Coming Out Across The Country 1979

In the spring of 1979, I was cast in a production of The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman at the Theatre Intime on the campus of Princeton University, where I was just finishing my freshman year. I was cast in the role of Karen Wright, one of two teachers in an all girl’s school who is accused of being a lesbian by a troubled young girl named Mary Tilford.  This is hardly noteworthy. The only really cool thing was that the role of Joe, Karen’s fiance, was being played by Richard Greenberg, now a Tony Award winning playwright, author of over 25 plays on and off Broadway, but at the time we did the play, just a Princeton sophomore, apparently smitten with me, according to our mutual friend, Joe. I remember an awkward movie date we had during the rehearsal period. I thought he was very funny but we had no chemistry. By the way, according to our peers, we were brilliant in the play. And Richard has made the Wikipedia page on Theatre Intime, along with Jimmy Stewart and Roger Berlind. I, alas, have not.

The young woman who played Mary Tilford, let’s call her Kate B. , lived in my dorm, Foulke Hall. Shortly after the play closed, she began a rather tempestuous affair with another student also named Kate – we’ll call her Kate R. The spring semester ended and we all disbanded, I to my Dad’s condo in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.  I had been dating much more significantly in my mind than in his, as it turned out, a senior political science major named Dave N., who had promised that he would come to visit me in San Francisco that summer.  He had been close friends with our Resident Advisor in Foulke Hall, and I had been running with him and a group of seniors. I had been in the best shape of my life in that period, running 5-10 miles a day. I remember sobbing hysterically in the sun room on Chestnut Street, my stepmother Joan comforting me after I received his Dear Jane letter.

After the summer was over, the two Kates, B. and R., and a third friend named Kate W. and I decided we would drive back across the country in Kate W’s aging gold Volvo.  I have a snapshot – that’s what we oldsters call a photograph printed on photo paper – taken on the morning when we left SF. The picture was taken in a neighborhood in Berkeley. The four of us are leaning on the hood of Kate W’s car, four molls, each  looking tougher than the next one; I had pink cat lady sunglasses and a striped yellow dress on. Kate W.  and Kate R. had shiny aviator sunglasses. Kate B. also sported a pair of pink child’s sunglasses.  When I flip over the picture, it is inscribed “Coming Out Across the Country” August 28-Sept. 2, 1979.

Image 4

And there-in lies the tale. Kate B. and Kate R. were deep in the middle of their affair – they were all over each other in the front or back of the car. We had a great drive – talking about any and every subject that caught our fancy. We sang silly songs, stopped at truck stops to eat. We had little to no money for hotels – I remember all of us sleeping under a picnic table in a park along the way. We stopped in Salt Lake City and visited the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.   You really could hear a pin drop from the back of the congregation. They had a room at the back of the sanctuary where nursing mothers could take their babies – it had a program monitor so they could hear the service but the windows were sound proof so the babies could wail away and no one would be the wiser.

We almost crossed the Rockies in Denver, the golden laden Volvo groaning as it neared the top of the Sierras and then it coughed to a stop on the berm of the Interstate.  We were pretty unprepared for such an event. This was the era before the cell phone. Not even the big old-fashioned brick telephones existed for us – they were still four years away; not even a twinkle in Motorola’s eye.

First Cell Phone

Our response is what any 19-year-old car full of 19-year-old college coeds would be. We jumped out of the car and put our thumbs out into the air. And some good samaritan without nefarious motivations pulled over and took one of us to the nearest gas station, where we used a pay phone to dial a tow truck. We then got towed down into Denver to a car repair place where the Volvo was resuscitated in about a half day. We decided after that experience that we would stop to assist every car that was stopped on the side of the road for the rest of the journey. And we did stop several times. As a parent now, I shudder at the idiocy of our youth.

And all along the way from Berkeley to Princeton, the three Kates and I mulled over the prospect of the third Kate’s  and my coming out. I didn’t want to be inhospitable; in fact, in retrospect I remember some torrid kissing that happened with a lacrosse player in the stairwell of Henry Hall the next year.  But I was in no way interested in getting romantically chummy with Kate W. As much as I liked her – she was great – it just wasn’t going to happen. And there was some pressure in that little Volvo packed with hormonally charged women. I don’t remember having to fend anyone off -but I will say that it was a long six days out there in the middle of America.

