Residual Disappointment

220px-VisorlayoutOne of the fun things to learn when you are an actor-in-training is that when you do a TV show or film, the work pays once when you do the job, and then  the full fee again when the episode airs a second time. Smaller residuals are paid when it shows the third through nth times. Forever! In addition, film residuals are generous when a film goes from the big screen to all the little screens.

I am married to an actor who has been working steadily since the 1960s in theatre, television and film.

Getting the mail  is a little like receiving lottery ticket winnings. The promising envelopes arrive, and I sort them on the way from the mailboxes,  sliding the SAG-AFTRA envelopes to prominence on top of the pile. I give them to my husband who then begins the  suspenseful opening of the envelopes. It’s a little like the Academy Awards.

Jimmie did a number of movies back in the seventies and eighties with quirky titles- “A Little Sex”, “Hanky Panky,” “Smokey and the Bandit.”

You never know when you are opening the mail if the contents of the envelope will be  a check for $10.00 for A Little Sex or $1.50 for some  Hanky Panky, or a $300 check for a random episode of a show that has gone into syndication. Like I said, a lottery. Great fun.

When the residual well ran dry between February and August of this year, at my husband’s urging,  I began tracking his missing residuals. I started at the online portal of SAG-AFTRA and used the handy residuals tracker where one could  see all residuals for the past quarter. What? Blank. Nothing. Nada.

I found the customer service number and called, waiting on hold until the sweaty voice of an underpaid clerk broke the silence. She sounded besieged, amidst the noise of many other apologetic phone clerks. I gave her the information and with little interest, she said that there were no residuals pending.

I reported this to my husband who said “Something’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense. We are going to take a trip over to SAG to sort this out.” After a check with the FB clan, I learned that other savvy spouses  facing the caboose on the gravy train, had solved their residual traumas in a variety of ways, mostly by phone or with the help of their agents.

But we got into the car and drove over to Museum Square where the Sag-Aftra offices are. After finding the correct bank of elevators, we boarded the elevator and ascended to the seventh floor. The receptionist pointed to a telephone in the corner and said “See that phone over in the corner? Go and dial extension 6353 and push 3 when you get the recording.”

I was a little miffed , having driven 30 minutes to the SAG-AFTRA offices to be told to use the phone to talk with someone. However,  I did as instructed, and picked up the phone. The person who answered asked to speak to my husband. Talking on the telephone for him is difficult because of his hearing loss, and I was getting really aggravated as I watched him leaning forward, brows furrowed. Plus, I’m too much of a control freak to not be hearing what she was saying to him.  I signaled him and pulled the phone away and said with some irritation ,”My husband and I have driven over here and we’re sitting in the lobby. Is there anyway you could please send a live person down to talk to us?” Within about five minutes a beleaguered looking woman came down and plopped down on the bench next to us.

It turns out that  a few pieces of mail had apparently been returned to the SAG office by our postal worker. So they cut off our address as valid. There were in fact, she said over $2,100 worth of residuals being held in trust for my husband. Those residuals would be released within 30 business days, and we should expect to start receiving residuals again if he just filled out the address correction form. He did, and we left, feeling very satisfied that we had made the trip, and happily anticipating the continuation of the residuals. Sure enough the next day, we received our first residual envelope in about 8 months. $2.35 for Hanky Panky. Things were looking up.

My husband marked in the calendar when we had been to SAG-AFTRA and when the $2,100 check should arrive by as well. Seven weeks later, the check had not arrived. So today we went back to the SAG-AFTRA offices. Same drill. Picked up the phone in the corner and called upstairs. A different person answered the phone, and said “There are five of us who answer these phone calls. Why did you need to come over to the offices?”

It takes a lot to get me to the point of making a complaint. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a customer service situation where you were invited to recount all the errors leading you to the point of lodging a complaint, but I really enjoyed telling Miss M that we had tried to reach them by phone and had been told that there were no residuals there. That we had made a trip once before to the office and met with a very nice woman who had assured us that the check would be there within 30 days.

“Well, 30 days is the normal timeframe; if the money is all in the bank, that check can be cut within 30 days; however, sometimes not all the checks are in the trust account and they have to be pulled from the floor.”

I kid you not.

My very visual-and-way-too-literal-brain got busy peeking through the roll up door of a Costco-sized warehouse space, bins of overflowing SAG residual checks scattered all over the floor. I saw all five of the residuals clerks with their green visors crawling around on the floor looking for my husband’s checks. “Oh, here’s one, Dolly! Add it to the pile.”

“Is there any way to accelerate the process? ” I asked.

