"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

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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Disney Trip 2014; or I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I talk on here a lot about Disney planning and my sort of obsessive compulsive approach to it. I'm a Disney planner, plain and simple and I make no apologies. This trip just completely validated everything I believe about the importance of pre-planning, especially on a trip that tries to cram as much Magic into two days as possible. I'm going to sound self-congratulatory in this post because I am. I nailed this one 110%.

We left home just before lunch Thursday to drop the dog off at "camp" and pick the boy up from school. I figured we'd be able to reach Kissimmee by 9 or 10 considering we'd stop for dinner on the way. As it turned out we passed the Disney World exits from I-4 at about 9:30, which just so happens to be when the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party fireworks are launched. Yep, the Stites Fam was welcomed to Disney with a fireworks display. As the fireworks ended we reached the Comfort Inn Main Gate and checked in and went to sleep with the alarm set for 6 Friday morning.

See, I wanted to drive to Florida Thursday so that we could experience a whole Disney Day on Friday, the lovely Lisa's birthday. Who wants to drive down I-95 on her birthday? Nobody, that's who. If one is going to have a Disney Day, one must rise early. Chop chop. We all sprung out of bed with varying degrees of vigor, ate at the most horrifying free hotel breakfast buffet in the history of hotel breakfast buffets, stopped to get dad a cup of coffee that didn't smell like sewage, and made our way to Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.
The Birthday Girl welcomed home

I know the official check-in time is 3:00 in the afternoon, but I also know the resorts will hold your bags for you and even put them in your room when it's ready, so I figured we'd go check in and then be off for adventures in Disney World. We walked right up to the registration desk (not a lot of people checking in at 8:15 am, it seems) and breezed right through the procedure. She told us our room was going to be in Building 5, third floor and that it was ready for us. That threw us for a loop and just as we were getting that bit of good news through our heads, she showed us where Building 5 was. Right outside the main entrance. And our room overlooked the pool. Holy room upgrade, Batman. We were like, are you sure, this is just too cool. And she said, "I guess you are my VIPs for the day!" Indeed. I'm not one to spring for a "preferred building" room or water view for that matter, but this time it was really, really nice. Our room looked over not only the pool but also the canal and water taxi docks. And being so close to everything was a Godsend given Lisa's bum leg. Disney magic came through big time.
View from our room. Yep. :)

We oohed and ahhhed over the Christmas decorations at the resort then took the bus to Downtown Disney, on account of the boat doesn't start running until 10 am. We shopped and looked around and ate at Earl of Sandwich (a first day at Disney Stites Fam tradition), and people-watched and mocked the New Yorker whining about where was the StaaaarrrrrrBucks? The Characters In Flight balloon was grounded due to high winds, but I'm not taking the any blame for that part of the plan not coming through. We had a ball anyhow and ended up having plenty of time to grab the boat back to POFQ to grab our jackets before heading out to hop the monorail resorts and be ready to enter the park at 4:00.

This bat to DTD is a very nice perk of staying at POFQ
Our plan was to grab a drink and a bite to eat at the Grand Floridian so we hopped the Magic Kingdom bus and then the resort loop monorail which conveniently hits Grand Floridian last giving us a nice monorail ride. I've always been impressed with the Grand Floridian's Victorian decor and architecture, so I was really excited to experience the inside for the first time. I remembered being blown away by the Animal Kingdom Lodge as soon as I entered its lobby, so I expected the same WOW factor from the Grand Floridian. Nope, didn't get it. It was very nice, don't get me wrong, but it had no magic feeling to it for me. It wasn't terribly over-crowded, but it was busy with arriving guests and families milling about. These families included the worst behaved, brattiest, horrid children I think I've ever seen all in one place. I love kids and have an above average acceptance of a wide range of children's behavior. I give them the benefit of the doubt. But holy cow, this was insane. People, it's not only ok to tell your child "no", it's kind of a requirement of parenthood. These were NOT "our people" from a socio-economic perspective, maybe that affected my perspective, but these kids got on even my nerves really fast. I couldn't imagine staying among that crowd, it would be stressful and uncomfortable and totally non-magical. We are moderate resort people.
Yep, it IS really big. And gingerbread. Now, if it only contained a real witch that ate bratty children.....

Coolest topiary ever.

We saw the gingerbread house, which was very big for a baked good. The tree hadn't gone up yet, which was a bummer. The bar wasn't open. Eating at the quick service place without an adult beverage among this crowd was not an option. We boarded a boat for the Polynesian, home of the Tambu lounge and its nectar of the gods, the Lapu Lapu. Unfortunately they weren't serving food yet either. We could probably have eaten at Kona or even Capt. Cook's, but those places don't have Lapu Lapus, so of we didn't. Too bad, boy, food has to wait, mom and dad needed to drink the brat memories away. It was a good choice. I am going to enter the Magic Kingdom fresh from a Lapu Lapu every chance I get. Can't beat that feeling.
Lapu Lapu

We hit the gates of the Magic Kingdom, as planned, just at 4 pm, picked up our MVMCP wristbands, rented a wheelchair for Lisa and entered the park right on schedule. We lined up and all got the special MVMCP exclusive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card (one for the awesome Max Iapalucci) then headed for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. We were slowed down a bit by the wheelchair situation. One wheel kept buckling under and threatening to dump the birthday girl onto the pavement. We have zero experience with wheelchairs so sorta thought it was operator error (John and I being the operators) and pressed on. The posted wait time for the Mine Train was 90 minutes, but we really wanted to make sure we got on and it was early, so we decided to wait. As it turned out, it wasn't quite an hour wait and it didn't even seem like that long, to be honest. It's an interactive queue with several games and gadgets to occupy yourself. And the ride is totally worth it. Really fun and very Disney. We left happy, but also convinced our wheelchair may be defective.
Loved these guys in the Mine Train queue

Of course this year's card featured Elsa.....
I left Lisa and John to find some food and headed back to the entrance to trade in the chair. Just as the Frozen castle show was getting ready to start. Uhg. About a half hour and lots of excuse me, pardon me's later, I rejoined the family, who had not actually acquired any food as the place I left them was a mac-n-cheese only establishment. I'm not a fan of mac-n-cheese. It was still early (see, getting into the park at 4 for a party that starts at 7 is key) so we were not deterred and headed to Pinocchio's Village Haus for dinner. It was great, much better than I expected. The flatbreads are really, really good, not just good for park food good. Yum.

