Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Circle

I'll pretend that last post was actually posted at Halloween and that this one is months later after time spent at mundane labor and reflection.

I've been thinking for awhile about the Magic of our profession. Performers uphold it, Designers crave it, hardcore Technicians stick it in their belt with a snarky comment and a smirk. I stand between, one foot on the outside, one foot in rehearsal, and watch the magic work. Sometimes for warmup or focus, I still gather casts in a circle.

When we speak of the Circle, we say it with a sideways smile, from the corner of our mouth, because it's something we've sat in since kindergarten and Acting for Non-Majors. It's something for Pow-wows and prayer and curious, old, wonky beliefs that have no place in the modern high paced world, right up there with songs like 'Kumbaya' and campfires.

But the circle endures in everything we do. The circus uses three rings. Football fields are ringed all around by viewers. Theatre in the round and in thrust seems to be the fad of the future. What other place do we sit and watch not only actors onstage, but look up and across at each other? There is magic in that, and so I still use it.

When we speak of the Circle, we gather for our warmup with a flippant comment and a joke and someone sings a line from Kumbaya or makes dramatic about holding hands. We mustn't take ourselves too seriously, we really can't, or the magic slips from our fingers. But under the snark and the smirk, I think it's really there, and I think we really know it.

So we stand in a circle, still, onstage sometimes. And it works, whether we really admit it or not, no matter what we do in that circle. That's why we still do it. We stand and look and we must look at each other, and feel the heat of another on either side of us, and bring everyone's mind to the center and feel the power there.

It's okay to chuckle and smirk. Nothing sillier than grown professional adults believing in magic.

Except we do. That's why we're here.

Mike Eldred and the cast of Godspell. Alpine Theatre Project, summer 2007

But What I Really Want to Do....

...is design! Ha! No, not really. I can fake my way through a design for Halloween, as you see here. Just thought I would show everyone how I'm keeping the theatrical spirit alive in my off time. Maybe it's a little too much off time. I love that Halloween is so enormously ridiculous and well-celebrated in Whitefsh. It gives me an excuse to play dress up again. Yes, I designed and created the costume, and yes, I also did the cheesy photo manipulation to place myself in the woods.
And yes, I also won Second Place in the down town costume contest. (Comes with a cash prize that almost covered the cost of the costume. Oh yeah.)

View from the back ;) I made and painted the wings too. What an Ordeal.

Closeup of my makeup and sparkliness. Good time of year. Ciao...

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Learning Curve

I'm proud to say that much of my extra time this summer was spent working on a very important personal project, and that will be my excuse for not updating.
In my Vast Years of Experience (yes, that's big sarcasm) I've never worked for such a young company. One must keep on one's toes and take nothing for granted. I'm used to the system of decades-old companies that, while you face challenges galore, there's a general system in place for most of the regular details.
ATP is a glorious and ambitious theatre that I admire very much, for the scale of their dreams as well as giving theatre jobs to people like me. Every year they learn a little something new. This year's big challenge on my end was scheduling. Leave no calender stone unturned. Stay on top of the clock and make sure everyone's thinking about the things that should be thought about.
It all sounds obvious, but it's surprising how quickly things will sneak up on you, especially when Equity slips in. The stakes for ATP are also much higher than I've had to think about before. Every performance is a proving ground: are we worth the donor's money, the company's effort, the city's time?

But overall the summer has been good. Very different. It's interesting to see the next tier of skill in performance that these actors bring to the stage. Sometimes the more an actor has carved their place and paid their dues, the more dramatic they can be, and what can you do but be calmer? On the whole the company rocked. In the world of theatre, you're either whirling within the hurricane, or you're in the eye, I think. I suppose you could be standing miles away watching, but what fun is that?

There are a lot of concrete details to remember and track, of course, to wield next time. But as the season winds to a close this weekend I can only hope that the intangible lessons will stick with me, the lessons that can't be Told. There are lessons that you have to slog through, have dropped in your lap or dissolve in front of your face so that next time, when the situation that no one can prepare you for begins to worm to the surface, you'll notice the early warning signs.
Some lessons are obvious when you think about them, but trickier in execution. Some of the intangibles that I think can be applied to any field in theatre, and perhaps any field anywhere:

Don't worry about things you can't control.