“Well actually, my supervisor is calling us all for a meeting. I will print this out and talk about this with him.” She took my number and we left the office;  she called when we were only about ten minutes away to tell us that the check would be rushed.

“When do you think we will get it?” I had to ask. At this point, I’m pretty sure my idea of a rush is not the same as the union’s.

“It could be as quick as one week or maybe two.”

We’ll see how that works out. I feel sorry for those SAG-AFTRA employees who have to deal with so much residual disappointment.

 

Saying Goodbye

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Some of Phil’s biggest fans.

Today we attended the memorial for Phil Sparta who passed away, September 3, 2014.

We gathered under the cool green foliage of the Dallidet Adobe Gardens in San Luis Obispo. We had driven up the night before from Los Angeles,  staying overnight with some generous friends of Phil’s and his wife Martha’s along with Stella, one of my husband’s nieces by marriage.

IMG_2838The memorial began as  eight Marine Color-Guard members in full regalia performed  military honors for Phi, a veteran of the Vietnam War. There were three rifle volleys, the shell casings, gathered from the sandy floor of the garden, and presented in a pouch by a Marine who knelt in front of  Martha. The American flag, unfurled and held tautly by two of the Marines while taps was played, was then refolded and presented. The pageantry of the ceremony was intensely moving and sobs were audible among the assembled friends and family.

Martha’s mom was my husband’ older sister.  And it was Phil’s extended illness, ironically, that allowed us to get to know him and Martha so well. Martha has always been a role model for me. It was she who resuscitated my interest in the piano after 45 years away, when she announced on one of our visits that she had taken up piano lessons.

“I could do that, ” I remember thinking to myself.

She owned her own business and always speaks her mind. She is practical about everything and always seems so sure of herself.

Phil had contracted hep C from a transfusion back in his service days in Nam, and thereafter,  his liver had been prodded, tested and photographed by his medical team at USC.  But you would never have known from looking at Phil that he was ill. He was warm and funny, irreverent and spiritually deep,  gruff, and tender – a lover of people and good music and good food.  He always had a big smile on his face.

IMG_2869 We heard a lot about his love of BBQ ribs today from his loving and loyal friends, and about his skills as a chef. He and Martha came to LA for his medical visits. We fell into a predictable pattern. They would arrive on Monday afternoon, and we would meet them for dinner, either at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, where they often stayed, or at CPK, and after a cheery dinner with them, they would go to the hospital in the morning, have his tests and then drive home to Los Osos.

Their visits  were about every six months, and no matter where I was in my crazy work schedule, I was able to schedule that dinner with them, and always looked forward to it. Martha gave us about two weeks notice, and it was on the calendar and we made it happen.  And last year, a few times they stayed with us at our apartment, which was like a high school coed sleepover except without the booze and backstabbing and panty raids.

On one of the last visits to LA, we went to dinner at the LA Athletic Club on a Thursday,  Jazz Thursday; where they had a  combo with an extremely vivacious and dynamic singer. Phil and Martha had just been down the weekend before to attend a Zydeco music festival with some old friends, and they recognized her from the festival. Getting up between sets, they went to greet her, and she beamed with happy recognition at both of them as they neared her. I know the feeling. People were always  happy to see Martha and Phil coming. They brought the singer back to the table to meet us and I thought to myself “How wonderful that Phil and Martha have such talented and friendly, interesting people in their lives. “

In the last year, Phil’s doctor visits became more frequent, – the numbers had changed – again, information we received with concern; and yet, Martha was always so matter-of-fact about it and Phil looked so well and was so jovial at our Monday dinners.

Martha and Phil ‘s daughter, Bianca, married Dustin about two years ago at a colorful and joyous wedding in Oakland which we attended, and recently, Bianca and Dustin welcomed their son Percy into the world.

We attended the baby shower on Mother’s Day weekend, meeting all of Martha and Phil’s friends and watching the young expectant couple unwrap a promising array of baby gifts. Phil spent most of the time that day cooking truckloads of meat out on the grill. Why  hadn’t I sought him out that day to talk in the cool air while he cooked for all of us? Phil did have a brief visit with baby Percy, just before his condition worsened and he came back to LA. He beamed when he talked about his grandson.

Phil was colorful. He told great stories. On our last visit with him in the hospital, about a week before he died,  he shared the story of his near death experience in 1971. He told about losing consciousness, and being bathed in the white light, and feeling a terrific sense of compassion and love. He said he heard a voice saying “Go back. It’s not time yet.” He was weak, but recounted this to us with calmness and serenity; he said he felt ready and he had lived a good life, and he wasn’t afraid of dying. He was secure in the love of Jesus Christ and he knew that he would be taken care of.

