Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Ghost Story

From the deep heart of the South, the land of cotton... this past week we played two shows at the beautiful Grand Theatre in Macon, Georgia. Built in the 1800's, it was a cozy, ornate old opera house gilded with gold and statues and lion's heads, hidden doors, secret halls... and a ghost.
In 1971 the old house manager disappeared for days. One day they finally noticed his car in the parking lot, and searched every nook and cranny of the old theatre. They finally found his body up in the fourth floor, attic-level rafters of the old thunder room. A bottle of alcohol, tranquilizers and a gun sat next to his body.
Because he had laid there so long in the Georgia heat, his bodily fluids and fats had melted out of him into the floorboards of the there is a stain of where he was, to this day. His name was Randall...and the only thing that makes him angry is if you say aloud that you don't believe.
This door leads to the booth...

I heard the story and had planned to take 'the ghost' tour later with everyone else. I ended up finding it on my own. The way to the booth where I call the show involved climbing three flights of a narrow, curved, tight metal staircase, creeping through old, crumbling doors and walking through disused, dusty third-balcony seating. It was so beautiful and spooky and full of history, and I noticed the stairs went one flight higher, so I climbed on up to look...
And ducked through the little rooms and passages until I found myself in the old thunder room. In the center of the room was a string of rope light that pulsed softly - from below, it lit up a series of stars pierced in the sky-painted ceiling of the house. From where I stood, it was a tangled white coil that illuminated the scene of the suicide committed so long ago. I was going to walk in and see 'the place'...but I felt as if I couldn't move.

Whether from my own superstition or fear, I felt as if a soft wall blocked me from that room. I didn't step in. I wished Randall peace, and I went back down again.

Happy Halloween.

This year's pumpkin, by yours truly.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Look

Just a brief note to point out (if you didn't notice), my snazzy new look! Thanks to Lauren ^-^ over at (Mis)Adventures for the tip...


Sorry if the blog takes a little longer to load, but don'cha just love it?

I'd write but...I have to go do some theatre stuff...

Macon, GA today...

Round Up:

Weather: Beautiful and sunny (after days of rain)
Theatre: The Grand in Macon, GA
Hotel: Best Western with overly enthusiastic yet stern Front Desk Manager
Wildlife spotted: Two hawks flew over the road yesterday
Shows remaining: 17

Outlook? Pennies from Heaven..

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Down Home

The Princess Theatre in Decatur, AL - and a full house.

I realize it's been awhile since I've spoken on the importance of a good cup of coffee. Being down in the South has renewed my commitment to always having a decent cup of Joe on hand, however. It just isn't that important of a Thing, down here. I have purchased, for my tour survival, an air-tight container in which to store my grounds. Having noticed how coffee suffers under the constant humidity and temperature changes as we travel on our merry way, I think it was only common sense to buy a special container.

This week's blend: Starbucks Kitamu African blend...delicious, spicy & floral. I also make it too strong so it's POW with two whole mini packets of half & half.

But enough about coffee (okay, never enough, but enough for now)... we were speaking about the south. It has been a special treat to perform this play in Alabama. The last few years we've been through the state, I never felt anything particularly special except to notice a certain kind of obnoxious aggression in their driving. Bringing this story down here, however, has enlightened me to the true spirit of Alabama.

Even in the rain, I somehow noticed the beautiful scenery - sprawling highways flanked by autumn trees, rise of gray rocks and misty hills. Even the kudzu vine, lush with fall rain, has a certain, ominous beauty to it.

The people have received us well. It's less like Texas, where they cherish the story, and more like coming home. They appreciate us telling this tale. For a little while, we're among our neighbors. They've fed us well, treated us well, embraced us (literally) as their friends and co-conspirators in the arts and in storytelling.

It was different in Mississippi, where they (like the Texans), had a touching, heart-strings kind of connection to our American, southern tale... but Alabama has been like home.

