It was in Raleigh that I realized this tour cast was a-ok by me. By Denver, I was starting to get smitten. By San Francisco, I was in love. Raleigh was the first trip I really took for this tour cast. The adventure to Utica was to see the show again. Not to mention some much needed adventure and hang out time with Aaron. Boston was to see it again, sure. But it was also an escape from college hell and a chance to see Morgan. I went for the social scene with a side dish of the show. Raleigh, however, was a trip I took to see this cast. To get in hugs at a quieter stage door, to show my support in a southern city where I imagined the theatre scene wasn’t huge, let alone for something like Idiot. Raleigh was to test my own devotion, to see a new place, and to see Larkin go on as Johnny. Not to mention getting to see Omar do a couple more shows, a wonderful bonus.
I first realized the beginnings of love in Denver. They were the pangs bringing me to the show three times, hanging around in the cold. Most of all, they were the tears in my eyes when I thought of the rumors that Billie would be doing the SF shows. Although I knew they were just that, talk. The odds of it happening were slim to none, even the thought of this being my goodbye to Kobak wasn’t something I wanted to face. It was in my trip out to a Target to make sure I had a USB drive so that I could get Jen Bowles those episodes of Sherlock she hadn’t seen. It was my fault, I figured, being as I’d gotten her into the show in the first place. In Leslie yelling an excited hello to me from across a Starbucks that my friends had huddled in to pass the time between lotto and curtain. Van jumping on me in excitement when he spotted me at the stage door the first night. Okay, so, I was probably already in the love phase with Van and Leslie before the tour even started, but whatever. The point is, by Denver, I was smitten.
It was also in Denver that I had the cast write out “Give me sidewalk city shadows” for a tattoo, meant to be a counterpoint to my planned “My heart is like a bomb!” in OBC handwriting. Permanent ink is the kind of stupid thing you do in that puppy love phase, though, so I knew that I’d wait for San Francisco to get it inked. Give myself a couple of months to think on it. By the time I landed in Oakland there was no doubt in my mind I wanted it done in recognition of having seen 50 shows. That, it worked out, would be my first show in San Francisco. It worked beautifully, a quick stop by the tattoo shop (in walking distance from my co-op, no less) and I was slotted for the early afternoon the day after the first performance. Right at 50, and that way I’d have it on my side for the official opening night (technically the second performance of the SF run).
Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men, and it turned out that opening night meant a huge party. So showing the cast the ink would have to wait. No big deal, wasn’t like that was the last time I would be seeing the damn thing. I did, however, manage to show two of its handwriting contributors. Standing around the theatre before the show, I spotted Michael Maye. So, figuring that he might like to see what I’d done with his handwriting, I headed over to say hello. Cue awkward moment of removing cardigan, and pulling down the zipper on my dress a bit to expose my ribs. Can’t say I wasn’t worried in that moment about flashing him (and the folks around us), but I managed. It was worth it, he freaked out, showing the ink to his theatre friends around him and hugging me. A photographer who had been tasked with taking opening night photos apparently thought the two of us made a cute pair and soon she was taking a photo of the oh so happy couple. You can, if you look closely, tell that I hadn’t zipped my dress back up.
Luck was also on my side when it came to Jen Bowles, who I wanted most of all to see the ink. She saw me while passing by the theatre pre-show and came scampering over excitedly. It seems she’d seen my rather cryptic tweet about making sure to find me that night. I unzipped the dress and brilliantly showed her the wrong side at first. Turning, I pointed to her handwriting scrawled on my ribs. It was still surrounded by angry red skin and visibly raised and sore, but I didn’t care. She lit up. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember how tightly she pulled me into a hug. The new ink stung at the pressure but I didn’t even notice until after we’d said goodbye. The whole time I had a little, sheepish smile on my face. The tattoo, to me, was and is a small gesture. It’s for me most of all. Plus, to be honest, I expected the minor freakouts. The tears in Jen’s eyes, though, hit me.
