Letters to Holly

Saturday, November 22

I'm Sort Of A Winner

The annual theatre awards banquet is new for me. It's been held, I understand, each of the company's 58 years, and the last occurred before the courtroom drama opened. It was held this year at a local church assembly hall. A dinner was offered, but I preferred to skip that and give myself an easier transition from work commute to the banquet.

I arrived as the dinner wound down and sat with the spring director, his wife, another member of the script committee (that made four of us seated there), her spouse, and two actors I worked with in the courtroom play. We made chitchat before the award section began. A program listed a number of categories and nominations. I was up for best actor in a lead role along with Doc, who played the opposing attorney in the courtroom play. The directors of each of the previous season's plays were to speak, but only half were in attendance. Those who were there included our original Marley, who directed a farce, my spring director, and another script committee member who directed the summer kids show.

The director of the annual playwriting contest production spoke at length about the new facility and what he wants to do with next year's contest winner and then he segued into a tirade about the lack of new blood in the theatre. He bemoaned the company's ability to lure youngsters on- and backstage, and he went on for a while. Eventually, a voice from the back called out to remind him he was supposed to talk about the previous show. He finished up and sat down. The wife of the summer musical director continued his comments and pointed out that none of the awards were for crew. That, she said, might have something to do with the inability to attract new people. The room tensed up after this, and the spring director assured her she wasn't alone in her notion, and the matter would be corrected next year.

They undercut my planned comments as I was hoping to acknowledge the crews during my acceptance speech. It's a good thing they spoke out because I never got a chance to accept anything. I didn't win. I'm OK with that. I don't do this for awards, and I clearly recognize that I'm a rookie for these folks, and they don't know me enough to toss me a trinket. Those who did win deserved the attention.

The theatre higher-ups choose a best play, and public ballots allow audiences to pick their favorite. Now, it's a given that the last show of the year -- and a musical, to boot -- will win the people's choice award. And it did. That show can't be dismissed; it did so well, it was held over for an extra performance. That's incredibly rare in community theatre. But we were told that a computation mishap resulted in an initially incorrect winner, and a second award was given. That went to our spring murder play. My director and I were the only ones present, and we had our pictures taken with the award which he rightfully will place on his mantle.

A special award was given to our original Marley. He's undergoing chemo for leukemia, and the award and ovation felt like a eulogy. The theatre properly offered gratitude for his work, but also said implicitly is the fear he's not going to be around this time next year. He choked up, and my heart breaks for him. I still don't see how he can direct the next play.

Your Sis emailed me to mention a pajama/book donation drive created by a high-school senior. The local fishwrapper didn't run the press release, and she feared a low turnout. I skipped over to KMart and bought an armful of PJ sets for boys and girls. I made sure to buy something Your Sis would be willingly to give a young girl, so no cutsey-wootsey animals or princess themes. When I got to the bookstore, I ran into some teacher buddies. I also bought two kids books by Adam Rex. I discovered his books earlier this year, and had eight-year-old me found them, he would have thought them the bestest thing in the history of ever. I also offered to read from them at the local elementary school. (Stop the press: I just read on his blog that he received the North Carolina Book Award for his latest book earlier this month.)

I dropped by the new theatre space to see the new paint and chat with some backstage folks. We won't get a new stage curtain for our Christmas show, but I commented that we have such a simple set, that we may not need a dramatic unveiling. But I have no say in the matter.

I worked a bit on the origin page of a comic project and mulched the leaves. I stacked them in the compost pile which is now towering and swaying in the wind. I fed Your Stuffed-up Sister and tucked her into bed early. She slept most of Sunday, and I tackled grociers and laundry. Didn't look at the script once, and I plan to review it before Monday's rehearsal.

Picture of the Day
The theatre ballot chief (left) hands the second-best people's choice award to me and the director (right).

Friday, November 21

Rehearsal Ten: What the Hell?

The evening started with the question of Saturday show scheduling -- matinees vs. evening. I was the only one present with a handy phone number to call someone who would make that decision, and I contacted the spring director. He said the president had made the same argument I did: evening shows will allow patrons to enjoy dinner and a show. So, evenings it is. They are. Whatever. I got off the phone and announced this to the cast as if I had anything to do with it. We still await to learn when we can get to the stage and rehearse; we're waiting for the lighting system to be installed.

I didn't even pick up my script on Wednesday, but I wrote down my lines earlier in the day, and this is becoming my favorite way to cement lines in my head. If I know them well enough to dictate them to myself, I'm solid. And I am during the rehearsal. Any anxious vibrations are gone. I'm almost arrogantly calm. The printed schedule said we're to be off-book tonight, but the director said we were to aim for next Monday. Most of us are trying to forgo the scripts, and it makes for halting work. The older gents have a difficult time. Our oldest guy often won't say his line even when the rehearsal is stopped to remind him it's his turn AND he's told repeatedly what the line is. I'm sure he'll be just fine when we have an audience. Just fucking fine. Oh, and our Scrooge unexpectedly departs at 8 p.m. No reason, no warning. Off he goes. Three different people read his role for the rest of the practice, and it doesn't help the other actors who are used to the the Scrooge actor gives. When Brick reads the lines, I give him kudos. "Good Scrooging ... way to Scrooge."

