Friday, March 31, 2006

Act V: Residency - 3/31/06

Staunton, VA -
Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been.

-"Truckin" , Grateful Dead

It's all over, including the shouting. Tonight we opened Planet in the Blackfriars, and last night we did our final official gig at Virginia Military Academy. We actually do have one more travel stop - an added return trip to Veritas Winery in mid-April, where it all unofficially began back in early September. But for all intents and purposes, the tour is officially over. Hardly seems real.

I am sort of at a loss for words, as I don't really think I have fully incorporated the fact that the tour is complete. I've settled into my room at 607 Beverley, been grocery shopping, got my printer and all sorts of kitchen materials out from the boxes. I retrieved my bicycle from the heavens over at the theatre, and everything has been unloaded from the vans. I'm not quite into a routine as of yet, as we have some further orientation to go through in the next few days. Of most importance is learning how to do the tours of the Blackfriars theatre. We have a weighty tome to memorize (although we can use cue cards), but once that's done we're pretty much on a regular schedule. The weather has been lovely - in the high 60s/low 70s yesterday and today. So, there it is - home.

The gig at VMI last night was quite funky. We had not done Richard III since Platteville, back on March 9, and so we had to dust the rust off. The space at VMI was completely makeshift, a large open ballroom, and there was no room backstage, so we had to do the neutral walk thing to the kitchen, which served as the dressing room. At one point one of the platforms in the most upstage row gave way, almost collapsing, and Tyler (corrected 4/4/06) had to go out and fix it up. We were all a little skittish after that, I think. The stage was not very deep, so we had to adjust on the fly with spacing and such. On the whole the performance was serviceable, but not much more. Too much rust for one run-through to dust off, I think. The audience was a mix of cadets and civilians, and they seemed to take it all in. VMI does this as part of their first-year educational curriculum, and Alan, the English professor who organizes all this, always brings the troupe in for this program. It appears, though, that the fund which pays for this is becoming thin. I hope he manages to keep it going.

I did manage to take in a few ceremonies while there. The lowering of the colors at 5:00PM featured the firing of the cannon - a loud boom indeed. I think I have it recorded on my camera. I also caught a little bit of the cadets marching off to dinner in full formation. VMI has been around since 1839, and it just seemed weird to see the name of Stonewall Jackson in the background as the US flag was lowered.

Prior to this stop we traveled to Western Carolina State University in Cullowhee, NC. We traveled on Monday, did two shows on Tuesday (I did a workshop as well), and traveled back on Wednesday. Monday night after we got settled in, I went with Jessica and Andrew for some Chinese food, and it was really quite good. We got a story about this place: apparently the restaurant had been robbed and the owner shot to death a few weeks back. The whole community rallied around the family to support them, and in return the restaurant is throwing a free buffet day for the city tomorrow (April 1). Both shows went very well, especially the evening performance (Much Ado), which was very well attended - about 450 people. They had actually closed their club section but re-opened it because of the attendance. And there was this one guy sitting dead center in the second-to-last row whose full grey hair and beard totally surrounded his face. He sure enjoyed himself. Tyler said he looked like Walt Whitman.

WCU is actually quite a lovely campus, and Andrew, Sarah and I got to stay at the University Guest House, a beautiful old stone house with deep oak interiors and some 1950s furniture. I grabbed the downstairs bedroom while Sarah and Andrew each had a bedroom upstairs. There was a back porch as well, where I spent some time sucking on a cigar after Tuesday's show and meditating on one wandering star peeking through the trees. Andrew bought some groceries and we had a nice breakfast of eggs, juice, coffee and ham on Wednesday morning (although Andrew was getting a bit sick and phlegmy due to the overheating of the house). The view was quite nice; mountains in the distance, the campus down at the bottom of the hill. Apparently this part of NC is big into retirees, and I breezed through a little booklet featuring all these retirement locations within 40 miles of Asheville, NC. Cullowhee apparently has that "earthy crunchy old hippies" reputation (although I did not see any other hippies around), and if the bakery we spent time in between shows on Tuesday is any indication, I could believe it. I had some coffee and a sticky bun while in there, and it was good! I spent time fixing Andrew's computer (he had captured a little worm), but did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked because of the workshop. I did get to talk to one of the acting teachers before the workshop, and unfortunately the theatre program there is suffering from a lack of students and dwindling attendance at plays. But they do have an unusual situation in that their Musical Theatre program is in the music department and not in the theatre department. So they may have to downgrade their acting BFA to a BA, and lose some jobs. Too bad, as the location of the college is so ideal and a nice place to live. Daniel and I had a chat about the possibility he may return sometime to open his performing arts center there, and he even offered me a job! I could be sort of a wandering artistic consultant, pulling down a small salary to supplement my retirement. He has my number!

So that's it for now. At some point I will try to digest the tour and write a little about it. I do know one thing - I will miss the traveling. Touring may not be the most ideal way to travel, as you do lose a lot of independence and you can be sort of cooped up, unable to enjoy where you're at. But I did like seeing all these venues and colleges and traveling through this really beautiful country we live in. I've come to appreciate the south more than at any time in my life, and hope to come back through as soon as I can to really get into the parks and the cities without the necessity of having to go to "work." Wouldn't touring be great if you didn't have to do shows?? Wow! -TWL

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Home Stretch - 3/26/06

Staunton, VA - Only because of the fact that it is a Sunday morning am I sitting in the Daily Grind in Staunton VA pounding out this particular post. Were it any other day of the week I'd be over at Coffee at the Corner, but Dave does not open on Sunday. So it goes. We got here Saturday at noon after driving through quite a little spring snowstorm in the Appalachian mountains between Lewisburg and Staunton - up to 4" at the top of the mountains. Ironic to have avoided snow during the entire winter leg only to have to drive through it to get home to Staunton!

I am slowly recovering from a pretty hard few days. On the 23rd we travelled to Lexington VA to do Much Ado for the Virginia Military Institute, then after the show we traveled another hour to get to Lewisburg, WV. We had a 7:30 AM call on the 24th for Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, where we did a 10:00 AM NEA 90-minute Much Ado and then later that night we did an 8PM Much Ado for the city. Then yesterday morning we travelled home to Staunton, arriving around noon. Everyone was relieved to be home in time to see the last performances of the Renaissance season. But I chose not to go, opting instead to try to lay down and heal from the last week. We are not officially done with the tour, as we leave tomorrow morning for Cullowee NC and Western Carolina University for two shows on Tuesday, and we still have one final gig at VMI doing Richard III. Then on Friday night we open Planet, and that begins our official residence in the Blackfriars.

