Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Dark Knight

I finally watched The Dark Knight the other day. When I first saw Heath Ledger on the screen I thought, 'Oh I wish I hadn't heard so much about his performance because it won't be as good as the hype.' And it wasn't. It was better.

What struck me the most about his acting was that he created a three-dimensional role with a character that had nothing: no objective, no backstory, no love, no ambition. During the movie Lt. Gordon says with regards to The Joker, "[We've got] Nothing. No match on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pocket but knives and lint. No name, no other alias."

Although I've been in theater for many years, I have never seen an actor create a character as fully realized as The Joker with so little to go on. Even the story about how he got his scars changes with each victim.

And in the movie, we don't see Heath Ledger at all, just The Joker. The Bagger talks about it in a recent blog post.

It does make me wonder if this character messed with Mr. Ledger's head. I've heard from stage actors about characters that they could not let go of. They've said they've gone through a 'dark night of the soul,' trying to return to normal.

Of course I am only speculating because of his untimely death. Had he not died...but then I wonder what he would have been like?

And, I guess I wonder because I didn't sleep a wink after watching the movie. I tossed and turned and thought about that character -- how does an actor do that?

Should he be nominated or even win an Oscar? I don't know but it was a damn good performance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's the Buzz?

I've been busy this season with holiday prep and my daughter's birthday but more on that later. I wanted to call attention to this great article in the (yeah, you guessed it) New York Times about the political buzz words of 2008.

It made me think of all the times I've tried to use hip, new words only to be shot down by my friends and family. Once, I adopted "411" and "dilio" (not even sure if I'm spelling it right) until Brian said, "Enough, already."

But I think the nadir of my experimenting with new slang came when my daughter asked if she could do something and I responded by saying, no and then explaining my answer. I ended (and I thought it most mavericky of me) by saying, "Word." She looked at me and said, "You are way to mommy for word."

She didn't go there...oh yes, she did.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

While the Cat's Away...The Rat Tries to Hold it Together

Brian is in Denmark this week for work. While Denmark, is not on the top of my list of places to visit, I would not turn it down. He knew he might have to go but didn't know when, so it sprang up rather suddenly. I'm not upset at all. Perhaps, okay, just a bit jealous. I mean, Denmark, how cool is that?

Sometimes, I look forward to his going away. Life certainly slows down. I can't run out and grab something at night so we end up doing without--and doing just fine. What I can do is lie in bed and watch TV while working on the computer and doing the crossword puzzle without bothering him. Let's just say, Brian is not so much with the multi-tasking.

Dinner is easier when he goes away. For some reason, I never feel like I have to make a big meal when he is not around. Oh, the kids get fed but they eat eggs, tomato soup, pasta--nothing fancy. Talking with other moms, I realize this is almost universal. While our husbands don't demand elaborate dinners, we tend to make them when they're home. Perhaps it's because we know someone is going to appreciate the effort.

But this week has been difficult. The kids have had half-days due to conferences and the afternoons are incredibly long. My daughter doesn't know what to do with herself without homework so she antagonizes her brother. I end up having to be their playmate so they won't kill each other. I eye the clock longingly, wondering, how close to 5 o'clock must one be to open up a 5 o'clock beer.

During normal times (when we're both home), Brian and I try our best to keep the kids occupied until bedtime. Instead of computers or TV, we'll play games with them, read, go over homework, etc. I try to keep this going when Brian is away. It was easier when they couldn't tell time and I could put them in bed 30 minutes earlier; now it's like experimenting with a new form of torture.
To add fuel to the fire, I don't sleep well when Brian is gone. I hear every creak in the house and when they wake you up, those creaks sound exactly like an axe murderer opening up your door. So I'm overtired and trying to negotiate peace between Israel and Iran.

Of course, my allergies are really acting up as well. But I did I mention, I'm not bitter?

No, really, I'm not.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Proof is in Prohibition

The New York Times started a new blog today called, "Proof," which discusses the uses and abuses of alcohol. Appropriately enough, the first post talks about prohibition which ended 75 years ago on December 5, 1933. When signing the law for the repeal, Roosevelt is supposed to have said, "What America needs now is a drink."

I find it fascinating that I'm reading a lot more about alcohol these days. I'm not sure if it's the holiday season (all those, "What wine to drink with turkey" columns) or the economic times which, sadly, almost mirror the 1930's.

On another note, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day in the Catholic Church. Many people, including Catholics, get the reason for the holy day wrong. It is the Feast of Mary being conceived without original sin. Most people think it's Jesus' conception. But think about that last one, the Immaculate Conception happens on December 8th and 3 weeks later Jesus is born? That's one fast pregnancy.

Anyway, in their infinite wisdom, Church theologians decided that Mary, in order to give birth to Jesus, could not have been born with original sin. See, she was born before baptism existed which washes away original sin. Fortunately, the Church does declare that it doesn't mean that her parents didn't get it on; lucky for them.

By the way, during prohibition an exemption was made for sacramental wine used during Mass. A 1925, study discovered that the demand for sacramental wine had increased by 800,000 gallons in a two year period. So I guess you could say that while there are no Atheists in foxholes, you won't find any during prohibition either.

OSCAR UPDATE: I've heard that Sean Penn's rival for the Best Actor Oscar may just be Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. It's a comeback role for Mr. Rourke and Mr. Penn has been nominated several times and has one once for Mystic River. Let the intrigues begin!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Got Milk?

I just saw Gus Van Sant's Milk today and LOVED IT! I especially loved the performances and, jumping on the bandwagon, Sean Penn is the one to beat for the Oscar. His performance was so good, I can't even describe it. Actually, all of the performances were great. Many reviewers are citing Josh Brolin as especially good in the supporting role of Dan White, the supervisor who shot Milk. I preferred James Franco, as Milk's boyfriend Scott Smith, and Emilie Hirsch as Cleve Jones. Mr. Brolin was fine indeed but he just didn't sparkle. Now, they may be pushing Mr. Brolin because he was overlooked in last year's No Country for Old Men. And he may get the Oscar nod because of that.

Throughout the movie, I felt as though I was in the living room with Milk and his associates. It was such a great story of a positive and charismatic man and how he charmed a city politically.

Throughout the film, Mr. Van Sant interspersed scenes of Milk reading a statement into a tape recorder. As he states in the film, the statement is only to played in the event of Milk's assassination. This was the only part I didn't like. I'm not one for narrators and this felt very much like a narrator that we didn't need. It also kept reminding me that Milk was to be assassinated. I didn't want that reminder; I wanted to stay in the living room and marvel at Milk's utter belief in himself and in the movement for as long as possible.

At the very end, as at the end of most bio-pics, Mr. Van Sant tells us what happened after the assassination. In addition, Mr. Van Sant shows us the actor in the film and then shows us a photo of the real person. It was so eerie how similar the actors looked to their real-life counterparts. For me it was a great addition because I often wonder how closely actors look like the real people they are portraying.

Truly, I loved this movie. I'm not sure if it's a Best Picture but I do hope many of the performances are nominated and that Mr. Penn wins. But Oscar or not, as one reviewer said, it's one of the best movies to come along in a while.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Obviously, I love cocktails. Thursday nights, as you know, are cocktail night here in my household. Interestingly, a friend of mine once wondered if by cocktail night I meant going out with girlfriends for drinks. No, I stay right at home where my favorite bartender, Brian, makes my cosmos exactly the way I like it.

And, yeah, his cosmopolitan is way to strong for you.

I don't mean to be nasty about it but I have yet to meet someone who has tasted Brian's cosmo and not said, "Oh that's a bit strong."

And I love them! But I can have only one.

I'm so not into that cosmopolitan cocktail mix they sell in grocery stores. It's not a cosmopolitan-- it's flavored sugar-water that you mix with vodka. As Miss Brodie would say, "For those of you who like that sort of thing..." Brian makes my cosmo just right: vodka, triple sec, cranberry and lemon instead of lime (or that horrid Rose's lime juice). He rubs the glass with the lemon as well. Tasty!

I'm picky about my cocktails or so I thought. In the NY Times (the source for all my information, have ya noticed?) I found this article about cocktail geeks or cocktailians as one person prefers. These guys are picky about their cocktails--going so far as to make their own ice or bring their own vermouth to a bar. When I first read it, I thought, 'making your own vermouth? Really, that's a bit much' But then, why not be as picky about cocktails as you are about food or wine or beer?

