Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Summer Flashlight Tag

I’ve been inspired by everyone’s delightful, nostalgic summer memories posts from a few weeks ago. I’m also home on the East Coast this week, spending some of my time in my hometown at my parent’s house in State College, so I’m reminded of many past summers. We had some good ones! Summers here, after all the students go home for break are wonderful. It’s so green this time of year, and the trees are sparkling with fireflies, just as Samantha described. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts has always been a highlight of the summer and simpler fond memories include eating dinner on the screen porch, picking fresh vegetables from the garden, building fires in the backyard fire pit and playing catch with my dad in the field.

My favorite summer was the year we played flashlight tag every night. We had about seven kids in my neighborhood, all within three grades of each other. We grew up riding bikes and roller blades on our street, playing tag and many variations of hide and seek around the neighborhood. When we were old enough though, middle school to early high school, we started to play flashlight tag after dark. All of us, and more if anyone had friends or family staying with them, would meet each night after dinner and play flashlight tag until midnight! The rules were simple – set the boundaries of the playing field. For example: the creek to the street and one yard boundary to the fourth yard boundary. One flashlight with the seeker and all the others had a minute or two to hide. The first person to be found with the flashlight was the seeker for the next round. So, naturally, we got very good at this – dressing in warm dark clothes, moving stealthily in various alliances, not using the flashlight until we’d spotted someone. It was great fun with good friends. This group of kids were all really good sports, so we played every single night one summer and sporadically for the next several summers.

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Waiting for “The Help”

Isabel is taking a short break, but Our View From Here welcomes the return of Erin for this week and next!

My book club has had “The Help” at the top of our list for a year, but we waited until it came out in paperback this spring to read it. Perhaps a silly rule, but once we set it, we couldn’t back down! 😉 It came up as an option every month, as did a few other books we had to wait for.  There are so many fantastic books out there to read – we decided it’s good to have a guideline or two to help us choose!

I loved this book.  It was worth the wait.  Kathryn Stockett has quite a talent with language and dialects.  She creates three specific characters with distinct voices and alternates telling the story from each of their perspectives.  It’s a story told somewhat dispassionately, bringing very different personalities together to begin the slow process of change in the deep South in the early 1960’s. Each of the character’s hesitations and fears of disturbing the peace are experienced very clearly without becoming precious or over-written.  Throughout “The Help,” huge, national civil rights events are referenced fairly casually, giving markers for the storyline and lending credibility to the novel.

The few men in the novel are truly secondary, support characters.  The book’s focus is on women of Mississippi and the relationships between the colored help and the white women for whom they work.  These women, and the children they raise, are the ones who spend all day in the house together, while the men are elsewhere.  Most accounts of this time period are told from the male perspective and this is a welcome addition to the male-dominated history.

While the following quote doesn’t represent the plot of “The Help” especially well, it stood out to me, and I love the beauty of the language:

“He claps my hands to his hips and kisses my mouth like I am the drink he’s been dying for all day, and I’ve heard girls say it’s like melting, that feeling.  But I think it’s like rising, growing even taller and seeing sights over a hedge, colors you’ve never seen before.”

“The Help” offers an entertaining story from a perspective not often heard; sort of a “behind-the-scenes” of society life at the time. And quite an enjoyable read!

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Rule #1: If you don’t finish the book, bring mimosas

Last winter I started a book club with a few of my friends. We read a novel every 4 or 6 weeks, and do traditional book clubby things. It can be difficult to find time for myself and I love reading for pleasure.  This is a loosely structured way for us to read and to have good friends with whom to have stimulating conversations about the books and our lives.

We work in the theatre on a schedule that is difficult to coordinate with anyone working a regular 9 to 5 schedule. We meet every month or so on Mondays, our common day off.  That is also the one day that we have to get all of our “life” stuff done, like laundry and groceries, but also to relax and rejuvenate and catch up with friends.  Having one day off is not quite enough time each week to get everything non-show-related accomplished. Some days I feel like there isn’t enough time to get everything checked off the list but I’m always glad I make the time for book club! It’s a couple hours when the world slows down.  We get to sit outside and chat, enjoying the weather, watching the humming birds and eating tasty appetizers.

Rule #2: book club is not stressful. If it becomes too demanding to finish the book by the scheduled gathering, we bring mimosas for everyone else!  (Please see rule #1, above.) Some of the other stage managers in the group and I are sometimes too rigid with ourselves, even with recreational activities. It amuses me that we’ve reflexively created these “rules” to guide our effort to slow down of our busy lifestyles. As much as I loathe the idea of not finishing a book by our deadline, I’ve embraced the mimosa rule.

We’ve made each book club gathering into a mini event. That month’s book is the centerpiece, but we get a big kick out of making culturally themed food! We cooked chickpea Masala when we read White Tiger and crepes with rosemary ham and goat Gouda when we read The Elegance of the Hedgehog. During The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meeting, we ate Swedish meatballs and ginger cookies and then went to see the Swedish movie adaptation in the theatre – an epic book club!

