Friday, July 24, 2009

That within which passes show.

The house lights dim, the pre-show music fades, we go to black…. And then the lights come up and we are transported by magic to all sorts of new worlds.

I happen to be fortunate enough to live in the Philadelphia area—a region whose theatre community has blossomed into full-flower over the past 20 years. We rival New York, I think, for the number of productions running at any given time. And the quality?! Amazing. The pool of talent in this city is deep and wide.

For a number of seasons, I had the privilege to serve as a nominator for Philadelphia’s version of the Tonys: the Barrymores. I would attend an average of 20—25 productions per season and evaluate every aspect of them. I would then fill out a ballot as to which elements of the production I felt represented excellence in theatrical performance. It was a very enlightening and educational time for me as a performer and director. I soaked in as much as I could –and have tried to use the knowledge I gained in my own endeavors.

One evening I could be attending something at one of the houses with substantial budgets and resources, the next I could be seeing something by one of our many wonderful small companies we have. I could be in a 300 seat house or a postage stamp of a space that holds 50 people at best. It could be Shakespeare, Albee or a new work by an unknown playwright. So my exposure ran the gamut from A to Z. And the thing that struck me most of the time wasn’t the amount of “bling” a theatre company had, but the passion put into the work. Many of the productions that still resonate with me are ones that were done “on a lick and a prayer,” so to speak. The budget was miniscule [and boy do I know from that!] but the love of what they were doing oozed out of everyone—designers and crew included. As an audience member you were pulled into the story they were telling and you left the theatre enriched by what you had just witnessed: the perfect storm of performers, audience and material. I hope I get to be a part of providing that to audiences as much as possible.

I also worked front-of-house at an area theatre for 10 years. The many professional actors I have had the pleasure of getting to know are able to have a unique opportunity here in Philly. They can get steady work in a broad range of roles and they can be a part of a community [theatrical and otherwise]. And, as an added bonus, they can go to New York too. Many also teach in area high schools and colleges, so they get to share their art with future generations. Fostering and understanding and appreciation of the Arts is a vital part of education—but we’ll get into that another time.

I guess you’ve figured out by now when I say I’m a theatre junkie, I ain’t kidding.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Sweets to the sweet."

I happily confess that I am a chocoholic. It is my "blankie," but it is also my Achilles heel... I often say "I would kill for some chocolate right now"--and I worry that someday I might actually mean it..... As much as I try to resist, I wind up needing a fix at least once a day. I used to work with a girl, actually, who referred to chocolate--and other candy--as crack. Chocolate will make any crappy day alot better.
Dark Chocolate is my favorite, but M&Ms rule too. Oh, and Oreo cookies and nonpareils and 3 Musketeers.... um, excuse me.....
Okay, I'm good now. What is this thing with chocolate? Why does it have such a pull for some and not others? I know for a long time I thought I was alone in my craving, but it turns out my mom and older brother suffer from this affliction as well. During a recent visit from both, we had lunch at a local eatery which is offering a decadent chocolate dessert--and donating a portion of the proceeds to a children's charity. As the three of us sat relishing every delectable bite, we kept repeating "It's for the children."
I don't care what anyone says, chocolate IS one of the four food groups.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse....Part Deax

okay, so tonight was the first read-thru of Fuddy Meers, a play by David Lindsay Abaire [ more on that later]. I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing a stroke victim--with major aphasia....

The read-thru went well, I'm feeling good as I'm driving home around 10ish. First acting role in about a year [the knee injury has had me side-lined since March] and I think I can meet the challenges of the role.

I'm stopped at a red-light, listening to WMMR, wondering what The Daily Show will do tonight... The light changes to green, I go to put my car in gear--nothing. The gearshift just wobbles loosely all over the place. Oh joy.

Had to have the car towed.

Pray to the automobile gods that this isn't going to cost an arm and a leg--I only have one fully functioning one right now anyway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer's lease hath all too short a date.

...the sound of a screen door banging, catching fire flies in a jar, ice cream dripping down my chin, splashing in a pool.

These are things I remember from my childhood summers. Glorious, carefree days spent with the other neighborhood baby boomers, just being kids. We told ghost stories by flashlight in the backyard at night. We chased the ice cream man for blocks. We created a bicycle-built-for-two out the remnants of neighborhood castoffs.... I miss my childhood summers--nowadays, the season is gone before I've even had a chance to enjoy it. Anybody else feel that way?

