Summer Brave Strike Notes

Summer Brave at the McClintock Theatre

What does it mean when you have no incentive to write? Are you muse-less? A-mused? I don’t know if I am just too tuckered out to be creative, or we have reached that point in the semester where tech upon tech upon opening upon strike has set in, but the creative juices aren’t juicing right now.

However, some nice things have happened. I can tell you about those.

I got to sit in the theatre last weekend with the beautiful set for Summer Brave, that open-faced, honest Midwestern wooden bungalow with lace curtains and well worn paint on its siding, courtesy of senior design student Dreem Qin. It had the same effect on everyone who ventured into the space- “We’re home and we’re not leaving” was the vibe. I asked if we could keep the precious haven in the theatre just through Christmas, so that we might decorate it with fat evergreen boughs and candles in each of the windows- you know, a place for faculty, students and staff to retreat to and do yoga, or meditation or just sip a cup of tea with cookies.The warm lamps would beckon us into the rooms beyond the front screen door, which now clatters with the current show’s familial traffic: Flo Owens and her two spirited daughters, Millie, the bookish one, and Madge the “prettiest girl in town” and the bitter, but determined Rosemary Sydney, a schoolteacher whose long term sights are set on businessman Howard Evans.

But alas, we will need to strike this set on Sunday so that the 1950’s Cubo-Floridian world of Nilo Cruz’s Anna In The Tropics can take up residency in the space.

Sad is my plight, that even as I sit waiting for the first dress rehearsal to begin, I am taking a mental inventory of the props and scenic elements so that I can prepare strike notes for the following Sunday. It is a telescoping of time that may be familiar to others in my age bracket. That same omniscience of the overall arc of the process prevents me, a life-long pet owner, from getting a new puppy. I already know how the cycle ends. And yet this cycle I embrace fully and with passion.

I’m not sure that anyone besides the stage manager even reads my strike notes, but they are my informal way of giving structure to the process of demolition, my eulogy to the ephemera that is a college production. What is any production, really, other than a list of objects assembled from the psyches and sweat of so many people to bring shape from a mere wisp of a dramatic idea to full fruition. The sketch that pours from the pencil then turns into the AutoCad drawing, that morphs into a wooden or steel structure encrusted with layers of paint. All is dressed with props that have appeared in so many productions that if they were to begin whispering among themselves,  the roar would overtake the current play like the flames that destroy the redwood stand yet upon which the redwoods depend for their continuity and rebirth. My strike notes are banal, cold, unrepresentative of the caring caresses of the artists whose decisions and considered groupings bring life to them as denizens of Inge’s story.

First- remove birdies from under eaves

  • Remove curtains from windows
  • Return To Shrine
  • Table on porch
  • Radio( remove speaker)
  • Flower pots
  • Two porch chairs and cushions
  • Bench
  • Wicker Ottoman
  • Stool
  • Two chairs inside house
  • Two lamps inside
  • Bentwood coatrack
  • Wicker basket
  • Sheets and pillowcases
  • Porch swing and chain.
  • Welcome mat
  • Curtains from windows
  • Curtains to offstage
  • Tree branches

Rentals- yellow watering can

Bench in living room

Broom goes back to the Bing

Last week’s strike notes had included a graphic I found after deciding that all the strike notes needed a visual brand. Perhaps my blogging has impacted my work. Anyway, the strike notes for The Dream of The Burning Boy had this heading on them. Burning Boy

 I haven’t yet chosen the image for Summer Brave’s notes.

But yes, spending time in rural Kansas in the 1950s -that has been nice.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing two college friends with their accomplished graduate school and college ready children come through to sample what USC might provide them. We met for lunch under the awnings of the Tutor Campus Center. Charlie and I had both attended St. Paul’s and Princeton; his wife, Penny and I, just Princeton. The time telescope was soundly closed as we rambled briefly through the ivied portals of our shared educations, their children listening politely. We spoke about what the future would look like for their two children, both embarking on lives enriched by the arts. Selfishly, I hope their journeys include time spent at USC; how lovely it would be to reconnect with Charlie and Penny, and to get to know their next generation.

But for now, the busy days unfurl ahead. The lists of construction and destruction. The strike note flames of Summer Brave begin to lap and flicker up around the beautiful little cottage in the McClintock Theatre even as the remaining four performances still lay ahead this weekend.

Won’t you please come and pass some time with us in William Inge’s painful yet pretty landscape?

