A Hero of Stage Managers

A hero of Stage Managers is defined as a group of stage managers.

I just made up a new collective noun. Feel free to use it. Incidentally, the collective noun for a group of heroes is a frailty of heroes (according to a questionable link which I will not attach here.) That’s kind of lovely in a mathematical stage manager sort of equation.

Hero=Stage Managers x 3

Frailty = Heroes x 3

9 Stage Managers = A Heroic frailty

But I digress. A Hero of stage managers. I can’t think of a better description. Stage managers, who, in the face of danger, combat adversity through impressive feats. I think it’s perfect. It’s also exquisitely apt for a description of the event I hosted last Monday night to celebrate the twenty years of teaching of stage managers by my colleague at USC, Mary K Klinger, who has continued to maintain a fruitful professional career as a stage manager while she taught and sent out into the world a hero of stage managers a very few of them who are depicted below.

Stage management is a rarified profession, and Los Angeles had limited professional venues for stage managers who sought to make a living. I met Mary early on when we moved to LA in 1986. She was one of four top-dog SMs who rotated through their shows at the Mark Taper Forum and the ones we upstart stage managers strove to unseat – er, I mean learn from.

Stage management is a competitive sport, and I looked up to this hero of stage managers with reverence and also extreme envy. We all studied at the elbow of former stage manager Gordon Davidson, who was a stern yet loving taskmaster. I invited all four of them to come on Monday and it was a testament to Mary that they all came to celebrate her accomplishments as a teacher and former colleague.

L to R. Jonathan Barlow Lee, Mary K Klinger, Neila Lee, Michele Miner, Jimmie McDermott

Jonathan Lee, still the PM at the Taper, was the SM of the first show I PAed, a musical called Roza, directed by Hal Prince, starring Georgia Brown in May, 1987 in its pre-Broadway tryout. As PA, my main duty was to drive Georgia Brown, this torch singer with a gravelly voice, described in the Roza review as “ground cigarettes and glass” from her home in Beverly Hills, to the rehearsals downtown. At the time, Jimmie and I were newly married, I was twenty-seven, and trying unsuccessfully to conceive a child. I shudder at the chutzpah of the young PA confessing such an inappropriate thing to the actor she’s driving, but won’t ever forget how Georgia told me to solve this “conceptual” problem.

Honey, put the legs of the bed up on a pile of bricks, drink a bottle of champagne and just fuck your brains out.

Mary straightened me out as to appropriate PA behavior on the next show where I met her and Jimmie McDermott on two Joe Orton Plays they did in Rep opening that July. The director, Joey Tillinger, was an extremely prolific NY director and a generally friendly fellow. One day I was talking with him during a break, and Mary called me over to the stage management table and reminded me to not distract the director during breaks. Later when I was a stage manager (like ten years later), I realized the import of what she had said. Mary occasionally still teaches with a delayed punchline, or Aha moment, but is always kind and very direct.

I marveled at how she and Jimmie McDermott organized that rehearsal room, at how they effortlessly managed the rules while providing creative safety to the cast and director. After rehearsals ended, we sat another hour or so while they took turns typing the report, which I was sent to Xerox, and file the copies neatly into the cardboard cubby slots in Rehearsal Room A. There was no email distribution at the time. On the sturdy black landline phone in the room (which we silenced during rehearsals to only flash it’s light when there was an incoming call,) they called the designers with notes, and then later recorded the rehearsal schedule for everyone to call, using the number on their wallet cards. All the while, with an easy camaraderie that revealed their deep affection for each other and for the process we were engaged in. These folks taught me everything I know about the soft skills of stage management. And many of the hard.

That’s how we learn as stage managers. By observing and doing. Succeeding and failing. For the past twenty years at USC, we’ve been fortunate to have a skilled and patient spirit guide in Mary K Klinger. When I started at USC in 2005, Mary was already well into her teaching career. I watched Mary train the next generation of stage managers, by informally and patiently explaining the practical steps of stage management, answering their questions, demonstrating best practices in creating paperwork, and discussing with them how they might deal with artists of all persuasions. They adored her.