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein has been our favorite novel to date. The dog, Enzo, observes his human family with an honest and compassionate perspective, and intertwines racing metaphors to tell the story. It’s a beautiful and memorable book.

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The Travel Bug

 

The Rhone at Avignon, France.

Image via Wikipedia

 

My parents planted the travel bug in my sister and me very early on.  We made annual visits to our family in different parts of the country and spent long weekends in the nearby cities of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  That little travel bug found a permanent home when I was twelve and my family lived in Denmark.  My Dad waited a few years to take his sabbatical so that my sister and I would be the “right” ages – old enough to remember and live the full experience, but young enough that we wouldn’t be yanked from our teenage life for a year. We attended Copenhagen International School and traveled to fifteen countries that year alone.

Since then, I have tried my best to make an overseas trip once a year.  Some years it doesn’t work out, but I like the goal. My bucket list includes visiting the six populated continents and all 50 states. There are, of course, all sorts of personal rules for counting a visit to a state or a country.  An airport layover or just driving through doesn’t count.  You’ve got to at least have lunch!  I didn’t count Belgium until 1998 even though we’d driven through in 1993.   But the point isn’t just to check things off a list (though I do get great pleasure from that).  The point of visiting these countries and states is to experience the culture, to see new things and meet the people.  To learn about the world and my place in it.  Particularly now that I’m living on the West Coast, I really appreciate the differences in culture within the United States.  It’s a big country with a lot of people and interesting history.

This past summer, I had a few weeks between contracts and my friend was already planning to attend the Avignon Theatre Festival in France.  The timing was perfect, and he was so excited to travel with a stage manager. On the way to JFK, he said, “Oh, I’m glad you printed our hostel reservations.” That statement signifies the rest of the trip and the two of us as traveling companions.  He was appreciative and fun, but I handled all of the logistics!

We had to change hostels a few times, and stay at one that was a half hour outside the city walls.  On a Sunday night, the only bus running was the Festival bus.  It didn’t start service until 7:30pm, so we had to pick up our luggage and head to the next hostel as it was getting dark.  When we arrived at the Acotel Confort, the reception desk was shuttered and locked! This is where my friend shined as a travel companion.  He was calm as I was starting to envision sleeping on the floor somewhere in this dark, warehouse-filled suburb. The next hotel down the street was also closed, but had an automated concierge. (Great invention!  Right up there with the Tide Pen.) We found an available twin room, put in a credit card and got a door code! Amazing. The room was fine and actually cheaper than our original reservation. The next morning, we discovered there was another Acotel Confort – a hostel with the same name – just 200 meters down the road, and with 24-hour reception! How silly. The real stress that evening lasted only 30 minutes and we spent the next morning in the lavender fields of Provence, where any residual tension melted away.

The rest of the Avignon Festival was a treat!  We saw a few shows, all in French, which were fairly abstract and avante-guarde.  We spent time with friends, met new people, saw some interesting museum exhibits and ate some truly delicious meals.

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News from around Brighton Beach

Last week was a big week of openings and closings.  For the past two weeks I’ve had five shows running in San Diego, which is pretty unusual for a stage manager.  This uncommon event happened because I worked on two repertory productions in a row.  I handed off the backstage track at the opening of the Shakespeare Festival and then started rehearsal for the Simon Plays.

This week we held understudy rehearsal for Brighton Beach Memoirs and next week, we’ll rehearse Broadway Bound. After spending eight hours a day with this cast for nearly two months, hearing someone else say their lines is a little bizarre. Our set is a beautiful dollhouse. The plays take place 12 years apart, so a lot of the furniture is the same, but most of the dressing and all of the hand props are different. Half of the time our understudies are rehearsing on the “wrong” set.  The crew is able to do a partial changeover, creating a funny hybrid of the two shows.  We also have a couple of understudies covering two roles, which makes for an entertaining run-through when an actress has a scene with herself!

We had a really wacky performance of Brighton Beach Memoirs on Friday night. Truly great energy, with some unusual line hiccups from most of the cast (and actual hiccups from one actor).  My stage manager blamed the quirky performance on the peanut butter & jelly cookies I made that day!

The pumpkin spice cookies I made on a whim at the start of rehearsals got such a positive response and went so quickly that I’ve been inspired to bake more often. It’s been fun making old favorites and trying new recipes, like this week’s PB&J cookies.  I grew up baking dozens of cookies with my mom every Christmas. Now, I enjoy turning on the radio and mixing the batter.  I get into a routine once they start going in the oven. It’s a good way to unwind. And it has the obvious bonus of getting to share the homemade cookies with my hard-working cast and fabulous roommates, who often say I’m spoiling them.  I’ve always liked baking cookies more than I like eating them.  You’ve got to have people to enjoy them; otherwise it’s just a waste!

