Tuesday, March 17, 2009


As we wrap up our travels around the state of Texas, a couple of things stick with me. The first is to realize that I haven't really spent a winter in Montana for six years. I have a wonderful yearly migration that takes me to the warm south, when Montana is still getting frost and freak snowstorms. So thank you, Texas, for being warm -

..except for those three days of rain. But, no matter. They did need it.

Two stops will stick in my mind most from our meandering in the Lone Star State. I think this is the most time we've ever spent here...


The last time I was in Lufkin, TX, was on the Trip to Bountiful tour. The theatre sponsors leave personalized gift bags in everyone's hotel rooms, greet us like old friends and generally show us a good bout of southern hospitality. This was the first stop where we experienced some pure sunshine and heat. Most of the gals broke out their sundresses, we had a cookout behind the theatre and some even braved the swimming pool.

The evening before our shows almost everyone gathered onto the outdoor balcony of the hotel (exterior entry doors were never so comfy), played guitar, drank and performed some gymnastics in the grass lawn across the parking lot.

The second day we performed the one hour version, then an evening performance of the full show. On the third day we had two one hour shows, then load out, then leave town - so we had to check out of the hotel. There is a kind of fun, half exhilarating feeling having nowhere to go - that is, no hotel room, no house. It sounds bizarre but there's something exciting in just having the venue and the vans. It really brings to mind an old, old kind of traveling theatre group where everything was mobile and home was really where you laid your head. (Granted, it's fun because we're safe, have money and know we'll be moving on to another hotel, but still..)

When you can curl up and nap backstage or in the vans, there's a kind of vagabond feeling of freedom. On the road in this way, home is where the company is... or the show.


One of my favorite stops (city-wise, at least), has always been Galveston, TX. I have fond memories of an unforgettable skinny-dive into the Gulf on the Steel Magnolias tour, as well as deep sea fishing, eating the best oysters ever, and performing in one of the most beautiful old opera houses in the country.

This year, the damage hurricane Ike wrought on the city broke my heart. In 2005 our comapny traveled through Florida and saw the devastation of Katrina, but there was something even more cutting about walking down the street from the Grand in Galveston and realizing that the windows of my favorite coffee shop were boarded up. The Oyster House. The antique store. Everything, washed over and wrecked.

The theatre itself suffered eight feet of water that destroyed the underground dressing rooms, the stage, and the first five rows of seating in the house. That was in September, 2008. They made a vow to reopen by their birthday in January - and they did. Nothing had to be perfect, just open.

When we arrived they had replaced the stage floor, and had a temporary surface of black MDF down over it, replaced the rows of seating with beautiful new pine wood floors and seats with velvet cushions and polished wooden arms. The dressing rooms below are all still bare dry walls, but they're there, up and functioning.

There are many reports and writings out that you can judge or measure a civilization, community or culture by their artistic achievements. The basic Table of Needs that you learn about in psychology 101 states that you cannot think about higher purposes before basic needs are taken care of.

I'm sure that's true. I'm also sure - by seeing the efforts of the Grand staff to get their doors open and their curtain up - that art, like religion, might very well be a basic human need. It feeds something in us. I applaud the people of Galveston and the Grand Opera house for seeing that and doing everything they could not only to save and nurture a precious historical place, but looking out for the soul of the city by saving and nurturing its art.


Monday, March 09, 2009

The Marathon, and Looks Like Rain

A very happy Monday to everyone!
Why am I so cheerful? Not only did we have yesterday off - the first day off after a ten-day stretch through Iowa, Kansas and parts of Texas - we also had this morning off. Today at noon we're headed off to Lufkin, TX. The last ten days have been a proving ground for the company, and I think everyone got through with flying colors...
Almost everyone, anyway.

Speaking for myself, I'm abnormally short-tempered lately. Or maybe it's not abnormal - I actually think I'm getting more short-tempered as time goes on. To be perfectly frank (because I strive to be diplomatic and think twice before 'speaking' in this blog at all times, in the interests of my professional career...) I'm coming up on the need for a break. This isn't something I wouldn't say to anyone's face (and have said it a lot actually)...