Some of Mary’s former students sent comments which I was able to read at the party. A few are below. This one from a current executive in a large entertainment project management firm:

…I was in one of Mary’s first stage management classes at USC. Mary was one of the first teachers I remember being an active working professional in the field she was teaching, and I think that was very important for me to see. Up until taking that class, I had started to question my major choice, but I credit Mary with helping give me the support, guidance, and real world examples I needed to have confidence in my path. Two random things have stuck in my head from my stage management class are: 1) we should always be happy if we are working on a holiday, as that means we are employed, and 2) when making coffee backstage or in the rehearsal room, never re-use the coffee filter! I think these things have stuck with me because, beyond just teaching stage management tools and techniques, we were taught how to develop our work ethic, be ready to work hard and jump on opportunities and generally how to be employable. And while I have ultimately pursued other avenues of production, I often credit my strong stage management foundations from USC as a reason for my career success.

Mary’s students have always recognized that she had their backs and there was probably not much that they could tell her that would surprise her. Many of our graduates have gone on to illustrious careers as stage managers, and branched out in other directions as well as prominent lighting designers, managers in theme parks and project-based work, things that Mary allowed them to explore in her Stage Management II Class.

Another former student, now a television producer, wrote:

I had the great opportunity to work with Mary in one of my first professional experiences. As her PA on the Taper production of Expecting Isabel I watched her implement so many of the lessons we had learned in class. She was a great example to me of a strong leader whose guidance and support allowed the creative process to thrive. I use so many of the skills I learned from Mary and the incredible Stage Management professors of the SOT still to this day. Congrats Mary on 20 years of teaching! We are very lucky to have learned from you.

Mary has taught us all so much about living and facing challenges with grace. She faced her frailty of heroes in the past few years with grace and fortitude, then strode back to teaching and her professional work sporting a new bobbed silvery mane.

What will the next chapter bring? I’m hoping it will bring the next chapter as Mary’s talked about writing a book on stage management for years.IMG_7897 I slipped a dharma doll into her gift bag to help the process along.

For now, on behalf of the School of Dramatic Arts, I want to thank you, Mary for the legacy of learning and excellence and perseverance you will leave behind at USC, and thank you for twenty years of teaching.

Current and former students spoke at the party, and current and former colleagues as well, because as Mary has always told her students, if you are no longer my student, you are my colleague. You are under the watchful and loving eye of the hero of stage managers.

Excuse me, your Freudian slip is showing…

Today I attended our Spring musical, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita along with several hundred prospective students and their families. We had a full morning of workshops for students who have been accepted to our programs and are currently weighing whether to attend USC next fall.

I participated in two – the first was a panel of the Design and Production Faculty, where Sibyl Wickersheimer and Tina Haatainen-Jones shared some of their stunning scenic and costume portfolio work; Phillip G. Allen shared a personal story about where his passion for the theatre came from; Duncan Mahoney shared about his career trajectory to USC; I talked a little about my career as a stage manager prior to coming to USC and what makes USC so special.

At 11:00AM, we held a panel of the most of the designers and stage managers of Evita, on the stage at the Bing, where led by their accomplished director, Tim Dang, described in detail the process of collaborating to conceive the design elements of the show and then realize them through rehearsals and tech to the final product. All the prospective students were going to see the performance after lunch.

Framed by Scenic Designer Grace Wang’s show proscenium, L. to R. some of the Creative Staff of USC Dramatic Arts’ production of Evita: Tim Dang, Director, Emma Bramble ’13, A2, Briana Billups ’18, Sound Engineer, Stephen Jensen, ’17, Sound Designer, Lexi Hettick ’18, ASM, Savannah Harrow ’18, ASM, Jessica Major ’17, SM, Edina Hiser, ’19, Asst. Costume Designer,    Liam Sterbinsky, ’17 Lighting Designer 

It was a great discussion, after which the visitors looked at a lobby display featuring the designers’ process paperwork and research. Duncan then led everyone on a tour of several of our facilities.

