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.