Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Evanescence - 6/14/06

(N.B. - This blog was intended to be an unofficial blog for the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Stage Company Atomic Fission Tour, designed to allow those with an interest in our touring troupe and its personnel an opportunity to keep up with us, our shows, and our travels. With this post, my entries into this particular blog will come to an end. As I move to my new beginnings, whatever I will be writing will now appear on my own website at A Poor Player, and I invite you to join me there if you have an overall interest in theatre. I still have some videos and pictures left to upload, so be sure to check them out by clicking the links on the sidebar for those locations.

I would like to thank everyone who read the blog, posted comments, and offered suggestions. I never thought that I would get this far, and it was the fact that people were actually reading the darn thing that kept me writing. May the four winds blow you all to safe harbors! -TWL)

Dunkirk, NY - When the big moment came, somewhere around midnight last Sunday, I executed Stealth Plan A. I was having a great time at the house party at 605 from the moment I got back there after final strike. I went downstairs to my garden apartment in 607, vacuumed the rug with what has to be the world's worst vacuum cleaner, cleaned the toilet and the sink, mopped the bathroom floor, did some final packing and checking, and then sauntered over to 605's living room. I had a beer and began watching Sunset Boulevard on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Daniel came in with some Kroger's fried chicken, and offer me a piece so as to live once again that great meal of fried chicken and beer. People were gathering both inside the house and outside on the porch. Alvaro came by to say goodbye, as he was going to NYC for his day off from Rez Company work. I had given him most of my frozen food earlier in the morning. Then I went off on a beer run with Rick Blount, MFA, who needed a driver by this time. While getting some PBR, I picked up a steak and some spritzers. Upon arriving back, Bill Gordon came 10 minutes later to check me out of my room. Things were in order, and I turned in my key. Then I went back to 605 and onto the back porch to cook the steak. Matt Sincell gave me some potatoes, and as I cooked and ate the steak I had a chance to chat with all the people that were floating around the house, including Jaq Bessell, who came to wish us well. After consuming the steak, I went out to say goodbye to Alyssa, who was driving through the night to get to her next job in Indiana dancing in Oklahoma. Then it was time to smoke the big old cigar that Andrew had brought me from the cigar store that is below his new apartment in Philly. That took me up to about 10:00 PM, when I joined in the poker game that had begun about 45 minutes earlier. Tyler was losing for a change, so he asked me to come in so he could win my money. As I joined the game there was a big to-do with the aforementioned drunk Rick Blount about playing Omaha (a variant on Texas Hold 'Em), and so he went all-in, lost, and went off to do other things. As has been the rule of thumb, I lost my five dollars, but this time managed to stay in the game until the end. Chris Seiler was doing pretty well, Tyler also lost his stake, but the big winner was Andrew, who won enough money to pay for his gas to get back to Philly and then have a nice dinner with Jamie (OK, maybe not dinner, but at least two Philly cheesesteaks, which neither of them would eat). As usual, I got ripped on throughout the game for being old, hard of hearing, and a loser, but it's all in good fun and it makes me laugh. I sat a bit in the living room after the game, watching the rest of the Dallas-Miami game, then got up, stole out the back door, went down to my room, spread out the sleeping bag, and went to bed. I didn't really say goodbye to anyone, not because I hate goodbyes as such, but because I wanted the whole evening to feel just like any other Sunday night after the matinee finished. Just a regular good time with friends, living this lifestyle of the working actor in a resident company. Then I got up at 6:30 AM Monday morning to a light rain, packed the car, racked the bicycle, closed the door, filled up on coffee at the Daily Grind, and headed west on US 250 out of town. By 6:30 PM, after a trip through the Alleghany Mountains that included no interstates, I was back in my kitchen at home, where Ann Marie and the boys had just settled in for dinner.

The final weekend of shows was amazing. I have to say that I did not expect to see the outpouring of support we had not only from audience members, but from the ASC staff, Resident Company, and especially the volunteer ushers. Many, if not all, of the actors from the rez troupe came to see at least one of our final performances. Jim Warren peeked in from his eagle's perch on the theatre's third floor. Ron Ramsey, the office manager at the Masonic, came for all the shows. The house management staff and their volunteers threw us a reception Friday night after Planet , and Sarah, one of the ushers, had her scrapbook on display. It was a thing of beauty, and she had us sign by our bios. On Friday night after Planet we got called out for a fourth curtain call, something that had never happened before, after playing our encore. All the other shows got standing ovations as well, with three curtain calls. Saturday night was an impromptu gathering at the Pompeii lounge with touring and rez troupe after Much Ado. Cookies, congratulatory notes and emails, a cake - all this accompanied our final weekend. And my family also came down to see the shows over Friday and Saturday as well.

On Friday night we did a pretty good Planet, which as I mentioned above received a fourth curtain call. There were people in the audience who had seen the show four times, as I found out from Thursday's Q&A. I think everyone was pretty stunned by the fourth call; in fact, some people had gone downstairs already, and Alyssa as stage manager was taking makeup off backstage while everyone was wondering what we should do about all the applause which refused to die down. Finally Alyssa gave the go to go back out, and we sort of shuffled out there in no particular order or arrangement. I was just dumbfounded to see the enthusiasm by which we were greeted; I really did not know what to make of it, as I had never been a part of something like this. I just stared out at the scene in what I think must have been a state of awe, that these people out there could get so worked up and excited about this wild and cheesy Makespeare musical. We did Richard III on Saturday afternoon, and again, although the house was the smallest of all our closing shows, the enthusiasm of the audience was no less telling. The Richard/Richmond swordfight at the end received applause, as well as a lusty "Amen" to Richmond's call. It was the first production to "officially" close, but I don't think as a troupe we felt that as much with this show as with the others because we knew we had an evening performance yet to get through.

That night's Much Ado was a strong one to go out on. Even my son Brian got involved. When Benedick goes out into the audience during the gulling scene, he usually makes his way to house right by hiding behind and going through the audience members, and using one of the pillars in the gallery to hide behind. It just so happened that my family was sitting next to the pillar he uses, so of course he crawled all over them on the way to the pillar. The moment came when he hides behind the pillar quickly, and as he did so, Brian got up from his seat and stood next the pillar as well, as if to hide him better. He got a huge laugh and stopped the show for a minute. I turned to Daniel, who was standing next to me on stage, and whispered "Guess who's son that is?" Then, as the moment died down, Daniel had to whisper to me "It's your line," and I had to think fast to remember where we were in the scene, having actually broken character for a moment. And then, after finishing 4.1, which is the intense wedding scene where Claudio rejects Hero and I go berserk on her, I gave a big heartfelt hug to Olivia backstage just to release a year's worth of doing that scene with her. This production had a lot of emotional energy in it, and so when it finally closed, there was much hugging and congratulating in the dressing rooms downstairs.

Sunday's closing of Planet was something of a repeat of Friday's show. There were at least 300 people in the audience, and by the end the scene was rockin' and rollin'. One wild moment which bears noting was when Tyler, as Ariel, drinks off the X-Factor drug towards the end of the play. Usually after doing that, he plays drunk and sort of screws around with any audience members sitting on the stage right stools. But at this performance, Crystal, our wonderful box office/house manager person, was sitting in the first row of the gallery with her new husband. Tyler decides to go down into the well, and when he gets there he literally lifts Crystal up out of her seat and starts to carry her on stage, much to the shock of Crystal (who played along beautifully) and delight of the audience. Of course she was released and went back to her seat, with her husband looking quite amused (good luck to them both when they move to California in July!) Then, instead of playing the encore, I decided to video it, which you can view right here. Perhaps more than anything I could write about it, the video might say it all. I did start singing, so please excuse my loud, obnoxious voice towards the end.

And then, strike. Costumes to the wash or the dry-cleaning rack. Shoes sprayed with Lysol and put away. Props and road boxes back to the third floor storage gallery. Dressing rooms swept, lockers cleaned out, musical instruments put away. Signing of T-shirts for Olivia and Sarah, and then the traditional signing of the underside of the makeup tables in the dressing rooms. Lastly, surrendering the stage door passkey back to Carie, grabbing all your gear, out the door, and on to the next audition/show. A year has come and gone, 365 days have been lived, and I have returned back to where I started.

If there is one quality of theatre I have always loved, it is the fact that theatre is evanescent, meaning that is it created, experienced, and then disappears. You have to be there live, in the moment, to experience it; it has no permanence in and of itself. Every performance is different, and every production ends, not to be experienced again by anyone. When I have done strikes in other theatres (mostly at colleges), I have always volunteered to be one of those people to take the last job there is, that of painting the stage floor black. When it's done, I like to look into that void which is now the empty theatre space, the space where something had happened and now nothing else exists but new possibilities. Doing a theatre strike never meant to me the end of something, but rather the beginning of something, often a "something" about which at that moment I knew nothing. For all of us in Atomic Fission, we have reached that moment, not of ending, but of beginning. Each of us will come away from this experience with our own impressions, our own judgments, our own reflections, our own memories. Each of us will take away to our new beginning something which is the same, and yet something which for each of us is vastly different. For me, I had to acknowledge in my soul this evanescence of theatre by doing the best I could simply to disappear, to be present and then not present, to be that "poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more." -TWL

Friday, June 09, 2006

Packing it In - 6/9/06

Staunton VA - This will undoubtedly be the last post I'll write from Staunton. After writing this, I have to get down and start packing my stuff. We begin the final weekend of shows tonight, starting with Planet and ending Sunday after noon with Planet. Then I get checked out of my room, and early Monday morning, it's homeward bound.

