If I’m gonna die, I’ll life the live that frees me

Four years ago today – rocking out with my friends. It was the closest I’ve ever had to that fabled, only-in-the-movies experience of “being in the band,” where you throw yourself into the music and the lights, and the headaches are many but worth it, and you spend far too many late nights and too much money in the bar, not because you’re trying to drown your sorrows but because you want to have as much time as you can with these delightful people who are somehow all here together.

I’ve spent the past few days incapacitated by rage and also regret that I did not punch somebody in the face.

It was just a few days after the happy memory from four years ago that we went to a nearby bar following tech rehearsal. My assistant and I were the last ones to arrive (par for the course for stage manager – first ones in, last ones out), but as we approached the table where we saw our colleagues, we could tell that something wasn’t right. The place was surprisingly packed for a Wednesday night, even in Hell’s Kitchen, and the energy was… charged. And not in a good way.

You know how difficult it can be to remember more than snippets of dreams? And how the parts you tend to be able to remember are whatever have the most narrative coherence? Because it’s a challenge to hang onto things that just don’t make any sense. So I can’t tell you many specifics of what we overheard being said. But it was enough to, in the moment, put together that we were in the middle of a bar packed full of Proud Boys.

Yes, those Proud Boys.

It wasn’t clear if this was their event itself or some sort of hangout following a meeting. Either way, we heard all varieties of offensive things, ranging from simply bizarre to simply hostile.  

The feeling of violation was visceral. Intellectually you might know that “it can happen anywhere,” but it’s a hard slap to the face when it actually happens, especially if you’ve had the privilege of being relatively sheltered from the blows of the world. Or maybe there’s a special sting with the awareness of how harsh things can be elsewhere – “at least here, in this place of my own, I find safety.”

Eventually, they noticed us gawking at them. That’s when things threatened to get ugly. One man began aggressively getting in the face of the largest white man in our group, demanding that he answer if he was “a Republican, a Democrat, or an American.”

I can’t remember if that was the trigger. I can’t remember if it was another trigger. I can’t remember if the trigger was anything in particular or just a final straw landing on the camel’s back. This is something that I know about myself – I’m very precipitous, a stretch of even ground that’s almost too extensive to be able to see where the cliff drops off. Simply as a matter of personality rather than any sort of conscious decision, I don’t do warning shots. So all I know is that at some point, I saw red. And that was when I felt someone grabbing onto my elbow and pulling me outside.

My friends and I absconded to a nearby little hole-in-the-wall gay bar. (Has that refuge survived the pandemic, I wonder?) We got many drinks and shouted our outrage to each other. When I got home that night, I couldn’t sleep. I grabbed my iPod classic, put on clipping.’s Splendor & Misery, and went for a 3AM run in the (technically closed) park near my apartment. If anyone had had the foolish idea of messing with me, it wouldn’t have ended well, but that part of my night, at least, passed without incident.

A few days later, I put on my cowboy boots and returned to the bar to demand answers. The owners weren’t in, but the bartender, who was outraged on my behalf, took my information, and the owner called me later that day. He affirmed that that wasn’t what their establishment stood for and that such gatherings wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. A week after our incident at the bar (although unconnected to it, at least specifically), the Ghostlight Project gathered theatre practitioners to pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone – to create a light in the darkness.

What a fine, fine resolution that all was.

All I’ve been able to think about over the past days is that I should have just fucking punched someone in the fucking face.

Continue reading “If I’m gonna die, I’ll life the live that frees me”

Nothing like summer in the city: a dispatch from off-Broadway

Now is the summer of our discontent made mind-numbing winter by the air conditioning of the Public Theater. No, seriously, I was getting cold urticaria on my hands the other night. It feels like a horrible thing to complain about when last week was hot enough to drive Lin-Manuel Miranda and Shockwave to release the third installment of their hex-annual “Hot as Balls” NYC Heatwave series, to say nothing of other discomforts such as Scarlett Johansson colonizing yet another demographic, precedent for the revocation of naturalized citizenship being set, kids in cages (some resources to help listed here), and the threat to the Constitutional rights of vulnerable citizens for decades to come via hostile takeover of the judicial branch of the United States government. But sometimes, it’s the little things that are just insult to injury.

