I was going through a book case earlier this week and ran across this:
The very first time I met Ken in January of 2001, one of the random things we shared in common was our improv training–though his was far deeper than mine and really just a component of a much broader acting arsenal. But it was unique and bonding nonetheless. As I learned more about him and his acting credits, he would reference “my show” from time to time. I would ask “what show?” and he’d reply matter-of-factly, “my one man show.” It was about his then-thirty-year journey with cancer, beginning with his below-knee amputation at age 15 of his left leg. He talked about it with such fervor, commitment and frequency, I thought it was something he’d put together and performed already. But that wasn’t the case. It hadn’t been performed yet.
I’d long entertained dreams of getting the gang together and putting on a show in the old barn, and began asking him questions like “what needs to happen to get this going?” He would tell me, and we’d talk it out and figure out next steps. He enlisted many friends in his creative orbit who helped him move his one-man show closer to being a reality. He asked a few of my friends to lend their voices for some voice over spots in the show. I didn’t escape the fun either. Ken asked me to run the lighting and sound board in the little theater on Halsted where the show would be performed. And so I did, wanting to be the kind of boyfriend who supported (shitting my pants each and every week for two hours including intermission, running something that looked like it could launch space shuttles.)
Hearing Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” blasting out of the Jimmy John’s in my office building’s lobby recently took me back to that tiny little theater in summer of 2002. The song played during a pivotal and memorable moment in the show. And while I had no idea what I was doing in the booth, so much was riding on my not messing up. Ken’s was such an important story to be told.
Terrified or not, it was exciting to be a part of such a creative collaboration. It was the first time of many Ken lovingly pushed me out of my comfort zone, leaving his own performance in potential jeopardy. Years later during the months he was home for hospice, I was so far away from my comfort zone, I couldn’t even find it with Google Maps. But there was great worth in each experience, and none more profound than those last months we spent together, defining our own “normal.” And none more fun than helping him bring his one-man show to fruition.
And for four Sundays in August of 2002–our last month in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles for four years–“My Foot Left” starring kenan derson (Ken’s stage and eventual Screen Actors Guild name) was performed in front of packed and eager houses. I can still feel the urgency, excitement and anticipation when I think about those weekends of workshops and tech rehearsals. The performances were a nerve-racking two hours that seemed to move in fast forward motion. Watching him tell–show–his story made me gush with pride and love for him. He was a doer and a teacher, and it was never more clear to me than during these performances.
Collaboration was something that came easy to us. And something we did often for the ten years we were together. The sense of pride I feel in helping with this production is probably unparalleled thus far in my life. And it’s an experience I think back so fondly on. One of the aspects I treasure the most is working with our friends to put the show together. He depended upon us. And we delivered.
Below is an abridged video (~one hour) of one of the performances from that summer in 2002.