As a singer/songwriter and lead in a Broadway tour, it's my job to stand out. So it often surprises people to learn that I often waver between wanting to be and not wanting to be "just like Everyone Else." It was a constant in my life, until I came to the embarrassing realization that I disagreed with my own premise. Let me explain.
See, for either of those things to happen, Everyone Else would have to fit into some categorical subset. I saw that in the long process of embracing my own individuality, I had denied Everyone Else their own. Who am I to rob others of their color and make them part of the background? It felt self-centered, pretentious and cheap to pit myself against the world, yet it's something that almost every lost, rebellious teenager does at some point. We rail against what's already in place simply because we didn't put it there.
Like Everyone Else, however, I got older. Still, I was never quite able to leave the backpack containing all of my insecurities at the foot of the stairs before I climbed up to adulthood. It wasn't till I got to the top of the staircase and looked back down that I realized I knew exactly shit.
But I was young. I needed my darkness, my scars and my bloodstains to feel like I mattered. I had committed, with gusto, to convince not only myself but the rest of the world that I was important. I was confused, angry, bruised by the thinness of my own convictions. I wanted to fade away, blend in, become one of the colorless. One of the grey.
This was the premise of my album, Simple & Grey. It's a compendium of these feelings, how they affected me on my path to adulthood and the process of deciding which emotions to hold on to and which to let go as I move forward in my life. This road wasn't always easy. It took various encounters in my past to bring me to this point.
Like most kids, every Sunday I went to church. Mostly I attended due to a desire to please my parents. By and by the foundation of my early faith began to cement. It was quickly shaken, however, by the transfer of my first religious role model who inspired me more than anyone to better my life and the lives of those around me. He had poured the cement, he had helped it solidify, and now he was leaving. Then his replacement arrived. I suppose I should have been more surprised when my church was rocked by the suicide of the parish's replacement priest. Sadly he took his own life in the rectory shortly after the papers broke the scandal about Catholic priests and their alleged affinity for... well, you know.
Understandably, my newly cemented foundation began to crack. I started asking questions, which I still haven't stopped asking. I wasn't satisfied to just accept things, I needed the whole story. I was different. And with my adolescent mind I felt the best option was to fade into the background, become a part of dull, uninspired wallpaper in a dull, uninspired house.
Trouble was, I was neither dull nor uninspired. And pretending to be tore at me. And it was this dichotomy, this everyday tug of war, that inspired me to become a performer, and specifically inspired the creation of my album Simple & Grey.
Around the same time, I had made a friendly bet with one of my high school classmates, the stakes of which decreed that, if I lost, I would be forced to audition for the school play that year. Fortunately, I lost. Taking the stage for the first time, under protest, as Father Drobney in Woody's Allen's Don't Drink The Water, I suddenly sensed something in me awakening, stirring in response to this strange new creative pulse.
I could be this person. I could make people laugh and clap. I could be accepted. For a young man aching in search of an acceptable identity, being able to take on the identities of others, and receive applause for it, seemed almost too good to be true. So I kept doing it. I kept doing it, year after year, and then headed off to college for a BFA in it.
The more I would lose myself in the people I played onstage, the less interest I had in being involved with reality as a participant. I preferred to be an observer. I found myself wanting simultaneously to stand out on stage, but disappear once I left it.
So, I tried casting myself in the different roles. From Devil May Care Badboy to Self Destructive Artist, some worked better than others, but none were true. I guess what I really wanted was to be seen. I just wanted to be the one deep red slash across the world's grey face.
I'm an adult now. But what does that really mean? To me, I'm just a bigger, older version of that same confused kid. Only now, I have learned about balance. I've learned that those why very questions are what keep us searching for answers. The desire to overcome weakness is what gives us our strength. It's the darkness that forces our eyes to focus on the light. This is why I write. This is why I act. And my album and starring in Memphis while on tour are the culmination of this journey.
So many times art has been called a catharsis for those who create it. Perhaps that sounds a bit cliche, but cliches become cliches for a reason. Creating and performing is how I came to understand my life. It's how I hope to help others understand theirs. Or at the very least realize they are not alone in their confusion.
We are, all of us, imperfect. We have all been broken, but we have all put ourselves back together. These are the songs I try to write. This is what feeds the characters I play. We are supposed to ask questions. If Huey Calhoun in Memphis: The Musical didn't incessantly ask "do things really need to be this way," then nothing in the world would have ever changed.
If I can travel across the country and, by virtue of my own struggles, bring life to a character whose message is that you can change the world by questioning its rules, well then, that sounds like a plan.
I'd love to say that there's some clear, sturdy resolution to all this; that one side of us wins in the end, and the loser leaves graciously. But that isn't what happens. The only real conclusion is that this dichotomy doesn't exist to make us choose who we are. This dichotomy is who we are.
The only thing I hope to do is try my damndest to keep them balanced. We all have dual sides of us playing out every day. Strong and weak, Proud yet humble. Courageous tempered with fear. I like to think that we are all the problem as well as the solution. I am my most trusted ally and my mortal enemy. I look to the future but cling to the past.
I am simple. But I'm also the deep red slash across the grey.
Follow Bryan Fenkart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Steinway7