It’s hard for me to write about Tyne Firmin. He’s so dear to me. He’s an amazing friend, a fantastically talented actor, a teacher, a director. We’ve been friends for half a lifetime, and creative collaborators for almost as long. Our relationship is kind of like a marriage, in that we bicker, we push each others buttons, we help each other, we celebrate each other. We understand each other’s creative sensibility, and our talents compliment one another’s. Tyne is also kind and amazingly patient, and puts up with my (only sometimes!) temperamental snippy attitude.
I first met Tyne while working as a cater waiter in a mid-town hotel around 1991. Throughout the years, many boyfriends, health problems, moves, our friendship has remained. And Tyne and I found ourselves often working creatively together, and usually on some crazy how-the-hell-did-we-end-up-in-this-crazy-show kind of situation. I don’t remember what the first show we did together was, perhaps it was the episodic late night theatrical soap opera that we were both in, Ailanthus Grove? Or was it the madcap musical revue Out of the Trunk? (In that one, Tyne was the stage manager, and heroically stepped in to the final performance when another actor had to leave town on a family emergency.) Well, let’s just say we’ve never done Shakespeare.
Tyne was born in southern Lousiana in Cajun country, and lived in a lot of the places you hear about on the news when there’s a big hurricane. “My parents split up when I was around 10 or 11, and my mom moved my sisters and I up to southern Missouri.” Tyne was a shy child, so his Ma tried putting him in art classes, private French horn lessons and getting him involved in church to get him to come out of his shell. (Geez, was she grooming him to be a homo?)
In high school, while his sisters were cheerleading (why didn’t you try that, Tyne?!), his mom sent him to volunteer at the community theater, and he was bit by the acting bug. He threw himself into acting at the theater and joined the drama club at school. His senior year, he was cast as the lead in the school play, Flowers for Algernon.
In college and grad school, he continued performing, playing such roles as Jacquot in Carnival, the Emcee in Cabaret, Philip II in The Lion in Winter and his favorite, the ten Arles roles in Greater Tuna. He also did summer stock, getting roles like Linus in Snoopy, Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest.
He then moved to New York, where he did a few touring theater jobs before landing the role of Seymour in the European Tour of Little Shop of Horrors.
“When I returned to the U.S. from touring, I got a job catering at a Times Square hotel where I first met Charles,” Tyne said. If that wasn’t tragic enough, things were about to get really hard for Tyne. “Within a few months of working there, I had an unexplainable stroke that had all the doctors stymied. No cause was ever found. I left the Big Apple for eight months and went back to Louisiana where I had to relearn to read, write, and create sentences. I had lost all ability to say more than three words at a time. Who am I kidding? It’s still rough, and that was 25 years ago!”
Tyne came back to New York, back to waiting tables and his passion for theater. Tyne studied acting with the master teacher Fred Kareman and worked with Fred’s wife Pamela Moller-Kareman for many years at The Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls, NY. He has performed in Off Broadway productions of Nora, The Crucible, and Biography as well as the Kafkaesque musical Ministry of Progress. He’s also had great roles in plays by Tennessee Williams.
Besides his fantastic acting talents, one of Tyne’s most admirable traits is that he always says yes to creative things, whether it be being part of a show or painting an apartment. That’s how I conned him into being a part of our first video adventure together, Manhattan Man-Travels. “Hey, Tyne,” I said, “how’d you like to shoot some video of these little sketches I wrote?” Poor thing didn’t know what he was getting into. Here it is years later, and those sketches have become Merce.
When writing the scripts for Merce, I knew that he needed to play Mama. Tyne wasn’t thrilled about having to get into the make-up, wig and bra (although methinks he didth protest too much), but truly, his performance is hilarious and touching. Tyne’s going to be the breakout star.
Besides his fantastic performance, Tyne also directs the eight episodes of Merce, making sure that my crazy vision is fleshed out. He was great on set, communicating with the actors and crew. He’s also been the guiding hand in the editing process, working with the team to make each episode come to life. Tyne has a wonderful sense of storytelling, and understands the rhythm of comedy. He’s also very detail oriented, and can see where a camera move or a close up can make the story more clear or the joke funnier. Brilliant.
Tyne recently had another minor stroke. He’s recovering from this one much more quickly than the one 25 years ago, and this time he didn’t lose his speech or reading and writing abilities. It’s still pretty scary, but he’s doing amazingly well, and it hasn’t stopped his work on our series.
“I truly feel that it is time for the world to get to know Merce,” Tyne says. “He is a great guy. He has courage and loves unabashedly, if sometimes rashly. He makes his world work for him and that’s something that I want to try to do everyday. I’d like to be more like him.”
Funny. With his talent, kindness, patience and perseverence, I want to be more like Tyne.
P.S. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make a stroke joke. This is a song I often sing to myself when I’m talking to Tyne. “STROKE ME, STROKE ME!”