Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Eye

Jarrah and I watched some Tivo'd footage of the royal wedding this afternoon. Here are some of her thoughts.

On succession:

Jarrah: At what age will I become a princess?

Sam: Um, you won't. Unless you marry a prince.

Jarrah: But Levi isn't a prince!

Sam: No, he's not. But he's a very nice boy. Plenty of people marry non-princes and feel fine about it. I did.

On the music: "Why is there an opera happening during the wedding?"

On a close-up of the organ: "Wow! That is a really huge tuba!"

On seeing the choir for the first time: "Why are they making them sit in the other room?"

On the profusion of hats: "Look, I have a hat just like theirs." (She had a sticker jutting out between her eyebrows at the time.)

On military dress: "How come the army has to be at the wedding?"

On the arrival of Camilla Bowles and Queen Elizabeth:

Jarrah: That's her mum?

Sam: No, the Queen is Prince Charles's mum.

Jarrah: Then how come she and the other lady look alike?

On Kate Middleton: "She's pretty. All princesses are pretty, right?"

On Prince William: "He seems nice."

On the ceremony: "I hope they don't kiss. I don't want to have to watch that."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Won't Last

"I don't like raspberries!"

"But you've eaten them a million times."

"I was just trying to make you happy!"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Princess Recalls Her First Adventure

Last night I had a new experience. Now that I've said that, the follow-up is probably going to disappoint you: I performed with a chamber music ensemble.

Nope, I don't have any instrumental talents I've been hiding from you. Trust me, I've told you all about my talents. For this concert, I was recruited by my current acting teacher to accompany "a piece for oboe, piano and soprano" called Songs for Young Lovers, a composition in three movements that incorporates poetry from Edna St. Vincent Millay. When I connected with the director of the music program, he asked me to give a dramatic reading of the poems between movements because the piece is atonal and he thought the audience might enjoy it more with a little help.

I never found out more than that, really. We had one rehearsal, at which I did not rehearse. I got to see the musicians perform, which was fun and lovely, and then I was graciously assured how much my reading was going to contribute to the overall performance. Then I started having nightmares about it--how exactly was I going to contribute? It didn't seem to me, having been totally wowed by the other three, that standing up there reading poems was all that important. But I was willing to give it a go. At the rehearsal, which was only a few days ago, the director also mentioned in an offhand way how valuable my interpretative introduction was going to be. Cue me frantically rushing to several libraries for a vast stack of books on Millay's life and work, and then even more frantically reading them and assembling something in the fashion of an "interpretative introduction."

Besides that, I read the poems over and over, and never felt like I was getting a handle on them. Two of them, "The Princess Recalls Her One Adventure," and "Huntsman, What Quarry?" are very stylized, not the naturalistic stuff I'm used to reading at weddings and bookstores. The other, "Armenonville," was hard to pronounce and sort of cool if melancholy, and contains a weird surprise in the middle that I wasn't sure was going to go over with the audience. But I figured I'd look really dramatic and sincere, and I certainly know how to enunciate. It's practically a marketable skill with me.

Last night's performance was actually the first of four. And by some strange coincidence, it was at our temple. The next one is at a college, and the last two at churches. So we're going to get around. I must say I'm rather looking forward to doing it again. People were very nice, and I'm seeing there's a whole CULTURE around music people to which I'm a total outsider. I do my best observing as an outsider.

First, there was the whole "concert black" thing. Everyone else seemed to know this was standard but me. I did my best, but I made a couple mistakes. First one was a biggie. I wore heels, and then was required to stand whisper-still on stage for the entire piece with no shifting around, and at one point my feet were completely numb. I'm seeing ballerina flats in my future. The next mistake was the flower pin covering my cleavage--it sproinged open and I might have been stabbed. The last mistake was the shortness of my dress. When I arrived, all the other musicians looked at me with amused interest. "Are you singing?" asked a lovely blond violinist with the string quartet. "No, I'm the narrator," I replied, and she said "Oh, you're fine then. I was going to say, if you're planning on straddling a cello, I'm thinking no."

I sat with the eight musicians in the green room for 30 minutes, marveling at how they talked. First, there was a great deal of mirth and giggling, though for the life of me I couldn't see that anyone had said anything funny. I suppose non-actors must feel this way when they have to sit there listening to me and my theater friends lovingly recalling for the 80th time how things went wrong on-stage. There were stories about cats leaping at bows, and "playing wrong," and things falling out of cases, and it was all rather fascinating. I found myself suddenly wistful that I had given up classical piano at 15--maybe I could have been part of this world. It also struck me that I was the only person in the room without an actual talent.