With that we began our night enjoying Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. I'll probably give this its own post, but for now let me say that while I'm  certainly glad we experienced this, we feel no need to do it again. It was a sell-out, so a bit crowded, but not so much it bothered us. We were using the party as much as a discount shortened second day in a park as anything else, so we weren't heartbroken the castle-front shows were jammed and the character meet-up lines were huge. I'm sorry we didn't check out the dance parties in Diamond Horseshoe or Cosmic Rays, but we were figuring out the whole wheelchair thing and that sort of slowed our roll a bit. But we DID see and do about all we wanted with zero hassle. We rode all our favorite rides with no wait. We saw the Holiday Wishes fireworks and the absolutely incredible Celebrate The Magic Castle Projection Show from the bridge between Tomorrowland and the hub. We got set up about 20 minutes before the show and never got enveloped in a crowd, it was a really pleasant place from which to watch. And that castle projection business blew us away. We sat with mouths open for the entire 15 minutes. The fireworks were great, but after the Halloween show, nothing is going to match up. After the fireworks we made our way through Adventureland to Frontierland and grabbed a prime, uncrowded, no fist-fights or shoving involved spot in front of the Country Bear Jamboree. The parade was totally underwhelming. I didn't even enjoy it as much as I do the regular Main Street Electrical Parade. We did get to check out the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob. John was waaaayyyyy impressed with Bob, the tuba player. He has major chops, according to the boy.

Yeah, yeah yeah....
After the parade we walked straight back into Adventureland and got on the Jingle Cruise with no wait. I loved the Jingle Cruise. Apparently they've plussed the experience since last year, and for my money it worked. I got to see one of my favorites in a whole new way and that was really cool. We closed out the park in the Haunted Mansion and were bummed to just catch them locking up Momento Mori just as we exited the attraction. Oh well, we have to go back soon now, right? All in all, it was a great night, we took the bus back to POFQ (with no wait) and made it to bed by 1:00 or so with a wake-up call scheduled for 6 am so we could make....

The Akershus Princess Breakfast in Epcot at 8:20. This worked out great. So great in fact that I'm dedicated to making as many pre-park opening ADRs in the future as humanly possible. Getting into the parks before opening is super cool, period. We were the only ones on our bus from the resort to Epcot, we walked right up and rented a scooter (the wheelchair experience combined with the Grand Floridian lobby experience taught us it was well worth the possibility Lisa would run down several small children. She didn't, by the way, but it would have been totally worth it if she did), and headed through a drizzly, overcast day straight through Mexico and into Norway. The Princess Breakfast deserves its own post, maybe one by Lisa because she was in heaven. It was really a lot of fun and the food was terrific. Where else can you get four different types raw fish for breakfast?
The boy's enthusiasm for rising early to meet princesses was hard to capture in a photo

Santa Mickey Topiary. I like topiary
Norway Christmas featuring St. Nick

She was kinda excited....

Ariel was terrific :)

Here is where we descend into my self congratulations. I was not at all sure how I felt about the prospect of making attraction Fastpass+ reservations months in advance. Would it kill the magic, make my already heavily planned days even more like a military maneuver? No. No it did not. It made the day completely stress-free and easy. Everything worked exactly as I had planned. I left enough time before our first FP at Test Track to go ride Soarin' via stand-by line, hopefully early enough that it wouldn't be too long. As it turned out, we walked over to The Land from Norway and had only a 30 minute wait for Soarin', which left plenty of time for a boat ride through Living With the Land before heading over to Test Track. Our FP was for 10:15 and we went through the kiosk at 10:17, waited maybe 5 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I had planned to have time for something to eat and to hit Innoventions before our next FP at Spaceship Earth at 12:15, which is just what we did. John and I designed and virtually rode our own roller coaster and we walked into the FP line at Spaceship Earth five minutes after our scheduled window opened. Again the line went quickly and we had time to wander around and relax and shop some before John and I went to use our last Fastpass+ at Mission Space, once again scanning our Magicbands two minutes after our time started. It was perfect, we had all the time we needed to see all we wanted to see in the morning without a bit of rushing and very little waiting. This is why Disney offers Fastpass. You need to know a bit about the parks and a lot about your traveling group for this to work, but I do and it worked like a charm for me.

We had the rest of the day to explore World Showcase (where there is a coffee kiosk at the entrance with a very attractive woman named Xamary from Bolivia that is a bad influence. Did you know they had Jameson for your coffee?) John got some delicious-looking tacos from Mexico and we headed to Germany for beer and pretzels. The rain was coming down harder now and we had bought ponchos, so we were in and out of them. We hit American Experience and the giant Japanese department store. We cruised around a bit then went back to Future World for Journey Into Imagination and Living Seas. It was relaxed and no pressure and fun. We laughed a lot, we talked a lot, we had a buzz. We drifted back towards England to find a spot for Illuminations and because Lisa was in a scooter got invited into the handicapped viewing area right between the dessert party and Rose and Crown, which is about as good a spot as you can get. And once again there was no shoving or crowding or anything, just a calm, wonderful experience.

Our dinner reservations, such as they were, were at Beaches and Cream, so we planned to drop off Lisa's scooter at the International Gateway and take the boat to the Boardwalk. This ended up facing two difficulties. First, Lisa's scooter refused to accept its key and we had to be escorted with the key but not the scooter by the very friendly Cast Member Bill from Albany to the scooter return. He explained our situation and it was no problem and we got our deposit back and hopped the boat for Boardwalk. Where we discovered our second problem. Beaches and Cream is NOT at the Boardwalk, it's at the Beach Club, which I will point also begins with "B", soooooo. So, Lisa had to walk much further than her bum knee wanted to at the end of a very long day, but we arrived in plenty of time for our reservation. We got sandwiches, I got the pork belly Cuban on the recommendation of Jen who was completely right, it was out of this world. We ordered and completely failed to eat the Kitchen Sink, grabbed a cab back to POFQ and hit the sack, fat and happy.
Pretty pathetic attempt, really

We slept in Sunday, ate breakfast at the resort, visited Downtown Disney for a few last minute purchases and headed home into a blinding rain storm. Worst. Drive. Ever. But we made it home safely and that's the important part. What a trip! We crammed  an unbelievable amount of fun, family camaraderie and leave-the-world-behind relaxation into just a few days. Disney magic works. Time and again.

Thanks Walt and Roy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's ALL New To Us

I ran across this article called "6 New Elements of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2014" and figured it would be a good start on planning what to see and do.

1. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade gets new characters including Frozen favorites

 What the what?!?!?!?!?!?!?! FROZEN stuff at Disney World? Who'd a thunk it? I was getting really annoyed at all the Frozen branding and tie-ins going on, but knowing Disney would full to overflowing with Frozen-alia I decided to watch the movie again this past weekend to remind myself why I liked it in the first place. It worked. I'm not saying the sarcasm will stop, but I'm not really going to be annoyed by the Frozen-ness on this trip because I kinda think Anna is pretty awesome and that the story speaks to the human spirit in an important way and that "Reindeers Are Better Than People" will wind up being one of the enduring anthems of our time. I'm not even hating Olaf anymore.