The past few days have been filled with activities which are all signposts of the approaching conclusion. Tuesday I spent the day completing much of the writing I had left to accomplish. I am trying as hard as I can to get rid of any food I have left over. One of the things I had to write out was my exit questionnaire for AD Jim Warren. We have the choice of filling out the questionnaire, a sit-down interview, or both. I chose to do the questionnaire only, much as I like rapping with the head dude, because I can better organize my thoughts that way. I also finished getting all my past posts from this blog into a Word document so I can hand it in as part of my "historical record" for the tour. The final form won't be done until I write this post and a concluding post from home, then I'll get it into final form and send it in. I also took in a dress rehearsal of MacBeth by the resident troupe. On Tuesday night the troupe did a workshop for some middle-school kids who were actually quite bright. I started out the workshop by asking anyone if they knew a line of Shakespeare. I expected maybe one reply, so I was pretty surprised when ten hands shot up in the air, and all these kids had whole monologues they had memorized. Turned out they had been working with the Bard in class somewhere and were quite well-versed in WS' plays. The evening was a little chaotic and unorganized, and I wish I had known a little more about the students themselves, but I think they and their parents had a pretty good time.

Tuesday night was a wonderful evening spent "on the town," such as it is. There is a local bar called Marino's, and every Tuesday night is "bluegrass night," when many of the local bluegrass musicians come down to the bar and simply jam on old bluegrass standards. Mandolins, banjos, guitars, upright bass, washtub bass, fiddle - it's all there. The bar fills up with locals of all stripes as well as many young people. Some musicians actually come from over 100 miles at times to take part in the jam. Our acting companies have taken to going down there almost every Tuesday night, and it's great fun because it's so authentic. There are usually two jams taking place, one in the front room (the "lunch counter") and one in the back room (21 and over only). There's a woman who must be about 80 or so who is one of the two waitresses. I've been there a number of times since returning in April and also late into the rehearsal period last summer when Daniel first discovered it and told me about it (if there's something happening musically Daniel will know about it). Over the past few sessions some of us have worked up the cohones to join in the jam. Chris brought his harmonica set and ended up playing the harps. Daniel has been bringing the concertina and is now the squeezebox player. I've brought a set of spoons and play spoon percussion for the songs (new nickname - "Tommy TwoSpoons"). So on top of listening we also get to jam a bit. I brought my guitar but never played it because bluegrass rhythms are actually hard to strum, and I can't play any lead breaks at all. But the whole evening is a good time.

Usually the jam ends by 11:00 PM, so after Marino's we continued on to Luigi's, which is a pizza joint/bar and is essentially the "after hours" bar in Staunton. By midnight in Staunton just about every other bar stops admitting people inside and serving booze, except Luigi's. Tuesday was "Open Mike" night, and a number of the troupe members signed up to play. Greg led off the evening with his tunes, although we were a tad late getting there for his complete set. Then Chris took the stage, but he was a bit worn out after Marino's, and the sound system was going a bit haywire, so his set was a little short. Then Kevin busted out some of his tunes, but he had to calm down a house band that wanted to play behind him but couldn't follow his chord changes on his songs. But he did get a good version of "Gorgeous Lies," a great song we've been playing during the R3 pre-show. He was backed up on vocals by Olivia and Sarah, and Chris on the harmonica. Then a young lady named Brooke did two numbers, and she had a fine voice.

But I think the star of the evening had to be Sarah. She got up there and began to play a few numbers, and the house band was easily capable of staying with her, as her songs were pretty standard 1-4-5 stylings. She did a tune called "Chocolate Jesus" to start with, and she really cranked it out. You travel all year with a person and you think you've seen everything, but I had never heard Sarah sound so hot as while she was up there singing away. From sultry to belt blues, she was terrific. There was one really funny moment during that first number. The stage at Luigi's in in the front of the bar, and actually splits the front entrance in half. So while she's singing, a fairly intoxicated but very happy black dude makes his entrance by dancing through the doorway and playing to the crowd with a lot of soul. I flashed back to Chicago and Sarah's evening with bluesman Lindsey Alexander. It was some scene. Sarah did two more numbers, equally as good, and she had two different guitar players who could play a lick or two. She got a great hand from the crowd and a lot of love from all of us there. She also called up Olivia to premiere her brand new song Stone Hard Heart, which Olivia in country-western style dedicated to "her baby's daddy." It was a great tune and very funny - and Olivia can also really belt out a tune! A pretty great evening all around.

So since Wednesday morning it's been pretty much all business. We did the last matinee on Wed., had the last Q&A last night, information about strike has been posted, people are making arrangements to check out, I did my last tour yesterday. Tyler has been learning his lines in the dressing room, and occasionally I've been helping him. We busted on him pretty bad during the Q&A last night about that. After my last dig he went offstage, got a drumstick, and threatened to hit me over the head with it. A very light-hearted Q&A it was. I made a copy of my DVD for eveyone, and still have some production work to do over the remainder of the summer to make a better one than the cheesy commercial product available from Flickr. But I think I'd better wrap this up right now, because there's still much to do today before my family gets here later to see the shows this weekend. It should'nt take long to pack, but getting started is what it's all about. So I will see you all next time from the comfort of my recliner - that is, if I can tear myself away from all the Yankee games I'll be watching on TV! -TWL

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Endings and Beginnings - 6/6/06

Staunton VA - The ASC mandala has circled around, and we are all coming back to where we began. Tomorrow we begin the last five days of performances, and then we scatter, like leaves before an autumn wind, to places familiar and strange. The ending has truly begun.

The past week of shows were all just fine. The houses have been good, and all the performances remain fairly solid. Richard III had two completely different audiences this past week; one which was studiously serious, and another which really got into the humor of Andrew's interpretation. Planet still has them going crazy, and Much Ado ramped it up a notch on Sunday, I think, when director Jaq Bessell came to see the show, sitting right in the front row. I actually didn't recognize her at first, because I'm not used to seeing her dressed up. We had all gone over to Luigi's bar/pizza joint to hear her and her husband Jan's band Sub Rosa (formerly known as Wreck of the Portland) play their punkrock tunes, as well as an acoustic set. They're really pretty good, but they only have about 6 songs, so they did them all twice. Most of the company, rez and touring, were in attendance.

My historian tasks are almost complete. I've got my blog all set up as a Word document, so when I get the last two entries in, it will be complete. Then I will turn it into a PDF document and have it available for distribution, sending in one copy to the ASC as an "official" record of the tour. The DVD I had made of the tour also came in. The music is too cheezy for words, but if you mute the DVD player's music and play your own choice of tunes, then it works OK as a slide show.

The "weekend" was full of events which signaled endings and beginnings. Andrew and Jamie left for Philly, and Andrew had packed a few boxes as was already moving them up. Jessica left for NYC and some auditions. Greg was planning to do to DC. Sunday evening Daniel, Sarah, Olivia and I went to the Staunton Braves game to sing the National Anthem at the start of the game. Sarah and Daniel had done this before last June when we first arrived in town, and I think Olivia also, so I was the newbie in the group. It was American Shakespeare Center night at the ballpark. Sarah and Daniel helped me learn a bass line for the song so we did it in three-part harmony. Then I GOT TO THROW OUT THE FIRST PITCH!!! Wow! It was fun. My throw was just a bit outside (as Bob Uecker would say), but I didn't bounce it and had some speed on it. I got to keep the ball and will get it autographed by the Atomic Fission troupe during this upcoming week. When I got back to the Bev house, I had a nice chat with Tracy Hostmeyer, who was in the last rez troupe and visiting for the weekend, Sarah Fallon and Matt Sincell. Sarah broke out some delicious salsa - so good you can never go back to store-bought salsa - and then a bit of sleep.

Monday I had thought about going to Washington DC with Sarah, Daniel and Olivia. They were going to sign up for League auditions, and Olivia had an audition for The Tempest at the Folger Library Theatre. She got a callback for Ariel! But I decided against going when I realized at 6:30 AM that they were already gone. So I spent the day taking a road trip to Appomattox Court House, the site of Lee's surrender to Grant, marking the end of the Civil War. I found strangely interesting that I had chosen to make a trip to the site where the Civil War ended on the last weekend of my stay here in Staunton, with the end of my contract in sight. The site is pretty much a reconstruction of the original town of Appomattox Court House, and it contains a reconstruction of the court house and the McLean House, the actual building where Lee and Grant met to discuss surrender terms. There are still a few original buildings on the National Historic Park site, one being a mercantile store, and a few law offices. My one-person character J. Herbert George, who was at Cedar Creek, was also at Appomattox with the Sixth Corp of the Army of the Potomac. He records the surrender in his letters. In walking the grounds it was very easy to sense the combination of elation and sorrow that must have been felt on all sides. All the historical writings seem to record the event as a scene of great honor, as the Confederate troops - hungry, weary and defeated - were saluted with honor by all the Union troops during the stacking of arms ceremony, and were given food, clothing and parole passes allowing them free passage home. Humility in victory; honor in defeat. Often when I visit these Civil War sites I am struck by the degree of honor which accompanied the fighting on both sides. So very little of that sense of honor and duty is left with us today, only 141 years removed from those times.