The director keeps the rehearsal moving as she's determined we won't stay after 9 again. I am dying to shave this brillo beard I've been assigned. I use the skeleton gloves for teh first time as I determine which way to move my hands. The gloves only have bones on the back of the hands, and I don't want the flat black palm side to show as I gesture. I'll spend 30 minutes of stage time making Mr. Magoo noises and hand dancing. And this stupid fun is what gets me through each practice.

Picture of the Day
OooooOOooooo. Ghost hands.

Thursday, November 20

Hey, Get This: I'm Old.

With Your Sis off to Ra-Ra for the workshop, I busied myself with bachelor junk.

But first I called Duke Power to ask about the street light on our property. When we moved to the house, we learned the light was on the account of a house down the road. Our house's previous owners didn't control the light, and we gave the other house a check for $25 every August. The light has sporadic service: it hasn't run every night for months. And now it's out. I discovered that the house we gave the checks to is now empty; the family moved some months back. I thought the dark light meant the light was deactivated. Duke Power told me instead that it's controlled by the new owner of that house, and the light is supposed to be on. It might have burned out.

My secondary question was about us taking over the light account. It's on our property. I have to mow around it. It breaks up an otherwise nice stretch of flat land along the street. Why isn't the house on our account? I can only guess that the house's original owners wouldn't pony up the dough. When I rented a house back home, I took over that property's street light, and the payment was broken up throughout the year's bills. It couldn't have been more than an additional $10 a month, if that. I was told the light can't be transfered without the permission of the current account holder. But they won't say who that is. The other house stands empty. I don't know how to contact the landlord. I can only wait until the house has new occupants and ask them if we can take over the light.

The thrills of homeownership. This wouldn't be so worrisome if we didn't live far enough from the city to have utter darkness when the sun sets.

With that done, I cooked the first of the Little Caesar home-backed pizzas. It was a disappointment. It smelled just like a fanchise-made pie and tasted like one from a school cafeteria. I drowned my sorrows in videogames before watching a Country Music Television concert matching the current Britney with Def Leppard. There's no way to avoid the presentation of my favorite rock band: They were a nostalgia act. The new girl was raving about them, saying her mom loved them and listened to them when the kid was an even younger kid. She's younger than their biggest CD, Hysteria, by a few years. They sang her songs, she sang their songs, and I felt like a geezer. But I sang along to the TV and probably terrified the neighbors who thought drunken, tone-deaf hobos had settled down on our night-shrouded road.

I sketched out a comic page to hang in the hallway while talking to Your Sis. I could hear her fall asleep. I ran my lines in the shower and during my commute. I've turned that corner where I have my lines and the anxiety decreases by 80 percent. I'm actually looking forward to the rehearsal tonight.

Picture of the Day
The show comes back January 21. Just two months away.

Wednesday, November 19

Rehearsal Nine: Cold Comfort

The director called the cast after Monday's rehearsal to ask if we could change the Saturday shows into matinees. We learn later that this was traditional for Christmas shows because they so often featured a large kid contingent, and bedtimes trumped showtimes. I have no problem doing an afternoon Christmas show, but it seems counter to our greatest rationale for nabbing the new performance space: Patrons could access easy parking at night, grab dinner, and stroll to the show. I suppose they could just reverse that and eat after.

We start with Act Two tonight. The director is still unsure about character rationale, and I figure out why I'm so dismayed about this show so far. I advocated it in committee. I'm emotionally invested it in beyond my norm.

It's a better night. Many of us are trying to avoid our handheld scripts, and we all stumble a bit. I run my Act Two ghost lines without the script of the first time, to my relief. To prepare for my costume limitations, I kept my head bowed for those scenes. The costume is opaque, and my head will be hidden. I can't make eye contact to cue myself or others. I will have to rely on sound. The cold warehouse space helps me make ghost noises. I decide to cut back on Cratchit's timidity to speed up those lines. I can suggest his meek nature, but I do want him more confident when he speaks of Tiny Tim's ailment.

We run the whole play in reverse order and stretch past our planned rehearsal time. I don't mind at all. During my extensive Act One downtime (I spend 40 pages just sitting onstage) I sketch out ideas for this show's magnet.

Your Sis leaves today for Raleigh, and it's the bachelor life for me. I watched UNC roll past Kentucky last night after the rehearsal, and it was a late night for both of us.