Heck, I'll say it... it's been sweet home... Alabama.

Writing from Opelika...where - from hotel to venue to restaurant - they know you by name, and treat you like family.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And now, back to our regularly schedule blogging

From Lafayette, LA

Back in the South, baby! There's something about being back down here that wakes up something inside me. Maybe it's all the great writers who came out of the south, or just the particularly haunting history. This deep, in the land of bayous and boudin and crawfish and music and voodoo... well, who wouldn't be inspired? I know it's a thrill for the actors to play down here. They soak up the people and land like sponges and then...squeeze it out on stage.

That's right, squeeze.

Since I've written we've been through Stillwater, OK (our first real southern stop), three cities in Texas and a drive-day over the TX-LA border. It's the people, the drawl, the deep calm and amusement and the communities. Of course they're not all tight-knit, small, sweet southern communities that are stereotypical...but the stereotypes come from somewhere. In Crockett, TX, over eight hundred people traveled in from outside the county to see our play. That's pretty darn cool. The arts are alive and well in the south.

Today's post is a little rambly, I know...think of it as a red dirt road through southern Oklahoma or a little trail through east Texas cypress trees...

Here's the story I wanted to tell, because it summed up my experience so far in the south: We have a lot of challenges in Crockett. It's a tiny space that was converted into a theatre after serving as the tractor-pull arena. We chuckle, we sneer (despite the messages of class-ism in our play), yet they bring us in, they bring in shows and people attend in droves. I went over the preshow speech with the local presenter to make sure he would mention turning off cell phones and our ban on photography.

Later I was walking ahead of him and another lady, and they were discussing 'no flash photography.' I paused and, being in Stage Manager mode, may have looked mildly obsessed and frantic, and said, "I just want to make sure you say no photography - of any kind, please."

He stopped, a solidly built, clean-cut southern gentlemen, looked me calmly in the face for a moment, and in his low drawl murmured, "Jess. It'll be all right. I'll say it, and they'll listen, or they won't."

I have been stressing ately and constantly checking myself against frustration and compulsive, paranoid checking up on other people... I think now whenever I need to pause and center I will think of that Texas man and hear that low calm voice.

It'll be all right.

Friday, October 09, 2009

P.S.... i has a twitter...

Submissions welcome. ;) Might not be able to credit you, and all directors are anonymous. But it deserves its own it were.

The Last Word on Customer Service...then back to the show

Had a beautiful "drive day" with three of the other ladies in the company a couple of days ago. Departing Pueblo, CO (quite a cool little stop, actually..awesome coffee shop and local Irish pub with amazing food and beer and - the Sangre di Cristo Arts Center. Yes, that's right..the Blood of Christ Arts...)

I digress. New paragraph. We weren't traveling via interstate that day so we couldn't utilize that amazing traveling book known as The Next Exit Handbook - more useful than a pocket on a shirt! But it only lists restaurants and such off interstate exits. So we decided that, as we were cutting through the northeast corner of New Mexico, we'd take our chances on the last town on the way out of the state, because it was in bold letters so was probably decent size, and try to find some delicious New Mexican style food.

Enter: Clayton, New Mexico. At first it struck us as many unfamiliar small towns seem too. It was drab, a little run down, "not much there." I saw a restaurant I liked the name of: The Rabbit Ear Cafe..." But it was shut down. We drove on, considering both the Grill & Steakhouse (ready to let the one vegetarian in the car fend for herself) ..or the questionable Burrito Wagon parked in front of the local bank.. but we drove on! Confident in our choice of town, and craving Spanish rice and red & green sauce.

Then I saw...A new, brightly painted sign, peach colored walls and the name that read: The Rabbit Ear Cafe. It wasn't closed, just relocated to newer, bigger, prettier building! We saw cowboys out front with working, saddled horses in their trailers, families and old couples. It was packed - probably a good choice.