This Monday ended with the "Midsummer Night's Picnic," the annual gathering of volunteers, actors and ASC staff at Gypsy Hill Park for burgers, hotdogs and assorted other goodies. After that was the final night of dollar bowling at Staunton Lanes. My very first Monday night in town last year I went bowling, where I met some members of the touring troupe (Chris, Greg, Alyssa for sure) and the resident troupe at that time (Matt, Rene, and Sarah, who that night gave me my bowling name of Tommy2Ballz). I went out with a bang, breaking 100 all three games, with a high score of 140 for my final game, easily my best game of bowling while here.

And so things begin their end at the same place where they began the beginnings: bowling, picnics, Staunton Braves games. There is goodbye party for us Friday night, maybe a little celebration after final strike on Sunday. I have packing to do, laundry to do, and cleaning to do beforehand. I still have some stuff I want to cram in: one more hike in Shenandoah, pictures to take around town, a few more cups of Coffee on the Corner. One or two more entries on this blog, and that's it! Waiting for the final curtain.... -TWL

Thursday, June 01, 2006

But Who's Counting - 6/1/06

Staunton, VA - June the first. Wow. In 11 days I will be making the meandering journey back to Dunkirk for the last time from here. I intend to take nothing but state roads home through VA, WV and PA as a sort of last lingering look at the Appalachians. But as I look about my modest room, I realize there is much to do before setting out.

Not the least of what is left to do is getting through the remaining two weeks of shows. All the shows are now down to single digits left of performances: 4 Richards, 5 Much Ados, and 3 Planets. The air in the theatre amongst the rest of the troupe is charged with the realization that things are coming to an end. Some of the troupe members I have talked with are torn between the joy and release that will come with finally finishing up the contract, and the fear and uncertainty of not having anything else as solid as this gig in the offing. I believe the current future plans go something like this:
  • Andrew - moving to Philadelphia with Jamie, doing the Philly unified auditions.
  • Daniel - some chill time on Long Island with his parents, and then finding work as an educational artist in the city. Continuing working on plans to open an arts complex sometime in the future.
  • Alyssa - doing Oklahoma until August. Not sure after that
  • Chris - back to his old summer theatre haunt to do Mr. Webb in Our Town. Probably making the move to NYC in the fall.
  • Jessica - Moving to Philadelphia for six weeks, doing the Philly unified auditions as well.
  • Greg - doing the ASC Young Company Theatre Camp second session, then off to San Diego to get the Excellent Motion Theatre Company going.
  • Olivia - plans unsure at the moment. May go home to San Diego for R&R, may go back to NYC.
  • Sarah - not sure what her plans are. I would assume she is heading back to California for starters.
  • Kevin - looking for work to get a financial stake going; will probably go back to NYC and audition for fall season shows.
  • Carie - I know that at some time she'll be moving to NYC, but I think she'll be stopping in Texas with the parents before heading off.
  • Tyler - signed on for 2006-07 Tragical Mirth Tour
  • Me - back to Dunkirk for R&R, resume teaching in the fall at SUNY Fredonia; playing Senex in the Kavinoky Theatre production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (yes, I took that role. Mornings will have to wait a little longer).
News of the week - There was a lot of family happenings over the weekend. Kevin had a bunch of family in; his mom, sister, new niece (about nine months old), and half-brother. Greg had his family in as well, with all his little sisters. They came dressed for Planet complete with space bobble-ears. The shows over the weekend all went pretty well. Friday's performance of R3 was good, with a very attentive and serious audience. The Sat. matinee of Much Ado was also good, with the evening's Planet another adventure in zaniness. People simply go nuts for this show, and every time some new adventure with the audience takes place. Because of the nature of my role (I sort of have a serious melodramatic character going), it doesn't lend itself too well to too much audience interaction. So I miss out on all the fun. But it's still something to see all those people dancing in their seats at the show's encore.

Sunday's R3 was a special occasion, because Sarah went out of town to attend a wedding. So Jessica took over the role of Lady Anne for this performance as well as her own roles, and there was some other shifting of Sarah's minor roles. Greg took on the young Duke of York, Chris the Scriviner, and Alyssa the Duke of Norfolk. Jessica did a fine job, having learned all the lines and done a few put-in rehearsals. Andrew at the end of the show did a nice gesture by calling her to the front of the ensemble bow at the end to give her extra credit, which she deserved. The show went off flawlessly, a tribute to the professionalism of the whole cast.

Sunday evening I lost very quickly at poker. Usually I can make my $5 stretch out the whole night, but this night I seemed to have no focus; I even misdealt a hand. So I was gone - as was my $5 - within 45 minutes. Worst night pf poker in my life, I think.

Monday was Memorial Day, and it was all about partying. Some people went over to a house where M.Litt grad Rick Blunt was house-sitting to play football and swim; others went to a party where Brian, the publicity honcho for the ASC, was the host, and everyone finally met up at the Bev House for BBQing in the evening. The heat is back here in the Shenandoah Valley, with temps now running in the 80s and 90s, and Monday got to about 93 degrees. I got some buffalo meat to grill and it was very good. There was plenty of food, with Jamie making a great macaroni salad. Then on Tuesday I got up late but managed to get in an afternoon hike and some relaxation at Sherando Lake, a beautiful spot just into the George Washington National Forest. It has a nice swimming lake, some easy trails for hiking, a bathhouse, camping; everything you need and nothing you don't. They should tell more people about this lake in the company, because it's a perfect summer getaway location. I'm sorry it took so long to discover it.

I am spending some time finalizing my historian duties. The picture book came in, and everyone seemed to like it. It really is something; I may have to order another one just for myself. I also had a DVD made, which will be coming soon, and I want to get this blog into PDF form so there is a complete written record of the company. I had also wanted to make a movie, but I think that's going to have to wait until I get back home. Time is just running out, and I've had some formatting problems with the movie.

I can feel the anxiety building as I anticipate getting home. Some days I can't wait to get back home; other days I feel like I never want to leave. Our last weekend here has a couple of activities scheduled. One is a company picnic on Monday evening at Gypsy Hill Park. The other is an evening workshop on Tuesday. I also get to sing the National Anthem at one of the first games for the Staunton Braves, who open their season tomorrow night, I think. It's winding down, folk! -TWL

Friday, May 26, 2006

Signs and Omens - 5/26/06

Correction - I originally refered to the director of The Tempest in this post as Giles Scott. His name is Giles Block. I regret the error, and have corrected it below. -TWL

Staunton, VA - Tuesday was a pretty good day. I did something I have wanted to do for some time now, and that's get up early and watch a sunrise over the Shenandoah mountains. I got up at 5:00 AM, got to the main entrance to the park by 5:30, and saw a very beautiful sunrise. Inwardly, I harbor a longing to be a morning person, but all my life I've been a night person, due mostly to working in the theatre. Watching a sunset is nice, but by the time it's ended you feel somewhat reserved and even a bit mournful. Watching a sunrise, though, is enervating. Feeling that dawn light hit you just begins to renew your pysche and helps you get going for the day.

Because I managed to get up so much earlier, Tuesday seemed to be a richer, fuller day than most any other day I've had since coming off the road. By 11:30 AM I had gotten so much done that I could have sworn it was closer to 4:00 PM. In the afternoon I took Sarah shopping for her ingredients for her dinner party, and then went to see the RenRun of the Rez Troupe's The Tempest. They did a good job, with some funny and ingenious choices. Renaissance runs, for those of you who may not have remembered, are complete runs of a show produced and directed by the troupe. They are usually put together in two-and-a-half days or so, and then presented to the company at large. They are meant both to display the initial choices or ideas a troupe might have as they approach the show, and often have some eclectic elements to them. This one had sort of a Hawaiian island feel to it, complete with fishnets, a plastic palm tree, Hawaiian shirt for Ariel, formal wear for the shipwrecked travelers. etc. The show will probably not look like this in its final incarnation, as it will be directed by Giles Block, who is British. It appears the American Shakespeare Center is having a British invasion, what with Jaq Bessell and Giles Block coming in to direct. How "American" is that? Aren't there any American directors of Shakespeare out there with any stature? Later in the evening Sarah had her little dinner party. She made a vegetable pie with mushrooms, onions and such, and some spicy pork meatballs. Wine and champagne was available, and some fruit and whipped cream for dessert. A nice get-together, and a nice gesture on her part.

Wednesday was a two-Much Ado day, with a 90-minute version in the morning for students and a full show in the evening. Matinees are so tough sometimes. I think actors complain about them because students tend not to know how to conduct themselves, and it becomes a competition to get their attention for the show. Some kids like the show, some sleep through it, others continually chatter and find ways to see if they can provoke a reaction from a cast member. You have to do matinees to build any sort of audience for the future, but the practical reality of the whole experience is that few of them will ever go to the theatre again. I still have to say that the Virginia student audiences are far and away much more attentive than any New York student audience I've ever seen. During the evening performance, someone's cell phone went off in the last scene of the show, which Tyler cleverly turned into a good live theatre moment. He does a tiny little dance with Alyssa during "man is a giddy thing," and he used the music of the cell phone's ring to dance to the rhythm of the ringtone. And when he says "play music," he pointed out to the guy with the cellphone, who was most embarrassed, as he was desperately trying to hide his phone. Now, you don't get that in the movies! In between shows I went to Blue Mountain Coffee with Daniel for lunch, and then pretty much slept in between shows.

