Leave the Ghost Light On.
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.
Another descriptive term for this "phenomenon" is crab mentality: which describes the phenomenon 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. I got to the top of my field through ethical behavior and hard 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 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.
Time to go.
As I let it go, I look back on my career with pride.
My shows were always multicultural. I dared to write outside of my white cis-male box. Mammy from Gone With The Wind was a female lead in my play The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler; one need but ask actors Kimberly Scott and Billy Porter, both of whom played her, what Jeff Whitey 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 character list 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 her 'difference' to be an issue - not to hide it, but to give the audience a world where transgender people are just 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 fathom that she was embraced by her fellow students.
This was a different era.
In the same musical, I wanted to broaden the representation of body types beyond lithe and athletic, so I created the plum role of Bridget, a plus-sized nerd who blossoms into a full cheerleader and learns to embrace her curves.
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 created the role of Pamela in Head Over Heels for her, a legendary beauty like Helen of Troy, who is beseiged by suitors.
At the same time I was bothered that musical theater offered no shortage of 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 - which suggests delusion on her part, which I certainly never meant. My Pamela found her beauty a burden at times, which made her a relatable lead.
Also in Head Over Heels, one of the romantic leads, the salt-of-the-earth shepherd Musidorus, embraces his non-binary side at the end and inspires everyone else on stage 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 transgender, which felt like he was chasing what was (by then) a trend. My message was that trans folk are 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 writing the role of the transgender landlady Anna Madrigal in my musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.
I've never compiled this list before.
I broke ground in musical theater, 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. My revolution splipped in quietly - and in family shows. It would ruin the audience's sense of discovery to bring attention to my broad, humanistic approach.
I did it because it was right.
I was bringing Broadway into the future.
And like the crab mentality I mentioned, my agent and lawyer and their gullible flying monkeys made sure that wasn't going to happen on their watch.
“Do not talk badly about people in your industry,” warned the hot Venezuelan personal trainer who picked me up that August morning in 2017.
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.
“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, I will always be a target of exploitation so long as secrets remain secrets. I’d bear the ugly truth for the rest of my life as I tried 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.
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. Like the hecklers of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
And for making me a star, I’ll graciously thank the William Morris Endeavor Agency, the law firm of Levine, Plotkin and Menin, the Go-Go’s, 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 at long last, they finally offered audiences something interesting.
Today is January 10th, 2022. My exploitation began almost eight years ago. Though I lost everything, I won the war. By withdrawing from the game I forced my abusers to fend for themselves. I would not grease the rails of their greedy overreach. My years of experience in the field of musical development gave away the ending. I told them from the start that they were making a flop. But the Dunning-Kruger Effect had to have its way.
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 businesspeople go beyond their areas and betray the audience for their own fleeting gain, that’s the recipe for an ugly, unloved flop. Every time an audience member pays top-dollar for a shitty night of theater, Broadway loses future revenue and prestige.
The fight over my Head Over Heels was never a battle of commerce versus art. I fought tirelessly for both sides all along. All I wanted was to put top-notch work before the crowd, only to find myself standing alone against 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 while toxic confidence artists moved heaven and earth to prevent the public from learning what they did.
I waited until I was homeless to speak out. I tried everything I could to get back on my feet - to no avail.
I am no longer allowed an income in the entertainment industry. That is clear.
On this day I am afraid – for I don’t know where I'll go – but I am free.