Jimmy Kaston’s story is not so different from many other artists in the city. The difference is that Kaston is inclined to get up on a theater stage and tell his tales of late night dance clubs, low paying day jobs and creating art in between.
As a storyteller he stands apart from others in another way as well: there’s no written script, just a pile of index cards on which he has written cues from which he will spin his tales, this time in a show titled “Jimmy’s Back, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
“Things from long ago are set in stone,” as far as Kaston’s memory is concerned. “I have an insanely good long term memory,” he claims.
It was in the late 1970s that he graduated from college and brought his portfolio back to his native NYC, thinking that he’d be making a living with his art.
“I went to the New Yorker first,” he recalls. “I thought they would put me at a desk where I’d sit there drawing covers.”
No such luck, but NBC offered him a job as a page, giving tours, but he couldn’t see himself doing that. Instead, he went into sales at Lord & Taylor, making $3.30 an hour.
Nights were spent at Les Mouches, Xenon, the Ice Palace and especially Studio 54.
“I always loved dancing, I was at Studio 54 all night. I was young and had great clothes, so we would plow through the crowd and get right in,” he recalls.
Living on his own in the city was a marked contrast to his younger years growing up with his mother, an actress who studied with Lee Strasberg but was a “rageaholic”; a “deadpan hilarious” grandmother whose daily breakfast consisted of scotch and phenobarbital; and some time spent in a “horrible Catholic school” on Long Island.
“I was a talker,” Kaston admits. “I was always the one who got caught talking. Not only did I get bad marks for conduct, but one nun banged my head into the chalkboard.”
The turning point came when one day the nun charged at him and he said, “You come near me and I’ll call 911!” When he got out of there, he realized that there was “much more to the world” than he knew.
Kaston did get some mileage out of his art education, working as a graphic designer (in pre-computer days) for Michael’s Thing, a gay entertainment magazine, as well as, improbably, an orthodox Jewish publication where he put in one day a week for 12 years.
In between was a brief stint doing freelance artwork for the Village Voice, where the hill he chose to fight on consisted of a single cloud.
“They wanted me to move a cloud in my illustration,” he explains. “I said no. They never hired me again.”
He began an almost daily habit of sketching in notebooks when he got sober, 33 years ago.
“It is almost a form of meditation,” he says of the work, which frequently ends up on his Instagram page. “Sometimes I feel they are very precious and sometimes I don’t know if they are any good. But whatever they are, they are mine.”
The monologues began when 10 years ago he and his partner, Kim Allen, were offered a three-hour slot on a Sirius radio show. At some point in the second hour, Allen ran out of things to say, but Kaston just kept up a stream of consciousness and callers made a point of telling them, “We love you guys!”
The pair ventured into live audience territory at Bar 80 on St. Mark’s Place, but even though “there were only five people there, including us,” they continued on until the night when Allen couldn’t be there.
“So I did an hour on my own,” Kaston recalls. “The most difficult part is stopping – I can go on for hours.”
Now happily working as an account manager at a custom lighting company, Remains Lighting, he has continued to sporadically perform. It’s been awhile, though, due to deaths in the family and the unfortunate timing of his previously scheduled gig at the Gene Frankel Theatre, which would have been two years ago if not for the lockdown.
Nevertheless, he plans to hit the mostly bare stage at the Gene Frankel Theatre this Thursday and Friday, June 9-10, with no rehearsal (“I don’t want to lose the immediacy”), no stage fright (“It just doesn’t happen”) and no doubt about what the show is all about.
“The theme is me,” he notes. “It’s all about me.”
Jimmy Kaston will be performing for two nights at the Gene Frankel Theatre on June 9-10. For more info, visit genefrankeltheatre.com/
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.