Backstage waiting for our cue, it also struck me how casual everyone was. I had no idea how we were supposed to enter, or exit, or bow, or stand, or sit, or if there were any cues for anything. I'm not sure if all that is intuitive with musicians, or if they just know it from years of practice and forgot to tell me. The director mentioned in an offhand way that I should "introduce the performers," and I yelped at his disappearing head "How, exactly, should I do that?" But he was gone. The musicians were the calmest seeming bunch I'd ever witnessed. The oboist asked me what I would be doing out there. I gazed at him coolly and said "I'll be performing the poems bluegrass style, accompanied by banjo" and they all liked that. Suddenly, there was applause, and someone said that was my cue, so I opened the door and began striding up the ramp while everyone stared at me. Luckily, I'm used to that. I could see Jarrah wildly waving to me from the back. Surprisingly, there were other small children, too, though the house was not full.

When I reached the mike, I could see instantly that it was positioned over my head. There also wasn't a lectern or music stand for my unwieldy notebook, so, two problems I could have worked out if I'd been on this stage before. I wrestled with the mike for a while, to no avail, and eventually everyone started laughing. The director came up and moved it for me (still a bit high) and I haltingly launched--a few times--eventually trailing off with "This thing on?" They all laughed again. This was a little bit like my nightmares, except in my nightmares I was wearing satin hotpants for my "concert black" and a janitor strode on from stage right when I was in the middle of a line to say "Alright, you're done here. Let's try again with the second act." I might have melted down, but I'm pretty used to being on stage so I hung in there. The director swore the mike was on, but later David told me he was almost certain it wasn't. Not that I needed the amplification.

I felt a little ridiculous, to tell you the truth. I launched into my introduction and I think I read it okay; I have no idea if people were interested or not. A lot of them were reading their programs or closing their eyes. Maybe people just act different at concerts than they do at plays. Although these days, people are just as likely to be texting at plays. Considering I had just finished that baby about 10 minutes before the performance, I was pleased I didn't make any mistakes. I didn't mess up on the poems, either. For what it's worth.

But oh, the agony between my cues. It wasn't just my feet, it was wondering what to do with my face. I ended up gazing into the middle distance with a bemused expression. I tried to look a bit sorrowful on the second one, since that one is sad. At one point, a little boy caught my eye and smiled. I tried not to smile back, since it seemed somehow wrong--focus-pulling, perhaps. Audra and the musicians were sounding gorgeous, but I wished I could have seen their faces to fully appreciate what was happening.

After our exit we snuck back around to watch the rest of the concert--a lively number by Shostakovich, a gorgeous lyrical piece by Paul Schwartz, and a really thrilling Schumann performed by the string quartet plus the faithful Katerina on piano--really, that girl has some stamina, playing as she did for nearly two hours. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and was really able to listen--as a child, even with all my classical training, I would often pick my cuticles ragged during such trials. When it ended, there was a reception with "Passover-happy" snacks, as Audra put it--I'm really starting to like that girl. She and I scarfed down strawberries and flour-free sponge cake while a surprising number of patrons came by to pay their respects. The "surprising" part applies only to me--she deserves all the kudos and more, but she was really doing something out there. Lil ol' me, standing up there reading stuff that I didn't even write--well, let's just say it was nice that people acknowledged me at all.

So, I'm looking forward to our next show, on Thursday. I have unlimited comps, by the way--so if you like this sort of thing and want to check it out, hit me up. Next time, I might even understand some of the jokes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mama, Does She Have A Ginormous Brain?

I think I just got played. Either by Jarrah or a Chinese toy magnate. Same thing, really.

As a rule, Jarrah doesn't covet stuff. Not in the sense of fervent, passionate longing. She has plenty of desires, niftily paired with matching sets of demands. But if you ask her in advance what she wants for her birthday, she blinks at you blankly. She only knows it when it's right in front of her.

Until the La-La Lucy doll. Turns out that's an alias, but clearly it has enough shockingly effective publicity without a boost from me. That's what Jarrah calls it, for the past two months. I guess their TV ads must have subliminal flashes of fruit leather every few seconds. She spotted one IRL in Target and got all high-pitched. 22 bucks. "Are you freakin' kidding me?" I said. Or something like that. I barely looked at the thing, and yanked her in the direction of Various and Sundry Cleaning Implements.

She kept mentioning it. And then she started bringing home the paper surrogates. Nearly every day she'd gift me with a crayon drawing of a giant noggin spinning on an impossibly skinny neck. She insisted on cutting them out, so by the time we got to the car, the head had always snapped off. I gently suggested she cut thicker necks, but she said I just didn't get it--La La Lucy dolls have skinny necks.

Eventually, we struck a deal. If she didn't throw tantrums, or make me crazy in general, I would get her a La La Lucy doll after my shows were done, when David was at NAB. That didn't happen, but not because I'm a welsher. It's because she continued to make me crazy, sometimes in new and improved ways.

