Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Sixty-Two: Hockey Eve

First: I may not post tomorrow. I'll be in Austin tomorrow night for a performance at Brannockburn Baptist Church. They'll be putting us up in a motel, so at this time I don't know if I'll have Internet or not. So if I don't post tomorrow night, just breathe. It's gonna be okay, I promise.

All right: Hockey season starts tomorrow, October 1st. It's been a bizarre summer (Hossa, Heatley, the Coyotes, Versus/DirecTV, Paul Kelly), but at last the games can start again. So here are a few clips to get you excited for the 2009-10 season.

First, here's a reminder of where we left off (in FRENCH! One word I definitely understood: "Wow.")

Up next: One of the greatest solo effort plays of the 2008-09 season:

A fantastic highlight video for Official WBW Fan-Favorite Cal Clutterbuck! Would have been even better if it had audio...

Although, if it's BIG hits you're looking for, you're looking for Milan Lucic of the Bruins.

How does Unofficial WBW Celebrity Louie get in shape for the new season?

Hey, you know who has awesome commercials? Hockey.

Plus, this year is EXTRA special, because right smack in the middle of the season, we'll take a two-week break for the Olympics! (You just remember one thing, Simon Gagne...)

Things we will likely not see this season: one player, on one shift, tackled by a ref, kneed in the back of the head, taking a puck off the visor, and then scoring one of the most amazing goals of the year. Just doesn't happen like that all too often.

Okay, I'm not a huge fan of the shootout in the NHL. Still: wow.

Finally, I know we're light years away from it now, but there's really nothing in all of sports like the NHL Playoffs. This past year, we were really treated to an outstanding tournament, and (not surprisingly) Hockey Night in Canada put together one of the best playoff tribute montages I've ever seen.

Enjoy the season, no matter who you root for nor how much of a die-hard you really are. Just enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Sixty-One: The Beasts are in the East

First, a retraction: I incorrectly stated last night that the St. Louis Blues almost made the playoffs. They did, in fact, make it after one heckuvan impressive showing the last half of the year. I blame this ineptitude on the fact that I was rushing through to finish my blog before auditions last night.

I blame any errors tonight on the fact that it's 4:17 p.m. and I am just now sitting down to eat my lunch.

As I look at the teams I think have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup next season, I realize that most of them are Eastern Conference teams. In the West, San Jose and perhaps Anaheim are built to make it through the regular season, Olympics, and then the two-month marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (The Sharks should be nice and rested after so many consecutive early-round exits...Seriously, what is WRONG in San Jose??) In another year or two, Chicago and Saint Louis will probably be added to that list while Anaheim is poised to fall off sooner than later. Vancouver and Detroit have outside shots to emerge from the rubble victorious. But the teams that have the best blend of skill, grit, character, desire, and experience seem to lie within the fifteen teams that are crammed into within roughly two hundred square miles of one another. (Slight exaggeration)

Here are my predictions (without, of course, taking into account the things that are impossible to predict: injuries, coaching changes, starting goalies inexplicably tanking, the stuff that always screws up everyone's predictions every year)

I'll start in the Southeast; it's probably the easiest to try to predict.

1. Washington Capitals
The Caps are a team that pushed the Stanley Cup Champs to a game seven, and losing in that sort of experience for a brash team of youngsters like the Caps almost always makes the team come back more focused and pissed off the next time around. I expect that out of Ovie's boys in 2009-10. Alex Ovechkin is a monster, there's no other way to describe him. He's easily the most gifted and driven goal scorer in the league today. He's so good, his entire supporting cast disappeared for him in the playoffs and he almost single-handedly beat the Pens. Once you get past the top two dynamic scoring lines, however, there's a serious drop-off in talent. I don't know that the Caps have the depth to get it done, either up front or on the blue line. Admittedly, they have enough top-end talent that depth may not be necessary. However, I'm also not sold on Seymon Varmalov. He played great in the playoffs last year, but will he be Ken Dryden or Johan Hedberg? My inclination would be to lean toward the former, but we have yet to see how he holds up through an entire season. At any rate, the Caps are good, and given that they play in the Southeast they've got the inside track at the top seed.

2. Carolina Hurricanes
I'd say the Canes were one of the most underrated teams in the East last year. Like a lot of the teams who made noise in the post-season, the Hurricanes had a great surge to end the season and unseated perennial power New Jersey and conference champion Boston before running into Evgeni Malkin and scurrying home in four short games. The Canes are good, though. Their roster is actually still surprisingly similar to the one that won the Cup in 2006 (and missed the playoffs in 2007), so it's always hard to tell exactly what this team is going to do. They're solid in pretty much every area without being really spectacular in any of them, but in this division that's going to be good enough.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning
It's popular sport to pick on the Lightning on NHL message boards all over the web, but I think they've done a pretty good job at addressing their problems from last season, assuming goalie Mike Smith is healthy and plays at the same level as last year. The blue line, which was horrid last year, will be better, though still a step away from being "good." There's more depth at forward, though the team is still lacking one more true top-six forward. The bottom six aren't as pathetic as they were. The team has a capable backup in Antero Niittymaki, something they lacked all last year (when Smith went down for just about the entire season with a concussion). This year will be a step in the right direction for TB.

4. Atlanta Thrashers
I think Atlanta made some good moves this summer, but depth has been an issue for this franchise since day one. If they want to return to the post-season (I believe they've been once, MAYBE twice), someone besides Kovalchuk will have to be a consistent offensive threat, Enstrom and Bogosian need to take big steps forward to lead the blue line, and either Lehtonen's going to have to stay healthy (and play better) in goal, or Ondrej Pavelec's going to need to have a Steve Mason-like season and take the #1 job. Otherwise, the crowds will continue to dwindle in Atlanta. (They may continue to dwindle anyway, who knows?)

5. Florida Panthers
There is not a lot to be excited about in Miami. A couple of good young forwards, and a decent defensive corps, IF they can stay healthy. A solid starting goaltender. Not a ton of depth in any area. The team really should have unloaded Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline last season. Most of the vets on this squad are NOT on the upswing of their careers.

1. Boston Bruins
No-brainer. They've got difference makers at every position and the right mix of skill players and role players to win in the playoffs. Tim Thomas is past solid in net. The loss of Phil Kessel will hurt, but if youngsters like Krejci and Wheeler take their games up a notch, no one will really notice. I'd love to see a seven-game series between the B's and the Caps at some point. That'd be fun.

2. Ottawa Senators
The rest of this division is kinda a crapshoot. I'm going to give the Sens the edge for #2 under the assumption Pascal Leclaire returns to form. (Not a given. The Senators have a history of killing goaltenders' careers) Even without Dany Heatley, I think the Sens have better forward depth than most of the rest of the Northeast--once again, assuming Alex Kovalev plays like he has the past couple years, and not the couple before that. It's all very enigmatic. Their defensemen don't inspire me, but they're not bad. There are a lot of if's here.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Perhaps a surprise pick, I think the Leafs will be better this year. I like the moves they've made this off-season. I think that, if Jonas Gustavsson can unseat Vesa Toskala early enough to be #1 in net, this team could challenge for the playoffs. Their defensive core is going to be tough to play against. Kessel adds instant swagger to an offensive unit that has plenty of 20-goal threats, but not any 30-goal threats. As a team, however, the Leafs scored a surprising number of goals last season, so an improvement on defense should make them competitive night in and night out.

4. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are decent. Vanek is a bit overpaid, but he's still good. Tim Connolly has really come into his own of late (when he's on the ice). Pomminville and Roy can chip in on the scoresheet. The blue line is decidedly veteran, but decently hard-nosed. Ryan Miller is a good #1 goalie. There's nothing really to not like on this roster, but then again there's not really much to get too excited about, either.

5. Montreal Canadiens
Man, does Carey Price ever need to have a good year between the pipes! Montreal has some skilled scorers, but they all come with question marks. Scott Gomez hasn't produced up to his standards for a couple of years and is hoping a change from Tom Renney's New York system will get him back on his game. Mike Cammelleri put up a lot of goals last year, but that was playing with Jarome Iginla. He won't have a teammate of that caliber around anywhere. The team's lack of size up front is well-documented, and the majority of the blueliners are on the decline. Hamrlik? Mara? Hal Gill?? Serviceable, all of them, but all shadows of their former selves. Markov is a stud, but aside from him, this season has the makings of a potential disaster in Montreal. Granted, if Price becomes an elite goalie, if Gomez and Cammelleri and Gionta tear it up on the scoreboard, things could be very, very different. (Sensing a theme in this division?)