 So bring on Frozen in the parade. We LOVE a parade. Parades are like the circus, one of the classic things that make humans human. I'm bummed we're going to miss out on Festival of Fantasy, but a new parade is a new parade, right? 


2. Brand new dance parties debut in Tomorrowland and Frontierland

We are definitely checking these out. Big Al has always one of my favorite characters and I hear tell he's in the Frontierland Dance Party in the Diamond Horseshoe Revue. I'm not sure John's ever been inside this building, so there a draw as well. And Lisa wants to meet Clarabelle, and who can blame her? We love Cosmic Ray's, host to the Tomorrowland Dance Party, so we'll stop by to see wha they've done with the place. And since Phineas and Ferb will be there, I'm holding out hope for a Dr. Doof sighting. A boy can dream, right?



3. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom gets Frozen

We enjoyed this game on our last trip and I'm a geek for collectible stuff like these trading cards. So we may not play the game during our limited time in the Magic Kingdom, but we'll certainly score a few sets of cards, and bring back the Frozen special card for Max, our little Disney buddy back home. 

--see? I didn't say a WORD about it being another.......... 

4. A Frozen Holiday Wish gets two showings

Really can't complain about this.  I mean, you had a show where a castle was seemingly turned to ice via lighting effects, then you produce a movie featuring a girl who builds magic ice castles...... Disney really had no choice here, and shouldn't have. This will be brilliant, I suspect. We may have to catch both showings  :)



5.  New merchandise options

Love me some merchandise! I have an eye on those ugly Christmas sweater t-shirts....... I don't know if they are among the "new", but I might need one. And the new Momento Mori shop full of Haunted Mansion stuff? Really Disney? Not sure if it'll remind me I have to die, or make me think I did and ended up in Disney Geek heaven.



6. New “Sandy Claws” meet and greet

 Yeah, so I WOULD all of a sudden find the need to participate in the whole character hounding thing just because I want see the guy with likely the longest line of the night. I don't know if I'll get to meet Sandy Claws, I'm going to try late and see what happens, but we are planning to visit with a few other characters during the party.


And then of course there's all the old new stuff we need to see--- Jingle Cruise, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, the special fireworks show. We hope to do and see it all of course. 

Any advice from those who've been before? What have I not mentioned that I NEED to see?



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hey! We're going to DISNEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This blog started out as a Disney Blog. Yeah, another one, sue me. I added the caveats that it would also be about "life" and "fatherhood", two pretty broad topics, because I didn't want to be another of THOSE Disney blogs, regurgitating endless Top 5 lists and advice on all the dining options still available to the tens of people allergic to kumquats. I tried writing for one of them and it didn't go well. Lately, though, the "life" subject has been pretty much sucked up by theatre talk, and while I love my work with the theatre, I'M GOING TO BE IN DISNEY IN 12 DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And I am bringing this baby back to Disney talk for a while.

We are taking a long weekend to celebrate the lovely Lisa's birthday, experience Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for the first time, visit Epcot and generally get a Disney fix while we save for another week-long trip in God knows how many months/years. We are lucky to live an easy day's drive from Disney World, so we like to run down and back for these commando raids of vacations. This time we're picking the boy up from school as soon as he has his State of North Carolina Approved Full-Day Time completed, about lunchtime, and driving straight down to Kissimmee. We'll likely arrive about 9 or 10 pm and check into a cheap-o motel for the night. Then Friday we head into Disney World, drop our stuff at the Port Orleans French Quarter and immerse ourselves in the magic.

We have tickets to the MVMCP Friday night and can enter the parks at 4 pm (see, I'm not writing a whole blog about that "tip" so I'm not too cheesy) so we'll have a good part of the day to just knock around the property. We might head to Downtown Disney early to try the hot air balloon thing, Characters In Flight I think its called, because I read it's half price early. We love DTD and especially The Earl of Sandwiche, so I'm expecting that'll be lunch. We may cruise some resorts to see if any decorations are up yet. We've never even been to The Wilderness Lodge, so I'd like to see that, and I don't believe we've been in the lobby of the Grand Floridian either, so that may be another stop. I'm not applying my Obsessive Disney Planning to this portion of the visit. Yet. We'll see.....

Then it's off to the MVMCP, something we are really looking forward to. I've got an article telling me about all the new things to do (which I will write about soon), but it'll all be new to us, so we are pretty fluid in our planning. We'd like to ride the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and check out the rest of New Fantasyland, so that will likely be our first stop in the park. Once the party starts, we (I) have a plan to see and do all the coolest stuff with the least hassle. Lisa and I also developed an urge to get our photos with characters as of, well, yesterday. We've not been big Meet-n-Greet people, but this time I'm intrigued by Sandy Claws and Lisa by Minnie's Christmas dress, and both of us by Mary Poppins and her penguins. I'm studying strategy on the awesome Kenny The Pirate site (another upcoming post), so I have high hopes for our first attempt at character hounding.

After a few hours sleep, it's off to Epcot for Princess Breakfast at Akershus Dining Hall. We'll try out this new Fastpass + thing and end our day at Beaches and Cream indulging in the Kitchen Sink. I'll blog about our dining choices and the hows and whys as well, because I'm sure you're all DYING to know, right?

Sunday, we hit DTD again on our way out and it's back up 95 toward home.Then I'll be able to blog about all the stuff we saw and did and experienced rather than my plans for same. There will be a good, healthy dose of Disney back on Pooh Sticks. Of course I'm going to be portraying Mr. Fezziwig a week after we return, so the theatre talk isn't over either, but Disney will reclaim the piece of my head and heart it deserves.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


I'm leaving this week looking at myself differently than I did entering it.

I've enjoyed my involvement with theatre in large part because it's allowed me the opportunity to work with and observe some great creative talents making magic. I talk about that a lot on here because it fascinates me, it's something I never could do (the performance/creative stuff) and I like being around those who can and getting a front seat or even behind the scenes view of the creative process. I've seen myself as audience, in a sense, observer maybe is a better word, even of shows during which I'm backstage working. I like being near people I admire and this year has given me a chance to do a lot of that and expanded the universe of artists and directors and actors and choreographers that I get to observe.

But Monday a silly little Facebook post started a week in which I came to understand that I'm not audience anymore. My friend Jen listed all the projects her "friends in the performing arts community" are working on in the coming weeks. It was a wonderful list, really, and she tagged the people responsible for all the happenings in her post -- directors, musical directors, artistic directors.......and me. And surprised myself because I didn't see that inclusion as odd. I had begun to feel like I belonged in that "performing arts community".

