Sunday, July 3, 2011

v2, d369: 25 memories (finale)

For those who thought/assumed that I didn't post yesterday because I was too entrenched emotionally in the finality of my last day, you were wrong.  I was actually just hanging out at Dave's house until late and didn't get back in time to blog.  Plus, I got a surprise visit from Kim and Isaac at the office and then I watched the musical theatre camp's showcase during the afternoon (my usual blogging time).  Then we had s'mores, and people prayed for me, and that was about it.  All in all, a pretty good day.

21. December, 2007.  Man, this one was just a bad idea to begin with. 

The Downtown Aquarium restaurant has an annual Christmas festival-type thing in the small amusement park-ish area outside the restaurant.  They set up a stage out a little way from the rides and carnival games and have different acts (generally musical acts) perform.  I was encouraged by our development department and our company manager to get a piece of this action for our touring company, so I did.  They gave us a twenty or so minute slot, and we trimmed our Halos and Holly program to fit the allotted time.  This was a freebie performance, but we were going to make up for the lack of income in spades from the exposure.

We arrived and searched for a good twenty minutes trying to find our contact.  After an epic search on the part of the restaurant hostess, it was eventually determined that  the person who'd said they'd be our contact wasn't actually going to be there that day.  Fortunately, nobody else seemed to know what we should do, so we just moved all our stuff to the general vicinity of the stage.  A show choir of eight-to-twelve-year-old-girls was on stage at the time wearing what I can only describe as festive velour leotards with white fuzzy trim.  The music was ear-splittingly loud.  And at one point, there was a fourth-grade girl singing "Santa Baby."  Nothing about this was right.  There were about fifteen people gathered to watch the girls, and as soon as the girls were done the crowd dispersed.  Like, completely.  About six people sat at a table nearly a hundred feet away, eating, and that was it.  Well, we set up anyway, since we were there, and since we said we'd do it, and since, who knew, maybe folks would show up once we started performing.

I should probably mention that "we" is not a terribly accurate term at this point.  I wasn't actually performing. I just went along to help things go smoothly.

The sound guy had our performers change and store their belongings in an empty temporary structure painted to look like Santa's workshop.  By the time our group started performing, nobody had come to see what was coming up next.  The six people in the back corner looked up through about half of the "Christmas Bells" song, then went back to eating and talking.  A couple of times I saw one of them look over their shoulder and grimace as if we were interrupting their nice quiet meal with all of our holiday cheer.  Meanwhile, the wind was blowing pretty hard, wreaking havoc on our props and hair.  Traffic sped by about thirty feet behind the stage.  And the train that takes visitors through the shark tunnel circled almost completely around the stage every four minutes, bell ringing and whistle shrieking.  You couldn't even hear the actors, mics and all, when that train was nearby.

But again, there was nobody to hear anyway.

Despite the fact that this hadn't been my idea, I still apologized to everyone once we got back in the van.  While nobody seemed too cross about the entire absurd adventure, I still felt bad for wasting their afternoon.  Then again, how often do you get to say you performed after a ten-year-old singing Santa baby in front of downtown traffic while competing with a train for absolutely nobody?

Wait, that's not true.  The sound tech who helped us with the mics and had us change in Santa's workshop said that we were pretty good.  I think it'd be awesome if he somehow ends up becoming saved after a chain of events that can trace their origin back to that December afternoon in downtown Houston.

22. September 2005.  My entire first year with the company was spent in our scene shop.  I hurt my back about once every four or five months, though, so we decided it would be best if I went elsewhere.  Still, I enjoyed the work.  I'm pretty out of practice now, but before 2006 I spent far more time in shops than I ever did on stage.  After about a week and a half at the Players, we took our production of Driving Miss Daisy to Miller Outdoor Theater, the big free amphitheater in Herman Park.  It was the only time I've been here that we did a full-scale load-in at Miller, and it was really fun.  (Kind of bummed that I'll be missing the next one, when we take our latest production of Daisy to the same venue)  Also a good chance to get to know a lot of the other interns and tech staff better.

After we loaded out, the technical director and managing director were driving in the company's big ole' box truck, which we used for loading and unloading all our sets.  (Oh yeah, I haven't mentioned that our scene shop was a half hour's drive from the theater)  As they drove away from the loading dock, they heard a really loud crack, followed by the sound of ripping metal and a huge BANG just behind the truck's cab.  Obviously, they stopped and got outside to check it out.  A tree that hadn't been trimmed quite to regulation had caught the front top corner of the truck's box and snapped off the tree.  More remarkable was that, in the act of falling, this massive branch had peeled back the roof of the truck's cargo area like the top of a sardine can.  Just like that, the truck was irreparably destroyed! 

A few years later, our scene shop burned down.  Our production department and disaster are inexorably linked. 

