Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler interviews author and acrobat Joe Putignano.
After seeing a Broadway show, you may find yourself reading performer biographies and dreaming of lives filled with standing ovations and bright lights. But what you don’t realize is that their lives are filled with the same kinds of trials and tribulations as our own. In Acrobaddict, Joe Putignano’s new gripping memoir about his battle with heroin, the Cirque du Soleil and Broadway performer recounts his love for gymnastics and his slow descent into addiction and subsequent sobriety.
Tumbling around his living room from the time he was a small child, Putignano says that he was born with a natural ability. “It’s like a musician hearing their instrument for the first time. I knew the first time I saw it on TV I knew this was it. It’s exactly what dancers say, a fire inside of me. As if I was doing it in a past life.” But his love for gymnastics was also tethered to the stigma of participating in a sport not identified as masculine in his Boston neighborhood. “The teenage mind and social system is an atom bomb wrapped in denim and designer clothes,” he writes, “drenched in perfume and cologne, and steered by an intellect that thinks it knows everything.”
Putignano’s passion turned to obsession—one that he feels he was born with and that parallels his addiction. But he is quick to point the difference: “Passion is creative and inspires others and brings unity. Obsession destroys.”
His exploration with alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine and marijuana eventually led to heroin use and a suicide attempt that nearly killed him. He writes, “I wanted my soul to rocket through my skin and stain the floor where I once lived and breathed, to forever nark my pain, regret, shame and anger.”
Putignano also had to face his homosexuality and a romantic obsession with a fellow addict whom he eventually disassociated with in order to save both their lives. After attempts at recovery and relapses, he found himself in New York City, which he describes as “being trapped in a nonstop fashion show of sex, pride, prestige and power. Gorgeous people, too busy to appreciate each other’s beauty…”
Putignano eventually landed a job at The New York Times in an administrative position as he continued to face his demons and regain his strength. He was hired as an acrobat in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera House and then again for Samson & Delilah. He not only stretched himself to overcome his addiction, but was literally stretching himself to explore the world of contortionism as an addendum to his gymnastics ability.
Take the jump to read about Putignano’s experience on Broadway and with Cirque du Soleil.