Thursday, June 30, 2011

v2, d367: 25 Memories (part 5)

Don't worry, I'll be wrapping up this little series tomorrow.  And I'll stop increasing the number of memories tomorrow, too :-)

17. February, 2008.  Our touring group had just come back from our first prison booking (Angola Prison in Louisiana).  It was an incredible, eye-opening and heart-melting weekend. We'd had such a great spiritual high that weekend.  Then, the following Tuesday, one of our team members got into an argument with the company manager (and a couple others) during company meeting and, thirty minutes later, they quit.

Crazy couple of days.

The phone call I received from our company manager was kind of funny.  "Hey there.  We need to know what our options might be to replace (other team member)."  "Okay, why?  Anything wrong?"  "Well, I'm not sure.  But apparently, he's just quit."  "Oh.  Wow.  Okay."

The fun part of this: we had four performances of four different shows in the next nine days.  So we needed to put up four shows with a cast member missing with no more than two rehearsals before any of the performances. That was pretty awesome.

While my office-mate sat stunned, I mentally tore through our company roster. Who has done this show before?  What about this one?  Who's in the current mainstage?  Are there teaching conflicts?  Who's available?  Who wouldn't need to rehearse much?  What do we do about the show that is tomorrow?  I flipped through the rest of the year's schedule to see where conflicts might arise.  I asked if we could swap out two bookings for another show to give us one less thing to work up.  I met with the director of the upcoming children's theater show to see which actors he could spare.  I contacted our booking agent to see if we could black out a couple of dates or times that would conflict with said children's show.

It was a pretty busy forty-five minutes.

Once I had a plan in place, my supervisor blustered into my office.  He looked frazzled already.  "You know what happened?" he asked.  I quickly and calmly assured him that yes, I'd heard, and here was what we could do: we could put this guy in this show, because he'd done it before and it was going up in two days.  This guy can go in this show because he directed it and would probably be better for the part anyway.  And so on, I explained what conflicts we'd avoid and how much rehearsal time we'd need/have for each of the five shows we had going on for the rest of the year.  When I finished, my boss looked a little stunned and possibly a tiny bit confused, as though he'd been ready for us to have a grand hand-wringing freak-out moment rather than a solution to a fairly complex set of issues.  "Okay," he said.  "Let's do that, then."  And then he left.

It was one of those few days I actually felt really effective in my office job :-)

18. May, 2008.  Waiting backstage before a performance of Paragraph.  Two actors already onstage during the typical lengthy start-of-show monologue this particular playwright is so fond of.  Two actors backstage, about to go on.  And because I was apparently feeling really professional, I tied my co-stars shoelaces together. (I'm not proud of this, by the way)  Unfortunately, when she noticed me doing it she did the one thing you should never ever do when somebody is tying your shoes together: she quickly tried to kick her feet apart. If the knot is already mostly in place, this gesture will just finish the job.  And the harder you jerk, the harder the knot will cinch.  See, what I was doing was a harmless prank that she was going to have to reach down to untie and give me an "Oh, you" kind of look.  What she did was practically super-glue her shoes together about sixty seconds before her entrance (preceded by an actor who is supposed to interrupt his already-too-long monologue upon her entrance).  Clearly, this was not my fault.  The knot has now been squeezed together so tightly I can't even get a grip on it with my fingernails.


We pick at the knot furiously as we hear the scene coming closer to her cue.  This is sooooooo not good.  I'm praying feverishly that we're able to get this undone.  The cue comes and goes.


Fortunately the actor onstage is good at covering, and fortunately he only has to cover for about seven more seconds as I finally get the knot untied and quickly lace her shoes up in time for her to be an angsty teenage girl again.

While I'm generally told I've got wisdom and maturity beyond my years, sometimes I do stupid things.  Lesson learned: don't tie your co-star's shoes together right before they go onstage.  Just...don't.

Incidentally, this was one of those DVD extras-type bloopers that I really hope God got a laugh at when it happened.

19. December, 2006.  The busiest weekend in my entire tenure at the Players.  Our mainstage Christmas show had shows Thursday through Saturday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Our kids' stage Christmas show played back-to-back shows Thursday through Saturday.  Our Christmas touring unit had two shows in different locales on Saturday and Sunday. We had people manning a booth at the Winter Festival at George R. Brown.  And we were touring our first mainstage show of the year, The Trip to Bountiful,  to Waco's historic Hippodrome Theater.  Literally every single person in the company was doing something somewhere.

I was part of our Waco contingent. The Hippodrome (which was recently closed, which is sort of tragic) was a beautiful theater.  It's listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and the rosters of the Texas Historical Commission and the League of Historic American Theaters.  It opened in 1914 and had been restored and reopened in 1987.


Amazing space. And the acoustics were unbelievable. You could sit in the upper balcony and hear a conversation happening onstage at normal voice.  Such a fun place to play, even if the downstairs dressing rooms were kind of dungeon-esque.

I played a small roll in Trip to Bountiful (Houston Ticket Man) and also ran sound for Lion, Witch, Wardrobe that weekend.  A group of us went out to the Dr. Pepper Museum. (If I were to describe the museum in one word, it would be "Unnecessary.")  The weather was beautiful, we had hotel rooms, pretty much everything about this trip was awesome.  Also met up with a friend of mine who had apprenticed with us the summer before and was a student at Baylor.  (She since graduated college, worked full-time at the Players for a year, and is now married.  They grow up so fast!)  She and I went out for dinner at Cheddar's, and it was during that conversation that an off-hand comment she made triggered a story idea in my head.  I'd been wanting to write a story for my wife for a Christmas present that year, but I couldn't come up with a story I thought she'd love.  After eating at Cheddar's, the whole thing fell into my mind overnight.  By lunchtime the next day, I had the entire story that would become The Girl Who Wore Golden Clothes pretty firmly set in my mind.

All in all, it was really just a wonderful weekend of friends, theatre, and good food. 

20. June, 2011. This happened just this morning, actually, but it's a memory, and one that reflects the power of what it is we do on a different level.  As my last assignment before I'm out the door for good, I've been teaching our summer theatre arts academy class for high school students.  I've actually never taught high school kids before, and due to the format of our summer classes (three hours a day for a full week) I really didn't think I could teach them much about acting in such a short time.  Instead, I decided to go with something I know a bit more about: Playwriting.  I've split the class into two groups and let them write their own plays.  As they've gone on, I've stepped in to encourage and guide them to make a stronger product, and I'm really impressed with/proud of all the work they've done.  Every single one of them has been totally engaged in this project, and I think they've probably learned more about theatre than they would have if I'd tried teaching a class where performance was the primary objective.

As the week has progressed, however, I've been particularly impressed with the work of one student in particular.  She not only writes well, but she already possesses a pretty solid grasp of many of the nuances it takes to be a successful playwright.  There are certain elements of the craft that can be taught and others which...well, let's just say they're more difficult to teach.  She's instinctively got a handle on some of these second elements, which puts her ahead of other writers her age.  I met with the director of our academy to ask if she thought it would be appropriate to provide individual encouragement to this student, and she said it was a great idea, so this morning I pulled her aside toward the end of class.  I could tell she thought she was going to get yelled at (she has sort of a take-charge personality, and I had to call her out a little bit for her in class today), so I assured her she wasn't in trouble.  Then I just told her she was very good and I hoped she'd consider pursuing playwriting.  I told her she had an instinctive understanding of the craft and enough talent with writing that, if she were willing to put the work in that it requires, she could be very good at it in the future.

As I was talking, this girl's face absolutely lit up.  "Wow," she said at one point.  "This is, like, the best compliment anyone's ever given me."  She instantly had questions, like what she should do if she were interested in learning about playwriting, what kind of opportunities were out there, what did I think was the difference between being a "writer" and a "playwright."  Good questions.  I handed off my email address and told her she could ask me any questions, I'd be willing to read anything she wrote, be available for advice or encouragement if she so desired, and she seemed really excited about the whole thing.  And I wondered if possibly my experimental playwriting summer workshop class may end up having long-lasting effects on the theatre world.

I don't think many people who teach, whether full-time or only on occasion (like myself), realize what an opportunity they have to impact a young person's life.  I wonder if it would change the way we teach our kids if we fully realized the opportunities that stand before us every time we teach.

