By Monday I’ll be floating in the Hudson with the other garbage

Wednesday – is it really Wednesday? There’s a reason that I have post-it notes with the days on the week stuck to the wall above my desk in my bedroom with a smaller post-it that I move to mark which day of the week that it is. When you not only aren’t on the standard Monday-through-Friday that is reinforced as the temporal norm but also do scheduling as a large part of your job (meaning that your brain is often working on a day other than the one that you’re in), there’s a non-negligible risk of losing your place, so to speak.

My current disorientation, and tardiness, however, is due to a more specific occasion: starting a new show.

A stage manager is generally involved in the rehearsals and performances for a show. The week of lead-up to the first rehearsal is quite the busy one, as one might expect for the launch of a new project. The last couple days before starting (and the morning of), in particular, tend to be very full, as in an ever-evolving work, you want information to be as up-to-date as possible (which means that front-loading or evenly distributing the workload isn’t always best), and oftentimes the physical rehearsal site is not yours until the day before (or even the day of), so all preparation of the space must happen then.

And, of course, I need to have my standard miniature nervous breakdown the day before.

I am a professional stage manager. I have a terminal degree in my field. I’ve accumulated, if I do say so myself, a respectable resume. And yet in most instances as I approach the first day of rehearsal for a project, I am seized with the panic that I have forgotten how to stage manage.

Having discussed the feeling with a couple other friends (a director and a translator), I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not an uncommon aspect of the freelance experience. Although I’ve been fortunate enough not to have many gaps in between projects, when it comes to theatre, the job changes dramatically depending where you are in the process. The job that I’m doing at the start of a rehearsal process is very different form the job that I’m doing at the end of a run of performances. And if it’s a long-ish run, with maybe a small break afterward, it could have been a couple months since I was last in rehearsal. Not only that, but the nature of the work can vary greatly from project to project. (Is it a physically-challenging large classic musical, with almost everything set and mostly a lot of people wrangling? Is it an experimental art piece with a lot of non-traditional problem solving? Is it a straight play with a small cast but a very intense emotional toll?) And going from employer to employer, the organizational environments can differ greatly as well. (What is the budget like? What is the scale of expectations?) Given all of these variables, even though the position may technically be the same, it actually is not dissimilar to starting a new job… every couple months.

Being the professional that I am, I generally go absolutely neurotic for the 36 hours preceding the first rehearsal, frantically switching back and forth between being obsessively focused on my job and obsessively focused on anything but my job.

My kitchen looks amazing right now. And the writing that I planned on finishing one day late is now instead two days late, due to my collapsing into uselessness on Tuesday night, after two days of insufficient sleep.

For all of this rigmarole, the job that I started yesterday is lighter than many for me, as it’s just a two-week workshop for the writers – there isn’t any performance, and thus no production elements (props, lights, etc.) to manage. However, it was an instance where we did not have our own office space (so printing had to be done via Staples and picked up the morning of) and got our rehearsal room only two hours before starting for both all of the room set-up and all of the assembly of the aforementioned printing. Did I mention that this is a music theatre piece? There was music printing. Those who have been there know what I’m talking about.

None of this was unreasonable on the part of the producers. The theatre is based outside of the city, and for a short development workshop, you want to work in a central location to most of the team rather than shipping everyone out somewhere. And real estate in NYC is not cheap, so it would have been nonsense for them to have rented the rehearsal hall, which is now completely ours straight through to the end of our workshop, starting any earlier. But it was simply a set of circumstances to be tackled. Were the results a textbook-perfect example of stage managing? Hell, no! Especially since I hecked up understanding our printing capabilities within the room and, as a result, small-batch printing didn’t get done until after rehearsal actually started. But was it a disaster? Did the world end?

No. No, it did not. The planet spins, and the world goes ’round and ’round.

The needs of and expectations for this project are vastly different from what has become my usual. But I still have the foundational skills. And most of all, I still care about things being done correctly and well. I still value people being treated with courtesy and compassion. I still believe in the importance of creating good art.