It's funny because it isn't the show itself, which I love watching and studying every night. I love examining the effect on the audience, the reactions, and the work of the actors themselves. There's just something in being a leader/provider that is becoming wearying. I think part of it has to do with the summer and having served a demanding cast in the final show, and some of it with having toured several years in a row and expecting everyone else to know what's going on, when in fact they should have no reason to, and training others is part of the job description. There's a big part of me that loves teaching and loves watching newbies absorb the fun, the wonder and challenge of tour.

So what happened that all of a sudden I'm irritable? An attitude problem most likely, or just weariness. I'm not sure what it speaks to, in the end, but I constantly have to catch myself (or fail to) from giving a brusque answer...I don't like it about myself at all.

That said, even as I sort out my inner tangles, the tour is going well. Our TD warned everyone of the onset of Stage 3 in a company meeting a few days ago, the stage in which everyone gets short and irritable. Several of the company members have approached me after and asked if people really seemed that grumpy, and I realized that the answer was no - it was really just those of us who have toured before. Worse, it was mostly just those of us in management and some others about non-show issues. So I commend our younger company for their attitudes and work ethic. They got through a ten-day stretch of intense work without complaint. Now if the rest of us can absorb their energy we'll be set.

Looks Like Rain

At the moment we're in warm - dare I say hot, sunny Texas, and the humidity is soothing our cough-and-cold weary lungs, the sun is drenching us in spirit-lifting Vitamin D and the cast is at last absorbing the spirit of the South from which the heart of their characters springs. Not a bad week, all in all. It was beautiful to see the first night we performed in a town in Arkansas and the cast was transformed by hearing the dialect and tasting the local flavor.

Now, there's something else on my mind that isn't necessarily to do with the show, but is inspired by it.

I wrote in my personal journal that I've never been so aware of being the Outsider as on this tour. Maybe because of my broader experience? The themes of the show? The fact that two of our cast members were arrested in Iowa and the police officers may or may not have been affected by racism? There are so many little nuances drifting in and out of my awareness on this tour, but I look around less with my rose-colored opinions, really look at the smaller towns and the people. I've always felt welcomed and unique and maybe a little oddball, but never unwelcome...

Now sometimes I notice a sideways look or a frown. I'm more aware of when we sweep in and take over the bar that not everyone is amused by the big and broad personalities I have come to love. It's a discomforting thing to become more aware of, in so many ways.

I don't think anyone is wrong - some are just set in their ways, and seeing a flock of twenty actors come bursting into a small town restaurant has interesting effects on people, and not always good. Now I watch the wild and crazy times with concern and a more matronly eye. I watch the expressions of the locals to see if they find us amusing - or irritating, or in some cases threatening. I watch reluctance of some company members to go certain places for business for worry we'll be cheated, or frowned at, and I've never thought much about these things before. I think that either means I'm sheltered, or just too optimistic. I've never felt this way before.

Part of me would rather seek the best and most accepting part of people. If you walk right up to someone with a smile and shake their hand and assume that they'll accept you at least with courtesy, most of the time they do. If you close yourself off before the exchange even starts, make negative assumptions and live in suspicion - I think a lot of times that's what you'll get.

But that's just me, and my own situation. I haven't had to deal with racism or class-ism or anything else really, not much, in my own life. I'm more aware of it now but I think the conclusion I'm coming to is fairly easy - it's the very theme of the play, in fact. Everyone deserves the basic right of respect as a fellow human being. You can't expect people to take you as you are while secretly thinking of them as un-cultured, ignorant crackers, or expect respect and honesty when you yourself hold back. There's a sense in us that's primal, I think, a kind of light that either turns on in you when you interact with another human being - or doesn't. And if your light doesn't shine for them, theirs certainly won't shine for you, and you both close off to each other.