Thursday turned out to be a fairly frustrating day, because I began to work on my post-ASC blog site, which I hope to move to my own server space. If you want, you can preview it here. Nothing much is there yet, and I don't plan to have it go live until late June. But the frustrating part came when I tried to activate a spam blocker and also to figure out some CSS coding to place a picture in the header. I am going to try to use Wordpress, which is a self-contained blogging system you install on your own server. It uses MySQL and pHp languages, and is pretty powerful. But I don't know as much CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) as I should, so I got a bit frustrating trying to translate the code and insert the picture I wanted. After about 4 hours in the morning fussing with the thing, my right thumb became sore, so I gave up and went out for a bikeride, and then treated myself to a sandwich at the NY Deli in town (they specialize in making NY-style deli sandwiches, piled high with meat, and all with a NY Yankees theme). After a shower I got ready for last night's Planet which was pretty good. There was another funny moment in the play with Tyler. One of Tyler's lines is "No shit!", and we've been playing that up where, after he says it, he apologizes to the audience, usually to some little kids in the audience. There have been numerous funny moments with that, but last night someone in the audience actually said "Sorry" before he could, which broke everyone. Greg when downstage and offered the young lady a job, and Tyler could barely recover. There was another little girl on the stools stage left, and during the "trial of Cookie," there must have been another moment with her, but I am offstage then, so I don't quite know what happened (check Tyler's blog, he'll probably have all this in). Q&A followed (I still dislike them), and then home. I've been getting to bed before midnight these days, trying to be able to get up early and get the day going, such as it is.

It occurs to me in writing this that I have no real news about anyone else in the troupe other than what happens backstage. The backstage chatter tends to be innocuous enough. But I don't see everyone most of the time other than at the theatre or social gatherings at 605. When I get home I tend to go into my room, have a cup of tea or a spritzer, check a few things out on the web, catch the end of a ball game, and go to bed. The basketball playoffs are still going on, and sometimes I wander upstairs to catch a little of the action, but basketball is still not my game. Of course, many in the troupe are still pondering their next move. Kevin has his half-brother in town, and more of his family is coming in soon. Several are still trying to set up auditions. As for me, I am still trying to work out my own future of sorts. I did turn down The Birthday Party, because it simply didn't pay to tie up my entire winter break with such a small role for such little money, but I have yet to decide about Forum. I have downloaded the two songs which Senex sings, and talked to Chris about it, who played Pseudolus in college (his signature role) and really knows the show. The money is actually good, but I still don't know whether or not I want to tie up all that time and be cooped up in a theatre again. Because of having to direct the opera at Fredonia that would mean I'd be committed to a production the entire fall, up to Thanksgiving.

The more I think about that and write about that, the less inviting it sounds. I think it's indicative of the changes I've been going through lately in terms of my attitudes towards theatre. Has this gig with the ASC burned me out totally? Or is it just the natural process of aging, that feeling that you've gone so far and there's little point in going further? And yet, there remains the small, shrill but still audible voice of the actor, which can never refuse a part. In this business, sometimes you develop a real fear that if you turn a role down, you'll never get another one. I hate saying "no" to people I like and enjoy working with. It remains to me a constant source of amazement that your life continues to change no matter what transpires. As I was taking my bike ride yesterday I went past one of those church roadsigns, and while I don't recall the exact quote, I do remember it being something about following the changes in your life. I've been trying to be attentive to signs and omens like this over the past few weeks. Does wanting to see a sunset mean that I look forward to a "new day, a new time?" Is it time to become that "morning person" I've always talked about wanting to be? -TWL

Monday, May 22, 2006

No Man's Land - 5/22/06

Staunton VA - OK, I'll admit it - I haven't felt much like blogging over the past week. I sort of feel as if I'm in this no man's land; with three weeks to go it's hard to fend off the feeling that the gig is up. The days have become rather repetitive and routine. It feels as if there really isn't anything to look forward to except the end of the contract and what comes after that. We're playing the shows with the same energy and commitment, but it's no secret that everyone can see the end coming. It's sort of the same feeling I get when I sense the end of a semester coming, but not exactly. I think the difference lies in the fact that, even with the semester ending, each day brings with it something a little new. whether in the classroom or in rehearsal. Here, the only thing different might be which play you're doing on a given day, but it's still one of three plays you've now done about 50 times each. Each audience is new, and of course that's what you always have to remember. That's what being professional is all about.

As always, I am tired by week's end. I've tried to employ different strategies, but no matter how much rest I try to get or energy I may try to conserve, I still find myself somewhat wiped out by week's end. I would love to be able to play volleyball on Mondays with the company, but I find I can't risk adding more physical exertion to my week. So I tend to take it slow on Mondays and get some exercise on Tuesdays to have a reserve of strength beginning Wednesdays. And then off to the races one more time.

So - what's the news? Well, last weekend I was up in New York City to take care of some personal business, and brought Olivia up there so she could do a few auditions. I also went over to Tyler's apartment in Manhattan to get his TV for him. He is moving out of his NYC place because he's joining up with the next tour and all his other roommates are also moving out. It turns out he lives one building away from where my mother used to live with my grandmother while she was going to college, on 141st. St. I was born three blocks away, on 144th St. I went by both buildings, but unfortunately did not have my camera with me. The building on 144th had a very, very mysterious aura about it - so dimly familiar to me. I had no means to get in, but recollections of playing with a slinky down the hallway stairs, a long corridor leading to rooms off the side and one large room and a kitchen at the end (which is the configuration of Tyler's place), the front courtyard - it all had an echo in the back of my head. I took a quick walk up to City College, where my father got his bachelor's and Master's degrees, and also was an assistant wrestling coach for a time. He would take me there on occasion after we had moved to Long Island, and that also had a strong resonance with me. The Jewish deli where we used to get hot dogs after a Saturday's practice is now a Spanish bodega. It was a stroll down memory lane, a time 45 years ago when the neighborhood was filled with small neighborhood businesses. It's still an Hispanic area, and I went to a restaurant called Gundy's and had a bowl of mondongo (beef tripe soup) and tostones (fried bananas) and practiced my Spanish. The soup was good, as were the tostones. I got along OK with the Spanish, but they had some trouble with my credit card, and since I began talking in Spanish they explained the problem to me in Spanish. I understood what they were saying, but I lack sufficient skill to converse fluently in return. But we got it all straightened out OK in the end. Then back to Staunton with Tyler's TV and Olivia for last week's shows.

There was a very cute incident during a performance of Planet this past week, but since Tyler has already blogged it and was onstage when it happened (I have committed "galactic suicide" by this time in the play), you should read his account of it. This little girl was enjoying the play the whole time; it's worth reading. The Q&As this week have sort of irritated me a bit. I never say much at all during them unless directly asked something, because there's just too much competition by everyone else to answer questions. An audience member asks a question, and by the time seven people on stage have answered it and taken 9 or more minutes to do so, very few other members of the audience get to ask questions, and it's hard to ascertain if the question was ever even answered in the first place. We also have begun to do put-in rehearsals for the time when Sarah attends a wedding and will not be here for a performance of R3. It doesn't affect me much at all. Jessica will play Lady Anne and there are some other role shufflings going on. We should finish the process this week. One wild thing did happen: Sarah's friends, who were on this season's episodes of Amazing Race, actually won it! They were a team of two, and they won a million dollars, which comes out to $600,000 after taxes, split two ways. We all tried to talk Sarah and her brother Ben, who was visiting her, to drive all the way to NYC for the celebratory party, but they didn't go. Sarah's brother Bill, who was there, came down from the party and gave us all a report. Bill says they are now in there 16th minute of fame, which is of course nothing, and we both thought a movie entitled The 16th Minute would be an interesting idea for a movie.

As for me, I got offered two parts back in Buffalo over the week. One is the role of Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and the other is Petey in Pinter's The Birthday Party. I am actually having a hard time deciding what to do with these offers. I probably will turn down Petey, since I doubt I can make any money off the offer, but in doing the financial calculations it appears acting in Buffalo anymore might be prohibitively expensive. But two offers in one week; I had thought the year down here would mean I would disappear from the Buffalo radar a bit. Apparently not so - it's casting season there, and if I took both roles, combined with my directing responsibilities in Fredonia I'd be busy from late August until the first week in March. Do I want to be that busy? Something to ponder on. And so I leave you. -TWL

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

Week 47 - 5/12/06

Staunton VA - All of a sudden there seems to be so much to do, and unfortunately most of it keeps me chained to my desk and computer. I've been spending my time trying to get all my photos and movies organized, so I can prepare the troupe's DVD and scrapbook. I started on Yahoo and moved to Flickr and now find I have to re-cation a lot of stuff. O memory, how cruel and fickle thou art!

In the meantime, here's a rundown of the past week's events. Sunday we did the two Planets, and the second one, which was a benefit performance for the Augusta Medical Center's new hospice facility, was probably the best Planet we've ever done. Not only was it a good show, but it raised $33,000 in pledges for a good cause. There was one young boy sitting on one of the stage left stools whose leukemia had gone into remission, and he had a rollicking good time. And after all the Willard Scott/Al Roker jokes that flew around in the dressing room, the report is that he was quite good, very funny. I did not pay attention to him because I was down in the dressing room and just wasn't listening to the monitors, but even Tyler said he was funny, so there you have it. Ralph went before him and gave a pretty good "Shakespeare weather report" to warm up the crowd. So i went home tired, but feeling good about the evening overall. For a cause like that I'd do a double-show day anytime.

