Got the Blog – Now, What Do I Write?

Danny-Strong-Spotlight@SDA-3-1024x681

MFA Y3 Actor Christian Henley listens to Spotlight on SDA speaker Danny Strong at a recent visit to USC. (Photo by USC/Gus Ruelas)

A few weeks ago, Christian, one of the MFA Y3 Actors approached me to ask me how I had gone about starting my blog. I told him what I had learned when I started it about two years ago, in competition with my son. Chris had figured out how to do it and was soon but very briefly  blogging from the bunk of The Autumn Gale, my brother Larry’s salmon and crab fishing boat, moored at Fisherman’s Wharf. That was back in September 2013, and a quick autodidactic tour of wordpress.com told me I could do it too.

Two years later, I know a lot more about the benefits of having a blog; I love the feeling of sitting down on the couch with my computer open on my lap with the tiniest thread of an idea, pulling and worrying it into 800-1000 words. They are not always noteworthy, but they are always mine, and uniquely so. Frequently, through the action of fingers tapping on the quiet flat black keys of my macbook, I discover and tease apart a knot of worry that resides in my brain from the previous days.

I don’t kid myself to have hundreds of followers. It isn’t that for me, though that might be gratifying.  It’s about practicing writing and listening to what my heart needs to say at any given time. Recently, I’ve elected to write more about my work, to try to shed some light on what a stage manager does. Perhaps I will write about what a production manager does as well one day. And eventually, what a retired person does.

A few days ago, I got an email from Christian again, the greeting of which was a simple “haha”. He told me

Haha!

I have my blog all set up!

Now just need to know what to write about!

I thought it was sweet that he was turning to me for suggestions about what to write about. I had encouraged him, so felt a sense of duty in cueing him to get him launched. In responding, I admitted that I had hit a dry patch in terms of my writing – hadn’t felt particularly fertile in recent weeks. So I am going to take advantage of my recommendations to prime my own writer’s pump.

Five things you noticed about your practice during a recent rehearsal or performance:

  1. I noticed during one of the last performances of “The Gospel at Colonus” as I looked out the window at the end of the first act, a middle-aged woman, with gray curls, smiling and facing me while blowing me overly dramatic air kisses. I had no idea who it was, until I squinted a little bit more (yes, I need to get new glasses) and saw that it was an old college friend that I had done theatre with back at Princeton. She was always a free spirit, and as an adult, she now works with transgender runaway teens here in Hollywood. I hadn’t seen her for about 10 years – the last time was backstage at the Ahmanson, when she arrived with her charges in tow, to meet Sir Ian McKellon after a performance of the RNT/Ahmanson Co-production of “The Enemy of The People.” Having just gained entrance to the backstage hallway, Norma stood in the hall outside the stage manager’s office, arms open wide, and yelled as she saw me, “CUNT!!!”  (I’m allowed to use that word because I stage managed “The Vagina Monologues” for over a year, just in case you were wondering.) Cut to ten years later, and seeing my old friend Norma outside the protective casing of the calling booth at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, I did nothing more than blow back overly dramatic air kisses and tell my headset pals the tale of our last reunion. I then did a wiggle dance, which is apparently what you are supposed to do when you have made inappropriate headset conversation.  Alas, she was gone by the time I emerged from the booth after the show, so I had no more encounters to report from the lobby of the Holden.
  2. IMG_4447 3

    The cast of The Gospel At Colonus during “Lift Him Up.”

    I noticed the inevitable closing night nostalgia wending its tentacles through my heart during the final moments, as I watched the beautiful cast led by Nicoe Nikki Potts sing “Lift Him Up,” and the entire audience on their feet clapping their hands and jamming to the song. I tried to will that euphoric feeling to stay permanently in my body as it has been the most extraordinary pleasure.

  3. Two of my former stage management students came to visit me this past week. Actually, they made their annual pilgrimage on Jack Rowe’s birthday, October 7th; arriving on campus at around 3:00, they found me in my office and we walked over to the Drama Center, talking about their recent triumphs in work and in life. We paused to take a selfie in the middle of Child’s Way and almost got killed by a Coca Cola delivery van – that would have been a really ignominious end.
    IMG_5174

    Els, Sue McGrew and Jaclyn Kalkhurst in a near death experience on Childs Way.

    Very anticlimactic. I was, as I always am when former students seek me out, so glad to hear about their lives, and so honored to be included in their thoughts when they return for brief visits to the campus and school. Jack, however, was teaching and missed their visit.

  4. I attended the Wednesday night opening of “Mansfield Park,” sitting next to the parent of one of the students in the play. We were settled in for Act I when all of a sudden bright lights and the ear crushing sound of the fire alarm chirped in the Bing Theatre. Every one of the past incidents where haze had caused the alarm to trip came flooding back to me. I felt the muscles in my thighs tighten as my body prepared to stand and evacuate the theatre. And then it stopped. In my mind’s eye, I could see Jessica, the stage manager, in the booth moving her left hand to the tab on her notebook marked “Emergency Announcements” and preparing to flip them to place should she need to evacuate the theatre. Sure enough, later, when I saw her, she said she had done just that. Eventually, I noticed that my thigh muscles had relaxed as had my brain and I enjoyed the rest of the production.
  5. IMG_5181

    Stacey Wang Rizzo as she works her magic to get an acceptable head shot for Els.

    I had the most exquisite email last week which prompted the need for me to have a new headshot taken. (No, the list of MacArthur Grant recipients came out the week before and I was not on it. Nor is the Nobel Peace prize within my grasp.) Because of that, I was able to capture this model’s-eye-view photo of our fantastic Stacey Wang Rizzo, Director of Print and Digital Media for the School of Dramatic Arts in the middle of doing her job. Yes, the old adage of no good deed goes unpunished comes to mind here.

So, you see, Christian, there are many many things to write about. The world is your subject. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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