top of page

FIFTEEN

"There's a Loud Sort of Clanging From the Clock in the Hall ..."

ghost_light-2a.jpg

 

"There is a toxic social phenomenon that impacts almost every successful or fledgling creative. It’s a tendency to cut others down for their achievements. To criticise or undermine those who display their difference, originality, ambition or unique talent. It’s a cluster of envy, low self-esteem, fear and resentment, and it disassembles supportive communities: it’s called tall poppy syndrome. ... It can have devastating effects on individuals, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits."

- Madeleine Doire, Artshub.com

 

"The tall poppy syndrome is a cultural phenomenon in which people hold back, criticise or sabotage those who have or are believed to have achieved notable success in one or more aspects of life."

Wikipedia

 

Another descriptive term for this "phenomenon" is crab mentality, where, in a pot full of captured crabs, any crab that is about to escape will be dragged down by the others.

 

In my case, the people cutting me down possessed great wealth and influence, and worked steadily to prevent me from making a living. My burden was knowing the truth of their behavior because I bore the brunt of it. And thus began a cycle where I was abused because I was abused. And as I realized, the only hope I had to escape the cycle was to get out of an abusive industry - though I expect that I'll always have difficulty prospering no matter what careeer I pursue. I crossed a powerful malignant narcissist in my agent John.

 

I loved my career because my success lifted all boats around me. Unlike my malefactors, I never once deliberately harmed anyone to get myself ahead. Starting with no connections, I rose to the top of my field through ethical behavior and backbreaking work - only to find my hard-won success claimed as the property of bullying people with more money and power.

 

When Tall Poppy Syndrome is in play, the abusers often participate even though cutting a target down affects their own fortunes. I think of all of the money that Head Over Heels could have made all of us; but ego and spite won the day, creating Broadway's most unnecessary flop enterprise. And all aboard the exploitation train missed out on the wonderful, rushing feeling of creating a hit show beloved by millions.

We could have all bubbled up together. John Buzzetti and the law firm of Levine, Plotkin and Menin had other ideas.

---

I look back on my career with pride.

 

My shows were always multicultural. I dared to write outside of my white cis-male box, from my first parodic play, The Plank Project,  whose secret heart was the plight of a black actress reduced by the tokenism of her colleagues. I wrote Mammy from Gone With The Wind as the female co-lead in my play The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler; it was a ballsy move on my part; one need but ask actors Kimberly Scott and Billy Porter, both of whom played her, what I was up to.

 

In 2008, I signed on to write an original musical set in the world of high school cheerleading inspired by the Bring It On movie franchise. When I brought my original story treatment and characters to my co-creators (including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Amanda Green and Andy Blankenbeuhler), I said, "This is La Cienega, who's a queen bee at her high school. And she's transgender." I explained what transgender meant. This was fifteen years ago. "And I don't want to make her gender identity an issue - not to hide it, but to give the audience a world where transgender people are accepted like everyone else."

 

We had to add extra measures to La Cienega's curtain call because the audience embraced her so fully. Meanwhile, the New York Times twice referred to her as a "drag queen" and couldn't buy that she was embraced by her fellow students. 

Who was right in the end? 

This was a different era.

 

In the same musical, I wanted audience members of all body types to feel included, so I created the plum role of Bridget, a plus-sized nerd insecure about her body, who blossoms into a plus-sized nerd who embraces her curves, gets the cute boy, and becomes a cheerleader at Nationals to boot. She was another audience favorite.

bridget.jpg

 

In 2013, a young plus-sized singer named Bonnie Milligan knocked my socks off singing in a cabaret. I knew the roles she would be offered: the side-kick, the second-fiddle. So I tailored the role of Pamela in Head Over Heels for her, a legendary beauty like Helen of Troy, beseiged by suitors. In performance, the audience went "yes" and that was that. 

pamela1.jpg

For years I'd been bothered that musicals offered endless gay male leads, often romantic, while our Sapphic sisters had no plum leading musical comedy roles that I could find. So I made Pamela a lesbian, whose love story was rich and filled with discovery (as Head Over Heels took place before female same-sex attraction had a name). It was my pleasure to offer this first to Broadway; but the sense of discovery was lost in Mayer's "adaptation," where the "comedy" came from everyone knowing Pamela was a lesbian but her. The humor went from innocent to knowing and lost its joy in the process. Pamela became a second-string comedy harpie who had to boss people into calling her beautiful - suggesting delusion on her part, which I certainly never meant. My Pamela found her beauty a burden at times, which took the edge off and made her sympathetic.

