“Atmospheric entry is the movement of an object into and through the gases of a planet‘s atmosphere from outer space. There are two main types of atmospheric entry: uncontrolled entry, such as in the entry of astronomical objects, space debris or bolides; and controlled entry, such as the entry (or reentry) of technology capable of being navigated or following a predetermined course.” – from Wikipedia
I’ve been back from Alabama for four days now, and I guess you could say it’s a controlled re-entry. The trip from Montgomery by car takes twelve hours and change, and at this stage in my life I refuse to drive for 12+ hours, particularly after a week of performances and closing festivities. So I took the most expedient route home (avoiding I-95 because I hate it so), drove for eight hours and then stopped for the night at a motel on I-81. That night on the road gave me a chance to detach from Alabama and fix my thoughts on home.
I really enjoyed my time at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Aside from a some minor quibbles with the artist housing (a TV set so dated that I couldn’t attach my beloved Wii game and a ceiling that leaked during the frequent ferocious Alabama thunderstorms – really, I’ve lived in far worse), I was comfortable and happy. I missed my husband and I missed my house and my garden, but that’s the price you pay for working away from home.
It was interesting revisiting the role of Ursula, too. Aside from the tentacles and the basic hoopskirt format, the costume was very different. At Olney, Pei Lee’s costume design resulted in a sleek, scary Ursula, and the makeup design (executed by fellow cast member and airbrush whiz Gracie Jones) lent an harsh and somewhat alien aspect to the character. Due to the configuration of the stage, I only had two practical tentacles (you can read more about them here) and only two eels (Nurney Mason as Flotsam and Robert Mintz as Jetsam) to help manipulate them. At ASF, Brenda van der Wiel’s design provided SIX working tentacles, more cleavage, and a towering wig that was three parts Marie Antoinette and one part Paula Deen. My makeup design, by David Rowland, featured lots of glamour and glitter. Ursula’s look wasn’t all that was different: in addition to my Flotsam and Jetsam (Jeremy Pasha and Brandon LaShawn Curry), I had a six-member eel ensemble which swirled and twirled and essentially did my evil bidding in both my big numbers:
I found, once I got into the ASF costume, that Ursula began to change. She wasn’t nearly as sinister as her Olney counterpart; she giggled and flirted and preened like a true Southern belle. I had the same navigational difficulties that I had at Olney – too big to fit through doors and too bulky to sit in a chair – only this costume was even bigger and heavier, weighing in at a whopping 36.5 pounds. Once again, when not onstage I had to sit off by myself, out of everyone’s way (in this instance, on a stool in the scene shop behind the stage right wing, where all the set pieces were kept – I got to be good buds with the crew).
When not performing, I spent my time in my apartment writing (still banging away at Book #3 in my fantasy series while my agent tries to find a publisher for Book #1), or reading (I think I roared through nearly twenty books in two months), or I’d go out for a stroll in the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park (where ASF is located). The park was quite lovely, with ponds and trees and walking trails and even the occasional bird. The Southern heat took some getting used to; by the time I left we were averaging 95+ degree days with high humidity, which made the outdoors feel like a swamp and the air-conditioned indoors feel like a freezer.
On my days off I explored the area, mostly looking for good birdwatching, but the summer heat really put a crimp in that activity, not just for me, encumbered with my binoculars and camera and birding bag, but for the birds, who I’m convinced had left town for the mountains. I really didn’t see much that I hadn’t already seen, even on an overnight trip to Dauphin Island off the Alabama coast. (I’d love to go back there during the spring migration, though – I bet it’s amazing.)
Because my mom’s home isn’t more than a five-hour drive from ASF, my mom got to see the show. This was especially exciting because she hasn’t seen me perform since 2009. Her friend Sandra drove the both of them down, and they really seemed to enjoy the show. I even managed to get Mom up onstage with me post-performance for a photo op. I got a similar shot with John when he came to visit, and after that it seemed like the doors were flung open and EVERYONE wanted a post-show picture with Ursula! I didn’t mind (I got to take pictures with some absolutely adorable kid-relatives of various company members), and David Rowland (who was also responsible for my wig) and my dresser Ruth Fink were always very patient and gracious about waiting for me, not only for these photo ops but also when I did a post-show discussion (which was at least once a week).