Then Passover came, and Jarrah found the Afikomen. If you aren't already familiar with this delightfully heathen-sounding ritual, you don't need to know much more than: 1) during dinner someone hides some matzah. 2) The kids try to find it. 3) Whoever does gets a prize. The deck was rather stacked at our place that night with just the one kid, but it still took her a freakin' hour to find it and she kept yelling "Say hot or cold!" But find it she did. I know, chocolate eggs sound better, right?

And then David went away again, and she really was pretty cooperative in his absence. I barely had to yell at her in the mornings to get dressed, when my own head was about to crumble into dust from being up at dawn without coffee.

So today--I decided--was the day. I announced it when I picked her up from school. She was over the moon, crowing all the way to the car. When we got to Target, it was a bit of an anti-climax, because only two models (out of eight) were available. Collect them all! Still freakin' 22 dollars. What, is the thing hewn from beryl and topaz? I still didn't look at it, but she proudly carried it to the car.

At home, I began the 30-minute extraction process, sweating as I ripped tape, hacked through plastic wrap, unwound twist-ties and yanked on near-invisible plastic thread. I had to apply nail scissors to the hideous little plastic doo-dads embedded in her skull.

"It would have been nice if she had actual hair," Jarrah opined. Just then Crispy Crumb Sparklepants (I believe that's her official name) and her giant, ergonomically unfortunate head flopped over, exposing her white painted-on plastic underpants. Jarrah showed me that her booties come off, and her feet are like amputated nubbins. I shuddered and turned away as La La stared me down with her giant, black button eyes like the possessed mother from Coraline. The backstory on the box tells us that she loves sparkly clothes (Hooters-length, apparently) and is "very graceful, but bossy." You can just see a conference table full of suits twirling their pencils and going "Hmmm. How do we make her sound like a princess who can also get into Harvard Law, to placate those annoying feminist moms?"

A few minutes later I was relishing a piece of matzah with my coffee and saw Jarrah exiting the room with a colony of naked Barbies. She told me she was going to her room and was not to be disturbed; please hold all her calls. Left behind on the couch, upside down from the weight of her own bulbous head, was the La La Lucy.

So...special. I feel all warm and tingly about this transaction.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Good Stuff

It's almost Passover. The house has been vacuumed and scrubbed of every errant crumb--a job I cringe to admit I do only once a year. The matzah is hung by the chimney with care. Normally, we'd be at my parents, but this year we're doing Second Night Seder in the OC. That's okay--more nights with decent meals.

It's later now and we've had our quick and dirty Seder for Short Attention Spans. It was actually quite lovely. I made my famous brisket, with new potatoes, and Jarrah and David helped me chop apples for a beautiful charoses. Charoses doesn't sound good, or look good--but it tastes amazing. It's chopped apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, toasted walnuts and sweet wine. (In our case, we used high-quality kosher grape juice.) What could be bad about that? Jarrah found the Afikomen and has requested a La-La Lucy doll. Ugh. We reclined on pillows like kings (quite civilized, that) and dipped various things in salt water. It was good fun.

Last night David and I had a superb date night. For one thing, we hadn't had one in eons, due to my crazy theater schedule, so it was extra-special. And everything about it was delightful. We started with dinner at the Afghan restaurant in Hillcrest. I have been teased for my love of sweet savories, but man, I can't get enough of their Sweet and Sour Apricot Lamb Curry. Scrummy. And Palow rice with big, soft cherries in it. Mmmm. While we ate I told David that my ears were actually ringing from the quiet...Jarrah has been a speed-talking machine lately and her voice is usually completely filling my head. I even drank a glass of chardonnay, while David made me laugh with stories about the $300 bottles consumed at NAB by the various wine connoisseurs in his cohort, and how the word "chardonnay" would probably elicit the kind of obscene hilarity that merlot did in the movie Sideways.

Then we got candy that we didn't have to share at Candy Depot, and I reveled in the licorice pastilles I'll have to forswear for eight days now (did you know that a major ingredient of licorice is flour?) And we ascended happily to Hillcrest cinemas, home of the half-way respectful audiences and truly tasty Italian sodas. Our movie was in Theater One (the big one!) and not too crowded. Sure, there was Over-Emoting Man right behind us, who shouted encouragement and guffawed so loudly that we sometimes missed lines, but I was vindicated because it was bothering David more than me (often I complain about movie-talkers on the way to the car and he responds mildly "Really? Didn't hear a thing.")