 

 

 

Reza Abdoh’s Bogeyman, 1991 – Part II

Our rehearsals for “Bogeyman” took place on the 3rd floor of LATC (I think – the upper levels are not clear in the fogs of my memory). I think I ended up SMing Bogeyman because I had subbed in for two weeks of rehearsals on “The Hip Hop Waltz of Euridyce,” an earlier project of Reza’s a year earlier. But regardless of how I landed this show, hired by Production Manager Don Hill,  I faced the most challenging assignment of my career. The set, by Timian Alsaker, the resident scenic designer for LATC, was like Hollywood Squares on acid.  The photo below, from video taken by Video Artist Adam Soch, showed 6 of the 9 cells of the hellishly creative  imagination of the author. Boogeyman6 of 9

This was new terrain for me . There was no neatly typed Samuel French script, nor even a neatly typed script of a new play in my binder. In fact, Reza Abdoh’s  work featured text that was often  the last of the elements to join the play. Complex choreography, in this case, provided by Ken Roht,  iconic and jarringly startling imagery smashed together to  probe our cozy assumptions of what it meant to be an American in a time when AIDS patients were dying at an alarming rate; Reza himself would die of AIDS in 1995.  I grappled with the “why me?” of working with artists like these, but supported them to the best of my abilities and absorbed the experience like a sponge. The rehearsal room lacked the levels necessary to mimic the set design, which is frequently common, but we taped out three abutting rows to represent three levels of the set. There was no way to really rehearse the physicality of running up and down the staircases to get from room to room. That would impact the cast much later when we finally got to work on the set.

On the first day of rehearsals, I came smack up against my personal shortcomings when Sandie, the wheelchair-bound transgender actor hired to play the fairy grandmother, asked me for help to the bathroom. I stood in the stall with her, poised to assist her rise from the toilet and all that that entailed, and then defiantly  marched to the production manager’s office to complain about duties outside of my AEA contract. What a jerk.  My guilt at refusing to assist this actor in her future breaks was somewhat mitigated by my willingness to drive her home on my way to the valley, but not really. Even now, I am struck by how ill prepared I was to deal with the special circumstances of  the show. Another reality check occurred when we were first in the theatre working on the set. The set, constructed of steel, was built for the insane pace and demands of the action of the play. In the opening moments , Cliff, the boy with the green hair, was asked to scale the front of the set from the ground level to the second level. In doing so, he cut his finger on the steel (the first of many minor accidents on the set); I rushed with him to the bathroom to attend to his injury. Grabbing some paper towels, I reached for his hand. “NO!!!!!” He shouted at me. “Don’t touch my blood!” Chastened, I withdrew my hand. More gently, he told me in no uncertain terms that I did not want to have contact with his blood. Again, I was completely unprepared for such considerations.  My naivete was embarrassing.

I would never have been able to survive the production process of Bogeyman had I not had the talented and willing crew we did on the show, headed by ASM Sandy, deck crew Michael, video operator Mark, dressers Alix and Anne,  and light board operator, Jane.  Galen, the sound designer, also mixed the show, which rivaled a musical in its complexity.  Galen and I worked in the house, not the booth – poised like airport traffic controllers, Galen house left, and me house right. There were easily 400 light cues and maybe as many sound cues; calling the show was an incredible rush, unlike anything I’ve experienced before or after.  When my director friend, David Galligan, with whom I had done five years of the APLA S.T.A.G.E. benefits, came to sit in Theatre 2, he chose the seat closest to my perch on the concrete plinth house right. As the play began, he repeatedly looked up at me and  drolly  mouthed “Oh Nurse.” That was a hard show to call.

During techs, the technical director, David Mac,  and ATD, David Libow,  undoubtedly grew tired of my visits to the basement vault where the production office was, but remained assiduous in addressing the daily scenic safety modifications requested by our Equity Deputy, Tom Fitzpatrick.   At one point, there was a cast meeting where I was presented with a list of about 10 safety issues that the cast refused to perform until they were addressed and corrected. They were simple, sensible things, and the notes were taken care of promptly by Mac and David Libow. For example, each of the doors leading into the rooms of the set was the same. They had no markings to differentiate them from each other. So the actors would come crashing out of one room running up and down the stairs to their next entrances, meanwhile feverishly changing costumes in the dark and then not being able to find the appropriate doorway. Once the backs of the doors were painted white, with a descriptive phrases like Mud Room, Submarine, Hospital, etc., things looked up considerably.