The rest of the cast didn’t see the ink until a few days later when I came to the show for my third San Francisco go round. I called Larkin over by name. Already being prepared, I’d worn a top that didn’t take crazy amounts of removal to show off my ribs. All I had to do was pull the side down a bit and my bra up. Larkin’s freakout was instant and adorable. “Oh my god! You used my handwriting!” he exclaimed. “Who else’s is in there?” I answered. It’s five people: Jen, Larkin, Kobak, Gabbi, and Leslie. Five words, five cast members. Partially random, but mostly planned in advance. Larkin’s ended up in the mix mainly by chance. He’d seen some other folks writing out the phrase in my notebook and ran over excitedly, psyched to join the apparently party going on in my corner. After scrawling out the phrase, it seemed to dawn on him what it was likely for and he began immediately apologizing for forcing his way into the situation. He told me over and over not to feel pressured to use his, it was messy, he totally understood, really, it was fine, he didn’t mean to force himself, over and over. It was a similar situation now as he pulled out his iPhone. “Can I take photo?” Of course he could, I replied and before it was even out of my mouth he was apologizing again. “Wait. I’m sorry. That’s creepy. Is that creepy? That’s weird, isn’t it? I’m sorry. It’s weird. I didn’t mean to be-“ Somehow, I calmed the boy down enough for him to be able to handle his iPhone and shoot a photo.
Kobak was the next to see the ink, having been physically pulled over by a still overexcited Larkin. His reaction was calmer, but just as sweet. Larkin pointed out each of their handwritings and Josh responded by pulling me into a tight hug. “Thank you! Just, thank you. We’ll see you around some more, won’t we?” I assured him that I wasn’t going anywhere and he smiled before wandering off into some adoring fans desperate for St. Jimmy’s autograph.
You can tell how close this cast is. Leslie’s first reaction to the ink was to call over Gabbi and demand she come see this immediately. Gabbi, however, insisted that she had family to attend to. At this, Leslie insisted that I must show this to Van as soon as possible, he’d absolutely love it. Then she grabbed Krystina to show the ink off to. Van’s handwriting, on the Broadway side of the ink, sparked us standing there in the cold pulling back various pieces of clothing to show off various pieces of our ink. I did, however, manage to stop him from taking off his pants to show off his thigh piece. Oh, Van.
That night perhaps sparked the transition from infatuation to love. After that, though, I took some time off from the week. Three shows in a week, I figured, was quite enough considering the thing was in the middle of a four-week run. I continued a healthy pacing until Aaron showed up. Of course, we went Aaron’s first night in the city, though because of going back and forth between the airport and Berkeley and back to the city, we fucked up big time at getting on the rush line in time. Our aggravation with this predicament was, however, lightened immensely by a guest appearance by Miss Duck Saucy (aka Kelvin in drag) who was on his way to pride festivities going on all around the theatre. Out of nowhere, Kelvin was curtseying in front of us and tapping each of us with his parasol. The folks around us in line, casual fans probably new to the show, were visibly confused and slightly afraid. Soon after, 6 PM came. We ended up with Aaron in a rush seat and me in a partial view. This was remedied in the theatre, though, by a woman who figured we’d like to sit together and was happy to trade her rush seat for an honestly much better seat in my partial view.
Mouthed greetings and smiles at curtain call, the pulling of silly faces at each other mid-show, and staring contests with the cast become commonplace when you see a show a lot from right in front. Gotta do something to keep ourselves amused, right? Topping the list of hilarious acknowledgements from the stage though, was that night. Van, clearly enthralled to have me and Aaron together again and in the front row, spent half the show messing with us. For those who don’t know, Good Riddance usually has two guitar solos. Johnny aka Van plays the first half and whoever is on Will duty does the second. As soon as the solo began, Van headed straight for the two us. He spent the whole thing making faces at us, bent completely over on the side of the stage, grinning and wailing on that acoustic guitar- straight through Jake’s solo.
That was followed by a stage door filled with excited hugs and long conversations on the terrifying nature of the Tenderloin where the theatre is located. Go figure Aaron and I were back about three days later. It was the show’s last week that solidified it for me, this was love. The more time I’ve been spending with straight-up Green Day fans the more I’ve realized it. I’ve had to defend this cast time and time again against closed-minded fans of the Broadway show who had barely (or not at all) been out to see the tour. They miss Michael Esper. They miss Theo. But what I think they really, truly miss, is their own special snowflake status. People had forged some relationships with the tour cast, I had too. They were brought backstage occasionally and met with excitement when they showed up. In their head, they were the favorite sons and daughters of this show. With a new cast, that was gone. This tour cast, to them, were dead before they even started because they didn’t know who those folks were. Didn’t they get it? Didn’t they know who were those people were? How much they had seen this show on Broadway and the sort of special status they had enjoyed at the St. James? (It should be noted that I’m pretty sure that most of this status was in their heads.) It was, to quote directly from one fan, a cause of “don’t they know who I am?”