After lunch, we sat in our seats in the Bing. I had been offered a front row seat by our Director of Special Events (and the coordinator of all today’s yummy dining events), Marissa Gonzalez. She dashed in as the lights were going down and we entered the world of Argentina in the 1930s. The last time I’d seen the show was in a second dress rehearsal while there was still quite a bit of work going on in all departments. It really cemented for me the importance of seeing a performance to really appreciate the scope of the work and the tremendous attention to detail that is necessary to bring a show to excellence. Today’s performance was precise, and spirited, with the hard-won technical moments supporting the acting, singing and dancing of the twenty-nine cast members.

If you’re familiar with the plot of Evita, throughout the first act, we watch Eva Duarte’s ambitious rise from squalid beginnings through a succession of relationships, where she eventually lands on the arm of Colonel Juan Perón at the end of Act I.

At the end of Act I, Marissa again dashed up the aisle to the front of the theatre, and I, without thinking, stood up and turned to the woman on my right whom I had been talking with before the show and who was attending with her high-school-aged daughter and politely said

Excuse me, but I’m going to go spread my legs…..

The woman and her daughter, looked quizzically up at me and as if in slow motion, I replayed my own words as I realized what I’d just said….

I mean STRETCH my legs.

One of the best instagram accounts I follow is entitled @hashtagwelcometomyday. Julia, this one’s for you…It’s been a long week!




Racing Walkers

One of the main reasons we have visited Chatham so often in the past dozen years was to see Jimmie’s sister, his sole sibling. She has lived in Chatham ‘nigh long as I can remember ‘- our first trip out to visit Jimmie’s sisters was when we were still young newlyweds, perhaps even before we married, so that’s 32 years ago. Claire, Jimmie’s and Kate’s older sister succumbed to cancer in 1992. She is memorialized in our hearts of course, but also tangibly by a brick marker in the paved brick base of the Oyster Pond flagpole in Chatham, a spot we return to each time we come to town.There are benches there and we sit and spend a few minutes looking at the beautiful scenery, and remembering Claire.

Kate embraced Chatham with a vengeance. She moved there originally to live with and care for Claire in her last years, and then moved permanently to Chatham with her husband, Marnie, where they lived until he passed away about 7 years ago. She’s been on her own since.

Kate actively participated in Chatham life, as a bookstore owner (she has had three different locations in Chatham), and in many organizations providing services to poor and underprivileged year round residents. There are, surprisingly, a lot of year round residents in Chatham. It isn’t just a summer tourist spot. As in all towns, the residents age, and need help with care as they are left behind by spouses, families, and our youth-conscious world in general. Kate’s most recent job was at the Senior Center in Chatham, an organization that provides services for seniors-a weekly meal for those who can’t prepare their own, and subsidies of gas/oil bills, groceries, and transportation. Kate has long said that Chatham is a wonderful place to grow old, because of services like these.

Two and a half years ago, Kate moved from the saltbox Cape Cod rental house she had long lived in on Orleans Road. It was a nice three bedroom house, with an upstairs which Kate rarely used. The kitchenette met her simple needs, and she had a lovely writing nook overlooking a freshwater marsh behind the house. When we came to visit her, we’d sit in her living room and watch the Red Sox games, then we’d go out for dinner somewhere in town: Pate’s, or the Chatham Squire, the Impudent Oyster, or any number of the other hot spots in Chatham.

Until recently, Kate was living in a City-run residential facility which houses 17 residents. Kate had a room, which faced out into a communal dining room where she and the other residents received a hot meal each day at noon. She managed the rest of her meals herself in her kitchenette in her room. The facility provided assistance with shopping, and had a common area with a TV where Kate could watch the Red Sox games.

When we told Kate that we were coming back to the Cape after 3 years away, her emotion was audible over the phone. A recent accident left her with perpetual back pain, and made her unable to travel. Last October, when she was getting into a car that was going to take some of the residents shopping, the driver backed up before she had gotten in, and Kate fell, breaking a bone in her back. It was a terrible accident, one, oddly that the man driving the car has taken no accountability for and which has had far-reaching effect on Kate’s life and current living situation.