See, Phil always had a way of making you feel better. He would make you laugh with a joke, or a quirky way of looking at things. He had complete integrity. You always knew where you stood with him. And the time we had with him and with Martha was precious.

Today, under the IMG_2842trees at the Garden with all their friends,  it was almost as if Phil was there, urging us back to the buffet, cranking up the music so that we would all enjoy ourselves. That would have been so like Phil.

Why Limit Digital Doubles to Actors? Send in the Clones!

Cloned SheepDid you see this article in the Los Angeles Times the other day?

Los Angeles Times, On Location “At CounterPunch Studios, actors’ digital doubles come to life”

I’m thinking that as we head into the tech season, now would be the right time for the School of Dramatic Arts to fork out some dough to create digital clones of a few key production staff.

When I read Richard Verrier’s fascinating article about CounterPunch Studio’s work,  I didn’t worry about job security or the redundancy of the actor.

I didn’t worry that athletes who have had their likenesses used in many gaming platforms would now  be captured and exploited for years ahead. Hey, after all, they had a huge victory back in May of this year.

College football and basketball players have finalized a $40 million settlement with a video game manufacturer and the NCAA’s licensing arm for improperly using the likenesses of athletes, leaving the NCAA alone to defend itself in the upcoming Ed O’Bannon antitrust trial.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed the settlement agreement with a federal court in Oakland, California, on Friday night in an action that could deliver up to $4,000 to as many as 100,000 current and former athletes who appeared in EA Sports basketball and football video games since 2003.

Tom Farrey, ESPN.com

No, ever the production manager, my concern was that we’re already a little behind. We should have started back in June or July, since the turn around time is 6-8 weeks just for the head. I was busy thinking; can we train the digital clone to drive to Spudnuts on Saturday mornings to buy six dozen donuts for tech?  Or would the donuts have to be digital as well? Hmmm. That would probably be healthier for all of us.

Could I seat this helpful extra production manager in the back of the theatre in the dark to mind the second of the two shows in tech this weekend? How reliable would the notes be that Extra Els would come up with at the end of the night? I guess it depends on how well they have gone in and “built the character inside the head.” 

Imagine being able to clone our extraordinary Technical Director! And Theatre Managers and Costume Shop Manager? The mind boggles.

For a mere $200,000, you could drop the salaries, benefits and health care costs for one of us. Granted that is just a skosh more than we are paid annually. Exaggerated eye roll -“Can we have you do that again in the other direction, please? Three. Two One. FLASH! Once more now, with wider eyes and a worried look on your face. Els, have you been getting Botox injections? You were much more expressive  last week!”

“Who needs Botox! You can make me look younger like you did the Bollywood actors!”

Because lately, things have been a little hectic. Lots of irons in the fire. You know what I’m talking about. Too many tasks, too little time. It’s time to delegate. Send in the Clones!

Animals Out Of Paper…In The Hallway

1050x420_Animals-Out-of-Paper_quote_aIt’s been a busy few days at my condo building. We have a closed loop water cooling AC system in our 15 story building. I had always thought that we were responsible for our personal cooling units in our apartments, and in fact we are, but I hadn’t realized until last Monday that we are all inextricably linked by an umbilical cord to the roof of our building. There, there sits a large tank, from which circulates the water that our units rely on for AC. Sometime last Monday, the AC stopped cooling and eventually, the AC Service company figured out that the tank had no water in it. We had notices taped to our doors to turn off the AC until they resolved the issue. On Friday, they realized that one of the commercial tenants, Starbucks, not to name names, had left a valve on which had drained the tank.

I’m not sure how I feel about Starbucks having the control over such an important valve. Hmmm. 200 units x two thirsty, hot residents x $4.00 for a frappuchino x 5 days= $8,000.00. Not chump change. Hit that valve, again will ya, Freddy?

Anyway, it has been a rough few days, with temperatures in the high 90s downtown. Made me glad I lived next to a Starbucks. Hey, wait a minute.

Friday night, we attended a new play called “Animals Out of Paper”, by playwright Rajiv Joseph, at East West Players. I came straight from work. We dined in Japan Town, at the Green Bamboo Cafe, incongruously called a sports bar, where a table of rowdy young men and women were drinking beers and laughing at regular  and spasmodic intervals. One of the men had a laugh like a tommy gun, the metallic scattershot ringing throughout the bar and out onto the street where we sat. The air was cooling – the week’s terrible heat finally seemed to have broken, and meandering between the tables and the storefronts were a parade of yuppies and hardcore homeless men, without shirts or shoes, some of them without their wits, conversing animatedly with themselves while meandering through the traffic on the street.