pamela3_edited.jpg

Also in Head Over Heels, one of the romantic leads, the salt-of-the-earth shepherd Musidorus, embraces his non-binary self at the end and inspires all of the other characters to do so as well. I also created the role of the Oracle for musical comedy actresses Of A Certain Age, giving older actresses a great role that was sexy and funny and powerful. Michael Mayer made the character young and transgender, which felt like he was chasing what was (by then) a trend. My message is always that trans folk are human like everyone else; on Broadway, the message was that trans people are otherworldly and magical, existing in their own separate world.

 

I also had the privilege of developing the role of the transgender landlady Anna Madrigal in my musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, though Armistead gets all of the credit for creating Anna in 1976. Talk about being ahead of the curve!

These days I sense two burgeoning cultural conversations that I hoped to embrace in my future work: the legal status of sex work, and the representation of people with disabilities in entertainment.

On the topic of sex work, my TV show Bad Fairy brings hard-won realness to the table. I was a sex worker on and off for ten years, and feel no shame (despite concerted efforts along the way to make me feel so). I deliberately created Ariel, my drug-dealing middle-aged gay prostitute, as full of contradictions, challenging easy assumptions about a man with such a list of labels. Bad Fairy is about kindness in its heart: how to navigate the world in service of others while taking care of one's self. It's funny, frank, and boldly goes where television has never gone before. And it has musical numbers. (How could I not have musical numbers in a show about gay hookers?)

And until Broadway turned on me, I was dreaming up my next jukebox musical, {French} Vogue, a fabulous pageant set in the French Restoration: all gigantic dresses and plunging necklines, snapping fans and enormous wigs, mistaken identities and disguises, the dialogue written in crisp, delicious iambic pentameter couplets (as matches the period), and scored by the catalogue of Madonna. Its secret heart is that it's a musical about disabilities. The plot spins around a character with Down Syndrome. And the cast would be heavily populated by actors with all manner of disabilities, going the extra mile so everyone comes across divinely in performance. My story is original and still cracks me up - and like my original Head Over Heels, after making the audience fall out again and again, it unexpectedly grabs the heart.

I know such an enterprise sounds dangerous; but I am inspired by my grad school summers when I volunteered at Camp Jabberwocky on Martha's Vineyard, teaching drama to adults with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and numerous other disabilities. I was plunged into a bright Crayola box of humanity (hence, the name of the camp). I tended to the physical needs of my assigned campers 24/7 and those experiences changed my view of life. By the end of those summers I had to remind myself who was "disabled" and who was not. I don't know if I've ever laughed so fully as I did in those wonderful, challenging days, largely at myself.

I wrote the opening three minutes of {French} Vogue in iambic pentameter hip-hop couplets, thick with internal rhyming. As strange as it may sound, it's exciting (after all, one might argue that iambic pentameter is the root of hip-hop). 

I am proud that in my career I was a force of inclusion amidst so much division all around. I always looked out for the underdog, the overlooked, the underserved. And I wasn't championing my own "otherness" but looking out for others whose voices were excluded.

As I turn away from an abusive industry, I retain pride that I broke ground in my art, and not because I was ticking a box or trying to be "woke." My forward-thinking representations of race and sexuality, of trans and nonbinary folk, of different body types and standards of beauty, all came before such discussions became front-and-center obligations.

 

My revolution slipped in quietly - and often in family shows. It would ruin the audience's sense of discovery to bring attention to myself.

 

I did it because it was right.

 

I was bringing Broadway into the future.

 

And like the crab mentality I mentioned, my agent and law firm and their gullible flying monkeys made sure that my inclusive, forward-thinking nonsense wasn't going to happen on their watch.

 

---

 

“Do not talk badly about people in your industry,” warned the Venezuelan personal trainer who picked me up that August morning in 2017, only to deliver the first of many threats to come.

 

I wonder: am I “talking badly” when I write about my abusers?

 

Whatever the case, it’s better that I do, lest my silence enable future scorched-earth exploitation of artists such as I endured. My treatment as an artist is a sickening new low for the Broadway industry. I can find no precedent.

