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.