Foodies discuss the intricate details of a foie gras and wine connoisseurs understand what is meant by 'hints of leather,' (why anyone would drink leather is beyond me) so why wouldn't a cocktail lover want only the best ingredients for his manhattan? I've noticed that my tastes have changed or matured might be a better word, over the years. I used to drink whatever beer was cheapest until I spent a year in Ireland and learned what good beer is. I was on the Yellow Tail bandwagon--drinkable and cheap--but now I find it to be headache in a bottle. Even my vodka can't be just any vodka, I prefer Stoli or better yet Grey Goose. Smirnoff's? Absolut? I don't think so.

By the way, Mark Bittmann does a great job in this video of breaking down the parts of a cocktail, but notice that even he insists on good ingredients.

I do enjoy cocktails of finer ingredients or beer with an actual taste but I'm not always into discussing them. Sitting around before our party on New Year's Eve, Brian and a few of his friends opened barley wines from a few different years. Each bottle had to be sipped and analyzed. I kept thinking, 'drink the damn beer already.'

So I guess I can't really call myself a cocktailian if I'm only asking for lemon instead of lime in my cosmo but I'm sure some bartenders have called me a pain in the ass.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mornin' Joe

I woke up wicked early this morning (yeah, I grew up in New England) to run and after Monday's debacle I am happy to report that I ran 3 miles. Not great, but still, this was at 6:30 in the morning.

Anyway, before going out, I had to fuel up on coffee and a glance at the NY Times where I found this picture/essay about a coffee lover's addiction. It's brilliant how Mr. Niemann captures the true essence of a coffee drinker. Just today, while caulking at a Habitat for Humanity house, I had a long discussion about coffee with the supervisor. We both don't like Dunkin' Donuts coffee. He says it's because they use powdered creamer. I say it's because Dunkin' Donuts coffee sucks. We did not agree on Starbucks however. He finds it too strong while for me, it's the nectar of the gods.

I know I differ with a lot of people about Starbucks; some don't like the coffee, others don't like the Starbucks culture. Really, it's coffee, just coffee, not a culture but who am I to say, I'm rather fond (fond may be an understatement) of the Americano--fresh brewed espresso with hot water. I just add a bit of creamer and I'm good to go. I'm not into those steamed milk drinks like lattes or cappuchinos but others are, I know.

And some people have coffee rules. When we traveled to Italy, with friends a year ago, we were told by our Italian friend that there are certain times of the day when one orders espresso and other times when one orders cappuchinos. I could never keep it straight and luckily the waiters just wanted my money so they were happy to oblige my whim.

I could talk for hours about coffee likes, dislikes, rules, and cultures as I'm sure most coffee lovers could. Read few of the comments from Mr. Niemann's essay and you'll get a taste of America's love affair with java.

But to be honest, when I meet someone who doesn't drink coffee it's like meeting someone who doesn't drink; it's all well and good but don't expect us to have anything in common.

You know, after a long day of running, caulking, discussing coffee, I could really go for a beer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Most Wonderful Season of All

While reading the New York Times yesterday, I discovered the return of The Carpetbagger, a seasonal blog about all things Oscar (as in the Academy Awards). I realized with delight that we have now entered my favorite season, Oscar season.

I love the movies, no make that adore the movies. While living in upstate New York, I had a standing date with a friend of mine every Tuesday night. We'd go see a movie in Albany, and then return home and stop off at a local bar for a beer. The bartender knew us and we always chatted with him about the latest movies. Actually, most of the people in the bar knew us (it was a true local) and they called us the Oscar club.

Man, I miss that.

It's been difficult here to find movie buddies. I'm not sure if it's the late night on a weekday or the idea of seeing a movie without one's husband. Either way, I'm on my own for movies most of the time. I don't mind seeing a movie by myself but it is nice to have a friend to motivate you out of the house.

I haven't seen too many movies lately and most of them with my kids (I can't imagine High School Musical 3 will be up for anything). After Candide, it took me a while to get back into the movie swing of things. I jumped in by watching Body of Lies and Quantum of Solace - not really Oscar fare.

But now, it's serious and I have to weigh my movie decisions carefully. I'm looking forward to Milk (I can see Sean Penn walking to the podium now) but I'm not so sure about Australia (I'm not a Nicole Kidman fan so that may color my judgment.) One of my favorite aspects of the season is reading movie reviews and trying to second-guess the Academy: Has anyone made a major comeback this year? Has any "deserving" artist been overlooked?

It really is the most wonderful season of all and while I don't have a movie buddy, I do have everyone who reads this blog. I'll keep you posted on my picks, let me know yours.

Running on Empty

While volunteering at the Philly Marathon expo, I picked up a pair of new running sneakers. My old ones were at least three years old and although I don't run that much, I knew I needed another pair. I went running immediately and felt fantastic. The first day I ran four miles and two days later I ran four and a half. Then I ran six glorious miles after spending all day painting for Habitat for Humanity.

As I upped the mileage I thought about all the races I could run--Broad Street in May, the distance run next fall, and maybe, just maybe the marathon next November. But reality struck--during my run on Saturday I struggled with every mile. Today, I tried, I really tried but couldn't even get around the block.

What happened? I have no idea. It's frustrating because I thought I was finally hitting a stride(no pun intended). I have been taking Ashtanga Yoga classes which I felt really complemented my running. Oh, I know it was only one day but I was really looking forward to the endorphin rush. I haven't had a lot of motivation to do anything for the past couple of days.

Does that ever happen to you? I have a huge to-do list and yet all I want to do is stare out the window and listen to NPR. I'm rather addicted to NPR (I listen to WHYY); it has gotten me through all the yard work and it keeps me company when I clean the house. But I do start to feel guilty if I'm listening and not actually accomplishing anything and I start justifying:

  • Maybe I should just blow the day off and get it out of my system so I can hit the ground running tomorrow (oh, there's another pun, sorry).
  • This is my life and if I want to sit around one day who's going to stop me? My kids are fed and the house is clean (ish).
  • I work for a few months out of the year and when I work, I work a lot so I deserve down time.
But the guilt comes back and my brain starts going down another path:
  • Think of how much I could do if I wasn't so lazy.
  • Other people motivate themselves to run, clean, bake--what's wrong with me?
  • If I just push myself, I'll get something done today and I'll feel better.
It would have been so much easier if I had just gone for a run.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

Do you remember the ending of Frosty the Snowman when the magician, who has been after Frosty's hat, meets Santa? Santa tells the magician he has to go home and write "I'm very sorry for what I did to Frosty," a hundred zillion times. The magician runs off saying, "I'm going to be busy, busy busy." I always think of that phrase when I have a lot to do, which I did this past week.

This past week, I volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity house. It was me and a bunch of guys who clearly knew what they were doing. But, they were so very nice and patient as they taught me about measuring and molding. They encouraged me to do everything. I drew the line at using the saw though; power tools scare me.

I also volunteered for the Philadelphia Marathon. Last year, I spent the morning of the marathon handing out Gatorade and water to the finishers. But Brian ran the half-marathon this year, so I volunteered for the expo on the Friday before. My job was to hand out Fan Cards which gave discounts at area restaurants and businesses. Again, I had a great time. I met some really cool women, got a t-shirt and a sweatshirt, and had the time to shop for new running sneakers.

Plus, I had lunch with a friend from People's Light, baked a bunch of bread, and decided I needed to make Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a French peasant dish that takes 3 days to make, if you're making your own duck confit, and let's face it homemade duck confit is the way to go.

Many times during the past week I thought, 'How did I get myself into this?' But therein lies the answer--I got myself into this. I chose to participate in all these activities; no one told me I had to do any of these things. So while I might have been a bit overwhelmed, I am grateful that I had the time and options to do all of it. Not everyone has the luxury to volunteer or cook elaborate meals or even have lunch with a friend. Yes, I was busy, busy, busy but I'm also very lucky, lucky, lucky.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where's the Story?

For the past few days, I've been searching for something to read. I had started a book about Fidel Castro but the author used the word thusly which set me off. Plus, she jumped around in time a bit and confused me.