(Incidentally, this story bumped the Gibbledegorb TAA story from my list of 25 memories.  Long story short, don't try to brainstorm five-minute play ideas while you and your partner are both starving, because you'll end up with a story that centers entirely around peanut butter)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

v2, d366: 24 memories (part IV)

13. April, 2008.  One of my favorite shows to tour was our literacy awareness show.  It featured Dr. Seuss and a young boy named Bart who hated reading.  Really, though, the play wasn't about reading as much as it was about storytelling, because one of Bart's challenges from the good doctor is to make up a story and make it good.  The play does a good job in discussing the basic elements of a story and soliciting the audience's help in a few areas.  My favorite was always the point at which Bart needs suggestions from the audience to help him describe what the evil witch's tower might look like (because he watches TV and therefore has no imagination)  You really never knew what you were going to get in this session.  No matter how clear you make it that you are looking for good words to describe the tower, inevitably you always get some kid who wasn't really paying attention and gives you a noun or tells you they have to use the restroom.  ("So you're saying it's a kitten-y tower?  With plenty of available bathrooms?  Okay!")  You'd also  have the kid who just shot their hand in the air because they liked to get called on, but the really hadn't but any thought into what might describe a tower at all, so they just say the first thing that comes to mind.  Which is usually the opposite of whatever the last kid said was.  ("So it's a hot tower, but it's kind of cold, too.  Like, it's emotionally distant. Got it!")  Even better, the princess from the story was in the background, reacting to whatever the kids said.  If they said the tower was tall, she'd crane her neck to see the top.  If they said it was dusty, she'd sneeze. 

One day, we were performing at a school that had brought all of their first through fourth grade students.  It came to this point and I called on a kid.  "What word can you think of that would describe the tower?"  I asked her.  She was a pretty young kid.  "Uh," she said, "umm....maybe, like, it has, ahhh, it has, like, maybe there's, like...a kitten."  Okay.  Not the first time I've heard that one before.  "So it's kitteny-y?" I ask.  "Yeah!"  Dr. Seuss wrote that on the board, Princess pantomimes petting a kitten. 

"Okay," I said, "who else has a word?  Maybe what the tower looks like, or what it feels like?  Yeah, you!" 

"A cow!" 

"...Okay, so maybe it has a cow..."

One hand holding the kitten, one hand scratching behind the cow's ears.  At this point, I see all of the teachers pointing at the other side of the auditorium.  Apparently they had sat all of the younger kids on the side I was taking volunteers from.  Teachers just wanted to help us out, and I was grateful for that, so I found the biggest, oldest-and-most-mature-looking child near the back, where the upperclassmen always sit, sure that I had struck gold.  "Can you think of a word to describe the tower?"

"It has a bathtub!" 

Beat.  Teachers laughing.  Princess suddenly tilting backward slightly, elevating her feet as if they're floating on water, trying to keep the invisible kitty from getting wet. 

If only I'd had a camera. 

14. February, 2009.  Confession: I was not actually present for this one.  But I saw the people involved immediately afterward, and they told me all about it.  And obviously, I thought it was awesome. 

You know how actors always say, "Oh, let's just go out and get lunch in character sometime!  Ha ha, that will be funny!"  Well, one of my casts actually went ahead and did it. Naturally, it was the cast of Hero Squad.  (Three of them, anyway)  See, the HS (save the Iron Lung, who was off building a set that day) had gone to visit one of our off-campus classes to think of it, I don't really know why we did that.  I'm sure there was a good reason at the time, though.  Afterward, Lindy, 3-D, and Princess Mystic Starfish were driving home, still in costume because it was easier than trying to find a place to change at the school, and they were hungry.  And the thought came: why bother going all the way back to the theater to change before we can eat?  We're just going dressed like this.  They pull into a Chik-fil-a. 

Now you gotta understand, these were amazing costumes.  These folks didn't look like characters from a play; they looked like they had actually stepped out of a freakin' comic book into the real world.  So if you don't know who they are or where they came from, it pretty much looks like three bona fide super heroes just walked into the door.  As it just so happened, there was a children's event at that Chik-fil-a at that time, so there were a ton of kids at the restaurant, along with a region manager.  When they walked in the front door, the manager, not missing a beat, said, "Look, kids!  Superheroes!

I can't imagine how awesome that moment was. 

I'm kinda jealous that the off-campus class didn't want a bottlenose dolphin bank robber to visit their class, too...

15. October, 2010.  Okay, this one is gross.  Like, seriously gross.  In fact, you may just want to skip down to number sixteen.  I almost didn't want to include it, but hey, sometimes art is ugly. 

I've signed a lot of autographs at our children's theater over the years.  I've shaken lots of hands.  I've given lots o high fives. I've even give out a fair share of hugs.  Yet I've never been overly germ-conscious about it.  You'd think there's actually a pretty high chance you could catch something from one of these kids, given the number of hands you come into contact with and the rate at which sickness spreads in school groups, but it never bothered me. 

Not until I shook that one girl's hand during Winnie-the-Pooh

It was fall, so there were lots of kids with some sniffles going through the line.  But this girl (wow, I'm getting grossed out just picturing it)--she was a really sweet girl.  She wore such a nice huge smile.  Really adorable.  But her nose.  Both nostrils were positively coated in snot.  And not normal snot, either.  We're talking toxic bright green snot.  GAHHH!!!  It was so gross!  If you've ever seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, I will just say that this girl was sporting the most intense ooze-snot I've ever seen.  This wasn't just me, either. About a week later in the dressing room, we were talking about sniffling kids, and I said, "Did you see that one girl last week..." and Piglet's eyes got huge as she said, "OH MY GOSH, WITH THE SNOT?  IT WAS SO GROSS!"  I'm not overreacting here, folks. 

I hit the hand sanitizer in a big way that day, and every single handshake line since. 

16. October, 2006, 07, 08, 09, and 10.  This one was actually kind of creepy for awhile: the first four years I was here, the person (or people) standing directly next to me in the annual company Christmas card left the company within the following year. There was one exception to this rule, but she was gone by the following January.  It didn't matter who it was: intern, company member, 26-year veteran: if they stood next to me, as in directly off my shoulder (one year I was positioned diagonally and the only person I was directly lined up with was gone by the turn of the New Year), they were history.  It was so weird.  I started trying to position myself by people who annoyed me, but you never really get to place yourself in these pictures because the photographer always knows what looks best.  If I was standing next to someone I really liked, I'd be sad, because I knew they would be gone soon.

Then, finally, someone broke the cycle.  I stood next to a girl for the company photo, and she stayed for more than a full year afterward.  Of course, she had been trying to leave that entire time, constantly applying for other jobs that just weren't working out.  So I realized that my Annual Christmas Photo Curse was not necessarily to chase people away, it was just to force whatever the opposite of their intention was.   If they had no intention of leaving, they were history.  If they wanted out, they wouldn't be able to escape.  So no matter what, you didn't want to stand next to me for the Christmas card photo.

This year, I was placed next to our director of children's theater.  I congratulated him.  "Uh, thanks," he said, clearly not understanding but also not wanting to bother to continue the conversation.  I explained it to him anyway: "In every year except one, the person standing next to me in the Christmas card photo has been gone the next year."  Suddenly, he put his hand on my shoulder.  "Really??" he asked.  Then he began faux-sobbing.  "Oh, Will," he exclaimed.

"I'm so happy!  I'm so happy!!"

That said, he's still here. And I'm pretty sure the Christmas tree that was on the other side of me is not. The Christmas Photo Curse lives on...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

v2, d365: 20 memories (part III)

9. November, 2006.  When Kim and I first learned that she was pregnant with Robbie, we agreed to keep it to ourselves for a little while.  But, see, when something awesome happens, I just have to tell somebody, so I devised an intentional slip-up on a touring booking to let the rest of my unit in on the secret.  We had just gone to McDonald's for dinner on the way to a show. I had already had a lot to eat that day, but I still got a pretty large meal.  As we drove away, I made the comment, "I don't know why I'm eating so much today.  You'd think I was the one eating for two, and not Kim."  Then, suddenly, eyes wide, "Oh crap!  I did not just say that!  You did not just hear that!  You can't tell anybody!"  It must have been pretty convincing, because I actually used that as an example in a directing exercise once of the way some people just can't keep a secret when they're really excited about it.  This was months later.  The other guy from my unit was in the cast I was directing at the time, and when I finished talking I realized he was staring straight at me, his jaw dropped a bit.

