Back in the day he’d been on the edge of my consciousness, what with music for Purple Rain and Batman (that soundtrack’s “The Arms of Orion” duet with Sheena Easton is, note for note, a delectably romantic morsel of pop craftsmanship); aside from those, I owned approximately one other Prince album (Lovesexy), but I still wouldn’t have called myself a giant fan. That changed when I was cast in an Off-Off Broadway production of Kleist’s Penthesilia. I hadn’t done a play in a while, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying—such were the dearth of roles during that period that I’d stepped out of theater into the world of cabaret and clubs. If I couldn’t act, then I’d do the next best thing, I reasoned: sing.
Someone in the cast championed me to the director after they’d lost the original actor. The part was small—I remember I had a monologue but I was essentially one cog in a large ensemble, which was fine. What wasn’t was that painful process of re-discovering how to occupy long stretches in front of an audience while finding ways to suggest the inner life of a character without saying a word. I recall it as an uncomfortable but necessary process, this re-learning of theatrical rigors that had grown rusty.
The cast was talented and a hair younger than me. One of the highlights: the way they worked themselves up to tell Kleist’s mythological tale of women warriors, and the men who loved them, was to blast music during our warmups. Prince was heavy in their rotation—even now I can feel thumping beats filling us with a power that fed the story we were to tell in all the right ways. Aided by this (and a ton of research) by the time we opened, I felt more than ready to inhabit those explosive moments Kleist had created along with the rest of the cast.
Towards the end of the run, someone threw a party. To the strains of “Sexy Muthafucka” we weaved and bopped to a cathartic fare-thee-well late into the night, feeling scarily sexy, triumphantly secure in the knowledge that we pulled it off.
People die and we romanticize. But in recalling a time when I managed to get back on the horse despite my fears, I felt Prince had my back. I’m in his debt. RIP.