A Different Story, Inspired By the Events of September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001 marks a date most of us will never forget. There’s no need to repeat the sights, sounds and heartache of that day, when so many, far more eloquent than I, have done so since that tragedy. I don’t even want to discuss the politics of that date, and the days following, most of which has also been reported, over and over, fairly thoroughly.

For me, September 11th started a few years or so before the actual event. That’s the story I have never talked about publicly before today.

Sometime in 1998, my wife and I were informed the rent on our tiny, 12′ x 17′ studio apartment on the upper-East Side of Manhattan, was going to be raised to $1200, a figure we simply could not accept. So, like many New Yorkers in the same boat as us, we decided it was time to look for someplace else to live.

We started the hunt in Hells Kitchen, an aptly named neighborhood, stretching from around 34th to 59th Streets, on the very west side of the City. In an effort to make the area sound a tad classier, real estate brokers called the neighborhood, Clinton. How better to justify the exorbitant rents.

At this point, for those who’ve never lived in NYC, I should explain how the game of renting even the shittiest apartment, worked back then (I say back then, as it’s the last time I had to deal with it).

A number of years earlier, the owners of apartment buildings in NYC realized they could make a killing by having a second party — usually a friend or relative — open an apartment rental agency, which would then represent all the apartment buildings owned by friend or relative #1. That way, you couldn’t rent directly from an apartment building’s owner. You had to go to the agency “repping” a building (or, more often, buildings).

Why would they go through this charade I hear you ask. Simple, a rental agency’s fee for “finding you” an apartment was, legally, anywhere from 15-25% of a year’s rent. To be fair, most agencies charged 15%. So to rent an apartment in NYC, you had to come up with first and last months rent, plus a 15% fee to the rental agency (more often than not, owned by the owner of the buildings you were looking at).

If you figure a small studio apartment (like ours) went for around $1200 a month at the time, that means to rent it, you needed to come up with $2400, plus a non-refundable agency fee of $2160. That’s a total of $4560 before you movie in. But that’s not all — most agencies wanted you to prove you earned at least 52 times your monthly rent — in this case, $62,400, per year. And if you happened to own a dog, as we did, there would also be a non-refundable pet fee ($500), plus, in some cases, you actually had to pay an additional rent for the dog (cats, you could sneak in).

If you work on Wall Street, that number might sound minuscule. But if, like my wife and I (and thousands of others), you’re an actor, never knowing when your next real job will appear, it means you’re also waiting tables, doing clerical work in an office, or something to help you survive. In that situation, you usually won’t have pay stubs, or a tax return proving you earn at least $62,400 a year. To get around this obstacle, what many of us did back then was, forge the documents.

So, for all this, what were we shown (and by “shown,” what I mean is, if an agency has an apartment you want to see, you leave them your driver’s license, or a credit card, they hand you a key, and you go look)? More studios apartments, only in these places, you had little innovations like the tub also serving as your kitchen table (you just pick the top off, and bathe). We were shown shithole after shithole, some claiming to have been recently remodeled — maybe a new fridge, or stove — more often than not, it simply meant a new paint job.

Being a tad frustrated, we were talking to another actor friend one day, who said, you need to come look at Jersey City! Jersey City? You mean, like, across the Hudson…in Jersey?

You have to understand, to me, a native New Yorker, New Jersey might as well have been another planet. If someone told you they lived in New Jersey, the immediate response was, what exit? Again, for those unfamiliar with the east coast, Jersey is known for it’s exits along I-95 and the Garden State Parkway. New Yorkers did not cross the Hudson.

But, being desperate, we decided, what the hell. What we didn’t know was, there was a subway we’d never heard of (or bothered to notice), called the PATH, running from Herald Sq. (in front of Macy’s), running down to Greenwich Village, and then under the Hudson, to Jersey City. At the time it cost less than the subway, and was a lot cleaner. So, surprisingly, we were off to a good start.

The trip ended with the second stop in Jersey City, at Grove Street. It had taken about 20 minutes from Herald Sq., which was kind of amazing as it took us a 15-minute walk from our studio on the very East Side, to even get to the subway going downtown. Being so close to the City, Grove St. was kind of a shock, as, at the time, it had much more of a small-town feel. But, there was a pizzeria and Duncan Donuts right there at the PATH station, which we found somewhat comforting.