"You did that on purpose?" he asked.  "Oh...yeah," I said a bit sheepishly.  "Wow.  That's awesome," he said.

Now, I've been called a "stinker" because I never like to out and say this sort of thing.  I always leave the obvious hint and let whoever I'm telling put the pieces together for themselves.

Well, okay.  Guilty. After we kept our little boy a secret for a few more weeks, I got the green light to let the folks at work know.  Before every performance of Rock Nativity, the cast would meet back by the mail room for announcements and prayer.  As they were all headed back for one particular evening's meeting, I caught the stage manager and asked if she could give a prayer request.  I asked her to have everyone pray for my wife, because she was really struggling to deal with the morning sickness.  Then I waited outside the doorway.  A few minutes later, a single high-pitched "WHAT?!?!" told me everything I needed to know.  A few moments later, my friends came back through the door to offer fairly shocked congratulations.  And me standing there, accepting them with that goofy I'm-going-to-be-a-daddy grin. 

10. February, 2006.  I'm what Midwesterners call "ornery."  If you know me, you know this.  I can also be a bit of a bully, though only in good fun.  In the winter of 2006 I had my first acting role at the Players in  The Boxcar Children.  This set a precedent that lasted from 2006-2008: I was only ever cast in shows I didn't audition for.  I joked with the director of this show that he cast me based solely on my portrayal of three sharks and a giant octopus in James and the Giant PeachBoxcar was also the only time I've ever had a love interest in any show.  Really, in any show since high school.  I guess you look at me and you just don't see romance.

Anyway, I don't remember where the conversation started, but as my co-star and I were about to go onstage for the final scene of the show, she made some comment like, "I don't know, I think I might be stronger than you."  Again, I have no idea where this came from, as it came out of one of the sweetest, nicest, most delicate ladies I've ever worked with.  But somehow or other, it came up.  And so, what the audience saw in that final scene was the young couple, finally "together," holding hands and admiring the four Alden children's meeting with their grandfather.

In reality?  We were playing "mercy" the entire scene.

She hasn't talked smack in the five years since ;-)

11. September, 2008.  I was co-teaching a class of four kindergarten-age girls (and one second grade boy who was unfortunately put into this class since the 2nd and 3rd grade class didn't make) where the focus was expressing emotion on stage.  When I say "co-teaching," I really mean "assisting the actual teacher," because I don't have a whole lot of theatrical exercises for kindergartners in my back pocket.  It was actually a pretty good team-up, though, since the other teacher and I were also teaching a 7th and 8th grade class that semester where I sort of took the lead.  It evened out.

We were doing an exercise where we asked the kids what emotions certain colors reminded them of.  We started with blue.  The first little girl said blue made her think of sad, and she was sad because her little dog that she loved had run away, and she looked and looked for it but couldn't find it, and she cried and cried because she's afraid the dog is lonely and that she maybe won't ever see it again.

It was pretty sad.  But it got worse.  Later in the day, we were doing a similar exercise with pieces of music instead of colors.  We played a happy song, and the kids all said it made them happy.  We asked Lost Puppy Girl, and she said it made her happy to think that maybe her puppy had found a new home and that maybe he was happy with somebody else.  Literally every single exercise ended up coming back to this girl's lost dog.  The other teacher and I started to wonder if we needed to ask her parents if she was going to be okay.  It was actually starting to get a little bit uncomfortable.

Class ended, and parents came to pick up children.  Lost Puppy Girl's dad was the last to come.  He had scrubs on and sported hair with enough product in it that it wouldn't even think about moving for a week.  I was at the top of the stairs by that point, about to disappear into my office, and the other teacher was downstairs by the front door seeing them out.

"What did you do in class today, sweetheart?" he asked.

"I talked about how my puppy ran away, and how it made me very sad and I cried because I was afraid she was lonely."  The door slowly swung shut behind them, but not before I heard the rest of the conversation.  First, there was a pause, then the father said, "You mean, for pretend?"

"Yeah."  Click.  Door shut.

My co-teacher whirled around with a stunned look that I'm sure mirrored mine almost perfectly, and we both fell to the ground laughing. 

12. May, 2008.  "Whiiiite dresses, for the ladies down at Lane..."  Lane was the name of the women's prison we were at that day.  In the spring and summer of 2008, we partnered with a local prison ministry to take one of our touring performances (it was Paragraph) into both men's and women's prisons across this part of the state.  The man in charge of the ministry was named Zeke.  Zeke is a former convict, and his testimony is powerful.  He's also one of the craziest people I've ever met.  His heart for prison ministries is amazing. And while his zeal often made him a bit unbearable, I'm proud and glad to have worked with him.

On this particular day, we were performing in the second of two prisons within driving distance of this particular city.  (Sorry, I don't remember exactly where it was)  The day before we had played the men's prison; today it was the ladies' turn.  Zeke was strumming a tune on his electric autoharp about all the ladies being daughters of the King and returning home from prison with change lives, never going back to the messed-up situations that had landed them in Lane.  Then it would never be plain white prison garb for these ladies.  They'd where white dresses ("And pink dresses, and red ones, blue ones, purple ones...") again.  And you could see tears trickling from these women's eyes into the corners of their smiles.  (Just thinking about it, I'm getting a little choked up)

I believe this was the time we started our show and were interrupted about fifteen minutes in.  Another actor and I then had to sit on the stage in our positions while guards came in and called roll for all hundred-and-something ladies in the room.  It was sort of a sobering reminder that we weren't in the cozy confines of our happy little actor lives.

These ladies laughed like no one else through the show.  They outright cheered at points.  They had the kind of reactions you can never expect from the folks who pay forty-one bucks for a ticket.  It was probably my favorite performance of the year.  After we were done, Zeke did a bit of preaching.  He preached about being hidden in Christ.  He told them that when Christ held them, nobody could take them back from Him.  He said, "As soon as you leave here, next time that hammerhead comes up to you to mess you up again, you tell him, 'Nuh-uh, not anymore!"  He used an illustration where he took a tennis ball and said, "This here is you."  He then placed it in a plastic bucket labeled "Christ" and snapped the lid tight. He pounded on the lid a few times, shook it a bit, then just looked up at the ladies and said, "'Nuff said, all right?"

Zeke led the room in a prayer, and by the end of it more than thirty women had given their lives to Christ.  I realized then how my state was really no different from theirs. All any of us had to offer our Maker and Lover were filthy rags.  That day, God allowed me to play a part in an event that saw those thirty-some women trade in their filthy rags for white dresses.

Monday, June 27, 2011

v2, d364: 20 Memories (part 2)

5. February, 2009.  There are certain things in life you can try to mentally prepare yourself for, but once they come around you realize how feeble your understanding of the situation really was all along.  Marriage is one of those things.  Parenting, too.  Living on your own as an adult.  Job-hunting.  Playing a bank robber dressed as a bottlenose dolphin.

I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to be utterly ridiculous.  I knew it would look and feel goofy from the start.  But until the first time my BNG and I flopped onto the stage in our scuba fins and full-body dolphin suits, I had no idea exactly how ridiculous the whole thing was.

The first time we did this scene, I did not think we were going to make it through.  We were laughing so freaking hard.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it took a full week before we could do the scene with straight faces.  Goodness, it was silly.  It was the silliest thing I've ever done on a stage.

I still can't think about it without a grin finding its way to my face.  Wow.

6. September 2005, August 2007.  My first show assignment was to cover for the A.S.M. in The Mousetrap once the A.S.M. went into rehearsals for our Christmas show the last two weeks of the run.  I sat in on the booth for about a week before taking over.  The crew gifts for that show were white little rubber rats.  The S.M. and A.S.M. enjoyed playing with the rat in the booth.  Well, I got a hold of the rat and started to see how many different shapes I could make with it.  The tail was amazing. You could stretch it far enough to tie all the way around the rat's neck twice.  My favorite thing to do with the rat was to press its head in and set the rat upright with the newly-flattened shoulders against the table.  The effect was similar to a cartoon character who has fallen off a ledge and landed face-first. It looked pretty convincing.  All of this, of course, was only encouraged by the lame duck A.S.M., who always either laughed or gagged depending on the shape I'd leave the rat in for her to find.