I am really pretty frustrated and depressed because my body is not holding out as well as I wanted it to this past week. I was psychologically ready for the week ahead, knowing there were going to be many Much Ado shows, late nights and early mornings and 2-a-days. No alcohol, no going out after shows. I kept up my vitamins and tried to eat well, and also tried to keep up some light exercise by walking around Raleigh. But nothing helped, I guess. At NC State we did two Much Ados, and that was the beginning. Two MAs is a bit rough for me, the hardest physical show I have, because I expend a lot of energy between the Watch and the worked-up Leonato in the wedding scene and beyond. And I have found traveling to be wearying too as of late, so the drive from Raleigh to Lexington, followed by a full MA, pretty much did me in. The early morning MA and the evening MA in Lewisburg were the coupe de grace, so that by the time I got back to the hotel room I was dead to the world and sore in so many places. I think in the two nights I roomed with Chris during the Lewisburg stay I didn't say more than 10 words to him. I slept between shows for about 3.5 hours, and tried like hell to conserve as much energy as possible, doing little talking and looking for quiet places to sit, rest and be still. I got a lot of rest yesterday, got to bed relatively early, and today feel a bit better, although my neck is still hurting and my back is still a bit stiff.

All this physical discomfort has led me to begin to ask the question of how long I can keep doing stage acting. The tour is rough, sure, but I think it goes beyond merely touring. I remember feeling like this in the summer of 04, when I was doing Grumio in Delaware Park. I was not in as good a shape weight-wise, but still, doing 6 shows a night for close to four weeks with all the running around I did back then had me pretty exhausted, and one day off a week was not enough. Add to that the two hours of commuting, and it was tiring. On this tour I've lost weight, did walking and bike-riding to help improve my stamina, and the first leg, as I recall, went OK. But Christmas Carol was exhausting (many 2-a-days with one 3-a-day), and this latter part of the tour has been tiring as well.

One of the things I try to drive home to my students in my acting classes is that someday, at some point in time, 95% of them will have to face the mirror and realize they will not make their living solely as a professional actor. Only a very small percentage of people get to do so, and sometimes coming to that realization helps people move on. I remember so clearly that day for myself, when I began to see my hair thin, realized I was never going to be taller than 5'9", and was not a ruggedly handsome man with ripped abs and a tight butt. So I pursued a teaching career, figuring I could do some summer acting on the side that way and not have to worry about making a living in the theatre. Besides, I was never able to sell myself effectively as you have to do to get an agent and be seen. I hated the commercial end of it all, and that was another factor in deciding to get out from a fully professional career. But these past few days, combined with the past few years and jobs, has led me realize that another day comes - the day when you can't do anymore the things you used to do. During the rehearsal process I was doing all these somersaults and jumping over boxes, but a lot of that got cut (and rightly so) for fear of my hurting myself or overextending myself. I thought then how silly that was, that of course I could still do all those things. But this week has really got me to realize that perhaps, no matter what I do and no matter how good a shape I can get myself into, I'm never going to have quite the strength and recovery ability as I had 20 years ago. It's even been some time since I've done an 8-show-a-week full rep season (probably not since WSF 1995), so the upcoming residency has me, shall we say, concerned. I find myself envying the energy and recovering ability of my younger colleagues. They say about athletes that they know the time comes to retire when the rewards of playing are trumped by the pain of getting it together to play. As much fun as it is has been to play, the pain of playing is no longer bearable. Witness someone like Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros, whose shoulder is so full of arthritis he can no longer throw the baseball, and can barely swing the bat, yet as of this writing has still not retired and is still trying to play under his current contract. It's hard to recognize that day, but I find myself staring at the rising sun of that day myself.

Of course, I've whispered about "retirement" from the stage before. If my wife had a nickel for every time I said I would quit acting, she'd retire herself. Then that call comes with the great role you've never played, or a chance comes to do something you've never done (like touring?). I could say I'll quit at the end of this contract, but when someone comes around to offer me Malvolio - the only male role in Twelfth Night I haven't played - or King Lear, I'll probably crawl out of my Lazy Boy and get back in the saddle. The stage for me is an addiction, not because I particularly like the attention or any of the exterior trappings, but because it's such damn fun. And exciting. O Theatre - I wish I could quit you!

But enough whining. I should report that the shows did go well. Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg was a very nice venue, and the food we got there was fantastic. Most impressed were the vegetarians, because the dinner offered was a tofu-broccoli stew in a peanut sauce with brown rice. There was no meat dish. A nice salad, raw veggies and rolls complimented the dinner. Lunch was just as good, with some fantastic whole grain rolls, chicken salad and hummus, salad, veggies and great cookies with milk. As Kevin said, "These people get it." But we did have one unfortunate incident - during the performance Sarah stepped hard on Alyssa's foot and broke a toe. So Alyssa went to the emergency room, and is now again limping around with a soft cast on her foot. We will have to make some adjustments for the upcoming performances on the road, and no doubt during the opening weekend of our shows in the Blackfriars. And Jessica has also been limping about with a sore foot, keeping it wrapped up during performances. So a few minor injuries are out there, along with my general soreness. Would it be the Atomic Fission Tour without a few injuries here and there? Of course not! - TWL

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thrown to the Wolves - 3/22/06

Raleigh, NC - I've just come in from walking to the hotel after this evening's performance of Planet, and boy, am I tired. I could have ridden in the van, of course, but I wanted to stop along the strip on Hillsborough St to see if there were any food establishments open. Only a pizza joint was open for business, so pizza and an ice tea it was. And now, time for a quick blog before the next few days of insanity hit. I am sorry the last few blogs have not had many pictures, but for some reason is not being very cooperative in the past few days with uploading my pictures. Sometimes the pictures upload, but lately often they don't. I will keep trying, but in the meantime you should be able to see pictures at

We have spent the past few days in Raleigh, NC, playing on the campus of North Carolina State University - the home of the Wolfpack. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, but due to some confusion we had to spend our arrival night in one hotel, and the rest of our stay in another. The first motel really sucked hard. The room Sarah and I shared had a sign on it that said it was a non-smoking room, but they must have put that sign up 10 minutes before we got there. The room smelled of smoke, but we both thought we could bear it rather then move to another room. Jessica and I made our way over to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner. I tell you what - the Outback Steakhouse does a pretty good steak for a chain restaurant, and the Bloomin Onion is quite the appetizer. A couple of Newcastles with the steak and not too bad a dinner. When I got back to my room, I sort of watched an episode of Big Love on HBO, and it was not too good. It's about a Mormon guy and his three wives living in the middle of suburbia, but I think it's just an excuse to watch a man make love to three different women (which he did in the course of the episode, amd of course they all got jealous). Then Daniel came around and I listened to the song he and Sarah are writing in preparation of the interludes for Blackfriars. It's a good song which needs just a bit of tweaking here and there; very metaphorical in tone, but could use just a bit more clarity in the storytelling. Then, as I went to sleep, I began to choke a little on the stale smoky air. Sarah tried to hide the odor with some incense, but it was too little too late. It was a restless sleep, and we were glad to leave that nasty place.