Anyway, a two-minute, block and a half walk down Grove Street, took us our friends’ building. He was living in a studio there, as well. But when he opened the door and we looked in, what we saw was a cavern! This studio was HUGE! We could easily have fit three of our studios into his. He had high ceilings, and it was bright. So I asked, how much are you paying for this? $500 a month, came the answer. After I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked if there happened to be any other apartments available in the building. So, my friend looked out his rear-facing window, into a small backyard, where a family was having a barbecue. He opened the window, and shouted down, “Hey Moustafa, you have any apartments available?” As it happened, he did — a 3-bedroom on the top floor.

My wife and I almost choked, knowing there was no way we could afford a 3-bedroom, but our friend said, what the hell, you can at least take a look. So we did. When Moustafa, the landlord, opened the door, we both almost passed out. The room we saw — a combination living-dining room — was huge. It had new carpeting, and recessed lighting in the ceiling. On the other side of the room, was the kitchen. Not a narrow, NYC kind of kitchen you couldn’t fit two people in, but a real kitchen! Tons of shelf space, and — oh my g_d! — a dishwasher!

The first bedroom was also off the living room. It was a pretty fair-sized bedroom, almost the size of our entire studio, overlooking Grove Street. But it also had a closet running the entire width of the room. Then, we proceeded down the hall. The first thing we noticed was a cubbyhole for a stackable washer-dryer. We didn’t have a washer dryer, but this freaking apartment had a place for one. Movinging further down the hall, we came upon a very nice bathroom — full tub, toilet, sink with vanity — no kitchen table. And roomy. Okay. Beyond that were two doors. We went through the one on the right, first. The second bedroom was bigger than the first, and, like the other, had a closet running across the entire width.

But the most incredible part came when we looked out the window. There, stretched before us, was the entire skyline of NYC, with the World Trade Center prominently visible in front of us. We just stood there a moment, looking — kind of like tourists seeing Manhattan for the first time.

Then we went into the third bedroom. It was huge. I mean, really big, with high ceilings, and the same breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline. But i this room, the closet was different. Instead of running along the entire wall, this bedroom had a seven foot-deep, walk-in closet, with racks and shelving on both sides. But, no, that wasn’t it for this room. We had one more surprise in store. This bedroom had it’s own bathroom! A second, full, master bathroom. And, holy shit!!! The tub had jacuzzi jets!

By this point I was salivating. But I knew this was also the point where the fantasy would come crashing down. So, not really wanting to hear the answer, I asked Moustafa, how much the apartment rented for? He said, I’m asking $1200 a month. Before I could say a word, my wife turned to me and said, “but we said we didn’t want to pay more than $1100.” Before I could say, are you out of your fucking mind, Moustafa said, “I like you two. I’ll give you the first year for $1100 a month.” I turned to my wife and said, “write him a check.” I was not about to let this palace get away. So I started to take out all the forged paperwork I’d created to prove we made enough to afford this place. Moustafa just shook it off. I don’t need to see all that — I trust you.

And that is how we left the city of my birth, and moved across the Hudson, to Jersey City, and an incredible apartment with the most amazing view of Manhattan you could ask for, with the World Trade Center prominently featured.

One of the more unexpected, and kind of breathtaking things we learned, on days the Hudson got fogged over, the WTC seemed to disappear. Then, as the fog lifted, like Brigadoon, it would magically reappear. It was cool, beautiful and, at the same time, somewhat eerie.

After having lived in Jersey City for a year or so, my wife found a day job at a financial institution with offices in the WTC. It was an incredibly short, if crowded commute. Two stops on the PATH train, ending right underneath the twin towers. Two-minute walk to the PATH. Five minutes underground. That was her daily commute.

During the year, we had also gotten ourselves a roommate, which helped cut our expenses. The second bedroom, next to ours, we turned into our home office, where I worked, when not teaching or acting in the City. It was truly ideal.

But all of that changed one unbelievable day in the year 2000.

Tanya, my wife, and I spent the entrance to the new millennium with my family in Norfolk, VA. My brothers, Richard and Ethan, were then running 2nd Story Theatre, a non-profit stage company the three of us had started, number of years before. It was a nice way to ring in the new year, and we had a wonderful time.

