So I’ve never really been able to draw. I remember sitting in a doctor’s office when I was around 10 or so and there was an advertisement in the back of a magazine (probably Highlights Magazine -Goofus and Gallant) and it said, “if you can draw this you can become an artist and get a good job”. I couldn’t draw it. I was hopeless. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever really managed to draw is this:
So you can see that I really can’t draw. Really, even my hang-man is lame. I did do some coloring book work but my color choices were often odd and I wasn’t great about staying inside the lines.
I didn’t think about creating art again until I was in my 30s and I read the book “Mona Lisa Overdrive” by William Gibson. In this book, there was a computer living in outer space who crafted little dioramas, little boxes. The description in the book was so fantastic that I could see the boxes and feel them. At some point or other, I ran across the name Joseph Cornell and went to see an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago – it was overwhelming.
Here was a true genius. Little worlds inside of exquisitely crafted boxes. The outsides of the boxes were impeccable and the restraint and editing inside the boxes were remarkable. Nothing seemed arbitrary. The coded language didn’t seem generic.
My first box wasn’t a box, it was a room. My dressing room at Cabaret at Studio 54 in 1999. I had never had my own dressing room before and I wanted to decorate it in a compelling way, so I decided that I would wallpaper the entire room with the text from Christopher Isherwood’s “The Berlin Stories”.
I had used the book as the basis for my character Ernst Ludwig and I wanted to have the book close to me and what better way than to live inside of it. Before the show, I would go to Kinko’s and xerox page after page – blowing them up, blowing up the blow-ups, shrinking them down- until I got a nice variation in text and sizes. Then I would take all my pages home and dye them with tea and coffee and strew them all over the bathtub and the floor of my bathroom. That night, I would go to the show, do the show and then stay on after the curtain and decorate my room with my pages. I did this for weeks until I got the finished product I wanted. I don’t know why the Roundabout let me do it but it was great. I remember Nicole Kidman coming backstage and stopping by and seeing the room. She came back to see the show again and remarked that she wanted to see my dressing room again as well.
From rooms, I moved onto boxes. I made my first boxes for the cast of Cabaret – rather than doing it on opening night, I did it for certain cast members’ last performances. Ron Rifkin, Michelle Pawk and Blair Brown and I all left the cast at the same time in June 1999 so I made my first 3 boxes for them. Ron’s was the bottom of a chair I had found, Blair’s was made from some old picture frames and Michelle’s was made from a little suitcase I saw on the street.