get a celebrity scribble elsewhere, you’ll need to develop your fan “technique.” Very important. These are best used when spotting an actor outside of, say, the American Conservatory Theater (our natural habitat). Let’s say you spot one of us in the snack food aisle of the CALA Foods supermarket grazing for Wheat Thins, or buying a round of “last call” drinks at the Hi-Tide bar for a grateful but leery college soccer team. What to do? How to best approach these local thespians without scaring them, or worse . . . having them hit on you in an embarrassing and transparent manner to the point of needing a restraining order?

It’s not unheard of (even in this celeb-saturated age) for actors, as a group, to be described as animals. Beasts! And since I am an actor, I couldn’t agree more. Best to approach us with the stealthy precision that one would employ while sneaking up on a wild animal. Let’s take Brooks Ashmanskas for example. Think of him as a rabid hyena. Is he famous? No. Rich? No. But he does play the lead role in Rich and Famous. (Brooks has also appeared to great comic effect in several Broadway shows, and was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his work in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. If the Broadway community is high school, Brooks serves as its class clown.) He thumbs his nose at the fame game constantly. He claims to want to just act. But I know better. He wants you to ask for his autograph. Approach him gingerly. Sidle up to the bar (I mean, uh . . . to wherever he happens to be) as if you don’t even see him, then do a sort of modern-day double take and ask him if he is Ethan Hawke.If you are attractive he will most certainly say yes. If not, he’ll probably still say yes. DO NOT BELIEVE HIM! DO NOT FALL FOR IT! IT’S A TRAP! Once you have inflated his ego, then very excitedly say, “Oh my God, wait . . . now I know! You’re the star of Rich and Famous! I love your work!!! I love everything you’ve ever done ever ever ever and I think you are the most attractive and talented person I have ever met in my entire life ever! I especially loved you as . . . Bob Fosse and Tommy Tune in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, which played the Curran Theatre in 2006, for which you received a Tony nomination!” (See what I did there? I employed the tried and true Googlefication tool.) Then tell him he looks shockingly thin, and manly to the point of being intimidating. If that fails, buy him two Tanqueray and tonics, give him a couple of cigarettes, and tell him your favorite dish is “Nana’s Chicken and Prunes” (pronounced with a B, as in “Brunes”). Just trust me on that last bit. You will get your autograph. And if you have not yet seen the show, go. All I can say is that there are few actors that can keep an audience laughing even when he is in the wings. His offstage vomiting bit alone is worth the admission price.

Stephen De Rosa is a different animal altogether . . .
(Stephen is doing his best Billie Holiday impression.)

He requires very little manipulation or trickery. Think of him as a puppy. Or a bunny rabbit. Or the family hamster. No technique necessary here. Just say “Excuse me, do you have the time?” He will tell you what time it is not only in your time zone, but in Eastern Standard Time, Central, and yes, even Mountain Time. Then he will ask in an adorably desperate voice if you want his autograph. You could say no thanks, but then again, it’s a nutty business . . . and you never know what can happen to launch ANY of us animals into superstardom at any moment. Just think—you can get in on the ground floor! (Remember? Tip #4?) I have a theory that Mr. DeRosa is gonna be HUGE when he is 73. He is gonna explode! You will thank me some day. You will. I mean . . . have you seen him play Anatol Torah, the charismatic composer in Rich and Famous? He is unbelievably good. What I admire is his ability to play a role and be big, deep, insane, hilarious, dark, and truthful all at the same time. The way he does jokes is no joke. And his portrayal of “Dad” will break your heart while it squeezes laughs with every tug on your ticker.

Gregory Wallace is a tough one to tap for his John Hancock.
He has a cloaking device and can become invisible whenever he so chooses. Fans here in San Francisco have been admiring his work for so long that he seems to exude a certain Madeline Kahn,“I’m tired of being admired. I’m bored of being adored!” attitude. The only thing that I think might work to draw him closer to you to obtain an autograph is to flash something sparkly in front of him. It needn’t be “bling” or even fine jewels. Drugstore glitter will suffice. He can’t resist it. It’s like his kryptonite. One word of caution . . . do not under any circumstances call him Jeffrey. And once you have the autograph, make sure you get a ticket to the show, because Gregory’s take on the role of Aphro and the play within the play (a 1970s off-off-Broadway experimental Greek drama) will make you wish that John Guare would write a spin-off of this play Rich and Famous called Aphro—for Love!

And then there’s me. Mary Birdsong. I guess the best advice would be to follow the same instructions I gave for approaching Brooks. But insert “Rachel Weiss” for the Ethan Hawke line. And offer me two cranberry and seltzers in lieu of two Tanqueray and tonics. Or peanut butter will do.
Oh! I did think of one last thing . . . I’ve always had a fantasy that I’d meet my dream man someday like women did in the old black-and-white movies. I’d come out of the stage door after a hilarious show and have a sad, far-off look in my eyes after hoofing it up in the madcap comedy. And just when I’d resign myself to another night spent at the Walgreens seeing what new kind of ramen noodles are on sale, your tasteful but luxurious car pulls up and your driver opens the door for you.

Here is what you say:

“Pardon me, but I caught the second act and I think you’re enchanting. I like your rough-and-tumble, devil-may-care spunk. I’ve grown tired of all my stuffy rich society types. You! Your tawdry demeanor and cheap, whorish clothes are like a breath of fresh air. Won’t you dine with me in my room this evening? I’m staying at the Deville.

Me: “Uhhhh. Did you just call me a slut?”

You: “My card.”

Me: “Did we meet on JDate?”

You: “I’ll have my driver fetch you. Adieu, my sweet.”

And before you drive away, leaving me alone on a poor and anonymous street corner, you add:

“Oh, say, Sally . . . can I get your autograph?”

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