Here, my friends, is the winner! The Atlantic may even trump the Central for the best division in hockey. Picks #1 and 2 are pretty much interchangeable, as are picks #3 and 4, while the Isles...well, they're on the right path. They should be scary-good in the not-too-distant future. (Hopefully they're not playing in Kansas City at that point in time)

1. Philadelphia Flyers
The Broad Street Bullies are back, big time. The Flyers should be the meanest, nastiest, dirtiest team in the entire league--and possibly the most lethal combination of skill and toughness we've seen in years. Adding Pronger, Tollefsen, and Laperriere to this particular assembly of players was an act of war upon the rest of the East, particularly some cross-state rivals who skated around with a bit silver trophy last July. It'll be miserable playing the Flyers, but I think they'll be beatable come playoff time due to some discipline issues the team has shown in recent past. One question mark is said to be in goal, where Ray Emery is back from a forgettable year in Russia (which followed a forgettable year in Ottawa), but most forget that Emery carried a one-line team to the Cup Final in 2007. With a competent defense in front of him, he should be fine.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be a bit of Stanley Cup hangover for the Pens, but this team is largely intact after their victory parade last summer. Sid, Geno, Fleury, and the crew have shown themselves to be fierce competitors. Remember: before last season, the previous ten Stanley Cup losers had combined to win one playoff round the following year; the Pens battled back from 10th in February to win the whole dang thing on the road. Pittsburgh gets a bum wrap for being a soft team among many NHL fan bases, but the fact is they do what it takes to win, whether that means mucking it up in the corners or the Crosby-to-Guerin one-timer (executed flawlessly multiple times in the playoffs last spring). The Pens are a fun team to watch and are a good team for the game of hockey. They'll be back.

3. New Jersey Devils
Write whatever you want about the Devils every year, because there have been plenty of reasons the past few seasons that they should have tumbled away from the league's elite, but the bottom line is: they win. Somehow. Every year. For the first time in fifteen years, Marty Brodeur went down with an injury for half the freakin' year last season. Didn't matter. The team has gone from a blue-line featuring multiple future Hall-of-Famers to one that doesn't even boast an all-star. Didn't matter. The team went from low-scoring trappers extraordinaire to one of the most prolific scoring teams in the league and back. Doesn't matter. They still win. They'll be good. I can't say exactly why, but they will. They're the Devils, and somehow that's enough.

4. New York Rangers
I loved what John Tortorella did with the Lightning. (Had a bit of success with his system there, too) I love the way he's helped re-shape the Rangers for 2009-10. I expect a lot more up-tempo hockey in the Big Apple this year. If Marian Gaborik stays healthy (I know, I know, but it has happened before!) I think this team may be able to challenge for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. It'll all come down to how well the players buy into Tort's system, and whether the psycho American head coach can scream the same sort of results out of these guys as he did a 2004 Cup-winning team that inexplicably included the likes of Nolan Pratt, Martin Cibak, and Dmitry Afanasenkov. While the top-end talent of that Tampa team was better, I think Torts has more to work with (overall) here.

5. New York Islanders
Man, are these guys going to be good someday. Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Comeau, and the newly-acquired Rob Schremp will develop into a core you can build a scoring team around. Interestingly, the team has three legitimate NHL starting goalies under contract this year. It'll be fun to see who actually plays. I think expectations are pretty low on the Island this season, and that's okay. They're doing what a team in their position has to do at this point in its development: suck now, give your younger draft-pick studs a chance to learn, stock up on assets so you can make the deals to bring in the vets to complete the puzzle in a couple of years, then start winning your Cups. Worked for the Pens, working for the Caps and Hawks, and the Blues, BJs, Kings, and Bolts should be joining the list of "success stories" fairly soon as well.

So there we go! That's how I think it'll all shake down; now, for the injuries, the trades, the out-of-nowhere rookie who leads his team out of the ashes, the free agent flop, the Olympic break, and everything else that will throw all my common sense out the window.

In short: let's just play hockey, eh?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Sixty: Hockey Preview!! (Western Conference)

Two things before we get into this:

First, I'ma tone down the analysis somewhat. If you read this site, you probably don't know Mike Komisarek from Steve Konowalchuk, so if I tell you that the Leafs picked Komisarek up, it won't mean a whole lot to you. Therefore, if I just say something like "Toronto beefed up its blueline," just trust me on it.

Second, this has little to do with the season preview, but I wanted to write a brief something about Theo Fleury. Theo was one of the game's most talented goal-scorers in the very-late 1980s into most of the '90s. The majority of his career was spent with the Calgary Flames, where he won a Cup in 1989. Around the late '90s and early 2000s, Fleury really struggled with alcohol abuse to the point where he just couldn't play anymore. The guy underwent all sorts of therapy, but he just wasn't able to shake it and he was suspended indefinitely from the league. He eventually went over to Europe and played for a bit while he tried to turn his life around. Eventually, he returned to North America, but wasn't playing anymore. That is, until this summer, when he announced that he wanted to attempt an NHL comeback at the age of 41. He was pretty unanimously mocked by most fans, who were still using him as the butt of drunkenness-related jokes, but you could tell there was a strong contingent of hockey fans and journalists pulling for him to make it. Theoern got a tryout with the Flames, and he played pretty well, picking up four points in four pre-season games, but he just wasn't the same player, and last weekend Calgary announced they were going to let him go. Today, Theo Fleury officially retired, having battled all of his personal demons into submission--not just the alcoholism, but the accompanying shame as well--and walked away from the game on his own terms, not on theirs.

Bravo, Theo.

All righty, on to the preview!

This division is always pretty competitive, but I don't think a legitimate Stanley Cup contender has come out of the NW in quite some time. (With the notable exception of the over-achieving Edmonton Oilers in 2006) It's going to be pretty much the same story this year.

1. Vancouver Canucks--These Canucks got off to a bit of a rough start last year and were hit with a rash of unfortunate injuries, but they really turned it on toward the end of the season (and it wasn't just because of Mats Sundin). This team has a good combination of grit and skill up front and a solid-if-unspectacular blueline. That's enough to keep them in pretty much every game. Back it up with one of the best goalies in the world, and you've got a group that should manage to edge out the competition in the Northwest.

2. Calgary Flames--J-Bo gives this team a major upgrade at D. He should take some of the pressure off of Dion Phaneuf and allow Phaneuf to become the absolute monster he was his first couple of years in the league. I don't think the team really managed to replace the almost-40 goals Mike Cammalleri scored for them last year, and I'm not terribly confident that Curtis McElhinney will be able to give golden boy Miikka Kiprusoff much relief in net. Last season, it seemed like several 70-plus game seasons in a row was starting to wear on Kipper. If he rebounds to top form, this team can absolutely win the division. If he doesn't, then they should be pretty happy to settle for second.

3. Minnesota Wild--I expect the Wild to get off to a poor start, largely because they're trying to shake off a style of play that has been ingrained in the franchise since day one when Jacques Lemaire took control of the team. New coach Todd Richards has the Wild attacking, and according to reports from blogger extraordinaire Mike Russo, the team still looks a bit confused in executing the new system. Once they get going, though, this could be a really good team. There's some offensive skill that never really got the green light under the old regime that should put up some pretty good numbers. I worry a bit about the team's forward depth, but I think they're pretty solid in all the other facets of the game. Powerplay may be a struggle, and this team has a history of getting burned by injuries, but they were only a few points out of the playoffs last year and should be in the thick of the hunt again this season.

4. Edmonton Oilers--The Oilers have got some decent young players, but there's just not much on this roster that really stands out to me as something to get really excited about. I think their blueline is overpaid, and while I like Nik Khabibulin, consistency hasn't been his strong point since his 2004 Cup with the Bolts. However, last season was his strongest in quite a while (*cough*contractyear*cough*) so we'll see if he can repeat that success. I'm a little skeptical, but he's got the talent to carry this team to a low playoff seed if he really applies himself.

5. Colorado Avalanche--Man, earlier this summer I wanted to believe this year was not going to be as bad as everyone was saying it would be, but...this year is going to be as bad as everybody was saying it's going to be. And the scary thing is, I think it'll be a couple of years before it gets better. The Avs are paying the price for their successful run from 1996-2004, and the old guard is either retired (Sakic, Roy) or old (Foote, Forsberg). It's no wonder Foppa's talking comeback--but not with the Avs. This'll be a good year for evaluating some youngsters, and I think the situation in net has improved from the last year or two, but it's gonna be a lot of L's this year in Denver.

The Central has gone from being the league's biggest joke to being the toughest division in the NHL. I expect four teams to make the playoffs, with the fifth team knocking on the door.

1. Detroit Red Wings--I think this is the year the big red machine starts to show its age. That said, this is still a crazy-good team, and there are some talented youngsters coming up. I don't think they've adequately replaced all the pieces they lost over the summer, but if there's one thing the Wings do consistently, it's win. They've got one of the best coaches in the game and a core of players who know what it takes. However, if Osgood puts up numbers like he did last regular season, than this is the year that the Red Wings' Central title streak comes to an end.