And it was an awesome movie. I think you should see it. A movie that rewards your attention with a good story woven with small, careful details, really great acting, genuine emotion and tons of laughs. The movie was Win Win, the latest written and directed by Tom McCarthy (I'm a fan of all his previous movies) and Paul Giamatti (Mike) and Amy Ryan (Jackie) are absolutely great as a New Jersey suburban couple with low-grade money troubles and two really cute kids. Mike is a compassionate lawyer with a small-town practice and several elderly clients, and he coaches high school wrestling on the side. He gets himself into a pickle when he accepts the legal guardianship of a client but pockets the custodial checks while checking Leo Poplar into a (admittedly nice) senior home. The pickle comes when 16-year-old Kyle shows up from Ohio, looking to bunk with his grandpa, and Mike and Jackie take him in when they can't find his mother. Turns out Kyle is a former state champ wrestler, and as the team blossoms, so does Mike's family's relationship with Kyle.

Sounds pretty simple, right? But the real pleasure of the movie is the tiny stuff, observing the growing closeness between Mike and Kyle, often over the subject of wrestling, but clearly meaning a lot more. I heard that Alex Shaffer, the 16-year-old actual wrestler/non-actor who plays Kyle, was in awe of the performances of Paul Giamatti and Burt Young (who plays Leo.) Watching them made him want to be an actor. I love that idea.

Tom McCarthy is a great writer because he really gets how people talk. The smallest sentence--a single word--can mean the difference between a serious conversation and one that makes you crack up in surprise. And he gives his actors a lot to do. I was remarking to David that his "leading man" is never a conventional choice--Peter Dinklage, Richard Jenkins, and now Paul Giamatti--but that smooth, polished movie-star sheen would get in the way of the precise pleasures of his stories.

The movie made me feel good. I'm not ashamed of that. Sometimes when I actually venture out of the house and risk a crowd of strangers to watch something, I want to be rewarded for that decision. That's how I felt at the end of Win Win. Like the title totally applied to me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Love Us, Love Our Vaginas

Thursday, April 7th was The Really Big Show, The Vagina Monologues at the Birch Theater. Can't believe it's been more than a week. Of course, I had shows (elsewhere) Friday and Saturday night, too (funny that I played a slutty, unfaithful Beverly Hills Housewife-type in those, after all the Woman Power from Thursday) and then the very next morning, David left for the annual Vegas pilgrimage at NAB, leaving me in Single Mom Mode. Whither my two-day detox alone at a hotel with a pool and room service? Not going to happen, Dear Readers.

David is home now, and I feel like I'm coming up for air. This morning, for instance, I'm staying in my pajamas and attempting to blog about that incredible night a week ago. Join me for the ride?

11:15 a.m. Oh man, I am nervous. I'm sitting in class at Grossmont and my phone is going "Bzzzz." "Bzzzz." "Bzzzzzzzzzzzz." about every three seconds. The last few days I haven't gotten home before midnight, as we've been running the show at our rehearsal space in Sorrento Valley. The previous night was the invitational dress, and we have a small audience of (weirdly) mostly men. They seemed enthusiastic. After the performance, we work on the musical numbers some more, as they are still messy. I have to give people "the hand" every few minutes: "Stop talking. No excuses--just do it. LET. ME. THINK." It's taken me months, but I've finally gotten comfortable with my directorial power. Our stage manager, Carolyn, who has been working professionally in the theater for 32 years, tells me that she's been watching me give actor notes for three nights and she thinks I have a gift for communicating with them. My eyes fill with tears, because if you'd asked me four months ago what I could bring to this job, that would have been the one thing I could think of. To have a pro corroborate it means so much. Then she says, "Mind you, you really needed me--you're creative. You don't get tech at all." She says "creative" like it's a bad thing, but I'm still thrilled.

12:30 p.m. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzzz. I sneak peeks at my texts inside my purse. I am still really, really important, for like 12 more hours. It's going to be so weird when that's no longer true. (And it is.) My assistant director, Cynthia, and my production manager, Kari, have planned some meeting for 4:00 that I hadn't heard about. Apparently, the set furniture (gorgeous stuff generously donated by my cast member, Ellen) was actually delivered at 10:30. No one told me. I am trying to concentrate on the lecture, but I'm pouting. I'm also feeling a little left out because most of the cast has gathered at an oceanfront house in La Jolla for meditation and makeup artists, and I am in a windowless room.

1:30 p.m. David is picking Jarrah up from camp, so I'm free to beautify. I spend an hour applying makeup (my face eats the stuff--ultimately, two different makeup artists will need to reapply at the Birch) and blowing my hair out (saved myself 50 bucks!) I gather up my costume and accessories for later, and make sure all the Craft Services is in the car. I've decided to provide the cast and crew with drinks and snacks, as a thank you from me to them. Also, less-than-secretly I don't want anyone getting loopy with low blood sugar during my show--it does fall during the dinner hour.

3:30 p.m. I say a quick hello to my fam and I'm off for the Birch. There is plenty of free parking still. I've heard that we are SOLD OUT. Sold out!!! 731 seats on a week night! This seems amazing. It seems impossible. But it's true. I am still getting texts and e-mails about tickets. Really? Asking the director for tickets on the day of the show? 'Scuse me while I have a diva moment--one of many today, I'm sure.