Kate has had a long rehabilitation and uses a walker. Jimmie and I joked that the two of them could have walker races together, and in fact, when we first arrived at the facility last summer, the two of them dashed off with their walkers for the front door.

Kate and Jimmie adore each other, and always have. As the years piled on, it became clear that our visits would be less frequent, and I’d been acutely aware that last summer’s trip might have been our last visit with Kate. Jimmie says that Kate reminds him so much of their mother now. Kate is plain spoken, with a keen observational capacity. She’s been a writer for a long time, and while we were there, she told us the backstory on all the residents of the home, introducing us to some. We saw her just about every day we were in Chatham. Some of the meetings were great, and some less so.

One night I called her up at about 6pm and invited her to go out to dinner with us to Pate’s, a roast beef restaurant on Rte. 28 just outside of the main part of Chatham. We swung by to pick her up at Captain’s Landing, and arrived at Pate’s by about 7:00PM. It was already abuzz with diners. Miraculously, a parking spot opened up right by the ramp to the restaurant, and I extracted the two walkers from the car, managing not to smash my thumb again. We rolled on in, and were seated in the dining room. The host quickly wheeled the walkers away and stowed them out of the path of other diners. We have yet to lose a walker in a restaurant, and I can appreciate that they are an obstacle, but Kate became visibly upset by the removal of the walkers, snapping at me when I said it was in the path of other diners’ tables. I let it go, and she seemed to as well. Soon we were ordering drinks. Kate ordered a martini straight up with a twist of lemon, and Jimmie and I ordered our standard sparkling waters. Everything was humming along, nicely, and when Jimmie’s prime rib arrived, it was the size of the 10″ plate, red and juicy looking. Kate’s salmon was dressed with a lovely lemon dill sauce, and garnished with two pieces of asparagus crossed like lances over the fish. Kate took one look at her plate and said,

Two pieces of asparagus? Are they kidding me? That’s not vegetables!

I had ordered the filet mignon, eschewed the potatoes, so there was a small pile of appeasement carrots next to the meat. I hid them behind the steak to hopefully quell Kate’s vegetable revolt.

Kate’s martini eventually kicked in, and after eating about half of her salmon, enjoying it greatly, she began watching Jimmie’s attack on the prime rib with a horrified fascination; and she seemed unable or not interested in concealing her horror. Facing me, thankfully, Jimmie couldn’t see her expression of distaste as he raised each bite to his lips. Her eyes tracked the meat from the plate to his mouth, and each of his bites elicited a little moué of displeasure, a tiny shake of her head and a grimace of disgust. This went on until it became comical, and I tried to get Jimmie’s attention. Kate’s tongue pushed out of her lips in a repetitive lip lave which I’d not seen her do before.

After dinner, I retrieved the walkers, and we got out to the car without incident. We took Kate home and dropped her off at her room.

One of the better visits we had was around the task of helping her to hang some of her paintings in her room, something she hadn’t been able to accomplish on her own. Over the course of about an hour, we hung 5 pictures,  and she shared the details of how she had acquired each painting, reminding me of how involved she had once been with artists in the Chatham community. My skills as a picture hanger are just a little better developed than my skills as a wallpaper hanger. My last task was hanging a series of five small pen and ink drawings that Kate and her husband Marnie had made back in the early 70s. By this point, there were few vacancies on the walls of her room, but we spotted the band of wall above the closet, and I started to hang them up there. I was standing on a small step stool on my tip toes, and reaching full arm extended to place the nails, so it was inevitable that they would be uneven. At this point, I was overheated and it was time for dinner. After struggling to measure each nail position, I placed the drawings on the nails, and Kate, across the room, shook her head to say this positioning wasn’t working for her. Just as well, because a small tap against the wall sent four of the five drawings to the floor, so we removed the five nails and called it a day. But Kate was very with it throughout the work, and we were having a nice visit.