I had wonderful summers as a kid. Not only did we have a blast playing outside, but every year my folks would rent a trailer and we would spend 2 weeks on the road. Gypsies in an Airstream. I saw the entire Eastern seaboard of the US and Canada by the time I was 15. The first time I ever had pecan pie was at a roadside diner in Georgia. And my first taste of New England clam chowder was at a cafe on the wharf in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Not too shabby.

I think it was these travels that started my life-long fascination with--and facility for performing--accents. I heard the clipped, taciturn responses of the New Englanders one summer, and the slow easy drawls of the Blue Ridge Mountains the next. Add the French of Quebec to that and it was quite an education. Geography class was so much more real to me as a result.

I saw Niagara Falls, the Bay of Fundy, Cape Kennedy, Prince Edward Island, the Outer Banks, Cape Cod... the list is endless. I just wish I could have given my kids these experiences. I know they would have appreciated it as much as my brothers and I did.

Instead, my daughter and son--and then my grandson--got summers in Cape May. They learned about tides and fishing. They built sand castles, went crabbing and learned to surf. To this day, they come alive in the sun. Sadly, we no longer have the family's getaway and they miss it dearly. But they've found other options to just kick back and enjoy what the season has to offer. Me--I'm still wishing I was 10 again.

Friday, July 10, 2009

We are advertis'd by our loving friends

I guess I have amazing advertising then--cause my friends are awesome. I have been so lucky to have been blessed with some of the coolest and smartest people in the world as my friends.

Most of them are fellow theatre folk--a varied and fascinating group. Ages range from an amazingly bright 17 year old to a spry 80-something. Some are actors for a living, many do it "for the love of." [The meaning of the word "amateur."} Some are very gregarious, but you'd be surprised how many actors are extremely shy when they don't have a character to hide behind. The common denominator is that they all still have a great sense of play--and see the ridiculous in so many things. We have hilariously clever--yet thought-provoking--conversations about a wide range of subjects. These are usually sparked by trying to get to the core of a moment in a play, but sometimes it's just random things that pop into our bizarre brains. You form instant bonds when you're working on a play together because you're putting so much of yourself out there. The bonds have continued for many years beyond the final curtain with so many of my castmates. They get me-- a big plus.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I am not in a giving vein today

About 25 years or so ago, I started donating blood at least twice a year. This was the result of the Hospital at the University of Penn taking my dying 33 year old brother as a charity case and my wanting to do something to pay them back. [Some other time I will go into Bill's story.]

I found out my blood type the morning after I gave birth to my daughter... You see, I'm B negative, which is apparently a somewhat rare type. I had heard scary things about RH negative moms and freaked out when the doctor casually mentioned it. He calmed me down and said it just meant I needed to have a shot after each delivery and get extra blood tests during subsequent pregnancies to make sure the baby and I weren't harming each other. I followed orders and both kids were fine. It wasn't til I started donating that I discovered I had a rare blood type.

Like I said, I donated at least twice a year for quite some time [you have to wait at least 56 days between each donation]. I was pleased to be able to do some small thing to help others; even when the pre-donation screening and questionnaires got longer and more "invasive." The stuff they ask!!

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to donate as much lately. You see my fibromyalgia [or maybe it's the lack of good sleep]seems to have wreaked havoc with my immune system and I catch all kinds of colds and bugs. I think I spend about 12 days out of every 30 fighting off something. Not fun. It's bad enough that I fell crummy so much of the time, but now I can't do one of the small things to help others that gave me so much pleasure.

So, I'm asking you to please step up and donate if your eligible--it doesn't hurt and you'll really feel good afterwards. Plus, you get free cookies and juice.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What light through yonder window breaks...

It is the sunrise--and I'm wide awake.

Can anyone tell me why, on my days off, I wake up with the dawn...even after not being able to fall asleep til the wee hours?

Sleep--or the lack thereof--has become a huge issue in my life. It is very frustrating, and debilitating, to spend night after night tossing and turning. I've always taken a long time to nod off, but once I was asleep, I was out. At least til about 15 years ago...

Wakefulness started when my kids were babies--a mom always has one ear tuned to whether her kids need her or not. My daughter was a night owl; she didn't want to miss anything, even as an infant. My son had colic, but once he conked out at night he was fine. As toddlers, she still took forever to fall asleep and he'd zone as soon as his head hit the pillow. But that meant he'd wake up at the crack of dawn. My window of opportunity was very small--but I made the best of it.