I don’t know many people, and especially not many stage managers, who enjoy making mistakes. But I’ve said before that I feel like knowing how to make mistakes is one of the most important skills for a stage manager to develop. Because no matter how hard you try, you will make mistakes. Knowing how to recover, how to make things right, how to learn, and how to move on are invaluable. Like when you’re at the piano and giving a concert, the worst thing you can do is get hung up on a mistake. Of course don’t fucking make it again. Life isn’t going to stop moving forward because you made a mistake, though. So you have to let it go and just be better. You don’t win points by punishing yourself. Anyone for whom punishing yourself earns points isn’t someone worth earning points for.

I heard that it rained today. As lovely as our rehearsal space is, there isn’t any window access, so the stories of weather happening and time passing seemed strangely distant.  (“It’s raining,” one person commented. “Where?” another asked. “Outside,” the first replied.) After rehearsal, I tried to get part of my work to-do list done tonight, but the person ahead of me in line at Staples turned out to be buying about 20 gift cards and I had a dinner reservation with friends. So I moved it to my to-do list for the morning, and I left. I had a delicious meal with a couple of friends (one of whom I was meeting in person for the first time – the excitement of internet-based hobbies!) at The Eddy And on my way home, with two cocktails charming me (the Sherry O’Cherry and the Honey Badger, both highly recommended), I encountered three darling friends playing as a portion of The Good Morning Nags in the 2nd Avenue F train station.

There are times when “I’ll do it tomorrow” is procrastinating. And there are times when “I do it tomorrow” is absolutely the right answer.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. But all the more reason to take the time to enjoy a song tonight.

I remember the time I knew what happiness was–

There are spans of time when I get hungry. So hungry. “My lunch on Friday was a quarter-of-a-dinner-plate pile of brown rice, a half-a-dinner-plate pile of collard greens and onions, and two pork chops” hungry. “My dinner Saturday night was six slices from an eight-inch radius pizza pie” hungry. The latter was made even more hilarious by the fact that my dining companions (who had been the ones to suggest getting pizza after getting groceries after work — we’re working on a project out of town and I’m the one with a car) apparently hadn’t been aware of the fact that I’m a, shall we say, heavy eater.

I’ve always been a small person with a huge appetite. I won’t lie — I’ve sometimes played it up for laughs, I’ve sometimes gone further than I should out of a macho impulse. But while I might occasionally give it an extra push, it’s not faked. And while it’s a great ice breaker, a fun thing to be known for, and actually makes all-you-can-eat buffets good value meals for me, it’s not always easy. I’ll be the last to complain about having a high metabolism, but when you’re hungry all the time? It’s not cheap. All that food don’t come for free.

And you know the word “hangry” — hungry + angry, anger stemming from hunger? It’s not a joke. What other people usual describe as the monster that is born from their not having had their morning coffee is what takes me over as my hunger grows, like a full moon rising to pull forth a rabid werewolf. And what that means is that I have to plan a lot of my life around food, the ease of which varies widely depending on where I’m working, when I’m working, etc.. It’s also interesting being in a field where it’s common for people to, at least during certain phases of a production, work rather than do things like eat, sleep, or shower, just in order to get the work done. I’m at the point in my life, however, when I don’t apologize for needing to eat. I know what I need to function as a professional and just as a human being — trust me, you won’t like me when I’m hungry — and I don’t feel a need to apologize for that.

Anyhow, that’s all to say… Here’s another restaurant round-up! New York City this time, from places I’ve eaten within the past few months. Again, these aren’t so much reviews as recollections and recommendations.
Continue reading “I remember the time I knew what happiness was–”

Food, glorious food–

This past fall, I worked on a show that was co-produced by theatres in New York City and Minneapolis. The Minneapolis production took place then, and the New York production is in tech now. I’d never been to Minneapolis before — never been anywhere in the U.S.A. longitudinally between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, in fact. So I cut myself some slack in my budgeting, deciding to seize the moment by constantly asking myself when the next time someone would pay my travel to and housing in Minneapolis for a month and a half, and treating the time as a working vacation of sorts.