Fast forward two years. I'd kept the rat (in my car, for some reason) after Mousetrap was over. The former A.S.M. and I are in touring rehearsals together.  I found the long-forgotten rat on the floorboard of my car and decided to reintroduce it into our friendship.  There was some playful hiding of the rat on set pieces or in props during rehearsals, many of which drew Glares of Death.  It was all in good fun, of course.  As the game went on, the stakes went higher, and pretty soon I was finding it hard to top my previous hiding place.  Finally, I knew I hit the jackpot in our morbid little rat-hiding game.

The next afternoon, she went to her box in the mailroom and saw a pink rubber tail sticking out of her box.  She grumbled and pulled the rat out by its tail.

It had no head.

What I love about this story is that the Headless Rubber Rat became a prop in our literacy show that year.  The evil witch's monstrous henchman would have it dangling from his soup bowl when he came onstage to prepare to cook the hero.


7. October, 2009.  Ah, Teammates.  My own stab at a drug awareness play.  Written solely because I so disliked the one we had been using since 1995 or whenever (referenced yesterday).  It was actually a really fun show to be in.  It's kind of fun to be in your own work.  It's also a good experience because it helps you recognize what some of your writer-habits are that tend to make life more difficult for an actor.  Plus, Bruce Dumpling is a fun character to play, and I loved the rest of my cast.  And we got to play a lot of basketball, which was fun.

We had rehearsed and put together a pretty decent little show targeting second through fifth grade (but still pretty enjoyable for the younger ones as well).  Our second booking for this show was for a combination elementary/middle school (come to think of it, same school from memory #1!).  I'd spoken with the contact the day before and she had told me that the audiences would be split up into 2nd-3rd grade and 4th-5th grade.


The first show was something like first through third grade.  Which was fine.  The second audience was fifth through eighth.


It's always funny to see the reaction of a cast backstage at our children's theater when they are told that the house is full of middle school students.  They just deflate.  Nobody wants to perform for these guys because they're often "Too Cool For School."  It's even worse when you give them something that is obviously for younger kids.  Some of these kids will openly mock you as if you can't see them sitting four feet away from you.  And for some reason, being mocked by middle school kids is one of the worst things in the world if you're an actor.  Still, the best advice I've ever heard in dealing with a MS audience has been, "Trust the show."  So that's what we decided to do.  Mostly.  With a few minor edits to "age" the characters just a bit.  Because they were in fourth and sixth grade in the original, we changed them to sixth and eighth grade and made them a tad less little kid-y. 

The only noticeable eye-rolling moment came in the opening monologue when I said the line "I'm in the sixth grade."  I heard a few groans.  One kid said "Oh, come on."  Yup.  You guys got me.  I'm not actually in sixth grade.  I'm a grown-up.  No fooling you guys.  Good job.

After that, though, they were pretty much with us.  I always loved performing Teammtes because we never played a show where the audience didn't go nuts at the end.  I can honestly admit I did not expect a similar reaction from these kids.  Nevertheless, as Bruce sank the final shot over a diving Staci to win the game, the entire auditorium cheered.  Not just the fifth grade kids, either.  All of 'em.

Teammates cast 1, middle school snobbery 0.

8. December, 2006.  In six years, there has really only been one mainstage show that I was excited enough about that I really wanted to be in it.  I wasn't cast, obviously, but I did get to understudy the three different guys in the ensemble.  I went to every music rehearsal and worked to learn tenor, baritone, and bass for every song.  'Cause hey, that's what an understudy is supposed to do, right?  I had a couple guys who were in the cast telling me I was working way too hard.  "Just learn one part and sing it whoever you go in for," I was told.  I attended enough run-throughs to get all three men's blocking.  I went to the show once a week to keep it all fresh in my mind.  I even sang through the entire thing on longer drives, first in tenor, than in baritone, and lastly in bass.  About halfway through the show it had become clear that I was never going on, but I stuck with it anyway because, by that point, I just really enjoyed singing the music.

Then came New Year's Eve, the day of the last performance.  I'm actually taking my Sunday nap when Kim comes into the bedroom with my phone and a troubled/confused look.  She says it's someone from work and that it sounds important.  I take the phone, half-asleep, and it's one of the guys I'm understudying.  "Hey," he says.  "Are you my understudy?"

"Yeah," I reply groggily.

"Okay.  Well, I can't walk.  It hurts to try to stand up.  So I think you might have to do the show tonight."

Crap. It's almost 4:00 already.  My voice is nowhere near warmed up.  There's no time for a costume fitting.  I tell Kim I'm going to go for a drive, because it's the best place I can think of to get away from the house to do some singing warmups.  While I'm driving, I get  call from the costume designer, asking for my sizes.  I get a call from the stage manager, the final confirmation that yes, I'll be doing the show that night, can I get to the theater soon to go through blocking and choreography.  I call a friend and ask her to bring some foodstuffs to the theater for me because I haven't got any time to eat at home.  In case you can't guess, everything's pretty much a whirlwind at this point.  I come home, grab my clothes for the evening, and get to the theater.

Look, I'm not going to say I was perfect. I will say I was good.  I was never hopelessly lost.  A cast member occasionally had to move me into the right spot (I only remember this happening twice, and once it was totally in character anyway).  I nailed the hard choreography, but tripped up a bit in one of the easier songs.  (I was later told I did just as well with the dance as the actor I replaced usually did)  And once I left my jacket on the wrong side of the stage. I was pretty mad at myself for that one.  The worst blunder of the night came at the very end of the curtain call.  I realized I'd always been so focused on the show and the dance that I'd never worried much about what to do at the curtain call.  Somehow, some way, I totally missed doing The Pose.  Oh well.  I'd done pretty darn well given the circumstances.

That was probably the most fun I ever had in a single six-hour stretch at the Players.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

v2, d363: 20 memories (part I)

1. September 2006.  The very top of our first performance of our drug awareness play at a local elementary school.  It wasn't our first show performance as a unit, because we'd had a successful Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe booking about a week before out at Camp Allen, but it was the first time doing this show, and it was the first time performing a show all four of us were all actually performing in.  (For Lion, two actors do the whole story, and the sound effects are run by the third and fourth members of the team.  Since 2006, we've brought it down to only one sound tech)  Plus, this was easily the show that most of my unit lost the most sleep over.  In fact, to this day if I bring it up to one of the gals who was in the show with us, she rolls into a ball on the floor and rocks back and forth.  This little show had a lot of little issues.  Nobody liked the script, which was so rad it had clearly come straight outta 1993.  Also: the rest of the cast was terrified of the director.  It was actually kind of funny.  Again, one of those actors still refuses to say the words "embarrassed zebra" after a particularly harsh rehearsal.  Anyway, all that was behind us now, and here we were, trying it out on a live audience of grade school kids for the first time.  I always enjoy a first audience.  Even if they're unlike every other audience you'll ever have in a run, they're still your first indicators as to what worked, what didn't, what was funny that you never realized was a joke, all those kinds of good things.  This particular show began (as many of this playwright's kids shows begin) with the protagonist walking on stage and introducing himself to the audience.  These openings are meant to be audience participatory.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Today, however, the response was beyond what we were expecting.

"My name is Max."

Now, this playwright often sets their plays in the Pittsburgh area, because that's where his home theater is based.  When we first started touring this show in the mid-90's, we decided to change some references to make it Houston instead.

"I live in Houston, Texas."
The kids went nuts.  They were cheering, they were clapping.  They were so excited that Max lived in Houston.  Which was unfortunate, because the next line was...

"I didn't want to move to Houston."
A beat of stunned silence.  And then:
That's right. Fifteen seconds into our first show, and we were getting boo'ed.  Awesome.