So in my quest for a good story, I came across this article in the New York Times about how M.I.T. in conjunction with Hollywood executives will be studying the demise of the story. The Center for Future Storytelling is examining if texting, visual clutter and the like are eroding the traditional methods of telling a story; namely with a beginning, middle and end.

It reminded me of the time I took a writing workshop and we all had to come up with an incident for a personal essay. I talked about how, as a stage manager, I see the oddest audience behavior: people eating their lunch, sleeping, texting of course, and more. A woman brought up that kids these days are used to doing their homework while listening to music and IM'ing their friends. She suggested that theater would have to seek a different way of communicating with their audiences to accommodate such multi-tasking patrons. I wanted to argue that kids should just learn how to sit still and focus, but I didn't want to sound like a curmudgeon.

As I looked further into this Center for Future Storytelling, I came across the press release from MIT. It explains that the idea of the center is to "transform audiences into active participants." Perhaps that woman in the writing workshop was right. Or, maybe the NY Times, like myself, is a bit of a curmudgeon. Many of the blogs that reported on this new endeavor found it exciting and different.

I'm not sure where I stand on the issue. I love a good, well-told story as well as those mindless romps that seem to have no plot; it all depends on the mood I am in at the time. For the most part though, I tend to skip a lot of movies these days because the I can tell the entire story from the preview. When I was young, I had heard that there are only seven story lines in the world and that every story is a variation on one of those seven. My brother and I would watch a movie and say, "Oh yes, it's the old boy meets girl and blows her head off, love that storyline." So it will be interesting to see if the Center actually comes up with more story lines or just new ways of re-inventing them: "Oh yes, the old boy meets girl and tries to blow her head off but hits an audience member instead."

But story or no story, I still don't have anything to read.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Defense of Gay Marriage

Yesterday, I read this article about Scott Eckern, the Artistic Director of the California Musical Theater who resigned when it was discovered that he had donated $1,000 in support of Prop 8. It distressed me that someone so closely connected with theater--musical theater at that--would be so prejudice. It also shocked me that anyone in theater had $1,000 to give away.

I wondered about who else gave money to promote Prop 8 and I discovered a family, a Christian family had donated $30,000. Really? This is a Christan act? In these difficult economic times it is more important to prevent gay marriage than it is to help destitute families. A child may die of starvation but hey, at least Jim and Jack can't get married. I'm sure God has reserved a special place in heaven for this Christian family.

What irks me most is when someone, like Scott Eckern, insists he or she is not prejudice. Hmmm, denying a section of the population a right that everyone else has--what else would you call it? These people go on to say things like, "One of my best friends is gay," or "I've been to a gay club." As if this excuses their prejudice.

A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook of Keith Olbermann commenting on the passage of Prop 8. He so eloquently speaks to what I am so clumsily trying say, which is why do you care? Seriously, how does the marriage of two people going to affect your life? But he delves into it much deeper; I highly recommend it.

Bopping around the web, I found this blogpost by Amanda Marcotte about the reason that Christians are against gay marriage. The argument is based on a study reported in the New York Times Health blog that found that homosexual relationships are more egalitarian than heterosexual ones; they argue better and the chores are divided up more evenly. This equality could encourage heterosexual couples to become more egalitarian. Amanda Marcotte goes on to write that men in traditionally Christian relationships do not want their marriage to become more equal because "...the men...would suddenly be living a world where the dishes don't just do themselves and diapers aren't changed by magic."

I'm not sure I completely agree with her but it's a great read and as good an argument as any. I mean, if the "sanctity" of marriage has not been destroyed by the spouse abusers, or child abusers, or philanderers, or gold-diggers, I can't see how it will be ruined if Mary and Sue want to join together in wedlock.

Or, as one of my brothers put it (and with apologies to Brian), "Let 'em get married. Then they can be as miserable as the rest of us."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Between You and I, Thusly Has to Go: Language Pet Peeves

Watching Alton Brown on the Food Network the other day, I cringed when I heard him say "thusly," twice! Thus is already an adverb so it doesn't need the ~ly.

It made me think about a show I listened to in upstate New York on the local NPR station call The Roundtable. While the show covered every topic under the sun, I loved it when the hosts asked people to call in with the phrase or word that annoyed them the most.

I bopped around the web a bit and found this link to a recent post about the top 10 of the most irritating phrases in the English language as complied by the University of Oxford researchers.

Not to be outdone, I've complied my own list, with comments of course. I hope you add some of your own.
  1. Healthful: Don't ya just mean healthy?

  2. Utilize: Please, just use use. Shorter, simpler, smarter.

  3. Irregardless: Like nails on a chalkboard
  4. Thusly: We've covered this

  5. Between You and I: Because it's really between us

  6. More unique: It's already unique, how can it be more?
  7. The fact of the matter is: What?
  8. Turning nouns into verbs such as We are going to solutionize the problem. My dad, who worked at IBM back in the 80's said that he heard that one a lot and it drove him nuts.

That's all I can think of at this time but I'm sure I'll come up with more.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

And We're Walking...

So, continuing our story, we walked out to set, as they say. I'm loving these new terms I learned doing the commercial shoot; call me bored with theater lingo. Another new term I learned was, "Restore to one," which means return to the starting positions to re-shoot the scene.

The giant pinata was located in a fenced in parking lot. Our job was to walk toward it as if we were excited. You could tell the SAG actors because not only did they look well-rested (their tent probably had coffee), they were carrying props.

So we spread out around the pinata and the SAG actors carried lawn chairs, iron pipes, walkers, brooms, and baseball bats. So after getting up at 3 in the morning, and then sitting around for five hours, and carrying weird props, we looked more like "Night of the Living Dead," rather than a crowd excited by a giant pinata.

"Cut." Came quickly. "No," We were told, "You're excited but you're keeping it inside. You are in awe and wonderment at the pinata. You walk slowly alongside the wrecking crane as if you are ushering it toward the pinata." I didn't get that ushering the crane in bit but whatever.

We tried awe and wonderment a few times (always restoring to one) when the director appeared on a bicycle to admonish us for overacting. So it was back to one and trying again. At one point, I and a couple of other extras started outside the chain fence. My note was to check the pinata out. I tried to get more specifics from one of the red shirts but she kept saying, "You're checking it out." They weren't so much with the specifics.

It was outside the fence that I started chatting with another extra about yoga and running. She told me in no uncertain terms that running was bad for me and that I should swim. I started arguing with her, probably due to a lack of caffeine, when I realized I was not going to change her mind. Besides, who cares what she thinks?

The next time we restored to one, I snuck over to stand near Jim. At least he doesn't care if I run or swim (as long as I'm in awe and wonderment).

We broke for lunch, which for us lowly extras consisted of sandwiches, chips, fruit and drinks. SAG actors and the crew got a hot lunch. And then it was back to walking toward the pinata again, only this time the SAG actors had fewer props to carry. I guess they realized we looked more like an angry mob than a crowd in awe and wonderment.

After the director, still on the bike, was satisfied with our awe and wonderment, we sat around for an hour or two while they set up the last shot. This shot consisted of the crane hitting the pinata and candy spilling out. A few special actors were chosen to grab the candy. The next day would be when the pinata would really be destroyed and the candy distributed. They had even invited the public to the event.

Finally, the sun was too low and we were released. I decided against returning the next day because truly, how much excitement can one person handle? But I kept the excitement on the inside. On the outside it was all awe and wonderment and walking...checking it out really.

Post Note: On Sunday, the crowd that gathered was was too big so the police had to shut down the commercial shoot and it's rescheduled for another weekend with just extras, no public.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

When we last left our heroes, they were sitting in a tent on hard plastic chairs somewhere in Philadelphia. The sun had yet to rise.

And there we sat and waited, wondering why we had signed up for background work on this commercial in the first place. Luckily, Jim had found us a table by a space heater and using my Irish sweater as a pillow, I took a nap.

But not for long. People in red t-shirts kept interrupting us. First, they welcomed us and told us breakfast would be arriving soon. Breakfast consisted of rubbery eggs stuffed into damp bread, but I was hungry, and with ketchup it wasn't all bad. I tried to nap after that only to be woken up by another red shirt asking if any of us had friends that would be interested in joining us for the commercial shoot. Turns out, we hadn't started shooting yet because we did not have enough extras.