Graciousness was a large part of my Alabama experience. Everyone was so courteous and helpful – from our company manager, Crystal McCall, to the stage management team under the leadership of Hannah Jean Farris, to the crew members (especially stage op Tony Gordon, who got me into my flying harness, as well as into the air, for every single performance). Everyone in admin, front of house, box office – even the security guys – were just as enthusiastic and supportive as they could possibly be. And I never for a minute felt like their many kindnesses were anything but genuine.
And I can’t say enough good things about the cast of ASF’s Mermaid: hard-working, cheerful, consistent and just plain fun to be around – especially Jeremy and Brandon, the nicest eels a Sea Witch could ask for.
So as I head back into my more cosmopolitan (and perhaps slightly more jaded) existence here in the DC Metro area, I’m hoping to keep a little bit of that Alabama sweetness with me – by passing it on. Mean ol’ Ursula’s doesn’t just have a spangling of glitter, she’s got herself a sugar coating, too. Y’all better watch out.
It’s one of those things we actors folks both dream about and dread: unrelieved, overlapping gigs. Show after show, gig after gig, all tumbling together on the calendar like a bunch of happy puppies, difficult to manage, nearly impossible to organize, hard not to love. I’ve been going nonstop since October a year past, industrial upon workshop upon one-nighter upon show uponshowuponshow. Don’t think for a minute I’m not grateful; I am. Back to back gigs in my line of work are something to be celebrated. It’s like having a “real” job for a change: knowing exactly what you’ll be doing a week from today, the ability to plan ahead, and most important, the constant paychecks.
But after nearly a year of it, I was desperate for a break. I only get one day off a week, and that’s Monday, and it’s usually filled with mundane things like laundry, grocery shopping, housework and making dinner for my long-suffering husband. I had a month-long break in June, but I spent it with my mother in Tennessee, getting her house in order after she’d been in rehab following a fall and a fractured hip. It was a break from show biz, yes, but it was not a Break in the normal sense of the word and in fact, was a lot more stressful than I realized. I looked at my calendar and saw that I would have three weeks off between SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at Signature Theatre and THE LITTLE MERMAID at Olney Theatre. And I said to myself, “by gum, Self, you are going to take a REAL BREAK.”
Unfortunately John had a project due at work, so we couldn’t take a break together, but with his blessing I decided to strike off on my own. The first thing I wanted was to have some uninterrupted writing time. Through research and the recommendation of playwright Bob Bartlett, I settled on a three-day stay at The Porches in Norwood, Virginia. As soon as SUNDAY closed, I packed my bags and my travel computer and set off for Central Virginia.
Trudy Hale, owner and hostess of The Porches, sent along a sheet of directions and advised that I use them instead of my in-vehicle GPS. There’s a reason for this: Norwood, Virginia is out in the boondocks, and when I was about fifteen miles out from my destination my GPS simply stopped working. Fortunately Trudy’s directions are quite clear, and I pulled into the gravel driveway of The Porches around 4:30 PM on Tuesday.
Trudy met me at the door, along with Jenny, one of the other writers in residence. There were two other writers at The Porches when I arrived, and all three of them left the following day. I chatted at length with Jenny, exchanged only a few words with Anne, and never even saw Henry. Privacy is tantamount at The Porches; there are rules about keeping quiet during the day so you don’t disturb other writers as they woo their Muse.