You can't control the weather.

Know the rules.

There's no reason to take anything at work personally. Remember, it's Work. Not You. We in the creative field forget this, because so many of our passions lie in what we do. Remember to seperate. You're still a good, competent human being even if you Did call that cue late. (Yes, that note is to myself.)

There is a never a situation that excuses discourteousness. (Also to me. Take a deep breath.)

Smiles go a long way. So does asking how someone's doing, even if you don't care. Kindness diffuses tension. Sounds cheesy, but I really did learn this.

Perspective: The weeks, tears, sweat and stress that we compact into a performance consumes our world. But remember, it's only two hours out Mr. or Mrs. Audience Person's evening. See lesson One.

When in doubt, coming bearing candy.

And with that... I'm ready to call it a season.

The Recipe

For Large Musical
10 Actors
1 Large and intimidating set
A handful of crew (but probably not enough)
7 gallons of Glitter
A variety of Designers
A judicious sprinkling of Musicians
100 Beers
10 gallons of Coffee

Mix together and stir for two weeks. Bake at high temperature under particolored lights in a darkened space for three days.
Dump in Audience.
Serve up one Godspell (serves 300)

For One Smaller musical:
4 Actors
1 Large and funky set.
1 Piano Player
1 Violinist

Note: While it is an interesting experiment to attempt this Recipe with the Cook/director gone for three days, it is not recommended. Also never underestimate the complexity of a recipe due to its smaller portions. Time and forethought are recommended for this recipe as much as for the Large Musical.
Throw together in two days under Lights on Set. May be disatisfying if ingredients are not allowed proper cooking time. Given one performance in front of an audience and an extra tech rehearsal, better results may be achieved.

For One Comedy:
4 Actors
1 shit-ton of Dialogue
1 semi-absent-for-the-first-few-rehearsals-SM
1 or 2 Nervous Breakdowns

As for the Smaller Musical, the amount of Cooking Time for the comedy is not to be underestimated. Fewer ingredients does not equal less cooking time. Dished up prematurely, such a Recipe may end up lumpy and less palatable than one given an extra few days to cook.
This time may be substituted for extra Line rehearsals in addition to quick Broiling in front of an audience.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The First Dream

We'll pretend that I'm a religious journal keeper and the last weeks of tour were faithfully recorded for your entertainment and my personal log of life.

Now, onward to my next season (perhaps with bits from tour sprinkled in).

You all know what I'm talking about - and if you don't, I want your secret to night time oblivion. There comes a time in the Process when, while you remain outwardly calm and unruffled, your mind worries away at the upcoming onslaught of creative egg-beating and potential brilliance or disaster. You toil away during your daylight hours to get the show up and then, at night, your most secret and greatest fears come to life.
The dreams.
Last night I had my first and I haven't even begun work yet. In the dream, we were opening 'Godspell'. For some reason, I was part a preshow appearance of actors onstage. I was holding a large cross and was part of the center piece arrangement onstage. I kept looking at my wrist, even though I wasn't wearing a watch, knowing that I should be calling times and places soon. I finally managed to slip offstage and make it to the booth just in time to start the play. I knew Betsi was waiting as I fumbled through the balcony to get to my spot. I put on my headset and apologized to everyone for being late. I informed them that I was pretty sure this was a dream, since I didn't remember any of the rehearsal process, nor did I have any cues written in my prompt book! They assured me they would take care of it (they had obviously been through some rehearsals I missed...) and the show began! It was very odd. I didn't care for the music or the lighting and I woke up relieved because I knew our 'Godspell' would be much better and hopefully I would be more prepared.
I can't wait to see what happens when we've actually started rehearsals.

The other thing I've realized over my break here is that for the last four years I've basically spent my May-June months indoors. From nine in the morning until the dark hours of the evening I've been inside and missed spring springing and summer blossoming until my days are free to explore.

These last weeks I've been overhwhelmed by green and the scent of earth and flowers coming to life again. Fancy, isn't it? I could get used to this, but I will pay for it later once we've settled into a stock season. That's right. Once we start rehearsals we're in it almost until the end of summer. My solace is of course, Equity hours and daylights savings time. I'll still have my summer, but I'll miss the power of the repertory, days free season.

