Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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I Was a Teenage Leper

I was 18, didn’t have a care. Working for peanuts, not a dime to spare… and we’ll stop right there, because the comparisons with Bob Seger begin to break down pretty quickly after that. It was the summer right after my high school graduation and I was working on my first community theater production. The show was called Impressions. Act I consisted of music and dancing highlights from Hair, Tommy, and Godspell. Act II consisted of highlights from Jesus Christ Superstar and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. It was, at least in my rosy recollections, a grand entertainment. Certainly, the cast included a bunch of folks who would go on to do a lot more wonderful work in the ensuing years. Let me put it this way: It was one of those shows – the kind you never forget; the kind that makes you smile a hundred different ways at the thought of the people and the moments that played out over the course of the summer. It was the right show at the right time in my life.

Okay, let’s ditch that soft-focus lens and talk about some of the real stuff that happened. Like many dozens of others, I was there to be a singer, not an actor. Specifically, I was there to be a chorus singer. My one solo line in the entire show came during the Hair segment. This was the line: “Black uniforms, bare feet, carbines.” Didja sneeze? Then ya missed me. But that’s okay. No complaints here. I was surrounded by a lot of talented people and it felt good to be considered as their peer, even if I didn’t quite believe it myself.

One of my few moments actually standing on the stage came during the Jesus Christ Superstar segment, in which I played one of a group of lepers, and this is where our story takes a strange turn…

As a leper, I was tasked with developing my own costume. We were given a tight range of colors to shoot for and a few general guidelines. When I brought the matter to my mother’s attention, she had a moment of inspiration – I could use a monk’s shroud that she had lying around.

Yes, you heard me, a monk’s shroud. It’s a long story. Look, I come from a very Catholic family, okay? And no, it had never been used. The shroud was made of a thick, rough fabric and was dark brown in color. My leper costume needed to be a much lighter shade, so mom put it into a vat with a bunch of bleach and we hoped for the best. The result was a light brown color that was pretty much spot-on for our purposes.

Next came the “distressing” (theater term) of the garment. This meant ripping random holes in it and smearing it with dirt and grease. All good. Ah, but then, it became apparent that you could see quite a bit of me through the holes in the garment, and seeing my tighty-whities on stage would not have been in keeping with our 1st century A.D. theme. And while wearing nothing at all under the garment might have met our historical criteria, it would have created an entirely different set of potential issues that I needn’t detail here.

What to do? What to do? Well, it was immediately apparent to me that I needed to find some flesh-colored briefs, so off I went to a large area shopping mall. I searched… and I searched… but found nothing even close… UNTIL – in a fit of desperation, I began looking in the children’s department. On the swimsuit racks, I found a pair of briefs that were the perfect shade of beige – in a girl’s size 6. With opening only days away, I clenched my jaw and made the purchase. The fit was, well, ultra-snug, but it wasn’t as if I had to wear them for the entire second act; it was really only about ten minutes a night. Surely I could grin and bear it.

I may as well admit that I felt more than a little sheepish to be wearing a little girl’s bikini bottom, so I was careful to never let my fellow cast members see me getting in and out of it. It was just my little secret. In retrospect, I probably should have been a little less secretive.

Weeks after the show had closed, cast members began to meet up and share photos their families had taken during the performances. These were the pre-Internet days, so photo sharing was done by meeting people face-to-face and actually putting photos into their hands. If they wanted copies, you had to make arrangements to take the negatives to the drugstore and order additional copies. Yes, these were primitive times, but we somehow managed.

Anyway, it soon became apparent that a legend had sprung up in certain circles. According to the legend, photographs demonstrated conclusively that I was wearing no underwear during the leper scene. One cast member possessed a particularly graphic photo which purportedly showed my bare butt through a hole in the costume. No denials on my part were deemed as credible; the photographic evidence trumped my pathetic explanation. As for the beige briefs, I had consigned them to the trash on closing night, so a key piece of forensic evidence was now irretrievably lost.

And that’s how things have stood from that day to this. I never personally received a copy of any of the incriminating photos, nor would I be inclined to display them in this journal if I possessed said photos. But if any of my fellow Impressions cast members or show patrons are reading this, you have my solemn word that these are the true facts of the case.

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