It really was a lovely place to visit. The company of the show was very friendly and well-bonded, and we did things like have apartment-parties and go to the Walker Art Gallery together. We took the light rail to the Mall of America. I spent a long afternoon with an internet friend in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts museum. I walked the streets and saw the grand Mississippi. But mostly… mostly, I ate. I ate a lot. And man, it was good. So if you happen to find yourself in Minneapolis, particularly in downtown, here’s a brief overview of my experiences.
Continue reading “Food, glorious food–”

In my life–

Last week, my Facebook feed was particularly frequented by a couple of different theatre-related things. One was photographs from a local (to my very-much-not-NYC hometown) community theatre production of Les Misérables. The other was people linking to the blog of bad theatre PR photos. Both of them featured a lot of people in the breed of “historical” costume that is typical of high school and community theatre, where “costume design” can mean “go to Salvation Army and find some things for yourself that matches some vague notion you have of whenever the show is set.”

Now, I’m a great lover of amateur theatre and community theatre. I differentiate between the two. I consider “amateur” to be anything not professional, the choice to spend the time one has left to spare outside of the necessaries of making a living being put toward a labor of love — the word itself literally comes from “love,” after all. What could be more noble than that? “Community theatre,” on the other hand, is specifically that classic Waiting for Guffman stereotype of overblown petty dramas, egos in no way equaled by talent, painful fifteen-minute scene changes, the same decade-old wooden flats being recycled for the scenery every year, and — the Anchorman of the stage. It also happens to be where I got my start in theatre, something I wouldn’t trade for the world, and something I believe to be of vital importance to society. Warts and all, it’s a wonderful thing.

Nevertheless, looking at the pictures, with the clothes frozen into static images and stripped of the spirit that brings that Goodwill garb to life, can inspire some second-hand embarrassment. A wonderful performance can mostly sell most stories, no matter how little the design contributes or how much the design detracts. But still, it’s a shame when the physical production becomes an element that must be overcome, that does little to assist the audience’s suspension of disbelief, or is even a source of distraction. It’s almost worse when the design earnestly tries and fails, like the painful sensation of watching a person in denial.

It was then that the idea popped into my head that I would rather see Les Mis in contemporary street clothes than with a blithely clueless, skill-less approximation of some person’s idea of “historical.” No changes to any of the words or music — just losing the trappings of some sepia-toned vision of “The Past.” Because Les Miserables is a story that doesn’t want to be contemporary. Its tragedy is that it is contemporary.

On my OkCupid profile, my “most private thing that I’m willing to admit” is “Les Misérables — the novel, the musical, the platonic ideal — has had an enormous impact on my life. Enormous.” It’s not an exaggeration. And if I’m going to give myself any credit for being personally honest at all, I can’t refrain from singing my old song of how Les Mis changed my life.

Continue reading “In my life–”

If you put me to the test, if you let me try–

And so the summer season is closed, all of the detritus of production — sets, props, costumes, electrics — struck, and I would like nothing more than to sit here and with a stare as blank as the repainted walls and floors of the theater. With an almost comical predictability, I’d been feeling a little off by the time I closed my own show on Saturday night and had that sense of foreboding during the closing party on Sunday night, where I forewent getting ritually smashed by choosing instead to binge eat on two cupcakes, probably half a bag of potato chips and an unquantifiable amount of tortilla and lavash chips that served as vehicles for guacamole, spinach dip, salsa and Trader Joe’s five-layer dip on their journey into my mouth. Because let’s face it, I have alcohol around all the time, but I don’t really keep snacks in the house, especially not carbs. So that night? Yeah, stuffing my face. And the others didn’t need my help in demolishing the rather sizable amount of alcohol, so let ’em have it.

I was also probably just not feeling the urge because my body knew it was coming down with something. I began feeling a bit under yesterday afternoon during strike, with that stinging feeling creeping into the sinuses and a general weakness, and then I just crashed when I got home at the end of the day. Shuffled around the apartment for a few hours and had my ass in bed a bit after ten… and slept for eleven hours. It was one of those sleeps where you dream about waking up only you’re so tired that you physically can’t open your eyes. I actually didn’t feel so bad when I woke up this morning and texted my technical director that I was sick, but after she told me to stay home from strike, the wooziness began to set in. Thankfully, I haven’t been feeling too miserable, but my head has been floating around with the Curiosity rover somewhere on Mars. I did go in for the post-mortem at work this afternoon, but all I’ve accomplished since getting home is watching Beyoncé and Rihanna music vidoes. Which is worthy in its own right, but not what I’d been hoping to get done. Hopefully, I’ll be able to be more productive in the next couple days, when I have a sizable amount of thesis reading to get done.

