Category: Theatre

Atmospheric Re-entry: Return From Alabama

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.

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The Olney Ursula: sleek and scary.

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:

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The Alabama Ursula backstage, all bosom and glitter, with the Eel Ensemble (l to r, Dean de Luna, Isabel Garcia, Jordan Fife Hunt, Tommy Scrivens, Krystina Burton, Andrew Eckert)

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).

blountparkWhen 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.)

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Ursula and her proud mommy.

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).

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Ursula with Tony Gordon.

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.

With Jetsam (Brandon LaShawn Curry) and Flotsam (Jeremy Pasha)

With Jetsam (Brandon LaShawn Curry) and Flotsam (Jeremy Pasha)

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.

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With the company of Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s THE LITTLE MERMAID.

 

Flight School: Ursula Aloft

Getting pre-flight instruction from Daniel Kondas.

Getting pre-flight instruction from Daniel Kondas.

As some of you may know already, I’m reprising one of my favorite roles this summer:  that of Ursula the Sea Witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  This time it’s for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, AL.  It’s always fun to revisit a role, and here’s the really fun part this time around:  Ursula gets to FLY.

(Bear in mind that since Ursula is an octopus – sort of – that her scenes are water scenes.  This means that her flying is actually more of a grandiose floating, a wafting, a gentle settling on the ocean floor.  At least that’s the goal.)

I’ve always wanted to learn the art of stage flight, but I’ve never been cast in a role that called for that special skill.  Fortunately, the director for this production of Mermaid, Geoffrey Sherman, is a man of singular vision and exquisite taste – meaning he agreed with me when I said I thought Ursula’s first appearance should be aloft.

Billy and Michelle: Excited and Scared

Billy and Michelle: Excited and Scared

Five of us will be flying in the ASF production of Mermaid:  me, Michelle Pruiett as Ariel, Billy Sharpe as Scuttle the Seagull, and ensemble members Danielle Marie Gregoire and Andrew Eckhert, who are the stunt doubles for Ariel and Prince Eric and will also be performing some aerial gymnastics in “Under the Sea.” Michelle has flown before, but the rest of us had not, so there were varying degrees of nervousness involved as we all gathered early one Tuesday morning for “Flight School.”

Our flying director was Daniel Kondos of ZFX Flying Effects, who spends some 300 out of 365 days of the year traveling from venue to venue to instruct actors and crews in the fine art of stage flight.  First we were all fitted for harnesses:  Michelle, Andrew and Gabrielle were put into somersault harnesses, which gives them the freedom of movement they need for their swimming sequences (as well as allow them to rotate 360 degrees!).  Billy and I were fitted for simple seat harnesses, which will basically allow us to be raised and lowered.

Billy gets strapped in.

The harnesses had to fit good and tight.  Once we thought we were well and truly buckled in, we were required to squat and the straps were tightened even more.  There was a certain amount of wincing and groaning as we all got used to binding in unusual places.  One’s flabby bits tend to get shoved up around one’s ribcage or down by one’s thighs. The somersault harnesses were trickier to fit, as the center of balance has to be just so.

Billy was first in the air:  with Dan’s instruction and the assistance of fly crew, he performed some basic up-and-down, back-and-forth action and then hurried off to dance rehearsal (Scuttle not only flies, he tap dances!).

Michelle shows us how it’s done as Dan keeps a watchful eye.

 

Next up was Michelle, who was very relaxed and graceful in her rig (she’s played Ariel before, as well as Peter Pan).   She took a few practice twirls and somersaults before determining that the swivels weren’t in quite the right position, so while her harness was being adjusted, I got ready to become airborne.  It would be fun to say I was nervous and jittery, but to be honest, I felt like a little kid at Christmas – I was so thrilled I couldn’t stop grinning.  Here’s my first flight, with Dan directing:

The original idea for Ursula’s entrance was that I would get rigged up off stage left and be lifted above the proscenium level.  Then I’d be flown into position above the set (out of the audience’s line of sight) and be lowered in for my Big Entrance.  Unfortunately, with all the lights in the way, I couldn’t be lifted high enough to be hidden.  A rethink was in order, and while that was going on, Danielle and Andrew took their first spins in the harness (literally: Dan had them do a couple of somersaults to see how their rigging fit).  Here’s a look at their maiden voyages:

Danielle gives it a whirl.

Andrew preps for a somersault.

Andrew preps for a somersault.

It was great fun watching everyone dipping and swirling around the stage, but I couldn’t wait to get back in the air again.  Finally the big set piece representing Ursula’s Lair was brought into position and after a brief confab with Geoffrey, Dan and the flight crew, I was lifted into the rafters off stage left (about 30 feet up).  With a slight up-and-down motion reminiscent of an octopus bobbing through the briny, I was lowered to the stage area just to the left of the Lair.

