"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Long Time Coming

Once Upon A Time.....

There was a woman fond of directing large, all-ages cast community theater musicals. This woman also happened to be a mom, a home schooling mom, of two young boys, the older of whom was already showing signs of serious theatrical talent and interest. When choosing her musicals, she had to take into account the difficulty in finding tween and teen boys willing and interested to act in a show. She had an idea that she hoped would introduce more children to live theatre at an earlier age than was the current norm in her theatrical home. She hoped to bring in children, and hopefully a good, solid number of boys, and allow them to experience theater from an actor's perspective without the pressure of auditions. These children would grow in skill in a supportive, safe, non-judgmental environment and would perhaps be more likely to remain involved into their teenage years. This idea was called Let's PLAY!.

The Let's PLAY! Children's Theatre Workshop was proposed as a series of weekend classroom sessions for children from 4-12 years old exploring song, dance, acting, improvisation and theatrical terminology and traditions through the vehicle of fun exercises and games. The workshop was to utilize older children in technical and backstage roles such as assistant director, stage manger, light and sound tech and set and costume design and construction. At the end of the series of classes, the children would mount a short "KIDS" show, a one act performance designed for young actors. "Aladdin, KIDS" was included in the original proposal with the intent to charge minimal admission and ask for food donations in honor of the "street rat" main character.

The theater mom director, fresh off the heels of a hugely successful summer production of The Wizard of Oz, brought her idea to her theater home's board of directors. They listened politely and told her they'd discuss it later in the meeting and let her know. She left. Also at this meeting was a man very green to the world of theater, having been introduced into it during the aforementioned Wizard of Oz production. This was the final board meeting of the year and he was to become a board member the following month and was attending to observe and get up to speed on board business. When discussion of the Let's PLAY! workshop began, he was shocked to find it centered around the fear that the workshop, and its director, would reflect poorly on the theater organization. The scope of the workshop was questioned and more surprising to the meeting's observer, the director's credentials were questioned. In the end he couldn't remain a quiet observer and when it looked as though the proposal would die, he broke protocol and prevailed upon the board to table the decision until the next meeting when they could address their concerns to the director in person. And so they did.

During the next month's meeting these concerns, including the questioning of the mom/director's credentials as a theater instructor, were voiced and discussed and argued with all interested parties present. Voices were sometimes raised, eyes were rolled, feelings were hurt, but in the end the Let's PLAY! Children's Theatre Workshop was approved. But it had been changed during discussion to win the eventual unanimous vote of approval. The teen technical and support training was dropped entirely and the license of a show to culminate the workshop experience was replaced with a "showcase" performance to be designed by the director along the lines of a recital. But the door had been opened and Let's PLAY! began.

The first session was a huge success, with a full roster of children, many boys, of varying experience levels. The classes were fun, the showcase was terrific and everyone walked away happy. More sessions followed, and a summer camp version was added. Registration day began to resemble a rock concert opening ticket sales, with people lining up in cyberspace for slots that filled within hours. It also became clear that without a license to purchase and a specific show set to build and costumes to procure, there was little on which to spend tuition money. The board, which had been chilly to the point of virtually ignoring the program, began to take notice and value it as a revenue source. This was frustrating to the director and others who truly loved and supported Let's PLAY! on its merits as theater education and the joy it brought to its students. But Let's PLAY! chugged along.

After a time, it came to pass that the observer at that first meeting found himself president of the board. And so it also came to pass that the director came to the board with what was essentially her original proposal, a workshop to include teen assistants helping on a production of a licensed musical. The first Let's PLAY! session of 2015, exactly two years after the very first session, would be the Let's PLAY! Production of Winnie the Pooh, KIDS.

Today was the final of four shows capping off that workshop experience. Every one sold more seats than we had available (we had floor seating, so everyone got in, seat or no seat). That means close to 400 people watched these 30 children sing and dance their way through the Hundred Acre Wood. The children are itching to carry the show over into NEXT weekend. We can't, another show is moving in, but we could have, I'm sure, sold another 400 tickets.

I'm a very happy guy tonight. I'm happy and proud of the children and teens and the adult leadership of Let's PLAY!. I can't put into words the respect and admiration I have for the talent and work ethic and simple love for these children and the theatrical arts embodied by Let's PLAY!'s founder and director, Jen Iapalucci. But my joy is tempered by frustration that it took two years for such an obviously needed and valuable idea to finally come into full bloom. There is no rational excuse for that, it's simply a matter of silly intra-group politics and run-away egos. This session made much more money than any previous session, but MUCH more importantly, it gave 30 children and handful of teen leaders an experience they will never forget.