The play was great; the three characters’  relationships folded, unfolded, refolded, like the paper figures made by the origami master and her protegé in the play. The young man in the play, Kapil Taliwalker, a current student at USC, gave a  performance that was  bold and expressive. Tess Lina and C.S. Lee were strong performers as well, Tess Lina angry and self-protective, C.S. Lee funny and vulnerable. Jennifer Chang, the director, orchestrated one of the best scene transitions I have ever seen in a play, using music and choreography and the character of the boy to bring it to life. The scenic design by Naomi Kasahara, employed folding walls to create the three diverse sets, which surprised us in their versatile and unexpected openings in Act II. Striated by light, the sets were lit with depth and texture by Tom Ontiveros. Melanie Chen’s sound design was vibrant and infused the evening with energy.

We always have a great experience at the David Henry Hwang Theatre. The house manager, Danny, takes care to usher us upstairs to the theatre in the lift. Last night it was broken, so he took us up in the rear elevator, and we came through from the back stage door, through the darkened backstage, the house and into the upstairs lobby. The inside of the theatre was draped with elaborate origami creations made by audience members, I think. Because we missed the lobby, we missed the table where people could fold creations of their own.  We returned to our sweltering apartment, grateful for the time away and the edification and thought-provoking evening out.

Back in our own building, yesterday,  the AC issue was resolved. Carlos, a custodian, came to our apartment and reset the fuse for the AC unit, allowing us to turn it back on. After five days, it was a joy to feel the little arctic gust coming from the vent. Crisis averted.

Our next door neighbors were moving down to one of the garden apartments on the first floor. They had been moving themselves for two days, and with no AC in the building, were exhausted. I ran over to Ralph’s to get them some fruit and muffins for breakfast  so that they could sleep in, and had just delivered them and come back upstairs when I heard an enthusiastic ringing of the doorbell. Hearing jovial voices outside, and thinking they were coming to say thank you, I swung open the door, instead greeted by a tall young man in a gray T-shirt and shorts, and a short dark-haired girl with a striped shirt and braces. The boy thrust out his sweaty palm and introduced himself as John, and his friend, Daisy.

“We’re in a competition to earn points for a trip to Italy!” He pushed the familiar laminated ID card of sales identification  into my reluctant hand. He instructed me to flip it over to see on the back that they could in fact go to Italy. If you have ever been assaulted at your door by these sales animals,  you know the drill. Whatever you are looking at is printed with such small type that there is no way you would ever be able to read it. Meanwhile, the steady barrage of enthusiasm and guilt-inducing sales pitch came at a relentless pace. I raised my eyes from the card and tuned back into his spiel.  “And here, you are supposed to ask us how do you earn your points?!”

Since we have lived in our 24-hour secure apartment building, it’s been a very long time since I have had to say no to someone soliciting at the door, and so  I was still trying to figure our how they even got upstairs.

” I am pretty sure this building doesn’t allow people to go door to door, so what are you doing here? Do you live in the building?”

The young woman piped up, “We have just been visiting our friend Mr. Donald, who lives down the hall. Do you know Mr. Donald?” I nodded weakly. ‘Mr. Donald’ is the president of our Homeowners Association and a very savvy man. I was sure he had not encouraged these sweaty, enthusiastic teens to meander through the halls of our condo building ringing the door bells and interrupting our Saturday evening.

What is wrong with me? Why was I unable to say, “I’m not interested. Go away. I will report you to the guards downstairs.” I must have said something about the guards, because now ‘John’ was saying “I am dating the sister of one of the guards downstairs and so he let us up.” Now I knew that was patently untrue. Such an act would ensure the loss of a guard’s job. Now John was saying “They allow up to 8 of us at a time into the building.”

While he blathered, John was scribbling out  a receipt and reassuring me that I didn’t have to buy magazines, “NO! This is just about picking out a book for some children to receive,” his tone of voice implying that should I not pick out the books, one for the girls, a second for the boys, I would fall into the class of heartless miscreant. The paper he pushed toward me was filled with small writing and pictures of books. While he filled it out, he was peppering me with insanely stupid questions like “What is your favorite color? And don’t say pink or purple, all the ladies say that. What’s your favorite football team? We are supposed to ask as much information as we can to report back to win our trip to Italy. I want to be a football television announcer!”