 

 

 

I’m currently on Day 18 of my 39-day long streak without a day off. By far not the longest that anyone will ever have gone without a day off, let alone at jobs that they love and completely voluntarily agreed to. Still, I’m undeniably glad to be almost halfway through this bed that I made to lie in. Five and a half weeks of 74-hour work weeks (and that doesn’t count the two days per week where there are hours between shows when I’m technically not working but am physically stuck at work) is a lot of time, even for something that you enjoy, to say nothing of the resultant trashfires that are my apartment (there’s an actual tower of unopened mail on my desk) and also me (#tfw it’s a predicament situation between sleeping and showering… but at least showering is less of an urgent matter because it’s not like I’ve been exercising).

In other words: kids, this is why they say “don’t do it unless you love it.”

The first few days of this period of time, one of the jobs was still being done remotely, as it was the pre-rehearsal preparation work. I was starting to experience some mounting anxiety, which is normal for me during any prep week, especially if I haven’t worked with anyone involved. People sometimes jokingly refer to first rehearsal as the first day of school, but as a description, it’s not all that off. Who are these people? Will they like me? Will I leave a good impression? Am I prepared? Have I taken care of everything that I need to? Sure, I may technically be holding the same position, but everything is still entirely new and different – will I do a good job? Do I even know how to do my job anymore?? What is stage management??!!

Knowing that I would have the personal challenge of starting this second production while still running the first just added to my anxious energy. It was like I was getting pushed closer and closer to that pool where you know that the water is freezing cold and your legs suddenly stop listening to your brain because you  know the pain that lies ahead of you – only in this case, whether my legs were listening to me or not didn’t matter because I stand upon the relentless treadmill of time that’s carrying us all to our eventual biological deaths and erasure from memory. Barring apocalypse, the day of first rehearsal would arrive even if I did finally suffer that nervous breakdown and go running for the Adirondacks to live the rest of my life as a hermit. I might as well stare it dead in the eyes and meet it like the honorable warrior that I am in my very active fantasy life.

The production that I already had running is Ma-Yi Theater’s Teenage Dick by Mike Lew, currently playing at the Public Theater. (Yes, the Public is the Hamilton people.) Commissioned by the Apothetae, a theatre dedicated to productions that explore and illuminate the disabled experience, the play is a reimagining of Richard III set in high school – a Shakespeare high school AU, so to speak. Richard is now a teenager with cerebral palsy who has his sights set on the senior class presidency, with a tongue no less agile, charm no less entrancing, and mind no less dangerous than his namesake. Gregg Mozgala, the actor playing Richard and artistic director of the Apothetae, noted that part of the impulse of making the show happen came from the experience of all of the uncertainty and physical indignities of adolescence amplified by the realization that, unlike most of one’s peers, one’s body wouldn’t grow out of this phase to become “normal.”

Another part was having the play titled Teenage Dick.

Continue reading “Nothing like summer in the city: a dispatch from off-Broadway”

What’s cold and flat and white all over? Fargo, don’tcha know.

“So how was Fargo?”

“Cold. Flat. White.”

“Yeah, they were still getting snow, weren’t they?”

“No- I mean, yes, but- I mean… white.

There are times in your life when you are in tech in Fargo, North Dakota when, a week before that moment, you had expected to be in neither tech nor Fargo, North Dakota. I’d been sitting in a stage manager friend’s work apartment in New Haven, getting ready to finish up my overnight couch-crashing expedition with some of that mashed potato pizza at Bar and a visit to my old grad school office, when the email came in, asking me if I was by any chance available to leave in three days for a week-long work trip to Fargo because their stage manager had a medical emergency that might preclude them from traveling.

My brain immediately slammed on the brakes, because I’d had plans for the next week. Granted those plans had been for a second week of “unpaid vacation” – the only kind of vacation that you get when you do gig work is unemployment between jobs – but writing regularly, playing the piano, doing my own personal exercise bootcamp, catching up on watching a series that my friends were on my case about, and generally spring cleaning my life was something that I’d been kind of looking forward to, particularly given that I have a busy summer (#grateful) ahead of me. And most importantly, I’d had plans, and I’m not sure about you, but my brain is naturally pretty reflexively resistant to course changes, even when for the better.

But the fact was that I was available for that week, if just barely – I’d need to go straight from the final performance to the airport so that I could be in rehearsal the next afternoon – and I’m a goddamn sucker for playing hero. The doctor had not yet given final word, but I agreed to be on deck for them.

“Sorry, I take back what I said last night,” I re-commented to a friend’s post. “Probably can’t make it to Smorgasburg on Sunday because I’ll be in Fargo.”