2. Chicago Blackhawks--The Hawks are probably talented enough to overtake the Wings. I think losing in the Conference Finals is probably the best thing that could have happened to this bunch. This summer, however, has been full of...distractions. And next summer should be fraught with uncertainty. If the Hawks can manage to simply show up and play each night's game without having to worry about any external factors, they should be golden. However, it's been a lot to deal with for a team of young guys, and I won't be shocked if this is the year's Big Disappointment (there's always one!). The other question mark is in goal, where Cristobal Huet wasn't bad last year, but he wasn't overwhelming, either. And the competition is cutthroat in the Central this year; one weak link could be the difference between first and fourth.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets--I think it's going to be awfully tight between Columbus and St. Louis for the third slot in the division. Rookie goalie Steve Mason came out of nowhere to dominate the league last year and propel the Jackets to their first ever playoff berth. And the Jackets have drafted well; they've got a slew of young talent that could electrify on the forward ranks. Their D is good, not great, but if Mason continues his stellar play and Nash and co. start putting in pucks like they could, it shouldn't matter. This will be a really fun team to watch.

4. St. Louis Blues--Man, last year was screwy for the Blues...and they STILL almost made the playoffs! Barring any more conspiracies involving Sarah Palin and golf carts, the Blues should be at full strength this year with no rotating goalie carousel. And, as the rest of the Central, their seasons of sucking are long gone, and the kids they've drafted are developing nicely. Keep in mind, the Blues didn't have their best defenseman for the entirety of last year. I think a lot of folks aren't taking the Blues too seriously, and I think that's going to work in St. Louis' favor.

5. Nashville Predators--If I'm a Nashville fan, I'm wondering where exactly things got off track. The team was up-and-coming, made a couple of playoff appearances, and then...splat. Something went wrong. It's not like the Preds fell apart, I just think enough other teams improved while Nashville kind of made lateral progress. They've got some young stud d-men and some reliable vets at forward, but there's not a ton of depth anywhere. Goaltending could be a strength, but if Ellis falters again and Rinne hits a sophomore slump (which, from watching him play in the AHL, and giving Nashville goaltender history, I think there's a decent chance), the Preds aren't going to finish too close to the post-season heap, and Canadian fans are going to start clamoring for the team to move to Winnipeg. (Which, really, might not be a terrible idea)

Ah, the Pacific. "The other division" in the West. Interesting to think that the Pacific has produced more franchises that have won the Cup in the past two decades than the Northwest or the Central. (Though the Central is tied for the overall number of Cups: In the past ten years, Colorado has 1, Detroit has 2, Anaheim has 1, Dallas has 1) Okay, so that's kind of a useless stat. Anyway, as always, the Pacific has a couple of contenders and then...the rest.

1. San Jose Sharks--Seriously, Sharks. Why don't you have a Cup yet? Now that they've acquired Danny Heatley, there is no excuse for not winning it all. Combination of youth, experience, skill, size, grit, goaltending, depth, motivation. I know I said this last year, but if San Jose can't put it all together and at least make a Conference Finals run this year, they probably never will.

2. Anaheim Ducks--The team was one goal away from unseating the Red Wings last spring. Think about it. I think they took strides toward improvement this off-season. They won a Cup in 2007, and they want very much to get back to that place--and they'd better do it soon. Even without Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, their blueline is pretty darn good. This is as rough-and-tumble of a team as you'll find in the West, and they're skilled, too. The goaltending competition should be good for both Giguere and Hiller, too. Again. They won't have the skill to unseat the Sharks in the regular season, but this is a team that's built to win playoff battles. If the graybeaerds can last that long, that is.

3. Los Angeles Kings--Okay, this is a fairly bold prediction: the Kings overtake the Stars this year. Why? Again, this is a team that's been improving over the last few years. It's a team that's done a good job developing its younger prospects garnered through over a decade of mediocrity-or-worse. It's a team with a coach who does a great job of getting everything possible out of his players. And it's a team that seems to be starting to believe in themselves for the first time in ten years or so. Young team on the rise trumps older team on the decline.

4. Dallas Stars--Admittedly, there are still some pretty darn good players on the Stars; they just had trouble putting it all together last season. Marty Turco was pretty bad for them in net, and if he doesn't turn it around it's going to be a loooong year in Big D. With that said, the team was plagued with injuries last year, so playing with a full roster should help, but the defense is suspect, the goaltending has been a bit on a downward slope lately, and the majority of their best players are shells of what they once were. This team will need its younger snipers to step it up if they want to legitimately compete again--and some of the young guys don't appear to be getting along with the coaches right now. Ru-roh.

5. Phoenix Coyotes--Poor, poor Coyotes. A week into training camp, they didn't even have a coach. They may end up moving to Hamilton halfway through the year. They still don't know who owns the team. Fans aren't buying tickets, because nobody believes the team will still be in Arizona after this season. How's a hockey player supposed to concentrate under these circumstances??? There are some kids who have the talent to be stars, but they need an environment in which they can grow and be given the chance to succeed, and the Phoenix market is just a mess right now. Poor Shane Doan.

I'll do the East tomorrow. Puck drops Thursday!!!

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Nine: The road ahead

Long week ahead. Getting a late start on Sunday night sleep. Not the best combination, but we'll make it work.

Auditions tomorrow night for O Little Town of Bagels, Teacakes, and Hamburger Buns. Tuesday, invited by the boss to a coat-and-tie affair to welcome a few new members to our Board of Directors. Fancy events and I haven't always gotten along too well. We'll see how this one goes. The food is always good! Thursday, headed to scenic Austin, Texas, for a Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe performance. Staying overnight and missing the first night of both NHL and AHL action. Blast. Saturday, working the afternoon matinee AND the evening show at the mainstage. (I'm pretty sure I signed up for both those shifts so that I could have opening night for the Aeros off the following weekend)

Should be a long week, but hopefully a good one. Good week = potentially interesting blogging. It also could = lazy blogging because I'm so tired from doing good, long week stuff. We'll see.

NHL season preview coming up tomorrow, though, sometime around 6-7 p.m. Adjust your plans accordingly.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Eight: Don'tcha think?

I sometimes have the overwhelming sense that I will die a terribly ironic death. Therefore, I try to avoid potentially dangerous situations that could also be considered ironic. I used to think I would one day die while out on walk some evening, but I'm not so much scared of that one anymore, which can only mean somebody traveled back or forward in time and changed the course of events at the end of my life. Whenever that may be.

Anyway, it's good not to dwell too long on the subject of your own potential death; nevertheless, if you've got any safeguards I can take against fatal irony, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Seven: Born to Cheat??

Okay, I know I don't post a lot of "relevant" stuff on here, but last night's Nightline got the wheels turnin' and I wanted to see if I could write out my thoughts.

First off, this girl here got me to watch Nightline last night, which had been filmed at her church. Apparently, the show is starting a new series of discussions on whether the Ten Commandments is still relevant. (The actual commandments, not the Charleton Heston movie nor the Val Kilmer musical) First up for debate was, naturally, commandment #7: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. The question: is adultery really wrong? Or are we genetically predisposed to adulterize.

The 90-minute debate was cut down to about 20 minutes of airtime, and I didn't watch the whole thing, so this'll be my response to the little bit that I did see.

First off, I want to give kudos to Nightline. When you're chopping down that much discussion (rhetoric) into that little time, some parties can really be pretty poorly represented, but it felt like they did a pretty good job of getting all the sides fairly stated, and they did offer the whole debate on their website. (I didn't partake, because I could have pretty much predicted most of what was said before the discussion aired, and so I've got a pretty good idea of what the rest of the time was likely devoted to) I didn't perceive a Nightline bias through the program (though I was mildly concerned when they showed the Dallas-area church and started playing some old-school sounding country and western music in the background. "Great, here comes the Bible-belt backwood hicks sterotype," I thought. They avoided this, though, and even avoided oversimplifying things like "so-and-so is on the Right and such-and-such is clearly Left)

Their were four panelists for the discussion: first was pastor Ed Young of the megachurch that was hosting the event; second was a woman who said she was happily married to a wonderful man she absolutely adored with a 10-year-old girl while maintaining a relationship with another girlfriend whom she equally adored; third was a man who described himself as a recovering sexaholic, who had cheated on his own wife "hundreds of times" and had since had a change of heart and mind and was working to reconcile to his wife and to God; and finally, the CEO in charge of Ashley Madison, an e-harmony blind date type site specifically for married people who are looking for someone to cheat with.

Ding ding! Round one.

Actually, the clips they showed managed to stay very civil. The hostess did a phenomenal job of keeping the atmosphere from getting too touchy.

The first item, as is always the case in a "debate", was the definition of "adultery." The moderator turned to Pastor Young, who stuck with Jesus' definition in Matthew 5: anyone who looks at another woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery. As the moderator pointed out, you can't help notice an attractive person of the other sex, and Young agreed. He stated that he didn't believe that first look was sin. That second one, though...

Here is where the woman with the husband and girlfriend asked if he believed that this standard was only for himself and fellow Christians, or whether it applied to all. Young replied that he believed God's standard as written in the Bible applied to everyone, to which the woman gave the reply that it was ludicrous to believe that one person's faith has to dictate another's behavior. There were hundreds of churches in Dallas alone, she said, because people believe different things about the Bible.