The "weekend" of Monday/Tuesday saw some pretty rotten weather. Monday night was a planned "Ochco de Mayo" celebration (since on the cinco we had shows), so I went out in search of some cheese. There is a Mennonite cheese shop in the area, as well as a Trappist convent of nuns who make gouda. I found the convent and got a wheel of gouda, which was sensational. I also squeezed in a hike up at Shenandoah National Park along the Doyle River Trail. Very scenic. I splurged on a new walking stick for its varnish finish. The party was pretty good. Daniel and Andrew slaved over a hot stove and coals and turned out some steak fajitas, BBQ shrimp, and a spicy fish chowder. They were making some rather strong margeritas, but I stayed away from that stuff. There is nothing on earth as bad as a tequila hangover - I know! Tuesday I began the organization of pictures and movies, and posted some of the last movies on my movie web site. I did not realize how messy the Flickr pictures were. I tried to create a set with the Complete Tour, and though I could create it, it is hard to manage because there are over 2,000 pictures in the set. So I've gone back to editing the months, and hopefully that will translate to the complete set, which I can have printed and backed up on DVD. I also did some shopping, and in the evening went down to Marino's for their Tuesday bluegrass night. I brought my spoons and jammed out with the group, and Daniel played his concertina and got in a version of "Johnny Come Lately," which is a song we're doing for the Much Ado interlude. Sarah found a five-string guitar in the bar and joined in as well when she could.

Wednesday we had a matinee of Much Ado for a full house of students. After the show, Chris was supposed to do a tour, but it turned out that one school with 60 kids had asked for the tour and no one told us. So Chris called me up and I got Tyler to go with me to help out with three tour shifts. Then a nap and R3 in the evening. Yesterday during the day I went to see Mission Impossible 3 with Tyler up in Harrisonburg. Not a bad movie - I like action movies and the MI-3 idea. Pretty good cast too for the picture. X-Men is coming out next weekend, trying to get a jump on the summer movie season. And Planet last night. And you're up to date.

I'm going to leave it there for now, as I really have to hunker down on these pictures and such. I know I'm forgetting something, but that's a patter that's been developing over the past few days. I plan to take things with me, like my plug for my computer, and leave them on the desk or dresser. Right now in my dressing room locker are my sweatshirt and my jacket, which I could use at the moment. So hopefully I'll remember what I forgot and add it later. Ciao! -TWL

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Cruise Control - 5/7/06

Staunton VA - Well, here it is, Sunday morning, and I've got a little classical music on the XM going, as well as a cup of fresh-pressed coffee. This weekend we have five shows over 51 hours, from Friday night through Sunday night. The extra performance this week is a benefit performance of Planet for a local hospice group featuring an introduction by Willard Scott. So it's a busy weekend, but I find spending some time writing in the blog is actually relaxing and takes my mind a little off the work.

Events of the week are as follows: Wed. morning we had a matinee of middle-school children. There were some of the kinds of reactions you'd expect, but I think they had a good time. We then had Planet, Much Ado, and Planet over the next three successive nights. The Much Ado felt a little stale to me, but the two Planets seemed OK. The music is really settling into a nice place in terms of dynamics. And audiences continue to dig it - the dancing in the seats at the end still gets me every time. We only have one performance of R3 this week, which we did yesterday afternoon. Then another MA, followed by today's two Planets.

The shows themselves are pretty much on cruise control. We have them at a pretty good place, and we basically come in and get them done. Of course, this can as much be a trap as a good thing, and I think I got a taste of this on Thursday's Much Ado. The gulling scene seemed off, and I don't know if we are judging it by audience reaction or how we're executing the scene. Audiences on the road, which generally skewed a bit younger than at Blackfriars, really had large reactions to the gulling scene, but in the Blackfriars it has been a bit more subdued. It might be the scene is exactly the way we've always done it, but the reactions of the audience has changed a bit. I think we have to adjust to this and not have too many expectations going into the scene. I find myself that when I do my "bad actor" bit as Leonato, sometimes I am waiting for a certain reaction rather than just executing the action. But this is one of the challenges about long runs, the attempt to keep everything fresh. I have discovered in the past few days I am losing the ability to surprise myself on stage, as my head seems to be clogged up with anticipation. It's partly fatigue, partly boredom, partly the curse of routine. It can't be denied that, after a while, a long run can become as repetitious a job as assembly line work. Now, doing that well means the audience cannot know that's the case, but I think the only way to guard against that feeling coming on stage with you means you at least have to recognize it exists. I think once I actually walk through that curtain I am present and ready on stage, but I need to take that five seconds beforehand to get in the right place. Cruise control is not necessarily a bad thing as long as you stay alert, and shows have to be repeated so that everyone is on the right page. Staying alive and alert while on that stage is the key, of course, and I think the best tool I have found for getting that done is listening.

With only one school performance this past week, the daytime schedule was pretty open. So on Thursday I finally got to make my pilgrimage to the Cedar Creek Battlefield up in Middletown, VA. It's about a 75-minute drive down the valley, close to the area where Interstates 81 and 66 converge. I have an interest in that particular battle, because the subject of my one-person show, J. Herbert George, Principal Musician 10th Vermont, participated in that battle. The battle is a famous one because it represents the final defeat of the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and is cited as one of the reasons the election of 1864 swung to Lincoln. Confederate General Jubal Early had launched a successful sneak attack on Federal forces camped in the area, and had succeeded in routing the enemy, but regrettably chose to halt his advance of the Federals and re-group. This gave time for General Phil Sheridan to dash back from Winchester VA (he was heading to a meeting in Washington DC), rouse the Federal forces, re-organized his troops and counterattack. His charge routed the CSA forces in return, and Early was forced to take his troops back up the valley to Fisher's Hill, having lost too many men and equipment to ever become an effective military force in the area again. The war would be over six months later.

I went to the battlefield and first stopped at the Visitor's Center. They re-enact this battle every year on the weekend closest to October 19th, and the visitor's center is across from the open part of the field. The battle itself covered a large area of ground, and much of where the battle took place is actually private property, but a large open area between the visitor's center on the east and Belle Grove Mansion on the west is where the re-enactment takes place. I got a very well-written guide book, which takes you on an auto tour through the area and points out in chronological order the progress of the battle. I concentrated on the area where the 10th Vermont would have been, which was about half the tour. I took a bunch of pictures as well. I also took a tour of Belle Grove Mansion, which was General Sheridan's HQ in the valley and saw a good deal of the fighting. You can follow my tour a little bit through the picture here as well as following the online version of the guidebook here (I started at Stop 8). It was a great experience. Whenever I do these battlefield visits, I can always feel the events inside me, with that sense of being connected to the lives and deaths of the soldiers who once fought here. This particular battle is rightly famous for its tactics and its displays of courage on both sides. It raged from 4:00 in the morning until 7:00 that night, close to 15 hours. There were several significant actions in the battle, most notably the Second Division of the Third Brigade, Sixth Corp of the Federal forces, who held off Early's charge for over an hour with significantly less forces on a hill which is now a cemetery. My man Herbie was probably located with the supply chains and hospital, as musicians also served as nurses, and was thus probably stationed rearward, but no doubt he saw much of the action as it unfolded before him. Anyway, it was a good visit, one I had been wanting to make for a long time.

Friday was nothing but a lazy day, with everything done on the spur of the moment. I went to Lowe's in the morning to get a screen for my broken window, as it appears the landlord isn't going to do anything about fixing it while I am here. On an impulse I was going to go up to Sherando Lake to explore the area, but as I was driving I changed my mind and headed for Crozet, to try to find a convent of Cistercian nuns who apparently make a very good gouda cheese in the French fashion. I did not find them, but I did find an awesome whole foods store, a nice-looking Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating, other places to eat, and a back road to the Charlottesville reservoir and a trail leading into the back country of Shenandoah National Park. I later found the trail on a park map, but no indication of the type of trail it is. I have an urge to do some backcountry camping in the park, but they don't allow campfires in the backcountry (WTF?), and Ann Marie says I can't spend any money to buy a tent. So I may have to settle for a hike this coming "weekend," although the weather does not look promising.

Some more illness is starting to creep back into the troupe: Chris has been battling laryngitis all week, and Kevin seemed a bit hoarse last night. Let's hope this doesn't spread too far. Still five weeks to go! -TWL

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Daze Off - 5/02/06

Staunton VA - It's been a good two days off, and there's really nothing to write about except the time off. The only thing I've had scheduled since Sunday evening has been an 11:00 AM tour today, but as no one showed up for the tour, I've essentially had a good chunk of time off with not too much to do. I think it's been the largest chunk of time off where I just stayed in Staunton and relaxed.

The only thing remarkable about Sunday's matinee was the presence of a little girl sitting with her family on the stage left Lord's Chairs. She was so quiet and attentive, couldn't have been more than 4 or so. During the interlude she came out on the stage while we did our musical numbers, and at the end of the play, as I was striking some stuff from backstage, I saw her still there. I couldn't resist going out and congratulating her for being such a great audience member. It was her first play, her parents said, and she really wanted to meet Hero, although she was too shy to talk to me. So I got Olivia out from the dressing room and she went out to say hello. Very sweet.