And it was. Not only was the food delicious, there was local art on the walls (some by the Crafts hour at the local penitentiary, some by more legit artists - beautiful works of metal), but the people were awesome. Enter Erma, our 5'5", stocky, middle aged waitress with no-nonsense, wiry brown and gray hair, a big smile and a fading yellow t-shirt with two suckers on it that read, "Sugar Daddy. Who's Your Daddy?"

As we were settling the tab at our table, an older couple entered to sit down at a table near us. I noticed them because they were a handsome couple, distinguished, and sweet. The man pulled out the lady's chair before he sat. A few minutes later he stood up and came to our table. He introduced himself as the pastor of the local Baptist church, asked about our travels and complimented Ramona (our Calpurnia) on her hat. ("Oh, that's Your van outside!") It was a beautiful, brief moment of human contact. I love those exchanges. He saw a few strangers and took some time to give of his kindness and energy. If I was in the South I would say it was, all in all, a very Christian thing to do.

Erma then directed us to the local coffee shop, a perfectly square little brick building on the other edge of town (half a mile away). I thought it had closed because of the hours posted and the door not opening when I tried the knob... But a woman came running out to catch us. Delicious coffee, more kind words. I remember the couple. She may have been of Native American descent, with nut-brown skin and black, black hair. The man struck me the same way, dark tan, dark eyes. I hope they had children together. They had the little place stuffed with beautiful, rough wood furniture, polished to varying dark stains. It was all made of reclaimed barn wood and I probably would've bought a table set if I had any place to put it.

Sometimes random stops aren't so lucky and fun and poignant. Sometimes it's easier to find the local Subway, grab a sandwich and run. It's really a gamble, and a bad day can make a grumpy van-full of people (with good stories later), but not a good experience in their hearts.
So we made a good choice to stop in Clayton, a little town with one amazing restaurant, one firecracker waitress, a kind and handsome pastor and his wife, and a beautiful couple at the coffee shop full of art and furniture.

And then we drove on.

Mantis from Logan, UT says,
"The world can't help but be a piece of art.
It's just up to you to adjust the composition so everyone can see it."

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Word on Customer Service

I consider theatre to be not only an art, but also a convoluted form of customer service. After all, without the audience, aren't we performing in a void? And by performing in a void, I mean just playing pretend. Without someone to watch you, you're just walking around like a crazy person. Once you have an audience, you are officially telling a story.

There's so much that goes into that these days. I sometimes long for the theatre of ancient Greece - although even then I'm sure the actors got a note if the audience couldn't hear. Now we play in all sorts of different spaces, with good or rotten sound, good or rotten sight lines, good or rotten audiences. And sometimes, a good or rotten show. Yet every night we put it out there; the story that is our product - and hope that the audience, who has already bought it, enjoys it.

I consider my particular job a bigger form of customer service because I'm always "on" for the company, for the local crew, for the audience members who complain, and for the house managers and so forth.

Last night a charming gentleman charged his way backstage by claiming he had a "press pass," something I hadn't been warned about, and made straight for the Equity dressing rooms. I intercepted him and politely guided him to the green room to wait for an actor who was willing to do a last-minute interview. Because the man was so taken with the show and writes for a local paper, it was especially important that he be treated well and not kicked out or berated for coming backstage to speak with half-naked actors - especially when that is the norm for the space. He was also extremely polite and kind. So not only are we artists "selling" our product, we are also guests in the space and must be bendable to its rules.

I was happy with how everyone handled the situation, and proud that we were all "on" for this local man, who promises to write a wonderful review.

Because I try to put out the effort to be professional, friendly and - well, nice, I wanted to tell a couple of stories of people who, in the last couple of days, put in no such effort at all. These are the first impressions in the world I had of these people, and how I will remember them, when I think of them at all. It made me make note to myself to consider carefully how I want to be remembered when I leave a place. So here they are:

...The local crewman whose first words to us were to happily tell of a time in Texas when he got out his pellet gun and killed five mockingbirds because there were "so many."