At this point, my brain had shifted to accepting this as a win-win situation. If the doctor cleared their stage manager, I got to enjoy my originally planned Spring Cleaning Week and watch Mob Psycho 100. If the doctor nixed it and I was called into action, then I received money, adventure, and glory.

So much in life comes down to having the power to say “yes” and “no.”

Not two weeks before that, it had been the day before St. Patrick’s Day. The fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday meant that my plans were to have my own traditional corned beef and cabbage at home and not leave the neighborhood all day, and so hopefully avoid the unruly drunken throngs. Just as I was about to go to bed on Friday, I did one last check of my Facebook feed… and saw a friend’s post with a ticket available to see Sleep No More the next night. Despite close friends having been pushing me to see the show for something like two years, scheduling and finances had created a higher barrier of entry than my interest level could top. But for there to be a ticket opportunity presented to me? There was a minute or two of hemming and hawing as I considered the motivations underlying my original plans and imagined the horrors of the St. Patrick’s Day evenng crowd downtown, but my answer really could be nothing but: yes.

I had a great time – and I was able to see a friend perform.

Not sixteen hours before that, my stage manager friend and I were getting good food and terribly slow service in a restaurant in New Haven. At that rate, we were going to be late for the show playing at Yale Rep, for which my friend had complimentary tickets due to being a guest artist. Noting the time, my friend commented that the last of the student Shakespeare series was having its final dress rehearsal that night, and it didn’t begin until 8:15pm. A professional play at Yale Repertory Theatre or a rehearsal for a student show in a blackbox… I’d already mentioned my plans to attend the former, but I knew which one I’d rather see.

It was a pleasure to get another chance to consider A Winter’s Tale, and to say hello to faculty who were present in the audience.

So by the time the initial inquiry had had the chance to settle in for a couple hours, I had shifted again into the Land of Yes.

(And what would you know, but not 48 hours after that, I received a text from another stage manager friend telling me that I absolutely had to – had to – come see the workshop at the Public that they were working that night because my life would be significantly better for it. I had about 18 hours until I would be boarding a plane at LaGuardia, and I’d planned to have a leisurely evening of finishing packing and prepping for the show and getting to bed early but…

Get your tickets to Ain’t No Mo by whenever and wherever it ends up having its world premiere, is what I’ll say to that.)

I landed in Fargo near the end of April Fool’s Day, when the live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was just wrapping up. At the baggage claim, I opened up my suitcase and took out the winter coat that I’d been about to pack away for the season a few days ago. After bundling up, I headed out into the 40-degree temperature drop from when I’d left New York.

So yes, it was cold. And the landscape was, indeed, very flat. Heck, even the topography of the grocery store was flat – the aisle shelves were short enough that I could stand at the entrance and see across the expense of the entire store, from wall to wall.

And then there was how the only Asian people I saw the entire week were the violinist that was part of our New York production team and the sexy beast that I saw in the mirror each morning.

If you’d given me a pop quiz about the demographics of Fargo prior to my going there, I probably would have been able to give you some pretty good guesses. Something like my hometown, maybe, where “The racial makeup of the town was 97.66% White, 0.45% African American, 0.29% Native American, 0.28% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.28% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.81% of the population.” I was still caught off-guard by the feeling, though. My hometown has the advantage of familiarity, of course. But also, my hometown is a literal single-traffic-light tiny hamlet in the middle of the woods. This was the largest metropolitan in the state, where we were working at the state university.

Also, there were my multiple encounters with still-current use of the word “oriental,” which dropped on my brain like a record scratch each time.

“I think that I’m single-handedly shifting the vocabulary of the racial discourse in Fargo, ND,” I texted my director at one point.

These people were kind and generous and did not have bad intentions.

That didn’t really matter.

If I go for a drive and accidentally run somebody over, as far as that person’s medical condition is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether or not I intended to hit them with a car. Sure, it matters in determining whether or not I’m a psychopath who should be charged with murder, but in regards to the well-being of the person underneath my car, there are so many things that were more direct contributors to that moment than whether I was literally thinking “I’m going to hit a motherfucker today because I want to cause harm”: how well I knew the traffic flow and road conditions where I was driving, if I was paying attention to my surroundings, if I was driving too fast.

Again, none of this changes the medical condition of the person underneath my car.