Data Mining in Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Too Much Information

Appropriately in this month of breast cancer awareness, I went today to get my lady bits pressed. Happens once a year, when I am lucky, every six months when there are wrinkles in the fabric. I am speaking of the interior fabric, not the ectoderm, which is wrinkling quite nicely and according to schedule. Not the LA schedule, mind you, where I look about twenty years older than women my age who choose to fight back the tide of aging with additional help from medical science.

On the way over to the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Center, I was listening to NPR, a conversation among authorities on data mining moderated by Warren Olney.

There is apparently an awful lot of data to be mined. Everything we do leaves a digital marketing pentimento telling the miners much more than we really want them to know. How creepy is it that you can fill out a survey intending to contribute to the furtherance of modern medical science, and suddenly find yourself on some no-fly, or bad-housing-risk list?

Don’t tweet that you are having car trouble, because you may end up classified as a deadbeat with poor credit, and be put on that bad housing list or a list engendering risky mortgage offerings. The brokerage of imperfect lists, and they are grossly imperfect, it seems, is legal, and may be very hard to elude once you are on a list that has been sold to ten different marketing firms.

For example, news of today’s purchase of the refill pack of four replacement brushes for my Philips Sonicare toothbrush has landed me on every dentist’s mailing list in the greater Los Angeles area.

My visit to the mammography technician will undoubtedly illicit advertisements for reconstructive surgery, or god forbid, new bras.

But at the risk of breaking HIPAA laws, I can tell you there are interesting and very friendly women waiting at the Mammography center. Nothing like a potential brush with disease to bring out the best in women. There is an equalizing aspect to the well-washed blue cotton gowns missing their front ties that we all clutch to keep them closed. We bond in the luxury of having nothing to do but read People magazine, and also in that miserable hiatus between the mammogram and the news that you are finished and can go up to see your doctor, or must return to the scanning room for a second press of the flesh.

In between the brave and the nonchalant, there sits the occasional woman, cheeks pink and flushed, head heavy on her curled fist, who waits for her turn in the ultrasound technician’s room. I have been there. It is a dark place, that moment between the surety of health and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead. Our interior monologues are rich, dark and complex, while our friendly banter belies our fears.

So, for all my sisters out there whose mammograms fall in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, try not to worry as you wait. It will result in lines and more wrinkles to be pressed. Don’t sweat it- I will be happy to share all the botox referrals that this blog brings once those busy data miners are done.

The Great ShakeOut Flash Theatre Day

They just kept pouring floor after floor. We had bets on whether we would lose the US Bank building view. We can just see the crown now.

The other day, Brian James Polak, a recent graduate of the USC MFA in Dramatic Writing posted on his FB page that his play was being produced in a Flash Theatre Event sponsored by the Chalk Repertory Company, directed by Larissa Kokernot, performed in the new high-rise apartments at 8th and Hope in Downtown LA.

Nearing the top with the exterior glass.

Our family  has watched this building rise over the past several years. In recent weeks, we watched from afar as the hip denizens of downtown began to move into the building. The particularly irksome thing over the past few weeks has been watching every damn light in the place on at night, exposing empty apartment after empty apartment. I guess that’s the point, it makes us want to move in, right?

So when I saw Brian’s post, I was intrigued and also frustrated, because I will be working this weekend, unable to attend.

Today was a particularly long and tiring day at work. As anyone with a pulse who lives in California knows, today was the Great ShakeOut, the statewide earthquake preparedness drill which we have practiced for about 4 years. At the University, this drill has been so fine-tuned that today, when we set up our DOC – sorry, I can’t remember what that acronym stands for – designated outside center? Departmental Outside Center  we BERTs were like old pros. (Building Emergency Response Team members)

The drill instructed us to set up our DOCs, and then to do the duck and cover drill at 10:16AM. We had a great time setting up our DOC, pitching the pop up tent, and wiring up the inverter to the battery on the utility cart so that we would have power to charge our phones should the need arise.IMG_2942

The SDA Status Board
We visited the School of Cinematic Arts’ DOC on our way back to the office.

The whole exercise, setting up our station two hours before the scheduled earthquake is a touch ridiculous, because of course, we won’t have that kind of notice when the real thing happens. However, having seen the Ebola situation in Dallas unfold, I am a new and staunch believer in the value of practicing a protocol until everyone feels pretty damn secure with it.

Virginia and Helga are ready for any challenge that this drill brings! Virginia even brought breakfast for us all.