I unpacked the car, stowing my foodstuff in the Writers’ Refectory (a large first-floor kitchen and dining room) and dragging my other things up to my assigned quarters: The Jade Room, on the top floor of house. Initially I was a little dismayed at being waaaaay up there (in addition, the Jade Room is the only room equipped with a single bed instead of a double), but after I’d gotten moved in I had to admit it was an awfully nice place. It was a light, airy room with a skylight, plenty of windows, a view of the treetops and loads and loads of quiet. It also had a generous workspace for my computer and attendant Writing Junk, a power strip for All The Things That Must Be Plugged In, a ceiling fan and good lamps for writing at night
Not that I did much writing that first night. I was too busy getting oriented and arranged, and discovering that there was absolutely no cell reception anywhere on the property (“AT&T and Verizon don’t get along up here,” was Trudy’s explanation). I had to email John to let him know I’d arrived, and we kept communicating via email, and you know what? it wasn’t so bad. I wrote him a little letter in the morning and sometimes one at night, and it was actually sort of sweet.
My sleep that night was only so-so, as I expected. I never sleep well the first night away from home, and the final week of SUNDAY’s run I’d had some kind of bad reaction to a bug bite that made me break out in hives – some of which might have been stress-oriented. I’d been to the doctor and gotten a steroid shot to bring the hives under control, but I still had some major itching going on. All the same, I got up the following morning ready to write. Trudy was already gone – driving Henry to the airport in DC (!) and Jenny and Anne departed not long after, so I had the house to myself. After breakfast, I got to work. I took a break for lunch and kept on going until about 2 PM, when I realized my eyes were crossing and I needed a break. I stuck my phone in my pocket (although I couldn’t make any calls, I could take photos) and struck off to see what the neighborhood looked like.
Maizie, Trudy’s dog, was waiting just outside the gate and happily accompanied me on my walk. There was no one else around; not a soul. The only other person I saw on my 45-minute walk was a school bus driver, who waved to me as she passed the first time and waved again on her return trip (I wondered what poor kid lived way up here in the boonies). I crossed a little stream (I found out later it was not a stream at all, but the Tye River, a tributary of the James River which is not far away from The Porches), looked at a cow with her calf out in a field, saw a lot of old ruined houses and barns (very picturesque; made me wish I was a painter), and generally just enjoyed the fresh air. It was overcast and smelled like rain, and by the time I returned to The Porches (Maizie having long ago abandoned me for a neighbor’s yard) it was beginning to drizzle. I met Trudy out in the garden with a trowel and trug; she had only just gotten back from her trip to DC. I thought it was awfully nice of her to drive Henry all that way, but she shrugged and said she’d known him for thirty years. We stood in front of the house chatting for nearly an hour; she told me that she owns the little church just across Norwood Road from The Porches, and has hopes of turning it into an art studio/gallery at some point. She also told me a way to get down to the River Tye, and the best walks in the neighborhood. It started to rain in earnest then, and Trudy went into her side of the house, and I went upstairs to the Jade Room and got back to work. It rained the rest of the day and into the night, but the drumming of it on the tin roof was oddly comforting.
I wrote nearly 2000 words my first full day at The Porches, which probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s a lot more than I’ve been averaging of late. I generally peck out 500 or so words a day, but my excuse is that I edit and polish as I go – a system some writers scoff at, preferring to burp up words without stopping, but I’ve written two previous books this way and it’s what works for me. In addition to writing, I also read and did some yoga and never once turned on a TV (there’s one downstairs for them as wants it). Day Two was much the same, except even quieter – I had the whole house to myself. I followed much the same pattern: wrote all morning, took a break for lunch, wrote until midafternoon, went for a walk (this time sans Maizie, who couldn’t be bothered). I didn’t get as much written the second day: only about 1000 words, and I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but this is a first draft, after all, and I’ll fix it in rewrites.
So after my two full days and two partial days at The Porches, I can give it my heartiest recommendation. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable and it’s been lovingly laid out for working writers. The Refectory has plenty of refrigerator and storage space; the Writers’ Lounge looked comfy but I never used it – too busy writing. I brought my own books to The Porches but it was like bringing sand to the beach – every room in the house, with the exception of the bathrooms, had books in it. I had a peek into the other rooms and each of them is a veritable Writer’s Haven, with good light, a comfortable work space, great views and cozy armchairs and sofas for lounging in. The price is reasonable, the location gorgeous, and Trudy was funny, kind and welcoming.