Thinking about it, the oncoming change of the seasons probably helped push along this sickness. The nights have started to take on that deliciously refreshing autumnal coolness, but changes in temperature always can wreak such havoc on the body. Admittedly, some of that might have been self-inflicted. I’d scored a Groupon for a four-person pass to a local year-round ice skating rink, so a crew of us went on an outing on Friday.

It was a huge amount of fun. I took figure skating lessons as a child, and though I’d switched to dance by the time that I reached junior high and have never been able to keep it up regularly since then, I can still keep myself upright passably well and enjoy it a great deal, not the least because it’s a highly physical activity where I can actually not overheat.

I am, however, out of practice to the point of not being able to do any “tricks” — spins, footwork, jumps. At least, not without a good hour of ice mostly to myself, where I can feel free to fall on my ass as much as necessary. For one thing, it’s about the safety of others, as a public skating session like the one we attended on Friday often felt like a game of reverse Frogger, with you as the motor vehicle and the swarms of small children as the frogs that you needed to somehow avoid turning into roadkill. It simply takes a lot of focus, skill and energy to keep track of oneself and all others when all others aren’t keeping track of either.

But also, something that those little frogs seemed to have that I’ve come to lack is a complete and utter fear of falling. It is true that my body isn’t quite so cavalier in its recovery from gravity as it used to be. That doesn’t let me off the hook for my attitude, though. As I said in only the paragraph above this, if you gave me an hour when no one was looking, I’d fall on my ass the entire time, to hell with my ability to walk the next day. What I’ve always lacked, and do so now more than ever, is the ability not to give a fuck about falling in front of others. Because those kids? Could not have given less of a fuck. And I think that’s just something that I need to remember — that sometimes, the only person of note who actually gives a fuck about your ass hitting the ice is yourself. Sometimes, staying upright out of fear is the greatest thing holding you back.

Anyhow, that’s all that my brain can summon for today. I keep spacing out and clicking on more music videos. So I might as well go the easy route and dish on some things I recently threw money at.

First up is Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen Perfect Rice Cooker. I had received a small rice cooker as a gift when I graduated from high school, presumably to keep myself from starving as a college student, but as I ended up on a full board plan, it just got shoved into the back of a closet back home. When I embarked on the first internship of my stage management career, however, I wouldn’t have survived without it. After a few years of dedicated service, it finally died, not owing me anything. I then bought myself a larger rice cooker, like the type you see at the end of the rows in all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. It was awesome — until it died on me a few months later. So I bought another one. Which also died. And then another. Which also died.

At that point, I resigned myself to stove-top rice cooking, at which I was decent but not free of imperfectly cooked rice, which is kind of a terrible thing. So when I happened to spot this little item on sale at Ideeli, I figured, hey, why not.

Continue reading “If you put me to the test, if you let me try–”

Summer lovin’, happened so fast–

It’s been a good half week of my life flashing before me in various ways, for better and for worse. It started out with a shower of mixed blessings this past Saturday, when I was out at the farmer’s market and the heavens, which had been gently raining, verily did open up and dump the floods upon us. But the weather was warm, and you reach that point where you’re so soaked that you don’t mind getting wet because you’ve just released all hope of ever being dry. I had the purse-size umbrella that I keep with me at all times, but it was basically just a visibility tool, for all the good it did the rest of me — if I didn’t wear glasses, I would have just abandoned it completely. It was the sort of downpour where the sound of rain is roaring in your ears and the sensation of nature, even walking the sidewalk of an urban downtown, is inescapable and awesome. And hell, people pay good money to go to water parks.

