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