I'm not a director of any one show, and am not really an Artistic Director in the sense that other theater companies use the term. Usually that is a paid position for the person responsible for the day to day, week to week operations of the theater. But this year, as Brunswick Little Theatre has moved into a place of its own and we've had to make that work and fill the space, I've come really close to filling that role in all practical terms. One of the new friends I've made recently is Steve Vernon, Artistic Director of Big Dawg Productions, the group putting on The Hermit of Fort Fisher in our space right now. He's the first friend I've made solely because of our common ground in theater, and it's made me realize I have my own real estate there, in that artistic world. We spent an hour before the opening show of Hermit talking shop. Sure, he is way more experienced than I and we both understand that, but we spoke as equals in the sense that we are both doing the same job essentially and he respects the way I've handled my challenges as much as I respect the work he's doing with his own organization. A year ago, Hell, two weeks ago, I would have entered that conversation as a pure learning opportunity, a chance to hang out with "those creative-types". But Friday night I WAS one of those people, one of a community of very different personalities all joined by a desire to bring the arts to others.

I've finally accepted that that's now a part of who I am. I organize. I facilitate. I make things happen. But that IS "arts". In a simple example, I figured out how to add enough chairs to fit 106 patrons into our theatre space while preserving a center aisle that the director wanted to use as a part of the show's blocking. In a more extensive example I oversaw the transformation of an abandoned church and school into a performing arts complex. That property will see auditions for a youth musical and rehearsals for an all-ages cast Christmas show and a children's theatre workshop and host over 100 souls attending a play.......TODAY. In Southport. In Brunswick County. And while it took the efforts of a lot more than just myself to make this happen, I am very proud of my own role. No theater in Wilmington is doing more. We, we in the Brunswick Little Theatre, are contributing as much as any group in the area to making the arts available to our community. And if the sell-out crowds are any indication, the community appreciates it.

While I got great joy out of being able to see up close and personal others making magic, I finally feel like I can say "Ta-Da" myself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Plans Gone Awry.....WIN!!!!!

Yesterday Lisa and I planned to drive to Loris, South Carolina to watch John in his final marching band competition. The weather was iffy, well, more like definitely crappy with rain pouring down at regular intervals, but in the past the schools had moved the show into a gymnasium in bad weather, so we thought nothing of it.

We've developed a little tradition while traveling to John's band competitions. Lisa and I like road trips, and these things tend to bring us to places we've not been before. We drop John off at his school early in the morning so he can practice and ride the band bus to where ever. His group usually performs in the late afternoon, so we have plenty of time to amuse ourselves during the day. We've gotten in the habit of leaving home early enough to explore the area hosting the competition a bit, and we try to find some local, interesting place for lunch. One of our favorite finds last year was in Conway, South Carolina on our way to Loris. We planned yesterday to revisit this little cafe, Crady's.

All was going just according to plan, we were sitting at a nice window seat in Crady's looking at the really cool community theatre building across the street when I got a call from John telling us the competition was canceled and the band was heading to Planet Fun instead. So we ended up driving quite a ways for lunch (which was GREAT, by the way), but we still had until early evening before we needed to retrieve the boy. No problem, we thought, we'll just drive around and check out Conway then head home and cuddle up under a blanket until John was done.

While we were there, though, we decided to go across the street and look a little more closely at this theatre, The Theatre of the Republic. We'd seen it the year before as well when it was running The 39 Steps a week after our own closed. This time Young Frankenstein was the feature. While we were looking in the windows the door popped open and a nice lady invited us in to look around. We said, sure, we'd love to see the inside and went on in.

Well, before you know it, this little old man came up, Lisa tells him I'm the president of Brunswick Little Theatre in Brunswick County, and he says he'd love to show us around. I was hoping to see the seating area, which we did, but then he proceeded to walk us up on stage, through a sliding hidden door in the back and proceeded to show us the whole building. It was great, the place is the Tardis of theaters, it's about 12 times the size inside as it is outside. I was blown away, I have theater envy, bad. Our friend Jen took us backstage at Thalian Hall a few weeks ago, and that was impressive, but this little 325-seater has MORE space backstage than that! They have a huge scenic workshop, a big kitchen/hang-out room, make-up rooms, costume storage and workshops, dressing rooms with showers (separate from the make-up rooms) and prop storage everywhere. They've been in this facility a while, so it's like a museum of all their past shows. Lisa was dying for a camera.

The fireplace opens up. It's cool.
In talking to our tour guide, we find the Theatre of the Republic is celebrating 45 years next year, and HE was on the original board! Kind of explains why no one questioned the two strangers wandering through the back stage area 45 minutes before curtain. He was a little, as Lisa said, light on the facts. "When did you move in here?" "Oh, a while ago." "How'd you come into this place?" "Oh, it just opened up." But he was a great tour guide anyhow and showed us everything we could have asked to see and more. Including two racks containing probably at least 80 tuxedos that had just been donated. Why doesn't that happen to US?!?!?

On our way out, we were deposited in front of the ticket booth to sign up for the email list. The FABULOUS guy manning the ticket booth was in the middle of a rant about the huge pain in the ass that is cast and crew comp tickets. The audience for this rant was a woman who, I discovered to my great delight, was wearing a "Frau Stage Manager" shirt. We bonded. We got on the email list. We made plans to invite friends back to see Gypsy this summer. We left a bit exhausted and with heads a-spin just as the audience was beginning to arrive. I love the theater community.

We headed home and realized that our change in plans meant we could go to the first meeting/rehearsal for Brunswick Little Theatre's Fezziwig's Ball and Murder Mystery (tickets on sale now!). We went to our own little theatre, we danced, we discussed costumes, we got assigned characters (I'm Mr. Fezz himself and very pleased about that; Lisa is Mrs. Cratchet), we discussed how to fit all that we do into our space that seemed so huge just a little while ago, and we left smiling and happy and looking forward to the future.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Opening Night

Well, it happened.

That wasn't completely guaranteed at all, a fact that kept me up nights for the last couple months. Oh, I put on a brave face, I played my role as fearless leader telling everyone not to worry, that the show WOULD go on. I sold tickets with only the vaguest notion of how I'd refund them if disaster befell us. Most of all, I simply did something very hard for me and completely, willfully buried my self-doubt. Call it the power of positive thinking if you will, but I convinced myself that somehow I'd stop anything or anyone that tried to prevent us from opening this past Friday night.

We did it. After a lot of work by really a very few people, we did it. Lisa and I went to the first show in front of a (pretty much sell-out) paying audience. I saw it happen, saw the patrons arriving and picking up tickets and entering the theatre. We saw them enjoy the really comfy seats, saw them enjoying the company of friends and then enjoying the show and leaving happy. It should have felt......triumphant maybe? I mean, it was a long road, a bit of a fight actually, and I'd been building this night up as a sort of final battle, a chance to walk away with a win or a lose. But it wasn't. It was totally anti-climatic. I didn't walk out happy about all we've done, I left worried sick, still, about all we have left to do.