Other people complained throughout the day that the casting agency should have booked more extras. I'm not so sure it was their fault. Who set the 5 am call time for the shoot? I would guess it would be the production team. I'm sure the casting agency did the best they could but 5 am? It's ironic (if I'm using that word right) that the production team wanted the call at 5 am in order to make the most of the daylight hours and yet we wasted a lot of hours because people did not show up because of the 5 am call time. I'm sure that was a run-on sentence but you get what I mean.

So we waited some more and I napped some more. I also kept trying to get coffee but every time I went up to the station, they were out. I staked out the coffee urn and finally snagged a cup; it tasted just like it ought to in a tent in the middle of Philly--weak and acidic. It did the job though.

We got our photos taken, met some other people at our table, and traded stories about how we came to be there.

At last, we were escorted out to the set, or 'to set' as they say in the biz where we encountered a giant pinata. Not just any giant pinata, a world-record setting giant pinata...

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Very Special Election

I'm watching the election coverage (who isn't?) and I'm reminded of what struck me during the primaries. At the start of the race I was a Hilary Clinton supporter. It was Barack Obama's speech on race here in Philadelphia that changed my mind. The nuance of his understanding of that issue really spoke to me. Anyway, my husband stayed a Hilary Clinton fan. My children, of course could not agree with each other; my daughter was a Hilary Clinton supporter (even wrote her a letter) and my son liked Barack Obama.

While we were discussing it one night at dinner, I looked at my children and realized how both of them had a role model in this election. My son is from Guatemala and while he's not African American, he sure ain't white. So, when he sees Barack Obama he sees someone like himself. As for my daughter, of course she would support a strong, intelligent woman like Hilary Clinton.

My daughter was disappointed when Senator Clinton did not win the nomination but she threw her support behind Senator Obama as did my husband. Being staunch Democrats, Governor Palin didn't even enter into the discussion.

Having grown up with white, male candidates for both parties, knowing that times are changing for my children has been very special indeed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Extra! Extra!

The sun had not even thought about rising when the alarm jarred me awake on Saturday morning at 3:20 am. I had to get dressed and get on the road to meet at a random parking lot at 5 am. See, I had signed on to be an extra in a Carnival Cruise commercial shooting in Philadelphia over the past weekend. A friend and neighbor of mine had signed on as well. We spent the night before packing bags in case we needed "cruise wear."

But she called at 4:30 am to say she couldn't do it. I don't blame her. I knew we would spend 12 -14 hours at the shoot and she has children and stuff to do. So, I dumped out her cup of coffee, left a note for Brian apologizing for taking the car, decided against bringing my cruise wear, and left. I have kids and stuff to do as well but I have always wanted to see what it would be like to be on the set during the filming of a movie. A commercial is close enough and I wasn't sure if I would get another chance.

It's very odd the way they cast you for a commercial. First, I saw the notice for background work on Heery Casting's website. Then I sent in a photo via e mail. Someone from the office called and asked if I would be available. When I said yes, instead of giving me the details, the guy told me to check the website on Friday night and he gave me a password. Checking the website I discovered that the call time was 5 am. It gave me second thoughts, I'll tell you that.

Traffic was non-existent at 4 am (I wonder why?) so I made good time to the parking lot. So odd, passwords and secret meeting spots --are they filming a commercial or starting a cult?

I parked my car and stood in line to board the bus when I saw Jim, one of the spot ops from Candide. It was so great to find a familiar face. His mom had spotted the ad for extras and encouraged him to attend. He wasn't too happy about 5 am either. At that point, I wonder if the early call was just a way to disorient us before indoctrination.

It got weirder: we drove to a street just off Broad and walked down a block and around a dark corner (the sun was sleeping in). We then crossed into a tent, barely set up with tables and chairs. The signs around the tent said, "Extras Holding" which at 5 am made me feel more like a thing and less like a person.

Jim and I found a table and proceeded to wait and wait and wait. No wonder my neighbor backed out. I was beginning to think she had the right idea. Of course, that was only the beginning....

To be continued.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Seeing Red Again and Again

It was the best of all possible World Series!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do You Friend?

I joined Facebook.

I never wanted to join because it seemed so complicated; you have to make a profile and find friends and upload photos and write pithy statements. What originally sealed the deal for me against joining was a discussion one night during Candide. One of the actresses commented about Facebook, "I mean using 'friend' as a verb, it sounds so, well it sounds like you're getting it up the ass."

She has a way with words.

Yet, I went ahead and joined anyway, deluding myself that it would be a way to advertise my blog. Another Candide actor said he had found a couple of jobs through it and my husband extolled the virtues of it. So, I filled out a profile for myself and then clicked on my husband's box to be his friend. Almost immediately, I received an e-mail stating, "Brian says that you two are married. Click here to confirm."

Really Brian, after 11 years? I spent over $200 of your money to fix my wedding bands this summer and yet I have to confirm electronically that we're married?

I said yes (so as not to further complicate matters) and now there is this little heart on my Facebook page and a note stating that 'Kate is listed as married to Brian.'

Listed as married: It's like those car advertisements that say, "listed at $20,000" when we all know that it's possible to bargain and get the price down.

Then came the 'friending' part. Facebook listed a bunch of people culled from my personal e-mail contacts that I could 'friend'. I have to admit there were many names that I did not recognize. Of the ones I did, I could click on a box and an e-mail would be sent to them asking if they wanted to be my friend. Alright, but if I'm already e-mailing them, aren't they already my friends?

A major dilemma set in when I saw the list of names. There were many people with whom I have a professional relationship and would even grab a beer with after a show, but to whom I wouldn't necessarily send a Christmas card. Do I 'friend' them?

And, what if they say no? It could be a real blow to the old self-esteem. Sure, I'll have a beer with you but I won't go so far as to have an electronic relationship with you.

Then there are the people who find out that I'm on Facebook and want to 'friend' me? What I don't want to 'friend' them? Is there etiquette involved here? Do I have to 'friend' someone because they asked? I'm usually a bit pickier in real life about my social contacts. Of course, in real life I can always make up excuses until the person gets the hint: "I'd love to but with my husband's colonoscopy and the lawsuit pending, we're really swamped."

It doesn't stop once you find your friends. You can 'friend' friends of friends until you're like one big happy Quaker family. People you don't even know proclaiming their friendship with you to the entire web world. The problems crop up when someone no longer wants to be your friend. Then, that person can 'de-friend' you. That should be enough to send your self-esteem into a tailspin: electronically dumped by "friends" you've never met.

Perhaps that actress was right after all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Growing the Freakin' Garden

Candide has been over for a week and it's time to face the inevitable: yard work. It's the bane of my existence. Never mistake me for a green thumb. When I tell people that I don't garden, most say, "Oh, I don't have a green thumb, I just play in the dirt." What I do is not playing. It's more like the torture imposed on the scarecrow by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

For three months, I was happily ensconced in Westphalia and so had the excuse of being much too busy to weed, mow, rake, or edge the lawn (not really sure what that is but I know I have to do it). Now, I sit home all day knowing that I have to pick up a rake. I've tried to stall by cleaning out the attic and donating clothes but I just donated clothes 3 months ago so there aren't many left.

And what has Brian been doing these past 3 months? Well, he hates yard work just as much as I do and his excuses include, "I had to watch the kids and besides, I work all day every day making the money we live on."

Which, when you think about it, is a really good excuse.

Here's the thing I hate about weeds; they just keep growing. Ignored for most of the summer, the weeds don't slink away. No, they demand to be recognized--growing fat off the loneliness of the other plants. If you ignore a person long enough, he usually leaves; with the weeds--not so much.

I swear the weeds are taunting me as I plod out to the garage to find the rakes and shovels. It might help if I got a real shovel to attack them with. The one I'm using is green and plastic and it came with a pail that I bought for my daughter when she was 2. Since I hate yard work, I find it difficult to spend money on tools.

Armed with my woefully inadequate tools I approach the yard and the inevitable thought pops into my head, 'why did we buy a house with such a big lawn?'

I know why we did it of course; I fell in love with the house. Not only do we have a bathroom on every floor, we have a finished basement. It's not beautiful but it's finished. Plus, and it makes me giddy to think about, I have a huge bedroom. It's perfect for yoga and when the light streams in--pure bliss!