We traveled to the neighborhood which borders on the NC State campus in Raleigh, and we had to hang around until our rooms were ready. It was supposed to be a day off, and it mostly was, but we did have to sort of kill time waiting to come back and move in. The hotel here is quite nice. It must have at one time been a Holiday Inn, but I cannot tell whether it still considers itself as such or is a private motel called the Brownstone. At any rate, it's nice, with Tempur-pedic mattresses, those foam deals which conform to your shape. Kevin is my roommate for this sojourn. In killing time I walked down Hillsborough St, which apparently is also known as the Wolfstrip. It has a collection of coffee shops, pizza joints, record stores and a few bars (less than you might think). One store I went in right away, however, was a little jeweler store, where the repairman replaced the second hand on my watch. Nice guy, good job. $5. Can't be beat. I also walked up the strip to a little tavern called the East Village, where Daniel, Andrew and I had lunch with our Bloody Marys. It was sort of nice to have an afternoon drink, seeing as how we had no show that night. Then we walked over to CupAJoe's, a smoky coffee shop with some nice atmosphere. The smoking section was in a separate room (remember, this is North Carolina, where they grow a lot of tobacco). It also had wireless, so I sat for a bit and had a cup of joe, but no cigarettes. I concluded with dinner at the downstairs restaurant in the hotel, a fairly weak Italian-style restaurant but convenient. Then I finally settled in for the World Baseball Classic final between Japan and Cuba. It was a pretty good game, with Japan getting a quick lead, Cuba almost catching them, and Japan closing it out in the final inning. I really enjoyed the World Baseball Classic, and from what I can read it's getting a good review all around. Nice to have meaningful baseball - and well-played baseball - in March.

Yesterday was a very long day. We had a 10:30 AM Much Ado for a mostly high school crowd, which went well. Carie informed us that this stop is a very important one, because it's Ralph's old stomping grounds, and because a lot of people come from here to Staunton and the Blackfriars. The kids were for the most part pretty good, although Tyler got hit with a spitball during curtain call. This wasn't an NEA show, as Raleigh is hardly an "underserved population." The in the afternoon I had to give my Planet lecture on sort of short notice to a crown of senior citizens taking continuing education classes. I walked from the theatre over to the McKimmon Conference Center, not quite realizing how far it was. NC State is a fairly large campus, with expansion hubs all around. It was sort of a "specialized" workshop, taking about 90 minutes. I felt a bit sorrier for Daniel and Jessica, who tried to do an improvisation workshop with this over-65 set. Not too many people wanted to get up and participate, so they finally gave in and gave them a little show. Then dinner with Chris, Kevin, Tyler and Tyler's girlfriend Olivia (who is in from the west coast to visit him), and then back to the theatre for another Much Ado, the full version. It was a good show, one of the best we've done in awhile, I thought, and a good thing too, because I understood that the university chancellor was in the audience. Hopefully we made a positive impression.

Following the performance there was a great party at the house of one of our contact people. The highlight of the party was the pizza - five types of vegetarian pizzas, with terrific crusts and a combination of veggies and spices not to be believed. The company was fun, and there was this little dog which provided a great deal of fun for all, especially Greg. You should check out the movie page when I get this movie of Greg and the dog on the site. It's almost obscene!

Today I got up feeling quite a bit stiff and sore. I was really tired after yesterday, but despite going to bed ASAP I still felt sore. I tried to walk it out a bit by slowly making my way towards the day's workshop, a Shakesfeet session over at Meredith College, about 2 miles from the hotel. First I stopped at Brueggers Bagels for a smoked salmon on bagel sandwich, then down to CupAJoe's for some coffee, then to the bodega for some plantain chips, then to the college for the workshop. Meredith College is an all-women's Baptist college, and there is something very peaceful about being on an all-female campus. The workshop went well (Sarah was my workshop partner), and afterwards we walked back to the NC State area. The day was bright and sunny, but the temperature was just a bit chilly in the low 50s and some breeze. Sarah went on to other things while I moseyed over to the library to see if I could connect to a network (no). A light (and cheap) Chinese dinner, and then to the theatre for tonight's rendition of Planet. The audience went for the show big-time; seemed as if there were a lot of boomers in the house tonight. Our audiences were mostly adults, not so much college students. But I will say the university treated us well; coffee, bagels, fruit, water, soda, tea and more all in the green room, plenty of student help (which we hardly used) and fine contact people. Thanks Sharon!

So now I am in my room getting ready for the next few crazy days ahead of us? How crazy, you may ask? Quite crazy, bordering on the absurd. Tomorrow we drive to Lexington VA, load in, do Much Ado at the Virginia Military Academy, load out, and actually drive in the night to the hotel at our next venue in West Virginia. We then have a 7:30 AM call on Friday morning for an NEA high school Much Ado, and also a Much Ado performance that night as well. We drive back to Staunton on Saturday, off Sunday, and back out for one more gig on Tuesday, I believe. One week from tomorrow and we will be back in Staunton, ready to open at the Blackfriars and begin Act Five. It's the end of the word as we know it, coming soon. -TWL

(Note to Cathy Wilmoth - I would like to sincerely apologize to you for my indecent references to a certain part of your daughter's anatomy in this blog. Such ungentlemanly-like behavior on my part will not happen again. I think, however, you can hardly blame me. After all, from what I remember the last time we partied together in Ohio, she's only shakin' what her mama gave her. - twl)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Countdown Begins - 3/19/06

Tusculum, TN - Actually, it is Sunday morning and we are on our way out of town, heading for Raleigh NC. We did a performance of Much Ado last night at Tusculum College, another small religious college located in this eastern Tennessee town right on the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Prior to this past gig, we did Planet at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA. That performance was pretty OK, but the hall was rather large, and on my first number I lost the beat because all of a sudden I could not hear the band behind me. I had to turn upstage to get the beat back from Chris, and once I did that I walked a bit upstage to get upstage of the proscenium arch, and then I could hear everything. A strange space for that. Jim trenberth had driven over from Ames again to bring Nancy to see the show, and after load-out we went looking for a place to eat, but nothing in Waverly was open at all, so we ended up in the Fox Motel, where we were staying, sitting in the lobby and chatting. Hopefully Jim and Nancy and Ann Marie and I can get together at Stratford ON this summer to see some Shakespeare there. The Fox Motel was a strange little place, something of a "classy" motel sometime in the fifties, but now showing its age. First, they claimed they had "wireless," when in fact they distributed their internet through their electrical system via Netgear. You had to get one at the front desk, and they had a limited number. I tried to set up my wireless Wiflyer, but it has a limited reach through so many walls. Then, on the morning we left, people came down to breakfast, and they had a brand new cook in the back on his first day ever, without any help. My omlette took 40 minutes to arrive, and when it did, the onions were raw. We eneded up being late getting out because everyone's breakfast was delayed. They had to call in the head chef from home to help with the backup. And the place smelled of smoke in the lobby area. Altogether somewhat nasty.