I'd love to hear some apologies, but Hell freezing over is more likely. What I can and do expect, though, is a recognition of the value of Let's PLAY! in lives affected and hearts warmed and lessons learned. Here's hoping it doesn't take any more raised voices.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Presto Change-O

I had the absolute best time last weekend. We had a great murder mystery party Saturday night, but for me the afternoons before and after the party, when we transformed the space twice, were just as much fun. I'm endlessly amused and intrigued by the way Brunswick Little Theatre's theater space can be used. It began as an empty church sanctuary.

Then it was transformed into a theater for the first show, a showcase performance culminating a week of Let's PLAY! summer theatre camp. It was still basic, but featured a for reals stage and comfy seats.

Then Steel Magnolias moved in and a beauty shop appeared.

I have to admit I find the colors of this set nauseating, but it IS impressive

Then the Big Dawgs moved in and our beauty shop became the sandy point at the end of Pleasure Island for a production of Hermit of Fort Fisher.

I was amazed how much of the previous set remained and yet looked entirely different
Then the Best Christmas Pageant Ever arrived and it was back to a church.

Since then, Winnie The Pooh has been moving in, but first we had that murder mystery. It was a fairy tale themed thing, so Jen decided to go with an Enchanted Forest look seeing as we had the Hundred Acre Wood taking shape in the space. It worked out nicely. Owl needed a tree so we brought in the giant tree from last summer's Into The Woods and made it a part of the forest for both events. You can't tell from my photos, but Adrian had the brilliant idea to light the tree up from the inside and it looked super-cool. The Hundred Acre Wood will feature a few cut-out trees, so we just hung "fairy lights" on and between them as well. We hung a bunch of Chinese paper lanterns from the ceiling, brought in tables and table clothes, and all of a sudden our theater was a dinner party venue.

I wish I had a decent photo of the place with the lights out and lit with the lanterns and fairy lights, but you'll have to trust me, it looked spectacular.

Now it's being turned back into a Pooh set. The tree had to be trimmed a bit and turned and shifted stage left, but a few of us handled that easily Sunday. The seats are back, but set up with an open space in front so the littlest guests can sit on blankets and get an up close view of the show without squirming on mom or dad's lap.

Today some stairs are being added to the tree so Owl can come get in and out. The trees will be painted. Who knows what else? But rest assured I can't await to see :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Impressions from a Pretty Nice Weekend

I spent a lot of last year using this space to vent frustrations. I have dedicated myself to making this year different; not just trying to ignore the bad and focus on the good, that's mumbo-jumbo, I mean changing circumstances to lessen the bad and create more good. So far, so good, as evidenced by my weekend. I started out Friday getting all my work done that I wanted to while also visiting the BLT prop and costume storage and figuring out some geeky stuff on my new GPS. Saturday was a great day spent with Lisa while John was at band Districts Auditions (he didn't make it, but had a good time). So to celebrate, I'm going to share highlights :-)

The Crazy Uncle's Attic -- I always liken the Brunswick Little Theatre storage units to the crazy uncle's attic. I've loved digging through old stuff since forever (hence the anthropology minor) and BLT has lots of old stuff. Looking through this stuff for props and costumes for use in our upcoming Once Upon A Murder mystery party (buy tickets today, it's going to be great) and the Winnie-the-Pooh Let's PLAY! show was every bit as fun as I expected it to be. Well, digging through this stuff with Jen was every bit as fun as I expected it to be. She's like having your crazy uncle (aunt?) around to ID the stuff you find. Max or I would hold up a kimono or a jacket or an urn or a crystal ball or a plumy hat or a giant fake joint and ask "Hey, what was THIS used in?" and Jen would rattle it off. Great fun! For Max and I at least. And just having time to chat with a pal is always good for the soul. Better than any medicine when you've been feeling blah.

My New Toy -- OK, so I recently came into a little bit of money from my grandfather's estate, long story. Anyhow, I used a small bit of it on myself and bought a brand new handheld GPS to replace one that had died about a year or so ago. This new one looks much the same but it's color and has much more memory and new capabilities for geocaching. One feature is its ability to accept map downloads to augment its internal maps (which suck). I spent some time Friday tinkering around and found a great site full of free maps for download, and also figured out how to get them on my new toy. It's pretty damned cool, trust me. I just bought a micro SD card so I can find MORE free maps. I have a thing for maps.