I’m off on the next leg of my three-legged trip tomorrow: heading to Raleigh to visit my sister Margaret, by way of Appomattox Court House and environs. I’m looking forward to a weekend featuring a beer fest and a hockey game. It’s the antithesis of The Porches’ serene atmosphere, but after so much solitude, I’m about ready to be join the human race again.
It’s getting to be that time again: when you’ve been rushing around, busy with your little everyday busies, and you suddenly realize that it’s nearly November and it’s gotten abruptly colder and Halloween is nearly on us and the rumbling wheels of Thanksgiving are right behind that and beyond that looms the madness of the holidays…
For the past week, I’ve been busy shooting an industrial. For those not versed in ActorSpeak, that means a film used for instructional purposes, frequently sponsored or funded by a corporate or government entity – in other words, not for consumption by the general public. In my case, the industrial involves ethics in research, and I’m playing a character who has a lot of long speeches containing much industry jargon and client buzzwords (which explains why this paragraph is so wordy).
In any case, filming this industrial has meant some very early mornings and some long drives to location shoots, sometimes before the sun has risen. It’s interesting work, but it’s a completely different discipline from the stage work I usually do – virtually no rehearsal, filming scenes out of order, filming scenes over and over again, from different angles – as well as trying to memorize all the aforementioned jargon-y speeches alone, in what amounts to an artistic vacuum. All this is a long way of saying that when the “Freeze Warning” from WeatherBug popped up on my cell phone today, it took me by surprise.
I’d already begun to get a bit panicky the day before, when I finally got around to buying my Halloween pumpkins and realized I was probably going to have to carve them ahead of time due to my schedule. I hate carving my Jack O’ Lanterns ahead of time because my neighborhood is rife with squirrels and chipmunks. What begins as a beguiling array of perfectly carved Jacks rapidly turns into a rodent smorgasbord – and what the squirrels and chippies don’t get, the ants will, and then there’s the potential for frost and mold and by the time the trick-or-treaters arrive your Jacks are gnawed beyond recognition, or gross with bugs, or turning rotten. I figured if I HAd to carve in advance, there had to be ways to thwart my Jacks’ early demise. I did a little online research and found some articles claiming that a couple of common household items can help extend the life of your Jacks. I thought I’d give the methods a whirl, and bought a small, extra pumpkin to experiment with.
Ingredient #1: bleach. Carve your pumpkin, then fill a bucket with enough water to submerge the pumpkin and add some bleach (two teaspoons for every gallon of water seems to be the formula). Let the Jack soak for eight hours, or overnight, then pat dry. In theory, the bleach will both preserve the pumpkin and discourage mold. I gutted my pumpkin and gave it a quick, simple carving, then plunged it into the bleach bath and left it, not just overnight, but well into the following day, as I was called to a shoot location in Baltimore and that ate up the morning and the better part of the afternoon.
When I took the little Jack out of his bleach bath, I noticed something odd and kind of wonderful right away. The cut surfaces and interior flesh of the Jack had gone from a rich yellow-orange to dead white. It made a bright contrast to the orange rind. Once Jack was dry, I moved on to Step 2: petroleum jelly. Smear a thin film of petroleum jelly on the cut surfaces of your Jack as well as the rind. The theory here is that the petroleum jelly will discourage nibbling creatures, as they don’t like the taste. I would think the bleach alone would do the trick (the Jack does have a distinct public-swimming-pool scent), but regardless, the jelly does make Jack look as if he’s been buffed to a high gloss. That, and his startlingly white flesh, gives him a rather debonair air. I put him out for a brief while late this afternoon, and when I brought him in this evening (as I doubted either bleach or jelly will prevent him from freezing), he was, as yet, untouched. I’ll report back on his condition as Halloween approaches.
