This happened back when I was living in Cleveland working at a big theatre there. There’spretty much only one big theatre in Cleveland. Anyway, I was working under the theatre’s artistic director who I would travel with to theatre festivals all around the country, and this particular time we were at the First Look festival at Steppenwolf in Chicago. This was like the first year they did the festival, which was 2011. At any rate, it’s the opening night and there’s two plays back to back playing in their garage space, which as you can maybe guess, was a one-time parking garage converted to a theatre space. It was pretty rugged as far as top-tier regional theatre goes, but I think that was also the appeal. So the artistic director, let’s call him Dan, and I are sitting in our seats, which happen to be in the first row of this semi in the round configuration, which means the audience sits on three sides of the stage, and we’re sitting on one side of the stage so there’s people sitting on the other side facing us, and Dan nudges me and I look at him and he nods to this Asian woman on the other side of the stage facing us.
And she’s like wearing this short skirt and fishnet stockings and her hair is like a jet black waterfall to her shoulders. And Dan whispers in my ear “I’d give anything or that.” And it’s weird because he’d been doing this sort of thing every time I was with him at a festival, pointing out hot Asian women in the audience, so I guess he was really into Asian women, which isn’t a crime. I think a lot of white guys are into Asian women, but maybe they’re afraid to admit it because they think it’ll make them look perverted. I didn’t think Dan was a pervert but at the same time, he was newly married and had a two-year-old daughter.
So anyway the show starts, and it’s a really claustrophobic show about this twenty-something girl who lives at a halfway house with all these anxious people and she’s really anxious and the play just really put me off so I’m looking around at anything and everything except this play because I just really hate this play, and that’s when I see him- Tracy Letts, sitting three rows up from the Asian woman who I can tell Dan is still staring at.
Now look, some of you might have no idea who Tracy Letts is, and that’s cool. But still, you probably should know who he is because he’s done lots of T.V. and to the discerning theatre-goer, Tracy Letts is definitely a superstar. But at this moment in time, he wasn’t quite a superstar. This was shortly after the explosion of his play August: Osage County. So I’m staring at him, and he’s just sitting in his seat dressed Chicago casual wearing his glasses with his legs crossed and I’m just kinda like WOW because not only was I a huge admirer of his writing and acting, but I was just starting to really try to be a writer myself and was in the new car smell stage where my mindset was “Hey there’s Tracy Letts, and if he can win a Pulitzer why can’t I?” Finally, it’s an intermission, and before the show, I’d had two beers and had to pee so I go to the restroom while Dan called his wife to see how their daughter was because I think their daughter had a cold or something.
At that time the Steppenwolf garage restroom was quite small- a toilet stall and two urinals pressed tightly together. So I’m in there doing my thing when the door creaks open and this guy crunches next to me, and Jesus Christ it’s TRACY LETTS. And shit, he’s way taller and bigger than I realized. I mean he’s got at least five inches on me. So we’re in this bathroom our bodies basically touching, and my mind is just racing cause I’m like “Just be cool!” I mean the last thing I want to do is make this weird. But at the same time, I just have to say something because when am I ever going to get the chance to say something to him again? So as calmly and normally as I can I say to another man while we’re both peeing, I say“Mister Letts, I’m a huge fan of your work.” Silence for at least ten seconds, and I’m like“fuck I totally made this weird” and I just wanna finish peeing and get outta there, but then I hear his voice. “What do you think of the play?” And just holy shit. How in the world is she speaking to me, much less asking me what I think?? But now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I be honest and tell Tracy Letts I think the play is a piece of shit, or do I just say something cool? So I take a moment and say, and I actually said this to him, I say “To be honest, I like your stuff way better.”
Now at the time, I think this is a pretty great response. So I look at him and give him a little smirk. And he’s just looking at me blankly. Then he zips up, washes his hands, and exits the bathroom. And I’m like whoa what happened? I didn’t say anything crazy, did I? Maybe I did, I don’t know. So I go back to my seat and Dan is still in the lobby talking to his wife or stalking the Asian woman or whatever and it’s that weird moment where you’re looking for something, anything to do other than stare off blankly into space so I pick up the playbill and I’m flipping through it and that’s when I see it- “Written and directed by Tracy Letts”.
And I’m like FUCK HOW DID I NOT KNOW TRACY LETTS WROTE THIS PLAY?? I mean to my defense there’s usually a pre-show announcement or something and with this one there was nothing, but still. So act two is in full swing and I just want to die but then the play finally ends and Dan and I are getting up preparing to leave when Dan says “Oh look there’sTracy Letts.” And I’m like “Oh wow. Neat.” And Dan insists on going over and saying something to him because it turns out he was actually talking to Tracy’s agent (who ironically later became my agent) about doing a production of Killer Joe in an upcoming season. So Dan goes over while I hang back itching to get out of there and then Dan motions to me and Tracy says something to him and then Dan looks over at me and waves for me to come over and I’m like oh Jesus please no but I can’t not go over so I do. And Dan’s like “Tracy this is our Artistic Assistant who happens to be an aspiring playwright and a big fan of yours.” And Tracy looks at me and I’m fucking dying and I don’t know what to say so I just say “Hey man sorry about that thing in the bathroom” and Dan looks at me like
what thing in the bathroom? And Tracy just looks at me and smiles and says “Hey we’ve all been there before. If you’ll excuse me.” And Dan turns to me and is like “What the hell was that about?” And I was like “Just a lil mishap.”
So, I guess that’s it. But if that experience taught me anything it’s this- One, even great writers can write pieces of shit. That one’s kinda obvious I guess. Two, Never talk to celebrities you don’t know in the bathroom, especially when you’re peeing right next to them. Also sorta obvious? And three, and I think this one is most important, always read the fucking playbill.