And yes, I will judge a person if they speak of certain things in certain ways, even if it’s just a matter of education or the lack thereof. It’s not a condemnation but a judgment made for my own well-being. Things like “oriental” tell me how much I can trust a person – which is a different thing from judging the trustworthiness of their character. There are many good, upstanding, trustworthy people whom I wouldn’t trust to, say, take me skydiving. If you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, I’m not going to trust you to push me safely out of an airplane. Likewise, if you haven’t bothered to learn not to call a person like me “oriental,” I’m not going to fully trust you with my well-being in this world. If you’re still running Windows ME and haven’t even installed any patches for the past decade, I don’t know if I’m compatible with your system or what malware you might have been susceptible to. The OS that I observe throws up red flags for how you might be processing me.

And I understand that you might not have an out-of-town Asian guest to be your personal tutor and gently hold your hand through these changing times. But there are books. There are movies. There’s the internet. There’s literally the entire world. It’s within your power to stop being comfortable and passively consuming only what has been hand-fed to you within your own bubble.

As a person belonging to various non-dominant demographics within U.S. society, I grew up being trained in empathy for those unlike me for my entire life.  I’m overjoyed by all the little straight white boys who are now being presented with more growth opportunities than were easily available merely ten years ago: Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Love Simon. These things aren’t “niche” and irrelevant to straight white boys any more than Indiana Jones was niche and irrelevant to me and my taste in hats. Embrace these growth opportunities being presented to you. And if it feels a little uncomfortable – well, maybe that’s just growing pains.

Meanwhile, I’m back home. And by “home,” I no longer mean my hometown, although I still call that “home,” too. I’m back in NYC, where it’s warm, crowded, and I’m often out of place but only need one ride on the subway to feel that everyone is at least a little bit out of place and a little bit connected in this big, tiny, crazy world.

(Post-Script: I do have to give special shout-outs to the amazing Drekker Brewing Company and Proof Distillers, as well as the Toasted Frog in downtown. Highly recommend all if you end up in the area.)

You gotta grab something, grab something

And so then Michael Friedman died.

I didn’t know him very well. He probably wouldn’t know me from a hole in the ground, and not due to any inattention on his part. I was a production assistant on the stage management team for the Off-Broadway production of The Fortress of Solitude, an adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel, with a book by Itamar Moses and songs by Michael. I’d also been the assistant stage manager on a workshop of the show that past summer. There had been a previous production in Dallas, but it very much was still a new show with constant development and re-writes, all the way until opening. As such, the writers were there almost constantly. It was a show of moderate size, with the stage management team alone having five people, and I was just one of the many new people on board at this new stage of the journey, whereas most of the core creative team and cast had been attached to the project for years.

I was, however, the person on the stage management team in charge of script maintenance and printing, meaning that I kept the constantly changing document both up-to-date but also properly archived as well as being the person who made sure that everyone got the correct new pages. While the music team took care of the score updates in the files themselves, I was still the person who would do all of the physical printing and distribution. So despite Michael and I not interacting directly, I’m finding that I’d developed a perhaps outsized feeling of connection from having his work pass through me before even making it to the performers.

Michael, I killed so many trees for you.

Even besides all that, he was an undeniable sort of person. He wouldn’t so much enter a room as vibrate into it. You could feel the energy radiating from the source, affecting everything in its path.

And then there’s just that sense that you’ve lost someone in the family, even if you didn’t know them well personally. The theatre community forms densely branching networks by virtue of how employment happens. For the most part, you work very intensely with a group of people for a while. Then that project ends, and you do the same with another group of people. Rinse, repeat. As a result, you get to know so many people, and on at a more personal level than many workplace environments demand. Eventually, you almost always know someone who knows someone. Or know someone who knew someone.

And then there’s the art.

For better or for worse, we find something there. Artists create and articulate things that connect us to ourselves and others. These people somehow reach inside of us and touch us in such close places – even though we often have never even met them, we get to know them and they somehow magically seem to know us. It becomes such a personal relationship, even if you wouldn’t recognize each other if you passed on the street.

Granted, not much time had passed, but I found myself thinking of him again when I got off the phone with my grandparents Sunday evening. I had called to wish them a happy Grandparents Day, and I’m pretty sure I left them feeling worse than before because I had refused to promise them that I wouldn’t drink anything that didn’t come in a sealed bottle manufactured by Coca-Cola while I was traveling abroad. Now, I am one-hundred percent prepared to not get asked and to not tell, or even to gracefully elide certain happenings. But being asked point-blank to make an unreasonable promise that I knew that I wouldn’t keep was beyond what I was willing to do. Especially given the underlying xenophobia (only trust U.S. corporations!) and racism (I hadn’t been asked to make a similar promise when I was going abroad in Europe), no matter how well-intentioned it was.