For the life of me I can't remember what I did Sunday evening beyond coming home and sleeping. The Sunday night baseball game didn't interest me, I know that. I truly can't seem to remember. Usually a performance of Much Ado leaves me little energy for much else. Oh wait - now I remember!! Duh!! We had a poker night at 605. Jake, Susan, Matt and Rene from the Rez troupe came over to play with Tyler, Olivia and me. It was a pretty fun night. Matt went out early, and the rest of the players hung on for quite some time. Lots of laughs. Jake is one of the new members of the Rez troupe (he's an American Indian and he's given me a new Indian name: Sky Mirror. Think about it.), and he tried a Jacks-or-better-Trips-to-win session, and it went outrageously bad. The game went on for 20 minutes with no winner, and I kept shuffling the cards all that time. Finally, after all that time, Olivia and Jake decided to split the pot that was in there and call it quits. Tyler - that lucky bastard - got to win back his money in that game under some rather suspect conditions (I suspect that in the 1870s he would have had to have been pretty quick on the draw) and then went on a win streak. I ended up losing about $4 out of five, so that's a good night for me. Rene took me out on a pretty good hand, and I went downhill from there. But it's hard not to have fun playing poker. The game finished at a good hour - midnight - and THEN I went to bed.

Monday was a hiking day with my hiking buddy Jessica. She had scouted out a trail at the Todd Lake Recreation Area in the George Washington National Forest, which is only about 25 miles from here. We intended to do the Trimble Mountain Trail, but we had some difficulty getting there due to the paucity of directions. The first time we tried to drive up there, one of the roads ended up being a logging road, so we had to turn back and go in from a different direction. Once we got up to the campground, we had an even more difficult time finding the trailhead. We had no map, since the US Forest Service does not have any maps on their websites. The information said only that the trailhead was "near the campground." Well, we walked about the area for at least 90 minutes, covering about 3.3 miles before we finally found the trailhead. Turned out the Todd Lake Trail and the Trimble Mountain Trail shared the same trailhead, but only Todd Lake was labeled. It was also hard to find any trail markers. So by the time we found the correct trail, we'd already put in over 3 miles. But we sucked it up and determined to do the Trimble Mountain trail, another 4 miles, and it was pretty worth it. The trail offered some spectacular views both of the Alleghany Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge off to the east. It was a ridge trail, following deer tracks, which meant it was narrow and steep. The nice thing about it was it is a circuit trail, so no backtracking. By the time we finished the trail Jessica had a bit of a heel blister from her combat boots. All in all we walked a bit over 7 miles. On the way back we drove some scenic roads for some more great views. The greens around here are really something else, and in the forest the way the light comes through those different shades of green is nothing short of spectacular. Everything is just about in full bloom down here, and the lightness of the leaves in the forest interior and along the mountainsides really looks lovely. Our drive took us to the Natural Chimneys , another natural site similar to the Natural Bridge. I did not know this, but the park surrounding the chimneys hosts the largest jousting tournament in the nation. I got to see the jousting ring, which was pretty nice, although I think the one at the Renaissance Faire in Sterling NY is larger.

After a shower and a nap of sorts, all of Atomic Fission that was in town went to John Michael Shott's house for a dinner party. His housemate, Jenner, is a costume designer at James Madison University, and prepared some outrageously good food. I don't know why this is, but I have never met a costume designer who wasn't an outstanding cook. John Michael has been a house manager for the ASC, and has recently been promoted to Director of Tour Operations, so he'll be the one managing the Tragical Mirth's tour next season and beyond. It was very kind of him to open his house to us. He has a spectacular location for sunsets, and last night's was of high quality. We had a fabulous meal, some tea, and a fire in the firepit. Although I was having a good time I left a little early to be able to bowl one game over at Staunton Lanes (lest you have forgotten from last summer, Monday is dollar bowling night and is a tradition with ASC actors). Obviously I brought some good luck with me, but not for my game. Rez troupe actor Sarah Fallon (Miss Texas) bowled something like a 174 in her last game when I got there. That's pretty awesome! I think the only person who bowls better than her is Chris Seiler, who holds the record somewhere around 235 or so. She looks like she has no idea what she's doing, but she had a triple in the game and several spares. Amazing. So Monday was a pretty active day off.

Today was a much more mellow day. I went downtown to the ASC office and paid off the poster I had made up for my dad of Planet, then basically waited about until my tour was cancelled. I had ordered a refurbished Airport Base Station Extreme, so I picked that up on the way home, as well as getting a haircut and a cigar. I set the Airport network up, so now both houses have good coverage, since I linked up my Airport Express with the network. Then I got my car washed, did a little shopping, listened to the Indians/White Sox game, took a little nap, uploaded some new photos to my Flickr site (click on the sidebar to see them), watched Sarah try to feed her duck again (this duck arrived in the back yard yesterday for no reason, and Sarah has been trying to get her to eat out of her hand), and got set to watch the Yankees/Red Sox game. I discovered that offers a month-by-month subscription to watch baseball games on the web, so I bought a month's worth ($15) and was hoping to watch the game, having missed Monday night's contest. Unfortunately the game was rained out in Boston, so I settled for Blue Jays/Orioles. I wish the picture screen wasn't so small and surrounded by so much other stuff, but it's not too bad. This is going to be a bad thing to have in the dressing room!

And that brings you up to date on my two days off. Tomorrow we start off with a matinee, like every Wednesday, but I think there are no added matinees this week. We do have an added performance Sunday evening, a benefit for a local hospice, with Willard Scott as guest host. So another 8-show week. But after two good days off I feel far more prepared to tackle it. Only six weeks left! -TWL

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Transformation II - 4/29/06

Staunton, VA - Well, there went another week without writing. How time gets away from me so fast, I cannot explain. I can tell you that some of that time went towards driving home to surprise Ann Marie on her birthday, which was this past Monday. That was a complete success. I walked into her office while she was finishing up a meeting with an accrediting visitor, and I think "stunned" is perhaps the best phrase to describe the look on her face before she burst into tears. We had a nice day together, going out to lunch and then having Eric home while I made her birthday dinner. A wonderful carrot cake from her good friend Peg topped the festivities. Then back here on Tuesday.

This week's collection of shows were pretty much without incident. We had an extra morning show on Thursday, and it caused a bit of pre-show concern, as these students from Albermarle High School (which I presume is in Charlottesville) had a reputation which preceded them. Apparently there had been a spitball incident and some other rowdy behavior from this school in the past, so we were on our guard. But I thought they were a fine audience in the end. Interestingly enough, they enjoyed the music and the comedy, and when the play turned dark, they were quite hushed; it was as silent a house as we've ever had. In fact, there was one young man sitting on the stage right stools, and right after the moment where I throw Sarah to the floor and stagger away, he flinched and cried out, thinking I was going to crash into him. That's when I knew I had him. It was also nice to have a culturally diverse crown in the theatre for a change. It's a great feeling to know you did have some effect on kids from different backgrounds.

The two-show combination Wed. and Thurs, wore me out a bit, so I loosened up a bit (maybe a bit too much) on Thursday night while watching a basketball game up in 605. I've been doing a lot of computer repair lately, and I've been working on the barter system - beer for repair work. First Tyler, then Andrew, and earlier this evening, Chris. So Friday I had to take it slow, but I did manage to go out to lunch with Jessica, where we got some good hamburgers and Cajun fries at 5 Guys. It's a chain in this area that makes fresh hamburgers and fries their potatoes in peanut oil. They were quite good. I took a nap and then went to the theatre to begin the weekend of shows. Today we had a workshop called Teaching Shakespeare before our R3 matinee, but I had no workshop responsibilities. So an R3 and then a Planet this evening, which was another audience of baby boomers who had a great time. During the encore they got up and danced in the theatre, a pretty amazing sight. As I search through my memory I think there have been no other incidents of note for the week.

But now I have to backtrack a little and go to this theme of transformation (if you did not read the previous post, you might want to do that first). Last week I took a hike up in Shenandoah National Park, and it was during this hike that w few thoughts came to me. The first thought that came was how much I was enjoying the hike. The simple act of walking in the woods alone with my thoughts these days gives me a great deal of pleasure. I really think I would like to take up hiking as a hobby of sorts, with an eye towards doing the Appalachian Trail or some other major route. This particular hike I planned as a lunch hike, and when I got to Calvary Rocks, I sat and had lunch, enjoying the 360-degree view around me.

It was while I was enjoying this experience that the thought came to my mind that I would rather be doing this sort of thing more than anything I could think of at that moment. And it also occurred to me how many summers I had given up over the years to act in theatres. It was at that moment that I had that sense of transformation - that I could see a life for myself which was one other than this life. I saw it pretty clearly: a life out in nature, walking, maybe canoeing or kayaking, but one where the outdoors became dominant, not the dim backstage light of the theatre. I asked myself at that moment - what is left for me to achieve in the theatre? What's left to accomplish? And the answer came back - nothing much. At that moment it seemed to me that finally, there was nothing more I needed from the theatre itself. I have performed or directed in over 100 shows, I have now toured, I've done numerous Shakespearean roles, and I could think of nothing at all left that I was really desirous to achieve. I really don't care whether or not I get into Actor's Equity, because even if I did, it's not much good to me now. I've no intention of turning fully professional. There are still roles I'd like to play out there, yes, but somehow it no longer seems so pressing or urgent that I do so. I'd rather hike, I think. You see, it's the need that has begun to fade. And this is where the transforming process is happening. I sense other needs that have to take more prominence - like hiking, and writing.