Picture of the Day
A new image from Where the Wild Things Are, a film that might never see the light of day. The studio thinks it's too dark.

Tuesday, November 18

Rehearsal Eight: A Bad Night

We knew we would have headshots made tonight, but it wasn't common knowledge that we'd do publicity photos too. My spring director was there for the former, and the original Marley was there for the latter. We menfolk are in sloppy shape as our muttonchops-to-be are right scraggly. Still, we smiled for the birdie.

The publicity photos for this company are commonly sad. We stand in front of a blank wall with a prop or two in various degrees of costumes. For instance, I was posed in my everyday clothes while wearing a Victorian jacket. I am a slacker waiter, your skater-d for the evening. All the photos are taken from the same distance with the same stiff poses. We never look natural or caught in an organic moment. We are taxidermed. I'm glad this guy feels healthy enough to come out and take our pictures, but we need a new photo philosophy. Maybe creative lighting or selective focus.

The cast tries on different jackets and dresses and hats. The director says she'd like to use props on Thursday, and I hope that means I'll wear the ghost costume. We were told last week to be offbook for this Thursday, but, just as we take the staging area, she announces Monday is the new deadline. I'm glad to get four more days to nail down my lines, but I busted my tush this weekend to learn my lines. For a time it looks like we'll have our first full-cast rehearsal. But halfway through Act One, the director reads a part. Did we lose an actress? Is she reading for someone otherwise occupied this evening? I never learn.

Various conversations offstage prove distracting for those of us trying to remember the script, and well begrudgingly check our scripts and look around the room at the peripheral babble. I screw up in my Act One paragraph, but otherwise get through it OK. We're supposed to to the whole play, but a late start makes Act Two impractical tonight. Instead, we run through the busiest part of Act Two. Unfortunately, because we haven't yet measured our stage space, we're crammed together, and walking space is rare. It's awkward staging, and I don't know what benefit it can have. We're learning the wrong dimensions and movement.

We end at 9 p.m., and Act One has taken over an hour. It's still early in the rehearsal time, but we're dragging through the play, and I don't know if the comedy can survive. We need to pick up the pace and stop overworking the lines. This is a long skit, not a true acting piece.

Maybe it's the obligatory low point of any production in progress, but the night is sloppy, and we make no headway. I'm deflated. The atmosphere is too casual, too rudderless, and I'd appreciate some disciplined organization. It makes me cranky.

Picture of the Day
Only the hot hotness of retro disco toys can assuage my grumpiness.

Monday, November 17

A Bonding Weekend.

I drove back to the old stomping grounds for Jared's wake. The gang used to go to a local bar for trivia nights and beer. It was bliss. That bar became an Irish tavern some years back, and the wake was appropriately held there. The organizers had reserved a back room, and I entered to find more people than I expected. His wife, Chris, and mom were there, as were relatives and the comic gang. Some couldn't make it, and they didn't think I could either. I was a surprise for everyone.

Between the wide and mom was a chair angled against the table, saved for the missing guest of honor. We passed around pictures of Jared and his family, ordered drinks, and then the announcement was made: This is a wake. There is no crying at wake's. Let's start trading Jared stories. And we did. Lasted about an hour and a half. I made sure Chris had my numbers and reminded her I'd be in town once a month to visit Mom as well. If she needed anything or just wanted a distraction, she should call. And then I went to Mom's house to sleep.

We had a long Waffle House breakfast with two of her friends from the hospital. We all get along famously. One of the waitresses passed around fundraising Christmas cards that resembled Thomas Kincade works, and I remarked how much I despise his stuff. Mom was surprised, and I asked if she had seen the Kincade store in the next county's mall. She hadn't. A road trip ensued. We mall-shopped for a while before returning home for my small list of repairs. It didn't take long. I also showed Mom some more of the internet, explaining Facebook and eBay to her, before I went back home.

I assured Your Sis we would watch the new Bond film on opening weekend and encouraged her to see it first with a gal pal while I was tending to widows. They both enjoyed the shirtless parts of the first film, and they hadn't seen each other in forever. We watched Casino Royale again Saturday night to refresh our memories (and it's a good thing, this new film relies heavily on Royale). She did schoolwork Sunday while I had another hourlong mentor meeting, and we saw the new film that night. She's fighting a bug and staying in the sick bed. She has another state workshop to attend later this week, and she's trying to clean off her to-do pile before Thanksgiving.

I read my script throughout the weekend to brand the ghost dialogue into my brain, and it seems to have worked. I have the rough outline of those scenes in memory, and I still have four days before we're to bee off-book. Watching two Bond films helped my British accent, I think. The annual theatre award supper is this Friday, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect to get something.

Quick Review: The plot that continued from Royale is great; the new story with the obligatory corporate villain is thin. It's two-thirds of a great movie.

Picture of the Day
A New York protester against the Mormon Church and its efforts against gay marriage.