But also, I couldn’t stop thinking “But the world doesn’t give you nothing for free and life can quickly pass you by…”

Our time is so limited – how could I countenance having opportunities that others are never afforded right in front of me and refusing to reach for them because I was keeping my hands and feet inside of the vehicle at all times? Of course there’s going to be risk. But to have your house swept up in the twister and land in Oz, only to refuse to set foot outside of your door – you may never meet the witch, but you’ll never see the wonders.

It also happened that when I opened up my secondary browser that day, the newsfeed popped up that Troy Gentry of the country band Montgomery Gentry had been killed in a helicopter crash. There’s something particularly sad about the death of an eponymous duo to me (see: Siskel and Ebert). I’ve also mentioned before that I’m a country music fan, and, as much as I reject some life actions by the people involved, a couple of Montgomery Gentry’s songs are among my personal favorites.

Like most mainstream country music, the sort of life that’s usually prescribed (or simply assumed as a given) is definitely neither mine nor something that I want. But the spirit of taking pride in living a life of purposeful integrity, no matter what other voices may tell you…

…that’s something that has always called to me loudly. And while I try to make it a continuous, conscious practice, I can’t help but be pointedly confronted with the imperative at instances like these.

Goddamn, but Michael had a life he could hang his hat on.

 

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.

A weekend in the country

I sit here typing this from a rocking chair on the covered porch, bird song dwindling as the pleasantly cool summer evening air darkens into night. I confess that I’m still wearing my gear from the hot yoga session today at the walking-distance gym (where I get a job-related discount), because I really splurged on some real yoga pants this afternoon– i.e., they were new and from the actual adult section of Target – during my day of tooling about town, completing errands and also just seeing the Pennsylvania countryside.

Under the light of the oversized Edison bulb hanging lighting fixtures, I threw together a simple dinner of some salad and a couple of eggs, which I had fried ’til runny using the professional gas range, on hearty multi-grain bread. The weather is so nice, I opted to eat outside, rather than at the marble kitchen counter with the rustic wood bordering. Despite it being almost July, the central air conditioning isn’t really even necessary.

In other words…

RECORD SCRATCH: WHAT HAVE I LANDED MYSELF IN??

I had not been expecting to spend my summer job living in an issue of Town & Country magazine. As of a few months ago, I was going to be working a project in the city over the summer. Then, that fell through. There was a week of job anxiety, but I ended up being connected to this gig (friendship is magic, kids!), which rehearsed for two weeks in NYC before going into tech and performances in New Hope. I’d never been to the place before, but everyone I talked to said that it was lovely.

It’s almost a little too lovely. I’m half-convinced that I’m going to die because this has to be the set-up for some thriller novel where there’s a dark secret concealed beneath the postcard-perfect surface. It sure doesn’t feel like real life!

Even on the day that I arrived here, when I still had all of the work to get the show open, I arrived in a thunderstorm, but after getting dinner in an amazing local eatery, I emerged to the skies having cleared and a rainbow arching over the theater, which sits on a river. It matched well with all of the rainbow pride flags and banners hung about town at the highest density that I’ve seen outside of Fire Island.

Or let’s talk about yesterday morning. A canal runs through town, with a walking/running/bicycling trail beside it. I awoke before my alarm, still feeling a wee bit of something from the opening night party, but apparently subconsciously very eager to spring into my post-rehearsal life. I popped a couple of ibuprofen and took off on the canal trail. It was sunny and moving toward hot but not quite there yet. Canadian geese floated on the water. I paused upon seeing a deer standing in the canal, nibbling on a fallen tree still covered by greenery; she wasn’t bothered in the least, and just began meandering toward the bank near me. I had to pause at another point because a mama duck was crossing, trailed by a line of ducklings. A brilliant red cardinal flew across the path right in from of me. At one point, someone must have had outdoor speakers on their house, because there was background music of gentle guitar strumming. I felt like a very sweaty Disney princess.

(And on the subject of sweat, for anyone still stuck on me still being in my yoga clothes: I’ll admit that I was slightly intimidated by the concept of hot yoga but decided to take the class because it was offered so #yolo, but it turns out that hot yoga is just basically like intro level Existing In NYC In Summer. Small beans! I was pretty inoffensive by the time I left the gym, let alone got home. And my fancy-ass yoga pants and shirt, which do that technology thing where they dry fast, make me look pretty damn good. I’m almost tempted to buy new and/or not from the kids’ section more often.)