Big Retail Sucks -- Ok, it's hip to hate on Walmart and "big box" stores and all, but I resist that as much out of my distaste for group-think as anything else. Saturday, though, really brought the failures of major retail outlets to my attention. We went to Kohl's so Lisa could spend a gift card that has been burning a hole in her pocket. While we were there and she was looking around, I was tasked with finding a few long-sleeved shirts and a jacket for the boy. Turns out almost all the clothing that is even remotely fit for the weather we are actually experiencing outside has been thoroughly picked over with the residual inventory on a collection of 70% off clearance racks. Really? No long sleeved shirts in January? I'm too much of a realist to get all choked up about the clothing being produced by 5 year old Bangladeshis, but at least have the freaking little slave kids churn out some sleeves for sale in January, ok?

Next stop is Target, where they carry everything. Everyhting, it turns out, except the two things I wanted to buy. I wasn't looking for anyhting exotic, just some tupperwares to hide in the woods (see Geocaching above) and a micro SD card for my new toy. I batted zero, so today I placed orders on Amazon.com that will be at my house Wednesday. Easy peasy. Screw driving to Wilmington.

But Local Kinda Rules --  I love the "Buy Local" movement in theory. In practice, if you define local as really close to home, the SE Brunswick County area, it only really works if you're in the market for weird artwork, quasi-locally grown produce, or other people's discarded items. The retail options in the Southport-Oak Island area aren't exactly expansive. But Wilmington, now there is some cool stuff. We went to a camera shop on the advice of an ex-reporter friend and camera aficionado and I can't wait to go back. The place was a little like the Crazy Uncle's Attic of photographic......stuff. They had all sorts of new and shiny things, but also loads of old and funky things. I can't wait to go back and browse for, like, ever.

We Regress -- Lately, Lisa and I have been able to have more "couple time" than we've been accustomed to having. John's involvement with marching band and indoor percussion have him busy all day on a bunch of Saturday's, leaving Lisa and I up to our own devices. John's having fun and we have discovered that we still have as much fun together, just the two of us, as we did when we were dating. In fact, we kind of tend to regress to those days a bit. This is great for our mental health, sometimes not so much for our physical health. Yesterday, for example, we had hamburgers with Marianna sauce and fried mozzarella sticks on top of them for lunch. Then, since we decided we had eaten so much and weren't hungry for a "real dinner," we had Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and popcorn for supper while sitting on the couch watching Penny Dreadful on Blu-ray. Good times :)

Museum Book Stores Are Nirvana -- Even small museums have them and they are ALL awesome. The one at Brunswick Town-Fort Anderson is no exception. I found so much worth buying I need to go back. They have Stamp Act Defiance t-shirts (if you don't think THAT'S cool, you were probably the kind of person the opposite sex talked to in high school). None in my size yesterday, so darn, I need to check later. I did declare that since Lisa made me leave the house before my coffee I was buying myself a book. A Big Book. With lots of maps. So there!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Morning Random Thoughts After One Cup of Coffee

I saw this morning that I wrote ten more posts to Pooh Sticks in 2014 than I did in 2013, hooray me. But it was half of what I wrote in 2012, so I can do better. There are a few pretty unrelated things bouncing around my head this morning so instead of picking one I'm going to share them all. Aren't you the lucky one!

Into The Woods is a good movie. It was. Really. I highly recommend it to everyone, even those not inclined towards musical theatre. It has ethos and pathos and it's visually gorgeous. The acting is top-notch and the singing is very good. I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep the person (from what I can tell of her at least), but as an actress, she deserves the huge salary she pulls down. Wow, just wow. The choices they made as far as what to leave in in and what to cut out will grate on the nerves of theatre aficionados, but they make the movie work well in its own right rather than a screen version of the stage show. I do hope, though, that this movie's popularity will drive tons of people to see their local theater's stage versions. Live theatre trumps movies. Period.

My "Moment In The Woods" had zero to do with the show. One of the themes of this show is "moments" and people like to draw one that especially speaks to them. Despite watching BLT's performance many many times and enjoying it from start to finish, I realized watching the film version that I wasn't particularly married to any one part of the show or song or line. My moment came after the show was over, after all the audience had left, after all the actors and crew had left. My moment was, as we were leaving at the end of the night, seeing the glow around Jen, the director, that came from those nights when what she had just seen on stage matched up with the vision that she had been carrying around in her head for who knows how long. Her happiness some nights was almost palpable and seeing that in a very close friend was worth all the effort.