Nine months have passed since we had this visit in Chatham, and Kate is now a resident in a nursing facility in Chatham called Liberty Commons. When we spoke with her recently by phone, she commented,

They sure like to move me around.

Which I think was a commentary on her back and forth trips from Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston to Liberty Commons and back and less a comment on the care where she is now. Our conversations by phone are brief and Jimmie has graduated to a Go-Go 3 Elite 3 Wheel travel scooter to get around to the park and to the car. But our hearts are still in Chatham with Kate even though travel seems less likely now. thumb_IMG_5380_1024

Writing with my best friend – 90th Birthday/Book Launch

In September we began the march toward publishing Jimmie’s book; I was obsessed with publishing by Jimmie’s 90th birthday. I explored several different self-publication routes, and discovered that several other publishers might help us, but not until mid-February. Click. Sorry. We have a goal, people!

And so, as we sent off the book to Createspace.com, it was a nail biter as to whether we’d make the December 1 date. I took Jimmie out for his birthday dinner on December 1st at a local Italian restaurant and during dinner looked on my phone to see if the book was for sale yet on Amazon.com. Sure enough, sometime between the salad course and the entrée, right on December 1st, the book went live. It was a pretty special moment for both of us. For Jimmie, who’d been working on this book for twenty plus  years. For me, who had embarked upon the autodidact’s path, learn editing, indexing, etc., and for us, as the shared pleasure of creating the physical object that was now winging its way toward us in a box of 25 copies. Now for the celebration.

Planning a landmark birthday for a 90-year-old is stressful.  The stakes are high. I asked Jimmie whether he thought he’d have made it to his 90th birthday when he was younger. He told me he’d always thought he would die young, which kind of broke my heart and I was glad I hadn’t known that before. For Jimmie, eighty was a landmark birthday, that, and outliving Richard Nixon. When Tricky Dicky passed, I remember getting panicky, and telling Jimmie he needed to set a new goal and quick. We are currently in negotiations to set another one – 110 sounds pretty good to me.

Party planning for the 90th is one of the more stressful things I’ve had to do socially since Jimmie and I planned our wedding thirty plus years ago. I know I owe apologies to those who felt left out off the invitation list.

The venue held fifty people, and our budget held fewer than that. I turned to my colleague Marissa for consulting. She steered us toward City Fare Catering, which was a great decision. I highly recommend them, as Fabio was able to stay within our budget and provide delicious food in a beautiful setting. Flowers were by Della Robbia.

L to R: Some of City Fare’s wonderful staff: Marcel, Fabio, Danica and Danny

I learned a ton about event planning in the process as well. With the right vendors, you can do it!

At 6:15 or so, the guests started to arrive, trickling into the room with anticipation, the usual nerves.

Who will I know here? Will there be anyone to talk to?

Watching old friends greeting old friends, and old friends meeting new friends was such a treat. The tapestry of one’s long life in the theatre so rich and so many of the folks in the room both Jimmie and I have worked with on many separate projects. Many have been friends for 30-50 years. Collectively, there were some heavy hitters in the room, notably Hal Holbrook, who’s foreword kicks off the book; Charlotte Rae and Alan Mandell, with whom Jimmie had acted in Endgame last May at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. We had some family there, our nieces Elizabeth and Martha.  It was a very special night.

After dinner, Jimmie read two excerpts from the book to the appreciative group; I tried to video tape them but my phone abruptly informed me it was full. Fortunately throughout the evening, one of our guests, Stella, was taking pictures and video taped the reading.

Afterwards, several people encouraged us to record  Jimmie reading the book, which we plan to do soon. Aha! The next goal! And then, it was time for cake. The most beautiful cake I’ve had the privilege of eating. Graced with the cover of A View from the Wings, a cover designed by Bob Stern, one of my dearest friends from college, the cake emerged from the kitchen for Jimmie to extinguish it’s representative candles.