So here I am in the picturesque rural ex-urbs, a few blocks away from the tourist town center, with lots of restaurants and specialty stores — mostly charming-but-upscale-ish clothing and home furnishings, though there are a surprising number of magick/wiccan supply stores as well.  I’m going to the gym again tomorrow to get one-on-one training on how to use all of their fancy machines. Maybe I’ll get some writing done in the little park a block away, although I’ll need to decide whether I would rather sit next to the water garden or in the gazebo.

And then back to work in the evening, which feels like an eternity away. For those unfamiliar with the theatre industry, a standard workweek is six days (generally Tuesday through Sunday). And for a stage manager, work days tend to range in length from eight to ten hours (because you’re the one setting up for rehearsal, cleaning up afterward, writing reports, fielding emails, etc.). Once you’re in tech and previews, that goes up to in the realm of fifteen-hour days.

But once you open for a limited run (i.e., only have to deal with performances, not brush-up or put-in rehearsals to keep the production going)? And working only a measly 40-ish hours per week? It’s like being on vacation.

And I’ve somehow ended up actually in a vacation house in a vacation town to do it.

With my work for a Sunday matinee finishing up around 4:30pm and not being back in until 6:00pm on Tuesday, I am almost feeling at loose ends in this crazy more-than-48-hour void of not having to be at work. Almost. I think I’ll be able to handle it.

Although there are a couple of things that this place needs to explain about itself:

 

But like those moments when I’ve been having afternoon tea service in the West Village and chatting about the latest shows, or sitting in a bar in the Lower East Side listening to my friend’s band play after having come straight from calling a post-glam rock concept concert that was meant to be a requiem for the death of the environment, or asking the waiter for wine recommendations while eating a three-course lunch at a French restaurant on the Upper East Side, or spending a night at the world’s largest honky-tonk because Texas decided to send a tornado to the opening night of your opera about societal breakdown and cannabalism, or, you know, going to Japan, it’s just one of those things, where the thought keeps revisiting me: how is this real life? How is this my real life?

Do I deserve it? Nah. Have I earned it? Maybe. In any case, I don’t think that I’ve earned it significantly less than the general population around me. But the part that I can control continues to be what I choose to do about it. And in this case, it’s breathing the fresh air, living out my fantasies of being a writer in the countryside, and getting swole af.

And not thinking too hard about that pointy-tailed thing because I’m pretty sure that’s when it starts moving whenever you look away from it and eventually kills you.

Dive into work, drive the other way

So here’s a first: not only did a bug decided to make an overnight feast of me, and not only did it decide to go for the face, but it went right for the eye. It was my slightly smaller eye, too, so it was swollen almost completely shut. I spent all of Sunday looking like Quasimodo. Things were noticeably better the day after – still a little puffy, able to actually open all the way – which I’m honestly feeling a bit disappointed by, because I’d decided that if it didn’t get better, I would get myself an eyepatch and rock the pirate look because the Fight Club look really wasn’t doing it for me and also I don’t actually know how to do eye make-up for a monolid.

In other firsts, this past week, I substituted for a friend who was production stage managing the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production of Seven Spots on the Sun. I’ve subbed on deck before, but this was actually my first time substituting for calling a show. My friend offered me a free ticket to come see the show as an audience member before I started actually working it, and I, of course, agreed, both for a chance to see what the show was meant to look like from a professional point of view but also just to, you know, see the show.

It turned out that the show was about the effect of war, the type that has been endemic to Latin America, on the humanity of people on multiple sides of it.  It was pretty intense. It was very emotional. There was a lot packed into 75 minutes, and in a way that affected me strongly, combining intimate personal realism with poetic language and a story whose elements became as mythic and folkloric as the enormity of the experiences that these individuals endured.

Yes, I shed a few tears.

And I thought to myself afterward: oy vey, what a week I’ve gotten myself into.

I’ve worked on emotionally (and violently) intense shows in the past. It’s different, though, when you go through the full process of constructing a show. You know it, you control it. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, but it does demystify the process. This is the scene that you rehearsed over and over again until you all wanted to scream. That’s the prop that was giving everyone nightmares until the props master’s cousin found the perfect item at an estate sale in White Plains. This was the moment where the lighting designer finally deleted that lighting cue because the actor could never land in the same position twice.