Teen years brought wakefulness of a different kind. But once I was asleep, it was deep and restful. Not with Fibromyalgia. The past decade has been a battle to reach that nirvana of true restorative rest. I get what Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson were going through. It is the most frustrating feeling in the world. I've tried all of the homeopathic remedies--with so-so results. I've tried prescription drugs--but felt like a zombie the next day. I even participated in a drug study for a new medication. It worked rather well, but I have no idea what it was or whether it ever passed approval.

So what does a chronic insomniac do? Well, on the weekends, I just roll over and try to catch up on what I lost during the work week. "To sleep, perchance to dream."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse....

I'd probably have better luck than I've had with cars.

To say the least, my relationship to vehicles has been quite one-sided: they take and take and take. It can get a little frustrating. When I got married in 1973, we had a 1968 Beetle--I learned to drive in that car. I didn't want to learn stick, but it was all we had. And I got pretty good at pop-starting it and double-clutching. When our daughter was born, we felt we needed a safer, bigger, family car... we bought a '73 Ford Pinto...yep, a Pinto.

Then we had his and hers VW sedans--purely by accident too. Eventually my ex went to trucks and I was a Honda girl. But I have never owned a new car, so with all of these vehicles came assorted "issues." there was the car with a different colored hood that embarrased the crap out of my 80s era, fashion is everything offspring....One time, I had invoices for a new windshield, a new muffler and a tire on my dashboard to explain why my inspection sticker was slightly expired.

Let's not even talk about the cars we helped our kids of which my daughter crashed into a tree. "Sweetheart, trees always win." The car was totalled, but thank god she was okay.

The first car I ever totally purchased on my own was a Toyota Paseo. I loved that car; it was sporty looking and had great pickup. I felt young again when I drove it. One day, I was driving home from work, all of the lights on the dash lit up and the car just died. It was beyond hope and I was devasted. I replaced it with a 1999 Saturn. It was in good shape and had low mileage. Well, the front bumper got caught on a spike sticking up in my apartment's lot and I had to drive around with the bumper bungee-corded onto the car for about 3 months til I could afford to fix it. And somehow, I have no idea how, I wound up with only one hubcap--my son said "Mom, what are you hanging on to?" Then the front panel on the passenger side got broken [cars are made of paper these days] when I gently slid on the ice one day. So, suddenly, I'm driving a hoop-dee--no way can you put a claim in to your insurance! Cause they'll either raise your rates or drop you completely.

So I just drive it, ignore my kids comments and pretend it's a Porsche.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

when shall we three meet again...

I put my mom on a plane back to California Tuesday morning--always a bittersweet thing. My family is scattered all over the place and the times my brothers, mom and I are all in the same place are few and far between. That seems to be the norm these days... Gone are the days when 3 generations lived under one roof. Or having multiple relatives living within walking distance. Children grow up now with only occasional interaction with their extended family. Kinda sad, I think.

I spent many wonderful hours with my grandparents, who lived only a few miles away. I can still remember going into Grandmom's buffet to get one of the games or toys she kept there for us. Granddad was a gardener and my younger brother and I loved to help him pick berries and the like. We also had a bad habit of falling into the compost heap...but I digress.

I have wonderful memories of my grandparents, and my mother has told stories of her extended family that I cherish. My own two children grew up spending many happy hours with their father's mother, "Nanny," both in PA and at the Jersey shore. She is very special to them to this day. They also had a great aunt and great-great aunt on their father's side. Sadly, my family was scattered by then and they aren't as close to them as I'd like.

My grandson has 3 great-grandparents and 3 grandparents in his life. My official title is "Mimi"--I'd just turned 38 folks, "Grandma" wasn't gonna cut it. He spent many hours with all of us during his first decade as his mom finished high school and then college. As a result, he's an unusual mix of all of our personalities. A very interesting young man. I can only hope my grandson can look back on the time he spent with me, his "Pop" and his paternal grandparents during his formative years with the same fondness.

We can gain great wisdom from those who went before us; it's a shame so many don't have the opportunity to do so. As I send my mom back to California and prepare to help my grandson go off to college, I hope today's technology can in some small way make up for the lack of regular "face time."