Does this mean I would never do theatre again? No, I don't think so - but it does mean I no longer feel that urgent need to do theatre again, and if I never did anything else in theatre again, it wouldn't matter to me at all. I can see another life I can live, one a bit more introspective and quiet, one away from all the hustle and anxiety that theatre seems to produce in people. And I also feel a need to begin to do something that truly matters. When I look at the state of American theatre, I realize that it's fun, some of it is good, but little of it seems to truly matter. Perhaps by seizing the opportunity that this transforming moment is offering, I can begin to find my way to that place where I can do something that matters to me.

One thing that's critical to understand about transformation, both in the theatre game itself and in life, is that a transforming moment does not reveal the entire nature of what you're about to enter. You can only see possibilities, but it remains up to you to leap in and begin the exploration and creation of those possibilities. And amazingly enough, as I began to continue my hike, this idea was enhanced by nature itself as it presented a metaphorical journey for me. At one point in the hike I began a steep descent into a valley, I knew that the trail eventually led up to some sort of river, but I was not sure how far that was. As I got to the bottom of the valley, it was apparent that the formations around me spoke to the existence of a stream somewhere, but it looked dried up, no more than a path for rainfall or snowmelt run-off to follow. But I kept on walking, remembering that the trail map did indicate a blue line. I kept my eyes open, and finally I saw some rocks which appeared moss-covered, a sign of moisture. I went off-trail and down into the stream bed, poking about until I found a small underground stream bubbling to the surface. Within about 25 yards it became a small flowing stream, and the water was cold and refreshing on this 80-degree day. I took off my shoes at a convenient spot and sat a bit with my feet dangling in the stream. I wet my hat and put it on my head for the natural air-conditioning it provided.

I was about ready to go and return the way I came, when a fellow hiker and her dog came up the trail from the opposite end. The dog took a bit of a drink, and as she saw me soaking my feet, she mentioned there was a good swimming hole ahead. I put my socks and shoes back on and continued to follow the trail a bit more. As I did so, the stream became wider, more varied in its path, and stronger in its flow. When I came to the swimming hole, I found much more than a swimming hole; it was a beautiful canyon of rocks and trees amidst this cascading waterfall. I stood at the top of the falls, surveying the scenery around me. I had gone from a hot, dry descent into a small valley, followed a dry stream bed until I found its source, and witnessed it as it grew and expanded into this magnificent waterfall, a view I assume very few people who visit the park actually see. And there I sat for about 20 minutes, just sort of entranced in it all. Transformation does not take much to reveal itself, and often looks like nothing at all, like a dry runoff bed. But if you have the wisdom to follow where it will take you, the payoff can be well worth the journey.

It would have been better has I been able to follow the trail in its circuitous path, but I was getting pressed for time and found it more prudent to return the way I came. The metaphoric sense of that decision did not escape my attention, however, as I found that reversing my journey and going back the way I came was not as rewarding. I had to go back to do a show, and knew at that moment I did not want to. But it was quite an experience, liberating and exhausting, heady and physically taxing. And I think this transforming experience is going to make a difference once I finish this contract. It has already begun to make a difference, as I now seem to find all the things that people around me take so seriously to be just so much foolishness. While there is a great deal of foolishness and pettiness in the world of theatre, it's no less so in academia (or probably in any other workplace in America). But what I have come to realize is that I may finally have hit a place where I do not have to endure the foolishness because I have some other need to fulfill; I can simply walk away from it, figuratively and literally. Come mid-June, I think I'll begin to do more walking than I ever have before. -TWL

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Transformation I - 4/22/06

Staunton VA - It's Saturday evening, and Saturday is always a long day. With my parents in town, it was a little longer today than most, as I got up to meet them at 9:00 AM for breakfast. That generally isn't so bad, except when you don't get as much sleep as you'd like the night before. I'm running a little short on sleep this weekend, and so having to get up at 9 when I probably did not get to sleep any earlier than 3:30 AM was a little rough. But I do know that I was fast asleep at 6:30 AM, because everyone in the troupe except me heard a massive thunderstorm go through town at that hour, while I heard nothing. It has been nice to have my parents in town to see the shows. I took them out to dinner last night for their 55th wedding anniversary. They both like the baby back ribs at the Mill Street Grill, while I had a seafood pasta, which was pretty tasty and generous. They saw the Friday night Much Ado and then the two shows today. Tomorrow they head back to Long Island, and for me another bit of time off.

This week has been a Richard week, with back-to-back R3s on Wed. and Thurs. night, and again tonight. We also had an added performance at Veritas Winery, the same place where we started our tour back in September. Apparently we were a little out of practice in traveling, because we sort of forgot a few things. I forgot to "dress up" for the affair, and had to go back home to get my dress clothes on. WHen I got back I assumed, because everything was sitting on the sidewalk by the van, that my garment bag with my costume had been grabbed by someone and packed. Wrong. I did not discover this until about 90 minutes before showtime, so I had to drive back to Staunton (approx. 20 minutes away) and get it. Greg had made the same mistake, so I grabbed his as well. Tyler thought he had forgotten the thundercan, but it was packed. And Carie forgot the tentacle, having taken it home to do some repair work on it. They also shifted the schedule on us here and there. First we thought dinner was going to be after the show, but it turned out they served dinner before the show. Confusion reigned as to when the troupe would eat. I ended up eating after the show, because I was driving when dinner was served. Cold chicken, cheese and grapes was my dinner. And we got a bit of a late start because the patrons we lingering over their dessert and wine. The crowd had fun, I think, but it was not a re-creation of the September event, where people were slightly tipsy. The crowd felt like a mid-60s and up crowd, a bit older than baby boomers, and they were nowhere near as raucous. And there was no event after the show. So we didn't really need to dress after all because there was no mingling. But aside from all these small mishaps, the show was OK. Hopefully Veritas thought so, and will continue to sponsor the Center.

The R3 crowds this week were sparse, although tonight was a healthy crowd. I think it was Thursday when the count was 39 people. I would expect weekday crowds for Richard will be small. One very happy thing to report - the Richard pre-show is new and vastly improved. I have always been very embarrassed with the R3 pre-show, which Greg and I had been charged with creating. Our original idea back in September proved to be unworkable, so during the tour we did nothing but a straight delivery of the information. But someone (I forget who) gave me the idea of writing pre-show catches, and so I did. I took tunes from three of the catches I sing with the Fredonia Catch Club (Mac Nelson is our kappelmeister and catch guru), wrote new lyrics for them, and what we now do is create a small skit where I am introduced to get the Blackfriars Catch Club to perform, even though we aren't quite ready. Daniel, Greg, Kevin and I constitute this erstwhile Catch Club, and it's been fun to create, much more along the spirit of what pre-shows for the ASC should be. So now I am very happy to do the R3 pre-show, whereas before I was always embarrassed at the lack of anything interesting.

I was scheduled to do a tour Wed. PM but no one showed. We have only done one Planet this week in the Blackfriars, which was today's matinee. Not as large a crowd as we have had, but respectable. There was a group of giggly girls for Friday night's Much Ado and they got the crowd going as much as we did. And it feels good to report that everyone is again healthy, suffering only from the usual wear and tear of long runs.

Thursday afternoon was a gorgeous day, with temperatures reaching into the low 80s by the afternoon. I took the opportunity to take a hike in Shenandoah National Park, along the RipRap Trail. I packed up a lunch to eat at the Calvary Rocks area. While on the hike, I really had the feeling of having a transforming experience. Nothing deep or profound, mind you; only a sort of coming-together of a lot of seemingly unrelated thoughts and events which seemed to coalesce as I walked through the woods. Now, in order to get some sort of understanding of what I mean by this, I'll tell you about a theatre game that, when I teach aspiring students, I usually play as a culmination of a lot of other smaller games that lead up to it.

The game is called "Transformation," and the rules are simple enough. Two players start an improvised scene. As they play the scene, they must stay alert for the possibility that the scene will have a "transforming moment," and become a completely different scene. The scene will present itself as an opportunity to the players; the players cannot do anything to force a change of scene. Both players must sense the possibility of transformation together; one cannot sense it and force his/her partner into the new scene. The game is designed to train the actor to be aware, not only of him/herself, but of their partner in the scene. The rules may be simple, but the game itself is very difficult. Often very seemingly disparate elements will signal a transformation - a physical gesture, a vocal inflection, a particular physical relationship the partners find themselves in. The trick is to recognize the transforming moment and be prepared to leave everything about the former scene in the past and plunge fully into the new scene.

Even though I was hiking by myself, the feeling of transformation came through thinking about many disparate elements which I've been mulling over in my mind and heart these past few weeks. I have, however, decided to post these things in parts, because I do not want to write one big long convoluted post. Rather, smaller bits I think will be easier to read. It may also be easier to mix shorter posts along with the general company news, which I know some readers like to get. And hopefully it will let me post a bit more often. Rather than trying to write one long post in one sitting, I can write a little bit here and there to make the total over time. So for now I'll leave you with what's here, and sometime next week take you into Part II. -TWL

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Long Run - 4/17/06

Staunton, VA - So, I was walking back from yesterday's matinee and M.Litt. dinner party, and as I approached the front door if the BevHouse, a woman walking across the street in the opposite direction saw me and said, "I loved your performance, and I love your blog. Get some rest!" I told her I was on my way to do just that. Today happens to be an excellent day for blogging; rainy, fairly chilly, a day which encourages you to stay indoors and lounge around. I've now made my second cup of coffee, and so on to this entry. I do regret that I cannot seem to muster the energy to blog more than once a week. I realized in getting set to write that it's been a week since the last entry. But the week went fast, I think, and if it continues to go as fast this one went, I'll wake up one morning and bam! - someone will be telling me I have to move out.