Galavant is on tonight. I can't wait. This thing looks absolutely awesome. It's a musical comedy that looks to be going completely over the top in a delightful way. Kind of Monty Python-ish, I'm hoping. AND this is my chance to do something completely frivolous and watch this show from start to end, for however many weeks it runs, no matter what I am "supposed" to be doing. So there! :)

The Winnie-the-Pooh Workshop kicks off this afternoon. I'm headed to the theatre this afternoon for an hour or so to help wrangle parents and paperwork as almost 30 children prepare to venture into The Hundred Acre Wood. I loved Pooh growing up, I shared it with my sister when she was young, John's first stuffed animal (you know, the one you buy him before he's born?) was Pooh Bear and he came home in a Winnie-the-Pooh onesie. If it's windy I always announce that it's a blustery day. If it's cloudy I say "Tut tut, it looks like rain". I play Pooh Sticks. A piece of me has always and will always reside in the Hundred Acre Wood. This Let's PLAY! session is making me very happy.

It's time to take the Christmas stuff down and I'm OK with that. Usually this day depresses me. Not this year. It's not that I didn't like Christmas this year, it was actually one of the best ever. But I am happy. Lisa and I are happy with life and the way it's developing for us. John is happy and growing into a wonderful man-child. My family is happy. Life is GOOD. I'm just happy and satisfied and fine with moving forward into a really cool 2015. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

I don't do these. Never have. I don't have a good reason, it's never been my thing and I'm kind of generally opposed to doing what you're "supposed to do" in pretty much any case. But this year I'm giving it a try and hoping to take it seriously. But they aren't going to be the kind of self-improvement, make the world a better place resolutions that are called for in politically correct society. Nope, tried that, not the resolutions, but the branching out into new things and giving of one's self to the benefit of others thing this year and it's left a sour taste in my mouth.

I started out all hopeful and ready to jump into it, as evidenced by this first post of 2014. By August the stress was getting to me. We'd just put on a show that drained our resources to almost nothing and didn't attract the ticket sales we hoped it would and then began the lease of a new facility that threw us into totally uncharted waters. My complaint at the time was purely personal, that it was changing me in ways I didn't like and causing me to run past roses I normally would have been smelling. That sentiment only grew the rest of the year. And it is the basis for this year's resolutions. I would normally feel bad about resolving to do LESS good for others, but not this time. Others frankly don't appreciate it.

That sounds incredibly self-serving, self-centered, self-everything, but damn it, it's true, so sue me. I never wanted a parade or any sort of recognition for the work I did as BLT president, I know that in the performing arts it's the artists who seek and get that, and that's perfectly fine by me. I'm not a spotlight kind of guy and am not out to impress strangers. But I do feel I am entitled to a little respect and the benefit of the doubt, and I got neither. I got the required "thank you's" and "good jobs" and all from the people who have to say such things, but even the people closest to what was happening all year never actually grew to trust me. Despite guiding this organization through some very difficult times and leaving it in rather better shape than I found it, if there is a negative conclusion to leap to, it's leapt to. And if anyone says "B" after I've said "A" a hundred times, "B" is what even those who should know better believe. That really hurts. It makes me feel like I've wasted a lot of time that would have been better spent on family and job and even self.

So that's what I'm resolving to do. I'm going to spend more time watching TV. It sounds like an anti-resolution, doesn't it? But it's symbolic of how this year will be different from last. I'm not a huge television guy, but there are amusing things on there I'd like to enjoy, things friends watch that I'd like to be able to discuss, things our whole family can sit and get into together, things Lisa and I can experience as a couple. It starts Sunday night with ABC's Galavant, which looks hilarious and Lisa and John have both expressed interest in. No more writing press releases or answering a dozen inane emails or updating the website or editing and sharing photos or balancing the BLT checkbook as first priority. I'll get around to the things I agree to continue to do, but it won't be as fast or as consistent. It won't be first on the list, and I regret that it ever was.

The television thing is just a start, an example. I'm also going to read. I am partway through about 8 books and I'm going to finish them all. Stephen King's "Revival" is gripping me right now, and I've devoted time to it the last week or so, so I have a head start on that one. I'm going to buy a new handheld GPS and begin geocaching again. It gets us out of the house together, it shows us the world and it leads to paths full of roses to smell. I'm going to walk on the beach again. I'm going to play our new Disney Infinity game. I'm going to take naps, dig out the computer room and plan weekend or day trips to new places. I'm going to write on this blog much more.

I'll keep up my involvement with the theatre, I have one more year on the board, though as 1 of 9 I am going to point out to everyone as often as I can. But I'm going to pick and choose. There are things about BLT I enjoy and things I don't. I'm done with the things I don't. I'm looking forward to helping plan and put on another murder mystery the end of this month. I'm really excited about the Winnie-the-Pooh workshop and show. I'm trying to cajole the board into scheduling a show I will help produce for the fall. I may stage manage this summer. All things I have found I love.