I've written before about all that needed to be done. It's not over in the way I expected it to be. Not by a long shot. I'm still going to be losing sleep over contractors and their bizarre sense of time and space, inspectors that may or may not come visit, permissions we may or may not need or have and another show coming up in just 14 days (and we still have another weekend of this one to get through).

 Now to be honest there are a lot of positives to list right now. The work paid off. They came and left happy. I've heard noting but praise for the venue from patrons. They love the seats, the lobby, even the parking. They were able to hear and see from all their seats. They were able, except a couple of ladies whose GPS led them to the ILA Hall up the road, to find us with no problems. Those with, ahem, mobility issues, were able to use the handicapped ramp easily. Our lobby easily held the crowd until the house opened. It's a GREAT place to see a show, much better than anywhere we've been outside of the main theater at Odell Williamson Auditorium. It's safe and comfortable, which a lot of our past venues were not. So hooray us.

The problems come from the performance side and the matter of permitting and inspections. I'm just confused by the whole permitting process, so I'll leave that aside. But the performance issues have me a bit worried.

In two weeks the Hermit of Fort Fisher opens and we need to have our lovely Southern beauty parlor turned into a cement bunker on a sandy spit of land at the southern tip of Pleasure Island. I've seen both the real bunker in question and the set used by the company putting this show on in their own space, so I know it can be done. However, I don't know how. I have a meeting with the Hermit director hours before we are scheduled to strike the Steel Magnolias set to determine what needs to go, what needs to stay and what pieces of the set can be left hanging around to await transformation into the beach and bunker. I'm hoping to have our Techincal Director at this meeting to start discussing tech needs for the Hermit show, because there are some and I'm not sure how they will be met. Are you sensing the pattern here? I know enough to know what needs to be done, but not enough to figure out how to do it. It's frustrating the Hell out of me. One condition of our lease of this theater to the Hermit people was a stage exit out of sight of the audience. This meshed nicely with the ADA requirement for a handicapped egress from the stage and will take the form of a ramp outside the building. I'm stressing out having this thing done in time, as it was promised to both the government and the leasees. So I've been stopping by the property every afternoon to ride herd on the contractors, who, in a very troubling way, remind me very much of Larry, Daryl and Daryl from The Newhart Show. I lose sleep over this.
Here's what the REAL bunker looks like. I imagine there was less graffiti in the Hermit's time

Then, less than two weeks after the last Hermit show, we have an event that may utilize the entire property at once. Our annual Fezziwig Ball has turned into a Fezziwig's Ball and Murder Mystery The ball and mystery part will take place in the same theater as the two shows have, but without the chairs present. I'm not sure where to put 100 chairs, especially as I'm not 100% sure how we'll be using the rest of the property. Our original plan, and the one we've been promoting, calls for a Children's Victorian Christmas Party in one of our two classroom buildings and a Victorian Food Court in the outside area between the main theater and the classrooms. It all sounded great when we planned it, and I really would still LOVE to see it come off as planned, but it's going to be an adventure. The chairs can go, for temporary, any of several places, that's not too big a problem. It will just depend on what space we use for children's stuff. But one thing I wasn't counting on was the transformation of the kitchen I suspect was supposed to play some role in the food prep situation into a lighting/technical workshop. Cooking anything more complicated than boiled water in there right now would be impossible. I saw all this work and thought how great it was our Frank the Tech Guru had found room to play until it dawned on my how close the Fezz Situation was. Now, again, this isn't a solution-less problem, it's actually a pretty easy solution, simply pick up all the equipment and tools and parts and control panels and send them back from whence they came. But it is just one more thing it never dawned on me would need to be done. I am finding I am not as good at thinking things through as I like to think I am.

Add to the mix the fact that while all this is going on we have two plays rehearsing and a children's workshop in full swing and you have one very busy theater manager with a very full brain. And a very complicated Google Calendar.

I'm wondering if I bit off more than we could chew to finish off the year. I mean, it WAS me who pushed for all this, so if it ends up turning into a train wreck, I'll take the blame, but I still think I would do it the same way if I got a chance to try again. I would rather fail from trying too much than fail from not trying enough. If this theatre wasn't being used this much, I think it would hurt us in the long run. I think also that while we are pushing the limits of our volunteer base, we are learning a valuable lesson. We need to know if we have the enthusiasm among our "BLT family" to make this place work long term. If this year ends as a train wreck, if we can't pull off all these projects, we will know that the support for a place of our own simply may not be there in anything but lip service. We've all TALKED about how we need to have our own place, but BLT needs to see how many people are willing to work to make it happen. If nothing else, I've unintentionally devised a great first test of that question.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Stage Mangement Appreciation Day

No, I'm not going to appreciate myself for being a stage manager, but I AM going to appreciate the chance to work in this role, and the patience and understanding and teaching and pure joy I've gotten from those I've had the opportunity to work with. And I'd like to REALLY thank Jen, a great stage manger (professional stage manager, thank you very much) in her own right, for offering me the chance to enter this world and for helping me find my place in it.

And it's a place I really, really like. I get to be part of the show without being "in" the show. I have the best seat in the house for free. I get to use duct tape. I've gotten to perform shadow puppet shows and create sound effects. I've gotten to work with flying monkeys and a steampunk chicken and cross-dressing men and leather-pant-and-corset-clad women. I've fixed costumes, kept props from catching fire on stage, bandaged cuts, wrapped ankles, wiped tears and mediated disputes before they turned to fisticuffs. I've also shorted out a good third of a theatre's electical system and thrown an entire production into disarray. It's not easy and I'm not at all what I'd like to be in the job yet, but it's tremendous, exhilarating, challenging and sometimes just plain silly FUN.

See? Best seat in the house.

I had a shadow for a lot of the night during Into The Woods shows.

They are making the "scary trees" pose. By the end of the run, I had ALL the backstage crew doing it too.

I never knew they had ladders that did this. I had to hang these lights so I could blow their bulbs up later ;)

I got to wear a headset and make shadow puppets during The 39 Steps, what's not to LOVE about that?

Good thing I look so FABULOUS in black. And so do those freaks :)

At Odell, I have a huge backstage in which to work. At the Amuzu for 39 Steps, we had this. It was cozy

Getting to the theater before anyone else and just being there is kind of magic.

Making sure no one eats the props is also my job. Sometimes I've had more success than others....

Really, seeing a show from here is pure, unadulterated FUN. You should be jealous.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Running Past The Roses

Sometime last year I re-posted something I found on Facebook, some meme with a photo and the words "I give great advice, but I seldom follow it" or some such thing. My friend immediately responded that she had the very same quote on a coffee mug on her desk at work, seems to ring true with quite a few people. When I began this blog, part of the reason I chose the name Pooh Sticks was because it represented to me taking the time to slow down and enjoy the simple things. Rather than using the bridge simply to cross the river that lies between you and your destination, we should stop, find a stick, go back and drop it in and watch what happens. Life is about the journey towards our goals and we miss much if we get too focused on the ends. I prided myself on being the sort to appreciate the little things, to take full advantage of the journey, to keep perspective.