2. Late November 2007.  The next-to-last dress rehearsal for my first professionally produced script as playwright and director.  The show was my adaptation of Why the Bells Chimed and the cast was our Christmas touring unit.  I would have been a part of the unit, but this was right after Robbie had been born and I asked out of the Christmas season at work, seeing as how back then it was wall-to-wall bookings.  It hadn't been anywhere near a perfect rehearsal process, and the show's run that day had lacked a bit of energy and sincerity, so I knew it hadn't gone too well.  Naturally, this was the day the boss had come to see what we'd been working on.  (This may have been the cause of the lethargic run; at any rate, this was back before I realized it didn't matter how well the show went as far as the boss was concerned)  To my surprise, she didn't comment much on the pacing or the energy or...really, she didn't mention anything concerning the actors.  Instead, she told me that, as a playwright, I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew.  The audience wouldn't follow the story, they wouldn't accept the storytelling aspect of the script (it was one of those where you've got a classic fable story being told in the midst of a modern-day story), that it was too grim, et cetera.  "What I just saw was not a play," she said, and that seemed to be the final verdict on the matter.  "But I'm glad you tried." 

Stephen King once wrote that an old babysitter he'd had when he was a child used to sit on his face for fun, and that it was the best preparation he'd ever receive for literary critics.  Much to my surprise on this day, I wasn't hurt or even discouraged by my boss's words.  Instead, I chose to respectfully disagree.  (And, again, I just chalked it up to "She saw a bad performance, that's all)  I did make a minor tweak to the script based on one of her suggestions, and then I sent the show out to perform as it was.  Less than a year later, it became my first professionally published piece of writing.  Still, I think, looking back on that day in late November, what stuck out to me most that day wasn't the fact that I'd been (politely) ripped apart that day.  It was the realization that I was officially a playwright :-) 

3. May 2011.  I know most of you will have already heard the newer stories, and I've probably already blogged about some of them,  ;-)  My adaptation of Pinocchio had been playing at our children's theater for about a month.  (And if you thought the Bells comments were a bit harsh, you shoulda been there for Pinocchio!) I'm really pretty proud of that show, as I've mentioned before.  I made some adjustments to the story to provide a bit of an allegorical slant, but I don't believe it's out of place or heavy-handed at all.  I'm pretty sure a non-Christian company could pick up the script and do it with no reservations.  It's a lot like the gospel: if you want to find it, it's right there.  But no one's gonna force you to look. 

At opening night for Parenthesis, my direct supervisor was providing the pre-show announcement.  When he mentioned Pinocchio he felt the need to point me out in the audience.  I'd actually tried to look busy reading my Playbill as a cue that "Hey, I'm trying to be inconspicuous."  Next time I need a better cue.  So I lifted a hand and gave a small wave and a smile.  During intermission, he caught up to me and looked a little embarrassed to have done that.  I told him not to sweat it, and I meant it.  It wasn't really all that inconvenient.  I just hate to take focus from a show once it's up and running. 

After the show, I was opening up the front door for our house manager.  A woman in her early thirties practically ran out of the theater to catch me.  She told me she and her husband had taken their two boys to Pinocchio the previous week and that after the show, they'd had a forty-minute discussion about God's grace as revealed through the characters in the play.  She said they'd never had that in-depth of a discussion with their boys on the topic.  And the best part about it was that the kids were the ones making the connections and asking the questions.  They even saw some spiritual parallels in there that I hadn't seen. 

Here's what's cool in all this (to me): I started to read the book Pinocchio with the intent of adapting it because I knew we'd been looking for a manageable Pinocchio script for several years and hadn't found one we liked.  I didn't set out to make "Christian Pinocchio" and I didn't really sit down and map out a complex allegory.  I read the book in two days, saw something of my spiritual struggles in the protagonist's life, and just started writing.  It was eight days between my first touching the book and the finishing of the script.  It wasn't in my plan, it was a God thing.  And often, you don't really get a chance to see the results when you participate in a God thing, especially in theater.  The audience comes, they watch, they leave, and if they got anything out of it they talk about it afterwards at home.  Here I wouldn't have known what God had done through me in this family's life if my friend hadn't pointed me out at the pre-show announcement of a show I'd only decided to attend about an hour before curtain.

Now that's awesome. 

4. December 2005.  Once upon a time, our children's theater mascot got to do stuff before the show.  He actually went out a full fifteen minutes before the show started and shook hands, gave hugs, took kids' suggestions and acted them out.  After all, he is the Acting Bug.  We had a formula we followed pretty closely most of that first year I was there.  First, we'd ask for emotions Ta Daa could act out.  When we ran low on emotions, we went on to sports, and that was always fun.  (Some kids who had been there before wanted to skip ahead.  "Who knows an emotion  Ta Daa can act out?" "Football!") 

One day--I think this was during Rock Nativity--I was watching Ta Daa ta-do his thing when a kid suggested deer hunting for their sport.  And so I watched (at least a little concerned) as the big blue acting bug crouched down behind the large circle platform in the center, a pantomimed hunter's rifle in his hands.  He peered through the imaginary sniper scope until he spotted the doe.  He crept forward, the barrel of the "gun" still trained on his prey.  At this point, I was really worried.  Ta Daa can't kill a deer, I thought from the booth.  I tried to send telepathic messages both to Ta Daa and the handler: "Find an excuse to stop!  Take another suggestion, quick!  Don't kill imaginary Bambi in front of all these kids at Christmas!!"  Ta Daa raised the gun and prepared to fire.

Then, he sprang up, ran over to where the deer was standing, and patted it on the head, scratching it behind the ears. 

I spoke with the gal in the bug suit that afternoon as we drove back to the shop after the show.  She said she had actually started the mime with the intent of carrying it out, but as she was about to pull the trigger the thought suddenly occurred to her that it would be horrible and traumatic for Ta Daa to "kill" a deer, so she went to pet it instead. 

I'm pretty sure I saved the day in this story somehow. 

v2, d362: Four bucks for a water bottle??

Took Robbie to his first movie at a movie theater today.  I've hesitated to do this before now because, well, the kid has trouble sitting still and being quiet.  Today, however, we went to see the sequel to his all-time favorite movie Cars.  Seemed the appropriate time to launch this experiment.  And overall, things went pretty well.  We saw the 3-D version because it fit best with our grocery shopping/lunch/nap schedule.  Normally I really hate 3-D for movies, but I have to say that Disney/Pixar knows how to do it right, using the technology to refine their films rather than throwing cheap effects at us every few minutes to make a few extra bucks.  Robbie had first seen a 3-D movie about ten days ago at Legoland (Bob the Builder), so he was familiar with the concept, but he was pretty much over wearing the glasses halfway through the movie.  He claimed they made it dark and that he couldn't see very well with them on, so I traded him.  The darkening effect was caused by the smudges left on the lenses from his M&M-stained hands.  Regardless, he eventually decided he didn't like my glasses, either, so he just watched the rest of the film somewhat fuzzy.  He didn't seem to mind.

Robbie did a pretty good job of sitting still, but he was anything but quiet.  I kept trying to get him to whisper directly into my ear when he had a question, but he rarely did it.  In his defense, the movie was pretty loud and I'm sure he felt he had to just about yell in order to be heard.  I'm sure it wasn't as loud to the folks in the theater as I thought it was.  And Robbie had a lot of questions throughout the movie.  I had to convince him at times that everything was going to be all right, because there were some pretty suspenseful moments and Robbie doesn't respond well when characters in cartoons appear to be in danger.  Which was unfortunate, because this was pretty much a spy/action flick where cars were being shot at, beaten up, or threatened every ten minutes or so.  Still, in the end, Robbie really liked the movie.  I liked it, too, though it's by far the lowest quality of anything Pixar has put out.  For an animated kids' movie, it's actually pretty good.  When you compare it with the Toy Storys or The Incredibles or Wall-E, or even the first Cars movie, it's just not in the same class.  It's like all the guys at Disney/Pixar sat around a lunch table talking about ways they could make cars into spies.  "Oh, and they could, like, fly!  And shoot rockets!"  "Sweet!  And give him magnetic tires so he can drive up walls!"  And then they went ahead and made that movie, because yes, an action flick with flying, rocket-shooting cars that can drive up walls and are voiced my Michael Caine is awesome.  And the action in this movie is very cool and clever.  The visuals are, as always, amazing.  There are some chuckles.  And there's still a welcome sincerity to the film, if not the usual depth of emotion or storytelling.  It's not a great movie, the story is pretty meh, the moral feels pretty forced, but it's pretty good summer action fare for kiddos and parents of kiddos.  (Kind of funny, this movie struck me as sort of the anti-Cars.  The first Cars film started with lots of flashy noise and spectacle, but was ultimately a character-driven piece about the need to slow down and enjoy the simpler things and the relationships in your life, and this movie is pretty much a big, loud, explosion-laden globe-trotting endeavor that barely takes a break once it gets going.  Which is one of the few similarities to the first Cars movie: takes a while to get to the story) 

