If I took it hard that all my dreams were crushed at A Christmas Carol, my mom took it harder. When I found out Tim Curry would be starring in Monty Python’s Broadway adaptation of Holy Grail (which I had been following for its own merit, because duh), Mom jumped at the chance to try again. We were going to do it right this time, she said. She was going to get us a hotel room in New York City, and we would wait at the stage door before the show. I was going to meet him, come Hell or high water. When Mom called to get tickets, she said the words “best seat in the house.” The operator replied: “Okay, we won’t have those until April XX.” “That’s my birthday,” Mom said. “Let’s do it.” A month or so before the show, I found out through the BroadwayWorld forums that everyone was going nuts over seat A101. They just wouldn’t say why. I hadn’t taken any interest in the actual numbers on our seats, but now of course I asked. Mom confirmed: we had a ticket to that seat. I begged people to tell me. At first, no one would. I understood only that they had reason to be jealous of me, and that I should feel lucky. I begged more. I explained how much I loved Tim Curry, how I had hoped to meet him at this show, and I didn’t know what to expect anymore. It would be magical even if I knew ahead of time — perhaps more so.
Someone took pity on me, and sent me a message that said (to my memory): You’re going to get pulled up on stage at the end of the show. Wear something pretty, and go to the bathroom at intermission so you don’t wet yourself! 🙂 I cried. But first, I went tearing through the house to tell my mother.
Tim Curry’s birthday is April 19th. Since the show date was in the same month, I bought him a birthday card. In my defense, I would remind the jury that I was sixteen — and a very young sixteen at that. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t shallow, that I saw him as a person with a life. He had made it okay for me to be different, and sort of been a male figure I needed. (You have noticed, haven’t you, that my father hasn’t come up yet on this blog?)
Knowing that Tim Curry was really going to read this card (unlike all my letters), I didn’t know what to write. I asked my mother, and on her advice decided that a birthday card — given in sincerity — should not be a homework assignment. In other words, don’t use a gift to buy his time to tell him about me. Let it be about him. So, after all that, I just wrote “Happy birthday, Mr. Curry, from another random fan.”
If I ever doubted my brevity, I reminded myself that I probably wasn’t going to meet him anyway.
The night before the show, I saw Tim Curry’s foot. The family had gone down to the theatre to scope out Shubert Alley, and I left to look in the gift shop. My step-brother was pointing when I exited, and I looked just in time to see a leg before the door shut. I had just missed him. It was thrilling. We went back to our hotel room and I listened to my new cast recording of the songs, sitting silent on my bed and just imagining.
The next morning, I hopped in the shower. I remember how awake I was because mornings are hard for me, especially when true Spring has not yet set in. I remember feeling like I was dreaming, standing under the water, with my dress waiting to be worn just outside. I might come to think of that dress as the dress in which I met Tim Curry. It was insane.
I went down to the stage door hours before curtain, holding a disposable camera, a Sharpie, and a program from A Christmas Carol. I didn’t wear a jacket, so as not to hide the dress. I shivered constantly, but not from the chill.
There was a man waiting as well, who had a big binder of all sorts of celebrity photos. He was obviously there to collect autographs for eBay (or something), because he had to ask me what each of Tim’s photos was from. At first I answered him, because it took my mind off waiting, but then I decided his motives were gross and walked away.
Have you ever met someone you’ve only seen on a screen? It’s singular. Here we go. When he first rounded the corner, I saw him and immediately began arguing with myself about whether it was actually him. It looked like, it looked like, it looked like, but something was different. More, no one else seemed to be noticing — even the autograph hound, who was waiting as anxiously as I was. Then I realized that what was different was that I was looking for someone who had only ever been flat.
How’s that for commentary on how we think of celebrity?
As soon as I admitted this to myself, he became real, and I knew. Leaving everybody behind, I walked to meet him halfway. He slowed down. His hands were full of stuff, probably just to hide himself, and I felt a pang of guilt at bothering him. I really doubt that I found any words to speak, but he knew the drill. “I can’t see what it is,” he said, of the program in my hand. I moved my fingers, revealing his face. “Okay,” he said. “Will you take the cap off for me?”
I uncapped the Sharpie so that he could keep his things in his other hand, and he happily signed the Headliner for me. I opened my mouth at last to ask him a question, beginning to hold up my disposable camera, and that was when the autograph hound jumped in front of me. He must have realized what was happening when I went over. “Would you sign this, too, Mr. Curry?” he demanded.
And believe it or not, Tim Curry looked at him with a straight face and said, “Sorry, I only sign Spamalot stuff.” I hugged the Headliner (from A Christmas Carol, remember) to my chest. I understood that Tim was snubbing this guy, and had done something sweet for me. He had to know the difference, then, between fans and those who are out to make money. It felt nice to be recognized as the former, but I was also sad that the moment had ended for me so soon. I hadn’t gotten a chance to say anything, or to hand over the card, and now he sounded so annoyed. He would have to get out of the alley before a mob descended, and the shark was being persistent: “Aw, come on. We’ve got tickets to the show later,” and so on.
“Fine,” said Mr. Curry, and slashed something across one of the man’s photos. I was looking at the ground, having backed off to give Mr. Curry the chance to get away. He was a human being, and I didn’t want to bother him. But then he’d bent so his face was in my vision, and asked, “Now, who’s taking the picture?”
I felt the grateful smile break out over my face, but still I didn’t speak. I held up the camera in my hand, then realized that was silly, when my Mom said: “I’ll do it, Mr. Curry!” So he drew me up against him. Before she raised the camera to her eye, Mom took a moment to tell him what I couldn’t: “She absolutely adores you, Mr. Curry.” Then she snapped the shot.
In it, he wears a big smile. So do I.
When that was done, there was someone from within holding the stage door open for him. He went for it, and I finally found my voice. “Mr. Curry, please wait!” I called, and for a wonder he turned around. “Happy birthday,” I said, holding out the envelope. “Well — belated.”
He smiled, at me this time instead of at a camera, and took the card from me. “Thank you so much,” he said, and was gone.
The show was a blur. It was wonderful, a spectacle, but I had just had one of the coolest experiences of my life. More, I had one more to look forward to. I went to the bathroom at intermission as I had been instructed, and sure enough at the end of the show the knights found the Holy Grail under seat A101. The peasant occupying that seat was to be rewarded.
Suddenly, I was on the stage and, when the knights moved aside, Tim Curry was waiting for me to come to him. I often wonder if he knew it would be me before that moment. Mom swears she saw him looking at me when he was off to the side and out of the lights for a quiet moment — really staring, thoughtful. It might be wishful thinking. But he had to know then, when I went to him. I signed the birthday card as “another random fan,” but through the script for the end of the show he learned my name. He sang it in three-part harmony with the cast, in fact. Then someone else in the cast took a Polaroid of all of us together, right after they’d sung my name. (See above.)
Even now, it feels like it couldn’t have possibly happened. Sure, people meet their idols. But it’s a real fairytale ending. And maybe it doesn’t further explain my love for effeminate, bisexual men and odd relationship configurations… but it does show my mother proving a maxim that Tim Curry had for me only theorized: don’t dream it, be it. As far as my life is concerned, I am going to go for the things I want — even if everyone else thinks the odds are slim.