Checking in with Dan after Lair Landing #1.

It was good, but not quite good enough.  After another confab, we repeated the journey, only this time I alighted briefly on top of the Lair before being lowered to my landing spot on deck.  Much more effective!  When we added the entrance lines and music, plus my rehearsal skirt just to get a sense of how it would all look, I think everyone was happy:

So this old dog learned another new trick and is feeling pretty happy about it.  I can’t wait until we get into tech, so I can get back in the air again.  I’m eager to experience what happens when I’m completely tricked out in Full Ursula, tentacles and all.  Meanwhile, my dreams are all full of flying!

 

 

Becoming Ursula, Part One – Getting A Head

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Who wouldn’t want to play a Sea Witch? With eels, no less?

I’ve been fortunate to have had a long and rewarding career in musical theatre.  I’ve done Broadway, a National Tour and countless regional theatre productions.  I’ve appeared in world premieres, revivals and revisals, in roles dizzying in variety.  In 2014 alone, I played an aging stripper, a Jewish mother, an amoral British money-lender and the mother of artist Georges Seurat.

But there’s one kind of role that’s always eluded me:  a shrieking, mugging, scenery-devouring, terrifying-funny psychotic.  I’m talking, of course, about playing a Disney villain.  More specifically, a villainess – since the few major Disney bad guys pale in comparison to their female counterparts.

So when Olney Theatre Center announced that they were producing Disney’s The Little Mermaid as their 2014 holiday show, I was beside myself.  I love Ursula.  She’s a slinky, slimy, sexy sociopath.  Her big number, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is brilliant.  (Side note:  Ursula is one of the few Disney villains who actually sings.)

Since the role is such a plum, naturally many of my fellow actresses were interested in it as well, but I was shameless in letting the good folks at Olney know that I really, really, REALLYREALLY (really!) wanted to be seen for the role.  To their credit, they did not shy back in horror at my eagerness, and when auditions rolled around I was called in to read.  As it turned out, shameless was exactly what director Mark Waldrop was looking for.  To my delight, I was offered the role, and accepted with greedy alacrity.

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With Tracy Lynn Olivera and Jamie Kelton, in Pei Lee’s costumes for Olney’s 2013 production of “Cinderella.”

Becoming Ursula, though, was going to take more than just me being eager.  The Sea Witch is a grand creation:  part human and part octopus, she’s an undersea nightmare that has to be translated from the anything’s-possible world of animation to a flesh-and-blood actress treading the all-too-solid boards of a theatrical stage.  It’s a major challenge, but when I discovered that Pei Lee was going to be designing the costumes for Olney’s production, I knew I was in good hands.  Pei and I have worked together in the past (that’s some of her work on Olney’s 2012 production of Cinderella to the left) and I’m a huge admirer of her creativity and attention to detail.

 

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Ursula’s headdress, a work in progress.

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A noble profile, in the making.

Because Olney’s PR department wanted to do a publicity photo shoot in October, Pei got in touch with me in late July to start work on the Ursula costume, specifically on the character’s headdress, which would be featured in the photos.  We met so she could make a wrap of my head (a complicated process involving plastic wrap, scissors, felt-tip markers and a LOT of tape), and approximately a month later I went out to Olney for a fitting.

Even unfinished, the headdress was amazing.  It had the shape and flow of Ursula’s hair from the animated feature because it’s made of a lightweight fabric called FossShape (which can be sewn and then “frozen” into place using heat).  It fit like a dream and was even comfortable. Pei had included details like reversible sequins (which can be shifted from white to black) and during the fitting, roughed in “sideburns” to complete the look.  We were both tremendously pleased with the results.

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Halloween $13-off ticket promo ad.

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Menacing the Mermaid.

Since the photo shoot was going to focus on head and shoulders, we also had to do a makeup trial.  The day of the shoot I came in early, and we played with both water and creme-based makeups for about an hour.  Rather than the purple-skinned Ursula of the cartoon, Pei wanted a paler version with just some gray-lilac shading beneath the cheekbones, with teal, black and purple around the eyes and bright red lips.  While we liked the translucency of the water-based makeup, applying it with a makeup sponge was tricky and the results somewhat uneven and streaky.  Since the photos would be edited and the publicity team, along with our Ariel, Laura Zinn, were waiting, we decided we’d revisit the makeup issue down the road.  I got into the now-completed headdress, a rough mockup of the Ursula costume (which was far from ready) and we did the shoot.   The photos turned out great.

