Or his name is Andy Chu. It really could be both. Just saying.
Because really, looking for differences between the two of us is a lot harder than looking for the similarities. We are two heterosexual theatre nerds raised in stable, conservative Protestant homes and attending college with the intention of becoming professional actors. We will have both played Jedadiah Schultz. We were both thrilled to become involved in The Laramie Project.
And we both had no idea what it was we signed up for.
I write this now at 5:11 P.M., Thursday, March 31, in the cold, fluorescently lit rooms in the very back of the Bryan Center. I have come here an hour and forty-nine minutes before rehearsal to try to get a handle on the character of Jedadiah. The pressure I have put on myself to get Jedadiah right has crammed me up in my head, where I cannot work, and I intend to fix this in this hour and forty-nine minutes. I write this as I rehearse.
MOMENT: A DEFINITION
When Jeff asked me in our individual session so many weeks ago what Jedadiah Schultz was, I thought for a moment, and I told him, “He’s someone who’s thrust into a world where everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.” And what better way is there to describe matriculating to a university? As a freshman (and I write now at the expense of being trite), the whole world is upside-down. For starters, there is a world, and it’s hot and wild and kaleidoscopic and so unimaginably real: and this, you are told repeatedly by FACs and GAs and professors (and bus drivers), is your world to crack wide open. Political, social, religious, sexual mores are thrown out the window, and you have to learn to create yourself again and for the first time.
MOMENT: ANGELS IN AMERICA
So when I met Jeff and found out he was directing The Laramie Project, which was also to be part of the course material for my FOCUS class with him, things really started to click. Not only was Jeff an incredible theatre professor, he also owned his own professional theatre just ten minutes from campus. More than that, he seemed to like me–as a person, a student, and as an actor.
I read The Laramie Project in early September, in just a few hours, and I was taken with the material. The concept of documentary theatre was new, edgy, artistic–and I relished the thought of being a part of it. Particularly, I wanted a chance to play this one character named Jedadiah Schultz, with whom I felt I had connected as I read. And sure enough, when I arrived at callbacks for the show, Jeff had me read Jedadiah’s first Angels in America monologue, as if he had somehow known.
So I read it, and I knew that I could really make a splash at Duke (and with Jeff) if I did a good enough job.
There was, of course, the issue of how Jedadiah’s character arc ended. He gave in, I felt, to the pressures around him, renouncing the ways of his parents and his religion and buying into homosexuality like any other post-modern relativist. But he was such a good character. He was like the best character.
So I decided to do it.
MOMENT: LIVE AND LET LIVE
When I was in middle school, two women and a young girl moved in next door. When I asked my mom who the girl’s mother was, she told me that the women were homosexual. I asked what that meant.
Of course, in Asheville, North Carolina, the lesbian capital of the East Coast, it was not unexpected for my mother. It was, however, my first encounter with girls who didn’t like boys. It soon became more regular. In high school, one of my best friends, Deidre, came out to me (I had had a crush on her, so the experience wasn’t easy), and I became more aware of homosexuality in the media, among the theatre kids I hung out with, and in the world at large.
I also knew, from my private Christian high school education, that homosexuality was wrong. Speaking in religious terms, it wasn’t how God had intended it to happen, and no amount of human desire could justify it. After all, humans wanted to do all sorts of things to each other, but desire didn’t seem to justify rape, or murder, or theft.
At the same time, I wasn’t going to treat the gay people I knew any differently. I loved Deidre, and besides, most of the gay people I knew seemed nice enough. I just disagreed with their lifestyle.
The same was true when I got to college. I knew the chances of my coming into contact with out homosexuals was much higher–a.) because of how open and liberal college campuses tended to be, and b.) because I was going to study theatre. This, I knew, became especially true after I was cast in a play called The Laramie Project.
MOMENT: ANGELS IN AMERICA
Come March, life was different. I was firmly entrenched in Duke theatre, even before The Laramie Project, which would be the fourth show I had been involved with since arriving; I had great friends and a wonderful girlfriend; and classes were going pretty well. Laramie was going well, too–in every character but Jedadiah Schultz. The murderer, the Mormon, the bar owner–they were all fine, but there was something about Jedadiah that I couldn’t get.
What I realized was that Jedadiah was too much like me. Or I was too much like him. Either way, we were too similar for me to get a handle on him, because who, really, can get a handle on himself? Plus, Jedadiah was going where I didn’t. Jedadiah took a side. With my own opinions about homosexuality in limbo, I was being asked to play someone who chose to believe in it, who was forced to make a decision.
So I did.
And the truth is, I can’t any longer justify what I believed about being gay. Like so many things, what I had believed simply didn’t make sense in college, in this bristling new world. And in reality, I had known this for some time–I just had never been able to admit it.
But Jedadiah is me. Jedadiah is my coming out.
I am a straight man who thought that homosexuality was wrong. Now, after Jedadiah, I am a straight man who thinks that his gay friends and his gay professors are not so different from himself.
END OF PLAY
It is now 6:48 P.M., Thursday, March 31. I can hear Kimi yelling her email from the next room. It is time for rehearsal now. I’ll see you all in a minute.