I’ve been thinking about my old friend and acting partner, Randy Martin, who passed away recently. “Passed away” is a term I’ve always associated with the elderly—it seems an act of obscenity to apply it to someone as lively as Randy was every moment that I ever knew him. Though we haven’t laid eyes on one another for over two decades, Randy has never been far from the front of my mind. The lessons I learned with and from him have provided the foundation for my professional life. I always believed we would some day get the chance to catch up with one another and I’d have an opportunity to tell him how much his friendship has mattered to me. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the idea that he is not out there right now being wonderful for someone.
Randy was among the kindest, the gentlest, and the most professional actors I’ve worked with, though we were only 15 at the beginning of what turned into a pretty regular ongoing partnership. We grew up just a few blocks apart on Colgate Lane and went to Elementary School together–I had a huge crush on his brother David in the sixth grade after he gave me his mood ring. We somehow ended up moving to the same country town within a few years of one another. Randy was responsible for my first kiss—my first 39 kisses, in fact, counting rehearsal efforts (which I certainly did)—first under the coaching of our exceptional theatre teacher, Ms. Carolyn Kemplin, and afterward, when I felt ready, in the presence of a cast of whistling yahoos, followed by a series of packed houses. For someone as painfully shy and inexperienced as I was at that time, his poise and gallantry were both terribly kind and absolutely essential. I didn’t know it at the time, but strictly speaking, the most serviceable gift he ever gave me was a gloriously thorough demonstration of the techniques involved in projecting smokin’ hot passion to the last row, a skill I’ve been passing on to new generations of young actors in “Altoid Sessions” for 22 years. Randy perfectly understood and inhabited the spaces between private and performative affection: one could safely be just a little in love with him for the span of a single show, construct with him a remarkably intimate relationship over the 8 weeks of production, and come away unscathed, boundaries intact, without hurt feelings. As a leading man, he was a class act.
Randy Martin is, by the way, the only man who has ever literally swept me off my feet, all six feet of me, during a remarkable moment at the end of a curtain call. Less than seven minutes later, he was shoving my high-tops and basketball uniform through the window of my dad’s car, already rolling away, me in the backseat ripping off costume, hauling off character shoes, trying like hell to comb out sausage curls, slapping tape on my ankles, hoping to just make the second half of a big home game. Fifteen minutes after that, Randy was there in the stands, leading a rowdy crowd from the cast in a raucous chorus of “Pirates Fight” (pronounced “Pah-rits Faht” in wide-awake Wylie, TX). I think that was the night it really sunk in for me that a cast is a family.
Later in that same game when I stepped out of bounds for a throw-in, Randy jumped down out of the stands and hissed “Lashes! Gimme the lashes!” I frowned for a second while the ref glared at him and tried to decide whether or not he was going to give us a technical foul…and then the light came on. I ripped off two of the most disgusting, sticky, mascara-coated false eyelashes–the sort only ever worn by musical theatre ingénues and two-dollar whores–and shoved them into his hand, whereupon he sauntered away picking glue off of his palm, muttering “Jeez, kid, you look like Bambi out there…after somebody shot his mother.”
Ten weeks after that, Randy and I and two other young actors broke through all bounds of reasonable expectation and simply soared with a script so far beyond our ken that it was utterly ludicrous for us to even attempt it. Thank God our director had enough sense not to tell us so. This was the first show that seriously required us to break a sweat as theatre artists, and it launched me unalterably upon a career in the theatre, a decision I’ve never regretted. It was while working with Randy on this production that I absorbed many of the truths that still serve as the cornerstone of my directorial philosophy:
-An actor’s reach in performance should, whenever possible, slightly exceed his grasp: the actor reaching for a new level of competency will always be compelling to an audience, even if his character is not, because he is placing his ego at risk and is therefore fully awake to the messages of his senses and the dynamics of relationships, both fictional and real, on stage from moment to moment.
-Theatre is the most fully collaborative of all the arts. In the theatre, you have two choices: feed each other, or starve alone.
-What’s funny on stage? Things in threes are funny. Fat chick jokes: funny. Guy in a dress: really funny. Live chickens on stage: funny, but never the way you intend them to be. “Who’s on First” STAYS funny.
-If an audience can’t hear you, it can’t care about you.
-LISTEN to each other, all the time, every second, as if you have no idea what’s going to happen next on stage. Listen to the lines between the lines. Acting is listening.
-It’s not the set that tells the story, but the actors on it. The set’s job is to be of help if it can, otherwise, to stay the hell out of the way.
-The actors with the biggest roles should take on the humblest jobs during strike. It’s only right that leads should sweep up after everyone else since, up until the final curtain, everyone else has swept up after them.
-A professional, in fact an adult, is someone who doesn’t make messes that require others to clean up.
Godspeed, Randolph, with all my heart. I hope you had the rich and wonderful life you deserved. You will not be forgotten: not a single day of my working life goes by without one of the lessons we learned as kids coming to the forefront of my mind, and you with it. Thank you for being kind, for helping me learn to take art seriously without apology, and for leaving me with so many useful tools. I will always be grateful for having had you as my friend at a crucial time for both of us, the time when people construct the adults they wish to be.