My un-air-conditioned brain, the hallway still uncooled by the recent reactivation of the air; my Mom muscle which wanted to support hard-working teens to gain points to go to Italy;  my sadness that this pimply teen would  never reach his goal of television football announcer, these things swam in my skull as I watched them fill out their papers and thrust them toward me expectantly.  I struggled to do the math and came up with the fact that they were now asking me for $120.00 to buy two books for the girls and the boys in the hospital and they would accept a credit card or a check or cash….. WTF?

I backed into the apartment, and from the couch where Jimmie was watching the game, I heard, “Who was that?” And I mumbled, ashamed, now enslaved by their sales pitch and my middle class guilt as I reached for my wallet. “Some kids who are trying to raise money for a trip to Italy,” and then, yes, I’m mortified to tell you this, I handed them three crisp $20.00 bills and took their sweat stained receipts, one for my taxes, and one for my records. I watched numbly as they affixed a small sticker that read “Don’t bug me” on my doorbell plate, so that the 6 other teens marauding through my building would not also ring my bell. As I closed the door, I thought that sticker really says “A complete fucking moron lives in this apartment,” and I reached my hand outside and peeled it off the bell.

I closed the door,  my heart engorged with buyer’s remorse. I told my husband what happened, and then as quickly as I could, I grabbed my keys and headed out into the hallway, down to the guard’s desk, sputtering about how they told me the guards had let them upstairs because one was dating the guy’s sister, and there, at the desk,  a middle-aged Korean man who lives on the 5th floor and who’s wife had just talked with them, too, was sputtering in equal outrage. One of the guards jumped up, grabbed his walkie-talkie and ran to the elevators. I waited at the desk, and in a few minutes, saw him escorting them out. Feebly, I cried out – “That’s them!” And they turned, looking back over their shoulders at me  with disgust, as if to say “You are the reason we will not go to Italy.”

Now, as I examine the yellow and pink receipts, the language on the side mocks me, “You, the BUYER, may cancel this transaction IN WRITING at anytime prior to midnight of the third business day after the date of sale. See the notice of cancellation form on the reverse of this receipt for an explanation. NO REFUNDS AFTER THE CANCELLATION PERIOD EXPIRES.

IMG_2801I remembered that after I paid the cash to them, John had torn off my receipt without marking how I had paid, so probably I will be unable to recoup my losses, but I will go through the motions anyway. Just to regain some dignity against these animals out of paper in the hallway. 

Complete Works

Complete WorksLast night I decided to stay after work to attend  a screening of a web series conceived and executed by three former USC School of Dramatic Arts students, Lili Fuller, Adam North, and Joe Sofranko. Entitled “Complete Works”, the five episode series charts the foibles of a Midwestern college student (Sofranko)  whose life long love affair with all things Shakespearean takes him on an international voyage of self-realization as an actor and person.

You can see these on Hulu if you didn’t make it to the screening last night. Here’s their facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/completeworkstv

When I heard about the project two years ago, I knew that many students and SDA faculty were participating in the filming. But what I hadn’t expected to see last night  was the sophistication and comic subtlety of the script, and the film’s elegance. I knew that Adam North had stayed beyond his four years as an SDA student to attend the School of Cinematic Arts. I knew that Lili was an accomplished choreographer who is even now working with our BFA Junior class on their Bing production of Dark Of The Moon. Joe and Lili and Lili’s wonderful parents have a non-profit called ETC which produces powerful theatre and dance collaborations. Joe and Adam recently finished in the top 200 Of the Greenlight Project.

So what is it that surprised me last night? Why did I not expect to be wowed by this powerhouse trio?

I think it came down to the fact that each of them is so humble and hardworking that their mastery and aptitude in a completely new arena outside of that which I knew them from came as a shock.

I thrilled last night to their humor and good taste, the lengths that each of their cast members was willing to go to tell their collective story. They used the many pieces of their education to assemble the multifaceted webisodes. Put to use were their critical studies, their acting training, their ironic lampooning of both good and bad training. They took aim at both actors and academics with oversized egos, both with skill and deadly accuracy. I was just so incredibly proud of them.

Afterwards we came out of the theatre to find cookies and juice set out on the bar in and the Bing Lobby was full of the squeals and laughter of returning alums greeting each other and celebrating their friends’ success.

These three created this project by using their training, skills, entrepreneurial spirit and the alchemy of their friendship.

