14 August, 2017

Friends I Went to Summer Camp With: A List

Interlochen Arts Camp is located between two freshwater lakes in northern Michigan, and was the magical location of the majority of the lasting relationships I still cherish as an adult. 

Not everyone I met and be-friended is still in the arts, but most of them are kicking major butt, and all of them became the wonderful human beings they promised to become as children.

Summer arts camp is a funny thing—there you are, eleven years old an a total weirdo back home, and you get to spend 8 weeks with a handful of other weirdos just as passionate, talented, freakishly informed about a single art-form  as you are.

Three of those weirdos for me were:

Alex Michaels, known today as Alexis Michelle of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 fame. (SHE IS FEROCIOUS and go see her werk). Little baby Alex and I met the summer we were ten and eleven. He had braces. I had glasses.

The day we met, we were auditioning for the Intermediate summer operetta, and, had to audition in front of the entire group of fellow middle schoolers vying for a role. What I remember best was that Alex and I BOTH sang excerpts from Show Boat, geeked OUT over one another’s talent and a shared obsession with Rebecca Luker, and never looked back. He was my first “best gay” and I was his first “best gal.” (Incidentally, we were both cast in that operetta as the comedy sidekicks…)

Last month, we reunited on stage at 54 Below, singing together once again, celebrating 20 years of friendship that all began in the Northern woods.

Santino Fontana was my first ever scene partner! We met the summer of 1999 in ADVANCED ACTING TECHNIQUE (faaancy), and what I recall above all else is that
     1. The scene was a John Patrick Shanley classic that I only now realize as probably mildly inappropriate for teenagers
     2. We were REALLY into it and dare I say it, kind of good, and
     3. We performed our scene n what, at the time, was a very advanced form of communication called THE INTERNET. That’s right, we performed our scene and got feedback VIA SATELLITE for, of all people, Matthew Broderick.

I followed Santino to college (even though I had to leave the program to grieve the loss of my Dad) and he’s been one of my friends and artistic allies ever since. We’ve been there through epic highs and lows throughout all of adolescence and life. From the

Santino is not only (to quote his wife Jessica) "a unicorn" of talent, to his family and friends, he is the absolute loyalest man I know—unflinchingly, with all of his heart. When we made our Carnegie Hall debuts together in 2013, it had been a roller-coaster couple of years for both of us, and what a triumph. We'd "practiced." And above all, it was pretty special to realize that we’ll always just be those kids from Advanced Acting Tech.
At our shared Carnegie Hall debuts in 2013

THEN. ...Holy Moly.
Michael Arden and I met the same summer, and he was also in that Advanced Acting Technique class (that class was… obviously… fairly promising…). We instantly bonded, singing together at every opportunity, joined at the hip as budding artists and humans. The inside-jokes are countless.

Michael and I met at camp, but our friendship deepened and was made permanent when we went to the yearlong academy— we literally did almost every show opposite one another (he was the Charlie Brown to my Lucy, the Georg to my Amalia, etc).

Michael and I have both been through our share of tough stuff early on in life, and our families became very close as we grew up. His grandfather, Jim, wrote me a letter he handed me at high-school graduation. This deeply feeling, but very quiet Texan wrote that seeing Michael and I together on stage were "the happiest moments of my life" and that "it is the dream of my life to see you together on Broadway someday."


I was there for Michael's Broadway debut, he was there for mine. And last year, when we were both in the same season on Broadway, I was one of his guests at the opening night of Spring Awakening, and he was one of mine at Fiddler on the Roof.

Jim's dream came true. If only he, his wife Pat, and my father could have been there to witness it. That said, they were. They are a part of everything Michael and I are, and do; and because they gave us the gift of Interlochen, they gave us the gift of one another.

For Michael is, without exception, the artist with whom I credit with forming my capacity early on. Like a chess or tennis player who had the world’s best opponent to make their skills all the sharper, acting opposite Michael constantly made me better, and I owe everything I am today to that start. 

2016, Opening Night of Fiddler: a shared Broadway Season. Dream come true.

Camp. Magical.



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