This, here, is why I personally dislike debates about the existence of God or the validity of scripture or whatnot. I know a great many people who love those discussions, and I'm glad for that, but it is utterly unsatisfying to me because the idea of God is not one that can be either proved or disproved through testing, evidence, or rational thought if the concept is that God is the creator of all forms of observation and thought and is therefore Himself not only above them, but the Standard against which they are measured. For example, it's hard to debate what is right or wrong, because we have human standards which, while valuable, cannot be the universal factor because God has in Himself the definition of right and wrong. (Alister McGrath explores this idea a little in his book The Dawkins Delusion? in which he addresses the questions others ask him about how he can believe that all other religions are wrong. His answer is that he does not need to believe all other religions are wrong; rather, he need only to believe that Christ is the one truth, as He says He is, and therefore he doesn't need to ponder Hinduism vs. humanism vs. agnosticism, because they are mutually exclusive to the teachings and person of Christ)

For this reason, the question of whether adultery was right or wrong couldn't really be debated to a conclusion, because the definitions of "adultery," "right," and "wrong" could never be agreed upon. Mr. Ashley Madison thought that it was wrong that a man should be sexually unsatisfied in his marriage and that it was wrong for anyone to deprive him of the right to seek that happiness elsewhere. In this case, the standard for "wrong" was the individual's happiness. To the woman with the complicated marriage, it was wrong for one pastor to try to impose his ideas on others. For Young, thinking lustfully about anyone other than one's spouse was wrong because God had said it was wrong, because it then led to continued thought, which led to action, which led to infidelity, which was against the seventh commandment, which was at the core of the debate.

I don't know how long that discussion may have lasted in the actual debate (on the show it was only a couple of minutes) but I've heard it before and am sure it went around in circles a time or two.

Mr. Ashley Madison and Mrs. Complicated (I'm so sorry that Ed Young is the only name I can remember of these people) cited studies and statistics that one in ever three men cheat on their wives and one in every four women cheat on their husbands, so clearly there's a biological predisposition toward cheating. All animals, even mate-for-life swans, cheat, and we are animals. (This led to that "We are just animals," "We are more than animals because we can choose to resist our instinct" discussion for awhile) These were generic quotes ("There are studies that say..." "Some psychiatrists believe that..."), and then Mr. Pastor (I felt guilty letting him be the only one with a real name) pulled out a bit of a shocker, citing a study from the University of Chicago (possibly TMI ahead, but we're all grown-ups here) that stated that evangelical women were the most sexually satisfied of any demographic they'd studied, and that they had more orgasms than any other group of women. (This after the claims from Mr. Ashley Madison that people having affairs were having more exciting sex lives than those trapped in stale marriages) Mr. Pastor also mentioned that he deals daily with marriages that are struggling and ones that have been torn apart through infidelity, and that most couples who are failing in their love lives have relationship issues that can usually be worked through, and once their love for one another is rekindled then the wild nights come back. (This is the pastor who challenged all of the married couples in his church to have sex every night for a week and see what happened in their marriages, by the way)

At one point, Mr. Ashley Madison said that he believed his adultery improved marriages, and so his website was a social service. Most men cheat, he said, when they are sexually unsatisfied. In helping them find a place to satisfy their desires, he was allowing married men to return to their families happier and healthier than if they stayed home every night and stayed frustrated.

Finally, some words were spoken by Mr. Penitent (the former sexaholic who was now working to heal his own life), who talked of all the time he thought he was filling his own needs and desires while his wife was unaware of what was going on, and how much hurt and pain he now knew he'd caused her when she learned of his infidelity, and how empty all of those encounters had really left him.

At this point, Mr. Ashley Madison changed his tune somewhat: he stopped trying to make the case that cheating was a good idea and instead said, rightfully so, that people shouldn't blame his site that others are having flings. "We have witty commercials," he said, "but no one decides to have an affair because they saw a commercial." He went on to state that he shouldn't be blamed for others' choices, and that he is merely helping them to do something they were going to do anyway. (I noted at this point that his discussion was no longer on "Is adultery wrong" or "Are we born to cheat" but rather "Hey, I'm not doing anything wrong here. It's not my fault these people don't have their acts together.") Now, really, I think it's true that you can't blame a spike in affairs on Ashley Madison. People are going to find ways to sin. We've been doing it for centuries, and we'll continue doing it until we're done here. So that was a pretty good argument. It was just a tad irrelevant to what was supposedly the question at hand. The question to Mr. Madison was posed, "You said you have a wife and son. How would you feel if you knew your wife was using your service?" "I'd be devastated," he said. "But I would not blame a web site. I'd want to know how I had failed, what aspect of my relationship with my wife had led her to look elsewhere." (That's not an exact quote, but it's close. So he was asked how, knowing his service ultimately brings immense pain to others, he could in good conscience continue to run it. His reply: "Because I am in the business of making money."

In the space of ninety minutes, he'd gone from Mr. "Adultery isn't that bad" to "I'm doing this to help others" to "It's not my fault" to "I'm a greedy jerk." Bad night for Mr. Madison, but I'm pretty sure his business won't suffer for it.

Finally, the question was asked, "Are we born to cheat." Mrs. Complicated said "Yes, I think so." Mr. Madison agreed. Mr. Penitent said, "I know this will probably surprise a lot of you, based on all I've said tonight, but yes. I think we are born to cheat, because we are born with a sin nature. However, we are not destined to cheat." Quote of the night.

Some questions came from the audience afterward. Keep in mind, this was a church audience, and Mr. Pastor's church audience, so you know it was going to be unfriendly for Mr. Madison and Mrs. Complicated, but I think this was an important part of the night, because it was no longer about studies, statistics, or theories, it was about people. Specifically, it was about people who'd been there, or who were there. Kids from broken homes asking why it was all right for them to hurt so that their dad could have a little fun. Parents who'd managed to make cheating work for awhile, but had since lost their families and their kids and wished they could take it all back. (Of interest, one woman asked Mrs. Complicated what her ten-year-old daughter thought of her complex relationship. Since Mrs. Complicated was so open and direct with Mr. Complicated, it was assumed that Little Complication was in the know as well. Mrs. Complicated's reply: "Well...she's only ten. I don't know what she knows, exactly...")

The debate wrapped up a little later with the last question of whether or not the seventh commandment was right; whether adultery was wrong. Mr. Pastor said yes, unequivocally. Mrs. Complicated said that the lying and the deceiving part was wrong, but the sex with other partners part was okay as long as your spouse knew and was supportive. (I'm guessing this doesn't actually happen too often) I don't remember Mr. Madison's reply.

So that was that. It was actually a much more interesting half hour of television than I thought. Again, it wasn't really a "debate" because to have a true debate you have to have a clear definition of terms or ideas, but the discussion was good. Topics like this one are tricky; it seems like everyone's ideas about marriage and infidelity are pretty set in stone until it hits them personally. When questions became personal, panelists started to waver in their steadfastness. When confronted with people rather than statistics, confidence appeared lost. I don't think, if really pressed on all angles of the question, anybody would up and say that adultery is "right". I also don't think happiness should be the standard by which we define right and wrong, because happiness is fleeting. I don't think adulterers are wicked people, and I think we married folks have probably all committed some form of adultery according to Jesus' words: words meant not to demonize us, but rather to show us that we are fallen, all of us. That no one is righteous, not one. That we are all equally in need of a Savior. That the only One who is right, who is good, who can make us better than we are, has come and is come for all who will come.

Relevant? I don't think that relevance is the issue. Are we born to sin? Duh. But I don't think that's really the issue, either. As is always the case, Christ is the issue. And if anybody hears that at any point, then I think the Nightline series is totally worth it, even if I find the premise a bit frustrating and unsatisfactory ;-)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Six: Ten points (updated)

A couple of quick things before I get into summerstock anecdotes (postponed until tomorrow):

First: mmm, ice cream...

Second: We are officially one week from hockey season, and I know you're looking forward to my season preview post!! (Okay, fine, I know Tarvis will at least read my entire season preview post) With that in mind...

Third: Check out this article on former Aero and unofficial WBW hero John Scott. It's a pretty good read, and it includes such trivia as why his nickname on the Wild is "You!" (Yes, the exclamation point is part of the nickname)

Fourth: There is no fourth item.

Fifth: I'm disappointed. I used the term "You have more lives than a cat using a Game Genie" the other day and received no accolades for what was probably the awesomest thing ever said on the Internet. Cuz that would be, like, nine times infinity lives! I've finally defeated mathematics AND physics! (In theory, anyway. If you calibrated Game Genie codes to work in the real world, which can probably be done, and you could train a cat to enter the "unlimited lives" code, then you could create an immortal being) I mean, how do you not get excited about stuff like that?

Sixth: I mean come on. It's better than trying to get a dinosaur from a chicken.