Today I spent all day talking with current students, former students, and soon-to-be-former students. The theme  was “what is possible to accomplish?” How can we stretch reinvent, rebrand ourselves to make our way in the world as artists and collaborators and teams?  Thanks to my detour on the way home last night,  I realized again that there are a refreshing number of ways. The way you define yourself today, say by the degree you are earning in college, may be far far away from who you are even three or four years from now.  Make and keep good friends who support your growth as artists and whom you can trust to have your back. The Complete Works,  are never really Complete. It’s all a work in progress.

http://dramaticarts.usc.edu

What Progress looks like

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Maybe we should think about this Alaskan Glacier being right outside the PED Building. Surely that would help cool us down!

All day yesterday and today, we received reports of heat extremes from points within our school. Too hot in PED 204- no air in PED 114. Faculty across the spectrum of the theatre disciplines bemoaned catatonic students unable to concentrate on design concepts or acting beats, textual analysis, or rehearsal of their plays. Temperatures reached over 91 in the costume shop. The  fire alarm there went off due to the heat. How can we help? Our hands are tied. We can’t add air conditioning units because the building, built in 1928, cannot support the extra  electrical needs of air conditioners. The entire second floor is supported by two 20 amp circuits.

I just heard on the news that LAUSD has similar woes, with the cost of providing air conditioning to all the schools estimated at 20-25 million dollars.

Hey, write us a check for 30 million and I can promise you a school at USC with your name on it. Or at least a building. We could sure use one of those.

IMG_2775Yesterday, I attended the groundbreaking for the largest new development in the history of South LA, aka the USC Village. Under the gauzy white open sided tent, tan carpet separated the well-heeled feet of USC Administrators, Los Angeles pols and other interested onlookers from the compacted soil of the recently razed University Village. Gone was the Superior Market, the Wendy’s, the laundromat, Radio Shack, the food court, and our little theatre, the USC University Village Theatre, where countless students learned how to Act on Camera with Professor Joe Hacker, or learned how to produce an Independent Student Project.

Now, in the relentless heat, seated on the neatly arrayed  white wooden chairs, shoulder to shoulder, fanning ourselves desperately with our programs,  we listened as speakers lauded the upcoming 650 million dollars of investment in USC and the surrounding community. My heart went out to the 10 Trojan Marching band students as they paraded past my row,  sun blazing down on their cardinal and gold polyester costumes, then watched them as they filed to the front and stood heroically for over an hour in the late morning sun.

IMG_2776Closer to home, there was some serious demolition going on to the east of my office building, the relentless beep beep beep of the backward moving backhoe,  as it pushed the fallen wreckage of the CW One building and the little church on the corner of Child’s Way and McClintock into neat piles and then into a series of trucks who carted the memories of the buildings away from the site.

Our little community, the CWT II building, received a temporary reprieve. Our given moving date  is May 15, 2015, or Commencement day. Just as the students  have to vacate their dorms by 5:00 on that day, so we will also be moved out of our offices.  We will all share the uncertainty of post graduation together, new home, new work, new work rhythms.

People don’t like change. I have always had a lot of trouble with change. When I was stage managing regularly at the Geffen Playhouse, they announced that a major renovation would happen and the Geffen operations would move to the Brentwood Theatre. Concurrently, I received an offer to stage manage a show at the Ahmanson, and happily accepted that job, relieving me of the wrench of the transition at the Geffen. I felt a little traitorous about taking the job and leaving my colleagues to deal with the move.

I don’t see the same avoidance technique working this time, however, so I watch with avid interest as the lot next door clears. I know that it is just a matter of time before the Trojan Marching Band is marching past where my office once was on its way to the next Ground breaking ceremony.

Happy Days

HappyDaysBrookeAdamsThis afternoon, escaping for a few hours from the 104 degree temperatures of Pasadena, California, I had a life affirming experience in the theatre that reminded me why it has such a profound importance in my life.

In the Theatre at Boston Court, I watched this afternoon as Brooke Adams played Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” with her husband, Tony Shalhoub as Willie, in a beautiful production directed by Andrei Belgrader.

First, a disclaimer. I have a personal and historic connection with this play.  Back in high school, at the age of  seventeen or eighteen, Bob Edgar, my teacher and my theatre mentor, encouraged me to do the role of Winnie. Fellow student and friend,  Will Schwalbe, played Willie; he was sixteen or seventeen.

We  learned all 60 plus pages of lines, which was not easy, and we rehearsed the play and performed it in Memorial Hall,  a 500 seat auditorium. Who came? Can’t remember. Who decided this would be a good idea? Bob or I?  Don’t remember. How long did we rehearse? Not a clue. What was the nature of our conversation about the play when Will and I had no relevant life experience? How did we discuss the sexual innuendo in the play while knowing nothing about it? What were we all thinking?!