I think I'll start this morning by thanking the Mary Baldwin M.Litt/MFA students for their wonderful Easter dinner party. They invited us to a pot-luck Easter feast, and all the food was very good. There was a wonderful leg of lamb with fruit compote, ham, chicken, pot roast, salads, veggies, baked beans, green bean salad, and a strawberry cake shaped in an Easter bunny, which was pretty much half-eaten by the time I got there. This same group of people did a nice Twelfth Night last week as their M.Litt project, and it was a very convivial atmosphere. So hats off and thanks to the M.Litt crew! You've been very supportive of our company, and we appreciate it.

The next order of business should be to give a health update. All last week a good two-thirds of the troupe was suffering from some sort of ailment. Alyssa, who gets the Super-Trouper Award for last week, fought off her broken toe and bronchitis to keep performing on the stage. We did make some alterations in the shows to take as much stress off her as possible, such as going with only two members of The Watch in Much Ado (I adopted her character and Tyler and I split the lines between us), and eliminating Mr. Spaceman and modifying Robot Man in Planet. By Saturday, thought, she was pretty much up to speed, and did Much Ado without her cane, sang all her songs in Planet, and returned as the mighty George Seacoal, leader of the Watch. The remainder of the sick list slowly but surely got back up to speed, although Andrew still has a somewhat sore back, which I assume he is resting today. Kevin's back is better, Olivia seems up to speed, Jessica is doing OK, Chris and Tyler seem fine. I think only Greg, Daniel, Sarah and myself got away with not getting sick, so knock on any wood you can find for us. The bug also found its way through the resident troupe, as Matt Sincell, Rene Thornton and others seemed to pick up the bronchitis bug to some degree. Better now than in June.

Apart from doing the shows all week, we are now beginning to work on other projects. I did my first playhouse tour on Wednesday, which went just fine. We are preparing for Shakespeare's Birthday celebration, an annual event held here on the Sunday closest to his birthday (April 23 this year, which is the day he is assumed to have been born). We also have to prepare something for Jamestown 2007, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown VA, but as of now I have no clear idea what that means. And tomorrow we take another trip to the Veritas vineyard and Winery to do a performance of Planet once again, same as we did in September.

A couple of reviews have come in for Much Ado. You can read them here and here. They're really not much to speak of in the way of reviews. Both are positive, and will serve to attract audiences, but in terms of good theatre review writing they leave a lot to be desired. The state of theatre reviewing at most newspapers tends to be abysmal outside major cities like Chicago or New York, as often the people picked to do reviews are staffers with no particular credentials in the arts at all. But at the last podcast I did, Ralph showed is a copy of Theatre Week from Washington DC and said some people from that publication might be coming down to check us out. I'll be interested to see what shows up in there, if anything.

Apart from all this news-y stuff, there's been a lot on my mind in terms of how I'm adapting to running the shows at the Blackfriars. In some ways. I've begun to think of this whole gig in relation to a long run of a show, and interestingly enough, I am not sure I like long runs. This is by far the longest amount of time I have ever committed to a set of shows, and often I find myself during the day thinking that I should be in rehearsal or something for another production. My brother Jim, who plays in the jam band moe., always has side projects going, because he says after touring for some time and playing the same songs from venue to venue, you have to have something else to keep your creative juices flowing. I understand that now, because keeping up the commitment to a long run is difficult. Of course, the days are pretty much gone when great stars actually do perform long runs on the Broadway stage. Usually you get a name star for a limited run, and then hope the replacements can keep the thing going long enough to make a profit. And most regional theatres today have a definitive season where the shows run only a set amount of time. But it's deceiving to do a tour, because you tend to see all the various venues you get to play at, but what's a little hidden from sight is the fact that the shows remain the same for the entire year. Of course, to the Blackfriars audiences these shows are all new; it's the spring season of shows after the Renaissance Season. And that's the way you have to play it, even though you've been at these shows for nine months now.

The shows themselves have now settled into a good place at the theatre. We have gotten Planet down to a place where the sound is good in the space without being overpowering. The audience reaction to Planet I think has been off the scale; it's like nothing I've ever seen in a theatre. The mood of the show actually runs from a sort of polite and enthusiastic initial response to something more resembling a rock concert by the end. When the audience is filled with baby-boomers who recognize all the songs, it's really fun, because they groan and laugh within the first three bars or so. Encores have become commonplace, and people get up and dance and sing along and everything. It is such a wild and intense sight to see all these people sitting in a recreation of a Renaissance indoor theatre behaving like they are in a concert venue. And every time it happens I find myself surprised that it's actually happening. It's both fun and incongruous at the same time. Maybe one of these nights I will bring my camera out on stage and record some of this for you to see. The other shows do just as well. Much Ado still gets that same reaction of a fun comedy which all of a sudden turns tragic only to resolve back into a fun time at the end. And Richard III I think has benefitted the most from returning to the Blackfriars. The words seem to fit best in that space of any place we have played, and I think playing this piece in the Blackfriars gives it an authority and presence that all the other venues on the road lacked. When that magnificent language bounces around the walls of the Blackfriars, it just seems right and proper, much more so than in a transformed gymnasium.

Well, that's enough for this morning. It's still raining, so maybe this afternoon I will get on to doing some movies and uploading stuff on the movie page for you. I keep promising but I keep failing. So please forgive me, because I've been trying to get as much rest as possible to stay in shape - for the long run. -TWL

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Open and Running - 4/11/06

Staunton VA - It's Tuesday evening, and after these past two days off I'm feeling OK. By Sunday evening, after our official opening weekend, I was pretty beat and my throat was a little weak, but two days of rest has been good. Monday I took a road trip into the Alleghany Mountains from Lewisburg, WV up to Cass, WV, and then back across to Staunton VA. I got a look at the Greenbrier River Valley, and there is a nice 60-mile trail which runs along it, good for bicycling or hiking. And you can also rent river tubes for a day of tubing down the river. May have do some of that before long. I also caught a sunset over the Appalachians, while the moon rose in the east. Some beautiful scenery. Today I finished my taxes, wrote out my index cards for doing the Blackfriars Playhouse tours, and am set for the catches we'll be doing in the R3 pre-show. Then I spent the afternoon listening to the opening day game at Yankee Stadium against the KC Royals. The temperature was in the low 70s. Very, very good for the soul.

The opening weekend at Blackfriars went well overall. There wasn't much of an "opening weekend" atmosphere around, but that seemed to trouble other people more than it troubled me. It somehow seemed anticlimactic to me to think of shows we have been doing since September as "opening." So I did not concern myself too much with that issue. Planet seems to be a show which really has gotten people going. We have learned to play the show with more restraint out of necessity at the Blackfriars, because that space is just so acoustically alive. Nevertheless, audiences large and small so far have really enjoyed the show tremendously. Much Ado went off well on Saturday evening, and the Sat. matinee of Richard III also went very well. I have noticed particularly with R3 that it plays so much better in the Blackfriars. Perhaps it's just the atmosphere, but the words seem more natural and alive there, making the show more accessible, I think. Anyway, I think it all went very well. The Sunday matinee of Planet had a small but no less enthusiastic audience. There was a row of middle-aged women in the rear of the gallery that were just rocking with every song. That's how it seems to go.

It's also been a good week for my children. My daughter Jenna just bought a house in Framingham MA and moved in over the weekend. My oldest son Brian won a playwriting contest at Oswego which came with a $100 prize for a play he wrote. And Eric, who is rehearsing the role of Bill from The Hot L Baltimore up at the University of Buffalo, was put on the wait list for Carnegie Mellon's BFA Acting program as well as being accepted to University of Northern Illinois. He had to write an essay for CMU and got that done and sent in. So we shall see.

I have a funny feeling that a lot of my posts from here on in might be a bit shorter. Since there is no new locale to report about every other day, there is nothing much to write about but the shows. Since the shows are now in rep, they probably won't change too much over time. Being located in the actor housing complex, there may be more to report there, but I tend to doubt I'll be so much in the mix that there will be anything to report. And I find that I am not taking as many pictures as I have been. So this blog may either become quite boring, or it may begin to turn into what it will eventually become once my contract ends; just general musings I have about theatre in general, and events and situations at SUNY Fredonia once I return there in the fall.

I can say that talk has already begun about what people will be doing once they complete their contracts: where they will live, where they will work, etc. Often I tend to forget that this gig is the sum total of my colleagues' lives, and once it's done they have to go back and find the next thing to do with their lives. Some people have plans set: Alyssa will be joining a company doing Oklahoma, Chris is going to a gig in Ohio doing Our Town, Greg will be joining another touring group similar to S2 run by his friend Dennis (an alum of ShenShakes), Tyler will be doing the Tragical Mirth tour next year as Cyrano, Puck and Casca. Kevin, Jessica, Sarah, Olivia, Daniel and Andrew have less certain plans, although I think Jessica and Andrew will be doing the Philadelphia consolidated auditions two days after we close here (both have connections in Philly). So they are all in the process of finding "the next thing." I plan to take the rest of the summer off and perhaps do a little traveling before I return to teaching.

Finally, the Blackfriars Backstage Podcast for Planet came out the other day, so if you want to get it, follow the instructions from the last post. It's pretty good, and I'm on it! -TWL