Back home, I was working on the script for a television pilot, my friend Joe and I were writing. Things were looking very up. Then, as so often happens, we lost the funding for our pilot.

At this point, I should mention — I have a certain degree of psychic ability. I have no control over it, but sometimes I know things are going to happen before they do. It also helps me read people — who they are, their thoughts and dreams, and, sometimes, their intent. The one person I’ve never been able to use this gift to help, is me. When it comes to predicting my future, I haven’t got a clue.

I mention this because, one night, a few months into the new year, I had what I can only describe as the most vivid dream of my life. In the dream, I saw the southern tip of Manhattan immersed in smoke. I didn’t know if it was from a bomb, an earthquake or something else. But in the midst of all this smoke and destruction, the most frightening aspect was, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were no longer there. They, along with pretty much everything in the area, were destroyed.

I woke up with a start, my breath coming in heaves. The first thing I did was look out at the window, to ensure myself the twin towers were still there. But I couldn’t shake the dream/vision I’d just had, and felt nothing other than a complete and utter sense of danger.

I slowly walked into our home office where Tanya was working on the computer. As usual, she greeted me with the loving smile that always melts my heart. But this time, I couldn’t push back the dream I’d just had. So I pulled another chair up to the desk, took Tanya’s hands in mine, and told her about my dream. I finished by saying something I hadn’t really known I was thinking. What I said was, “I don’t think we’re safe here, anymore. I think we have to get out of here.”

There are people who would have looked at me as if I was crazy. There are those who would have said, “are you insane? Our entire lives are here. Our careers are here.” And who would have been able to blame them?

But that’s not Tanya’s and my relationship. Our love, and our understanding of each other goes much deeper than that. having heard me out, she looked at me quite seriously, and said, “then I think it’s time we leave.”

A few days later, I received a call from my brother, Ethan. He was calling on behalf of himself and Richard. And the timing of what he had to say simply fit the moment, perfectly. “Rick and I are totally burnt out running the theatre. Is there any chance you and Tanya would be interested in moving down here and taking over the theatre for us?”

Exactly 60 days from the date of my dream, an army of our friends came over, and helped us pack a truck being supplied by one of our friends. We put all our belongings in the truck, and whatever was left, into our car, and left our beautiful Jersey City apartment, for a new home in Norfolk, VA, an apartment we’d never seen, which my brother, Richard, had rented for us.

When we got to Virginia, and went over to the theatre, a loft on the 2nd Story of a building (thus the company name), we found a company in total disarray. Grant applications had not been finished, loose contracts lost us the next play scheduled in the season, and the script for the play after that, was not only unfinished, what had been written was a disaster. The final blow our first week there, was finding out our landlord was cancelling our lease, leaving a theatre company with no home.

We did our best, managing to find a new space, which turned out to be temporary and changing the name of the company to the Actors Repertory Theatre.  We managed to produce the East Coast premiere of a wonderful play, Supernormal Clutches, which Tanya co-starred in, and I directed. But after a series of further disasters, we decided our only choice was to relocate ourselves, and the company. So we moved to Frederick, MD, Tanya’s hometown, northwest of Washington, DC.

As we were working to get ART up and running in Frederick, Tanya took a temp job, to help keep us afloat until we were back in production. That was where she was on the morning of September 11, 2001. I woke that morning, to a shaky call from Tanya, who told me to turn on the television — quickly. Five minutes later, with the first WTC building already in smoke and flames, I watched as a plane rammed into the second twin tower.

The rest of that story is known by everyone, especially our friends who were nearby, or helping as first responders. Tanya came home a short while later. Her temp job had let her go, because they didn’t approve of her reaction to what she’d witnessed — the destruction of a building which, up until we’d left Jersey City and Manhattan less than a year and a half earlier — where she’d worked. Had we still been there, Tanya would have been arriving at the WTC subway stop, under the twin towers, just as the first plane hit.

In the years since, Tanya has said (on multiple occasions), my dream probably saved her life. No question life would have been much different had we stayed.

The events of that day, ended up changing the lives of millions of people. Not just those who perished that day, their families, and the entire City of New York. Not just the people who died when the plane hit the Pentagon and their families, and not just the people of flight 93, who crashed their plane in Shanksville, PA, to save others, and their families. It affected all Americans, and eventually hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, as well.

