Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Horny Goat Weed


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Clay McLeod Chapman


So the horny goat weed was probably a bad idea. 

Lord only knows how many times I’d passed up the opportunity to purchase the herbal supplement from the corner deli. I’d never paid them much mind before, their tin-foil packets dangling off the rack just next to the cash register, right alongside the “rough riders” and French ticklers and other male potency placebos for sale. But for some unknown, utterly asinine reason—on this particular night, during this particular production of my own personal long-running performance piece The Pumpkin Pie Show—with hardly one hour left on the clock before show-time, this impulse-buy for “restoring a man’s inner fire” seemed like a viable option on helping me get in the mood for tonight’s show. 
 

Horny goat weed is, after all, a performance enhancer.
 

That’s exactly what it said on the front of the packet: Performance enhancer.
 

We hold these pre-show rituals to be sacred.
 

All performers do.
 

For me, the time before the curtain rises has always been holy—completely sacrosanct. My personal pre-show ritual borders on those disorders most definitely obsessive-compulsive, beginning hours before even reaching the theater:
 

The pre-show nap. The pre-show shower. The pre-show subway ride. The pre-show line-through. The pre-show coffee. The pre-show settling into the space sixty minutes before actors are actually called. The pre-show walking around the stage… 
 

Any minor divergence from my rigidly systematic warm-up risks ruining that evening’s show. Every last facet must be followed to the ‘T,’ no matter how innocuous—or else gamble the chance of wrecking an entire performance. 
 

But on this night, waiting in line at the deli, I made the cavalier call of integrating a new, last-minute component into my pre-show procedural:
 

I would pop some horny goat weed.
 

Bad call on my part.
 

For years, I had laced my extra-large cup of coffee with a packet of Emergen-C Energy Booster mix for that extra kick. Just a little more oomph for tonight’s show, I had rationalized to myself. I’d stir the powder straight in and watch it fizz up into a clumpy froth of vitamin C and half-and-half, creating some caffeinated cocktail that I speculated would rocket my energy right on into the stratosphere—thereby taking The Pumpkin Pie Show to higher, Laurence Olivier-like levels of performance.
 

It didn’t.
 

The drink was, in fact, disgusting. It tasted awful. God awful. Turns out that lemon/lime-flavored vitamin C powder and milky coffee do not mix—literally. Rather, this flotsam of citrus-foam formed along the surface of my coffee—that I would still dutifully drink, no matter how disgusting it truly was. For over five years, five years, I believed in my pre-show ritual so badly, that I was willing to wreck my liver with this battery acid brew. I only stopped after the first signs of jaundice kicked in.
 

I realize I’m talking about juicing up with over-the-counter dietary supplements here. This all must make me sound like some kind of pre-K steroid-abuser. An Off-Off-Broadway Barry Bonds. But we subject ourselves to these awful, rituals de los habituals because we believe they make our performances better.
 

By their very nature, practitioners of all-things theatrical tend to be a superstitious lot. We won’t mutter Macbeth onstage, we leave the ghost-light burning to ward off evil spirits. If you told an actor that their performance would improve ten-fold by licking the ass-crack of their stage manager ten minutes before she called "places" every night, I’m of the mind that they would seriously consider it. We performers will commit any number of delusory follies, no matter how irrational they seem to the outside eye, if we believe they perfect the performance itself. Because—what if? What if tonight you didn’t lick your stage manager’s dimpled seat cushions? Are you willing to take that risk? Once these systems have integrated themselves into our hallowed pre-show ritual, there is just no deviating from them.
 

They have become law. Holy writ.
 

Increased libido. Improved erectile function. Hours of long-lasting energy.
 

Horn-dog snake oil.
 

It was the boost to the libido that sold me. This all-natural “Phyto-Aphrodesiac” (what does that even mean?), with its recipe based around an undisclosed ancient Chinese medicinal text, was just the thing downtown theater artists have been searching high-and-low for for centuries. Its key ingredient is the leafy epimedium plant, commonly found in the mountainous Asiatic wild—not the Lower East Side. With its potent cocktail of flavonoids, polysaccharides, sterols and magnalforine alkaloids, I had visions of the coming hour-and-a-half onstage as something quasi-shamanistic. The Pumpkin Pie Show has always been a bit of a ceremonial experience in my mind, anyhow—imagine ghost stories told around the campfire by Sid Vicious. This seemed to fall right in line with our mission statement. This would be as close to a peyote ritual as I was ever going to get with an audience, guiding ticket-buyers through a metaphysical experience unlike any other evening at the theatre they—or myself—had ever encountered before. This would be the performance of a lifetime.
 

Obie-awards, here I come…
 

Not Richard Burton’s preferred pre-show warm-up, I’m sure. Nor Peter O’Toole for that matter. Or Richard Harris. But in my off-off-off-off-off-off Broadway black box world, within the realm of my thirty seat eco-system, you take what you can get.
 

And so I got some horny goat weed.
 

Down the hatch.
 

Nothing happened for the first fifteen minutes of the show. What a waste, I remember thinking. I’ve totally been shammed.
 

But then the fever kicked in. The heat seeped into my chest, flushing up my neck. I started sweating. Not simply sweating in the pits, mind you. Pores had opened that I highly doubt had ever opened before, flooding the base of my neck, my scalp, everywhere. Suddenly I looked sunburned. No amount of water could quench the brushfire that had spread out through my limbs. I couldn’t breathe.
 

I felt as if I was in the midst of my first and only hot flash.
 

I’m going to die, I thought to myself onstage. I won’t be stepping off this stage tonight…
 

I could sense the audience in the front row were no longer paying attention to my performance, no matter how enhanced—but to my pants.
 

A 30-seat black box theater has its drawbacks—one of which, I have since learned, is the unavoidable distraction of a perpetual erection onstage while performing a ten-to-fifteen minute character monologue.
 

And yet the show goes on…
 

For up to four hours.

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