By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
You can also show her heading into yet another school, another classroom, another closed society with a determined pecking order not to be messed with. And you can show her being utterly unbowed by the challenge.
"She always had an easy time being in front of people," her mother says. "With all these moves into different schools, I'd drop her off the first day, and when I came back to get her she'd be surrounded by a big group of kids wanting to know everything about her."
"I would just march into a school and pick out who the most popular girls were and go right on up to them and start in," Cooper says. "People who hear about my upbringing sometimes say stuff like 'That must have been so hard,' but I think I'm more confident and happy than a lot of my friends who had traditional middle-class upbringings. A lot of it is because of my mom -- she sent me into the world with a lot of confidence I think my friends who are fucked up, I think it comes from a lack of self-esteem because they didn't get enough reassurance when they were little."
Act I, Scene 2: Love and Heartbreak
Things weren't that simple, of course -- Cooper spent much of her time as a latchkey kid. She began a lifelong love affair with television, mesmerized by Lucy, entranced by Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley musicals, captivated by the snappy patter of Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man.
Therein would lie a song, no doubt, a fantasy scene that would highlight Cooper's ability to do slapstick comedy, demanding dance numbers and witty dialogue.
The TV also served as a way to avoid her parents' deteriorating marriage. "Obviously, they were different people," Cooper says. "My mom didn't want to live in a school bus and drive around the country, and he did."
They divorced when she was seven, but the worst was yet to come.
"Within a year of the divorce, he was having a real hard time -- there were definitely some screws missing at that point," she says. "He hooked up with this really unstable woman and decided to cut off all contact with his family. It was hard for me, because it wasn't the classic businessman running off with the young secretary and still calling his kid every once in a while."
Instead, one day when she was eight years old, Cooper was talking to her father on the phone. " 'Hey, I'll call you right back,' he said to me. And then I didn't hear from him for 11 years."
She usually knew where he was at any given time, because he traveled with (naturally) the Renaissance Faire, selling carvings of Celtic crosses, Stars of David and Klingon symbols.
"When I was living in Houston I would know when the Renaissance Faire was in town, and I would have these dreams of going to it and walking right up to him and saying, 'Hey, Dad, it's me.' But I never did it," Cooper says.
Instead, she pined for her father -- every musical needs that heartfelt ballad of loss -- and got on with her life, helped by her mother's lack of bitterness.
"I just kept telling her and telling her," Bottger says, "that he would show up again someday and that he really loved her."
Cooper kept in weekly touch with her Chicago paternal grandparents, an apparently zany crew who she says is right out of the raucous dining room scene from Annie Hall. (A death in the family kept her father from talking to the Houston Press for this story.)
Act I, Scene 3:
Home At Last
Things continued on; the constant moving slowed, and eventually Cooper's mother was hired to help open the Whole Foods Market in Houston in 1984.
Cooper began attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, coming in with an academic record that allowed her to begin her junior year just as she turned 15 years old. At HSPVA she met a half-dozen of the folks who would become the backbone of Infernal Bridegroom Productions.
"She came in, and she's kind of this gigantic personality," says Nodler, one of IBP's founders.
It was hard to avoid being swept up in it all -- the days spent taking dance classes, the nights collaborating on productions, talking about The Meaning of It All, doing whatever drugs seemed handy, falling in love with whoever seemed most intense. (Here's where the requisite Fame number -- or, more likely, a spoof of the requisite Fame number -- comes in.)
So it came as an unpleasant jolt a year later when Cooper's mother told her that once again they would be moving -- this time to California.
"I said no," Cooper says.
And partly through hippie benevolence, partly through a trust in her kid, partly because she needed to move whether her daughter came or not, Cooper's mother let her stay in Houston. The teenager lived with a series of family friends -- including, she says, yet another couple of "crazy hippies," this one "with lots of sticky, naked children running around."