Portlander Marc Acito is the author of How I Paid for College, a frothy, funny coming-of-age novel about Edward Zanni, a high schooler who wants nothing more than to follow his dreams of being an actor by attending Julliard. The recently released Attack of the Theater People chronicles Edward's post-high school adventures in New York City with the same effortless readability and charm that made How I Paid for College such a hit. I recently sat down with Acito, in anticipation of this week's reading at the Bagdad.
Are your characters' exploits based on your own experiences?
Since I'm writing about a subculture that is typically very sexually adventuresome [theater people], more so than your average teenager, it's often hard for other people to believe. So I actually had to dial back some of the sexual details from using my own experiences... in order to make sure that people believed it.
Theater kids are notoriously slutty.
What's weird about theater kids is there's this combination of immense geekiness and, for lack of a better word, hipness. They're just as promiscuous and wild as kids who were going to rock clubs in the city, except they're doing that stuff in rehearsal for The Music Man.
What I like about theater people is [their embrace of] totally unapologetic, unironic expression. I'm a little over irony. I love sarcasm as much as anybody, but sometimes I think irony—I can't believe I'm saying this to the Mercury—is used as a way of denying passion. It's a way of sitting in the back of the room, being too cool for school, instead of getting up front and putting it out there. One of the things I love about musical theater people is that shameless willingness to let everything hang out, jazz hands and all.
I assume the Bagdad show won't be your average reading.
No. It's a one-man theatrical extravaganza. One man, keep in mind. It's as extravagant as I can get by myself.
I feel like that might be pretty extravagant.
It'll be some original songs and stories, and some essays, and also, reading from Attack of the Theater People... but because my characters frequently break into song, it's very easy to adapt a scene from the book into a musical scene. When the characters sing, I sing. You know, people say all the time that musicals aren't realistic, that people don't just break into song. That life isn't like that. And to that, I respond: Well, maybe life should be.