23. March, 2007?  This is actually my favorite memory of my boss.  One day, two of our lovely box office ladies were on their phones at the same time.  Neither was talking to a customer; one was on the line with a fellow employee and the other was on her cell.  I stood at the counter, watching with interest as my boss was passing by.  She stopped and stood next to me, not saying a word.  "I'm just watching to see which one will hang up first," I told her.  "Ah," she replied, and we stood silently, staring, for another few seconds.

"Well?" she said.  "Who do you think it's going to be?"

I listened to the to girls on the phones for a moment, then said it sounded to me like the redhead was wrapping up.  "I think so, too," the boss said. 

Now, because I'm trying to avoid using actual names since most people I'm talking about don't know about this blog, I'm having to find interesting ways to identify folks other than "the girl" and "the other girl."  In this case, I guess it's the redhead and the Italian.  But to make it really sound like the set-up to a bad joke, our resident Jew was also in the room at the time.  She'd heard the boss and I talking, and when the boss had agreed with my conclusion, she grinned and said, "Okay, I'm going to go with her," meaning the Italian, "just to be different!"

Suddenly, it was no longer an observational experiment.  Now it was a race.

At this point, the two young ladies on the phone had noticed that they were being studied, and the Italian girl suddenly looked troubled.  "I'm sorry," she said into the phone, "I think I probably have to go..."

"No!  No!" the boss and I whispered earnestly.  "Keep talking, keep talking!"  Suddenly, the Jew joined the fray, "Yeah!" she said, not whispering.  "Hang up!  Hang up!"  This caught the attention of the redhead, who was so puzzled she pulled the phone from her ear.  "No!"  I said to her, and my boss was gesticulating wildly at her.  "Wrap it up!"  I ordered, and then to the other girl, "you keep talking!"

Soon, both girls were wavering between continuing their conversations and cutting them short, while the three of us were cheering them on, though they couldn't make out what in the world for.  Finally, after a very frenzied minute and a half, the two hung up their phones with the redhead just a stitch ahead of the Italian.  My fist shot in the air in victory.  "Yes!" the boss and I cried, high-fiving one another.  "You were so close!" the Jewish girl lamented.  We three were all laughing.

To this day, I'm not sure either of the other women have any idea what exactly happened that afternoon, if they remember it at all. 

24. March, 2009.  There was no particular moment in this rehearsal that was all that fantastic, but I'll probably always remember it anyway.  You have to understand that I came to this place pretty convinced I couldn't actually do anything well.  I'd never written, I'd never directed, I'd never been particularly confident that, in a professional environment, I'd be able to handle either assignment.  It took a great deal of encouragement before I was willing to say the words "I'm a writer" or "I'm a director."  Quite honestly, I didn't think of myself as anything, aside from a "theatre person," when I got here.  I'd seen enough kids come out of college the exact opposite, so sure of themselves as actors or directors when, really, they were green at best, that I placed myself in the exact opposite position: I just wouldn't believe I was actually good or competent enough to do anything.  One of many things I've learned in my time here: having a false opinion of yourself in one direction is no more healthy than having a false estimation of yourself to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Now, the event in question was a Phoenix Too Frequent rehearsal.  I was the assistant director.  The boss was the director.  That meant I didn't really do a whole lot within most rehearsals, though I did still interject thoughts and questions occasionally when we were around the table.  One day, the boss wasn't there, and she told me to run the rehearsal.  I really didn't want to, though.  Or rather, I didn't feel I really had liberty to.  I was afraid of working scenes (we were at a part of the play we hadn't done yet) and she'd come back and say, "This is terrible.  Why did you do this?  We wasted an entire rehearsal.  We have to do this all over."  (Some of this was lack of confidence; however, with the way things often went at the Players, it also wasn't a terribly unrealistic expectation)  For the first half of the rehearsal, therefore, I sat back and let the actors do their thing.  If they had blocking questions, I'd make some suggestions, but for the most part I wasn't an entity.

We were at what was probably the most important scene in the play.  The two lovers do everything in their power to keep from giving in to their passion, but ultimately they can't help it, and they kiss.  It's really an amazing scene.  And a delicate one.  As I watched it, I saw what it was missing.  I knew what needed to happen.  I saw, in the script, subtleties that the actors were missing, and I knew they were the key to unlocking the depth that was missing in the scene.

In short, I knew I could help.  And I distinctly remember a point where I was leaning back in my chair, my foot resting on the back of the chair in front of me, when I said to myself, "You know what?  Screw this!  I know how to help this scene, and I'm not going to waste this time."  And I stood up.  You can always tell, when I'm directing, when I'm really into what's going on when a scene is on its feet, because I never sit down.  So we worked the scene, the two talented, hard-working actors and I.  I asked questions.  They asked questions.  I made suggestions.  We tried them.  And by the end of the rehearsal, it worked.  I mean, it really worked.  And there was never the sense of awkward that you might anticipate when you're telling two of your best friends how they should kiss.  Especially when one of them has a spouse on stage "asleep" right behind them the whole time.  That was the day I was bold enough to say, at least to myself, "I'm a director.  And I'm not going to doubt it any more."