4:15 p.m. In the Starbucks next to the theater with Cynthia, Kari and Carolyn, and a few people I don't know. I gather they are volunteers and volunteer coordinators. Kari is a champion and has put together a team of 30 people to handle tickets, ushering and who-know-what-all on this big day. It's a testament to how skilled she is--and how big a project this is--that I never even see most of them. They are all scribbling things in notebooks and not paying attention to me. Cynthia takes my keys and entrusts them to a volunteer who is going to set up Craft Services. I make a note that this will probably be the last time someone carries my groceries for a long while.

4:45 p.m. Call time in the lobby of the Birch! It's pandemonium in there, but in a good way. Except for two, all actresses are on time, weeks of threats having done their job. The last two are present and accounted for within 10 minutes. Everyone is in costume already--black with red "flair," my design--and looking stunning. I note with envy that most of them have false eyelashes. Since I am not well-endowed in the lash department, I am bummed that I missed out on that. Everyone keeps asking me if I'm excited, but I feel strangely chill.

5:00 p.m. Cynthia starts yelling (love her and her commanding voice) that the theater is open and we all surge down the ramp. There are three huge dressing rooms down there and soon they are buzzing like hives with women touching up their lipstick and spraying their hair. I had gotten some strange looks in the lobby for being out of costume, so I changed rather unceremoniously in the bathroom of the adjoining bar. My outfit is so comfy. One of my cast members, Betty Jo, is a stylist, and she has generously provided me with an array of choices for the day. I picked a jumpsuit because it's cute, as comfortable as pajamas, and I would never, ever wear it in my real life. (She is such a doll--she gives me the outfit, and the red Prada shoes, when the event is over.) I have my own red necklace and headband (7 dollars at JCPenney, ssssh!) and am feelin' fine.

5:15 p.m. More yelling (some of it from me) and the whole cast trucks up to the stage. I should mention that we have NEVER been on this stage before--the whole set-up has been hypothetical before today. Carolyn had the presence of mind to visit the Birch last week and tape out the dimensions, which she reproduced in Sorrento Valley on the carpet, but that's as close as we've come before now. I can feel my heart pounding out of my chest as I consider all that I want to get through in one hour.

5:30 p.m. I'm striding up and down the aisles of the theater, yelling at the top of my lungs. I need to get through every cue in the show, some of them multiple times, as my actresses are running into each other, or worse--standing around hesitating, darting their eyes, and leaving long gaps that should be filled with movement and action. I shout them through their paces until I'm satisfied. The sound guy, Mike, the photographer, and a few other (I'm assuming?) VIPs sit in the seats, looking amused at my despotism. I line the whole cast up on the edge of the stage and tell them to step forward and say two lines of their monologue. I stand at the back of the theater to check their volume. "Nope, not loud enough--AGAIN! If I were your mother I would be totally missing your performance right now!!!"

5:45 p.m. Running the opening and closing musical numbers. This is trickier because I'm in them, need the practice, and hence, can't see them myself. Cynthia steps in--again with the loving her, so calm, so commanding. I kind of lose it at one point because the much-touted PZMs (a kind of floor mike) don't seem to do much, and there are two standing mikes on the stage, a scenario I expressly forbid (I don't want anything between my actresses and the audience.) Carolyn is nowhere to be found so I rant ineffectually: "What are these doing here? I want them gone!" Eventually, someone says we need the volume, and I calm down and acquiesce. I seem to remember we were promised a quick-and-dirty installation of hanging choir mikes, but who knows what happened with that. In any case, we are having troubles with the songs, too. At one point, three of us forget the lines to an entire verse, and everyone is upset about it. Someone says to me, "Can you sing any louder?" It's an old refrain, and my head almost blows off. "Please stop saying that." I murmur dangerously. "If I could sing louder, then I would." Turns out I was not anywhere near a mike. We move some people around and it gets better. All this is happening with minutes to spare before the lobby reception begins.

6:30 p.m. Cynthia is urging me to wrap it up; the photographer has been waiting patiently. I am frustrated about this interruption, but later, I love the photos. I wonder how everyone is feeling. They are trying to be respectful and are keeping quiet, but they must be freaking out--particularly the ones who have never acted before. Who makes their theatrical debut in front of 731 people? Not me.

6:50 p.m. The reception is in full swing. The windows are taped over so they can't see us in the theater, but I can hear a dull roar behind me. It's time to excuse everyone for makeup touch-ups and a snack before our warm up. "And I think we need an energy clearing," Novalena suggests. You can tell I've been immersed in this New Agey stuff for a long time now, because I nod very seriously.