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In front of the green screen.

Our second makeup trial happened during the third week of rehearsal, when we needed to shoot a green-screen video for a special-effects moment which occurs late in the second act.  The costume was still being built, so the rough mockup was called into play again.  For the makeup, we had a little more detail this time, including some whacked-out tinsel false eyelashes I happened to have in my kit.  However, we still weren’t happy with the streaky results of the water-based foundation, but didn’t want to sacrifice its translucence for a smoother but opaque creme-based makeup.  (We also decided that the lashes, while fun for the video shoot, were a bit too pale and fragile for eight shows a week.)  After the video shoot, I scrubbed my face and went to rehearsal.  While talking over the shoot with fellow cast members, I mentioned the makeup issues and our dissatisfaction with the streaky application.  One of our Mersisters (Gracie Jones, who plays Andrina) looked thoughtful.  “Why don’t you try airbrushing?” she asked, and on being quizzed further, showed me photos of airbrushed zombie/ghoul/ghost makeup designs she was currently producing for Markoff’s Haunted Forest in Dickerson, MD.  (Great article about the Forest here, if you’d like to know more.)  “I’d be happy to do your makeup,” Gracie added.

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A little too zombiefied.

 

Well, you can bet I pounced on that offer.  I texted Pei, and 48 hours later we were into Ursula Makeup Trial #3.  Pei, Gracie and I (well, Pei and Gracie – I just sat there) experimented with the airbrush technique for a good hour.  The application process was super-smooth and even, and took half the time of the previous sponged-on trial.  Our first version ended up looking a little too ghoulish, so I washed off and we started again.  This time I pincurled my hair, as Pei wanted to see the finished makeup with the headdress.

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Success! And in half the time!

 

With a little lighter hand on the shading, Gracie was able to produce the results Pei wanted.  She was also able to lay down a base of teal and purple for the eyeshadow, and using a template of Pei’s design, even swooshed in Ursula’s wildly arched eyebrows.  The smoothness of the application, not to mention the time saved, was cause for celebration.

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The finished product.

 

With Gracie’s work done, she cleaned up while I added the fine details (yes, I actually did something more than just sit there the whole time).  I finessed the brows, applied a thick, sturdy set of lashes, lined my eyes a la The Black Swan, gave myself a full cupid’s-bow mouth in bright red, and for the finishing touch, added Ursula’s signature beauty mark.  Pei brought in the headdress, we popped it on and voila! URSULA!

(Side Note:  One of the problems we’d struggled with in earlier iterations of the design was my own eyebrows interposing themselves into the mix.  Using my brows as the line of demarcation between the teal and purple shadows, along with Gracie’s airbrushing, made that problem literally disappear.)

To say we were three happy campers would be the understatement of the year.  At last Ursula’s face was in place!

Up next:  Tentacles, et al.

The finished Ursula and her creators:  Gracie Jones, me and Pei Lee.

The finished Ursula and her creators: Gracie Jones, me and Pei Lee.

 

 

When Worlds Collide

It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged anything of substance, and for that I apologize and offer the usual excuse that I’ve Been Busy.  I’ve already mentioned the industrial work that took me right up to a flurry of workshops, cabarets and one-night events, not to mention the start of rehearsals for Gypsy at Signature Theatre; what I haven’t mentioned is that on November 1st, I started writing a new book.

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Author/Actress at work, feathers and all.

See, there’s this thing called NaNoWriMo which happens every November.  Essentially, you pledge that you’ll write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during the 30 days of November.  They don’t have to be polished words – in fact, you could be writing utter crap – but the idea is to just get yourself to put words on paper on deadline.

Now, you would think for someone with a journalism background that putting words on paper on deadline would be dead easy, but it ain’t so.  I am a persnickety author with a very strong Internal Editor so my M.O. when writing is to write a few sentences, edit them, polish them, and then move on.  It works for me (after all, I’ve already got two completed novels under my belt) but sometimes you’d like the Editor to back off a bit so you can just let the words flow.   I thought trying NaNo this year would help me achieve that goal, and I’d made tentative plans to write a light romantic comedy for the competition.

Problem was, I was so busy in the weeks leading up to November 1st that I wasn’t able to do the necessary planning for the rom/com novel.  Hadn’t anything but the roughest idea of a plot, hadn’t decided who the main character would be – in other words, all I had was a title (it’s a great title, though, which I will share once I write the darn thing).  So I was a little panicked by mid-October.