I've totally ignored that advice, that part of myself, this summer. And I feel the worse for it, but I don't know how to fix it. The problem is, the things that have me running and not slowing to enjoy the path are GOOD things, largely even fun things. I am blessed with great opportunities and I feel like a heel whining about them. But I haven't slept through the night since mid-July, I regularly have a huge nervous pit in my stomach, it's an effort to not let my stress bleed over into lack of patience with others and I often fail in that. My pastor told me he loves reading about all I'm up to on Facebook and that he alternates between jealousy and sympathy and sometimes both at once. That's it in a nutshell.

Serving as president of Brunswick Little Theatre this year has been fun. It's also been much more than I bargained for. I had no idea how much stuff would end up in front of me, how many decisions others would refuse to make and leave to me, or at least wait for my input then do whatever I said. But that was ok, I could handle it just fine. Then this summer our treasurer, Jack Mical, passed away suddenly. Jack was my friend, he and I used to joke about being two fish out of water on the board, two guys with zero talent, zero experience and zero training in theater. All we had was a desire to see our friends (the same ones it turned out) with the talent, experience and training make magic and give the community great opportunities to enjoy live theater.  He was always there, always cheerful and always finding a way to turn what he knew he could do into concrete help. I admired that, learned from it, and then he was gone. And his job devolved to me. No question I was going to do it, and do it right, I mean this was the one way I could honor Jack's memory. I just had to figure out how. So with a bit of work and a lot advice I've managed to keep the theater's finances straight. Doing that in the middle of stage managing Into The Woods was a little TMI. It wasn't killing me, but it began the waking up at 3 am each night with my heart in my throat over some aspect of the books.

Then we decided to lease and run our own theater. And not only a theater, no, we moved into a 4 acre complex with several buildings, classrooms, a kitchen and more bathrooms than any normal group of people need. I signed the lease on opening night of Into The Woods, at the time our theater finances were at a low ebb and ticket sales for the Big Summer Musical were not big at all. No stress there, huh? I insisted on signing physically on the set of the show. I wanted to ask Lisa, John, the director and a few others to lay hands on me while I did it, but didn't want to look too much like the basket case I felt. I just wanted some good mojo, some clear sign of moving in the correct direction. I knew it would be a big undertaking. I'd thoroughly annoyed many long-time BLTers and some board members by throwing up every road block I could, by raising every objection, by voicing every caution while this was being discussed. They were convinced this was a no-brainer, this would be a great thing, nothing but positives. I couldn't even wrap my head around all the new work, all the new problems, it would bring. But in the end, at a special meeting, I voted along with everyone else to sign the lease. And I've been a wreck ever since.

It's been so very much more than I imagined. I liken it to moving into a new house, but more so. We have to prepare the space for we don't even know what yet. We have lots of ideas, ranging from the normal shows and workshops, all the way to sing-a-long movie nights and a medieval fair. That's part of the challenge for me, we are full of ideas, but less so on execution. Take for example the Fundraising Committee we created back in March. They were the ones who took it upon themselves to find a property for us to move into. They spoke with several realtors, a land developer and a landscape architect; they toured four properties; they generated over 4,990,876,412 emails (approximately) but have to date raised not one penny of funds. The members of the committee have donated generously themselves, but that's kind of not the point.

These are the people who said how easy it would be to operate a theater. They have ideas. But the place needs material and lights and paint and a schedule and some idea of what to use which space for. The size of that 4 acre property has shrunk massively in practical terms with requests for dance studio space, children's workshop space, a painting area, a technical work bench, a sewing room, prop storage, costume storage, and oh yeah, there' s a huge hollow tree prop with spiral staircase on  site now. We have requests to do dinner theater and a coffee house and babysitting and build a proscenium arch and knock out a wall to put a tech booth in the attic. And so far all these ideas are coming to me. Oh, and we don't have permission from the county to use the building as anything other than a church yet.

The board isn't so much absent as disengaged. We only meet once a month and most never look at their emails. They simply think we can carry on as we always have and it will all get done. I'm trying to spread out the work and it has helped a lot. I have a great guy in charge of grounds and maintenance, but he is loath to tackle any permitting issues. Jen is helping with fundraising, so we will now actually raise funds and build a real, active, renewing membership base. Lisa found me a treasurer, but the transition will take a while and a bit of work on both our parts. Still, I end up at the least overseeing all the aspects of running a theater, or really more like running a performing arts complex. How the Hell did THAT happen?

Add to this work troubles and challenges that I'm too pissed off about to even write about now, and it's been a lot of sleepless nights and days where I feel like Indiana Jones with that huge rock rolling after him. I had a Saturday morning with no plans yesterday and spent about 6 hours updating and adding to the theater's website. I could have let it wait, but when I do (like right now choosing to write this instead of adding a show and auditions to all the local media's calendars) I feel guilty and stressed over NOT doing things. It has sucked the joy out of stopping to smell the roses and I don't like it. I live less than a quarter mile walk to the beach. I moved here because of the ocean and the beach. And I haven't had sand in my toes in over a month.

I hate to even say this stuff, on the one hand. I mean, I wouldn't give up any of this willingly, it's rewarding and exciting and fun. Who can say they had the chance to start up a theater complex? I really feel like I'm making a real difference and doing something very worthwhile. But at the same time it's taking a toll. I need to find way to handle this and still enjoy the Pooh Sticks bridge. I'm just not sure how.

Do you know?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Making Into The Woods Our Own

Community theaters get access to shows only after they have run their course on the professional circuit. We are constantly told people would LOVE to see us do Wicked or The Lion King, but we can't, they haven't been released to amateurs yet. This means the shows we produce have already been seen by, or at least become a bit familiar in a second hand way to, theater fans. They enter with expectations, not in the open-to-anything way they might go to see a show that's brand new to the world. This can present a challenge, as we simply can't do some of the things Broadway can, from a technical standpoint for sure, but even from an artistic standpoint. The last two shows Brunswick Little Theatre performed on the big stage at Odell Williamson Auditorium were perfect examples. Everyone has seen Wizard of Oz and they come to the show expecting to see familiar things. Beauty and the Beast is so popular on Broadway and as a touring show, that even those who haven't seen it know what it is "supposed" to look like. We strived to meet these expectations and I think succeeded pretty well, but it was fun this year to get a chance to break out a little bit.