At one point in the show, Michael was charged with carrying Sandi from her wheelchair at the bottom level of the stairs up to the top level so that she could appear as the Fairy Princess. The journey took place in the span of a single blackout transition.  Michael recounted to me that Reza had complete confidence in him and said something to the effect “If anyone can do it, Michael, you can.” And so he did. Imagine asking a crew member somewhere else to do that. Never would have happened.

Props Supervisor Cat Dragon provided the the many  instruments of violence that populated the play. Costume designer Marianna Elliott designed all of the extraordinary costumes, including the oversized frog costume, shed by an actor after being kissed by Juliana Francis, the blue unicorn horn that actor Tom Pearl sported, the fat suit and greasy wig worn by the raging emcee of the evening, Tom Fitzpatrick. Easier by far to supply, were the pairs of black army boots worn at the very top of the play by the naked male dancers led by Ken Roht, complete with bleached blond hair.  See some images below.

https://masslivearts.org/event/bogeyman/  

And the review.

Review – LA Times by Sylvie Drake

Reza Abdoh’s “Bogeyman,” 1991- Part I

In the early 1990s, I had the  honor of working with a group of theatre artists fueled by passion and courage and fortitude. Led by Iranian-born director Reza Abdoh, the Dar A Luz company of actors wrested theatre into creation out of the rage and beauty that was Reza’s distinctive voice.  As a group, they developed a language together, a process which was completely foreign to my theatrical experience and training.  They were athletic, graceful, and unafraid to express the dark societal taboos that Reza entreated them to.

Up to that point, I had stage managed mostly either large scale one-time APLA benefits, Broadway musical revues; or a series of “old school” shows at various theatres in LA – ranging from “A Little Night Music” to Neil Simon’s “Jake’s Women” to “On Borrowed Time.” Hardly ground breaking in terms of risk or political statement. How I ended up as the stage manager for “Bogeyman” is a true illustration of the organic networking process of live theatre, and a case of “being in the right place at the right time.”

The Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring and Fifth Street in downtown LA was a hotbed of creativity in the years leading up to 1991 and  Reza Abdoh’s “Bogeyman.” I stage managed a small show in Theatre 4 at LATC one year earlier,  in September of 1990. A group of Latino comedy artists, Rick Najera, Diana Rodriguez, Luisa Leschin and Armando Molina, constructed a show to lampoon the Latino stereotypes  they had to that point seemed destined to play. They banded together to write original material to show off their talents and get noticed. The show was slated to run for 6 weeks but was a hit and ran for six months in the smallest theatre in the complex, just off the vast white marble lobby.

LATC was housed in a repurposed  Bank building in the Banking District of downtown LA. Outside, the neighborhood teemed with homeless people. The donut store on the corner was notorious for drug deals.  Inside, the three story lobby,  echoed with the voices of artists colliding from all four theatres and rehearsal spaces over 6 floors of activity. It was like a theatrical ant farm. The Queen of the Farm was Diane White, who championed Reza’s work both financially and emotionally. The King, Bill Bushnell.

This description of the theatre from an LA Times article by Judith Michaelson in 1985 on the occasion of it’s opening gives you an example of the kind of energy Bill Bushnell brought to LATC.

“Theatre 1–an open stage and 503 seats upholstered in seven shades of hot yellow, orange and red seats, and denoted by an orange door–opens its Classic series Thursday night with Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” in a new translation by British playwright (“Noises Off”) Michael Frayn.

Theatre 2–a proscenium stage and 296 seats with a Prince-purple door and wine-colored seats–opens the Los Angeles premiere of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” Sept. 26 with an all-black cast.

Theatre 3–a thrust stage in a stark Greek-amphitheater setting (downstairs), with 323 seats, a blue door and black seats that veer straight up the side of a steep incline–premieres the English-language production of “Nanawatai” by William Mastrosimone, about the Soviets in Afghanistan. Philip Baker Hall plays the Soviet tank commander. It opens the Premiere series Thursday.”