I was already about 30,000 words into the third book in my fantasy series and was running into a series of hiccups with it, mostly centered around motive and personality for my lead protagonist and antagonist.  Just as an exercise, I’d written some material about both characters’ childhoods and upbringing, and I was growing more and more interested in exploring that further.  Why not write that book for NaNo? I asked myself, and myself, feeling exceedingly harried and irritable at the time, responded “YES YES DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.”

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November 2013 calendar. The week of Thanksgiving I gave up trying to log it all in.

So on November 1st, in the midst of an extraordinarily busy week, I started writing a new novel.  It was helpful that I had a good clear idea of where I wanted to go with the story, but it was hard making myself just spew the words rather than stop and polish.  And I did need to spew.  In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write at least 1,666 words per day.  That’s a lot of words, particularly when you don’t have a lot of focused time.  So I squeezed in the writing whenever I could, sometimes getting up a few hours early, sometimes writing while I ate, sometimes grabbing a spare 20 minutes between rehearsals, just to get  the words down.  There were days when I couldn’t write at all and had to make it up the next day; there were days when what I wrote was so heinous that the Internal Editor leaped in before I could stop her; there was a particularly awful morning when I discovered that I had somehow neglected to save my work properly the day before and had lost some 1300 words that I then had to recreate in addition to that day’s quota.

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Success!

In spite of all this drama, what I was writing wasn’t half bad.  In fact, it was pretty good.  Maybe all these years of writing means that the ratio of Junk Spew to Decent Spew has tipped in favor of useable material.  Once I got past the first couple of weeks, it started to come easier.  Part of that may have been that when Gypsy rehearsals began, I wasn’t called all that often so I had more time.  Part of it may also have been that I’d disciplined myself to grab those precious free minutes to write, rather than cruise the Internet or sit in front of the TV (or sleep).  I actually ended up crossing the 50,000 mark a few days shy of the deadline and was able to call myself a NaNoWriMo Winner.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was to log in my word count on the NaNo website that day and see this screen pop up on my computer.

Of course, that didn’t mean the book was finished, not by a long shot.  I continued writing through December, difficult as that was what with the holidays and all, but since I had a great deal of downtime in Gypsy, I was able to write in the dressing room and log in several hours a week that way (witness the photo at the beginning of this blog).  I continued the pattern in January, with a helpful push from like-minded writers at Absolute Write.  I made myself a new, easier goal – to write 500 words a day – and a few days ago I was able to write THE END on my NaNo novel.  I did a quick editing pass on it and put it aside, intending to give it a week to percolate, but impatience got the better of me and I rewrote the beginning, made another editing pass, formatted it into chapters and fired off an email to my faithful beta readers to see if they’d be willing to give this new book a go.  It’s shorter than my other tomes – a mere 71,000 words – but I’m pleased with it.

The question yet to be answered is if this book is going to be right for the series.  In other words, will I need to position it as the first book in the series and try to get it published that way, or should I view it as an interesting exercise and put it aside?  Only time will tell.  In any case, as Grand Experiments go, I’m calling my NaNo experience a success, and I’m already making plans to participate in the 2014 event.  I still have that rom/com to write, you know.

 

Less of Me

Here we are well into the summer and I am late, late, late with everything.  I didn’t get my vegetable garden going until early July.  I never did a Crass Commercial Announcement for The Music Man at Arena Stage, where I’ve been playing Mrs. Paroo for weeks and weeks now.  I haven’t talked about my writing work.  “Are you ever going to blog again?” John asked me, so today I have resolved to sit down and do it.  It may be a bit disjointed so please forgive me in advance.

So first things first – a Crass Commercial Announcement for The Music Man.  We only have 14 more performances to go and there are some great ticket deals available, so I suggest you hustle on over to Arena Stage‘s website and take advantage.  The show is a lot of fun and has a great cast.  Two of them are pictured with me in the photo above:  Burke Moses as Harold Hill (bamboozling Mrs. Paroo, who seems to be delighted about it) and Ian Berlin as Winthrop Paroo.  I don’t do a great deal in the show – don’t dance, barely sing and generally just do the Irish accent and make the occasional funny – but there’s so much else going on that you won’t miss me.  The photo, by the way, is by Joan Marcus, Broadway photographer extraordinaire.

 The garden is kind of pathetic this year.  John got it tilled for me, but it was so wet in the late spring/early summer that the soil clumped up in great nasty clods and then dried that way while I was occupied with getting The Music Man up and rolling.  I finally took a hoe and bashed the biggest clumps into submission and put in a scanty version of my usual vegetable patch:  three Roma tomato plants, a Black Cherry tomato, a Brandywine and some kind of orange hybrid (the name of which escapes me now), a basil plant, a Red Cherry pepper plant, and a couple of watermelon seedlings.   This is a wee little watermelon, but I have hopes that it will be less wee in the days to come.  I must say that, even with a late start and probably owing to the combination of decent rain and absolutely vile heat in this area of late, the vegetable plants are growing at a lusty pace and I may actually get something to eat out of the patch by September, maybe.

