On Tuesday night, supporters of Behind the Book spent the evening at the Lyceum Theater to see Ghetto Klown with John Leguizamo. Guests included board members, BtheB teachers and staff. After mingling outside the theater and picking up tickets and Behind the Book bookmarks, theatergoers moved inside and enjoyed the performance, followed by a talk-back with the star himself.
John Leguizamo’s one-man show was a combination of razor sharp wit and raw, emotional honesty. During the two-hour performance, he described his humble beginnings in Queens, his family struggles, and his lifelong passion for performance. Leguizamo had the audience laughing uproariously from the moment he danced his way across the stage, though the show also included somber moments in which he recounted periods of personal struggle and inner turmoil.
After the show, the Behind the Book crowd moved closer to the stage and prepared to meet John Leguizamo. Prior to the talk-back, founder and executive director Jo Umans spoke about the importance of literacy programs amidst today’s school budget cuts. Leguizamo then came onstage and courteously answered audience questions, including inquiries regarding his favorite books as a young person. Leguizamo admitted that he was not a book lover as a middle school student, primarily because he felt he could not relate to much of the subject matter and many of the characters in the literature available to him. This is an issue that Behind the Book takes into consideration when choosing a book for a specific class: the relevance of a story and the degree to which a particular group of students can relate to the characters.
Despite his early aversion to book reading, Leguizamo said that certain plays – such as “Long Day’s Journey into Night” and “Death of a Salesman” – have changed his life. In the show, Leguizamo said that after an early acting teacher gave him a pile of plays to read, he devoured them immediately. He also spoke about how writing is a cathartic process for him and some of his finest work (and one-man shows!) originated during periods of depression.
The night was a huge success and there were clear connections between the subject matter of the show and elements of Behind the Book’s mission: the importance of young people discovering a branch of literature that appeals to them in particular (whether that means plays or novels) and the knowledge that any child can become successful if they are following their passion and are armed with dedication and a good sense of humor.