Bah.  What am I doing?  I didn't log on to write a movie review.  But don't worry, I've analyzed this thing quite a bit since this afternoon and I could keep going for quite a while if I wanted to ;-)


You know how long the previews/commercials segment before the film seems to last?  It seems about twenty times as long to a three-year-old.  Plus, it was a Disney/Pixar movie, so there was another cartoon after the previews and before the movie.  I was afraid Robbie was going to be over the whole moviegoing experience before the movie even started!  Plus, the latest "don't add your own dialogue to the movie" blip--not as funny as the old one, by the way--uses some footage from Clash of the Titans, and that actually scared the kid quite a bit.  As did the AMC promo where the three beautiful young adults of differing ethnicities sit in a theater that suddenly transforms into a wilderness of large, magical plants and fireflies.  Which, really, is pretty disturbing.  What happened to everyone else in that theater?  Anyway, the only trailer that Robbie liked wasn't really a trailer per se.  It was the opening scene from The Lion King remastered in digital 3-D.  He loved it.  And I have to admit, as I watched that old footage from my childhood touched up to look all purty, I was pretty moved.  It was gorgeous.  That was always my favorite Disney film, and watching that sequence reminded me why.

Unfortunately, I'm now out of movies for the year.  I used up the last of my AMC card today, and obviously we're expecting money to be pretty tight for the next couple of months.  I'd been saving that card for Captain America.  I'm going to say I'd probably have enjoyed Cap more than Cars 2, but that's okay.  I'll probably find a way to scrounge up the necessary dollars to take Kim to Harry Potter when it comes out.  The rest can wait for Redbox.  Today was Robbie's early birthday celebration (we also went out to Five Guys Burgers and Fries for lunch), so I wanted it to be a special occasion.  And I'm pretty sure we accomplished that.  Robbie was spouting out parts of the movie he remembered the rest of the night.  We'd be playing with blocks, and suddenly he would say, "Oh, and in the movie, this happened!"  In fact, about thirty minutes after he went to bed, I heard him moaning something about Mommy over the monitor.  When I went in to check on him, he said, "I need to tell Mommy something."  I told him to tell me, and I'd tell her, and eventually he said, "I wanted to tell her that Lightning McQueen was on the train tracks."

I told him he could go ahead and wait to tell her tomorrow.  And I'll bet he remembers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

v2, d361: Ryan vs Ryan

So, this skit was really funny when they did it last year.  Clearly, though, the NHL Awards people were running short on ideas this year (the whole show was pretty meh, at best), so they did it again.  (Worked for The Hangover, right?) 

Still, it's 1:00, and I'm trying to get back into regular blogging, and that means you get filler.  And there are some chuckles in here.  So here you go.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

v2, d360: Too Much to Talk About Right Now!


I can't think of the last time I've had this much blog-worthy material.  (One can't help but wonder how lofty of a compliment "blog-worthy" really is)  We had vacation, a Stanley Cup, my sister's wedding, some fun Top 7 ideas from the other should be a while before I run out of material.  That'll be a nice change of pace.

I suppose, however, that I ought to open with this: I quit my job yesterday.  (Admittedly, the Boss doesn't know it yet because she's not getting back until tomorrow) I won't get all sentimental and emotional about this on here because, hey, I have a Last Day (last day) coming up in a week.  May as well save the tears for later.  For now, I'll just say that it's time for me to move on.  And I don't exactly know where my life's adventure will be taking me next.  That's pretty scary.  The truth is, for the past year I've been in the state of "As soon as I find something else, I'm out of here."  Recently came to realize that I was putting my faith in the mythical something else.  I feel like God has things He wants me to do right now, and it's time to try for them. 

You want details?  Well, as appears to be the theme for this blog lately, they'll come later.  :-)  Let me get some things sorted out first, okay?  Thanks.

A lot of people ask me what I'll be doing next. My general response is, "What sounds better? 'Stay-at-home dad' or 'Self-employed writer'?"  I'll be staying home with Isaac for (likely) the next year until Robbie starts public school.  It may turn out that I have to get some part-time work in the evenings to make ends meet, and if that  happens then so be it.  I've got a couple of projects that may turn into some decent income for the next few months.  Again, more details will come if these things start to pan out (no reason to get your hopes up prematurely, right?)  I can't say I know how we're going to "make it" this next year, but I'm convinced we will.  It'll probably be tighter and harder than that dark period last year, and that's scary, and we will probably need help in various forms (occasional babysitting comes to mind) in order to make it, but by the grace of God we will, in fact, make it. 

I hate leaving.  I hate knowing/feeling I'm leaving people that I care about hanging.  Hate it.  But I really think this is the time.  And I think that, ultimately, good things are coming. 

More on this as it develops :-)

Friday, June 17, 2011

v2, d359: Not a Wedding Post At All

Tomorrow, my big sister is getting married. But I'm not going to write about that tonight (for reasons I'll go into on a later date). 

Instead (and since there are so many things to write about that will likely have to wait for another day), I will make this one quick note:  A while back, in my annual Former Aeros: Where Are They Now? post, I made a comment how odd it seemed that John Scott was the former Aero most likely to win a Stanley Cup.  Well, I was wrong.

Congratulations to the Boston Bruins' third-string goalie.

Monday, June 13, 2011

v2, d358: On a Jet Plane

Well, here we go.  Leaving tomorrow for my big sister's wedding, kicking off a summer's worth of events that suddenly seem quite surreal.  But we'll delve into that as the summer progresses, aye? ;-)

For this week:
Tomorrow: On the plane, then a bachelor party with a bunch of guys I've never met (slightly nervous? Yep)
Wednesday: Legoland w/ Robbie
Thursday: Grandma's birthday party (My grandma, not Robbie's)
Friday: Rehearsal!!
Saturday: THE BIG DAY!!!
Sunday: Father's Day
Monday: Knott's Berry Farm, I think, and probably about fifteen rides on the train
Tuesday: Home again home again

And then when we get home, things get crazy!  As Sherri (or Red Mage) would say, "Dun-dun-DUUUUUN!!!"

Wow.  It took me entirely too long to find those...

v2, d357: Hi Ate Us?

And the conclusion to our little commenting experience appears to be: blogger just hates Dave.  Which is sad, because Dave likes to comment!  Apparently the closing of PBB wasn't as mutual of a parting as originally thought...

This weekend has been "prepare like crazy for the week of vacation" time.  Of course,  no matter how much you prep, you'll always forget something.  Especially when you're trying to transport four people halfway across the country and two of the people really can't do much to take care of themselves.  I don't know if there'll be vacation blogging or not.  We'll be pretty busy while we're out there.  But we'll see.  At some point in the next few days, the Stanley Cup is going to be handed out.  (That means we're only days away from an awesome CBC end-of-playoff montage!  Seriously, folks, these things are epic)  Tonight, Dallas won the NBA title, which was great because A) we all wanted to see Dirk win it, and B) I've had more than my fill of King James.  The end of the game was weird, though!  Dirk N. walking off the court as time was still running out?  Bosh collapsing and crying before making it to the dressing room?  Just unusual stuff all around.  Also: I think it's lame that basektball (and baseball, and football) hands the championship trophy to the team's owner. Always feels like the players should get it first to me.  I mean which picture did you really want: Commissioner Stern handing the trophy to Mark Cuban or to Dirk Nowitzki and/or Jason Kidd? 

Okay, it's lat, and I actually still have some dishes to get done.  Oops. Check you sometime, folks!

Friday, June 10, 2011

v2, d356: Leave Me a Comment

It's always strange when people insinuate that I've written something specific as a plea for more comments.  "I noticed your subtle feedback request," that sort of thing.  I promise, I don't do subtle requests.  I sometimes think, "Oh, I'll bet so-and-so will have something to say about this," (before remembering that they got sent up to Urinetown) but I never make a statement and hope that you all will just pick up the cue and agree with or contradict it. 