But for Tanya and I, while we feel the same anger, sadness, and sense of loss felt by all Americans, there is also something else. A feeling of gratitude that, for whatever reason, some power — whatever you want to call it — I find no need to define it, warned us well in advance, and saved us. It allowed us to share the strange ride we’ve taken ever since.

It was something special, and it kept us together.

 

 

And Now For Something Completely Different — Comedy! Part Two

As with many of my generation (especially boys), my first major comedy influence was The Three Stooges. Yeah, yeah — I can already hear the groans! There’s an old saw which says, boys (especially from my generation) love The Three Stooges. On the other hand, girls hate them. Obviously, there are exceptions, but in my experience, more often than not, the rule holds true .

Thanks to my mother, who kept files of everything having to do with her four sons throughout our childhoods, I have a paper written in 1962 (1st grade/2nd grade — who remembers). It was (and I’m being kind here) a picture I drew of a man (more of a stick figure) standing between what I assume are two large klieg lights (and for some strange reason I can’t remember, what looks to be a big plant next to him). At the top of the page I wrote the words, “I want to be an actor. When I see the Three Stooges, I get an iden (yes, my six-year-old self misspelled the word, idea) I want to be an actor.

A few years later, I was introduced to four complete and utter maniacs. Their names — Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo — The Marx Bros. I couldn’t get enough of them (still can’t) — The Cocoanuts, A Night At the Opera, Duck Soup, and then, the miraculous re-release of Animal Crackers, unseen for years. What The Stooges started, The Marx Bros. completed. I would be a comic actor, fate sealed!

Comedically, I’ve had numerous influences through the years. I’ve probably appeared in, or directed more Neil Simon plays than I can count. It is my firm belief, Simon is a genius, especially when it comes to dialogue. I find it sad so many of Simon’s stage plays didn’t transfer all that well to the screen (with notable exceptions, The Odd Couple being a major example). And the team of Richard Dreyfus and Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl, is as good as romantic comedy gets.

On stage, it was Simon and Murray Schisgal, followed later by writers like Paul Rudnick. And Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, which was rerun throughout the 1970s, was sheer brilliance. Then came the films of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen (both graduates of the Sid Caesar school of comedy, as was Simon), and so very many others. These people and their work, taught me more about the crafts of acting, writing and directing than any college or professional program ever could.

I was also fortunate enough to grow up in the age of Firesign Theatre, Monty Python, Peter Cooke & Dudley Moore, SCTV, the original National Lampoon gang, and, a little later, the original cast of Saturday Night Live.

How all of this brings me to two comedic gems I feel have been woefully overlooked, I’m not sure. But both are films that have stayed with me through the years, and which I re-watch when I’m feeling the need for inspiration. The first of these films is, No Way To Treat A Lady, written by John Gay (from a story by the immortal William Goldman, whose resume is too long to recount, so I’ll just mention two — Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, and The Princess Bride). The film was directed by Jack Smight.

The second film, Where’s Poppa, with a screenplay by Robert Klane (based on his novel), was directed by the comic genius, Carl Reiner, yet another Show of Shows veteran, as well as creator and cast member of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Both films share one major thing in common — their leading man. George Segal, currently known to television audiences as “Pops” Solomon, the grandfather on ABC’s sitcom, The Goldbergs, was, in the early and mid 1960s, known as a “serious” actor. His turns in Ship of Fools, King Rat, and Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (opposite Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor), for which he received an Oscar nomination, cemented that reputation. But it was his work in No Way To Treat A Lady, and Where’s Poppa? which quickly led to other screen comedies, including The Owl & The Pussycat (opposite Barbra Streisand), The Hot Rock and Blume In Love, all of which helped cement his reputation as one of the top comedic leading men of the 1970s.

Another thing both films have in common is, there’s a darkness within the stories, which, somehow, makes the humor even funnier. In No Way To Treat A Lady, Segal plays Morris Brummel, a NYC detective on the hunt for a serial killer, played to perfection by Rod Steiger. Steiger’s character, Christopher Gill, who comes from a theatrical family, is a master of disguise and accents, which makes tracking him down incredibly difficult. Gill takes an interest in the detective hunting him, and begins calling Morris, taunting him. As I said, the story is dark. The movie is funny.