Wednesday was another one of our 8-hour travel days. We went from Waverly to Muncie IN. Over the course of this leg of the tour we have had several 8-hour travel days, as it seems our gigs are spaced that far apart. As we approach T-2 weeks and counting, it is clear that we are all weary of 8-hour travel days and the vans. Next weekend we apparently will be home in Staunton for two days, with one more trip after that before opening with Planet on April 1. Everybody is holding up well under the circumstances, and at least here in the south the greening up of the countryside and the mountains are a welcome exchange from the cold, flat, brown prairie. There are very clear signs of spring in this area, and this morning as I write on a crisp sunny morning the mountains in the distance are a very beautiful sight. Jessica and I tried to find a place to hike yesterday, but everything was too far away and she was not feeling too well, so we shall wait until Shenandoah.

Thursday brought us to the Cornerstone Center for the Arts in Muncie, Indiana. The space itself was gorgeous - an opera house environment within an old Masonic Temple. There was a humongous chandelier hanging above the audience, and a mural above the front of the stage on the ceiling. Apparently there are many more of these in the building. The dressing rooms were sort of tiered along the stage left area, from mainstage level to second floor. The space was old, but sort of dignified, reminding me a little bit of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But although the space was nice, the audience ended up being an obnoxious group of kids, by far the most obnoxious we have encountered. It made the show very difficult to perform, and left everyone in a prety bad mood by the end of the show and the Q&A. It was more than talking; it was just the snide, smug attitude they brought to the event. We could not win the group of boys on the stage right side over, so we settled for getting through the show and out by noon. Done. The staff was very cordial and nice, and I should not paint the audience with such a broad stroke, because there were some audience members who enjoyed the show, and some mentally challenged kids in the house as well who were having a good time. It's so very hard to concentrate on those having a good time when the knuckleheads are at your elbow. One of the great traps of direct audience contact is that, when faced with hecklers, you, as the actor, are constrained, because you don't have the same freedom in those circumstances as the audience has. If we REALLY wanted to have "direct audience contact" then perhaps we should be as free as the actors in Shakespeare's day probably were to handle the hecklers. Ah well, you can't win them all.

Thursday we had a troupe meeting to discuss some issues relative to Richard III and to the interludes and pre-show stuff when we get back to the Blackfriars in April. I did not have much to discuss in either context, so I pretty much sat and listened to other's ideas. After the meeting I took a walk out into the suburban MallofAmerica landscape, roamed through a Best Buy, got caught in a small hailstorm, and wandered back to the motel room to begin watching the evening's sports presentations. I have been following the World Baseball Classic, and believe me it has been worth watching. At this point the final is set for Cuba and Japan, but I had been rooting for Korea and Puerto Rico. Team USA was not playing well at all, and their lack of preparation was evident throughout the whole series. It's sort of that same arrogant USA approach to all international sports except maybe soccer - throw together a team of professional players and expect to beat everyone. Well, it don't work that way. All the other teams had their fundamentals sound, and it's interesting to note that the Cubans, an essentially amateur team, and Japan, a country where fundamental baseball is the name of the game, are the teams in the championship. Even teams like Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico had MLB players who are not skills players, and so they lost. I am sorry for Team Korea, who pitched so well and played such great ball beating Japan twice, that due to how the brackets worked they get eliminated even though their record is 5-1. Such is playoff ball. And in watching the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse is already out if it, losing to Texas A&M in the first round. Typical of Syracuse at times, this is not the first time they've had a first-round loss. Usually if they get past the first round they have a good tournament, but such was not to be. Gerry McNamara couldn't play after that great run in the Big East Championship. So it goes. All in all Thursday was not one of the better days in my life.

Then guess what? Friday - another 8-hour van ride. From Muncie IN we took off for Greeneville TN and our Tusculum performance on Saturday night. The drive took us through Knoxville, bypassing Cinncinatti and Lexington KY, where we had lunch in a Waffle House where all the employees had Universuty of Kentucky T-Shirts on. I've come to like Waffle Houses - simple food cooked up right on the grill in front of you. Probably too fatty, but in moderation it's OK. Our performace yesterday in Tusculum was pretty good, given that it had been a long time since we had done a full Much Ado. For the record - Tusculum College gets the prize for worst dining hall food this leg. Nothing about last night's show really stood out except Tyler's dive into the stage left gallant seats during the gulling scene. It was a very nice audience, good receptive house. And yesterday was Tyler's 26th birthday, so during the pre-show the Blackfriars Four sang "Happy Birthday" to him on stage before "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." After the show some of the troupe went to help Tyler celebrate, but I stayed in for the semifinal game between Korea and Japan, which Japan won 6-1. I did not see the whole game, falling asleep during the rain delay, but I did see all the scoring.

So today - Sunday - is a travel day again, about 6 hours to Raleigh, where tomorrow we get sort of a day off. Due to some confusion and delay, we have to stay in two different hotels while there. So tonight is one hotel, and during our day off we have to switch hotels. The second one is nice, I hear. We are in Raleigh for a few days, doing both the 90-minute and the full Much Ado, and then Planet the second night. From there it's off to Lexington VA to Virginia Military Academy and then to Lewisburg WV for a Much Ado, and then home for a weekend. I am going to give the same lecture at North Carolina State that I gave at UA-Huntsville for a special workshop, so I have to polish that up a bit.

I must say that today the drive is pretty spectacular. As I write this we are passing through the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, just east of Asheville NC. From Greeneville TN we drove up into the mountains and along a very winding mountain raod, following the Paint Creek. The road was hilly, winding and narrow, but the view was very nice. There were some nice hollows within the mountains, and as we came to a crossroads in the river there was a spot where several fishermen were flyfishing for trout. The area was dotted with some very nice houses mixed with some run-down shacks. We've crossed the Appalachians in several places now in the south, and every time it's been quite nice. Again, I am struck by the beauty of the scenery and the temperateness of the climate. It's no wonder people like to retire down to this part of the country. You get the benefit of four seasons but not the bitter harshness of deep winters, with earlier springs and slightly longer falls. Hard to beat. Makes me long for a weekend on my land. -TWL

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pretty Pebbles - 3/14/06

Waverly, IA - You may have wondered where I've disappeared to in the last few days. The answer lies in the fact that we've had an unusually long amount of time off, and during that time I found myself with limited access to the internet. It wouldn't have mattered much, however, as I just spent the time laying low anyway.