I remember learning by failing – how weak and reedy my voice was, what it took  to sustain what was basically a  monologue while buried up to my waist or neck in a mound of dirt. It took vocal variety, which I did not yet have, but strove to acquire in the four weeks of the rehearsals.  Laughable now. It took physical endurance and extreme mental agility to find connections where there didn’t seem  any connecting the text from the end of one beat to the beginning of the next. I remember the pride of being able to learn the lines and the fear of not being able to remember them when I needed to. I remember the joy of taking on a project for which I was monumentally ill-suited. The warm feeling that my teacher, a smart, witty, and well-read adult, had enough faith in my abilities to try something so that we could have “a positive learning outcome.” Hell, it was like winning the educational lottery.

Flash forward to Los Angeles, 36 years later. I sat in the theatre, next to my husband, felt the usual frisson when the house lights faded before the play began, listened to the sounds of someone getting into the beautifully designed and painted mound. (Takeshi Kata did the set.) Lights up, (thank you Tom Ontiveros!) , and there she was, Winnie, in all her glory. Brooke Adams seemed illuminated from within. Her 150-watt smile and can-do attitude was inspiring. What made the play so moving was  simple. She made it plausible that even though buried to her waist in dirt, she would survive and happily so. The simple daily objects she pulled from her bag were talismans of her optimism. Willie was still there, within range of her voice; talking to someone who occasionally responded brought her joy.

And though I can’t remember what “Happy Days” meant to me as a seventeen or eighteen-year-old,  today, the play was about aging. Beckett’s  portrayal of a powerful woman freeing herself from  prison of a mound of dirt with just her mind and her love was moving and funny and familiar. We take for granted our bodies when we are young, and our worlds become more closely circumscribed as our anatomy ages and fails. And in spite of that, our humanity affords us the ability to greet each day generously and with love and joy just as Winnie does.

I thought  today about our niece who lost her husband of 44 years a week ago and  in a week’s time. I thought about how Winnie would be able to go on without Willie. I thought about how someday I will have to go on without my darling husband. And on stage, we saw that terror and uncertainty and fear in Winnie’s eyes.  And we saw her recover again and again.

Ah yes, if only I could bear to be alone, I mean prattle away with not a soul to hear.
Not that I flatter myself you hear much, no Willie, God forbid.
Days perhaps when you hear nothing. But days too when you answer.
So that I may say at all times (even when you do not answer and perhaps hear
nothing) something of this is being heard. I am not merely talking to myself.
That is, in the wilderness. Something I could never bear to do – for any length of time.
That is what enables me to go on, go on talking that is.
Whereas, if you were to die – or go away and leave me, then what would I do, what
could I do all day long?
Simply gaze before me with compressed lips.
Or a brief… gale of laughter, should I happen to see the old joke again.

 Winnie, “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett

Winnie is a survivor. And while we are on this mound we call earth, we love our stuff for the comfort it brings us, and we love the other inhabitants of the mound. And if the mound and its inhabitants change, we can still survive and find  a way to express our love and joy.

Go see “Happy Days” at the Theatre at Boston Court

“Oh, Calamity!”

 

Big Little LiesI try to get 5 servings of reading a day, but of late, with the start of the fall semester, I’m ending up with a brief midnight snack of a read. My current book  is fantastic – it is “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty. In it, the main character, Madeline, uses the phrase “Oh, calamity!” when things go wrong (which they do with endlessly entertaining frequency). Really, you will enjoy this book.

 

“Oh, calamity” was a line from a children’s book that they used to read to Fred when he was little. The whole family said it now. Even Madeline’s parents had picked it up, and some of Madeline’s friends. It was a very contagious phrase.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

“Oh, calamity!” That’s what went through my head on Wednesday, Sept. 3rd,  when I arrived at my YAS gym and saw a stranger wearing the headset that my usual spin instructor, Beautiful Jim, usually wears. Elizabeth, behind the desk, greeted me and with the apologetic demeanor of someone who knows she is about to give very bad news, said “There were a few changes made over the weekend.”

“Oh?” I said, brightly, thinking Jim had a conflict with today’s class time or something.

“Jim has been moved to the 5:15 PM slot and won’t be teaching the morning classes anymore.”

Oh crap. Am I about to drop big bleary tears on the sign in sheet? How mortifying!

“Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that!” Turning away, I trudged into the spin classroom, and dropped my bag on the floor by the mirror.

I saddled up in spite of my grief, and the friendly 7:15 AM spin imposter, Stephanie, came over to stand in front of my bike. She had an amazing smile, and was deeply tanned.  She had turned off her mic and leaned in conspiratorially.