Obviously this play is taking my mind into interesting places. I don't think I'm finding out anything about buried prejudices in my heart, except that of hoping that people are really good at heart (as Anne Frank wrote); except assuming someone is good until they are proven evil, or ignorant, or whatever else. Then you can dismiss them and shut them out of your life and awareness - which I think is better than giving them your energy in anger or in vengeance.

Maybe I'm ignorant of the ignorance and injustice in the world, and I would rather not look at it - but the things you look at are the things you see, in the end. I choose to look toward the light and hopefully shine a little of my own.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Reasons Why

I’m proud to report that I will have a small article in the upcoming issue of the Equity Newsletter. One of our actresses (Kathy C.) arranged for a couple of us each to write an article from the road, giving some viewpoint about tour, or the show. That said, I’ll expand here on the broad theme that I addressed briefly in that article: My feelings on tour and why I do it; a stage manager’s perspective.

It seems like that’s what the whole blog is about lately, doesn’t it? That’s only because right now I’m on tour, and it’s all-consuming. Any theatre process is, if you can admit it. It really is. Not only are you creating a whole other world over the process of a few weeks and months, but you also have to maintain the world you live in. That takes a lot of creative and emotional power. A lot. So why do it, month after month?

In my little article I mention the joy of audience reaction. I’ve written a lot about that here, too. In only a slightly more mature way, it’s the same kind of satisfying feeling I would get when, as a child, Mom or Dad would put up my drawings on the fridge. It’s saying to the world, “Look what we did! Look what we’ve made. Come into our world. Come hear our story.” And I get to see the audience enjoy what I enjoyed the first time I saw (and still do). There’s an instant rush of success and joy when one thousand people laugh, gasp or weep.

There is that. On tour you get so many audiences, of all incomes, ages, races and whatever else, all human beings coming together to watch another human story – and in it, find a little piece of themselves. That’s what it really comes down to.

There is also the daily satisfaction of the challenge and success of putting up the set and show in a new place. The most powerful force in the creative world is not inspiration, heart, money or anything else: It is a deadline. (Look up an author named Chris Baty if you want to hear more about that). We have a nightly deadline of a 7:30 or 8:00 curtain, the occasional matinee. The show must go on! There’s no walking into a space and saying, “No, it can’t be done today.” It’s never ‘if’, it’s always ‘how.’ That’s invigorating. Part of me understands how newspaper folks must feel, meeting their deadline. It’s your daily supplement of accomplishment. I think we need that as human beings in order to thrive. So not only do we perform challenging creative work, but we get applauded for it – literally – every time.

So there’s that.

There’s also the traveling itself. How many jobs can you find that pay you to travel? Granted, there aren’t many days we get a chance to step out and sight-see, but we get a delicious sampling of the country so later we can say, “Oh yes, I love Georgia in April,” or, “Oh, I love Memphis.” Or at the very least, discover some place you’d want to go back to. Or as I’ve done, you can look forward every year to seeing spring in the northeast and driving from town to town through Appalachia in the early morning hours.

Why else would anyone tour? There’s still a little romance in being a traveling, performing band. Even with all the dangers that still exist with being the Outsider in a small town (we’ve run into that already on this tour), there’s a mystique to pulling into town, throwing up the show and saying We are here… and then moving on. I believe powerfully that if we touch one heart or alter one viewpoint with one performance, our work is done.

As of now we’ve performed for over fifteen thousand people in four different states. With three months and a whole lot of cities to go, I’d say our odds are pretty good. Those aren’t all the reasons, but those are a few. Tour isn’t for everyone, but it clicks with some people. It clicked with me, and maybe that’s the only reason I need. For some people it doesn’t matter the show, the itinerary or the mode of travel; they’ll just never find a good reason to enjoy tour.

For other kinds of people... well, you've already heard it. The reasons go on and on.

Coming up, some newsletters about cities we've performed in, fun audiences, some not-so-fun experiences...stay tuned. I promise I'll be here!