7:15 p.m. We've circled the wagons. It's a little snug, but we all squeeze in. Jess takes us through a breathing relaxation. Sasha does our vocal warm-up. I walk us through some articulation exercises and then I feel myself revving up for one of my tough love/high priestess incantations:

"Let's just take a moment to acknowledge that it sounds like a football game up there. Yes, it does. And that's scary, isn't it? There are hundreds of people up there, all expecting a professional show. Let that energy feed you. I've heard people say that you can relax by picturing the audience in their underwear--NONSENSE. We respect the audience. We LOVE the audience. We send out our energy and love to them, and we feel it come surging back into us. Remember: they are here because they WANT to love you. LET. THEM. LOVE. YOU."

And then, because it's The Vagina Monologues and it's probably stipulated in the by-laws somewhere, we all put our hands in the middle, raise them up and scream "Pussies Unite!" Suddenly we are all scrambling up the stairs into the wings and...

Oh. My. God.

7:35 p.m. I don't remember the music starting, but it must have. And there I am, at the front of the stage, singing with the soloists. I hope people can hear me. But no one forgets a single word, and the energy is high. Weeks of raising my arms to the group and shouting "Smile! The audience will only have fun if WE have fun!" and I can't even turn around now, let alone make any encouraging gestures. I just have to have faith. I think it goes really, really well. I'm surprised how well I can see the audience--I'd been told it would just look like The Golden Light of Heaven out there. Later I find out that they are being illuminated by our "cyc," or cyclorama, which is this super-cool scrim-thing that reflects an ever-changing wall of color behind us. It looks so gorgeous in the pictures. I am proud of myself for lobbying for it.

7:45 p.m. I quietly leave the stage as all my actresses take their oh-so-carefully appointed seats. It's the worst feeling in the world to leave them. Hey! I realize for the first time. I'm not in this show. Waaah.

7:46 p.m. The Introduction girls. They are smokin' tonight. I'm so proud of Ellen, who had been so nervous, but is loud and proud and funny. Roby and Sasha are enjoying themselves, too, and it shows. The audience laughs and laughs. I peek out awkwardly behind a flap of fabric in the wings, just behind Carolyn, who is masterfully (wow!) creating our cyc tableau in real time with cues to someone in the booth. I am smiling so big--by the end of the show, my face hurts.

The show is almost exactly 90 minutes. This is sort of a miracle, because we didn't time it until this week, and 90 minutes was what we wanted. We're sort of amazed that we've kept to the time.

Here are my thoughts during that 90 minutes:

Yay! The audience is laughing. Go Sasha, Roby, Ellen!
Oooh, Betty Jo, I'm so happy you're getting laughs. Your timing is great.
Yay, Tanya, nice and loud, good for you holding for laughs!
Anna, Novalena, Betty Jo, you guys are adorable with the Wear and Say Lists. And I'm so freakin' happy that no one in the cast messes up during the "pop-ups" at the end! Very funny!
Anna, love how you work that "Because she was arthritic" line.
Alex, you are a master. After all this time, I still want to cry when you do "The Flood."
Wow, Dr. Jenn! I thought you were good last night, but MAN! You killed it tonight! Remember you were worried this monologue could feel too long? No way, girl. They were cracking up.
Anna, you are so funny on the Happy Fact. Wish we held for that hand gun line a BIT longer!
Carey, you are masterful on that single-line intro for "Because He..." Brynn, darling, I love you. I couldn't quite hear you, but I love you, and I'm happy you got laughs.
Erica, I am so proud of the work you've done. Very moving on "Not So Happy."
Oh, girls, Kelly, Isa and Faryl--how hilarious were you tonight?? All three of you? You could have held longer for your laughs, but you brought it!
Maggie and Christy, you guys have worked so hard, and when it counted, you took it to the next level. So moving tonight!
Jess, my little Coochi Snorcher, you just hold the audience in the palm of your hand. So good.
Erica, Kelly, Sasha--this is the best I've seen "Crooked Braid." Moving AND funny. Erica, you got your laughs! You, too, Kelly! Sash, you made me cry. The best ever--which means so much with all the changes we've made just in the past couple days.
Isa, way to own the intro to "Cunt." They loved it.
Faryl, my girl, you brought it when it counted! And you gracefully handled that lighting glitch! So proud of you.
Cyanne, my love. So funny, and nice and loud tonight. You and Jess are perfect together.
Carey, I have gotten so many compliments for you. You are such a big personality, so perfect for "The Woman Who Loved..." You owned it.
Roby, Nisa, Dana--you guys were on fire tonight! The best "I Was There..." ever! So proud!
Isa, wow. Every time you do "Myriam" it gets more moving. Beautiful.