A tremendous part of the humor comes from the wonderful Eileen Heckart, as Mrs. Brummel, Morris’s mother (who he still lives with). In Heckart’s capable hands, what could easily have become a one-dimensional caricature of the standard Jewish mother, becomes a fully realized multi-dimensional human being. The gorgeous and talented Lee Remick, who becomes Segal’s romantic interest, is the one-person who has seen Gill, making her a witness, as well as a potential victim.

There’s a lot going on in this film. In lesser hands, it could easily have become a mess. But the combination of incredible acting, a superb, funny and, at times, thrilling screenplay, and Smight providing a light directorial touch, firmly places this movie on my list of Must Sees.

I have a sneaking suspicion, No Way To Treat A Lady may have led Segal to Where’s Poppa? Once again, we have Segal as NY attorney, Gordon Hocheiser , who still lives with his seemingly senile mother (the amazing, Ruth Gordon). What keeps Hocheiser home, is the deathbed promise he and his brother, Sidney (the hysterically on point, Ron Liebman) made their father, to never put Momma in a home.

When Gordon falls in love with the ethereal, almost angelic, and absolutely shiksa nurse, Louise (Trish Van Devere, perfectly cast), hired to care for Momma, Hocheiser determines the last thing he’s going to do is allow Momma to screw this one up — no matter what he has to do to prevent it.

That’s the set-up. As in No Way To Treat A Lady, we’re dealing with a dutiful Jewish son, with an overbearing mother, who falls in love with a beautiful shiksa (for the uninitiated, a shiksa is a non-Jewish woman). That’s where the films diverge. Where’s Poppa is filled with so very much more — Sidney’s nighttime runs through Central Park, an unbelievably funny courtroom scene with a pre-All In the Family Rob Reiner doing battle with the ultimate war-hawk, army Colonel, played by the great Barnard Hughes, just to mention two.

From the very first moment, Reiner the elder, directs this fast-paced film to perfection. There are moments so hysterically funny, situations so easily relatable (especially if you’re from NYC, and Jewish), you have to be careful not to laugh so hard you miss out on some of the fun.

While both films are very much of their time (late 60s to 1970), the humor stands up. Funny is funny.

In any event, these two comedies are on my list of movies you have to see — unless, of course, you have no sense of humor and don’t like comedy. I’d also like to give honorable mentions to two other films from that same time period. Harold and Maude, a story about a very rich young man with social anxieties (Bud Cort), who falls in love with a 70-something, free-spirited woman (once again, Ruth Gordon) who teaches him to enjoy life. All I can say is, it’s a wonderful, funny and even poignant film.

The other honorable mention goes to The Loved One, based on a novel by British satirist Evelyn Waugh. This comedy deals with the very profitable funeral industry in Los Angeles, and stars a young Robert Morse (fresh off the smash Broadway musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Even Trying), the always brilliant comedy of Jonathan Winters, the stunningly beautiful, Anjanette Comer, and, once again, the incredible Rod Steiger. There’s also an all-star guest cast that’s a veritable who’s who of 60s comedy.

All four of these films remain fresh and funny. They still make me laugh. And they continue to teach me about my craft.

I Am An Actor!

I am an actor. It’s a simple enough statement to make. But as my mother — a best-selling writer of romance novels — used to say, ‘when I tell people I’m a writer, someone always asks, in a somewhat condescending tone, if I’ve ever been paid to write. My answer is quite simple — if I hadn’t been paid to do it, I wouldn’t call myself a writer.’

So, yes — over the past 43 years, I have been paid to act, direct, write and teach. I took a course on filmmaking a number of years back, taught by a theatrical attorney, who told us, ‘when people ask what you do, don’t hesitate — you tell them, I’m a filmmaker!’ Once I directed my first short, I was able to add that to my hyphenates, as well. But through it all, I have always thought of myself, first and foremost, as an actor.

Six months ago, a surgical mishap virtually stripped me of my voice. Due to that, having spent most of the past 43 years, either on stages around the country, or in front of film cameras, has taken on new meaning. I hope, pray and believe my voice will return. I have to believe that. But there’s also a persistent, nagging voice in my head (the bastard voice), which keeps saying, “what if it doesn’t come back? What will that do to the person you see yourself as? How will it affect the rest of your life?”