Bill and Diane did new and provocative work as well as reimagined classics, and those artists privileged to work there in the late 80s and early 90s before it closed could not help but be energized by the environment. The physical plant made artistic collaboration inevitable. There was an elevator just off the lobby that led to the dressing rooms. It opened front and back – front when you reached the lobby, back after it had groaned slowly down to the third and fourth levels where the dressing rooms were. There were multiple occasions where “places” was called and just the architecture of the building fought a timely start to the show. In Theatre 1, the booth, on level 3, nestled just off a catwalk, allowed a stage manager  to go out and look down on the actors backstage to determine if you had places. I remember watching two actors make out at the top of one show I subbed in on. They were both married and not to each other. Scandalous. Inevitable.

Here’s a virtual tour of the theatre center.

Virtual Tour of LATC facilities

These were fertile years of training for me and I suspect for all those who inhabited LATC during that time.

Don Shirley’s LA Times article from January 9, 1994, a scant two months after the closure of LATC on October 31, 1991, appeared and cited the cause of the demise of LATC and Bill Bushnell:

“A legal entanglement lingers on for Bushnell in L.A. Soon after LATC collapsed in Oct. 1991, the state’s Employment Development Department assessed him for $46,464 in LATC’s unpaid unemployment and insurance contributions and slapped on an additional $6,607 penalty. But last Dec. 1, administrative law judge Paul Wyler reduced Bushnell’s liability in the case to just those debts from the period between mid-May 1991 and the theater’s final collapse–an 80% reduction, according to Bushnell attorney Mark Rosenblatt’s estimate. Wyler accepted the argument that Bushnell was not in charge of the theater’s finances during the preceding period.”

And yet, it was in those dark, financially insecure moments of LATC’s history, when Reza  challenged us to join him to rage against the world, funded largely by Diane White, in Theatre 2, with it’s purple doors and wine colored seats.

Reza Abdoh Documentary Facebook Page

 

 

 

PATRIOT’S DAY 2014/1963

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Patriot’s Day is a big day in our household. My husband hails from Lawrence, MA, and has been a lifelong Red Sox fan. But more than that, in his earlier life, he was a marathon runner. So, he eagerly arose this morning, and by 8:00 AM, was seated in front of the TV switching back and forth between the broadcast of the Boston Marathon, and the first of a double-header Red Sox/Orioles match today.

“You’re pretty happy right now,” I commented, as he cut away from the local Boston commercials about Bob’s furniture, back and forth between the two programs. He beamed.

This year, it all seems especially powerful, given the senseless violence of last year’s unfinished race aborted by homegrown terrorists who shall remain nameless; and by the victory of the first American runner since 1983, Meb Keflezighi; and by the fact that the first three female finishers today all broke the record of 2:20:43 of last year. Pretty exciting stuff.

Jimmie and I ran together in Central Park late in 1983, after just beginning our relationship. He ran, I jogged. He led, I followed. He had a really cute butt, which motivated me to try to catch up with him. We even ran that year in the first centimeters of snow, big flakes drifting down around us. It was so quiet, so charmed, the early days of our relationship. We ran around the reservoir, admiring the skyline of Central Park South, and Central Park West.

We had really begun our running together back in Philadelphia, where the play where we had met had moved to tour prior to going on to NY. Hal Prince had directed “Play Memory,” by Joanna Glass, and I was the dresser for the show at the McCarter Theatre, thanks to my college friend, Susan, who then promoted me to the Wardrobe Supervisor for  Philadelphia. By then, I was pretty smitten, and in Philadelphia, our platonic relationship took a turn to romantic, as a group of about five of us went for daily jogs from the Drake Hotel to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and back. After the performance ended at night we would all retire for drinks at a nearby watering hole. It was in Philadelphia where Jimmie and I had our first formal date- dinner and a movie.

Bookbinders

The restaurant was Bookbinders. We were both pretty nervous; at least I was. Jimmie was 33 years older than me – we had made a connection that was not related to our age – he was so easy to talk with and funny; initially I had been drawn to his beautiful German Shepherd named Jasper who accompanied  him to the McCarther theatre and sat with his wise eyes and sharp snout nestled between his paws in Jimmie’s dressing room, or watching intently from the aisle of the theatre while we rehearsed. Now, our group was running together in the City of Brotherly Love.