And now the writing.  After hammering away at it almost nonstop for the past year, Book 1 is finished.  It’s an adult fantasy (and by adult I mean it’s not for kids, you dirty-minded people) and it’s tentatively entitled Kinglet.  Three people were kind enough to act as my “beta readers” for the manuscript and have given me a lot of really terrific feedback, and all three brave souls are now launched into reviewing the sequel while I tweak the first book.  Knowing full well that the odds are completely against me, I have also begun pitching agents to represent the book and have already received my first two rejections (yippee!).  I’ll pursue this Plan A until I get an agent or dissolve into an ink-stained puddle, whichever comes first, and then there’s a Plan B and a Plan C and even a Plan D.  I also submitted a short story into a competition and didn’t get squat from that, so said short story has been fired off to yet another contest and we’ll see what happens there.  Meanwhile I writewritewrite and the whole process makes me curiously happy, rejections and all.

And now, as briefly as I can (because there’s nothing more boring than listen to someone yammer about their weight), to the title of this blog post:  “Less of Me.”  Those of you who’ve known me for years and have seen me in the flesh lately know that I’ve lost weight.  No, check that:  I’ve lost a LOT of weight.  One lovely lady wanted to know if I had been sick, which made me guffaw.  No, I’m not sick.  I feel better than I’ve felt in years.  At the end of 2010 I was at my highest weight ever (210 pounds on a 5’7″ frame) and my knees hurt and I was tired all the time and I was sick of not being able to wear cute clothes.  At my request, my husband gave me a Wii Fit for Christmas and the first time I stepped onto it and it told me I was “Obese” it was like being slapped.  But I was, and it was time to face up to it.  I’d tried the Atkins diet and it had worked, for a while, but as a middle-aged and fairly sedentary lady I felt it would be a mistake to start eating all that fat again.  I knew what my problem was:  I just ate too much.  So I joined the Lance Armstrong Live Strong website and punched in my weight and height and age and it told me what I should weigh and I started recording what I ate.  Faithfully.  Every single day.  It was tough because I had to remember it until I sat down at a computer, but then I got a smart phone.  Unfortunately the Lance Armstrong folks only had an app for iPhones at the time, but a friend turned me on to My Fitness Pal, which had an app I could upload to my phone and have with me everywhere I went.  It has been a godsend.  How much of a godsend, you ask?  Well, as of yesterday I weighed in at 152.5 – which means that the Wii now tells me I am “Normal” and My Fitness Pal says I am within 12 pounds of my goal weight.  Here’s a before and after, so you can see I’m not lying:

 

Making waffles, early February 2011.  Now granted, I didn’t know my husband was going to take this photo, and it was early in the morning and I was wearing my sweats and an old sweater of my dad’s, but still…

Backstage at Arena, a couple weeks ago, getting ready to go to a post-show event.  Now granted, I’m wearing a dressy outfit and I’m fully aware that I’m getting my photo taken (even if the flash wasn’t working right), but still…

And no, I didn’t do a lot of working out.  I did at first, and felt better for it, but for some reason when I’m doing a show, it’s hard for me to get motivated.  Once The Music Man is closed and I’m at loose ends for a while, I’ll probably get back into some sort of program.  John gave me a bicycle for my birthday (and I should really be out riding it now, because it’s a beautiful morning) and I still have the Wii and now that I’ve lost so much weight stuff is starting to sag, but there’s no huge rush.

My major barometer for this whole weight loss process has been jeans.  I have been wearing the same style of Target Merona Fit 1 jeans for the past two years, and when I started working on dropping the extra poundage, I was wearing a size 16.  Every time I lost more weight, I treated myself to a new pair of jeans in the next size down.  Yesterday I put on my size 8 jeans and they’re a little too big, so it may be time to see if I can wiggle into a size 6.  I haven’t worn a size 8 since I was in college; a size 6 seems incredible, like something out of a dream.  I kind of wish I’d held on to one pair of the big jeans so I could do a photo of myself wearing them now, but as soon as I’ve outgrown clothes I’ve gotten rid of them so I won’t backslide.  I’ve been buying clothes from Target and consignment stores until my weight stabilizes, but I have to admit that I’m tickled over the fact that I can wear cheap clothes.  And I never, never, never get tired of being told by surprised friends that I look “FABULOUS!”

Begin Again

Sorry to make you blink there.

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.