I call this my "Nyah nyah!" view....

And I'll miss Bigfork. My heart broke when we went to the opening night of their comedy, this year, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged" - wonderful! But...I saw all the people I wouldn't get to work with and smelled the theatre and the booth I wouldn't be rehearsing and calling in, even the rehearsal hall. I never thought I would miss the rehearsal hall; bland walls and a mylar floor to protect the actors' feet, the air heavy and sticky and smelling hopelessly of sweat. I remember leaving fans running all night and coming early in the morning to open the doors, run the fans and spray cinnamon air freshener in the hopes of clearing the air a little so everyone could feel we had a fresh slate to work in - not a space dampened and warm from yesterday's efforts.

I'll miss it.

And I'll miss shrimp-filled, meatball laden and sparkling champagne opening nights, actors gleaming from their efforts to burst out of the cannon like fireworks - the triumphant glow dimmed only by the knowledge that we have to get enough sleep to begin rehearsals for the next show all too early Tomorrow.

I'll miss that, too.

Local families who have been loyally attending the Bigfork Summer Playhouse seasons host parties for the company and for their friends who lovingly corner an actor or a designer to ask them about the Process. We've all come up with answers that are witty, charming and warm enough to involve them and help them understand, a little. But you can't really understand if you haven't been there. You just can't.

People say you have to 'move on'. Or 'move up'. I don't know about that. To me, it's all creating. Maybe I've 'paid my dues' or I want to work an easier schedule or just be able to keep an entirely different job that happens to require that I'm Union. But the ache of missing what has been my summer home and family? I wouldn't call that moving on. I certainly wouldn't call it moving up. I would call it moving. I would call it shifting sideways to get a new look, see new people, be nestled in by a different lake, a different mountain and getting ready to learn the smell of a new rehearsal space. A new booth. New actors. A new stage.

I'll miss Bigfork. But as I've learned from touring, wherever the theatre is, is home.

Break a leg...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Walkin' in Memphis

All right.. a picture dump for you to make up for not writing so much! Here is our side trip to Memphis, thanks to Jim's quick thinking and schedule changing before we set out on the road.

Lauren makes a new friend.

Walking with our feet on Beale..

You bet we ate here.

Following are some pictures from our riverboat tour on the mighty Mississippi.

Dueling cameras!

If you're in the market for a pyramid, that one is for sale.

Finally, my "artistic" black and white shot. I took a few of these, but this was my favorite. Needless to say, the river and the views are breathtaking. It's always fascinating to learn the history while you're actually floating down the river.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Deep South

The Riley
We spent some time toodling around the south. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee... Our first stop thataway was the lovely Riley theatre in Meridian, MS, a lovingly restored Grand style opera house. Their lambrequin (spelling may be off...) curtain was the original one that hung in the 1890's and had a portrait of a woman everyone just calls, 'The Lady' and a light is left glowing dimly on her during every performance.

Prettiest building on the block!

If you look to the right hand corner you can barely see the Lady there on the curtain...

It was a good day. We had local volunteers, kids from the college (who preferred to stand some ways off discussing computers rather than lift walls) and four young men from the Navy who were wonderful. My favorite part of the day (in keeping with my Epiphany) was to see how the city had given the money and effort to restore their beautiful theatre.

Next favorite stop was Baton Rouge! That's right. One night only, though. Our venue was the local university theatre. Not much to speak of there. A typical load -in and show, but I was able to acquire some tasty craw fish ettouffe, gumbo and regular ol' boiled and spiced craw fish. It was something that had to be done while we were in the proper region, don't you think? And they were delicious.

Our hotel room in Baton Rouge was really the topper of the day. A bit cozy size-wise but goodness were they beautiful! It's stops like this that wake you up and make you remember that you're in a different place almost every night. It's so easy to coast through without taking everything in. But this place had some style and we wallowed in luxury for the evening:

We were scheduled to remain in Baton Rouge for the next couple of days, but J.R. proposed a more adventurous plan...

Sunday, March 04, 2007


A sunset from...Utah(?)