Seventh: I apparently caused some waves of unrest and apprehension in the the ocean (or at least the tide pools) of my blog followship recently when I commented that, after rehearsing one of my own scripts for a few days, I wasn't sure I liked it so much anymore. It's all right, folks. Now that we've been at it for awhile, I'm back on board. Besides, I never didn't like it, but it probably won't go down in history as one of my favorites. The basketball sequence at the end is pretty fun, though.

Eighth: Don't write plays with basketball sequences at the end.

Ninth: I love my new touring unit, and I'm having a blast rehearsing with them.

Tenth: Someone hold me to this: by the end of October, I have to have at least one play out to at least three different publishing companies for consideration. I'm serious. Hold me to this. If it gets published, I'll buy you pizza.

*******UPDATE (so I guess this is the Eleventh point)*****

Tomorrow's not going to be anecdotes after all. Something on TV tonite changed my mind. I'll get to it, though, don't worry. Because I know you'd worry if I didn't reassure you. know...I'm cool.

I mean come one! A freakin' cat with a freakin' Game Genie!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Five: Summer stock!!

For some reason, the number 255 sticks out in my mind. Weird.

Anyway, while I'm flashing back to years of theatre past, I feel I need to devote a bit of attention to my six summers of professional summer stock work. I know I've mentioned Horsefeathers and Applesauce a time or two already, but those years at H&A and at the Huron Playhouse in Ohio were really some of the best times of my life, so I thought I'd give 'em a bit more attention.

Your typical H&A day began at 8:00 a.m. with a full company meeting, after which we immediately went either into rehearsal or our tech crews. This is where I first started learning stage carpentry, and I ended up spending every summer at both summer stocks in the shop (as well as most afternoons in undergrad and my first year at the Players, so I suppose this is significant). We took a breakfast break from 10 to 11, so the morning shift was pretty short, and then we worked/rehearsed again until three for lunch, after which I seem to remember something called "Four O'Clock Duties" on show nights. (On non-show nights, we worked till seven, when we had dinner, and then again from eight till ten, though the shop often worked later. The lights crew had their own crazy schedule that often involved taking a break to watch the sun rise) Four O'Clock Duties featured the entire company breaking up into teams to prepare everything for that night's dinner. We had our dinner and theater on the campus of lovely Southwestern College in Winfield, so our facilities were not quite ideal, but we made do. The small choir rehearsal room (where I used to practice with the Walnut Valley Youth Choir every Tuesday when I was in sixth grade) became our dinner hall, with tables spilling out into the hall and, occasionally, into the intermission lobby. Four o'clock duty teams included a team to clean the theater, a team to set all of the tables, a team to get things ready for the box office, and a team to stock all the restrooms. (By the end of the shift, everybody was setting tables; that always took the longest)

After four o'clock duties were over, everybody--actors and techies--went to change for the performance, because when folks started showing up at six--TA DA!--we were the wait staff. We didn't cook the food, but we served up the full three-course meal in costume and makeup for the show that night. It was a really unique dynamic, and while I've always been uneasy handling other people's food, I did enjoy the interaction with the patrons before the show. We would also take turns singing for the dinner music, with anybody who wanted to taking some sheet music to our talented pianist, who could play anything we put in front of her. It was a fun night.

My last couple of seasons at H&A, I managed to get out of waiting tables and into the scrape room. Man, this was the place to be! We went from standing around for most of the meal to scraping scraps like crazy into plastic bins at the end. We'd also watch out for plates that hadn't been touched for one reason or another, and occasionally we'd pinch some of those leftovers for ourselves. Say what you want about it, but those gigantor turkey legs from Singin' in the Rain were worth it.

Anywho, that was our daily schedule. We usually got Sunday morning off, and we also took off every other Monday. We ran shows Thursday-Sunday for two weekends, then we struck following the last show on Sunday and changed over to the new set for Monday night's rehearsal. Those late strikes were some of the best nights of the summer. (I had a roommate one year who always used to go to bed on those nights and dream he was still striking. He claimed he got no rest whatsoever those nights)

My first summer at H&A was the year I was only there for Joseph, the next was the year we did Charlie Brown, South Pacific, Twelfth Night, and Singin' in the Rain, the following summer I actually hung around helping out the T.D. the week before H&A started to help with the set for All in the Timing, and my last year at H&A (and, sadly, THE last year of H&A) was the 25th anniversary season of Greater Tuna, Oklahoma!, H&A Song and Dance!, and Honk! (It was the year of exclamation points)

The summers of 2003 and 2005, I decided to branch out and go somewhere I could be completely unknown and see if I could "break in" and land some decent roles where I was a complete stranger. I also needed to know if I could hack in socially in a crowd of theatre artists with whom I had no previous experience. My years at The Huron Playhouse in Huron, Ohio, were great boosts to my confidence in both of those factors. In fact, inasmuch as the last two years of college theatre was constantly breaking down my confidence, my summer stock experiences were boosting it back up. I felt like, if I could just get out of college, I might just be all right.

Playhouse was, in a lot of ways, a better-run version of H&A. They were operated by Bowling Green State University, but the playhouse was actually a middle school we converted completely into a theater. We made the central office our box office. We laid down a new floor and brought in our own tools, and the band room became the scene shop. We rolled long stretches of masonite on the auditorium stage floor/basketball courts, and it became our stage. We also hung a drop cutting the basketball courts in half, so that we always had two sets up being built/rehearsed on directly behind the show that was currently playing. We erected two large lighting trusses in the auditorium, which had no theater lighting system. We moved our own shelves into the kitchen and cooked all our own meals. I always went a couple days early as part of the "tech staff" as well as the acting company to assist with this transformation. It was awesome. Hard, physical work, but awesome. It was incredible to see this little place absolutely transform, and the precision with which everything was done!

Playhouse ran a little different from H&A, though it kept the same 8-week timeline. When the full company arrived, we spent the first two days auditioning for three shows. Then we rehearsed the first three weeks, and we opened a new show every Tuesday for the next five weeks. Shows ran Tuesday through Saturday, with strike lasting late into Saturday night. Sunday mornings were always off, and most of the company got Sunday off until the evening shift started, when we had our first tech rehearsal for whatever show was opening next. Change-over happened Sunday afternoon, but actors were only required for changeover on a rotating basis, so I only had to do one or two a year.

Like Horsefeathers, Playhouse had an awesome relationship with its patrons. It was a very real part of Huron's summer, and that was awesome. I'd meet people at the library who'd recognize me as part of the Playhouse staff. We had a patron who would always take a group of Playhouse employees out on Lake Erie on his boat every Sunday afternoon. There was this one Italian restaurant that gave us all free lunch every Sunday. I forget what it was called, but their seafood pizza was one of the best things I've ever eaten.

Playhouse days started at eight. We took an hour for lunch at noon and had company meeting at one, where somebody always gave a "company talent." My pterodactyl and penguin impressions actually won for talent of the week one year. We took two hours for dinner at about 4:30, and we were almost always done by ten. We virtually never worked late unless it was strike. It was pretty nice, other than that whole "no days off for two months" thing.

My first summer, we did Annie Get Your Gun, Morning's at Seven, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, The Foreigner (which was the reason I auditioned at Playhouse in the first place), and Pirates of Penzance. The second summer I was there, we did South Pacific (which wasn't as bad this time around), Enchanted April (which I assistant directed), The Boyfriend, Wait Until Dark, and Guys and Dolls. Both seasons, I was one of a handful of actors to be in four of the five shows, so that was awesome. I also got to be in the two shows I most wanted to be a part of, The Foreigner and Wait Until Dark, so as I said, it was a nice confidence boost.

Final strike of the year at Huron was rough. Remember all the hard magical work we did turning the school into a theater? Well, we had to undo it all. After the show Saturday night. All of it, until we were completely done and it was a school again. Three days to set up. One night to tear down. Awesome. Both years, we worked till about five in the morning, and then were up early to take everything back to BGSU and unload, then crash at the Quality Inn.

Man, I miss summer stock. I think part of the reason I loved it so much is that I seem to do my best work when I'm staying inhumanely busy and lots of other people are stressed enough to Hulk out. (Looking back, this is another thing that had been preparing me for my time with the Players)

Okay, it's almost one in the morning, so I'ma go to bed, but tomorrow I'll post some anecdotes from those crazy, crazy, crazy summers.

(By the way, I've learned that 255 is often the highest amount of a certain thing you can get in video games. For example, in the first Zelda game you can only get 255 rupees, in Madden NFL games you can't score more than 255 points. This may be why the number was sticking out in my head)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Four: Rite of Passage

Received my first official rejection letter from a publisher today. Baker's Plays has decided that The Hero Squad vs. The Princess Snatchers just does not fit their bill.

One step closer to being a Real Writer! ;-)

Also had a reading for a new script tonight that I thought went pretty well.

Short-term goals: send HSVTPS to 4 other publishers, tweak tonight's play and one other, and then write prose for awhile.

Also: Erwin Santana's having a pretty awful season.

Also-also: Tomorrow (or Thursday) continues my retrospective. I swear, we're almost caught up to today ;-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Three: Chocolate

Okay, seriously.