My mind then went to my baby trees, planted back in the early summer. I figure the cherry trees will do okay – they’re pretty hardy – but I was worried about my little fig, which has weathered both Japanese beetles and marauding deer with aplomb. A little more internet research led me to set one of my large rectangular tomato cages around the tree (which is about thigh-high), then wrap the cage in burlap, then cover tree, cage and burlap with plastic trash bags. I pinned everything down with clothes pins, so it’ll be easy to cover and uncover as the weather does its usual seasonal flip-flop from warm to cold and back again. Once the leaves have fallen from the trees I’ll take off the plastic, fill the empty spaces between burlap and fig tree with dead leaves, and then wrap everything back up in the plastic and seal it in for the balance of the winter. We’ll see what’s happened to the fig once spring rolls around again.
I first noticed it was because of the other birds mobbing it. It was hunkered down on a limb in my neighbor’s yard, and a blue jay, a mockingbird and a trio of crows were in nearby trees, screaming and occasionally swooping down at it. The hawk did not retaliate, but instead scrunched down, as if trying to disappear. Eventually one crow got too close, and the hawk launched itself heavily into the air – not to attack, but to flee. It didn’t fly further than a few trees away and then crouched close to the trunk. The other birds continued to yell and swoop as I got out the binoculars and tried to ID the hawk.
I knew it wasn’t a sharp-shinned hawk. They visit the area around my bird feeders frequently enough that I can spot them without binoculars. This new hawk was much larger and heavier. A little snow was falling and the light wasn’t great, but I decided it was probably a juvenile red-tailed hawk – a pretty common bird for my area, but a first-time visitor to my back yard.
John and I had some last-minute pre-Christmas errands to run so I had to leave without a better look. When I got back it was nearly dusk, but I could still see the hulking shape of the hawk, this time in our own yard, and with its back to me. I was able to get a better look at its tail and realized that I’d misidentified the bird – that it was more likely a red-shouldered hawk rather than a red-tailed. The species are not dissimilar and the juvvies are pretty easy to mix up, particularly for someone without a lot of hawk experience. I’m not swearing by that ID – I could very well be wrong again – but the hawk was closer to the house early this afternoon, and both John and I got a better look at it. In fact, John had a fabulous sighting: the hawk landed on our deck rail and stayed there for some minutes. Talk about jealous! I was in the shower and missed the whole thing. How I wished John had been able to snap a photo of the bird, but since he didn’t, this one I found on the internet will have to do.
We’ve seen him/her several more times today, mostly at the rear of the yard or in our neighbors’ trees or on the fence line. My bird feeders have been empty since autumn – I’ve been too busy to buy more seed – but I’d fully intended to fill them up on Christmas. However, having a resident hawk makes me reluctant to do so. I don’t want to set up my little feathered friends as a birdie buffet, no matter how entranced I am by our new visitor. (If I was sure the hawk would only make off with the English sparrows and the European starlings – both invasive, non-native species – I wouldn’t have the first scruple.) John wants to feed the hawk, but unless we catch a mouse or something, I don’t see that happening. I don’t think you can buy hawk feed at the local bird supply store.
Having wild creatures in my yard makes me happy, but having a Really Wild Thing visit, particularly during the holidays, feels like a special gift. I hope the Christmas Hawk hangs around for a while – at least into the New Year.
I’ve been fiddling with this new website for about a month and trying to get it sorted out before I “officially” launch it (meaning I’ll tell my family and friends on Facebook to come look at it). I’ve blogged for years on Blogger.com but wanted a website that would combine the blogging with news/info about my acting career and what I hope is a burgeoning writing career. WordPress (which hosts this site) offered more flexibility, but with flexibility comes choices, and I’ve had a lot of choices to make.
I was able to transfer my blogs over from Blogger (more or less intact), and will probably shut that website down once I get this thing firmly in the air. I was able to make separate pages for my acting work and my writing work, and even create sub-pages for those. Those pages will remain largely static unless I have something new to add; the blogging, of course, will go on apace, and those posts can be accessed from the right-hand menu on the main page. I am hoping to step up the frequency of the blogging as well – I’ve been remiss.