I rode in the Green Van today. Lauren and I sat in the back like kids on the bus with Lordan ahead of us, then Libby, and J.R. and Suzy at the helm. That was like a little play all in itself. I didn't have to drive today, which left a lot of time for reading, sleeping and pondering.

It occured to me today that as we're going through random towns that no one would pick out on a map and say, "I bet they have great theatre there," there is always something. There is always a group of people determined to make art somewhere. Sometimes the community loves, supports and nurtures its artists and performers and sometimes it takes them awhile to come around if they ever do.

But while we humans don't always feel the need to experience art, I have seen that some of us never stop feeling the need to create it.

It certainly isn't a new realization, but it was interesting to experience it now and think about in relation to our travels and the hoops we see people leap through in order to create.

Think about it...

and happy trails for now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From Orange to Here... or 'After the Hotel Tried to Eat Me'

Down Home

I run out of poetry in homage to places like Orange. They treat us like gold and we love them for it. The space is huge, well equipped and and an easy load in. Their volunteers are generally good and the food they cook us is a little bit of Southern love. We got turkey and sausage gumbo, oriental salad, fruit salad, a vegetarian pasta dish, corn bread, bread, and an array of rich desserts that just make you feel a little bit better about the world.

What else can you say about that? It was a good day.

My time in Orange after that was fraught with peril and adventure. The morning we were to leave Orange my bathroom door mysteriously locked me into the bathroom. There was no actual lock mechanism on the door for me to mess with, and it wasn't just jammed shut. The knob wouldn't turn. So I was locked in the bathroom with no phone, no tools... The odd part was that I almost did take my phone in, then figured I didn't really need to keep track of time in the bathroom.

A very weird panic set in. I know I wasn't in imminent danger, but the feeling of being locked in with no real way out was disturbing and scary. I probably could have waited until people started wondering and calling and knocking but that was a long way off and the panic would not let me wait.

I remember once in a fit of temper I slammed one of the light weight doors in our house and it hit so hard that it opened and stuck in the wrong direction... I gave this door a good kick to see if that might work here too.. or at least maybe knock it open. It gave a little and, still weirded out and claustrophobic, I got encouraged and kept kicking, determined not to stay in there any longer.

Needless to say, I got out. Dramatic maybe, but I can't even describe how not-fun it was to be locked in.

After realizing what I just did, I called Libby and... she sorted everything out for me. Apparently people have complained about being locked in that bathroom before. Well. Now maybe they'll fix it.
So ended my adventures in Orange. We'll just sum on up here so that I'm no longer states behind myself in the way of blogging...
Next stop was College Station, home of the Texas Aggies. Most of the town was clean and full of money, and we spent our time in the theatre at the college and along a strip filled with food and shopping opportunities for all.

The theatre itself brought to mind a Greek amphitheatre and I had the urge to fill the space between audience and stage with..something. A moat, maybe. Don't ask me why. I enjoyed the space but I know some of the actors felt seperated and distanced from the audience.

The Rudder

It was here we managed to tighten up the show a bit. Things have been going beautifully, there's just always that time when things started to breath out a little. Here everyone tightened up the belt again (so to speak) and trimmed up the show to our snappy, crisp comedy pace. The pattern of such a long run of tour goes through different stages and the show changes every couple of weeks in slow progression...we've just come upon another wave and I can't wait to see what happens next. We had a talkback at this venue..one man asked if anyone ever got so into their role that they had to hold themselves back from punching Grandma...but my favorite question was from a little boy wanting to know what was really in Uncle Louie's black bag. Ah, the deep mysteries of the theatre..next up:

Texarkana..."It's twice as nice!"

Twice as nice as what, precisely, we're not sure yet. The Perot theatre has a pretty house, old opera style again, but the key word for the stage itself is just 'old'. We had a very early leave, almost six hour drive and then load in and show. Our van arrived with plenty of time to find lunch and get to work, but I made the mistake of forgetting that there really isn't anything to eat around town. I got peeved, drove a little frighteningly around the town until we gave up and went to Taco Bell and rolled in just in time to start. We were a little rough around the edges by the time we got there. I was, anyway. For some reason I've become a very irritable driver but...I'm working on it.


The hotel in Tex-Ark was lovely, at any rate, had a first rate breakfast, and from there we traveled on to the fine state of Mississippi...from where, if you can believe, I am actually writing now.