“Jim said to take good care of you,” she said, as I continued to fight back the tears that threatened to well up.  “He said he is going to miss you.”

“Thanks,” I said, and off we went.

Anyone who spins knows that the classes can vary wildly depending on the instructor. I knew that this was the case when Stephanie basically skipped the warm up that over a year I had become accustomed to doing with “Beautiful Jim.”  Her warm-up was theoretical, not practical – “Loosen up those shoulders and neck,” replacing Jim’s instructions – “5 Shoulder rolls to the back,” and then “Roll those shoulders forward,” etc.

Stephanie was kind, you could see it in her face, but man, she was tough, and there were really no transitions or seated moments between the sequences. Her instructions to crank up the resistance were more frequent and  by the time we started the second rep of the class, I was straining against an unfamiliar heaviness which was much more grueling than my usual workout.

I know, you are thinking – well, that’s good for you, Els. Good to change-up the work out. Quit whining! (You were, weren’t you? Yup, I knew it.)

And so it went. I showed up at the class on Friday and it was just Stephanie and me. No other spinners. This had happened a few times with Jim, and was really okay with me.

I have to give Stephanie her cred where it is due – she took off her headset and came over to the bike next to me and we spun (spinned?) together, her talking me through and correcting some bad habits that I didn’t even know I had. I was thrilled at the end of the class and felt really happy about how it had gone.  I thanked her enthusiastically. Jim? Jim who?

Then Monday the 8th came and I slept in.

Wednesday the 10th came and I slept in.

Friday, the 12th, nope, didn’t hop out of bed.

The week was rough. There were meetings and some stresses at work which were not facilitated by my skipping my exercise or routine. Just as we need our 5 servings of vegetables, and for me my midnight snack of reading, so it was proven to me this week that I need at least 3 servings of exercise a week, and I’m not doing myself any favors by skipping any of them. Bloated, cranky, less productive, surly even.

So this morning, I both slept in, then took Jonathan’s class – I knew it would be rough, but I also knew that I needed it. And now I feel terrific. No more calamities.

At least not for now.

The Pink Lady

Several years ago, an old friend of my husband’s from back in his “Greenwich Village days,” in the 1950s, Peter Harvey, notified us that he would be coming to town for an exhibition of his paintings at a little gallery on Melrose, just west of La Cienega. Did we want to attend? This was in about 2008, I think.

Peter is an accomplished painter, as well as a very experienced theatrical scenic designer, and Jimmie had worked with Peter and known him well socially back in New York.

Of course we wanted to go to the show, and before going, we had discussed rather seriously that we would  buy one of his works at the gallery to support him.

We arrived at the gallery at about 7pm, I from work, and Jimmie from home.  I went to park the car nearby, returning to the small gallery, which was filled with jovial friends of Peter’s – mostly gay men, but there were some women there as well. I found Jimmie, and we began to circulate around the room, enjoying the colorful, large-scale paintings on display.

Text/Eros was the name of the show

It soon became clear to us – I don’t know, call me provincial, prudish, too straight, narrow-minded – that we were unlikely to find a painting for our living room among the canvases in front of us.  However, one painting was really lovely and G-rated enough for our lives.

IMG_4090There were many paintings in the gallery with text incorporated into the body of the painting, and this one, though inherently a bit sad, had a warmth and theatricality to it that caused us to gravitate to it.

IMG_1761

I sent this photo to Peter because he said he liked to see where his paintings had gone to live

We made the deal and after the show closed a few weeks later, picked up the painting and hung it in our dining room. I actually painted the walls of the dining room to better show it off.

While we were at the gallery, I also thumbed through a portfolio of water colors, and stumbled upon a lovely and saucy watercolor of a “woman of a certain age” flaunting her zoftig body with insouciance  on a coverlet splashed with bright pink flowers and Peter’s jaunty signature at the bottom of the blanket. I fell in love with the Pink Lady. After the show closed and Peter went back to New York, I thought about her.

My 50th birthday was coming up and Jimmie asked me if there was anything I wanted for my birthday. I said wistfully, “I can’t stop thinking about the Pink Lady. She is just the epitome of what I feel like 50 is about. Take it or leave it.”

And so, the Pink Lady came to live with us. She graces the wall above my desk at home, and I can glance up at her when we are reading in bed before turning out the light.

And as I lay on the couch tonight in the living room, I was looking up at the Ode On Melancholy painting that we had bought originally, and decided to look up the ode which inspired it.

Ode on Melancholy

BY JOHN KEATS

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
       Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
       By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
               Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
       Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
               Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
       For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
               And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
       And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
       Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
               Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
       Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
               And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
       And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
       Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.