You Made Me Love You

Austin artists reveal their celebrity crushes

You Made Me Love You
Illustration By Robert Faires

With Valentine's Day well over, you've had some time to reflect bitterly on the complete crock that is romantic love in this over-hyped, over-marketed goddamn day and age. Perhaps you've even made that dark internal pledge -- hung a "gone fishing" sign on your fourth chakra, This Heart Closed for Business.

But then you see Rear Window again, and there's Grace Kelly, just escaped from the bad guy and breathless with excitement. Or you flip on the car radio, and your heart is unexpectedly pierced by John Lennon's stubborn nasal wail. Or VH1's doing a Behind the Music on Leif Erickson, and you're kind of ... looking forward to it.

Okay, it isn't love. But it's something. So rewrite the old question: What is this thing called crush? Specifically, what makes us swoon over people we've never met?

Just in time for your post-V-Day recovery, the creative minds at the Blue Theater have gathered artists from around Austin and the country to address that very question. Over two dozen actors, musicians, artists, writers, and puppeteers are creating art, wall-writing, and short performance pieces for the Blue's Celebrity Crush, which will run two weekends only, February 28-March 9.

A celebrity crush can be sweet or stupid, casual or obsessive, artistic, erotic, or even pious (certain kinds of religiosity amount to a celebrity crush on God). Some crush objects, like Elvis or the Beatles, wield power over great masses of people: The question "Who's your favorite Beatle?" pretty much assumes you had a crush on one of them, and c'mon you know you did -- probably John, you Chronicle reader you. On the other hand, my own passion for the aging Italian film actor Giancarlo Giannini is apparently shared only by the woman who runs his lone Internet fan site.

Perhaps you are embarrassed by your current or former crushes: Moe and Curly? Mrs. Robinson? David Cassidy? Boy George? Oh fess up, and don't fret. Everyone has them. My haughtiest friend recently unbent enough to admit his childhood passion for the older sister on Lost in Space. And whether your crush object is a world-conqueror or as (undeservedly!) obscure as Giancarlo, it doesn't matter. Your relationship with Elvis is uniquely your own, and when he sings "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" he is singing just to you.

But don't let it go to your head. "There is a dark side to crushes: obsession. Letting your life fall into weedy neglect as you nurse your obsession, leading to sad, clichéd stalking. Fortunately, I never could get out of Tyler, Texas, to stalk Bobby Sherman." So says playwright, actor, and Blue Theater Managing Director Cyndi Williams, who got the idea for Celebrity Crush when the gift of a Bobby Sherman CD stirred up memories of anguished preteen passion.

Williams, whose contribution to the show consists of "three rather angry monologues called 'Sadistic Bobby Sherman,'" recalls her "total despair when my parents opted to watch The Glen Campbell Show instead of Here Come the Brides," which starred the then teen idol. Her piece culminates in "an apology to Bobby Sherman for the sick sexual fantasies I involved him in. [The monologues] are very dark, although hopefully that darkness is laced with humor, and I am honestly a bit afraid of showing them to anybody."

Ron Berry -- artistic director of the Blue Theater and its resident company, Refraction Arts Project -- has a gentler take on crushes: They are "also just really fun and kind of giddy and can even be sort of expansive and healthy. They make you feel alive in a weird sort of way." In the show, Berry will perform "this sort of interpretive dance in honor of [Icelandic pop star] Björk. It's been 10 years in the making," he adds, deadpan. "I guess I just felt like words could not accurately convey my ... crushiness for that wacky queen of the ice."

Playwright, actor, and heterosexual Lowell Bartholomee will do a piece about "my crush on [English film actor] Ralph Fiennes in 1994. Very short-lived and a first and last of its kind." As emcee of Celebrity Crush, he will also perform "some short-shorts that feature crushes on Christina Ricci, Courtney Love, and Sallie Chisum in the John Wayne movie Chisum" -- the latter his first crush, at the age of 4.

What's the genesis of our early celebrity crushes? Actor and playwright Jessica Hedrick, who will perform a piece about her growing disillusionment with the rock star Sting, believes they "conspire with the adolescent brain's yearning for epic, huge, historical, world-stage type love ... Celebrities live in a god-like sphere of power and light -- their every whim is news -- and I think that corresponds to a teen sense of how the world should operate."

Actor Lana Dieterich, who will read from her own teen diary in the show, says that in rereading the diary, "I was struck by how indiscriminant my crushes were ... I had crushes on whomever I'd see, practically," a state she describes succinctly as "hormones in overdrive."

But besides narcissistic and lust-maddened wish-fulfillment, crushes may also teach us something. Leigh Anderson Fisher, an actor doing a piece about "John Lennon, my first and only really hard-core celebrity crush," says falling for the famous is "the first step we take when we are growing up to understanding love." Hedrick suggests such crushes "function as lessons for those just learning how it feels to respond to the world in sexy and romantic ways."

And some crushes are less about wanting to have, more about wanting to be. Playwright Carie Esquinazi, who will lip sync to disco queen Donna Summer in the show, says "I didn't have a thing for Donna Summer, but I loved her presence. I wanted to be her ... I had a crush on the idea of being a celebrity."

Puppeteer Julia Smith's crush is also more about the art than the man. Her piece about R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe addresses what is "not really a lust or sexual crush, but more of an admiring artistic crush -- but still one that will wake me up at night with my heart pounding, if I'd had a good dream about him."

A crush might last forever. But more often they fade like an aging photo from Tiger Beat. It might be a specific disillusionment (Hedrick on Sting: "For so long I've viewed him as a self-congratulatory media whore, all pretension and cheesiness"). Or perhaps you and your crush just grow apart. Former Austinite Jim Fritzler, a director and writer who now teaches at the Hastings College in Nebraska, has sent in artwork based on his early crush on the child actor Hayley Mills. Inspired by her movie Pollyanna, his crush developed when "The Parent Trap had two of her! And the anarchy of their ballsy string and honey prank at summer camp. There was something boyish about her. But then she had to grow up and do the first movie about teen pregnancy or something. I couldn't bring myself to see it. The magic was gone."

It is possible to be cynical about crushes. As Bartholomee observes, "The whole economic underpinnings of entertainment and celebrity is based on lots of people developing crushes and cravings for certain individuals." But he also speculates on "what deep-down craving this feeds. It's kind of like medieval unrequited love. Maybe there's something in our biological makeup that needs to have feelings for something unattainable."

In 13th-century France, troubadours wrote love songs for court ladies they might never meet, might only ever love from afar. This week, the Blue Theater updates that tradition with Celebrity Crush. If you've ever traced your fingers along a photo on an album cover or mooned over a blurry figure on a TV screen, you might want to join them. end story

Celebrity Crush runs February 28-March 9 at the Blue Theater.

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Celebrity Crush, Cyndi Williams, Ron Berry, Blue Theater, Refraction Arts Project, Lowell Bartholomee, Jessica Hedrick, Lana Dieterich, Leigh Anderson Fisher, Carie Esquinazi, Julia Smith, Jim Fritzler, Hastings College

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