Not that I don't love comments. I do.  When we occasionally hit the "4" mark on a post I get pretty stoked.  So please, don't feel like I'm saying "You all shouldn't bother commenting."  All I'm saying is that, when I specifically want comments, I will usually say "Leave a comment" or "Tell me what you think in the comments box."  No bloggy mind-games here.

That said, one of my most faithful readers is apparently having trouble leaving comments.  I'm sure it's some conflict between their computer and blogger, but then again I don't really know what my blog requires of you when you leave a comment since I'm always already logged in when I reply to someone in the comment section. We had a similar problem back when I started this blog, and I know blogger/Google has changed some things recently, so I don't know if there's some setting I can change that will make things easier.  Soooo, please leave me a reply and let me know what  hoops (if any) you had to jump through to get there.  Did you need to log in to anything?  Word verification?  Have issues with an over-sensitive profanity filter?  Let me know.

I know this makes for boring reading, but when you have to deal with maintenance, you just have to deal with maintenance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

v2, d355: "They are tired; write the eulogy"

I feel the need to eulogize the Aeros a bit.  With as many words as I've spent on their incredible Calder Cup run up to this point and as many hours of intense playoff memories as they've provided me this spring/early summer, I figure I owe them a couple of words.

Dave and I were at game six last night.  The night the magic ran out.  The Aeros took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but an early powerplay goal by the BSens tied the game at two.  And somehow, at that point, I knew it was over.  You could see the heart and the hustle our guys wanted to give, but they just didn't have anything left.  Two series' worth of game sevens and three key injuries finally caught up to them.  The tenacity with which they were somehow able to eke out clutch goals against three superb goalies in Ben Bishop, Jeremy Smith, and Drew MacIntyre wasn't enough to beat red-hot nineteen-year-old Robin Lehner.  In the playoffs, you need your goalie to steal a few for you, and I think it's fair to say Lehner stole at least one game this series.  That doesn't take anything away from the speed or the top-end scoring talent on the B-Sens team, but with a lesser tender between the pipes the Aeros still probably grind their way to a Calder Cup.

Grind.  That's a good way to describe the Aeros this season.  They were in a dogfight from day one.  The West Division was probably the toughest I've ever seen it.  Every team had a winning record. Through most of the season you had as many as seven teams separated by five or fewer points.  At no point this year was there such a thing as a meaningless game.  The Aeros were pretty much playing playoff hockey from December on.  They finished with the second (or third, I can't remember) most wins in the entire league.  They won a game seven on the road in Milwaukee, always a tough building for Houston to play in.  They nearly blew it against the Bulldogs, letting a 3-0 lead turn into a seven-game affair.  Maybe if they had taken care of business there, they would have had the legs to match the Senators' speed in the final.  We'll never know.  But they fought tooth and nail till the last gasp and came really freaking close to tying it with a minute left. 

In the end, however, it just Binghamton's year.  And you can't say enough about a team that barely made the playoffs and then rallied from down three games to one in the first round taking the rest of the playoffs by storm to win their city's first ever pro championship.  That's just awesome. 

But these Aeros were pretty awesome in their own right.  There was something magic about the team, and it didn't rely on a Magic Shirt, Magic Baby Spit-up, a Magic Double-Overtime Pizza, or any of those other awesomely ridiculous superstitions that make being a sports fan so dang much fun.  This team was special.  They way they played for one another was special.  The way someone different was always stepping up, taking turns being the hero, was special. That I can't point fingers and say, "This guy didn't pick up the slack" at any one of the guys on the ice is special.  And, judging from sound clips from interviews, these guys knew it, too. 

You know what?  It sucked watching another team skate around with the Calder Cup on our ice on a night where over 10,000 fans filled the lower bowl and half of the upper bowl at the Yo.  It sucked watching our guys skate back to the dressing room after the handshake line while league officials were setting up the table.  It sucked to see the guys sitting on the bench or kneeling on the ice after the buzzer sounded while jubilant visiting players tossed their sticks and gloves in the air and mobbed one another.  It sucked as a fan, but more than that, I was hacked off for the players.  Because I thought they deserved better.  All the heart and sweat they poured into this city all year, and I wanted a better ending for them.  I wanted Captain D to get his first title.  I wanted Sully to have something to celebrate at the end of what was a rough year for him.  I wanted Hackett to have the last laugh on his critics who said he wasn't a championship caliber goalie.  I wanted Noreau's five years in Houston to really pay off for him.  I wanted Orts to win.  I wanted Falker to win.  I wanted Daoust, Marco, Rau, Earl, and Gillies to win.  And they didn't. They just stood huddled to one side, waiting for the obligatory handshake, and there was nothing we could do about it.  So I started up a "Thank you Aeros" chant, and it actually picked up some steam in my corner of the arena.  I was glad for that. 

I'm pretty certain we'll have a fairly solid team again next season.  DiSalvatore and Rau are already signed for another season.  So are Peters, Cuma, Kassian, McMillan.  We'll have Hackett and Keumper between the pipes, and that's a solid tandem.  I imagine one of Gillies or Almond will make the Wild, but we will likely have the other.  A lot of guys are RFA's, and I think most of them will be back.  I don't know if we'll get Coach Yeo again; the Wild have been holding off hiring a head coach until after this playoff run ended so I'm fairly certain they're seriously considering promoting him, too.  And we'll get a couple of new Wild draft picks next year. I hope management brings back some of the UFA's.  But no matter who is back, it'll be different next year. It always is.  We probably won't make the Calder Cup Final again.  It's awfully hard to repeat as conference champs, especially in the minors.  But hey, whatever happens next year, we had the Calder Cup run of 2011, and folks, there's just nothing like it. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

v2, d354:If Nothing Else, You Oughtta Watch the Video of the Goalie Checking the Guy

Here we go, folks.  Within mere moments, Dave will leave work to come pick me up so we can take in tonight's Game Six at the Yo.  We lose tonight and we're done.  We win, and we do it all over again on Thursday (only with Tarvis instead of Dave).

The city of Binghamton has already announced the victory parade route.  In the past, this is an act that has angered the various sports-related deities.  Personally, I wouldn't mind an Aeros win similar to Boston's shellacking of the Canucks last night (only perhaps with less injury.  Man, did that series ever get uglier than I expected it to be) simply because I wouldn't mind a relatively low-stress night at some point in these playoffs.  Peoria seems like soooo long ago!  

Anyway.  Whatever happens, one week until "Hello, Southern California!"  Airline adventures, sister's wedding, theme parks, family reunion.  Should have plenty to write about then.  For some reason I sat down to blog last night and could come up with nothing but HOLY CRAP ARE YOU WATCHING THIS VANCOUVER/BOSTON SERIES??  

I don't think I've ever wanted to see an individual player win a Stanley Cup more than I want to see Tim Thomas win it.  Not since Bourque, anyway.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

v2, d353: Hey Look, I Forgot to Title Yesterday's Post

Tonight was the end-of-the-year AWANA awards dinner.  Robbie ended the night disappointed that we went to church for AWANA but he never got to play with anything. At least he enjoyed the garlic bread.

I'm going to admit that tonight actually turned into sort of an emotional event for me.  This is only the third year I've worked with AWANA (and the first time I've got to stick with it for the whole year--Phoenix Too Frequent and Little Foxes took me out for the spring the last couple of years), and I watched kids who Kim has had the past four or five (I can't remember exactly) years in Cubbies as well as the kids who've moved up from my time with T-N-T's, and I saw how much many of these kids have grown in the six years I've been in Houston, and I listened to how much each of them have accomplished over the past year in AWANA (By the way, if you don't know what AWANA is, ask me sometime.  I don't feel like going into it all here :-)), and I was so proud of every one of them. I thought about how well I've gotten to know some of the kids, and I looked at the ones I don't know well and found myself getting excited about getting involved with them through AWANA or other activities in the future.  I watched each of the adults who have dedicated nearly a year's worth of Sunday nights (the pastor said it best--giving up time the rest of the world uses for needed rest and recouperation) to encourage these kids, to listen to these kids, to love on these kids.  And then our club commander said to an audience of leaders and parents: "They do it because they believe your kids are worth it." 

Worth it.

