by Drew Doerge

Sitting on the Sunny Delight-stained carpet of my new friend Lynon's doublewide, hunched over a Travis Tritt CD, snorting crushed Percodans through a cut-off Wendy's straw, trying to pay attention to the Nicolas Cage masterwork "8MM" on her huge Magnavox television, smelling the distinct odors of dry Alpo and Wild Cherry Swisher Sweets, and watching Lynon's 3 year old daughter Brianna skip and giggle around us, it hit me - this is the end of the world.

It wasn't supposed to be like this!

For you see, I was a graduate of Wake Forest University, a prestigious liberal arts institution nestled in idyllic Winston Salem, NC. I'd taken master classes with Alec Baldwin and Claire Bloom! I learned Romanian for my multiple roles in Caryl Churchill's "Mad Forest"! I spoke in rhymed couplets and wore Chinese silks in "Tartuffe"! I'd even spent a summer in London, screaming Shakespeare- "With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come!" - and I knew what it meant! I'd paid my dues, and I was ready to become a professional actor.

In the spring of my senior year, I had my first professional audition - the Southeastern Theatre Conference! Here, I would be seen by the best theatre companies in the world and immediately whisked away to fame and glory.

The SETC was held at a giant hotel conference center. There were about 800 actors at the audition, maybe 50 theatre companies, many with the words "family", "science" and "barn" in the titles. I gave a nervous and weird audition in a cold auditorium that was absent of joy.

But I was called back - callbacks were in hotel rooms, by the way - by Patrick Baldauff of the Jenny Wiley Theatre in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. He was about 75, a large yellow man with yellow hair, yellow fingernails, yellow eyes. He was never without a Diet Mr. Pibb, a Benson & Hedges 120, or a tender molesty smile. He told me that he loved my monologue from Paul Rudnick's "Jeffrey" and offered me an apprenticeship with his company. I was going to make $50 a week and do 4 shows in rep and live in cabins and be a real live working actor!!

A week after college graduation, I arrived in Prestonsburg, KY, with nothing but my Bachelor of Arts, my trained voice, and a pocket full of dreams. The theatre was all outdoors, with 900 seats and an incredible mountain landscape in the background. The set for "Grease" was being built and painted. I'm gonna be in "Grease"! In the mountains! The company manager told me to follow him to the cabins, so I could unpack. "Are we staying behind the theatre?", I ask. He laughs, stubs out his Marlboro Red, and says, "Get in your car. I'll see you in an hour."

And he was right - it took an hour to get to the cabins, which were located in a town called David. I drove down a shockingly bumpy dirt road, branches smacking my Chevy Cavalier, and I expected to see Leatherface or a violated Ned Beatty jump out at any moment. I can't wait to make this trip twice a day for the whole summer! The cabins were straight out of Camp Crystal Lake, with four of us to a room, no locks on the doors, no telephones - a serial killer's wet dream - but I didn't care! I was living the actor's life!

The first night, at the company barbecue mixer, I met a sweet 19 year old named Chris who looked like a cross between Lance Bass and Matthew Modine. We hung out all night and talked about Sondheim and fresnels, and drank countless cans of Coors Light, and went back to my cabin and made out for hours in my bunkbed, while my 3 roommates tried to sleep.

7am! First rehearsal for Grease! I show up late, hung-over, filthy, and COVERED in hickeys. Everywhere. I'm playing a burger palace boy and have to learn how to dance with a tire for the "Greased Lightning" number. I'm handed a real tire - from a car. The tire is so heavy, the number is so fast- "Greased Lightning! Goooo Greased Lightning!", I smell like a brewery, my skin is sick with love bruises, and Chris won't talk to me! This is my first professional rehearsal, and I've blown it! I'm sure on Broadway they can juggle tires! And, they rest their throats - they don't pack em full of beer and boys the night before their first rehearsal! I'm an untalented whore!

Then the choreographer, Jonathan, approaches me. "Hey! You're doing great. If you want, we can stay later and I'll help you." What am I, the ole Kentucky rock n' roll pass-around bitch boy? I bark back, "I'm gonna be fine!" He just laughs and invites me to dinner with him and his boyfriend Robert.

That night, the three of us got stoned and played hide n seek in the woods. After that night, I spent every moment with Jonathan and Robert. We took acid and watched Elaine Stritch videos. We showed up to rehearsals tardy and in wigs. On our Mondays off, and we'd do speed and go to Cincinnati.

Jonathan grew up in the town and had spent his life at Jenny Wiley Theatre. He was good friends with Patrick Baldauff, the yellow man who hired me. We'd frequently go over to Patrick's house and he'd reminisce about his dinner theatre days with Joan Fontaine and his party days with Roddy McDowell and Tommy Kirk. Patrick was directing our next show, "The Legend of Jenny Wiley", a 3 hour epic musical about godless Indians, who capture a beautiful white woman named Jenny Wiley, murder her children, rape her, make her their slave, and then she has to find her way back to her perfect white husband with only the help of a bluebird. Of course the Indians were played by an all-white cast, who painted themselves nightly in something called Texas Red Dirt. Before rehearsals began, he approached me. "Jonathan said you'd be great in the role of Burning Boy." This, of course, was the white soldier who stumbles into the village and gets tortured and burned (using real fire) in front of 900 people every night. "How well can you scream?" He ordered me into the woods and asked me to scream as loud as I could. I really was reliving Deliverance - I closed my eyes and hollered like a pig and I booked the role of Burning Boy!

On another day off, Jonathan and Robert and I went cliff diving, 30 feet high, into a dirty lake. Illegal as hell, but who cares, we're on Oxycontin and in the mood to jump. As I'm about to plunge into the abyss, some local boys come running past us and scream "Jout!" Jout? What does this mean? Is that hillbilly for poofter? Jonathan explained it to me - they're saying "watch out". Jout! They never taught me things like this at Wake Forest.