Into The Woods is familiar to theater fanatics, a favorite of many, but less so to the general public. This gave us, and director Jen Iapalucci in particular, an opportunity to put our own stamp on the show. Jen possesses the most unique and wonderful form of creative intelligence I've ever run across in a person. She can imagine the most amazing things then figure out how to make them reality. This is why I call her Walt. She has a blog all about it, you should check it out. Jen took a hold of Into The Woods, an already amazing piece of art, and made it her own with two big additions. First off, she gave the whole show a Steampunk look with the sets and costumes. This turned out really well given the duality and sort-of-real/sort-of-fantasy feel of the whole show. The costumes are spectacular and the set is wowing audiences, so it's clearly worked. The Wilmington newspaper reviewer even liked it despite being "over" the whole Steampunk thing himself. The cast loves the way they look and that helps a show tremendously. Kudos to Jen and the whole set and costume crews.

But Steampunk versions of Broadway shows aren't unique. What really impressed me, and what makes this show really ours, is her addition of an all-ages (but mostly children) ensemble. The Broadway show features nothing of the sort. I never told her so, but I admire Jen's courage in doing this. It's really putting a part of herself on stage for approval. This grew out of Jen's very personal love for children and insistence on making them (including her own) a part of BLT's summer musicals. She was all-in on this, too. The ensemble wasn't
just layered on top of the show, she wove them into it. If it worked, the show worked, but if not, if audiences saw it as a distraction, it could have hurt the whole production. Jen created mini-scenes, little stories within the story, for the kids to act out. She used them to create special effects like the giant and the beanstalk. She used them to create mood and help enhance the characters around them (in one instance, for example, they are flowers that wilt as the Witch approaches). They aren't icing an audience can scape off and still enjoy the cake beneath, the are baked right in there. That was a risk, to be sure, but one Jen is uniquely qualified to take.
Most of the Ensemble in a publicity photo
The Beanstalk
Milky White, the hen that lays golden eggs and stolen giant's harp are all ensemble members

Watching this come together, I knew it worked just as Jen envisioned it. The kids took to their roles with gusto and skill and the adults allowed them right into the show with enthusiasm and understanding. I knew *I* loved it and "got" what was happening, but I wondered how a critic would see it. Would he be one of those who believed local amateur theater should be judged solely on how close to the original they could get? Or would he get it as I did? We got our answer in the Star News' review yesterday:

Iapalucci's decision to cast a chorus of kids bolsters the whole fairy tale angle. Children play the birds who aid Cinderella and they open green umbrellas on a staircase to create Jack's beanstalk. It's a winning idea, even if a couple of the young performers' roles aren't entirely clear. 

He got it. And that was nice. But I find what I like most about Jen's  additions to Into The Woods is that, even as personal and very "her" they are, they make the show BELONG to all of us in the cast and crew. This isn't Broadway's Into The Woods, it's Brunswick Little Theatre's Into The Woods.

And it's EPIC.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Things I ALREADY Love About BLT's Into The Woods

We can start with that poster. Cool, huh?

I've been happily watching this show come together and largely keeping my mouth shut about it. We open two weeks from last night. Two weeks from this moment, I will be backstage at Odell Williamson Auditorium. I like that idea. So, I'm going to list a few of the other things that make me happy about this show, and particularly Brunswick Little Theatre's production of it.

1. The Writing

James Lupine is credited with "the book" on this show. That's, to my simple understanding of musicals, the words between the songs. I imagine he and Stephen Sondheim worked together hand and glove with the lyrics and spoken word bits. The story is told largely in song, so they had to. It really worked, in ways I truly admire as an aspiring writer.

During the opening number, there's a knock on the door to The Baker's cottage. His Wife asks who it is and The Baker responds in a way that sums up so clearly where this journey is taking us. Into The Woods is largely about normal people's responses to unusual situations. It is a great mix of the fantastic and the mundane, both feeding our imagination and relating to us in ways we can completely identify with ourselves. The Baker and his Wife take it for granted there's a witch next door, but it doesn't mean they completely buy into that part about "magic beans." That just strikes me as funny, they accept she's a witch but are suspicious that the beans she claims are magical really are more than just beans. The whole show and all the characters in it are like that. They are upset by a giant walking around their little world, but accept that giants sometimes do that. Cinderella talks to birds and her dead mother, but is shocked to see a giant beanstalk. It just goes to show that "impossible" is often in the eyes of the beholder.

I'm also in love with the idea that so few characters have names. The story is centered on The Baker and The Baker's Wife. Don't assume the show is sexist for identifying the female lead only as the wife of the male lead, the two Princes and called Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince.  We also have The Witch, Granny, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf, the Evil Stepmother, and Cinderella's Father. Cinderella and Rapunzel have names, of course, but they are so well-ingrained in our cultural identity that both are essentially meaningless as personal monikers. The only two "real names" in the show are the Evil Stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda, which I'm pretty sure speaks to some greater point, but I haven't figured it out yet. The lack of personal names lends the whole story a general appeal, as if it's about US and not just THEM. I'm sure that was the idea, and this isn't a new or particularly subtle way to go about generalizing one's lessons, but I love it nonetheless.  There really is a bit of all these characters in all of us. We are greedy and cutthroat and kind and generous, we are clever and simple, we are loyal and fickle, we are brave and cowardly. And our children WILL listen, just as we did to our parents and their children will to them someday.

2. Steampunk

Jen decided to give this show a steampunk flair in its costumes and set, and it's looking great. If you aren't familiar with the term, steampunk refers to a sort of style based upon Victorian-age science fiction. It's Jules Verne-esque stuff, full of brass and airships and goggles and proto-industrial tech. Not to brag, but I was steampunk WAY before steampunk was cool. I was drawn as a young'un, totally mesmerized, to the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea attraction in Disney's Tomorrowland. I mean, it was a submarine that looked like a big, metal fish. And you could see all the bolts! I loved blimps and airships. I had a Goodyear Blimp model in my room. I wore goggles and funky hats whenever I could get my hands on them. Back then I was weird. Today, it's a whole subculture and people are going to a lot of expense and trouble to look like I wanted to when I was 8. Jen has designed a whole show to fit my elementary school imagination, and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it.

3. The Costumes

I'll let them speak for themselves.

4. Milky White

Into The Woods features as a sort of character Jack's cow, Milky White. Milky White has been portrayed in different productions using everything from a big prop cow on wheels to an actor in a cow costume. Jen has chosen the middle road, an actor carrying a cow prop.  It's a great idea as it gives the audience a cow but also allows an actor to portray the cow's, well, emotions. The cow goes through a lot. And the actor Jen chose, a teenager named Chase Costen, has totally embraced his bovine side. In rehearsals, I've seen him react with his face and body in logical ways to what the cow is doing and seeing. When they line up to do vocal warm-ups, Chase brings his cow. He gets that they are one piece, not a boy carrying a prop. It's a little thing, but it really tickles me.