The downside of all of this Romantic transcendence was that my cell phone had been in my backpack, which was thoroughly soaked through from the top but very sensibly had a reinforced bottom, resulting in water pooling in said bottom, in which said cell phone ended up resting. It was completely non-responsive when I fished it out. I found myself suddenly seized by that calm which accompanies emergencies: do what needs to be done. Take out the battery and bury the phone in a twenty-pound bag of jasmine rice. Send an e-mail to my co-workers letting them know that I’m unreachable by phone. Likewise send an e-mail to my mother, also soliciting information for our family’s wireless account so that I can go about getting a replacement. Change out of my soaked shorts and tank, into a sharp shirt, mini-skirt, heels and make-up because heavens to betsy, I am like a rogue CIA agent gone off the grid and shit is gonna get crazy around here.

Sleeping overnight in its rice bed restored the phone to the point of being able to turn on and show that its data was all intact, but it was otherwise nonfunctional and visibly damaged. I’d already made plans to go to the city on Sunday, though, and Monday was scheduled to be a day at the beach with friends (and the rest of that day ended up being pretty much killed), so I didn’t end up getting my phone replaced until Tuesday.

Granted, I’m not in the thick of things with work right now, but goodness, I did not miss it at all.

I’m not too compulsive of a phone-checker (or, at least, I don’t perceive myself as such), but it still felt so freeing not to even have the option. If I was bored, I couldn’t use that as a mindless time-suck. There wasn’t the slightest feeling of being on-call for work. And it was like a breath of childhood, particularly on Sunday, just the notion that when you were gone somewhere, you were gone. Austin doesn’t exist for my generation in the society in which I live today. I was suddenly in an entirely different lifestyle, from which my leaving had been a gradual, unconscious thing.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not happy to have a phone again. Even if I am wary because my plan had allowed for me to upgrade my handset and they no longer made the model that I’d been using, with my only options available to me being clearly down or up. And well, only one of those made sense. So, after years of digging in my heels: I now own an honest-to-goodness smartphone.

On the one hand, I do despise myself a little bit for selling out to the demands of a materialistic, interpersonally dysfunctional society. On the other hand, goodness me but is it shiny. I keep reaching over to play with it because it makes me feel like I’m in a science fiction movie. “Hold on a moment, just let me get out my handheld data control doomsday device and page down the beautifully lit color screen to bring up the information that you requested. And also tell you the current weather.”

Still, much as I like it, a smartphone is a big step into the future for me, which made Facebook finally forcing all profiles into timeline format on the very same day just a little too much. I hate the Facebook timeline. I really do. I find it counter-intuitive and messy. I also hate the “places” feature because it makes me feel stalked, in addition to infuriating me by its conflation of hometown with place of birth, if the little icon’s pacifier graphic is to be believed.

And then, continuing along the line of generational internet hijinks, there’s the issue of how my grandfather forwarded me an e-mail encouraging me to watch a linked slideshow of various beautiful nature photos fading from black and white to color in order to show me what amazing gifts God has given us or something. Obviously, the theological aspect was a bit wasted on me, but I love me some beautiful nature photos as much as the next guy, even if my particular angle of appreciation differs from that expressed in the MS PowerPoint text on the photos in the beginning of the slideshow. Anyways, the pictures were nice, thought the last slide fades in a towering Jesus, in that semi-iconic style that brings to mind (for me, at least) the creepier aspects of mid-20th century America, superimposed over the last photo.

All well and good. The thing is, Flash has been acting up in my Firefox lately, so whenever it has a glitch, it flashes — haha! — images of the last things that have been viewed using Flash components. As a result, I keep getting random flashes of Jesus in the process of using the internet. Add onto that the fact that I’ve recently been reading summaries of various Asian horror movies about evil spirits lurking in pictures or the walls or videotapes, and it’s honestly starting to creep me out a little in that holy shit Jesus is coming to steal my soul sort of way.