The chronological details are that we went from Pella IA to Platteville WI on Thursday, did R3 on Thursday night at UW-Platteville, and essentially had off from then until yesterday (Monday) when we travelled to Waverly IA to perform Planet at Wartsburg College this evening. The show at Platteville was a fairly typical performance of R3, a little better than the past few performances. We did the show in the Brodbeck Music Hall, a very nice space as it stands for music and acoustics, but a little big for our show, I think. The gallant stools were packed with students, and I think they stayed with us through the performance.

But the essence of this post is not so much about the performances at Platteville; it's about me rummaging through the attics of my mind and dusting off a few items I was forced to put up there. Many of you might know I spent eight seasons (85-86, 90-94, 98) with the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival, which took place on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. It was a summer Shakespeare festival started by Tom Collins, Wendy Collins and Tom Goltry back in 1977. They were the theatre department at the college; Collins was the performance/historian guy while Goltry concentrated mostly on tech and design with some acting thrown in. Wendy was not technically on the faculty, but served as the festival's resident costume designer. It was a small festival, drawing its actors mainly from graduate training programs and the Milwaukee/Madison area, and lasted for 23 years until 1999, when a new university chancellor essentially pulled the plug on the festival and stole the foundation money which the festival had earned through the years. Collins and Goltry have both since retired; Collins to Arizona, and Goltry remains in Platteville. It had been eight years since the last summer I spent there as Associate Artistic Director and director of The Miser.

I think it's fair to say that all throughout my middling acting career I have sought to work in the atmosphere of an ensemble troupe, a collection of actors who work often together and through the years develop that sense of playing together, knowing each other's tendencies, and building a body of work together. In short, I prefer situations where I, as an artist, have a "home." The WSF was, for the time it existed, that kind of home for me. I went back because people there appreciated my work and effort and offered me my first opportunity since getting out of graduate school to do significant acting work. As I developed my work in the city of Buffalo, I alternated with Shakespeare in Delaware Park, sometimes for family reasons, sometimes financial. But I loved going back to Platteville when I could.

I find it somewhat difficult to describe the attraction of Platteville and the WSF to outsiders. After all, it was a small festival set in the middle of nowhere, a very small midwestern town. I think it's because most theatre people tend to track their careers towards ever-growing and ever-more-recognized theatres and venues in larger and larger cities. I don't deny that in the back of my head I have those aspirations at times, but in reality I have been quite satisfied with finding smaller situations for myself. My teaching career is a reflection of that; I have not chosen to move up the ladder of university theatre departments, but have been quite content teaching in an undergraduate program at a small state college. I very much like working in Buffalo rather than pursuing a career in some other cities. And the same held true of Platteville. The WSF was more than a Shakespeare festival to me; it was a collection of good people, both from the festival and from the town, who became colleagues and friends, and in some instances like second family. I came to know a great many people in the area, I came to know the area itself quite well (particularly its golf courses), and it really was in so many ways a second home. I mean, a foursome for golf on a day off might include myself, the janitor of the Fine Arts Center, the superintendent of the local water and sewage plant (who doubled as an actor by night) and the lighting designer. That's the kind of place it was.

And we did some good theatre, and at times even great theatre. Our height was during that run in the 90s, when we assembled some fine talent from Milwaukee and the PTTP at Univ. Delaware. So many names - Michael Duncan, Lee Ernst, Laura Gordon, Laurie Birmingham, Mark Meinart, Elizabeth Heflin, Haasan El-Amin, Mic Woicek, Paul Steger, Mark Herold, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Chip Duford, Carine Montbertrand and so many more - all came through this way. During that time the festival was making a name for itself and gaining more credibility as a fine place to see Shakespeare. It's too bad that its demise came so quickly and brutally and it was not given a chance to re-locate or grow.

So, in visiting the area with the Blackfriars Stage Company after all these years, my mind and heart sort of got caught up in flood of memories of good times now gone. In a lot of ways the history of the festival has all but disappeared from UW-P's records and the town's memories. In its place is the Heartland Festival, an attempt to bring musical theatre into the area for the summer done by essentially amateurs. There is only one banner from the WSF hanging in the scene shop. I thought of stealing it, but then I thought that it was the only item from the WSF I could see that was still in the building apart from the Mary Barnes and Bert Glanz plaques, so I left it there. The UW-P has no section of its web site dedicated to the festival, and I have no idea if there are any archived records of its existence on campus. Dust in the wind.

So with my time there I looked up old friends and went about examining the city. When I arrived on Thursday I walked into the theatre after lunch, and who should be sitting there but old Doc Goltry. He had retired some 5 or 6 years earlier and had not set foot into the Center for the Arts since then, but it so fell out that the current musical theatre teacher and her husband had ferreted him out of his house to come down and design/consult on the set for their upcoming production of Pirates of Penzance. He was the last person I expected to see sitting there, but we had a hearty greeting and chatted up old times for about two hours. We were joined by Jim Trenberth, longtime lighting designer for the festival, from Iowa State. Also on campus was Michael Duncan, who graduated from UW-Platteville and did 14 seasons with WSF. He was in town because he was doing some initial consulting for the Heartland Festival, for which he's directing a show in the summer. I had alerted most of these people I was coming in, so we had a dinner reunion at Uno's Pizzeria, and what a fun reunion it was. This Uno's is not the Chicago chain, but an independent restuarant which has been there since I've known the town. I knew the original owner as well as the present owner, and a number of wait staff over the years (in particular Diane, who used to greet me with a wet bartowel to the face the first time I walked in any summer). The place looked exactly the same, complete with a rendering of one Wendy's costume designs, and the trivia contest (which I answered correctly and got a free drink for Trenberth). Even the menu appeared the same, designed like a newspaper, complete with Tater Tuesday and Fettucini Friday. Soon enough the gang showed up: Doc and Carol Goltry, Maggie and Steve Kleisath with their daughter Katie and Maggie's mom Margaret (this is my "adopted family" in Platteville and my hosts for the time I stayed in town), Michael Duncan, Jim and I. Like old times. Doc's wife Carol is pretty close to being blind these days, but she hugged me fiercely, sat next to me and held my hand for a long time. I hated to go but I had a show to do, so I left to make a 6:00 call. After the show, I had arranged with Maggie for a small party at her house, so most of the company showed up at 11:00 PM to chat and party (thanks guys!). The company was dispersing the next day; some going to see loved ones, some friends, some family; the rest were having the time off in Madison.