We arrived at Bookbinders, and there was a short waiting list. The hostess, a solid German woman with a stentorious voice gave us clipped instructions as we stepped into the foyer. “You vill stand here,” she said, pointing us to stand in front of a refrigerated case near the front door. We turned away and giggled into our hands.

Bookbinders Interior

I remember being so nervous that I ate about 10 bread balls before the entree, but Jimmie put me at ease and we really had a lovely evening. The movie was “The Right Stuff” and our reason for going was Donald Moffat, who played the lead in “Play Memory” and who had a part in the movie. We sat next to each other, and as soon as Donald came on the screen, our hands simultaneously reached out to clasp. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for that movie.

But back to the running.

Jimmie eventually told me (not that night, I’m sure, because he is much to modest to boast about such things) that he had run the Boston Marathon and placed 28th. His time, 2:52:18; this was in 1963 when yours truly was 3. But we talked about it again this morning in light of the contemporary finishing times for both women and men.

In 1963, as you can tell from his early placement, times were much slower. Everything has sped up, with finishing times for the men now in the 2:10 – 2:14 range.

Here are some stats from the 67th Boston Marathon’s Media Guide for 1963:

67th Boston Marathon – Friday, April 19, 1963

All eyes focused on the 1960 Olympic Marathon champion Abebe Bikila, of Ethiopia, who went on to win gold in 1964, and countryman Mamo Wolde, the 1968 Olympic Marathon winner. The duo forged a record-setting pace for the first 18 miles, before Bikila (fifth) and Wolde (12th) fell victim to a sudden cold east wind and the Newton hills. Belgium’s Aurele Vandendriessche saw his opening, and rushed home with a course record of 2:18:58. Again, John J. Kelley finished in the runner-up spot, while defending champion Eino Oksanen finished fourth.

1. Aurele Vandendriessche (BEL) 2:18:58† 6. Jessie Eblen (WA) 2:27:42
2. John J. Kelley (CT) 2:21:09 7. Alexander Breckenridge (VA) 2:28:28
3. Brian Kilby (GBR) 2:21:43 8. Tenho Salakka (FIN) 2:29:13
4. Eino Oksanen (FIN) 2:22:23 9. Gar Williams (IL) 2:31:19
5. Abebe Bikila (ETH) 2:24:43 10. Louis Castagnola (DC) 2:32:23

† Course Record

“Who  did you run as in 1963?” I asked.  This would seem to be an inane question, but my husband had had to change his name from James Nolan to James Greene when he joined AEA because there was already a James Nolan in the union.

“I ran as Jim Nolan,” he said, clarifying that he already was a member of AEA at that time. “My father was so proud. Everyone under 35th place got a medal and I wanted to give it to my father, but I wanted more to take it back to New York to show my friends. So later on, I assembled a plaque with nine of my running medals, and I presented it to my father, who hung it in the cabin in Maine.”

“Frank (Jimmie’s stepson with his 1st wife) told me at the time that I was really on an ego trip, until I explained that it was for my father.”

I asked Jimmie this morning as Rita Jeptoo entered her last mile, “How’re your legs doing? Are you going to make it?”
He smiled and said, “I am finishing strong.”

So, Boston, we raise a glass of juice to you today, on the anniversary of such tragedy from which you have rebounded with a second wind, to finish strong. And Jimmie, my love, I raise my tea cup to you for all the years of running, and popping bread balls, and holding hands in the movies. What a lovely run we are having!

Truly Intentional Living

My best friend is having surgery on Tuesday to remove both her breasts. This is her response to a small node of cancer in her right breast from which unfurled the discovery of a dramatic family history of breast cancer. Rather than face later invasive lobular or ductile cancer, surgery, chemo and radiation, she opted to stop it now, by removing the offending breasts. She seems remarkably calm about it, as much as can be determined via a long distance call. She lives half way around the world from me, and never have I felt farther away or less useful.

It is natural to think “How would I deal with something like that? Would I have the courage to lop off my breasts to avoid possible future ailments?”

But I did make a similar decision when I had a total hysterectomy at 35. Or rather, it was made for me when greedy tendrils of endometrium choked both my ureters,  until I became literally toxic.