The immediate answer is, I don’t know. To be perfectly honest, it scares the ever loving shit out of me — that much I know. But if I was told I would never able to act again, what would I do? How would that affect my sense of self? This is the question that has been bouncing around and pounding in my head over the past six months.

I can certainly continue to write (obviously). But when it comes to theater or film, I have always written for me, the actor. Do I have the ability to hand over dialogue and the juicy roles I’ve written for me to play? After 43 years as a professional (and even before that, starting in 6th grade, and continuing through my senior year of high school), I wrote roles for me, the actor. The idea of having to hand those roles to others, is infuriating, frustrating, scary, and mind numbing.

Then we come to directing and teaching. For months now, I’ve pondered if, at the very least, I would be able to, once again, stand in front (or at the back) of a room, surrounded by other actors, and be able to impart the knowledge and wisdom I’ve gained surviving 43 years in the entertainment industry. How do I do so, without the voice I’ve always had. A voice which, even if I begin the day with the ability to speak at all, is gone by the end of the day. Likewise, how do I sit in an empty theater, looking at a stage full of actors, or on a film set, with actors and the entire crew looking to me for leadership. How do I do that?

Bouncing these questions off the person I trust more than anyone on this earth, my wife, Tanya, forced me to do some heavy duty thinking about my future. I have the great good fortune to be married to an incredibly talented woman who, can not only boast the same hyphenates as me, but is a helluva lot smarter. She told me she believed with all her heart, my voice will return. In the meantime, however, she pointed out what really should have been obvious — we own microphones and speakers — what’s stopping me from using our sound equipment, to help me teach and direct again (told you she was smarter than me).

Mulling all this over, I’ve come to realize, the only thing stopping me is me. Fear of the unknown, or, more appropriately, fear of having to find a new way to do what I’ve been doing pretty much my entire life. Can an old dog learn new tricks?

The irony of all this is, the major principle I’ve always taught my students, as well as the actors I’ve directed is, be fearless! Take chances. Risk making a fool of yourself. If you fuck up, fuck up BIG! Because the only way to succeed in this business, as well as survive it, is to keep going, no matter what! Listen to yourself, trust your instincts, and no matter how many times you get smacked down, get your ass back up and try again.

I’ve been acting, writing, directing and teaching professionally, for 43 years. And for the first time in all those years, the person I had to teach my own major acting principle to, was me.

I’ve Got Euphoric Tendencies!

When I started this blog, I promised myself, as well all those kind enough to spare the time to come and read my musings, I would be as honest as possible in everything I wrote. This particular post — one I’ve been thinking about for a while — is an attempt on my part to demonstrate the truth of that promise.

et_postermdAs some of you may be aware, Euphoric Tendencies is the feature film project my wife, Tanya, and I have been working on producing for a number of years now. I have poured my heart and soul into getting this film financed and shot, because I honestly believe Tanya’s screenplay is not only an incredibly well-written and entertaining work —it deserves to be made, and it needs to be made.

For those who know me, you’re probably aware film finance is not exactly my area of expertise. I have spent my entire career on the creative side of the business — acting, directing, and writing. Raising money to produce a film (following in the footsteps of my father, older brother and youngest brother) is new to me. To say asking people to invest in a film, has taken me way beyond my comfort zone, would be an understatement of monumental proportion. Nevertheless, I have done just that, because of the depth of my belief in this project.

At this point, I think a little history may be in order. Euphoric Tendencies (or, ET, as we’ve abbreviated it) is an erotic romantic comedy.  The story centers on Beth Moss, a frustrated writer, struggling with her first novel, who finds her muse in the person of Mina, her new, bisexual roommate. Mina introduces Beth to a world previously unknown to her, beginning with erotic novels, dancing naked under the full moon, fetish clothing, eventually graduating to the kink-filled spanking and BDSM scene.

Ignoring her novel, Beth fills the pages of her journal with the details of her exciting new experiences, and the changes they’re having on her. Eventually, Beth is given the opportunity to publish her journal and has to make a decision — does she keep this unusual life of hers private, or share it with the world. In the process, she discovers her true self, creating a more fulfilling life than she could ever have imagined.