It’s hard for me to say that and reconcile it with my tales of affection and shared jokes with this cast. Yet, the feelings I had for the Broadway cast were nothing compared to the ones I developed for the kids on tour. Something about the always relatively peaceful stage doors, new actors, and getting in from the beginning (literally the first show in Utica), combined to forge bonds between us. Not to mention the devotion some tour fans showed, appearing in city after city, clearly having travelled a long way. We don’t deserve any special treatment, and I don’t think we got any. We forged honest relationships and things fell how they did following from that. You can’t “earn” any special treatment by going to anything over and over. All those actors owe you is a good show. You can, however, forge honest relationships through respect, dedication, and kindness for the sake of their own rewards and occasionally a bonus falls through the cracks.
The last two weeks were filled with the sorts of acts of kindness that I can’t think too hard about or I’ll risk tears. Heavy tears. A signed drumhead bestowed one each on myself and Aaron from Kelvin and Rico at the benefit the cast did on their off night. They weren’t selling and Rico didn’t want to carry them home. The backstage tour Kelvin gave me and Aaron one afternoon, completely unprompted and unexpected. It was the sweetest gesture, especially after he’d gone on as Will and done an entire talkback for some random group of kids. The details of that benefit and trip backstage are another.
Out of all of it what means the most to me, though, are the memories I’m taking home with me from closing. The goodbyes that we said, one by one, creating private moments in a huge crowd of faces neither us nor the cast had ever seen before. Some were confused by our presence. We stood without camera, playbills away in our bags, sharpies not readily accessible. We’d found a corner away from the mobs where we could get some relative peace and quiet. A few of us stood, letting folks sign their autographs and take their smiling photos before coming over to us.
The goodbyes varied in length and tone. Kobak stood with us for a few moments, chatting and hugging me for a while and Aaron for even longer. As him and Aaron chatted, Nicci came running over to us, overflowing with thanks to us for all the support and flowers. As she went to hug me, so did Josh, leading to some laughs as Josh feigned severe offense. It was a sweet moment, my favorite of the entire afternoon. Us all standing there in a crowd, laughing over nothing. With Leslie we laughed and smiled, reminisced a little of the good times we’d all had. We thanked each other for devotion to this show for over two years. Goodbyes with Jarran were short, we acknowledged that we’d never gotten to know each other properly and laughed over it. Kelvin came over with his robe in hand, a gift he’d brought me. I can’t imagine a better one, as strange a choice as it is. I cried on him.
Jen’s goodbye was short and sweet. She came out to sign autographs and looked over at us. Her makeup was still a little smudged from the tears she’d shed on stage. My eyes were noticeably filled with tears. It should be noted, they are now as well as I write. I’m sure the folks with me on this plane find this strange, but what can you do? As Jen and I looked at each other, we both knew this one wouldn’t be easy. She paused. “I’ll come back to you guys when I’m done signing for everyone else!” And she did. It was the shortest goodbye of the day. We kept unspoken why. Nobody wanted to make it hurt any more than it had to. Long hugs and choking back tears and she was gone.
It was the goodbye to Talia that proved the catalyst. She came up to us barely preventing her tears from climbing over her lower eyelid into free fall. I knew I had to do the same, if one of us broke the other surely would. We’d learned this lesson over the past few days during performances. My usual rush seat was right in front of where she stood during the last few numbers of the show. As soon as one of us broke during “September” we were both done for the rest of the show.
Crying is contagious in a funny sort of way. It’s not like yawning or puking, incited in some by the sight of others engaging. I suppose in some ways it’s a visceral reaction, like those others. There’s a relief to it, though. Seeing one person breaking gives permission. Emotions become okay. Not to mention the strength in numbers I’ve learned exists in sobbing. Sobbing alone makes you a pariah. Excessively emotional. Crazy. Not to be gone near. In numbers, it’s a show of strength. It’s a genuine reaction. It’s a bonding experience. When I saw Talia crying onstage, it was more than that. It brought home that this was ending. It became real. No longer could I push it to the back of my mind, become numb to the show.