In retrospect, my life had turned itself upside down over a period of about six months. I had felt restless, no doubt due to the renal poisoning going on inside me. I declared to my husband and son that I wanted us to move to San Francisco, so that I could take a job at ACT as an Assistant Stage Manager, hired locally, no less, which engendered housing costs far beyond the modest salary I was promised.  Jimmie and I flew up to SF, leaving Chris with friends while I interviewed at ACT with the Artistic Director. She assured us that I could work at ACT and there might be work there for Jimmie as well.

I ignored the signs that this was a bad move for us. My husband was working  in Los Angeles, doing occasional TV guest roles, and acting on the stage with his theatre company. Our son was growing up – age 6 then, and attending a school where he was  happy.

The half-baked plan was for me to move up to SF, live in corporate housing near the theatre for the month or so of rehearsals, and while rehearsing 48-50 hours a week,  find housing for us and a school for Chris.  The housing I found was sterile, but close to the theatre.  What I hadn’t counted on was the implosion of my body during rehearsals.

The rehearsals were great – the cast, extremely talented. The play, Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” weaves back and forth through the time and space continuum in an elegant puzzle which is challenging and gratifying to solve in production. The director, Carey Perloff, had impressive energy of intellect and rigor. The PSM, Kimberly Webb, was skilled and inclusive, embracing me as a new colleague. He trained me how to do ACT production notes, which were publishable -so detailed, coming in Issues and Volumes. I spent a lot of time out of the rehearsal room typing up these production notes, which was a good thing, because I was running to the bathroom to vomit at alarmingly frequent  and shortening intervals.

Finally, about five weeks into my stay in SF, I told Kimberly that I needed to see a doctor. They called Dr. Martin Terplan, a physician whose office was up the hill from Union Square and to whom I trudged that afternoon. Dr. Terplan’s office was, for lack of a better term, antique. The dark mahogany panelling in the waiting area glowed through the frosted ripple glass of the entry door. The brown leather benches I waited on were echoed in the exam room. His elderly and kind receptionist, got me in to see him quickly. Dr. T. was rather antique himself, probably in his late 60s or early 70s. I was skeptical but desperately nauseous.

He instructed me to provide a urine sample which he  spun in a centrifuge, then examined on a glass slide in a microscope. Right there, about three feet from where I lay on the wax paper on the table. Now I was really skeptical.

“You are very ill. Your kidneys are not functioning. Take a cab to the hospital and see Dr. Spaulding, who will be waiting for you.” And so, he saved my life.

I did take a cab, not even having time to call my husband in Los Angeles to tell him what was happening There were no cell phones at the time, so I had to wait until I had already had a procedure at the hospital to call him with the news.

The rest, the subsequent return to Los Angeles, surgery to remove my uterus and reattach my ureters, did not happen for some time due to my advanced anemia. The decision to remove my uterus was not automatic, but I had become so enraged at my body by then that I spent little time making the decision. The options, discussed with my gynecologist were only cursorily considered by me. I had come close to death and I was not going to let it happen again.

So I know a bit how my dear friend feels – the betrayal of your body, your history (my grandmother and aunt both had hysterectomies at 35, a fact no one had bothered to tell me until after this episode), and how it feels to come to grips with the decision to avoid medical catastrophe.

But she is braver than I because she has no overt symptoms – beyond a small pea-sized potential cancerous lump.  She has gone to the experts, researched her genetic predisposition to cancer and made the decision to live a future clear of breast cancer. So much more intentional and courageous than my own journey was.  She makes me so proud.

 

KEYS TO THE KINGDOM

 

This morning I negotiated an extra hour and fifteen minutes to my arrival at tech, eschewing the hair and makeup portion of the tech.

I grabbed this time to dash to the Ralph’s to buy essentials. Because every stage manager in tech  knows the pain of the empty larder, the defeat of raising the laundry detergent bottle at midnight as you stand at the overstuffed machine, the guilt when you flip open the trash bin to throw out the coffee grounds and you can’t get them in because you literally haven’t had the energy to walk the garbage down the hall to throw it away. It is universal.

Oh, oh, poor me.  LOL. Anyway, so I slid my debit  card into my back pocket, picked up the house keys, shoving  them into my front pocket, grabbed the Shopping bag and dashed out the door. As I walked briskly to the store, it occurred to me how unshackled I felt.