Coming in from the outside, I wouldn’t have that same perspective. I was honestly a little bit worried about what my experience would be that week.

And you know what? I was fine.

Which also gave me pause.

One of the characters in the play explicitly struggles with her desensitization to the suffering around her. In order to keep doing the good work that she can, she also has to sometimes tell her eyes not to see, her ears not to hear the pain that isn’t within her reach to heal – and, she says, her senses eventually start to obey.

I certainly was not enduring anything like the suffering being portrayed onstage, or endured in reality throughout the world, but I couldn’t help but acknowledge my professional emotional detachment from that which had driven me to tears mere days ago. Of course, one might say, what I was watching wasn’t real, so naturally, I shouldn’t react to it so strongly. But it was no more and no less real when I’d watched it from the audience and been so moved.

The story had not changed; I had changed.

It’s not any sort of new, brilliant epiphany to recognize how easily we can shut off our empathy, how easy it can be to just “do the job.” But I feel like I can’t have a point shoved so directly into my face without acknowledging it.

Detaching emotionally is not inherently a bad thing. Not for this specific show, but in another situation, people might actually be put in danger were my attention and focus to be. What if I mistimed an automation movement? What if I missed spotting a performer being in the wrong place and at risk of being hit by moving scenery as a result? At the very least, I would not be able to uphold the artistic integrity of the production if I were missing cues because I was distracted from my task at hand. The intentions of the creators would not be carried out, the performers would be hung out to dry, and the audience would not receive what they paid for.

And of course, I don’t know of any mere mortal who can remain emotionally engaged with every instance of suffering in the world without burning out. At some point, trying to pay attention to everything affects one’s ability to pay attention to anything.

It just comes down to self-awareness and taking yourself to task, I suppose. Not letting yourself run on auto-pilot. Being honest about what you’re doing and why. Checking in periodically to see if any of that is still true. Having to live with your own compromises. But better to have a place at the table of your own life and actively make those compromises with eyes wide open than to let the choice be made for you by a lie of your own creation.

I just started rehearsals for my summer show (also the reason that this posting comes a day late), which is a farcical comedy that is very much not about the ravages of war and the death of empathy. It is much more concerned, for instance, with throwing cottage cheese at people. I’m grateful for a brief period of just doing my job without having to discipline my heart, to say nothing of having the privilege of doing so with a team of delightful people. And I do genuinely admire the value of bringing joy into people’s lives.

But I know myself, to some degree, and while I prefer my entertainment light, for some reason, I prefer my work heavy. Is it a discipline thing? Do I derive satisfaction or validation from that? I’m deriving white hairs, at least. Whatever it is, there’s a reason that I’m drawn to this storytelling business, have been since I was a child. And if I’m going to take on the power of being a teller, then I have to take on the responsibility of how I’m being a listener.

A song that hits you so hard–

I have a half-written blog post that had been intended to be for last week, but then I was in too much of a funk to finish it. It seemed like the perfect subject, the perfect timing: I was out of NYC for a while because of work and I had been ravenously hungry for a week, so I began writing a NYC restaurant round-up of places I had eaten in the past few months.

But that proved to be too depressing. I love food so much that writing honestly about my experiences produced a positive tone, while my mood was such the opposite that it felt nauseatingly fake. So I quit writing, drank wine, and got a health amount of sleep instead. Observing the experience now with detachment, it might be interesting to do a depressed food post, where ecstatic salivating over memories of food is used as a tool to create contrast with existential/situational despair. “See, how wonderful things once were! All that remains in my mouth now are the bitter ashes of loneliness.”

I grew up in a rural environment, so unlike my city-boy director, I was not caught off-guard by not being able to stop by a bar for a few hours after work at midnight on a weekday. Timing aside, you would need a bar, as well as preferably a way of getting there that didn’t involve driving. That, and the lack of other urban creature comforts, did not bother me a bit. But I was surprised by the effect of the combination of social isolation and lack of anchor. Sure, there might not be much going on in my native corner of the woods, but it’s still mine. Being a stranger without a home in the middle of nowhere — that is not nearly so idyllic. And rather than warming me with the glow of happy memories, even though I’m a cheap homebody who actually only goes out maybe three or four times per month, I found that reminiscing about food — and the experiences attached to that food — was making me homesick.