Some fun things about this new website: the ability to link to my infrequent tweets, put captions on photos (something I just discovered while writing this blog post) and let people share stuff here via Facebook, Twitter and of course, WordPress.
There are some things I’d like to change – the formatting of my current acting resume (which is the way my agency formats all its clients’ resumes) prevents me from importing it directly onto the Resume page as a file – it goes all wonky. My quick-and-dirty solution was to scan a hard copy and upload that like a photo. It’s not ideal, but it’s at least legible and I’ll get it sorted out to my satisfaction one day.
So – I hope you’ll cruise around my site, make some comments and let me know how it’s working for you. Let me know what you like, what you don’t like and what improvements you think I could make. I’d really appreciate some feedback.
Oh, and P.S.: I do moderate the comments on my website, but that’s mostly as a spam/crazy deterrent. I don’t mind if you disagree with me or have an honest opinion, as long as everything stays polite.
Yeah, I changed the format of the blog. Change is sometimes brought on by necessity, and in this case, I needed not to squint anymore. Hence the font size change.
Change is sometimes brought on by a desire to break away from the old, and in this case, the old format of the blog was looking more and more pinched – almost constipated. Hence the floatier, less boxed-in look.
And change is sometimes brought on by envy. I made some new friends at the writers’ conference, and a couple of them blog, and they use Blogger as their host, too, and their blogs were PRETTIER than mine. Damn it! I did a little investigating this morning and found out that my blog didn’t have to look so staid and formal, and a few clicks later, behold: a fresh new look.
Change by choice is always fun. Change by necessity, not so much. If you’ve been tracking this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a stage actress by profession, and one of the hardest things for those not in the business to understand is that we show folk spend all our time starting over. Those of us who are fortunate enough to land a long-running show (be it theatrical or otherwise) get a little more settled in, but for most of us, it seems that we no sooner get comfortable with a production than it closes and it’s time to move on. Yes, we might work at that theatre again, or with that director, that designer, that stage manager, those crew people or those actors again, but never in that particular set of circumstances. At the end of a run, you drop it all and you move on to the next project.
As with any new venture, there’s a certain amount of trepidation as the first day of rehearsal draws near, which is why so many of us refer to it as The First Day of School. We have our version of school supplies: fresh new scripts and our pencils and pens and highlighters. We have our version of teachers: the director, the stage manager, the designers (and if it’s a musical, the music director and the choreographer). We have our version of hall monitors: company managers, production assistants, technicians, crew members, accompanists and other musicians. We even have our version of the school’s administration in the form of theatre management (the PTA arrives later, when the audience comes into play).
And yes, we also have our version of classmates, in the form of fellow cast members. Some of them you may have worked with before (which can be either good or bad). Some of them you may know by reputation (which again, can be either good or bad). And some of them will be complete strangers. So the first week of rehearsal is spent not only learning from all the teachers and hall monitors and school administration, it’s also getting-to-know-your-classmates time. You figure out who sits where, who’s going to be the class brain or the class president or the class clown. You find out who’s going to be your best bud and who you might have to watch out for on the playground.
My First Day of School is tomorrow, when rehearsals for The Music Man at Arena Stage begin. I haven’t worked at Arena in over ten years, and the place has changed a lot since then – so much that I’m taking a tour after rehearsal, just to get acclimated. I know the show well; I played Zaneeta Shinn in a community theatre production when I was 16 years old, and shows you learn when you’re that young have a tendency to stick with you. This time around I’ll be playing Mrs. Paroo, so that’ll be fun.
Some of the company I know already: I’ve worked with several of them, and am good friends with a few. (It’s not like when I was a kid, an army brat always moving to a new place and arriving at the first day of school not knowing a soul.) I’ve got my pen and pencil and highlighter, so I’m ready. And I’m not a kid anymore, not by a long shot.
But it’s still a new start, a new beginning. New faces, new names to memorize, new things to learn. There’s still that fluttery First Day of School feeling, still the little mantra that every New Kid recites to herself:
Hope it’s fun.
Hope they’re nice.
Hope I can learn it.
Hope they like me.