So of course when we looked at the house and my husband said, "Wow, what a big yard." I jumped in with "I'll mow!" I was dizzy with the possibilities of my bedroom and the luxuries of a bathroom on every floor. Naturally, I couldn't see the lawn correctly.

But now, I'm stuck with a large lawn, lots of weeds, deficient tools and no excuses. I feel like David going after Goliath. Unfortunately, I think this time, Goliath might win.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sand Castles

I've been having weird dreams this past week about Candide. They usually occur right before I wake up. I'll be dreaming about a point in the play and I'll think, 'Oh, I should check that out next time I watch the production.'

Then, I wake up and realize that it's all over and I'll never see it again. It reminds me of the acceptance speech Robert Altman gave at the Oscars a few years ago when he won an honorary Oscar. He compared his style of movie making to building a sand castle with friends and then watching the tide come in and wash it away; all that's left are the memories of a great day. My only issue with that comparison is that with a movie, at least one has the finished product preserved for all time on celluloid.

But the comparison holds true for theater. Never again will I have the chance to watch Candide as it was staged at the Arden Theatre. All I have left are the memories of the production. The tide in the form of the strike crew has come in and washed away the set and costumes and lights and left the sand for another production to build on.

I feel that life is like that as well. We go through stages that sometimes evoke great emotions and then after we're through that stage, we are left with the memories. I visited a friend from People's Light earlier this week who has 2 young children. As I chatted with her and played with her toddler I was nostalgic for when my children were that young and we had all these years ahead of us. Now, my children are a bit older and we've built several sand castles together and they are starting to build their own as well.

I ache when I think back on some of my memories; I ache to relive the emotion that I felt at the time. The joy in my daughter riding a bicycle, the proud sadness of watching my son go to school, the laughter around a fire on a lazy Sunday afternoon. These moments form the path of our lives and in these moments and many others--those that fraught with deep emotions like a funeral or a wedding--that we form our true selves.

Theater, I think, gives us access to those emotions as well as many others; grief, anger, despair to name a few. For the short span of a play or musical, we connect and identify with the emotional lives of the characters and recognize in them something of our own lives. Often, it is through this recognition, that we discover new ideas and new ways of seeing ourselves and the world around us. And yet, after the final curtain, the tide washes the play out to sea and we have our memories.

So, while Candide has left with the tide, I will always remember it fondly because it has changed the way I see myself as a Stage Manager. I have a new found confidence; I no longer shrink with insecurity at what I don't know because I realize I have the knowledge within me to figure it out.

But now, it's time to build other sand castles.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Last Call

Candide closed on Sunday afternoon. Normally, when a show ends, actors say good-bye, promise to keep in touch and rush off to catch a train. But this show was different. When I came down from the booth for intermission, everyone had gathered in the green room. It was as if they needed to spend every precious moment left with each other. The farewells after the performance lasted longer than most. We felt closer than a normal cast because we had all been through and created something that was larger than any one of us had done before. It was one of those times when a group of people have been through something so emotional that only those involved in it can understand it. I'm not sure what it's called or if I'm explaining it correctly. The first rule of Candide is that no one talks about Candide. Or something like that.

When I hit the go button for the last few cues, my eyes welled up. I thought back to the start of rehearsals when I couldn't remember any one's name and to tech which felt as if it would never end. But it did end, and we had a show that ran like clockwork. I never thought it would become this good or this easy a production. Yet, it did and I was a part of it. I'm not a sentimental person but I was sad at leaving it all. I had seen this show through to the end with success--and no injuries.

No actors were harmed in the making of Candide.

So saying good-bye was bittersweet. I was excited to return to my normal life at home but sad to be leaving behind the challenge of each performance. The crew and I started our strike almost immediately after the curtain went down. Well, to be honest, the crew started the strike, I wandered around saying good-bye, not willing to begin the final closure of the show.

I had to though, because everyone had left and I had no one else to talk to. So I wiped down dressing room tables and took apart body mics. It was with mixed feelings of pride, joy and sadness that I turned in my keys and left my prompt book for the production manager; I was leaving behind the last tactile vestiges of my involvement with Candide. I'll be back of course, for The Seafarer at the end of the season, but this show had affected me in much the same way it affected the actors. I didn't know how to leave it. Yet, I did leave it, in the same way I left it every night after a performance by walking out the door of theater.

And then, like every night after a performance, I went to the bar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey Buddy, You on Stage, You Got the Time?

Have you heard the phrase, "You can set a watch by his performance"? It's used in theater to describe an actor whose timing is so consistent night after night, right down to smallest hand gesture, that you could probably set a watch by his performance.

I first heard the phrase years ago on my first show as an Equity Stage Manager, Shaker Heights. One of the supporting actresses turned in such a performance. I didn't even have to watch her to know exactly what she would do next.

In my limited experience, I have found that it is mostly supporting characters that are so consistent. Once the actor has discovered the essence of the character, there are not many outside forces that alter that character's path.

Actors in leading roles tend to have more stage time and therefore more contact with the other characters in the play as well as the audience. In addition, leading roles have stronger emotional arcs as they are the ones driving the dramatic action of the play. Given that, it is easy to see how a performance might be influenced by the mood of the actor or the rest of the cast or even the audience.

For example, during Piano Lesson, Brian Anthony Wilson played Avery, a supporting character. You could definitely set a watch by his performance. During each show, I would watch for him to take off his hat and bend down to whisper in Berneice's ear. It happened the exact same way every night and it fascinated me, this precise timing. Having only worked with Mr. Wilson in this one play, I'm not sure if he would do the same thing if he had a leading role. Luckily, he's a great actor and well-loved by Philadelphia audiences so I hope I get the chance to find out. Now, another thought just occurred to me, Mr. Wilson also works in film which requires an actor to turn in the same performance take after take. I wonder if this informs his stage acting?

During Piano Lesson, I also worked with Kes Khemnu (who incidentally, is on stage right now at the Arden in Gee's Bend) who played Boy Willie, the lead in the show. I loved watching Mr. Khemnu for the opposite reason of Mr. Wilson. Mr. Khemnu truly played off the emotions of the rest of the cast as well as the audience. His performance, while consistently amazing, changed slightly (and sometimes more than slightly) with each show. It's not he altered his blocking drastically, it's that his gestures or the height of his emotional state changed as he reacted to his own mood or the mood of the cast or even the audience.

Anyway, I've been thinking about this while watching Candide because you could really set a watch by everyone in the cast; they are so exact night after night. Part of it has to do with the fact that it is a musical but also I think it has to do with the show itself. The show is huge, it's performed in the round with chalk and mops and boxes. In order to get through it without a misstep ("do I chalk here or move a box?") or without crashing into another cast member, the movements have to be precise. And even within little scenes where the actors have some wiggle room, there is very little deviation.

But don't get me wrong, it's not monotonous at all. It's great fun to watch, especially since the performances are so good and I marvel at how much energy each actor brings to the stage, show after show. I guess I'm getting a bit nostalgic since this is the last week of the show. It's rather like watching your favorite movie over and over again; only this movie won't be playing next week.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Day Off Dilemma

My husband took the kids to his mom's in upstate New York this past weekend. He planned to canoe and camp in the Adirondacks with friends and as I had shows, he had Grandma watch our kids.

He is coming home today, Monday and I thought he'd be home by late afternoon because well, that's what he told me when he left. Apparently, that's not the case. When he called this afternoon around 4 pm, they had not reached New Jersey yet. He told me he was half-way home but please, with rush hour approaching?

So I scrapped plans for the dinner I was going to make. No big deal really, I'd rather not waste time on a meal that no one would appreciate. I'll make it another time. It's now late afternoon and I haven't completely wasted my one day off; I've cleaned the bathrooms, done a bit of yoga, and washed some clothes.

So what to do next? There's always more cleaning, or I could go for a walk or balance my checkbook, and yet there is a cold bottle of good chardonnay in the fridge and a lot of great movies to download from netflix.

Hmmmmm, what to do?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Seeing Red

At curtain call last night, after the final bow, one of the actors shouted out to the crowd, "It's 3-2 Phils, bottom of the 8th."

It took me a minute to realize he was giving the score of the Phils-Dodger game, the first of the National League Championship Series. Incidentally, the game started right after our curtain went up and was almost over when the show ended 3 hours later. A lot came happen in 3 hours.