And then I'm heading back out there to sing "Sisters" with the gang. It feels so good, though I have no idea how my voice is coming across. My throat is dry and hot, but I'm giddy with the moment. Ever faithful, Cynthia has brought me water and tissues (ugh, my sinuses) before my entrance.

9:30: So nervous to introduce Tanya and Dr. Jenn in front of all these people, and I feel crazily emotional when the producers give me flowers and the framed poster. Later, I discover the cast has chipped in to give me and the team a day at Glen Ivy, which is over-the-top generous and so perfect!

9:45: So hard to leave the stage and not go straight out to my guests, but we are on a tight schedule. Our contract is very strict--if we don't clear the theater by 10:00, we go into "union meal penalty," which is one of those cool tech things I'm learning about. It's an extra bummer to descend to the dressing rooms again and find that the place is inexplicably infused with "Eau de Sewage" from sources unknown. This is both worrisome and gross, and I hope not some cosmic critical review of the show. By the time I emerge, arms laden with gifts and luggage, most of my many dear guests have departed, though many, many of them send lovely notes in the next couple of days.

10:00: After some ebullient hugging and yelling in the shoulder-to-shoulder West Coast bar with whoever happens by (it's a bit sad that the entire cast is never all together again) I announce a need for a Vagini-tini, stat! We get a table outside, me, David, Calvin, Robyn and Jessica, all of whom have loyally remained to make a night of it, eventually joined by Dr. Jenn and a perfect sidewalk vantage for hugs and photos with Brynn, Maggie, Cynthia, Carey, Dana and several others who happen by. Sheets of rain blow by just outside the patio, but I'm feeling warm with accomplishment even though the super-adorable and friendly bouncer, Ben, is unable to light our fire. (That sounds a smidge naughty, but there is, in fact, a fire pit in the middle of the table.) My Vagini-tini is very pink and very yummy, and I order something that may disgust some of you but couldn't have been more perfect: Tempura Jidori chicken on a waffle, smothered in maple syrup. It was like my dinner and dessert all in one, and since I hadn't eaten since lunch, it really hit the spot.

12:00 a.m. My dear husband hastens home before we owe our babysitter more than a hundred dollars, and my friends go with him--it is a weeknight, after all. I end up cozy with Dr. Jenn, Roby and Alex, a final toast from a small group of Vagina Warriors to end the night. It's getting cold and I've sent my red heels home with David, covered my cleavage with a fluffy jacket.

1:00 a.m. Can't. Keep. Eyes. Open. As I drive home, my mind reels at it all being over. "You can do it all again next year!" exclaimed Producer Tanya's sweet boyfriend right after the show, and she and I wore matching expressions of mild horror. Not that I'd trade a minute of the experience, mind you. Good and bad, up and down, it's all mixed into one of the greatest memories of my life, spread out from January to April. Would I ever do it again? Ask me next week. Seems like I've already spent nearly enough time in my pajamas.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Show Week

I accidentally find myself with 21 minutes that are not scheduled. I decide to write about it.

I can't tell if I'm doing a good job anymore. Last night when I got home from our run-through I cried and cried while David made toast and looked concerned. I had some raging PMS but also keep feeling like I'm just-about-almost-really-close-to getting things right. But all those modifiers first. People are crying. People are calling me to speak their minds. I'm getting concerned e-mails. I hear people behind me tsk-ing and sighing noisily when I make a suggestion. People are late. People are freakin' sick, sicker than anyone should be, regaling me with tales of vomit and fever and finally showing up with no voice and hacking coughs. I wish I had a force field around me. Maybe I do. People are exhausted. I. AM. EXHAUSTED. A 21-year-old boy in my acting class said: "Then why don't you sleep?" Oh, to genuinely not know the answer to that question. Bless his heart.

There's only so much more I can do. I get that. It's rolling now, a big boulder of a "things in motion tend to remain in motion" type of thing. Feel free to laugh at my vague memory of physics. I failed that class.

At home, I try to focus on laundry and groceries and sweeping the floor, stuff I can control. A lot of this I can't control. I want to but I can't. I talk a good game, though. That I've got down.

I keep having this disturbing feeling that when all this is over, I'm going to stare at the wall for like a week. But not in a good way.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Enjoy The Show

I spent about four years working (and not working) on my dissertation. All I knew was that I was supposed to write a book, preferably long, probably boring, that five people had to approve. I didn't have any deadlines. I didn't have any assignments. I didn't know the topic. I was working on a subject mostly unknown to my committee (Jewish humor) so I was on my own to come up with ideas and resources. How that thing ever got finished I still have no clue.

Perhaps because of that great, yawning chasm of vagueness that defined my life for so long, I am a woman in love with low-stakes tasks. I hearken back to my days as an assistant in an ad agency, when my sole responsibilities were answering phones, typing letters (they still called it typing in those days) and making copies. Oh, and occasionally getting yelled at for not doing something fast enough. But that was it. At the time, I bristled at the low expectations, wanting to remind everyone that I had a BA from Smith College and was waaaaay overqualified for such drudgery.