Ultimately, the boss came back to the next rehearsal, and with the exception of one minor blocking change at the beginning of the scene, she pretty much left what we'd done alone. 

25. September 2008.  And then there was that one time we had a hurricane.  Everybody remember that?

Hurricane Ike pretty much wiped out our tech week for Miss Nelson is Missing! at the children's theater.  (Also wreaked havoc on our mainstage show's schedule, of course)  Fortunately, power returned to the church that houses our children's theater pretty quickly, and we were still able to open pretty close to on schedule.  First of all, that was probably my favorite show to perform in my six years with the company.  I could have played it another two months, easily.  Opening performances are always exciting, especially when it's a performance you love anyway.  The music was fun, the choreography was fun, the tech was all fun, I flicked a girl with a lizard every day, there were paper airplanes involved, it was just awesome.

Our first performance was probably my favorite day of working at the Players.  I don't even have a very vivid memory of the audience--whether it was big or small, or who was in it.  However, I do remember the heartfelt thanks we received from virtually everybody who came.  In the kids it was subtle, but it was in the smiles and the millions of questions they asked just so they could keep talking to you.  In the adults, it was much plainer.  We were the first bit of fun some of those families had had in a week.  A few parents asked if we had another show for them to stay for rather than going home to houses that still had no electricity.  Some people had come simply for the A.C.  Whatever the reason, we transported child and parent alike away from a world that had been turned upside down and into our zany world of oversized desks, bright yellow tights, spitwad shooters, and random 1950's musical references.  Sure, Miss Nelson was fluff, probably more than anything else we've done since I've been here.  But sometimes, fluff is exactly what's needed. There's nothing more profound than a joyful silly romp when everything else is gloom and doom.  That day, I profoundly felt what it is that entertainment can do.

And I thanked God that I could be a part of it.


Done.  This hasn't been a "Top 25" or anything.  These aren't necessarily my favorite stories or most cherished memories.  A lot of them were pretty insignificant, actually.  And there's so much that I left out. I wish I had time to reminisce about the incredible stacking sheep.  Or the shop fire.  Or the time the memory voice-overs came from the baptistry because there were no speakers.  Or the time I ran out to the van to turn off the lights in the middle of a show.  The time I comforted the little girl whose bus left without her because I'd hurt my back too much to help with load-out.  The little boy who was going to tell his friend about Jesus after seeing Do You Hear What I Hear?  Staying on-site in the nation's biggest prison for violent offenders.  Choreographing an entire chase scene by myself in my living room while waiting for Kim to get ready for a date.  Being offered an opportunity to play Jesus (in lieu of Santa) for a church Christmas party (I said no).  The guy who quit in the middle of a show to go be a lab rat for NASA.  Tackling the stage manager in front of the new interns.  The weddings.  The babies.  The "workshop readings" for new scripts.  The kids who cheered for us every time we brought another piece of equipment out to the van.  The time we forgot half of our props and had to improvise with what we had ("I'm trapped in this...sticky...Coat of Doom!")  That one time I actually thought I led a really good Bible study.  "Austin's still throwing up!  John, get out there and say his line for him!"  The scientific debate with the ten-year-old about whether or not Ta-Daa was a real bug or a person in a costume. 

Clearly, there just isn't time to fit it all in.  I'm amazed we fit it all in in the little time we've had these past years.  

I chose these twenty-five in an attempt to cast as wide a net as possible to try to share the breadth of my experience over these past six years.  Times were good.  Times were terrible.  We triumphed.  We bombed.  I loved shows.  I hated shows.  I had fun on stage.  I had fun backstage.  I was the consummate professional.  I was an immature twenty-something.  I learned.  I taught.  I loved.  And when the time came, I left.  You just can't do it all justice. 

I'd like to have the perfect words to wrap this one up.  I'm pretty sure I don't.  It's hard to say "goodbye" to a season of your life.  It's hard to grasp that I won't be seeing these beloved people every day any more.  It's actually kind of tough knowing they'll go on making memories together without me.  I feel left out, but that's because I am out.  I'm really glad I took this trip over the past week of blogging.  It's really helped soften the blow.  Plus, everyone else was so busy with tech week and season renewals there wasn't much time for a prolonged farewell.  I've always hated those anyway. In college, I would always sneak out during the end-of-the-year lunches.  This time, however, I didn't want to sneak away.  I want to make sure I don't close this door without everyone on the other side know how much I'll miss them.

So much to say, foolish to try, it's time for saying goodbye...

Man, you got that right, Scooter...