 

I refuse to be a successful trial run for future exploitation of artists. 

I’m a canary in the coal mine instead - but only if I sing out. I went through this nightmare so no other artist would have to.

 

My departure from the industry is necessary, because my treatment is the new floor of what is acceptable nowadays. I can't flourish creatively in an industry where I'm made to fear for my personal safety if I do good work. Who in the industry took a stand against the abuse I faced?

“If someone is fucking you over, you have to let them fuck you all the way to the end,” the Venezuelan goon continued. But after all this time, I must ask: when exactly IS the godforsaken “end” that I'm expected to let “them” fuck me all the way to?

 

Judging by what I went through in 2022 - which was shady, to say the least - I will always be a target of exploitation so long as secrets remain secrets. I won't go homeless for the pleasure of bearing the ugly truth for the rest of my life, as I try to eke out a living amid the self-serving sneers, jeers, and smears of my abusers. 

 

God didn’t put me here to carry the shitty dirty water of dirty dirty people. I’m giving it back. Now they may carry the burden of their bad behavior.

 

As for the threat’s conclusion, “You don’t want to find out what will happen if you speak out,” I fully expect reprisals from John Buzzetti and his cowardly flying monkeys. I know damned well the complex and fucked-up designs of the mercenaries hired to shut me up. Given my defiance, what's in store now? Will they disfigure me? Frame me for some horrid crime? Stage a suicide? What else happens to the corporate whistleblowers whose intimidation these "intelligence agencies" proudly advertise on their websites?

 

Should any future misfortune befall me – any – may all eyes turn to John Buzzetti, Conrad Rippy and the rest of them.

 

The storyteller in me would choose a redemption arc for my exploiters: meaning apology, making amends, repairing the damage, and moving on.

 

Remember: audiences love the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge, who changed their ways.

 

But even the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys celebrated her demise.

 

I am no longer nice. That got scorched out of me.

 

I'm kind now. Redemption is on them.

 

Finally, as for the sex-tapes that were threatened in DUMBO a week after the Venezuelan's litany, I beg of my malefactors: please release them!!!

 

Then I can get an account on OnlyFans and make a mint selling an exclusive “duet” minute-by-minute analysis of my performance. For kicking off my OnlyFans career, I’ll graciously thank the William Morris Endeavor Agency, the law firm of Levine, Plotkin and Menin, the Go-Go’s, Gwyneth Paltrow and every wealthy producer above the line of Broadway’s flop musical Head Over Heels.

 

And beyond my gratitude, I shall offer my warmest congratulations to all of them for releasing my "sex tape"  …

 

… for at long last, they offered audiences something interesting.

 

---

 

Though I lost everything, I won the war. By withdrawing from the game I forced my abusers to fend for themselves. Without me to grease the rails of their greedy overreach, they fell on their swords. They took every inch of rope that I gave them - and much more that I did not offer.

 

My years in the battlefields of musical development gave away the ending. I told them from the start that they were making a flop, and they sneered.

 

To prosper, every level of Broadway’s business dealings must put the audience first. Given the extraordinary expense of a Broadway seat, the ticket-buying public deserves storytelling couture, not the same tired-ass Old Navy shit. When Broadway's businesspeople go beyond their areas and betray the audience for their own gain, that’s the recipe for an ugly, unloved flop. And every time an audience member pays top-dollar for a tortuous night, Broadway loses future revenue and prestige.

signature.png

The fight over my Head Over Heels  was never a battle of commerce versus art. I fought tirelessly for both sides all along. With no representation, I fought alone to put top-notch work before the crowd, only to face an army of vainglorious Dunning-Kruger divae working in concert to steal control of what I made.

 

If my story is shocking, imagine the weight of carrying the truth of it all these years - amidst the desperation to cover up the dirty business that the Broadway industry finds acceptable these days.

I shudder to imagine the artists who may be enduring this kind of abuse right now, terrified to speak out because of the intimidation of confidence artists whom they naïvely trusted.

I waited until I was going homeless to speak out. I tried everything I could to get back on my feet - to no avail. 

So: I offer the truth at long last. I'm no angel, God knows, and I never claim to be. But I always delivered on the musical Head Over Heels, as I did on all of my Broadway enterprises.

On this day I am afraid – for I don’t know where I'll go – but I am free.

 

Sincerely,

IMG_0121.png
signature.png
bottom of page