I've been told that that Philadelphians LOVE their sports but seeing is believing. Growing up in Vermont, we didn't have any home teams to root for. Many of our neighbors were Red Sox fans but I grew up in a household of avid Yankees fans. Both my parents grew up in the Bronx, and my father worked concessions at Yankee stadium for a few summers.

I lived in Baltimore, MD for a couple of years, right when they built Camden Yards. That was exciting but the Orioles didn't get anywhere close to the world series during those years.

So living in Philadelphia has been a learning experience and a blast as well--one of my neighbors set off fireworks after the Eagles won an important game. Even the Septa buses scroll "Good Luck Phils" as well as giving their route number.

They start them young here which may be a reason for the wide-spread obsession with sports. My children announced this morning they needed to wear red today to support the Phillies (someone at school had suggested it). I didn't think much of it until we got to the bus stop and I saw all these other children with Phillies shirts on as well as baseball caps. I've never been a "keeping up the Joneses" mom but suddenly I wanted to run out and buy Phillies shirts. "Hey," I felt like shouting, "I support them too!"

There are no fair weather fans here in Philly which is nice when you think about it. It's been years since they won a championship and to think they are getting closer everyday. It's so exciting. I guess it's true what they say: Ya Gotta Believe!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dial "S" for Stage Manager

I was late for my call on Tuesday. We had a 10 am performance of Candide for High School students so I needed to be at the theater at 8:30 am. Normally, the stage manager and crew arrive for set-up an hour before half hour. Well, yesterday, I misjudged Philly traffic. I thought I might be 15 minutes late, but no, after spending 40 minutes on Lincoln Drive, I knew it was going to be bad. I got to the Arden a bit after 9 am. Luckily, we have a great crew on this show (an assistant stage manager, 4 spot operators and a deckhand) and I've made sure that everyone knows how to do everything for set up. And thank goodness for cell phones.

At at standstill on Lincoln Drive, I called my assistant to tell him I would be late. Then I called the Costume Supervisor to ensure that our dry cleaning would be back in time for the show. Of course she had taken care of it but with a quick phone call, I was able to cross that off my list. If I didn't have a cell phone, my assistant would be frantic wondering if I had forgotten about the matinee. Because I was in the car, he wouldn't have been able to reach me. I know, calling from a car is not very safe but believe me when I tell you that traffic was not moving.

Once at the theater, I realized that one of the actors had not arrived. I contacted him by cell phone and he had indeed forgotten about the show. He ran over and on his way, called us to ask if we could pre-set his costume which saved him valuable time when he did arrive. Without cell phones, I may never have reached him. We may still be searching Philly for him! Okay, not really but that cell phone came in handy.

The funny thing is I don't like talking on the phone at all. I avoid it at all costs. I much prefer e mail -- which is another technology I use quite a bit in theater. Part of my job is to take notes during rehearsals and performances and write up a report at the end of each day. The notes normally contain information for the different departments or request information. For example, I may let props know that we need 2 electrified lantern or ask costumes if a jacket has pockets.

Back in the day, the stage manager would write these notes up by hand (or maybe on a computer) and then photocopy them and distribute them to all the production staff as well as designers and directors. This often meant faxing to the out of town designers.

Now, instead of staying late at the theater to fax the report to several people, I can curl up in the comfort of my own home with jammies on and beer in hand (an IPA if you're wondering) and with a push of a button get the report out to everyone. And it saves paper!

The bulk of a stage manager's duties is communication so naturally I would say that cell phones and e mail have totally streamlined the job. I wonder though, if I asked the different production staff what technology they would cite as being most beneficial to their work. E mail and cell phones of course but they don't get a set built or props made. I might have to ask around and get back to you.

And if you have any thoughts on the matter let me know.

Oh, and the student matinee on Tuesday went really well. We started on time (even with all the lateness) and the kids really enjoyed it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hope, Change and Community

Barack Obama came to Abington last week for a rally. At first I wasn't going to go. I was going to nap instead but I found myself awake at 10 am and realized that he would be speaking not even a mile from my house and it might be fun to attend.

So I hopped on my bike and rode over to the High School where he was scheduled to speak. The line to enter the stadium snaked around the corner and down the length of the stadium. Instead of waiting in line, I found a place to stand with a bunch of other people, outside the stadium with a perfect view of the podium. Of course, having a perfect view of the podium is dangerous, especially when we haven't gone through any metal detectors so we had to move.

I ended up on the long line and finally entered the stadium. I'm not much into political rallies. The only other one I went to was in Vermont when Howard Dean announced his presidential run. (I grew up in Vermont and remember clearly when Dean became governor).

I am also not much into community events. Some people feel a great sense of purpose working with a community toward a common goal but I'm not one of them. Oh, you could argue that a play is a community event but as the stage manager, I work mostly alone. I'm not complaining, I like it.

But at the Obama rally, I rather enjoyed chatting with the other people around me. We traded stories about the difficulties of getting to the high school as well as jokes about Sarah Palin, and the latest SNL spoof.

The crowd consisted of a large cross-section of humanity--young, old, some with canes, some with cameras but all with a common sense of purpose. During the speech, it was great to vocalize my approval or distaste along with everyone else. We were all there inspired by Barack Obama who has given us a real sense of hope for change in our community.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Feeling Groovy

There is something about the second week of a run that makes it feel like the show has finally left the starting gate. In the flurry leading up to opening, everyone--actors, crew, designers, and production staff--works furiously to put all the elements in place for the production. This was especially true for Candide. With the large number of props and costume pieces not to mention the mops, chalk, boxes and rigging, I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up. I told the crew numerous times, "We'll find our groove and it will run like clock work." But I didn't believe myself.

Then the show opened (to great reviews by the way), and we had our first five-show weekend (one on Friday night, and two each on Saturday and Sunday). It was as if the grown-ups had left the building and all hell broke loose. In the push to get the production to a performance level some smaller issues had been put on the back burner. And it wasn't until the weekend, when the entire production staff was enjoying a much needed break, that these little problems came to light. Unfortunately, on a production as big as Candide, the little problems add up. So I still felt behind this past weekend as I searched for shoe pads for an actress whose shoes had stretched too much or worked on a wobbly box for an actor who didn't feel safe. In addition, the crew and I had to work out how to do laundry on two show days and what to do about lamps that suddenly weren't working among other things.

And then we had a day off. On Tuesday evening, I arrived at the theater and the crew and I started set-up. We were done, without glitches, in under an hour. The actors arrived fresh from an almost 48 hour break and settled in as if Candide had been open for over a month. The production staff at the Arden, like little elves in the night, had fixed all the little problems that had cropped up over the weekend.

The shows this week have been fantastic. The actors, secure now in the knowledge not only of their characters but in also how the costume changes, props, and box moves work, are discovering new aspects to the myriad of characters they play. There are fumbles of course--a missed line, wrong notes in a song, and little maintenance things--sewing buttons, finding wig pins. But this show that I thought was too big for me to handle (a few times I thought I'd be discovered as a fraud and 'hung from the highest gibbet') has become manageable. It's almost, dare I say it, easy.

I guess it was all a matter of finding the right groove.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Dramaturg

We had a post-show discussion after Sunday's matinee and our dramaturg, Jackie Goldfinger, was there. It reminded me that I wanted to write a bit about dramaturgy since it's a relatively new concept in American theater. I guess I wouldn't say new as much as I would say rarely used. Europeans use dramaturgs on a regular basis while the same is not true for American theater.

I never know where to begin when talking about a dramaturg since the position can encompass so many different aspects. A dramaturg studies the scripts and researches the world of the play and shares this information with the cast and designers so they have a better understanding of the production.

For example, in Candide, there are a lot of historical events and ideas in both the book by Voltaire and the musical itself such as the Lisbon earthquake, Optimism, the Spanish Inquisition, and Jesuit ideology. During Voltaire's time, many readers would instantly understand these references. Today, we are farther removed from these concepts. To assist the actors during the rehearsal process, Jackie created a packet of information explaining many of the events and concepts as well as describing the historical milieu in which Voltaire wrote the book. In addition, she helped with pronunciation of certain words (like videlicet) and translation of some of the foreign words used in the lyrics. Information from her packet was later used by the Education Department to write their Study Guide.