Having set this station up twice now, we know where everything is, and we all know what needs to be done. So when the day comes, and it is coming, my friends, instead of running around like chickens with our heads cut off, we will know exactly where the bullhorn is, the emergency triage supplies, etc. The DOC status board, which listed the rather mundane tasks we accomplished in checking our inventory today, may one day list important information about the location and condition of SDA Staff and faculty and students. There was an air of joviality today, as we got ready for a major earthquake event.

Once the drill was over, we returned to the office and finished the day out with two production meetings. I arrived home at about 7:30PM.

My husband and I sat in our dining room to eat the pizza I had resorted to ordering when I got home. I looked up and out the window toward the brightly lit 8th and Hope building. There, I saw a group of adults standing in an empty apartment, and I said to Jimmie, “Hey, I think that is the audience for Brian’s play over there.” We both went to the window to look across, and could see the audience members and a trio of actors having what looked like an argument in the center of the room. Trippy,  right?
So I took some photos.IMG_4112 This is pretty much what it looks like from our balcony without any magnification.IMG_4110 And this is what we can see when we use the 30X camera lens. I went back to the Flash Face book page and this is where it got really weird. I posted the pictures and within about 4 minutes, I had heard from both Brian and Larissa. This world is just too wild. Real time reporting and  reaction. Are there any limits to what is possible given the technology and tools we have?

So close and yet so far away

The other night we drove to the Sierra Madre Playhouse to attend the production of “4,000 Miles.” We left home at 6:00, planning to have dinner at a local restaurant in the town before attending the show. Our friend, Mimi Cozzens, one of the show’s stars, had told us there were a lot of dining options there. Playhouse Xmas PlayersThe drive wasn’t bad for a Friday heading toward Pasadena, and we found a little Italian bistro diagonally across the street from the theatre. It was about 7:00 when we arrived, and the waiter assured me that he could get us to the theatre by 8:00PM. Through the window of the restaurant, we could see the loopy green neon letters spelling “Playhouse” on the facade of the theatre.

The restaurant was quite full, families and friends deep in conversation, laughing and unwinding after a week of work. The table right next to us filled immediately after we arrived. A family of six, two parents, and four children ranging in age from high chair toddler to old-enough-to-know-better-than-Mom-and-Dad. But the most striking thing about them was that five out of six of them were sitting at the table, and they were all looking into their cell phones. All, that is, except Mom, who was basically very alone.

I looked across at Jimmie, and indicated with a sharp head wag that he should look over to the table to our right. He did, eyes widening as he observed what had caught my attention.  They were deeply engaged with their devices. Even the toddler was playing a game, probably on Mom’s phone, hence her digital solitude.  Jimmie indicated that behind me at another table were two young girls playing games on their phones, their parents talking while the digital sitter kept the children quiet.

The play was great, our friend Mimi alternately funny and touching. It was a very professional production, though the theatre was a bit on the cold side.

Later when we talked about the family at the table next to us,  Jimmie asked with true befuddlement-  “What are they looking for?”  And I found myself unable to answer. What are we looking for when we pick up our phones in the middle of a family dinner? When I was a kid we ignored the phone when it rang at dinner time. If we tried to go answer it, we got in a heap o’ trouble. Now, it is easy to find a teenager with his/her phone under the table, eyes forward, texting secretly while carrying on the charade of a conversation with his/her parents.

The next day, we went to celebrate a belated birthday with our dear friend, Jason. After visiting with him, we walked back out to the car. I was juggling my phone, the empty Ralph’s bag, my purse, and while I fumbled for my keys, my cell phone slipped out of my hand and landed face down on the pavement. I bent over to retrieve it, turned it over, and was dismayed to see that the face of the phone had smashed, scored with a radiating pattern of destructive veins reaching to all four corners of the face. I pressed the home button and it lit up, but every time I tried to swipe my thumb across the face, it snagged at the dry skin on my thumb.

“Shit Shit Shit. I broke my phone!” And I looked up at Jimmie, while trying to get the trunk open. He looked at me, aware of my distress, but like his earlier question, “What are they looking for?” he didn’t really have any idea of why I was so upset. I fumed for about 20 minutes, muttering under my breath about my own stupidity, until I realized that there really wasn’t any point in getting so exercised about it. We went on about the rest of our afternoon – a trip to the Nail Salon on 9th, then home, where I cooked us a healthy dinner.

Sunday morning, I made a pilgrimage to the Apple Shrine at the Grove. It seemed appropriate that I arrived at 11:00AM on a Sunday morning. It felt a little like going to church to atone for my sin of clutziness. The Apple Genii lined the top of the acrylic staircase, a vision in blue; angels with iPads poised to assist. A young blond genius greeted me with kind eyes.”What brings you here?” Mutely, I turned the wounded face of my magic pocket computer up to her eye level.  She made a sad face and then checked me in, urging me to sit at the bar where someone would be along to help me. Genius Evan came along soon and walked me through the exchange of my broken friend for a new one and within 20 minutes and only about $118 lighter, I left the store, a spring back in my step.