Who decided chocolate and raspberry make for some good eatin'? Why is that particular combination considered a delicacy?

I only ask, because it's gross. And because my wife recently got a HUGE box of Ghiradelli chocolates from one of her boss' colleagues, and the fact that she can't eat corn syrup/starch/flour/etc means that there are certain types of chocolate in that box that she can't eat, therefore they become mine.

Milk chocolate and caramel? My favorite. There are, like, five of these in the box.

Dark chocolate and raspberry? Hate it. There are something like thirteen.

Man. Life is hard sometimes.

(By the way, total change of subject, but if you could/would, please pray tomorrow around 1-2 p.m. We're having a department head meeting at work, and those can have a tendency to be terribly stressful and disheartening to anyone within a five-mile radius)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Two: 34-31

Wow. What a difference a week makes.

'Zgonina' is one of my new favorite names in sports. Always love to see the role players make a big play to seal the deal., dude. You've got more lives than a cat using a Game Genie. There were some chances for you to be the MAJOR goat of this game, and somehow you dodged the bullet both times. I like the haircut, though. And congrats on your first TD.

What an entertaining (albeit sloppy!) football game! I'm awfully glad we pulled it out, because otherwise I'd be ranting right now about how on earth a team can leave one of the fastest backs in the game completely uncovered. Not even poorly covered, but COMPLETELY uncovered. I don't think there was anyone on his half of the field. But we won, so I don't have to go on that rant.

Hope Chester isn't too hurt...for some reason it just sorta seemed like the guy was destined to start every Texans game ever. No, I don't know how it was going to be physically possible, but it seemed like it was going to happen anyway.

Kyle Shanahan looks like my high school biology teacher. (He was the volleyball coach and the golf coach as well as sponsor of the FCA group, for the record)

It's so much fun to have a legit rivalry down here! Takes me back to the days of watching all those Chiefs-Broncos tilts all through the '90s.

By the way, going back and reading John McClain's in-game blogging in sequence is pretty funny.

Dang, what a wild game!! I wonder which Texans team will show up next week at Reliant?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-One: The College Years

Mm, ice cream.


I'm still not sure what to make of my college theatre career. It started so well and ended so frustratingly ambiguous. I definitely learned quite a bit, but unlike most of my other successful classmates from Bison Hill, a lot of what I learned in college hasn't really been all the useful to me since then. Don't get me wrong, some of it definitely has been very applicable, and there were several theatre courses that have proved invaluable to my career to this day, but on the whole I don't know what I can really say about my OBU Theatre education, positive or negative.

Part of the reason is probably that our two-faculty department seems to "sort" people into one of two categories--you're either an actor/director or a techie/stage manager--after your sophomore year, and whichever faculty person covers that area of expertise kind of adopts you at that point. However, I never really got a sense that either side considered me one of their own. I did most things well without really excelling in any particular area, so each side usually thought it would be best if I were more involved in the other. For example, they kept insisting I should take on our publicity management, which I did a couple of times. I wasn't really very good at it, but they didn't have any other spots for me and felt I needed some responsibility and experience that I wasn't used to, so they put me there. So that was awkward.

In addition, I think there was a real miscommunication between myself and the department head at the beginning of my junior year, and the harder I tried to make it up or prove that I was valuable, the worse things got. I never completely figured out what happened there, but I know I wasn't imagining it, either, because several classmates would ask me on different occasions, "Man, why doesn't she like you?"

However, I thoroughly enjoyed college and most of the shows we did while I was there. I'll cherish the friendships forever (well, the ones who'll call/write me back from time to time ;-). I think I have probably learned more from my fellow (former) students than I did from the books and scene studies, and that's a fact.

Here are the pertinent details from Theatre OBU:

Freshman year, I was in my first college show, and it was the annual Theatre for Young Audiences performance. (I'd name it here, but last time I named it on a blog I got an email from the playwright, who apparently has something set up to alert her whenever her show title is published on the Internet. Creepy) It was a total blast, and it encouraged me to try the Intro to Children's Theatre class the following semester. Obviously, one of the best decisions ever, and probably the most influential thing I did in my OBU Theatre career. Although I never actually got into another TYA productions at OBU (our school was, on the whole, not very good at getting students plugged in to things they were passionate about--ask the classical-style actress who didn't get into our only Shakespeare or the musical theatre emphasis students who kept getting held out of musicals), my interest was piqued. I started to read more children's theatre literature, to familiarize myself with the audience dynamics of a kids' show, and to develop a passionate distaste for the phrase "it's just a kids' show."

I can actually tell you exactly the moment when I knew I would be in TYA in some capacity for the rest of my life: it was my senior year, during our TYA show The Wind and the Willows. I was the House Manager for the production, so I stood in the back and watched parts of the show from time to time. It was really a wonderful production. The set (designed my by talented friend Rob) was probably one of the coolest things we built at OBU in my four years there. The kids were absolutely transfixed at everything. Our department head was passionate about children's theatre, and you could tell in all of our TYA productions. The production values were very high. She wouldn't except sub-standard.

After each show, I had to run on the stage as soon as the curtain call was over. "Did you all enjoy the show??" I would ask the enthused crowd of youngsters. They'd all shout back "YEAH!" and sometimes they would applaud. I'd feed on their energy and reply with, "Now, who's ready to go back to school???" They would usually start to cheer again, then realize what they were cheering for and stop. It was pretty funny. I stood on the edge of the stage to make sure no kids wandered up to play with the set as they filed back out to the buses. While the kids passed, I would ask them about the play; who was their favorite character, what was their favorite part, that sort of thing. The kids were so animated in their replies, as if they wanted--nay, they needed--me to understand the utter coolness of their favorites. These children had had an experience that they were going to take back to their schools. Some would likely take on these characters at recess time. They were going to tell the stories to their parents and siblings. The show didn't end when the curtains closed.

The kids were inspired. And I needed to be a part of that.

So there was that.

Other major happenings at OBU:

--Decided I was not cut out to be an actor. I decided this not because I wasn't getting cast in shows, because I was, but because I noticed the acting teacher just didn't ever push me. I saw how she treated students that she thought had great potential and how she treated the ones who were a little shorter on talent. I fell into that latter group. And really, I discovered I was going to be okay with that. I still enjoyed performing (still do, to this day) and would much rather perform than not be involved with a show at all, but really, I don't need it. It's not always a "rush" like it was when I was younger. (This is, of course, a show-by-show analysis) As I caught myself encouraged to act less, I found myself okay with it. I had no idea what I was going to do in theatre, since I wasn't a real actor, nor a real designer, nor an experienced director, and it seemed at OBU that those were pretty much your only options, but I knew God had called me into theatre, and so He was just going to have to find me a job that allowed me to be good at everything but great at nothing.

--I started to be less-than-enthralled with the intellectual/spiritual superiority that came with a lot of artistic people. I started to grow disenchanted with sayings like, "Art is holy," or "Artists will save humanity," etc. I felt like my OBU education (which was phenomenal, by the way, and has had a profound impact on my personal worldview) was more about opening my mind to the value of all reaches of humanity, not just the arts. I surely don't disagree that art is holy, but it didn't seem to me that my work (as an artist) was necessarily consecrated to God any more than, say, an electrician's or a banker's. I didn't like the idea of setting myself as an artist apart from the everyman out there making the city run, because then I'm only a few steps away from making art for art's sake, or theatre for its own sake, and I thought theatre should be for people, not for itself. I hated my theory and crit class (which I'd expected to love) because I found myself wanting so many of the writers in our book to get over themselves and just do great theatre. I guess I just wanted people to be people, and that who we are individually and what we do for a living doesn't put us on one plane or another, because we are all under God.

Or something to that effect.

--The Hero Squad was born in college. During my junior year, I was stuck in a chair for two hours while our makeup designer built a prosthetic beard on my face. During the conversation that took place at that time, I created a superhero persona for her: a girl in purple spandex with bubbles and no superpowers who flitted about making people happy. Her name was Princess Mystic Starfish. The Princess became a bit of a running joke, and soon several of my friends had either hero or villain identities, and while I ended up sitting on the idea for a couple of years, that conversation was the birth of my playwriting career.

--I also went through my burnout period in college. Burnout is a very important aspect of one's artistic development, I think. When you make it through burnout, you know you're in it for the long haul. Just about my entire senior year, I started wishing I'd picked a different degree. I was still very active; I was in Directing I scenes as director and as actor, I played percussion for our Greek tragedy, I auditioned for other theatre companies in Oklahoma City and did a show there, and I prepared an audition for professional companies across the country, all without really liking it much. I did it because, by that point, it was what I did. Even the OBU show I did my senior year wasn't all that much fun for me. Theatre had become a job, a way of life, not devoid of all joy, but lacking completely any sense of newness or freshness. This was the time Kim and I were engaged, and I decided that I would gladly stick with theatre to support her, but that I would also be able to leave it behind if necessary to support her. It almost didn't matter one way or another.