The duties of a dramaturg can range farther than just research on a production. Many double as literary managers and read scripts and recommend plays for the theater to produce. Some are new work dramaturgs that are hired on a project by project basis to work with a playwright to shape a script and ready it for production. A dramaturg friend of mine is also the casting director at the theater she works at. It makes sense when you think about it because she so fully understands the world of the play, she can help in choosing the right type of actor for each role. It doesn't hurt that she has a natural talent for casting. Whatever their role, many dramaturgs spend years studying their specific type of dramaturgy. In recent years, universities have recognized the value of trained dramaturgs and have created Master's Programs in Dramaturgy.

There is also a formal organization dedicated to Literary Managers and Dramaturgs:

The role of the dramaturg fascinates me. I think how much fun it would be to research all day without having to write a paper to turn in for a grade. While some of the research goes into program notes or study guides, the vast majority is shared only with the cast. But this wealth of information and little known facts that a dramaturg brings to a rehearsal process often gives the actors a new depth of understanding that manifests itself in more nuanced performances.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Own Free Will

There is a line in Candide which goes, "His master taught him to exercise his own free will so exercising it, he went for a walk." I like that line because I try to remember the idea of free will when I feel bogged down by the stuff I 'have to do.'

Today, for example, I woke up and realized that I didn't have to be at the theater until 5:30 tonight. I had the entire day to myself. So, once I got the kids on the bus, I exercised my own free will and went back to bed. After a delicious nap, I spent a good hour reading the paper over coffee and then went running. After, I soaked my feet and painted my toe nails while watching a ridiculous sci-fi remake of The Tempest. A perfectly grandiose way to spend a day!

Sure, there were things I could have done, including weeding the garden, another load of laundry, or cleaning out the fridge but all that stuff will be there tomorrow. How often do we give ourselves permission to do what we want to do and not what we "are supposed to do?"

I know that my responsibilities are ones that I have chosen. I chose to live in this house, with my husband, and to take care of our two children. I also chose to stage manage Candide knowing it would take up most of my time. By accepting these responsibilities, I agreed to fufill certain duties such as doing laundry or being at the theater at a certain time. But within the parameters that I have imposed on my life, I do have wiggle room for my own free will. And a bad re-make of The Tempest sure beats weeding the garden any day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out of the Box

Yesterday, or was it the day before? Even though we've opened Candide, time is still very fluid. I think it's because I don't get home from an evening show until midnight or 1 am and then I have to get up at 7:30 am to get my kids to school. Yes, I know tons of parents who stay up even later and still have hugely productive days. Not me, I've always been one who needs sleep.

Anyway, yesterday, I think, I wrote about some of the challenges of tech week including mops, chalk, fly cues, light cues, etc. Another challenge that presented itself to us right from the start of rehearsals was boxes. Nestled around the stage in four different nooks are eight boxes--4 cubes and 4 rectangles (or double-wides as we call them) all exactly alike. With these boxes the actors create a classroom, a canoe, a gondola, Venice, a galley ship, an inn and more. From these boxes, the actors pull many of the props and costumes used during the production.

It sounds easy but then you realize that the actors are constantly moving boxes from one part of the stage to another. From the very first rehearsal my assistant, Alec Ferrell, and I had to track the movement of every single box in order to know into which box to place props that might not be used until the end of the act. For example, a box sits at the top of the ramp at the end of act one. Out of that box comes a rag and some clothing. But how did that box get from the floor of the theater to the top of the ramp? We tracked boxes using letters. Every box had a letter and every time it moved onstage, I would draw a picture showing the placement of every box (and what props were in each box). It sounds tedious but it came in handy when we moved to the stage.

A lot can happen when the cast moves onto the set. Blocking (the movement of the actor on the stage, which is recorded by the stage manager in the prompt book) changes frequently and with this show, so did the box movements. Props that were placed in box F say, had to be moved to box D because box F was no longer being used. It became even more complicated as box F was used for some stuff at the top of the show but then box D took over. Confusing? Yeah, tell me about it.

Needless to say, I became obsessed with boxes. As we worked slowly through the show it was easy to place the correct box in the correct position for the upcoming scene. But where did that box come from? Had we tracked its progress so that when we ran the show it would be in the right position?

The actors also had to deal with the boxes since they were the ones moving them. As we would set up for a certain scene, I would inevitably hear, "There's supposed to be a box here that isn't here." And I'd go for my notes tracking which box indeed sat there for that scene. One actor told me he has 14 box moves before his character enters.

We have everything working smoothly now mainly because Alec and I don't let anyone else on the crew touch the boxes as we set up. I just hope the understudies have been tracking box movements as well as character blocking because on Candide, there is no thinking outside of the box. See, I really do need to get more sleep.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What a Long Strange Tech it Was

For the past two weeks, I feel as if I have done nothing but live, eat, and breath Candide. It truly is one of the most grueling productions I have worked on. Terry Nolen, the Artistic Director of the Arden and the director of the production has said that this is the hardest of all possible musicals. And on top of it, we're doing it in the round and with chalk.

Yes, chalk...the actors write all over the set with chalk which means cleaning up the chalk. So the actors also mop up the stage. Much of tech week was spent working out what type of mops we should use and how damp the mops should be. I now know more about mops than I ever thought I wanted to.

But tech week wasn't just about mops, we also had to add in the fly cues, the sound cues, the costumes, the props and the light cues--all 400 of of them. It was a slow and tedious process but it had to be that way to ensure not only artistry but safety as well.

During the week of tech, actors are allowed to rehearse for 10 hours out of 12 on three consecutive days. This is in accordance with Actor's Equity Association (the union for stage actors and stage managers). Those three days spent in the darkened room of the theater can make one a bit loopy. I forgot what day it was and couldn't remember if I lived at the Arden and visited my home or if I was visiting the Arden.

The hours spent paid off though and the production is amazing. The team of designers, directors, orchestra members, cast and crew deserve a standing ovation for the feat they have pulled off while keeping their tempers under control. I don't even have any stories about people losing it and screaming.

At the opening last night, we said good-bye to many of the designers and directors who are off to other projects. We've left them at this station but the rest of us, the cast, orchestra, crew and I are going to chug on toward closing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mixed Tapes

We've been in rehearsals now for two weeks and it's a big show; a lot to think about. People are coming on and off the stage, moving boxes, drawing chalk, mopping up... it's incredible. At the end of the week, I have one day left to clean my house and hang out with my kids. It's not a great deal of time but we make the most of it...or at least try to.

Last night, my daughter wanted to make a mixed CD (like we did in the 80's only with tapes). One of the songs she requested was Get Back. I immediately thought she meant The Beatles song but instead she wanted some Disney thing. Trying to influence her, I found a YouTube video of the The Beatles playing on top of Apple Records and played it for her and my son. Both of them loved it.

We ended up having a great night playing YouTube videos for each other. My daughter played the music she likes and we countered with what we used to listen to. Luckily, my husband knows a lot about music so when my daughter likes an artist, he can show her a musical influence from our generation. Here are some examples:

I played The Supremes because they are my all-time favorites but they didn't get into them--perhaps when they are older. They did, however, like David Bowie, another big favorite of mine. Someone once commented to me that David Bowie is the Frank Sinatra of our generation. He may be right. Anyway, I'm excited that my daughter's CD will be truly mixed with artists from all different eras.

This allows me to digress a bit. Years ago, before children, if one can remember that time, I went to a Bowie/Nine Inch Nails Concert with Brian. It was a great concert--Bowie and Trent Raznor were amazing on stage together. A few weeks later, Brian and I were chatting about this concert with some guy as we watched Cal Ripken break Lou Gerhig's record at a friend's house. This young guy, obviously a Nine Inch Nails fan, asked us, "Cool, so Bowie opened for Nine Inch Nails?"

Shocked, we chastised the poor soul by responding, "David Bowie doesn't open for anyone."

Some generations get it and some don't.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Goodnight Kiss

The rehearsal period for Candide has been very difficult for me because I have to leave my children in the morning and I don't often return home until after their bedtime. Even though their babysitter is wonderful, I can't get the picture out of my head of the two of them laying on the floor crying because I have left them. They don't do this of course; they spend the day playing tennis, building forts and making up rock bands.