Now, I feel nostalgic about it. Somehow, over the years, I have developed a strange fondness for busywork of all kinds, and more specifically for tasks that have a beginning and an end with distinct, satisfying results after a short burst of concerted effort. These tasks include but are not limited to: ironing, vacuuming, washing dishes, folding laundry, filing, collating, and stapling. Yes, save your jokes about having me over. It has to be entirely my idea for the pleasure to really bloom.

I tell you this because my proclivities--these and others--led to a wholly delicious evening this past Saturday night. My friend Jen had arranged for me, herself and four other friends to become a team of ushers for the Horton Grand Theater in downtown San Diego. The Horton Grand is currently the home of the "delightful '80s romp" MixTape, a musical revue that impressively covers an entire decade of great, good and not-so-good (hey, I just realized there was no "Rock Me, Amadeus!") pop songs draped loosely over a coming-of-age framework and majestically belted by eight very perky (but not at all Disneyesque) men and women who never phone it in for even one second. The show was fun, and I even got choked up during the AIDS tribute, but my effusive love for song and dance is not what put the evening over the top for me.

No, that would be dressing in a black skirt and white top and reporting to charming and funny house manager Nashon 90 minutes before the show so we could be buffed and polished to a high sheen of ability, efficiency and warmth. Interesting thing about the Horton Grand: the evening's team of ushers is the staff. Meaning, aside from the masterful Nashon, we were it. I had imagined standing shyly in the aisle thrusting programs at people, but instead my responsibilities during the evening included:

1. vacuuming the lobby (oh, the joy!)
2. greeting patrons at the door
3. handing out programs
4. answering questions and giving directions
5. selling t-shirts and parking passes
6. making charming small talk about the show
7. sweeping the theater for programs and coffee cups

The other members of my team had such diverse responsibilities as Will Call, selling cookies, coffee and wine, and something called "Dip Duty," which became the source of all my callbacks for the evening. I love how theater is filled with important-sounding lingo that sometimes turns out to be nothing but literal--Dip Duty is one of those examples. Seems that the theater had a retrofit a few years back, and now contains a design flaw: two rows at the back have a drop of approximately four inches from the seats to the aisle. Not a problem for the average, alert theatergoer, sure, but potentially fatal for your stilettos-sporting, Singapore-Slinged Gaslamp party girl. Our Dip Duty contingent did have to break someone's fall at least once during the evening.

I enjoyed every minute of my tenure as Horton Grand staff, even prying programs from the gaps between seats ("You have to really get down there and look!" I admonished my teammates. "The shadows make them hard to see!") and answering the Four Questions (no, Dear Readers, not those--those will come next week) that Nashon promised us patrons would ask:

1. How long is the show?
2. Is there an intermission?
3. Where's the bathroom?
4. Can I bring my coffee into the theater?

Initially, I did forget I was wearing an official Lambs Players name tag, and was mystified at the number of people who thanked me by name. I may also have behaved a smidge saucily when a British guest asked me to direct her to the loo: "Right, the loo is just there, on the left, luf!" She squeezed my arm and smiled in response. In general, I found the audience to be the nicest people, all smiles and gratitude and chattiness. Maybe I didn't actually sell any T-shirts during the intermission, but I had a crowd around my kiosk anyway, gabbing away about the show, the theater, the nabe, and everything in between.

So I highly recommend this ushering gig. I know I'll do it again. Maybe so I can see a free show, but maybe just because it's fun being in charge. When being in charge just means the carpet either has crumbs, or it doesn't. Easy peasy.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cawfee Tawk

Jarrah: Let's have girl talk.

Sam: Okay. What shall we talk about?

Jarrah: You know, girl stuff. Shopping, boys, makeup.

Sam: Hmmm.

Jarrah: Let's go for coffee.

Sam: Sounds great. I love coffee, Jarrah.

Jarrah: My name is Celine.

Sam: Sorry. Celine.

Jarrah: By the way, Samantha, your daughter is GORGEOUS. I can't take my eyes off her!

Sam: Oh, I totally agree. She's stunning.

Jarrah: Yeah. Have you seen the trailer for the new movie, Fluff Fluff? Can we talk about that?

Sam: Oh, that looks hilarious. All those kittens! I can't wait to see it.

Jarrah: I know. Let's say our favorite parts of the trailer, like adults do. And maybe we can get our daughters together for a playdate! Isabel has changed a lot since you last saw her.

Sam: I'd like that. I'm sure Jarrah and Isabel would have a great time.

Jarrah: I love drinking coffee.

Sam: Me, too. Love it.