That's about all I feel I can say right now. We build the set next Saturday and I am sure I will be adding that to my list. But I don't want to give too much away. You'll have to come see for yourself. Find out all about it here. You'll not be disappointed

Friday, May 30, 2014

What A Long, Strange Trip It Was

Ok, so the show didn't include any Grateful Dead (for which I am eminently grateful myself) but I couldn't resist. For nine glorious days over the last couple weeks, I got to play roadie to a rock band. How many people get that chance? I had done this last year on a similar show and loved it, so I was really looking forward to this run. I had to cut it back a bit. Last year I spent well over 40 hours the first week at Franklin Square Park, but this year work just wouldn't allow me the same flexibility. It all worked out well, though. I put in a respectable bit of work and the director stepped up and helped set up and break down the show to a much greater extent. Director Mark worked his butt off on this show, I gotta say he IS pretty rock and roll. As it was, I ended up getting to the park between 4 and 5 pm and leaving about 11:30 each night. Let me tell you, the 4:30 am alarm comes early on that schedule. I think I'm still recovering. But oh my Lord, was it ever worth every killer second!!!!

My main role, the one I volunteered for, was light guy. I had my first experience with this last year at the British Invasion park show and have picked up a little extra here and there since then from Frank Blackmon, our resident tech guru and a retired electrical engineer. The light set-up for our park shows is necessarily simple, we have two metal lighting bars we erect and are able to screw some more lights into the frame of the gazebo that serves as our stage. We started with eleven lights, three facing the stage on each light bar, one over the piano, three over the drums and one aimed out towards the audience in the general direction of the port-a-potty.

While Frank and I were sitting on a park bench congratulating ourselves on getting all these lights hooked up in such a way that they came on and off at our command from the light controller (not as easy as one would hope), along comes the show's director with his vision for the lighting of the show printed neatly on two pages of paper. I was kind of tickled that he thought to put thought into the lighting, so I wanted to make things look as much like he wanted as possible. The problem was our lighting isn't so much traditional stage lighting, used to set mood and affect color and such, as it is essentially a series of spotlights that can illuminate certain areas of the stage. They are too close to the performers to blend together or light any more than one or maybe two people at a time. But Frank isn't the kind to be deterred and always likes making anything more complicated (he IS an engineer after all) so he immediately decided we could add more lights, ones with definite color to them. "We need back lighting, anyhow" he announced and we set about finding some smaller lights and hanging six of them, two each red, yellow and blue, in the back left and right corners of the stage. I'm not sure how well they conveyed the moods the director was looking for, but I diligently attempted to light the songs as he directed. Upon hearing they'd be backlit, the costume queen/vocalist Jen turned to her sister, another vocalist, and announced they'd need slips under their hippy dresses. That's why we have costume people, the light guys wouldn't have thought of that. :-)

Here you can see all our lights but the drum and piano lights, they are facing towards the back attached to the gazebo itself. See the little one aimed towards the audience? Supposed to light the way to the port-o-potties. I labeled it "PP" on my light board.

This is my light board and the notes I made myself so I'd know what to turn on and off when. The notes got soaked in a rainstorm and needed repair. The beer just seemed to fit this show perfectly.

So, I tried very hard to light the show as Director Mark hoped while also putting light on the singers and instruments that were involved in a song. I tried to time bringing lights up on background vocalists just before they began to sing, to bring lights down on the vocalist during instrumental breaks and to focus attention where it should be at any given time. I'm pretty happy with the job I did there. But the most fun part of the job was what Frank called the "DJ Light". It was affixed center stage aimed up above the band so it hit half on the gazebo and half into the tree canopy behind and above with funky, multi-colored lights in a variety of patterns. It looked pretty cool, but I figured it should be used sparingly, especially since most of this show's songs weren't of the hard rockin', funky light needing variety. I saved it up in the first set for Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. It turned out perfect.

You see, no one notices the lights, they shouldn't notice if you are doing a good job, I think. But in this instance, the debut of the DJ Light timed with the opening words of the song got audible gasps and "ooooo's" from the crowd. My father asked me if I paid the folks sitting next to them to "oooooo" on cue, actually, the first night he came to the show. This really made me happy. White Rabbit was Jen's first solo number of the show and she killed it every night. The timing of the song in the set had something to do with the crowd reaction as well, I think. Concerts ebb and flow as they go along and this song marked the end of an ebbing of the energy level and a reminder that this was a rock and roll show. It was one of those Walt and Roy moments, Jen in the spotlight on stage as artist and me under the tech tent helping things along in the background, both combining to create a great moment that actually got real response from a few hundred souls each night. I'd never experienced anything quite like it and it was really, really fun. Here's a link to the YouTube video, it's cool :-)

Aside from the actual running of the lights, my roadie work was much more mundane. I set up and broke down much of the non-music related equipment, ran cords (lots and lots of cords) hither and yon, plugged said cords back in when over-exuberant fans pulled them out causing black-outs and loss of half our sound, and provided tape and staples and velcro as needed. I was sort of stage manager of the operation, though less so than last year. One quasi-stage manager task I sort of adopted for myself was attempting to get the audience sat down after intermission and ready to hear the first song of the second set. It began with Crosby, Stills and Nash's Find The Cost of Freedom, which is beautiful and this band did acapella to wonderful effect. Harmonies were their strong suit. Problem was, without "house lights" to blink, people had a hard time knowing when intermission was over. Mark wanted the song to start quietly on a darkened stage, which was an awesome idea and a great effect, but because it was so dim and mellow to begin with, and it's a really short number, the song was over before anyone really knew they were singing. I tried a variety of methods to find out when the band planned to begin the second set and get the audience's attention, but none worked. The sound person was often just as confused and still out visiting in the crowd while the band was trying to begin. No one knew what was happening and it was sort of a frustration each night until the last. That last Sunday, during church actually, I had an idea that actually worked. Before the band took the stage, but while they were about ready to come out, I used our microphone in the tech tent to announce that BLT was dedicating the next song to those who gave their lives in defense of freedom. It was heartfelt on my part, it fit right in with it being Memorial Day weekend, and it got people's attention. For the last show at least, that beautful song got the attention it deserved :-)

 After three nights of tech rehearsal and six shows, we were all exhausted. My experience ended in an entirely appropriate manner. The band had all left for a cast party and it was just roadies, tech folk and groupies left in the park (Lisa and I, the Awesome Flow Family and Frank). Everything was finally packed away and locked up. We looked at our tech tent. It was old and took a beating during a storm the first weekend of the show. We had decided earlier to retire it, but Frank wanted to take it home to try to combine with another broken tent to make one good one. Did I mention he was an engineer? Anyhow we set upon the poor thing trying to fold it's broken and bent frame into something that would fit in a pick-up truck. For some reason, we all found this hilarious. So there we were, five nerds wrestling with aluminum sticks in a city park at near midnight, laughing our butts off. It may not be the first thing you think of when you think rock and roll, but I wouldn't have it any other way.