The next morning I had breakfast with Jim and Michael at the Owl Cafe, one of my favorite haunts in P'ville. It's a small hometown cafe with about six tables and a counter crammed into a tiny space. The same people who operated it eight years ago were still there, Big Jim still making the best omlettes in the world. I had a Wundoe omlette, made with Wun-Doe-Mus, a local spice blend composed mostly of salt, Hungarian paprika, white and black pepper, onion and garlic powder. It's delicious and gar-ron-teed. It's a giant, fluffy omlette with Wun-doe-mus spice, sausage, salsa, sour cream and cheese with onions and peppers. Nothing else like it on the planet (I should have taken a picture). Great talk with Michael and Jim about old times. Then Jim and I went over to Doc Goltry's place for coffee and conversation, and Mike Willis, now retired from the sewage plant and helping his daughter open a sports store, came over for more chat about old friends and old times.

Now, Doc Goltry is a big, burly man, not easily given to semtiment. If you can imagine a Wilford Brimley, look-alike, that's Doc. He has a collection of sayings which he would frequently employ when directing or just hanging around the theatre. We were talking about the good old days, and we could tell Doc missed it a lot. He said one thing that stuck with me, which I believe he attributed to Mark Twain. He was talking about all the fun we had at the festival, how throughout the school year he'd always look forward to the summer and when the actors and technicians got it. He said, "You know, theatre is something like the ocean. It's so vast, that no one ever gets to see the whole thing at once and up close. But there's something to be said for standing on the beach and playing with the pretty pebbles. That's what we did, guys, play with the pretty pebbles, and damn, it was a good time!" The whole experience was happy and sad at the same time. Wistful, with a glint of tears in the eyes. As Friar Francis says in Much Ado:

For it so falls out,
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it; but being lack'd and lost,
Why then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours.

although I think we all knew what we had in some measure.

So Jim had to get back to Ames, and I went back to the Kleisaths, where Maggie was kind enough to give me the keys to Steve's Mazda Miata. The day was gorgeous and warm, so I dropped the top and took off over the county roads of the area, up and down the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin. Man, was that fun. Not only was the day beautiful, but the scenery was gorgeous, and Wisconsin's famous "dairy air" was in full aroma. I had seldom seen the area in anything but spring and summer bloom, so driving around in mid-March was a new experience. You can see so far and so wide that it's breathtaking. I could have driven for hours and hours, but I contained my enthusiasm and restricted myself to the Grant/Lafayette/Iowa county areas north and east of P'ville. My final stop was The Mound, home of the famous "World's Biggest M." The Mound now has a staircase going to the top (not in my day), so I climbed to the top for the view. I used to go there often with Jim or Paul or Mic on evenings with a 6-pack and perch there on an outcropping, talking, contemplating the stars and moon, the view, etc. It was a tradition to go up the mound on July 4, because from that vantage point you could see every fireworks display from every town within a 10-mile radius on a clear day. You can check out my picture page for some shots from the mound, one of which now graces my desktop.

For most of the rest of the time I simply stayed and ate and conversed with Maggie and Steve, who are two of the finest souls ever to grace the planet. They've become good family friends, of course, but I think at times I'm more like a wayward son to them. They adopted me and my family the first year Ann Marie and I were there. Ann Marie and Maggie both were La Leche League leaders, and both had Girl Scouts (the Kleisaths have three girls, all Girl Scouts along with Jenna). So they made some natural connections, and Ann Marie got in with a bunch of other mothers from the area. Maggie was a member and past president of the Ann Hathaway guild, a group composed of women who supported the festival and did things like "adopt an actor" and have them over for dinner. They also made tarts for sale at intermission for each show, and the actors used to get the leftovers during the second act. Their youngest daughter, Katie, was on her way to South Carolina for spring break, and their second daughter Beth and her new husband Joe came down from LaCrosse to visit me (Becky, their oldest, lives in St. Louis with her husband Craig and their new son William - guess who he was named after?) So I relaxed by staying with them for the most part. I watched the World Baseball Classic, and also took a side trip to Dyersville, IA and the Field of Dreams, the location for the movie of the same name with Kevin Kostner, Amy Madigan and James Earl Jones. Then, on Monday afternoon, the company came by to pick me up, and here I am in Waverly.

So that was my excursion into the mists of my past - a happy, joyful time mixed with a wistful longing for friends and experiences now fading fast in my rearview mirror. This acting business, for those of you reading this blog who might be thinking about this profession or finding yourself struggling in the midst of it, is in many ways an itinerant one. We wander from place to place, from city to city, from job to job. On this tour I have felt this wandering feeling moreso than at any point in my career, traveling from venue to venue. The adventuring is fun, but there is also that longing to return "home" to Staunton (which really isn't anyone's "home" at all, but the best we have at the moment). I've been a very, very lucky person in this business, because in my career I've been able to find two theatrical homes; one in Platteville for eight wonderful seasons, and one in Buffalo NY for almost 17 years. I like having a theatrical home, and I think in many ways it's something a lot of actors long for; a place to hang your hat, get steady work, and call it "home" at the end of the day. Spending four days in my former summer home has been a wonderful feeling, offering a sense of familiarity, place, and peace. While it may be true that you can never go home again, catching pieces of it glinting in the late winter sun across miles of vista is not a bad substitute. -TWL

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rainy Days and Wednesdays - 3/8/06

Pella, IA - Two rainy days have produced little to do except blog. Yesterday I took a walk to downtown Pella, sat at Smoky Row coffee house with Daniel, went to campus for lunch, and then the heavens opened up with rain. So in essence I got stuck on campus. Fortunately the student center cafe had a TV, so I picked up the World Baseball Classic. Saw the Dominican Republic beat Venezuela and USA beat Mexico. Dinner, R3 and bed essentially finished up yesterday.