On Saturday, two of our crew guys celebrated birthdays, which gave me the excuse to walk through Balboa Park with a dozen colorful helium balloons!  And during Sunday’s matinee, I learned some new and interesting things: The amount of water in a cloud can be measured in elephants. “Assume an elephant weighs about six tons, …that would mean that water inside a typical cumulous cloud would weigh about one hundred elephants.” (Peggy LeMone, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado).  I also learned (during a discussion about making our fake prop bananas look a bit more realistic) that bananas continue to ripen while in a bunch.  To slow the ripening process, separate them from their bunch.

Just another weekend in the backstage world of Brighton Beach. 🙂

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They say there’s always magic in the air

Just last week I had a conversation with one of my cast-members about the differences in pay between stage and television actors.  He offered a shocking example of comparable salaries.  In 2003, when Bernadette Peters, a highly sought-after and respected headliner on Broadway, starred in the Gypsy revival, she earned $20,000 per week.  It was the highest reported Broadway salary at that time.  In comparison, an unknown regular on Medium earned $20,000 per episode.  (Bernadette Peters later accepted a significant pay cut to keep the show open longer, and shortly after, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane beat Ms. Peters’ record, each earning $50,000 per week when they returned to The Producers in 2004.)

Choosing a life in theatre is not guaranteeing financial stability or “success.” Part of what makes theatre so thrilling for me is the remarkable people I meet in this field, who have all chosen a career for the love of the work, and not for the paycheck. Similar, I’m sure, to the non-profit and educational fields of my fellow bloggers.

I am, for the first time, making a living wage doing something I love.  I don’t have any dependents and I live with two fantastic roommates, which helps.  Luckily I really enjoy having roommates, especially these two. And I am actually grateful to have the experience of not having enough money while I was living in New York City.  I had to cut out different things from my daily routine and really decide which items or activities on which I spent money. I found free or discounted activities and this group of women has been very good at locating the best happy hours in the city!

However, I have memories of New York as a cold and somewhat lonely place. Particularly compared to San Diego, which is warm and full of the good friends I’ve made in the four years that I’ve been here.  I think that view of the city and that time in my life has a lot to do with money. While I lived there, I worked in a Malt Shop and Barnes & Noble, not making enough money either place and stage managing for free. I wanted to go out and do “New York” things and meet new people, but I was on a very tight budget.

The plan was to obtain my MFA and then move back to New York and “conquer the city,” being in a position to make enough money stage managing, without having to have another job.  Enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries, but also to go out after a show with my cast without worrying if it costs too much. One of these days in the not-too-distant future, I will move back to New York to pursue the dream of working on Broadway and rediscover my romantic love of New York City.

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At tonight’s performance, the role of Isabel will be played by Erin

Isabel had to go out of town suddenly for work and will not be able to post for the next three weeks. Fortunately, we have guest blogger Erin to fill in until she returns! Thanks, Erin! Enjoy!

Hi everyone, I’m Erin!  I’m currently living in San Diego and stage managing at The Old Globe Theatre.

A brief personal history: I grew up in State College, PA with Mom, Dad and my younger sister (who is getting married next month!) I went to Penn State with most of these other lovely ladies. I majored in Human Development and Family Studies, which is not my current area of focus, but it sure has helped me navigate the many colors of crazy that one finds in the theatre.  After college I lived in New York City for two years.  I used the time and the city’s vast opportunities to discover where I really wanted to focus my energy.  I stage managed a few fun and quirky Off-off Broadway shows and met some really great people.  I decided to pursue stage management as a career instead of an avocation. So, I moved to the West Coast to get my MFA in stage management at UC San Diego.  I fell in love with the city (oh, the weather!) and these top-notch regional theatres.  For the past couple of years I have been working on some great shows at the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe, and actually making a living doing something I really love.

We’re opening Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound in Rep this week at The Globe. I have such an attachment to these shows.  It’s been an incredible process and the shows themselves are so beautiful. This particular cast is a talented, professional, accepting and appreciative. My favorite kind – and they like to go out together after a show! I think especially for audiences who see the full arc of the two plays in one day, it’s going to be a very moving theatrical experience.  It’s for shows like these that I work in live theatre.

I love the energy on the stage before a performance.  I’m sitting in the theatre now just before the half hour call of our third preview of Broadway Bound. My preset check is complete and the actors have started to filter onto the set for their warm-ups.  We’re all sharing the space and doing various pre-show rituals. Reacquainting ourselves with the space, stretching, breathing, checking their props (the silly house-key works beautifully until he’s onstage in the moment), and my favorite: listening to the totally absurd articulation warm-ups (“What a to do to die today at a minute or two to two”).

At this point in the process of a production (the week before opening), when I’m awake, I’m at the theatre.  Which is why this post has become so much about this play – because that’s the world I’m in right now.

Thanks for the opportunity to guest blog!  How exciting!

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