In For a Penny: A Decade in the Making

Charles Lewis III has a ten year check-in.

Paul Addis business card (edited)

“You must learn some of my philosophy.
Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I didn’t know who Paul Addis was when I auditioned for him in 2007. I wasn’t at all familiar with his acclaimed body of work, nor his then-recent infamy as “The Burning Man Arsonist” (which sounds redundant when you say it aloud). All I knew was that after two years after returning to acting – following some collegiate disillusionment – I wanted to get back into theatre and accepted invitations from whomever responded back on Craigslist.

The audition was in the back of some former storefront in SoMa. I can’t recall any other auditioners, but a woman escorted me to a back room where he sat on a ratty mattress with his personal effects were scattered about. He was pretty antsy and kept saying he had to “lay low” because “they’re still out to get me.” In hindsight, I might have just left, but I was eager to get on stage again and there was something about the guy that made me keep listening.

He wanted me to do a play about a drug-addled paraplegic vet who falls for a prostitute. I don’t think I read it well, but he said he really wanted me to do it. He gave me his business card and said he’d be in touch really soon. Then… nothing. My messages and phone calls weren’t returned and I put it out of my mind.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out the reasons he never got back to me were 1 – he went to prison for two years; 2 – upon release he staged a brand-new one-man show; and 3 – that he’d killed himself.

2007 was also around the time I happened upon Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. I was walking through the Comics / Graphic Novels section of a bookstore and found it by happenstance. I nearly finished it in a single sitting.

I really wish I’d had the chance to see Marielle Heller’s stage adaptation, because I couldn’t imagine anyone turning the book’s heartbreaking narrative into something seen live. When I auditioned for a film of the same name in 2013, I figured it was just a coincidence. I knew Marielle’s sister Emily from her stand-up shows, but figured the name “Heller” must also be coincidence. So imagine my surprise when I found myself cast in the book-turned-play-turned-film. That’s how I wound up in Alameda at 1am ad-libbing dialogue about The Catcher in the Rye.

I was invited to the much-talked-about premiere at The Castro, but missed it because I was in tech. I did stop by the after-party. When I finally saw the film myself last week, I could only stare at my name in the credits and wonder “How the hell did this happen?”

My cast & crew t-shirt from the wrap party.

My cast & crew t-shirt from the wrap party.

I have no idea how Paul’s show would have turned out; maybe another clichéd “hooker with a heart of gold” story, maybe something truly moving. But as I look back, it remains one of the more interesting “What ifs?”. He was the sort of “outlaw” I wanted to work with at the time, the way Marielle’s adaptation is the sort of thing I like doing now.
This marks ten years since I decided to give acting another try. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t believe in Destiny (all is predetermined and choice is an illusion), but I do believe in Fate (the right set of circumstances aligning at just the right time). With the Diary film now playing and Burning Man about to start, I found Paul’s card and knew this was the right time to take stock of those ten years.

Given the choices I’ve made, is my career exactly where I want it to be? No. But it’s more accomplished than I’d ever expected.