I still don’t know what we are all looking for from our devices. You can call me shallow and no doubt will, but it sure felt good to be reunited with my unblemished iPhone on a Sunday morning.

Iceland Revisited

This morning, I woke to find that I’d missed a call from Chris.  It came in at 8:00AM, at a time when under any normal conditions on a Saturday in the fall, I would have been up, and well on my way to work.  I called him back, but the phone rang through to his non-message. The fact that young people with smart phones eschew the voice mail message option on their phones shouldn’t surprise me – after all, they don’t use their phones to talk  much. This much I know from first hand experience.

But when the phone rang about 2 hours later, Chris was panting. “You will never guess what happened!”

There are a lot of things that go through my head when my son begins a phone conversation this way; sadly, about 95% of them are not good. Here’s what ran through my head in the 2 seconds before he spilled his real news:

1. I just ran my car off the road into a ditch because a black bear crossed the path of the vehicle with no warning.  I am trapped inside the car and he’s getting pretty mad out there and just pawed the side view mirror off the car.

2. We can see the flames from the apartment of the fire burning near Lake Tahoe. We are being evacuated now.

3. I was running in the woods and got bitten by a rattler. Just a little nip. I’m waiting for the paramedics to arrive and thought I’d give you a call.

4. I dropped my phone into the water at the beach. No, Els, he’s calling me on said phone.

5.  I was just standing there in the bar when a fight broke out and someone smashed a stool over my head and I’m in the ER getting stitches. Good news, Mom,  no concussion, but the police are coming to take me into custody.

But now he’s talking again and he’s very happy sounding, so all of those possibilities dissolve as I hear him say, “I just finished playing hockey and was on my way out of the rink when the owner of the rink approached me to ask me where I’d played. He said they have just hired a new GM and  there might be things for me to do there.”

This is really good news. The resurrection of hockey in Chris’ life as an adult signals nothing but good news. Chris played hockey from age 5 to age 18.  I took him to the ice rink in Van Nuys for a diversion one afternoon, and he peered over the high wall of the rink to watch about ten 5-year-olds in full hockey regalia fling themselves onto their bellies and then scramble back up on their skates and resume skating. Turning his shining eyes up to me, he said, “Mom, I want to do that!

And I, having been schooled in New England with a staunch appreciation for Ice Hockey, marched right into that crappy little pro shop and asked them for information about their hockey program;  within the week, Chris wore his mini mite uniform and was out there flinging himself down on the ice with abandon.

IcelandExterior2Iceland at that time, was pretty low-rent. It consisted of just the rink and about 300 square feet of pro shop, with a small enclosed café area with windows facing out on the ice. There, parents would cup their hands around the steaming styrofoam cups of bad cocoa, glancing up to watch the drills of the little mites skaters. And we would chat as we watched the Zamboni clear the expansive ice. We learned the progression of our skaters – Mini Mite, Mite, Squirt, Peewee, Bantam, Midget, Junior, etc.Iceland zamboni

And so began our family’s love affair with hockey. We got there  at 5:00 AM, carrying our sons’ hockey bags and lacing up their skates in the metal shipping container locker rooms adjacent to the ice rink.  The chilled morning air was filled with the squeals and giggles and wadded up tape balls whizzing by our heads as we knelt at the feet of our little princes, wrestling their tiny feet into the even tinier skates.  My husband and I took turns getting up early to ferry Chris to his practices. Later, we attended all the games, cheering from the sidelines, bundled up in our scarves and gloves. They were adorable. We were completely invested in the vision of our sons growing up and becoming LA Kings players. Along the way, they were learning about hustle, and the need to hone their skills, teamwork, and a little bit of Russian.

The Iceland coaches were all Russian.  I can barely remember their names, now, but I remember the drive and the skills building that they instilled in Chris. How Slava would smack them on their thick pants with his hockey stick to get them to go faster, harder, straighter.

Jimmie told Chris in those early days that to be a hockey player, he would need to learn how to skate backwards. Chris then dedicated himself to learning just that and so many more things.Their coaches championed them from level to level, later providing personal instruction in private lessons, an added cost, but with unquestionable effect on their growth.IMG_1086 

So now, as I cupped my tea in my hand from the comfort of my couch, I listened and heard the eager pride in his voice. “It’s weird, Mom, how just this morning, I was thinking about how I could see myself coaching. I was thinking about how Ryan trained me and thinking about how I could do the same for kids. Today a little five-year old came up to me after the session and said, I don’t know the name of my street, but I can give you my number!”