...The same crewman who told nominally funny, dirty jokes to our female crew at the end of load out. Out of our working brand of politeness, he even got a couple of courtesy laughs.

...The hotel manager who felt it was okay to discipline her staff in front of customers in the lobby. Situation: I was eating my breakfast and this woman was having a lengthy conversation with the front desk attendant about the state of Clutter behind the desk. The important issue escalated into raised voices and hurt feelings. I felt as if I was watching a badly written reality TV show... Hotels: Check Out!

I wonder if the woman realizes that people are generally less concerned with clutter behind the front desk as they are with awkwardly overhearing management berating their employees (and all because "clutter" is below this hotel's standard). I told this to other company members and they all had little stories of their own in a similar vein.

I actually found it amusing. The front desk situation, that is. The crewman in question from last night just left a bad feeling in my belly. Certainly he comes from a different background, but for your first funny story to crew of To Kill a Mockingbird be about killing mockingbirds...?

In other words:

If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully. -Kahlil Gibgran

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Previously, on This Theatre Life...

Happy, happy October!

Here's a beeline brush through our stops...

Logan, UT

We love Logan! Anyone who has been there and remembers it will be smiling. We played the beautiful Ellen Eccles theatre, which converts to an opera festival in the summer. What an incredible drive. I wish the Rep could continue a tradition of holding a national tour in the autumn. As we meandered over winding roads around mountains, massive bluffs and valleys and sparkling blue rivers against bright yellow birch trees...I filled with a completely different energy than I have in summer.

The town welcomed us warmly. The crew was laid back, fun, witty and friendly. I love venues where we click immediately and it's like working with old friends. We get a lot of those crews "out West" because we just get each other. So despite the 3.2 alcohol's still a good time.

I visited some haunts - the Blue Bird cafe for icecream, the Persian Peacock boutique for some *aheM* fun feminine unmentionables, and Cafe Ibis for funky and delicious coffee. Also went hiking up in the Cache national forest to the glorious Wind Caves. Pictures on Facebook! All in all an amazing stop...

Park City, UT

Honestly the highlight of Park City for me was finding the candy shop where my sister worked when she lived in the town several years ago. I bought some of her favorite treats and sent them off...

The theatre was housed in the local highschool, but it was a huge, professional-grade operation. More awe-inspiring scenery.. hillsides splashed in red and gold against stark gray rock. What a perfect time of year to be driving through the country. It was still Indian Summer, then we drove on to...

Aspen, CO

The second of our glamorous tourist-town stops. Our welcome in Park City had been quiet but intent. It was very odd for the actors to play to a disturbingly quiet, "polite" audience. In Aspen, however, not only were we housed in a beautiful chalet with a swimming pool hot tub, sauna, steam room and free hot breakfast - all a thirty second walk from cutesy Down Town... the welcome was warm.

A local writer's organization sponsored the show as part of their Big Read celebration, and so the response was grand. I had been expecting something more like Avon, CO...a small crowd, polite golf-clap type responses. But not so in sunny Aspen. They laughed, they wept...hands shot right up at the post-show discussion and the writers asked such fun questions as "Do you ever Dream about the show?"

Finally, I write from.... Fort Collins, CO!

Again, anyone who's been here will know how much the company anticipated this stop. With something for everyone (food, shopping, coffee,, music..), it's practically like a working vacation. We had a great first performance, and two relatively successful school shows on Wednesday morning.

The weather has been amazing. Tuesday we were all still wearing shorts, sundresses and tank tops. Wednesday after the noon show, dark clouds and a cool front blew in, scattering leaves and hats and hairdos all over town. It never quit blowing and today, the First of October, I feel it is officially autumn. So with a burgeoning feeling of content happiness, I offer good wishes from Fort Collins, and this vision from a much better wordsmith than I...Here's to good harvests in all your endeavors.

October by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst

Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the all.