That numbness was something I’d barely noticed through the entire end of the Broadway run and into the beginning of the tour. It didn’t take away my enjoyment of the music, the jokes, the sisterhood of Idiots. Maybe because of those things, I didn’t have to notice my numbness. I’d stopped letting the show get at me. I’d stopped letting just about anything get to me. The longer it went on, the more aware of it I became. Frankly, it terrified me. I have always been an exceptionally emotional creature. Crying is my coping method. Sobbing things out for an hour actually helps me a lot and I knew that. Yet, after a massive breakdown my junior year of high school, I became numb. I’d break halfway through a school day and the people around me’s only response was asking me to please just stop crying and function. Soon enough, it was internalized completely.
So there I was, years since I’d felt anger and now unable to feel intense, cathartic pain. Occasionally, I could force some tears at the end of Idiot, mostly to keep up appearances, as much to myself as to anyone else. Plus, part of the competitive nature that became part of the fandom for this show was getting emotionally attached. Crying during “Whatsername” was a badge of honor. But that last week? There I went. I went down every single time I went (and I went almost every night the last week). Honest tears. Real tears. I was facing the honest reality of saying goodbye to Van’s portrayal of Johnny. Forever. All the emotions I’d ever felt over that became real. “September” reminded of the pain of goodbyes, to this show and to other things I’d loved. Of my first love. My teenage years, having started 7 years ago. Horses I’d lost. “Whatsername” became above all about this cast. Not this show, this cast. The probability in a few months or maybe even a few years, we’d be strangers on the street.
It was the reference point that made it painful. I thought of all the Broadway folks, actors, theatre staff, fans, that were just faces on the street now. All the folks I hadn’t seen at all since the end of the run. The ones I hadn’t said goodbye to, just let them disappear. By the middle of the song, I was sobbing. Closing show, the tears began when the girls ran out during “American Idiot”.
So, when Kelvin saw me sobbing at the stage door after we’d said our goodbyes and most of the crowd had dispersed and told me to “get it together, girl,” with an extra dose of sass, I just smiled. When I cried on Oak, I explained. “I haven’t felt in years. I didn’t feel when Broadway closed, really. It might sound weird, but I’m so happy to be crying. I’m happy right now, tears be damned.” I told Kelvin as much as well. I don’t imagine they got it, but those tears were happy. After having said our teary goodbyes, Talia and I made eye contact across the crowd. We were both crying but we were also grinning like Idiots at each other and laughing over the tears.
A drunk Gabe expressed relief that we’d made it through the night alive. He almost told a tale of how they’d tried to send us pizza, although the attempt had ultimately failed. Scott hugged me. It was weird. I didn’t say a word to Jake Epstein and I was okay with that. Vince hugged me and it was sweet. Jillian and I said goodbye by complimenting each other’s fashion choices. Fitting. Gabbi and I had a happy go lucky sort of goodbye. We remembered our first meetings in Utica with a smile. Dan gave Aaron his St. Jimmy shirt. I had Josh sign “Death of St. Jimmy” tank top I’d ended up with, not knowing if it was his or Van’s. We figured out it was Van’s because of how torn up with was. His own costume was significantly less ripped by necessity – his nipple piercings would snag. We hugged goodbye – again. Kelvin and I blew kisses at each other from across the crowd.
And finally, it came to Van. He had a moment with Aaron, but I hadn’t really managed to pull him aside for a real “goodbye”. I needed to say the word, knowing it wasn’t anything near permanent. It was my goodbye to American Idiot Van. To Van’s portrayal of Johnny. Letting go of that and holding happily onto the memories and lessons I’d gained from it. There’s a photo of me standing next to him, about to tap him on the shoulder to say goodbye for real. There are noticeable tears in my eyes and a small smile on my face. It is my favorite photo of me ever taken.
I tapped him on the shoulder. “You weren’t going to leave without saying goodbye, were you now?” I teased. He pulled me into a hug. I tried my best to keep my tears in my eyes and off his hoodie. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was suitably lighthearted. I do remember joking about the sweat rag that had been thrown at my faces at the end of the show by a well-meaning crew member. He kindly informed me that it contained lots of body fluids. “Sweat, blood, tears…smegma,” Oh, Van. Motherfucking gross, dude. I probably apologized from crying on him. “You’ll see me soon,” he said, before leaving. “Bye for now, Van.” “Bye for now, Decca.”