Zoe and I have been running Sustained Theatrics since then. It’s been over twenty years. We’re a family – me and my husband, Zoe and her partner, our kids – and our families are family. My mom and Zoe’s mom still play tennis.
We are a family with a family business split three ways. My cut to me, Zoe’s cut to her, and Jeremy’s cut to maintain the youth space we established as part of the studio. We noticed how many of our students were gathering in the parking lots just like we used to and how some of them had much less than we did. We wanted to sustain their interest in performance and not let circumstances dictate otherwise. So we opened a large youth space with snacks, showers, lockers, a game room, a TV room, and an on-site volunteer mental health counselor to ensure these kids are getting what they need.
Sustained Theatrics strives to sustain the children by whom it is sustained. And we aim to do so in Jeremy’s honor. I had years during which Jeremy was living with me as my brother when his family had sent him away. I wouldn’t trade that time in for any single thing on Earth.
But kids who don’t have a supportive family, who don’t have a friend to stay with, and who don’t have anywhere else to go, we like to be a safe space with no return expectations.
Jeremy was still here when we bought, opened, and branded Sustained Theatrics in 1997. It was just the best day. Zoe came in a gorgeous blush pink tuxedo. I came as Tequila Mockingbird as Madonna in the red moment in Evita. And Jeremy as Glenn Close as Cruella DeVille. We were royalty that night.
We spent the night performing, thanking our partners, thanking our students, thanking our families, and celebrating a success we hadn’t ever imagined. We were living our dream.
All the guests left by midnight – we had long-since decided that Sustained Theatrics would be a family friendy place always and as such had a midnight building curfew and no alcohol inside rule, no exceptions – and the three of us sat in the back lot sitting on the back ledge of Zoe’s Volvo hatchback sharing a bottle of shitty Champagne.
And then Jeremy said, “I’m so proud. You two are going to carry our vision so far. I love you.”
I understood that by giving up a lot of travel and education to stay and build Theatrics, I was limiting my scope and worldview a little bit. My act was stale, my classes were pretty repetitive, and my context was narrower than I’d like.
Jeremy came home and basically had a Masters Degree in Gay Lifestyle and Its Cultural Implications. He was electric with good energy, novel ideas, and lavish stories. I was so happy he was home, he was happy to be here having burned out on the New York lifestyle, but he was quite evidently unwell.
Zoe came home a few months after him and her reaction to him confirmed what I already feared: he was not well. And this was a time in the United States when a man with a certain lifestyle was at risk for a certain kind of unwell.
We never discussed it openly but all three of us knew what was going on. So we went on with business as usual – Zoe and I mostly working as a pair to get Sustained Theatrics where we wanted. We gave Jeremy lots of the idea-oriented tasks. While we did physical and practical tasks, Jeremy did a lot of the idea work and artistic contributions.
Jeremy was living with me as his family had not been welcoming of his return.
It ended up taking three years for us all to end up back in town, but we all came with new and valuable expertise. Jeremy had spent three years in New York getting his Bachelor of Arts in Drama and spending every night at the very balls I had gagged over in Paris is Burning. Zoe had been in Europe backpacking, squatting, and exploring the drag scene there. And I had been teaching more and more classes and climbing into a leadership role at Sustained.
My big push during the absence of my friends was to get more teenagers involved. By the time I graduated high school, there were only 11 of us over the age of 15 taking classes at Sustained. So when I moved into a “recruitment” role, I went to all the high school in the 30-mile radius and looked for the performance kids and tried to get them involved.
When my friends got home, I had over 35 teenagers enrolled in my Sustained Theatrics series. I was teaching as me; I was performing at night as Tequila Mockingbird. Between teaching and doing leadership administrative work at Sustained and performing four nights a week, I was making six figures and had little expenses.
I had committed myself totally to Sustained Theatrics.
Jeremy and I started coming in to the lot wearing more and more women’s clothing and accessories. Zoe was into it and brought some make up and helped us get done up. It really went from there. The three of us were just having fun, finding cool new ways to express ourselves, and protecting one another from the world. We were unstoppable.
Other Sustained Studio Students started showing up before classes, a bunch of us started staying late. By the time I finished high school, I was spending every day after school with up to a dozen Theatricals until 11pm in Sustained Theatrics.
I spent my first summer after graduating working as a teaching assistant at the studio and they decided they wanted me full time. I had my dream job – I was teaching a class literally called Sustained Theatrics at the very place I had found myself.
Jeremy left for college in New York and Zoe took a gap year in Europe. In part, we had loose plans to spend a year apart before all reconvening at home and taking Sustained Theatrics seriously.
I learned how to play the piano in 21 days when I was 11. I was always a very musical child. My parents took notice and put me in singing and dancing classes where I thrived. My only friends were my Studio Friends. We went to Sustained Studio and I took tap, jazz, ballet, point, singing, and performance classes. I was literally at Sustained for at least four hours at least five days a week for my entire childhood.
This is where I learned everything about myself.
During my junior year in college I would meet in the Sustained back lot an hour before class with my studio besties Jeremy and Zoe. We’d eat 7-11 food, talk about our routines and songs, and just enjoy time together. I went to public school, Jeremy to private, and Zoe to a girls school twenty miles away.
We started calling the lot Sustained Theatrics because were doing THE MOST while we were out there. Strutting like we’re at a ball, reciting our favorite movie scenes, and finally LIP SYNCING while blasting the cassette player in Zoe’s vintage Volvo.
I loved my parents while I was learning who I was and they loved me. They were happy to shop in the boys or the girls section; they didn’t care that I wanted the Ariel doll instead of the Flounder plush; and they obliged my insistence to “CALL ME PRINCESS.” Truth be told, they still do!
But I wanted to learn things they couldn’t teach me. I wanted to learn how to do a winged eye liner, how to walk more comfortably in heels, how to layer nylons to get a smooth look, and how to place a lace-front wig correctly. My mom didn’t wear make-up besides “Silversoft Rose” lipstick that she’s apply 90% of the time in the front seat of her Astro Van; and my dad was a plumber who had maybe used hand lotion once in his life and that’s the extent of his “self care” advice; and I have no sisters or aunts.
I had friends at school, but none who knew about my little hobby and none who seemed to pick up on my hints when I tried to out myself about it.
I ran Sustained Theatrics in parking structures, basements, vacant lots, and abandoned warehouses for many years. When I was just starting to wear dresses, play with make-up, listen to The Immaculate Collection, treat the sidewalk like the runway, and learn to walk in heels there was no community support. I was a freak, I was a weirdo, I was the other f-word.
I figured there had to be more of me, I had just seen Paris is Burning and so I knew there were other boys like me and a community to support it. But I couldn’t move to New York. I didn’t actually even want to move to New York. I respect all the boys and girls in this country who couldn’t be how they felt at home, so they fled to New York. But I was blessed to have two very caring parents who didn’t care if I was in a baseball jersey or a prom dress.