Tanya wrote the first draft of the screenplay while we were living in Chicago, where we produced a staged reading of the show. Encouraged by the response, Tanya continued to rewrite the script, as we moved back to NYC. In 2007, a second staged reading of the script was held at an Off Off Broadway theatre. As the reading ended, the audience stood, en masse, applauding for close to ten minutes, as if they were attending a Broadway opening. So intense was the response, the audience would not allow the cast to leave the stage. Anyone who has ever attended a staged reading of pretty much anything, knows how incredibly unusual a reaction like that is.

As the applause continued, I looked at Tanya, who stood looking somewhat dazed by the audience response, and said, “If a NY audience responds like this to a staged reading, how do you think they’d respond to this as an actual play?” One week later, Tanya completed the first draft of a stage version of ET.

Through the auspices of our non-profit Equity stage company, the Actors Repertory Theatre, Euphoric Tendencies had it’s World Premiere at the Access Theater, NYC on March 6, 2008. I directed the show and played Jake, a role Tanya had written specifically for me. Tanya played Mina, the role she’d written for herself. The stage production, although not everything we’d hoped for from a production point of view, played to enthusiastic audiences through April.

When the stage production closed, Tanya went back to the drawing board, utilizing ideas that had come to her during the stage production, making the screenplay even stronger. Meanwhile, I started putting together the elements that would allow us to create a business plan for financing the film.

At this point in the narrative, and with Tanya’s knowledge and full consent, it’s time for full disclosure.hxb_cover The principle characters in ET, Beth and Mina, were inspired by, and are composites of Tanya, mirroring her experiences before and after she became a fixture of the spanking ‘scene’ in this country (this includes the erotic novels, naked moon-dancing, fetish wear and bisexuality). Under the pseudonym, Tasha Lee, Tanya also wrote the book, Hot Crossed Buns: A Beginners Guide To Spanking (available at Amazon.com), a popular and easy read on the pleasures of consensual adult spanking.

Both Tanya and I have long been involved in the spanking scene, hosting and attending parties, as well as counseling people just entering the scene. I got my start as a film director, shooting spanking videos — not the grainy, unscripted abysmally acted crap one associates with porn — we shot scripted stories, that were beautifully lit and filmed, and well-acted, the same way we’d shoot any mainstream project (although budgeted a whole lot cheaper).

For those whose mouths are currently gaping open, you should note — adult spanking, whether as a precursor to sex, or simply as its own thrill, is probably the most engaged-in kink on the planet. Watch one week of network television, from sitcoms to dramas, and see how many references to spanking as an erotic act between consenting adults you can find (anyone remember Amy’s reaction to Sheldon spanking her on The Big Bang Theory, or Mary-Louise Parker on Weeds?). And although it’s a piece of unreadable drek, with the unwatchable movie version just as bad, are we really surprised 50 Shades of Grey has become the world-wide phenomenon it is? They both tapped into the zeitgeist.

There is a huge worldwide community of spankos (yes, just like Trekkers, the folks in the spanking community have a nickname, too). Many in the community are terrified their secret could be revealed. They fear — not unreasonably — being ostracized by friends and family, employers and fellow employees. They fear the judgment of religious zealots (although, ironically, there are numerous Fundamentalist Christians, Orthodox Jews and Muslims, and pretty much every other religious denomination you can think of, active in the spanking scene), and they fear reprisals from governmental bodies (when it comes to sex, there are no bigger hypocrites than those holding public office).

One thing I guarantee though, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take a look around — spankos are there. They’re not freaks, or weirdos, or people who engage in this ‘sick’ activity because they were abused as children, or any of the other stereotypes the media likes to perpetuate — we are normal, everyday people — the folks you have contact with every day. There are truck drivers, engineers, doctors, teachers, police officers, sales people, Ministers, Rabbis — people in the entertainment industry. Even if they don’t identify as spankos, huge numbers of people have engaged in some form of spanking play during the course of their sexual life.

And why, not? It’s fun!

This is why Tanya wrote Euphoric Tendencies. She wanted to write about her own experiences, as well as those of the people she knows — happy, normal people, living their lives just like everyone else. People whom, for whatever reason, just happen to have the gene for this very common kink.

Tanya wanted to write about how opening yourself to pleasure, acknowledging and accepting who you are as a sexual human being, and living your life without fear, is not only empowering, it can be incredibly fulfilling.

That’s why she wrote the screenplay. It’s why we produced the stage version. It’s also why I’m so very proud to be her husband. And, finally, it’s the reason I will not stop until we get this important film made!