Note: this is not the best frame of mind to be in your senior year of theatre, but when you consider by that point I'd been doing it pretty much non-stop, ether educationally or professionally, for six full years, I was probably due for some major burnout.

With no real direction leading me down any specific theatrical path, I found myself leaving college in a more-educated state of uncertainty than I had arrived, but I still didn't really have any clue as to what I was to do with my life. In fact, I didn't even have any job prospects until the day before graduation.

That was the day I got a call from Houston, Texas, asking if I could move down in September...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty: Headaches

Well, I've still got that headache that woke me up last night (and, ultimately, allowed me to be up to try to settle Robbie back down to sleep when he woke up at around 2 a.m.). It's gotten better and worse as the day's gone by, but it's been there all the time in one form or other.

Normally, when I get one of these headaches, it's either a lack from lack of sleep, lack of water, or lack of caffeine. (Note: Caffeine = another exception to the i before e rule; tho technically, this i after e is after a c, just not directly after it) Today, I had a plethora of each, and a couple of aspirin to boot, and while everything seemed to help, nonetheless, once again here we are. (Another melody I'll sing...)

Whoa. That was a blast from the past.

Incidentally, I'm unable to find a Guinness World Record for longest-tenured headache. I know I'm nowhere near, but I was curious. However, the longest leg hair on record is 6.5 inches.

That's gross.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Nine: Oh, Noes!!!11!!1!!!

I almost missed tonight! I accidentally fell asleep while putting my lovely wife to bed tonight! I guess it's a good thing my head hurts too bad to sleep, or the last two-hundred forty-eight days would all have been in vain!!

Plus, the dishes need done tonight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Eight: Responsible Adult

New video game = late night.

Twice in a row.

Because I'm awesome, and Spider-Man just has to cream a few more robots before bedtime.

Today's Teammates rehearsal quote:
"I want you to really hit him. Hit him you would hit...Osama bin Laden."
"......really? That's what you come up with?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Seven: Whoops

So, I wrote this play, and now I'm in it, and now I'm in rehearsals for it. And I'm not sure if I like it.

Quotes from today's rehearsals (and they're likely only funny if you were there) :

"Yes. Yes, I'm pivoting."

"This reminds me of when I was picking up dead chickens and a foot fell off."

"Smith. Her last name is Smith."

"Hey, Kat, do me a favor. Punch me."
"Okay, now for real."
"But I don't want to."
"I know, but it'll be okay."
*better punch*
"All right, good. Do that."
"And if it'll help you feel better, I can punch you sometimes."

"The boys are showing off."
"Hey! Leah started it!"

"I don't really understand why she likes to play with him."

"The situation has grown dire!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Six: Senior Year (#1)

Going back to my How-the-heck-did-I-get-here retrospective. If you need a brief refresher or are just joining us, here's the prologue, here's part one, this here is part two, followed, most naturally, by parts three, four, five, six, and seven.

I love reflecting on my artistic senior year of high school, because it really wraps up everything from those first seven entries in this series nicely. In a lot of ways, it was both a farewell tour and a step forward toward some things I'd never imagined would become such a huge part of who I am.

I believe I spoke briefly about the friendship I forged with the new drama teacher the last half of my junior year. That friendship really took off in my senior year, especially when we started work on our first large-scale musical, Little Shop of Horrors. Dan had a tendency to pick projects almost specifically for his favorite students, and I'm pretty sure the only reason we did LSoH was because he really wanted to direct it and I really wanted to play the lead, so we both got our wish. (Remember, we had better singers and better actors than me among the male gender in my school, but nobody who could do them both quite as well simultaneously. Also remember: we were a fairly small school without much in the way of a theatre arts program) I can't tell you how much fun this production was, from rehearsals all the way through performance. Most of my best friends ended up in the cast, and several folks who were destined to become my best friends were running the crew. The show was, in many ways, far beyond what we probably should have been doing: we didn't actually have a music director, we didn't really have the talent for that big of a cast, we didn't have the technical expertise to build a great set, and heck, I was the lighting designer! Our stage was too small, our SM had never really SM'ed before, the list went on and on. But we did it anyway. We threw everything we had at that little show, and after the opening performance it felt like we had just "won the big game." Yes, our curtain call may have lacked professionalism that night, but we were jubilant in what we had accomplished.

It's rare that I've been in a production quite like that, but it reminds me of WCT's Sound of Music opening triumph.

I spoke with Dan not too long ago about those few years he spent in Wellington (my junior and senior years and the year after that). He's moved on to a school that has a bit more appreciation for theatre, and he's got a bigger, more established program with a better stage, an actual stage tech class, etc, but he tells me he's never had a group of students like the core we had at WHS those three years. Looking back, I know he's right. What we had there was rare. We would get to school early to hang out in his classroom and work on our projects, whether for drama, debate, or forensics (remember, like speech and drama?). We used to get really excited when Dan would pull library duty in the evenings, because it meant he'd unlock his classroom and we could work on set or costume or scenes or monologues. Any project we decided to do, we got excited about. Musicals, children's plays, storytelling at grade schools, one-act Shakespeare adaptations with high schoolers who'd never touched Shakespeare. One reason, Dan and I agreed, those years were so awesome was that we simply didn't know our limitations. Heck, we didn't know we shouldn't do Little Shop, so we did it anyway! Nobody told us that you can't just write a play for 14 people one day and then perform it at a school two days later (that was the year after I left, actually, and my first production as a playwright--Big Liar, Little Liar, anyone?), so we did it! And the drama class went all out, staying late to make racecar costumes out of old cardboard boxes and everything!

In a way, we were our own Group Theatre. We identified with one another. We were so incredibly different from each other, and we loved that about one another. Everyone belonged. Everyone was excited. Everyone gave everything they had, and nobody ever bothered to ask "Why not?" when a crazy new idea sprung up. Those were awesome, awesome times.

Anyway, just a few weeks after Little Shop closed, I got to have one final kick with the Wellington Community Theater crowd. They were doing 12 Angry Men, directed by one of my best friends from the group, a lady named Chris who simply loved the opportunity to tell twelve men what to do. Because Juror No. 4 (I think) was a smaller role, they were able to hold pretty much the entire rehearsal period without me, and I just jumped in and played my part for the last week of rehearsals and into the show. It was a lot of fun. Uncle Max was in the show (did I mention the creepy part he played in the "Getting-rid-of-Houston" saga?), but it wasn't awkward at all. I actually got along very well with all of the men in the cast, many of whom I'd worked with before, but some of whom were new. It was a nice play to go out on, from a WCT standpoint.

By the way, I just saw that WCT had a show this past weekend! Hurrah! From my mom's reports, I wasn't even sure they were still around. Even better: Uncle Max appears to be out of the picture, and a lady I loved is in charge now! I need to write those people a letter!

Of further note (seemingly much less significant at the time): this year marked my first two kids' shows. I played Pony in Larry Shue's excellent My Emperor's New Clothes, which I hope to one day direct, and Prince William in Snow White. They were both fun shows, and they whetted a mild appetite for young audiences that...well, yes, we all know how that turned out.

My spring semester saw me rehearsing two shows simultaneously: one last shindig with MTYP in Wichita, and the second all-school play at WHS. The MTYP production was teen-only, which was a cool new experience. We did Jesus Christ Superstar, which was fun but, in the grand scheme of things, uneventful, so I won't go into tons of detail about it here other than to say it was continuing the theme of my "farewell tour" through Kansas--a theme wrapped up, incredibly enough, with the final WHS production, Larry Shue's The Nerd. As in, the same The Nerd from my first-ever audition with WCT back in the day.

Of course it was.

Turns out, The Nerd was a show special to Dan's heart as well, as the first show he'd done in college and the play that got him "hooked" on the theatre bug. (Or bit by Ta-Daa, as my current co-workers might say) Obviously, I didn't play the kid again, I played the title character. Remember what I said about Dan picking shows for his favorite students?

Oh, and do you remember what I said about getting ultra-competitive the previous year in our forensics competition? I somehow completely decided to let the competitive edge of it go this year and just focus on having fun with it. I did the pieces I wanted to do and enjoyed the friends, the tournaments, watching the other acts, and the general atmosphere that came with the whole thing. And lo and behold, I rocked it out that year. On one hand, I was hoping to prove my maturity by keeping a positive attitude, even when I wasn't winning. However, it seemed like everything I touched that year turned to gold. I ended up qualifying five of my events for the state championship (duet act, improvised duet act, informative speech--ha!, humorous solo act, and dramatic solo act) and won medals in poetry and prose events in competitions as well. Took my speech and my improv partner to state--and finished third in both. It was fun. Almost every moment of it was fun. What an amazing finish to an incredible year.