It's all a part of the new year for Jeffrey, do the things that make me and my family happy. Self-improvement without sweating and pain, baby, that's me in 2015 :)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Safe Zone

Remember playing tag, or kick the can or any number of games with a "base"? It was that one place you could go to escape for a minute, re-charge and rest? Sometimes we need them in real adult life, don't we? We need a known safe zone where we can go regroup, de-stress and then re-enter the situation ready for another go at it.

I'm a bit of a misanthrope, not real fond of strangers or large groups of people even if I do know most of them. I don't mingle well, I am awkward socially. I do enjoy parties but I'm never really completely comfortable at them. It's a weird contradiction, I know. Our great friends the Iapaluccis love to throw big parties, ones with lots of people I don't know, people I do know who I 'm not so sure about and lots and lots of really wonderful mutual friends. We love to go, *I* love to go. But they can be really a lot to handle sometimes, for someone like me.

I have a "base" at Jen and Adrian's house, though, that makes it much easier. It's the kitchen. Almost every time we are over there, I end up spending time in the kitchen, and not just hanging out. Probably why it's such a great escape is because I tend to do proper kitchen-y things in there. I wash up, put out food, cook. Often Jen is in there, she's the hostess with the mostest and head chef so it's perfectly natural, but sometimes I think she's on "base" too. And when she is there, she usually gives me a mission, which is awesome. The other night, for example, it was well into a party, 10:30 when the festivities got going at six, and Jen announces she's forgotten to cook the shrimp and I need to toast the coconut. So there we are, with all the dozens and dozens of guests milling about and partying, at the stove cooking coconut shrimp late at night. Yes, 10:30 is way late for me, don't judge. When we were done, we plated up and I followed the shrimp out into the yard and re-joined the party. It was great. I just love the idea that there's a place to decompress. It involves the magics of shared cooking and friendship at the same time and it's a really cool thing.

See, it's not hiding, it's essential party stuff going on :)
Coconut Shrimps!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

16 Days and Props To Roy

That's until midnight, December 31, when I am no longer president of the board of directors of Brunswick Little Theatre. I know because I have a phone widget counting down for me. It can't come soon enough for me, I'm kind of sorry to say. I'm just worn out.

I'm sitting here and should be writing an agenda for the last meeting under my leadership.  And writing a treasurer's report. And figuring out revenue/expenses for the last three shows. And sending all the paperwork needed for a temporary alcohol permit to the Rotary Club. And answering the email from the promoter wishing to rent the theatre for a concert in February. All this really needs to be done tonight. But just can't till this glass of bourbon starts to take effect. My wanna is gone.

I find myself admiring Roy Disney more and more every day. He was Walt's "reality man." Walt imagined and dreamed and built and filmed and created and made real magic. And he ran out of money and time and space over and over and over, but every time he just knew Roy would find a way.

It's been that kind of year with me and BLT. It's been money, yes, we've run frighteningly low twice, but that's not at all the only thing. It's been finding a way to get a story or a photo in the papers. It's been negotiating with a theater manager and taking the chewing out when the agreement is ignored by a third party BLTer. It's been selling tickets and keeping track of seats while a director constantly adds them and takes them away. It's been dealing with patrons angry when we sell out and directors angry when we don't. It's been playing accountant while three people run around with debit cards and refuse to report spending. It's been trying to explain to a board enthusiastic about a new home that "want" and "need" are two very different things and that money doesn't grow on trees. It's been trying to find directors and shows to fill a season. It's been thermostats and propane and riding mower batteries and ADA compliance and fire codes and playground signs and pinestraw and storage and ashtrays and piles of lumber and security deposits and ASCAP licenses and solar powered night lights and temporary stages and yoga classes in our rehearsal space. It's been reading and negotiating and signing a rental contract and scaring off prospective buyers of our rented space a couple months later. It's been facing canceling a show due to the very possible condemnation of the old theatre we had planned to perform in and then meetings with government officials to ensure we didn't have to cancel that same show due to permitting issues in our own space. It's been threats and angry phone calls. It's been negotiating a contract for another theater troupe to use a space we barely even used ourselves. It's been finding new board members and re-writing by-laws and tracking down members and donors and grants. It's been a lot and I'm just tired.

I wonder how many people have any idea what it takes for even a tiny little community theatre production to get off the ground. Things having zero to do with the show itself. I imagine movies are the same. When I start to think about all that had to happen for the groundbreaking work of Walt Disney to be possible, the movies and theme parks and inventions and all that, I'm just amazed. Hat's off to Roy.