Heracles (Hercules) – Gatekeeper of Olympus
God of strength, heroes, sports, athletes, health, agriculture, fertility, trade, oracles and divine protector of mankind.
This is the image that comes up when searching “masculinity” online. The legendary divine hero Heracles (more commonly known as Hercules in Roman mythology) – the ultimate symbol of manhood, fortitude, power, dominance – so strong, in fact, that he was believed to have been born of the gods. It is not so surprising to me that these traits are also some of the key defining points of masculinity in the dictionary. But what does it mean to be a man?
Men and women in our culture are still taught that to be a MAN is to be physically powerful, direct, decisive, emotionless, to conquer everything, and that anything other than that is somehow less-than or weak or feminine. Even as children, when we express emotions, we are told to “man up” or “grow a pair.” I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called “The Mask You Live In” that highlights how destructive these types of phrases can be to young boys, and how over time these repeated lessons become core values that then affect how boys and men interact with everyone else in their lives. Often these harmful lessons are suppressed, though they end up coming out sideways through acts of aggression and disrespect towards men and women who are seen as inferior in some way. These misguided EMOTIONS serve to keep the macho men feeling macho, and push down those “weak” qualities that they secretly identify with by being the harshest judge possible. Consequently that poor guy builds a pretty high wall around himself that not too many people can climb over.
As a child growing up in a family of legendary athletes, I was also held to these standards. My dad is a gladiator of a man, as are all of the men on his side of the family. There has always been a huge emphasis on physical activity and competition in our house, and in the schools I attended. I wrestled all through elementary school, played soccer and baseball, and started lifting weights when I was about twelve years old. I was actually pretty good at the sports I played, but eventually rebelled and refused to play team sports altogether so that I would no longer have to live up to the ridiculous standards of my coaches, or have to try to fit in with a group of kids I didn’t feel I had much in common with personally. However, I still sometimes find myself seeking my own approval, and that of my family and others through physical feats of strength and aesthetics – having a healthy body image has been an ongoing struggle. I am a highly competitive person; as a result, I can be really hard on myself, and have often isolated myself from others when I have felt inferior or unworthy in some way.
I’ve known I was gay since I was three. Of course I didn’t know what “gay” meant then, but two memories stand out to me as moments that I felt different. I remember putting on my moms “ruby slippers” (obvious friend of Dorothy reference) and white faux fur coat and pretending to be Cruella DeVille, while applying red lipstick in her vanity mirror and cackling like the infamous Disney hag. The other memory I have is being in the car with my family and asking my dad if he thought Brad Pitt was handsome. I remember his response feeling like that was an odd question for me to ask, whether or not that was his intention. I continued to play and imagine, as kids do, but kept my feelings a secret until I finally made the decision to embrace my more artistic side, take a few steps back from athletics, and sashay out of the closet dressed to the nines at age thirteen.
Fortunately both of my parents are also gifted musicians and artists. They taught me how to sing, and how to draw. Through these connection points with my family, my definition of manhood has expanded to include creativity, passion, compassion, expression, vulnerability, and love. I used these artistic gifts as a means of expressing myself when I couldn’t find the right words. This is largely what I attribute to being SO proficient now in expressing myself through artistic media. Music and art were and still are the two things through which I feel I can make the deepest and most meaningful connections with others, including my family, and with myself. They have offered me a very therapeutic resource to look at and make sense of some pretty intense emotions. This is part of why I love theatre so much. Theatre allows the actor and the audience to really empathize with another humans condition. I feel more empathetic for having performed such a variety of characters.
For a long time I was really attracted to romantic roles, because they allowed me a pretty easy outlet to be sensitive and caring with other people without the worry of being judged for it. I still love those roles so much, but lately my acting career has taken a turn to the more macho roles. It started when New Line Theatre asked me to play Angel – the vivacious drag queen – in Rent, followed by Chris – a marine with PTSD – in Hands On A Hardbody. I think this was the first time I ever felt like someone else believed that I could do anything (though I’m sure many others have), and I saw an opportunity to really start to get in touch with and make peace with some of the pressures I’ve felt to “be a man” throughout my life. Those shows opened a huge door for me and within me. A shift was made in my self-worth to believing that I am good enough and believing that I really can do anything, rather than limiting myself and staying in a box. I don’t like boxes (gay joke). Since then I have gone to the extremes of playing several more soldiers, a pre-operative transsexual, a homicidal marker sniffing hick, a slimy gang member, and several other odd characters in-between. Somehow I’ve turned into a character actor, when I used to think that I’d only ever get to play Marius, or Tony, or Anthony.
I was pretty shocked at first when I got the call from Jay Hall offering me the role of ROCKY HORROR in The Rocky Horror Show. A moment of dread occurred, and then a smile grew across my face as I recognized that this was yet another happy nudge from the universe saying, “You ARE good enough Luke. Believe in yourself! This is the direct result of all of the times you have believed in yourself and worked towards your goals. You’ve got this!!” My inner cheerleader was right there to remind me of my worth and that so many other people already believe in me too, and that all I have to do is trust myself and share my gifts. That being said, I have been working out as though I’m training for the Olympics for the last several months. Making sure my confidence and my body stay where they are is paramount, as I will be running around Tower Grove Abbey in nothing but a little gold bikini. It feels good to know that I have so many people in my corner cheering me on.
For me The Rocky Horror Show is largely about playfully engaging in self-discovery, getting in touch with all aspects of our personalities without judging, and actively practicing self-love. All of these things enhance how we interact with the rest of the world. It is no coincidence that these are all emotional benefits I experience in my own floating practice too, which I will discuss in a future blog post. I am grateful for all of the men and women in my life who help to shape me into the man I have become by showing me that the social constructs of manhood don’t have to define my human experience. My parents specifically have both mastered the demonstration of what it means to provide, to be strong, caring, compassionate, ambitious, creative, vulnerable, loving, honest, free, and so much more.
There is more to Rocky than looking good almost naked. Don’t get me wrong, Rocky is a big dumb sexy horny man-ape, and I am fully committed to that ideal. I strongly identify with several of those traits myself…I mean, we’ve all seen my Instagram account (I’ll address that eventually too). My hope is that I can bring a sliver of humanity to him, and have the audience really care about Rocky, all while objectifying the hell out of him. It’s a delicate balance. I have my work cut out for me, and I’m really looking forward to starting rehearsals next week. I feel great, my #GodBod is on point, I am READY!
This one’s for all my macho men out there. Gold speedo here I come!!!
P.S. Hercules also fucked a BUNCH of dudes, so…
For tickets to The Rocky Horror Show visit Stray Dog Theatre