Thats because for 90% of my time I am usually carrying these keys:

1) House key ring occasionally with the car key attached

2)Maui key fob attached to my office key, office bathroom key, keys to the copier area in my building, key to the theatre building where I am in tech.

3) What I affectionately call the jailer ring- 10-12 inches of chain holding  22 keys to every lock in my realm, including theatre keys,  keys to the props cage, etc.

4) A cart key with a clicker and a cute fob of international relevance.

I’ve already told you about my “little” rolling bag that follows me everywhere. Half of the purpose for this bag is to hold this  vast wealth of tools of access.

It is trite to mention that the people with the real power are the ones with no keys. I have yet to gain access to that echelon. My unfettered jaunt to the grocery store reminded me of a time early in my stage management career, where I worked on a musical review at the Coast Playhouse.

The producer of the show, manager of the box office, lead in the show and sweetheart, B.H., had the habit of running around the theatre preshow in his tighty whities.  He had a gorgeous physique, and of course none of us had a problem with his state of deshabille, but he had the habit of putting down his keys in random places- he had even fewer pockets in that state of undress than I do on a day when I wear a pair of dress pants with no pockets and set my universe into chaos.

One day when he had lost his keys for the third time that week, I said, “B, it might be wise for you to look at the reason you keep losing your keys. It seems like you might be trying to psychologically shed some of the responsibility of being the one who has to have them?”

The good news, gentle reader, is that I have not started to lose my keys. But pay close attention, because  when that begins to happen, I can’t pretend to not know what it means!

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Hazards of the Theatre Trade

While I can’t take credit for the expression “dining al desko” (a frequent occurrence, I am sad to say), last night as I munched on my dinner while waiting astride the yellow electrical cart in the parking lot for my husband to arrive to attend Grand Hotel, I coined another equally valuable phrase. You know where this is going….. “dining a la cart.”

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Gainful Employment

 

On the eve of your graduation, I want to share some personal ideas about “gainful employment.”

Here are some of the jobs I have done and what I learned from the experiences.

1) Killing flies for a penny each during the summer at age ten taught me ruthless efficiency and that the end doesn’t always justify the means.

2) Cleaning the grout between the tiny 1 in. square tiles in my shared bathroom with a toothbrush taught me hard work.

3) Cutting the grass in the front yard under the birch trees filled with tent caterpillars taught me how to duck when there was trouble overhead.

4) Painting the older woman’s house with my brother Don during the summer of my 14th year taught me that there are skills that need to be acquired and respect for the craftsman who have acquired them.

5) Playing the piano in the summer after-show cabaret at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania taught me how to bluff and pour beer from a pitcher.

6) Collating employee training manuals at the Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco at 17 and on summer break from Princeton University taught me how to be humble and invisible and very fast. It also convinced me that I needed to complete my studies in order to make my way in the world.

7) Tracking inventory in that same summer on roller skates taught me how to be agile and wary at crossroads.

8) Cashiering at the student center taught me agility with simple math and how to embrace every customer who came through the line.

9) Au pairing for a six-year-old child in Venice, Italy for six months taught me that I was not yet ready to be a parent, but that I could make my way in a foreign country and behave like one.

10) Leading  tours for visiting Americans to Palladian villas in the Veneto taught me that my initial studies at college were only a start and the value of research.

11) Ironing men’s shirts backstage taught me that I didn’t want to iron men’s shirts ever again. It also taught me precision and the payoff of menial tasks done well to the satisfaction of other theater artists.

12) Setting props on the turntable for the production of A Christmas Carol at the McCarter Theatre taught me that I didn’t have a great sense of balance.

13) Stage managing a show on Theatre Row for a producer who promised to pay me at the end taught me how to negotiate better and how to withhold services until I was paid.

14) Stage managing the Vagina Monologues for 13 months at the Canon theater in Beverly Hills taught me that there are “good” stars and “bad” stars — generally inversely related to their talent and success level — and that if you have to cry it is best to take a walk around the block.

15) Stage managing a show with 5 dogs requires excellent dog trainers but also human actors who are receptive to working with dogs. What looks good on paper isn’t always easy to accomplish.

So, dear senior students, as you race to the finish line of graduation, remember that there are many ways to be gainfully employed and though the financial rewards may not be immediate, the learning opportunities and personal capital acquisition never ends, no matter how menial the job. Best wishes!