Today it started raining again in the AM. My only agenda had been to go downtown and take the pictures I couldn't take yesterday, but with the rain I sat it out. Right at this very moment the rain has let up, but I ended up watching the Syracuse-Cinncinati basketball game with Tyler, my roommate here in Pella (who's also got nothing to do but blog). We are both Syracuse fans; remarkably, he's been following the Orange since he was a kid growing up in Syracuse and going to high school right near the campus. I've been an Orange fan since my days in Oswego, so it made for a good match. I should have gone on the hotel treadmill in the morning, but did not. Syracuse won an exciting game with 0.5 seconds left on a walking 3-point shot by senior Gerry McNamara. Now I have the WBC on again; Panama v. Cuba, with USA v. Canada up next at 3:00. Andrew came down to the room, so I gave my camera to Sarah and she will take photos of downtown for you to see. It really is a cute downtown, with the new mixed nicely into the old. There is a very nicely done mini-mall in the center of town, an historical village, the nearby Red Rocks dam area for recreation. I have it marked in my mind as a place to return for a small vacation while traveling someday. Places like these are also retirement possibilities; small town with tourist appeal, small college to teach some adjunct courses, probably nice houses for little money and low taxes. Not for awhile, though.

The shows have been taking a beating lately, it seems. Carie has been less than satisfied with our latest efforts. I have been trying to find some new wrinkles in my characters to breathe some new life in them (and fight the boredom), but apparently it's coming out as "unfocused." Personally, while onstage I do not sense any lack of of effort by anyone, so it's a bit hard to see where this lack of focus is, because nothing specific is being mentioned. Yes, we are tired; yes, we have done these shows for a long time; but without some specific notations I am not sure how to proceed. I know in R3 last night I tried some new approaches based on the space (more intimate approaches to vocal work, more of a sense as Hastings that I do suspect something is up after my scene with Catesby, more of a "thug" character for my citizen in the battlement scene, more of a "quiet, slow strength" for Oxford in terms of physical movement) to see if I could find new wrinkles in each character; perhaps that experimentation appears as "unfocused" in some way. And even though the show last night came in on time at 2:05, it seemed "slow." There are always so many factors to take into account when you travel to so many venues, play in such different spaces from day to day, have such different audience responses from venue to venue, that it's often difficult to find the true cause of why any particular performance might not be up to snuff. Chatting with people at the merchandise table led me to believe the non-students last night enjoyed the show; three people came up to Jessica to congratulate her work on Margaret. But today, it seems resting in the room and taking it easy might be the best way for me to have a very focused show with Planet tonight and then get a good R3 in at Platteville before our "break."

We are getting an unintended long break in Platteville, because the high school performance I helped to secure at Platteville HS has fallen through. The principal felt he had to cancel after his faculty told him they had too many tests scheduled on Friday, which is the last day before their spring break. So we may do a workshop at the college on Friday, but no show. The company will move to Madison for the duration until Monday, when we travel to Waverly IA, but I will be staying in Platteville with good friends from my days at Wisconsin Shakes. A home environment, good friends, good food, Leinenkugel beer and hot tub - I could do worse. -TWL

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cattle to Corn - 3/6/06

Pella, IA - After a 535-mile trip from Stillwater to Pella, IA (yes, it's the home of those famous Pella windows) on Sunday, we are now in the midst of our residency at Central College. The college is a very quaint place, with nice brick buildings, set amidst a small town which features its Dutch heritage. There is a big tower in the middle of town celebrating the tulip, as well as many windmills. I haven't had the time to take any pictures yet because today was pretty filled up with activities and load-in. Central College had brought in some high schools for workshops in the morning and Much Ado 90 minute in the afternoon. After that I hung out at the student center doing emails and trying to get all the scheduling done for Platteville, then dinner, then back to the Amerihost Inn on the edge of town.

My day off in Stillwater OK was pretty good, if I say so myself. The morning started off well, with breakfast downstairs at the Ranchers Club. This was their idea of a continental breakfast: a ham/mushroom quiche, bacon, hash browns, orange juice, and of course the usual fruit, yogurt, bagels, etc. But how a place like that can serve such a nice breakfast and have such weak coffee is beyond me. Then off to do the company laundry with Daniel. Usually I do not like doing the laundry on my day off, but it was the best opportunity to make sure the laundry was fresh for Pella. The earlier you do it, the better. The laundromat was a combination of a bar and laundry, with a big-screen TV, a pool table, and what appeared to be beer taps. They may have taken taken the taps down on Sat. morning, but I have a feeling that the name of the place - Suds and Duds - was something of a giveaway. We had to go out and get some decent coffee however, so we walked over to the Hideaway and loaded up. We found out when we got back that we weren't supposed to bring back drinks from outside, but by that time our laundry was about done so we folded and left. Then we walked over to Eskimo Joe's, which is supposedly the most famous bar in Stillwater. It was, however, too crowded to do what we wanted to do, which was eat lunch and watch the West Virginia-U-Cinncinati basketball game, so we walked across the street to some dive and sat there and watched the game. It was pretty clear from the outset that the bartender was unprepared to serve anyone anything beyond beer, but we tried. We order a pork sandwich, which came in hot dog buns. All the soda was warm, and we weren't drinking beer, so I settled for a bottle of water. At least we had a clear view of the game. As soon as the game was over, we left that place and headed back to the hotel. Daniel went to work out, and at 2:00 I went over to the baseball stadium for another dose of Cowboy baseball. The day was alternately sunny and overcast, but nothing beats a day at the ball park. As I was watching the game, Chris Seiler calls me up and ends up joining me at the ballpark. So we have a great day watching the Cowboys beat up on UCal-Northridge 8-2. Had it not been for two throwing errors by the Cowboy catcher to third base, the Cowboys would have shut out Northridge. The catcher made up for it, though, by hitting a two-run homer later on, a good long poke to the left-center wall. After the game, Chris, Daniel Tyler and I went back down to the Rancher's Club for the Oklahoma steak experience, and boy, it was quite the treat.

They served us in teams, with a lovely young lady as the head server. All the servers were students in the hospitality program, learning the craft of fine service dining. The first thing we get are warm napkins. Then the wine steward comes over to ask about our wine selection for the evening. This we left to Daniel, our troupe wine expert (he has serious connections in the Napa Valley :-) ). He picked an excellent Zinfandel, nice and robust and dry. We went in for appetizers: crawfish cakes, huge shrimp, and an antipasto. All were excellent. Salads next. Then we had a sorbet to clear the palate. The the main course, a 12-ounce Oklahoma strip steak, medium, with chipolte yams and grilled veggies. The steak was very tender, spiced ad grilled well. Dessert was one slice of french silk pie shared three ways. Each one of these items was brought by a different person, and the ensemble was wonderful entertainment. We talked and laughed for two-and-a-half hours, and dropped some serious cash in the end. But as a change of pace from dining hall food and fast food, it sure was worth it. After dinner, back upstairs to catch the upset of Duke by UNC, packing, and sleep. Pretty good day off. The evening's only bummer was that Tyler got sick during dinner. He got a pretty stiff headache, so bad he couldn't eat his steak (he ate it later on the way to Pella), and I gave him some aspirin to relieve his pain. I think his previous night of drinking had finally caught up to him. I understand eight Maker's Mark and Cokes will stay with you quite awhile.