On the Ferry

Our next stop was Orange, Texas, which for many of us is like coming to a second home. We get hugs when we walk through the door and they feed us a home made feast.
But first, we got a little adventure! Taking the ferry from Galveston is a novel way to get off the island, commune with the sea and some gulls and get some good photos that make it look as if we're doing interesting things.

So long, Galveston!

Marie and Lauren venture from the van...

Now, this is the oddest thing ever. I got my usual 'Here's me on tour!' shot. The one on the top is from this year. The one on the bottom is from last year. Does anyone else notice something spooky? If you spot it, you win a prize.

..I think it's time for me to buy some new shirts.

The Grand 1894 Opera House

Galveston is generally a good day. With loads of good seafood to eat in town, the ocean crashing so close we can feel it and a beautiful theatre, there's a lot to look forward to. This year their Union crew seemed particularly...well, particular about their safety regulations, which is a good idea, but they seemed less particular about the way they handled our set. When we unloaded in Orange we found several bits of small damages that no one informed us of back in Galveston. There were some other complaints but.. at least we got to enjoy some seafood.

And now..I think the Grand is best summed in up with the series of photos taken obsessively by me...

What a joy to work somewhere so beautiful.

The Lone Star State

We spent a couple of quality days in the vans after leaving New Mexico. We hit I-40 and zoomed across the Panhandle of Texas toward Wichita Falls and then on to Crockett, our next venue. I was able to fulfill a personal mission during that first drive day.

I spent about half of my formative growing up years on a ranch 9 miles north of Amarillo and I was determined to see it again. I came close during the Steel Magnolias tour but it didn't work out, but this time nothing would stop me. Not even construction. The road to my house was blocked so we meandered around the neighborhoods nearby until we came out on the other side of construction and drove on to the house. We parked at the top of the hill and I got to see that the ranch is prospering! Old buildings that I remember from my childhood were replaced with new; big bales of hay were set everywhere and whoever owns it now has named it the Bended Knee Ranch. It was gratifying to see it still going strong.
I'm not sure what the need is to Go Home. I also saw my old house in Albuquerque a couple of years ago. There is something about going back to a place that we've known, that meant something and helped to form us. Maybe it's just wanting to remember or.. be able to see it with our grown up eyes. I'm not sure, but the pull is very strong.

After my reunion with the Ranch I took Marie and Lauren to the experience of a lifetime...eating at the Big Texan steak house. The restaurant is painting in garrish yellow and blue and adorned with stuffed animal heads and other trophies. There's a souvenier shop and a little 'shooting gallery' where you can try your hand at shooting targets on various animatronic creatures to make them do amusing things. If you can eat their 72oz. steak and meal in an hour you get it for free! ...I had chicken fried chicken, myself.

The next drive day our adventures centered around trying to meet up with a friend and actor from the Bigfork season who's in Dallas... but it turned out his acting class was headed to Fort Worth to go to the zoo and study animal movements. Rather than give up, we took ourselves on down to the zoo! It was an excellent, sunny afternoon spent with the wildlife, we got our hugs from Jon and drove on to Crockett, where the rest of the company had been playing in the court yard of the hotel all afternoon near the pool and were having beers and playing guitar by the time we arrived.

A lovely fountain in the courtyard of our hotel.

But anyway, back to work...

As you can see by the photo, Crockett was an interesting day. The space was originally built for events like the tractor pull, but they eventually put up a stage area and seating and called it a theatre. We fit our set in with the help of a big invisible shoe horn threw a few lights on it and called it a day. It's the adventerous venues like this one that make you feel the most accomplished about getting it and making it work, but sometimes it makes for a long day. I do love to see all the smaller theatres out there working and striving with every ounce of resources that they have to get shows together and bring in companies like the Rep.

Next stop.. Galveston

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Snapshots, Part III

Chihuly Irises (I think that's what they were) Lobby of the Spencer.

Chihuly's 'Sunset Tower' in the glassed-in lobby of the Spencer against a backdrop of white mountains.

This is my kind of theatre.

Me, trying to be a Chihuly flower...

Okay, this one is from Albuquerque. I guess I like to take pictures of people sleeping. But look at how her blanket is coming along!