All those years of hockey which had seemed lost in the mists of the past came flooding back, and I followed Chris’ vision in my mind, seeing him out there on the ice with those five-year-old Mini-Mites, or perhaps the Pee Wees. Bursting with pride today for my son, the future hockey coach.IMG_1131



Dark of the Moon Tech

Student Designers for Dark of the Moon at work, Bing Theatre

There are a lot of perks of a faculty member in an academic theatre program. Among the chief ones, I would say, is the opportunity to observe the next generation at work doing the work that we have loved all our lives. This past weekend, I observed the tech for our current BFA JR Production of “Dark of the Moon” by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by John DeMita, with choreography by Lili Fuller.

The design process began about two months ago, with initial discussions between John and his designers:
Scenic Designer  Katrina Coulourides, Lighting Designer  George Austin Allen, Costume Designer Meagan Smith, Sound Designer Danielle Kisner. Through research of the Appalachian region, shared via Dropbox and in conversations together about the nature and arc of the play, the team developed a vocabulary together about how to convey this tragic tale to a contemporary audience.

The play is a dark, haunting work about the desire of a witch boy in the Appalachian mountain region in the late 1920s to become human to gain the love of a simple, if slatternly young woman, whose “pleasuring” with many men in the community has drawn the approbation of all, including her parents. His request to remain a human teeters atop a wager that this young woman, Barbara Allen can remain faithful to him throughout the course of one year.

My husband told me that “Dark of the Moon”  was the first play produced by The Circle In The Square, back in 1951 in Greenwich Village. His life and body of work in the theatre echoes all the time, an intimate circling -back that happens so often in the theatre; we are all related by our own passages through these timeless works. Directed by Jose Quintero, little evidence of this production remains, an unlinked reference in the Wikipedia entry about Jose Quintero, the fiery Panamanian director with whom my husband worked so many times.

The Circle In The Square’s Jose Quintero – Wikipedia

“Jimmy Ray (James Ray) played the Witch Boy in the Circle production,” Jimmie told me the other day, another precious and ephemeral fragment of theatre history that he carries in his heart and shares with others who ask.

But I digress. The USC School of Dramatic Arts production is, I can safely say after watching the first dress last night, going to be gorgeous. All the student designers, save the scenic designer, who is a young professional about nine years out of school, have worked exhaustively over the past week to cue and refine the looks of the play, which is majestic in its imagery.

The other member of the team who has shaped this production with her strength and leadership is the stage manager, Alice Pollitt, a senior in the BFA Stage Management program, well on her way to becoming a professional in the field. Her calm demeanor, strong leadership and wry sense of humor have characterized the entire tech process, which was smooth and stress-free. Though much time was taken in the building of lights and sound – there are a hell of a lot of thunder and lightening cues in this show – the pace was measured and the timing of the cueing was extremely professionally executed. Last night, Alice moved from the front of house tech table to the Stage Management podium off stage right, where she used a combination of the rather poor camera from front of house and a live view from the wings to call the complex cues. Nary a cue missed that I could see. Her book is in impeccable order for a first dress.

Alice Pollitt reviews her script during tech rehearsals of “Dark Of The Moon” at the Bing Theatre

The director, John DeMita, has shaped this play with a strong visual sense of purpose and the multi-leveled set by Coulourides aids in the separation of man from witch. Fuller’s choreography of both the witch girls and the dances done by the townspeople further demarcate the boundaries between these two warring populations of Buck Creek.

Allen’s strong and vivid lighting as well as the subtle and effective use of projections make the stage pictures striking (literally)  and memorable.  Kisner’s soundscape evokes the power of the natural and unnatural forces of this town and Smith’s costumes greatly enhance the spookier moments in the play.

But to circle back, a comment from Assistant Director in the dark of the tech filled my heart with the pride of seeing students seeking excellence in their craft. Jay Lee turned to me and with his usual impishly curious expression, said, “How do all your tech Padawans manage to do so well?” He was so pleased with the metaphor he had used, and I was so hopelessly clueless that I had to look it up. Geez. But he’s right – these theatre artists are on their way to being Jedi Designers and Stage Managers. With “Dark of the Moon” behind them, I’d safely say, they are well on their way.


Dark of the Moon Tickets and Information – Come see it!