I don't know why I was so struck emotionally by that phrase, but I was. Yes, these kids are worth it. Yes, I miss having quiet evenings alone on Sunday, but I don't regret giving them to the kids at the church.  Yes, my Wednesdays are now pretty much shot, going from one job, rushing through traffic and dinner, heading to my other job, and trying to get the kids to bed before it's too late.  But I'm glad I do it.  I would rather watch the choir members' kids run around the gymnasium for an hour or two than read or surf the Internet--and reading time and, yes, even Internet time are things that have been very important to me, because they are mine.

I don't think it's a surprise to anyone to hear me say, "I love kids."  But what I realized tonight was how much I love these kids.  Not in that sense which I receive satisfaction from stories that come back to me from parents of kids I have taught, or who have seen shows I wrote that made an impact, but the way you care about a friend or a cousin.  I've been asking God to open my heart for these kids, and I feel He has started to do that. And I think a benefit to that has been that me loving the kids at church has in turn enhanced my love for my own kids.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says that the creative mind is a lot like a muscle.  (He doesn't use that terminology; it's much Higher and More Artistic than that, but it's the same concept)  The more you use it, the better you become with it.  The more you write, the more blocks you push yourself through, the easier more creative solutions to writers' problems will start coming to you.  Well, I think loving is the same way.  Learning to love anyone selflessly--and that's rare, folks.  I don't say that in judgment, but very few of us have truly selfless relationships--increases your capacity to love others as well.  An alien love deepens a familiar one.  Telling your mother you love her when you are four is an entirely different expression from when you are thirty.  When you realize you love The One you'll one day wed, you realize how different it is from all the ones that came before.  You had no capacity to understand that until the moment it happened, and in that moment your heart discovered an ability it had never had before.  It impacts everything else you've given your heart to.  Likewise, learning that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother makes your heart stronger, that ultimately you may be a better son, friend, brother, spouse, whatever. 

Healthy, Godly relationships make us better people. I guess that's the bottom line.  As we grow, so grows our capacity to love one another. And as our capacity to love one another grows, so increases our capacity for further growth.  And on and on and on. I think I've been needing to look at ways (in this job) to put myself aside for the benefit of those I'm serving.  Which, obviously, is something I knew when I took the job, but knowing a thing and learning it are two completely different things.  When I was in school, I never wanted to "show my work" if I didn't need to do the problem long-hand.  This was true in math, English, science, whatever.  This is because I've always been a "the answer is what's important" sort of guy.  Here, I think, is where God has most been working with me this past year.  "Great, that is exactly the right answer. Now, how do you get there?"

I'm working on it.  And thanks be to God, because I feel like I've glimpsed another variable to the equation. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

v2, d352:

I'm actually starting to forget all about blogging.  On more than one occasion recently it will suddenly occur to me late at night that I have yet to write anything that day.  Not necessarily on terribly busy days, either.  It just slips my mind. 

I'm sorry.  I try not to take you all for granted.

Anyway, the Aeros are now down three games to two.  Game six is Tuesday in Houston.  Win both of the last games, or it's all over. Close, but no cigar.  Trying to stay positive, but right now the thought of coming this close and coming away with nothing makes me a little sick. 

Hey, why did Hugh Jackman make a movie about boxing robots?  If it were played for camp, I could buy it, but it looks like it's legitimately trying to be the next Rocky.  Are you hurting for money, buddy?  'Cause it just hurts to see you coaching a boxing robot in order to get closer to your estranged son. 

Here's a happier thought: Disney California Adventure opened their new Little Mermaid ride this weekend.  What? You're not going to California this summer/you're not rich?  Here, somebody cheated for us:

Sigh.  Is it too late to go into theme park design for my career?  (Solution: Write a YA novel that takes place in a theme park.  Make the movie.  Done) 

It always seems to me that you really have to be familiar with the movie in question when you go on a Disneyland ride based on the movie, otherwise it really doesn't make any sense.  (When is The Black Cauldron ride coming out?)  I really like that this one seems to incorporate a LOT of the songs from the film into the ride.  That's great, because Little Mermaid is really the film that started Disney's dominance of the Academy Awards' Best Original Song category.  For a while there, you always knew the latest Disney movie was going to win that particular Oscar.  (Hey, is it just me, or does it feel like the ride skips a couple steps after the "Kiss The Girl" scene?) 

Trivia: what did the 2001 Colorado Avalanche, the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, and the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins have in common (aside from the fact that they're all "my" teams that won Cups)?  A couple of you ought to know this.

Friday, June 3, 2011

v2, d351: Clayts

Sorry, gang.  My internal clock is all out of whack.  I slept for like 10 hours last night, which is good, but I'd like to know if falling asleep at 9:30 is going to become a fairly regular thing so I can either start blogging earlier or quit forever :-)

Today has had a nice start. Woke up feeling totally rested for the first time in who knows how long and had a pleasant walk to work.  Yesterday was pretty much hot and terrible.  Today there was a bit of cloud cover and the breeze was to my face instead of to my back.  (Breeze to the front = bad for running, nice for walking) 

Anyway, today's blog is to commemorate something that I should have caught when it happened sometime last week: the Bossier City-Shreveport Mudbugs won the Central Hockey League championship in Colorado. 

Yes, there is a hockey team called the Mudbugs. I'd say "Only in the CHL," but you folks should see what the Southern Pro league cooks up! 

On the one hand, it seems a surprise that this is the 'Bugs first CHL title, because as I can remember they've had a lot of really good teams and they've probably had the best goalie in the league for much of the last decade.  Plus, their coach has been outstanding.  There were a few bitter playoff battles between the Thunder and the Mudbugs back when I was in college, which is why, when 10-year Thunder all-star Travis Clayton signed with BCS three years ago, it was kind of a bitter pill to swallow.  Apparently, the Thunder hadn't re-signed him before the first day of free agency, so Clayts took that as a slight and bolted at the very first opportunity.  I sort of disowned the guy at that point.  The next two years turned out to be the two worst years in Thunder history--which is really saying something, because we had some bad years back before I left the Midwest!

For ten full seasons, the two names synonymous with Thunder hockey were Jason Duda and Travis Clayton.  Duda "The Blazer Killer" is still involved with the organization as an assistant coach.  I'm pretty bummed he's yet to win it all.  Wichita hockey never had a finer ambassador, a greater competitor, or a more prolific scorer. But Travis Clayton came close in every one of those categories.  If Duda was the steadying presence, Clayton was the emotional fire.  He was a bit wilder and flashier, but these two guys could flat out score. It was Duda's hands and Clayton's speed.  It felt like they'd both be Thunder forever (which is why it was a shock when #38 left town).  But nothing is forever in sports, and the dynamic duo did eventually break up.  In retrospect, you couldn't really blame Clayts for going elsewhere, not with the direction the team was taking at that point.  Duda will sill always be the good son for staying, but I really can't stay mad at the other guy who filled a full third of my life (to this point) with countless minor-league hockey memories.  Still, when I learned Bossier had finally captured the (Miron) Cup, it didn't automatically click in my mind that it meant a title for Clayton.  I finally figured it out yesterday, and so today I'm dedicating my little corner of the Internet to honor #38 in Thunder blue (and whatever number he wore in Mardi Gras colors): fittingly, going out a champion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

v2, d350: Midnight Confessions @ 4:22

Hey, you wanna know why I didn't blog anything last night?  Do you?  Do you want to know???

I was sleeping!  

I've decided to just take sleep wherever I can get it for now, so I went to bed at 9:30 last night.  I woke up again at 3:30 in the morning and stayed awake until about 7, when I slept for another 30 or 45 minutes before waking up for good.  Obviously, that's not going to work every night, but it's almost 4:30 and I still feel pretty good.  (No more tired than usual, at least)

So, you may be asking, why didn't you just blog when you were up between 3:30 and 6:30?  That's a valid question.  And I did think about it.  I ultimately decided not to, though, because I couldn't decide if a 4:45 a.m. blog should count as yesterday's entry or today's, so I just decided I'd miss yesterday and write something during a time that is more definitively today. 

In other news, Disneyland is opening the revamped StarTours this weekend.

In other-other news, the Stanley Cup Final starts tonight.  Game 3 between the Aeros and the Baby Sens is also tonight.  Some of you have asked what, exactly, a Canuck is.  Well, here you go.  Finally, here's a funny little item that makes me wish I were friends with a major video game programmer.