Also returned to Horsefeathers that following summer. Night and day, friends. Night and day. First off, there were far fewer divas and drama queens in the company; it had more of a "company atmosphere" than the year before had. I didn't feel awkward or out of place, and I made some good friends that summer. We did four shows, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, South Pacific (which until recently had the title of worst show I'd ever been in, but it was still fun), Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Singin in the Rain. I had small roles (and, usually, multiple roles), but for someone fresh out of high school in a professional company, I was doing pretty well. I was having fun. I was learning and growing. Those who knew me from the year before commented on what progress I'd made, both artistically and professionally, from the year before. It was one of the best summers of my life up to that point, and not JUST because the Avs had won the Stanley Cup. (I vividly remember weaving these giant potholders for the South Pacific set by hand while hunched next to my black-and-white TV, which was nothing but static with some play-by-play, praying game seven would end before I had to get to strike. Oh, what a night!)

It was a year that was a celebration of everything that had brought me where I was at that point: a farewell performance with WCT, the year of my life at WHS, one last curtain call at MTYP, a step forward in the company at H&A, and introduction to Shakespeare and to theatre for young audiences, and a decent acting scholarship ushering me into the next major phase of my life: four years of study at Oklahoma Baptist University.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Five: Opening day

You win five of your last six, turning a disastrous 0-4 start into an 8-8 season. Your fans wait eight months believing thins will be the year you finally get "over the hump" and make the playoffs. You make some good off-season moves. You get a super-friendly schedule going into the new year.

Then, after eight months of waiting, you lay a huge rotten egg to start the new year. In front of--nay, under the noses of--your home fans.

Freakin' awesome.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Four: Friends are Friends, and Pals are Pals...'ll all get the reference come April.

Anyway, last night was our annual booking with St. Luke's UMC's PM Pals ministry. (Click the link and scroll down)

PM Pals is one of my favorite bookings every year. I'm not sure how we got started partnering with them, but I'm pretty sure the first time we performed for them was the year before I was in the touring office, which would have made this our fifth year working with them. PM Pals is a parent's-night-out type ministry for parents of children with special needs. They have one volunteer assigned to each child for an evening of playtime, snack time, live entertainment, and movie time/"winding-down time". In addition, there's an adult assigned to each sibling of the special-needs children, so that every child is getting special attention from an adult. It's a really great program, and I'm glad we can be a part of it.

We generally don't have much of a performance space at PM Pals; they put us in one of the classrooms with very little space between our performance area and the audience, which means a kid usually ends up on "stage" at some point. During my first performance at St Luke's (September of 2006, Bartholomew's Reading Adventure), a small child crawled on stage and stood proudly on top of one of our scenic cubes while Dr. Seuss and I were playing a scene a few feet away. We continued with the scene, but our eyes communicated to one another the sense of bemused helplessness with the situation. Fortunately, the kid's wrangler got them off the stage before we had to sit back on the cube, but that incident set the stage for what PM Pals performances would be like.

The next year, I was explaining to the cast behind our backdrop that this would be a highly unusual audience, that many of them would not be able to pay attention, and that they may suddenly burst out shouting or rushing the stage. At this moment, the door to the room opened, and in ran a two-year-old in a crash helmet, running for the drop with both arms extended and a giddy "YAAAAAAAAAA!"

Actions speak so much louder than words.

This year, we took The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. As always, the audience was a challenge: some of the kids toward the back were unable to pay attention; one child paid attention but was prone to loud bursts of laughter and comments every 45-seconds or so; one boy managed to sit still for the first half hour, but eventually started giggling and writhing on the floor before running across our "stage" and even backstage, where the volunteer finally managed to chase them down (during the show). For the most part, however, this was the most attentive audience we'd ever had at this event! One boy (whose hands were clamped tightly over his ears the whole show) was absolutely glued to the action every minute. The first two rows of children stayed with us the entire time. Even the little boy who said, disgustedly, "What? Is this for real??" when we introduced the concept of the Magic Circle.

Afterward, several of the program coordinators reiterated to us that having our group perform every season is the high point of their year. Our contact also told me that we were far more gracious with the nature of the audience than some of their guest performers have been. She mentioned one or two who had grown easily flustered by the constantly-moving, constantly-talking-and/or-yelling audience. That was kind of sad to me. I am always thrilled to bring these kids a great show, regardless of the challenge is presents. And yeah, I know that certain elements of our performance are compromised by the circumstances, but my thing with performance art is that the art is in more than the performance itself. I'll sacrifice a bit of our comfort and some of the spit-and-polish of the show to provide these kids with a live, theatrical experience that they're not likely to get anywhere else. And I know they enjoy it on whatever level they're able to comprehend, and that is all I ask. After all, most of these kids will never set foot in an actual theatre space; their parents wouldn't take them to a public performance, rightly so, because they wouldn't be capable of sitting still or quiet. It's such a fantastic experience to bring them something they may not be able to get anywhere else.

So that's my story about the St. Luke's P.M. Pals. I'm proud to partner with them every year. It's a great, creative experience for them, and I think it does our performers quite a bit of good as well. I know it's left its mark on me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Three: 24 hours

What a great 24 hours!

Finished reading "Flatland."

Rode to work w/ the wife.

PM Pals booking! (There will be a full blog on this one very soon, but I am WAY too beat to write it tonight)

Opening night for Myrtle @ work--got to watch most of the show sitting next to my lovely wife!

Cheese and fruit!

But I am FAR too exhausted to go into more detail than that tonight. I love PM Pals, though, so expect to read about that soon.

I'm also going to continue the "Where I Came From" series, but I want to dedicate the necessary attention to the next stage of my career, and that's hard to do w/ my wife and sister-in-law having conversations over my head while I'm writing ;-)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-Two: In under the wire

Sorry, got company, and it's fairly late, so I don't get to do much blogging tonite.

Just showing you how dedicated I am to this project that I'd sneak on and post a little something to keep the momentum going. Two-forty-two and counting!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty-One: Myrtle!

Saw the new show, Myrtle, a Melodrama!, tonight at work. Well, I saw most of it. Some elements aren't quite finished/working yet. (I'm looking at YOU, roll drop!) I have to admit, I really liked it! The music is really the strongest point in the show, but I think that's probably okay for a musical. All of the performers had some great moments, and a couple were consistently great throughout the show. Abby really shone; it was fun to see her in a role that really fit her area of expertise.

There were moments that definitely could have been trimmed, edited, or cut completely, but for me the fun moments outweighed them. I've always liked the hokey, stylized, over-the-top comedy of a melodrama, and while the members of the cast handled the style with varying degrees of success, enough of it was there for me to really enjoy myself.

The set looked great. I know what a pain it has been to get it finished and mounted, but it really does look nice. The costumes are GORGEOUS! I really need to find Laurie around work tomorrow to tell her this, but I think they're probably the finest I've seen on our stage in the past four-plus years. (Ooh, that's a fun idea...I can make a list of "favorite designs" to go with my "favorite shows" list!)

We had a small preview audience of about thirty, but it certainly did not feel like such an empty house. I can't wait to see this show with a larger audience (and hope they're as enthusiastic and responsive as the folks we had tonight were). Now, if you don't like things that are, well, melodramatic, then obviously you ought to stay away from this one, and if you're looking for a pure-form melodrama then you might be turned off a bit as well, but if you're willing to let a few thing slide and you're just looking for a few good laughs and some catchy music for a couple of hours, come by and see us!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Forty: Alice Kilgore's Story

Around this time in 2007, the Pittsburgh Penguins got some press for the way they'd chosen to distribute season tickets to a few lucky fans: Pens players and coaches, including superstar Sidney Crosby and then-barely-English-speaking Evegeni Malkin (*knock knock knoc* *door opens* "Hello. Peesburg Pengueen Teekit."), traveled to a few lucky fans' houses and hand-delivered the tickets. (Don't worry, the Pens' front office called ahead of time to let the folks know when "a Penguins player" would be dropping by)

One of the more memorable visits--and the one that generated the most Internet buzz--was Crosby's delivery to an older woman named Alice Kilgore. Alice had been a Pens fan since just about Day 1; she'd been with the team since they were the laughing stock of the league, when they were back-to-back Cup champs, when they almost left town twice, when they were bottom-dwellers for about five years again, and clearly, through the recent resurgence a la Sid, Geno, Flower, Staal III, etc.

Anyway, two years ago, Sid visited Ms. Kilgore in her home. It was pretty awesome. She kept saying things like, "I can't believe it, Sidney Crosby is in my house!" She gave him (and the camera crew) a tour of the place, including her Penguins' room, which included a souvenir puck from the first Pens game in 1967. Crosby was impressed at what a super-fan the woman really was.

As he was leaving, Sid asked Alice if she thought they were going to win it all that year. Without hesitation, she replied, "Not this year. Nope, not yet. Maybe next year, though." Sid was a bit taken aback, but he laughed and said, "Well, we're going to try anyway?"

And what happens? The Pens go to the Cup Final, and ABC finds Alice at game 4 and asks her about her prediction. "I'd love to be wrong!" she assures the broadcaster.

But Alice wasn't wrong. Not about 2007-08 not being the Penguins' year. Nor, it turns out, was she wrong about the "Maybe next year" part.

Well, Sid remembered Alice, and...well...gee, those young Penguins are just such nice boys!