It seems to have gotten better today, largely thanks to my having been staring at the PDF menu of a Japanese restaurant back home quite a bit over the past two days. I really want to eat there. I really want to eat a lot of places. For over a week now, I’ve been experiencing enormously strong cravings for fried crap. Korean fried chicken, American fried chicken, fried calamari. Also, carbs. Fried chicken and waffles has sounded like the perfect meal for a number of days. I’m not really sure what’s behind the fried food craving, as I always want fried food to some degree while also not eating much of it, just as a general lifestyle, but this has been markedly more severe than usual. I have, on conversely, actively been cutting down on carbs this summer, so that craving has a more easily identified source.

In any case, I certainly didn’t lack for good food this past Sunday, when my life flashed before my eyes a few times in that “I just had an orgasm in my mouth” sort of way.

Continue reading “Summer lovin’, happened so fast–”

Just picture a great big steak, fried, roasted or stewed–

If I think way, way back, I can remember when New York City was a tourist destination for me. I have memories of getting onto a Wade Tours bus, day-tripping with my parents and other tourists down to that big, bright city. Had to make sure to wear those comfortable walking sneakers. Know which landmarks you’re going to hit. And don’t forget the map!

It didn’t begin to change for me until near the end of the undergrad, when it became just another place where some friends lived. And then even more so a few years after that, when it went from day-trip distance to commuter distance. I’m no native, but I’m more familiar with the parts of the city that I frequent — pretty much all of Midtown, as well as Union Square, NoMad, the West Village and Chinatown, plus Borough Park in Brooklyn — than I am with the cities within a half-hour’s driving distance of where I grew up.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not still a fun place to vacation.

It wasn’t something planned out too far ahead of time, but it turned out that my friend A. from Florida was going to be vacationing in the city for half a week, so I did my usual thing and crashed with her in return for providing my charming company. By which I largely mean a drinking companion and a garbage disposal for whatever food she didn’t eat. And we drank and ate at a lot of places.

I’m actually not really into aggregate review websites. I find them most useful for more service-related things, where what the most basic content of the experience is might be a question, for getting clarification about what you’re really getting for your money. It can be so easy to get buried in other people’s opinions, when there’s so, so many. For restaurants (general expectation: I pay money and receive food to eat), I’m still more of a fan of the old-fashioned “Did someone I actually know go there? What did they say?” or “I’m standing outside of the place right now and I feel like I want to go in” approach. Or reading actual reviews — you know, the ones that are more than three sentences long, whether they’re in a newspaper or a magazine or a blog or wherever. Some nice comprehensive, considered thoughts about the experience from a person with presumably some amount of knowledge or at the very least, some sort of specific interest.

These things here? These aren’t reviews. These are just me having opinions about things. Which I should probably do more often, as I do tend to Do Things on a semi-regular basis and often have opinions about them.

So here’s a piece of new news on the internet: hotels in Manhattan are fucking expensive. We stayed at the Best Western Plus, Prospect Park, which was pretty great and also in Brooklyn. The location was very convenient, being literally on the same block as the 25th Street station on the R line. Which is slow if you’re actually in a hurry to get anywhere, because it’s a super local line with more stops than I knew existed, but it’s pretty easy to transfer to something quicker.

The hotel is relatively new and pretty good value for NYC standards. By which I mean that the entire room plus the bathroom combined was smaller than the living room in my apartment, but it fit a bed, an armoire, a desk, two night stands and a dresser with a mini-fridge. The lobby featured an included continental breakfast in the morning, with Dannon Light & Fit yogurt, dry cereal, scrambled eggs, sausage, muffins, bagels, bread, juice, black tea and coffee available. The breakfast room itself was pretty cramped, so A. and I would grab food and bring it back up to the room.

They had a 24-hour fitness center in the basement, which featured an elliptical, a reclining bike, a treadmill and a weight machine, as well as a full-wall mirror. There was also an exercise ball bouncing around, though no free weights. The equipment seemed relatively new and functional. A couple of water fountains in the room, as well as a stack of towels — though no equipment cleaning supplies. Also, probably due to the “24-hour” thing, the light in the room worked on a motion detector. The downside to this? Apparently, at least the elliptical was positioned outside of the range of the detector, so after ten minutes, I would be plunged into darkness.

In an otherwise empty basement.

Just a little bit creepy.

Continue reading “Just picture a great big steak, fried, roasted or stewed–”