But it seems as if my body is running down a bit, I think. All during the OK stay I felt my body being slightly sore and stiff. I worked out only once, but after the workout I felt tired. In fact, I've sort of had a fatigued feeling for some time now. I don't quite know what to do about it, exactly. I keep thinking maybe the old body has reached its limits, and I'm a little nervous that some of the weight is creeping back. So I've cut back a little on food and still have to find ways to work out. I'm thinking of walking to the campus tomorrow, about 1.25 miles I believe. It's not as if I've been that physically busy, but perhaps sitting in the van and traveling takes more out of me than I think it does. Who knows.

I also have to admit that I am trying to find ways to fight boredom. My last day off was very good, but I am beginning to feel boredom creeping in. At first I wasn't able to identify it as such; it was just an "off" feeling, almost like being slightly depressed. But then I realized I wasn't listening to my podcasts, having a hard time reading books, XM radio was the same day after day (as is the news), and getting-in-the-van-traveling-stopping-at-a-truck-stop-pissing-traveling-eating-lunch
loading-out-getting-in-the-van....was also become just a tad old. Admitting I was bored was actually a good thing, because now I can figure out ways to fight it. And perhaps this is an occupational hazard of touring. I mean, you have to expect at some point that things will become routine and - well, boring. So I have to find something to break the boredom. I've heard there are some interesting water towers in Pella to climb. Maybe..... -TWL

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oklahoma OK! - 3/2/06

Stillwater OK - The lonesome prairie. Home on the range. Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. Cowboy up! Howdy, pard'ner!

After a quick ride from Russellville we arrived in Stillwater OK and the campus of Oklahoma State University, the Cowboys. Having graduated from the University of Nebraska I feel as if I'm in enemy territory. Not only is this our farthest stop west, it's by far our biggest college/university venue to date. We also have North Carolina State on deck in a few weeks. We're lodged at the Atherton Hotel, an on-campus hotel which is pretty posh. This evening we performed Much Ado to a nice crowd of people at the Seretean Center Concert Hall, which is a recital hall holding about 500 people. Tomorrow we do an NEA matinee of Much Ado, and then an evening performance of R3. We also have our day off in Stillwater, which is good because there is a lot right around the edge of the campus (and from the looks of things the campus IS downtown Stillwater). Our other choice back in January was a day off in Pella IA, which is our next stop. Thank god Stillwater won out.

As soon as we arrived Daniel and I had laundry duty, so we went to do the company laundry, accompanied by Kevin and Olivia. Kevin went to the Creative Lab home office, which is in Stillwater, to have his Zen player repaired. During our laundry session we also went over to a nearby Japanese restaurant and had some sushi. It was good, but not outstanding. You can bet your bottom dollar I will have a steak here in cattle country before I leave, though. Despite the fact that this is a college town, there isn't much open after 10:00 PM except the bars, so getting food has been problematical. There is a real nice fancy restaurant in the hotel called the Rancher, and that's where they served continental breakfast this morning, which was more than continental. It was eggs, bacon and hash browns, with coffee (which was weak) and orange juice, yogurts, breads, etc. Pretty nice, actually. I went down to the lobby not really dressed, thinking it was a standard continental breakfast, and when I walked into the Rancher I felt totally underdressed, as there must have been a dozen suits in there of one kind or another., having their power breakfast. Deans and the like. Yikes. A place like this makes me realize how small SUNY Fredonia really is; not only that, but the absurdity of calling Fredonia a "university" when placed next to OSU. OSU is a university; Fredonia is a college.

Today I did not do too much to fill the day up. I have a single this stop, and usually that allows a bit more freedom of movement. So I ate breakfast, got dressed and went out in search of better coffee. I found a place called The Third Place and got some coffee, but I have since found out there is a Daily Grind here (not the same as the Virginia chain) which has better coffee. I sat there, browsed the web and email, wrote some people, and set about writing more descriptions on my Flickr Photo Page, which I have been so negligent in doing. I hope to catch up on more of that tomorrow. A workout on the treadmill, a few phone calls, a short nap, and the show. That's the day.

I like the plains states. I was thinking about that as I sat in the van on the way to Stillwater, reading Proof and Amy Goodman's latest book The Exception to the Rulers, which Daniel bought and has lent me (we are both sort of addicted to the Democracy Now! podcasts). The first view of the prairie came at a truck stop at the beginning of the turnpike turning north towards Tulsa. There was a field with a center pivot irrigation setup in it, and it brought me back to Nebraska days. I recall when I first moved to the midwest I didn't like it, but after three years I found it had grown on me, and I have a fondness for it whenever I return, almost as if there's a "home" sensation to it. I like the big skies, the wide-open vistas, and the people. The midwest somehow seems to have a genuine sense of living life to it that I find missing in the east sometimes, especially in the cities. Although I am not planning on it, I could retire to the midwest easily. Upstate NY has that same open feeling about it as well, which I like, but that sense of pioneer spirit is missing from NY. Upstate NY is more placid, more settled, while the plains states still strive to keep that rugged pioneer spirit going. Being someone who has always valued that sense of freedom, I think that's what attracts me about the plains states the most.

Something else has seemed eerie to me lately as well, and that has been the almost total lack of winter for me. There was some little snow in Staunton in December, some snow during my two weeks home in January, but other than that I have not seen hardly any snow anywhere else; not in MN, IA, IL or any of the states we visited in January-February. We've had cold temps, but no snow. In fact, yesterday it was at least 82 degrees in Stillwater when we arrived (today only 61 and rainy/cloudy). My seasonal bioclock is all screwed up due to this. I have to keep reminding myself in my head that it is only March 2, even though it feels like May down here. The lack of a winter is not too difficult to take, but it's still strange and eerie to me. I feel guilty as I look at weather reports from back in Dunkirk (where maybe 6" of snow fell today) and I can't imagine seeing that much snow. Of course, in the next week or so we head back to iowa and Wisconsin, where reality may slap us right back in the face, but then we go back south again, and by the end of March it's back to Staunton. Will I actually manage to escape a winter? I've suffered less from SAD this year because of it. Hhhmmmmmm......

That sort of brings you up to date, actually. A lot less to write when you don't wait a week to catch up on the blog. I think everyone at this point feels happy and well. One thing is certain; we love the hotel! Guys back in Staunton - book this gig again! That's the word from the road. I might even have a chance to see the Cowboys play some Div1 baseball on Saturday if it doesn't rain. Spring training, the World Baseball Classic - things are coming alive! -TWL