On top of that, I was absorbing a lot from work. Being a stage manager is sometimes a little like being a combination air quality sensor/air filter. You have to be able to take in and read the environment, and then be able to optimize it. But that can make it draining when there is bad energy, because striking the balance between being close enough but also far enough to deal with it can be difficult. And in this case, it wasn’t the usual energy problems of personality difficulties or the like, but a series of tragedies at my current workplace — four sudden, unexpected deaths within the span of less than a month, three of them young people. Outsider that I am, I wasn’t directly affected, but a couple members of our cast very much were, and in any case, four people in a very small, isolated community dying within a month is enough to creep a person out. I’ve never actually seen any of the Final Destination movies, but I’m pretty sure that’s kind of what they were about.

Did I mention that the place they’re housing me in has a lot of creepy taxidermy?

All in all, I am a very fortunate person who is in a bit of a funk. And I’m treasuring the homesickness that means that there is someplace to which I am bound to return and be glad.

They smile when they are low–

Or, How To Almost Not Open An Off-Broadway Show (Just In Case You Were Curious)

12:30pm
It’s the last rehearsal before our opening performance at 7:00pm. Staying in compliance with union rules, we could start rehearsal as early as noon, but while we have a lot of notes on our work list, they’re mostly tiny acting notes, with just a couple moments specifically for tech (and those are small notes, too). It’s been a long week — today is Friday, we started tech last Thursday, worked a ten-out-of-twelve (i.e., a twelve-hour long workday with a two-hour actor dinner break in the middle) that Friday, had Saturday off, worked a ten-out-of-twelve on Sunday, had a full (but normal) length rehearsal on Monday, and then had been rehearsing from noon to five followed by shows at seven each night since then.

Tech had gotten a rough start, too, with load-in falling behind schedule and the lights giving us lots of technical problems — things weren’t not working in the artistic sense but, rather, in the “they won’t turn on” sense. Our lighting designer had maintained the patience of a saint, and somehow never snapped or yelled during each additional hardship that fell upon him through the entire process. (Though he did drain a large number of whiskeys at impressive speed when we went out to the bar after work.) When he had gone back home to Minneapolis yesterday night, he probably felt like he couldn’t get out of this theater quickly enough.

Anyhow, people are tired, so even a half-hour’s respite is not something to be scoffed at. And at least it’s an easy day’s worth of work. Without any big tech fixes on our to-do list, it’s just the actors, one of the directors, the crew, and me.

Continue reading “They smile when they are low–”

What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–

Oh gentle reader, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’d originally had some Ambitious But Sensibly Realistic plan to write one full post per week once school started, but then allergies killed my soul for nearly two weeks, leaving me scrambling afterward as I was swept up in the relentless socializing that is the beginning of the school year. During the course of which I was roped into working a show that had lost their stage manager and ended up being an awesome, epic and absolutely huge undertaking. I was generally working straight from 4:00pm to 3:00am for that last week, with classes during the day.

It wasn’t pretty.

But we had a giant snake puppet track all the way across the ceiling of the theater above the heads of the audience. No regrets. Take that, Phantom.

Aside from being debilitatingly busy — I’ve been mildly sick ever since we closed this past weekend, running a low-grade fever at night — there has been one thread weaving its way through from orientation before classes to me sitting here now.

As I was sitting there in the audience of the theater, waiting for the next person to talk to us about IT or turning our receipts into the business office or whatever else we needed to be re-oriented about for the new school year, I saw some of my friends a bit farther down the row crowding around the screen of one person’s phone. They were all watching some video, as the owner of the phone pointed out the mechanics of the dance moves happening. I was far enough away that while I could see the brightly colored clothing and energetic movements, I couldn’t make out who was performing or hear any of the music. Ah, well, I thought, another trend that I could only hope would be performed at some party or another at some point during the year.

I didn’t give it much more thought than that, though I noted its ubiquity over the subsequent couple of weeks, with even the producer for the show I was stage managing telling how she had gone home one night only to find her 18-month old dancing that dance which is all the rage for the babysitter.

On a completely separate track, my Facebook feed had been peppered by some K-pop Youtube video that apparently a lot of people had been watching.

It was only when the “Gandalf Style” parody was posted that I was hooked by geek bait and then, that lightbulb slowly began glowing over my head. And it took a while for my brain to integrate the information that this K-pop song and this raging trend that was sweeping through my friends and across the world were the same thing, finally culminating in shock.

The reason was this: based on the limited glimpse that was my first impression, I had assumed that all of the people involved in the song were white.

Continue reading “What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–”