My husband thinks it's great that I'm working again, because I do tend to be over-involved in their lives. I am glad they have a chance to figure out life without me but why do they have to grow up?

Tonight, though, when I came home, both the kids were awake. They were very sleepy but I was able to give them a hug, ask about their day, and give them a kiss goodnight. It's just enough to keep me sane and to prevent me from laying on the rehearsal floor crying because I have to leave them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Theater as High School

Several years ago I went to the Lake Placid Film Festival and saw a short film entitled Dodgeball. No, not the Ben Stiller Dodgeball. In this short film, the characters worked in an office and each character was a caricature of a high school type--the jocks, the pretty girls, the nerds, the pot heads, you name it. Every afternoon, the manager had the office workers play dodgeball against each other; the ultimate in humiliation (except for the jocks of course). Anyway, the friend I attended the festival with, laughed hysterically at the film, commenting that it was just like her office. I didn't see it as quite that funny. I would never have thought that theater productions could be compared to high school cliques...until today.

Another rehearsal for Candide and we spent most of the time on music and dance. While the actors learned the music, the stage managers had very little to do. Oh, we made lists, but even that has it's limits. So we chatted with Jackie Goldfinger, the dramaturg--what's a dramaturg you say? Well, that's another post, altogether--who mentioned that you could, actually, make connections between production personnel and the different high school personalities. So for what it's worth, here's how we made the comparisons:
  • The Actors are the cool crowd
  • The Crew members are the pot heads (I didn't say it)
  • The Dramaturg is the nerd (her words because she's always looking things up)
  • The Production People (Production Manager, Costume Shop Manager, Props Master, Technical Director) are those "ivy leaguers." You know, the kids who seem to be able to do everything and easily float between the different cliques. The ones who have it made.
  • The director is, of course, that great teacher that everyone wants to impress.

As for Stage Managers, well, we're the Assistant Principal. Remember that guy? He was always enforcing the rules and yelling at you for breaking them:

You're late! No smoking at school! Aren't you supposed to be in class now?
Except we say:
You're late! No smoking in costume! Aren't you supposed to be on stage now?

So I'm wondering how we'd all do in dodgeball?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting to Know You

Candide - Day One! We started with a meet and greet of all the Arden staff. With 20 cast members, plus music directors, choreographer, dramaturg, assistant director, understudies, and the Arden staff, the room was full. Even after the staff left, I had trouble recognizing who was in the cast and who was on the artistic team.

Paperwork flew next as the cast finished up contracts and the costume department took measurements. After a presentation of the set and costumes, we finally got down to business. It's always a day of massive activity and answering questions. Getting those out of the way, the music director took the reins and began teaching some of the more difficult songs of the score. The little rehearsal room could barely contain the symphony of voices and we saw a glimpse of the final product as each voice found its own in the music.

The dramaturg, Jackie Goldfinger, did a brief history of the book and the show. The cast began asking questions that will continue to be explored over the next few weeks. I could see the seeds of ideas beginning to germinate in the actors' heads.

By the end of the day, my assistant, Alec Ferrell and I had between us, learned everyone's name. Not bad for a first day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And, We're Off!

I spent the weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY, for a day at the races with my sisters. We were celebrating my sister's and sister-in-law's birthdays. They've hit the bit 50!

We had a great time (can you tell from our smiles?). We arrived early in the hopes of snagging a picnic table but we couldn't find any even though my sister-in-law, Liz (middle back) was the third person in the gate. Turns out, people go to breakfast at the track at some ridiculously early hour in the morning and "save" tables then.

But as you can see we found a great spot under a tree. I won $14 in the first race (on a 2 dollar bet) but did not have much luck after that. One of the cashiers finally told us the way to bet is to put 2 dollars on 3 horses in an "exacta box" on each race. This means that you are betting that 2 of the 3 horses will come in first and second in the race. Apparently, this pays the best if you do this for every race. Unfortunately, we didn't learn about it until our last race. But we'll know next time!

Win or lose, we had fun chatting, drinking wine, and pretending we understood the racing book. We had a lovely dinner in downtown Saratoga Springs at the Caroline Street Bistro after a glass of wine at the Wine Bar. A perfect day with perfect weather.

It also had the added benefit of keeping my mind off of rehearsals which start tomorrow. Even though I've done everything I can think of to prep for rehearsals, I would have spent the entire weekend fretting. Did all the actors get the message? Did I make enough copies of the contact sheet? Are the pencils sharp enough? Don't laugh, I need my sharp pencils. My husband Brian cannot understand why I go through pencil sharpeners so quickly.

But the pencils are sharpened and the actors know the schedule and the weekend is over. It'll be nice to finally put faces to the names on the contact sheet. As nervous as I am about the "bigness" of the show, I'm excited to see it get off the ground.

And we're off!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Last Night for Cocktails

Thursday nights are cocktail nights for Brian and I. We wait until the kids have gone to bed and then he makes martinis - well a martini for him, a cosmo for me. He makes the best cosmos with a squeeze of lemon instead of lime. Watch out though--they are strong! We either sit around and chat or watch our latest Netflix DVD (usually The Wire or Entourage). Lots of people, I've found out, like a cocktail or a glass of wine on Thursday nights. It's like we're part of one big cocktail party.

Last night's cocktail night though, was our last for a while. The rehearsal room has been prepped--I taped the stage (with help) and it looks pretty good, if a bit bright (they like neon colored spike tape at the Arden)--actors have been called, props have been gathered; it's time for rehearsals. So we've made the most of our last cocktail night.

After a great dinner of grilled vegetables and edamame salad (from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist) we had wine from our new favorite store, Moore Brothers. The wine store, located in New Jersey, specializes in wines from artisanal wineries around the world. The product is shipped from the wineries at 56 degrees and the store is kept at 56 degrees (bring a fleece) so the wines are fresh and delicious. If you like wines, check it out.

We skipped cocktails since we had the wine and sat on the porch, it was a beautiful night, discussing everything from managing people to the Presidential campaign. Our conversations run the gamut on cocktail night. Sometimes, we even figure out whatever has been bugging us that week. It's better than marriage counseling which we tried once. We failed at the counseling though (I'll explain in another post) probably because we didn't need it. Anyway, our best therapy is cocktail night and we get to drink.

Of course, I'm not going to see Brian for the next two months so I doubt we'll have any issues.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Prep Week

Prep week has begun for me. This is the week before rehearsals start when the Stage Manager gets the rehearsal room ready and makes sure that the actors know where to go on the first day. Another Stage Manager has blogged about this in a bit more detail.

It usually starts with a production meeting, at least it does at the Arden. The meeting consists of the production manager, the props master, the technical directors, the master electrician, and the costume shop supervisor. They hold these meetings weekly and during a production and I try to go to as many as possible. Sure, we have e mail and phones but to sit in a room with all that brain power gives me a sense of comfort. Any question or problem is taken seriously and everyone works together to solve it. I never feel, as I have in other theaters, that I'm out there in the wind by myself trying to figure things out.

Of course, the other part of prep week, the taping of the stage and the notifying the actors, that's all up to me. Taping the stage means well, it means laying the groundplan for the set on the floor of the rehearsal room with tape. This allows the actors to understand where the limits of the set are during rehearsals. Obviously, I can't put the stairs in but I can outline them so they know where they are. Not that it helps, inevitably on the first day on stage we hear:

"The stairs are there? I didn't know that?"
"What do you mean there's a wall there?"
"Are you sure that's a door?"
What can you do?

Anyway, I've spent years avoiding taping the stage due to the nature of the productions I worked on. So taping the stage has becomes this huge deal that I fret about for about a week. It started a couple of weeks ago when the Production Manager, Courtney Riggar, e mailed me the groundplans for Candide. Brian, my husband, took one look at them and said, "It's in the round? You are so screwed?"

He was messing with me because he thinks its funny I make such a big deal out of taping the floor. Of course measuring off the centerline and converting a 1/4" scale into feet is like second nature to him. I was a French major, the last math I did was in high school!

Last night, while my kids swam at the neighbors I sat there discussing how to tape an octagon. Kenny, the owner of the pool gave me specific directions but I had worked myself into a frenzy and couldn't comprehend it. I mean, it's an octagon, right? How hard can it be?

Well, we'll see today. Wish me luck!