Cake Art by Bob Stern, Cake by Cake and Art, Photo by Stella Fiori

As the party guests trickled back out into the chilly December night, we retired to our condo with niece Martha, and our intrepid photographer, Stella, where we sat and dissected the evening while Stella “gave her auntie a foot rub.” Life is pretty special sometimes, especially a life in the theatre.

A View from the Wings is available on Amazon.com and is, for the moment, the #1 New Release in Theatre Biographies. We welcome your purchase of the book, as well as your reviews on Amazon! 

Writing with my best friend -Book in Hand

Today we received the proof of Jimmie’s book, A View from the Wings, A Theatre Memoir, and I don’t think I’ve seen my husband smile as broadly or as happily as he did at the moment when he opened the package and held up the book for me to take this picture. This after suffering my request to video tape the unveiling, as he struggled, his arthritic hands clawing at the tight brown card board. You won’t see that one, so don’t worry, but we have it for the archives.

It’s been an exciting week, starting last Monday, when we took Hal Holbrook and his assistant Joyce Cohen to dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, to thank him for writing the foreword to the book. Jimmie and I arrived a few minutes before them, and scoped out the joint, pretty quiet on a Monday night, and chose what I will call the blue room, a small room just past the wine cellar, where the plush royal blue wing back chairs beckoned me –

Come on in here! You won’t be disturbed here.

And we weren’t. When Hal and Joyce arrived, we were seated at a table near the entrance. Hal, wearing his 92 years with humble dignity and the mantle of an actor who has also lived his life in service to the theatre, and specifically to Mark Twain, came across the room and greeted Jimmie with great warmth. We convened for four wonderful hours of shared theatre stories until I had to cite my 8:00AM class the next morning.

Tuesday afternoon, our granddaughter, Skylar arrived with Whitney, our son’s lovely fianceé and their little dog, Cupid. They came for the week, to be with us for Thanksgiving. Chris came down also on Tuesday, but journeyed down on the team bus and was fettered to his hockey team at the hotel in Tustin all weekend. So, Whitney, Skylar, Cupid, Jimmie and I’ve had an active week of bonding. Skylar, eleven months, is struggling to learn to walk, and Jimmie, eighty-nine years old, is struggling to relearn how to walk with “Das Fucking Boot”. This week our apartment was stuffed with the appliances of babies and elders, two strollers, a walker, a cane and two humidifiers. We pulled the coffee table away from the sofa so that Skylar wouldn’t hit her head when gravity prevailed, but seeing that there is a safe walkway, I’m inclined to leave it out there after they leave to allow more space for Jimmie to negotiate the furniture.

On Thanksgiving morning, Whitney, Skylar and I awoke at 5:30AM, and drove off into the darkness by 6:30 to attend the 7:00AM hockey game at the Westminster rink. It was nice that the player’s benches were up against the spectators’ stands; it was lovely to watch Skylar watch Chris watch the players play.

After the game, we drove back to the apartment and got ourselves ready to go to dinner at the LA Athletic Club. We had a wonderful dinner at the buffet and then we took the worst family photo ever taken. Right after we finished the photo, one of the servers came by and said, “You should take your picture right in front of that landscape painting!” I said, “We did! Great minds…” Hadn’t seen the photo yet. This photo will be utilized in lighting lectures all over the country by academicians to illustrate truly bad top lighting.img_7348

On Saturday, we went to Griffith Park, trying to avoid the threatening black rainclouds overhead. We bought tickets to the carousel, and just as Whitney and Skylar were ready to board, the carousel operator cancelled the ride citing a loose belt. Not anything one need worry about on Thanksgiving week. It’s been an amazing visit. And now with book in hand, we move toward Jimmie’s 90th birthday having accomplished what we set out to do. Feels good.


Writing with my best friend -Line Editing

As I’ve mentioned in several other posts in this series, I have been helping my husband publish his memoir, which he began writing almost twenty years ago as a spry seventy-year-old, sitting on the bench in Beeman Park in Studio City, watching our four-year-old son, Chris tear up the joint. Ah, those were the days, where, a successful television actor meant working four to six times a year, which left a lot of time for park bench sitting and introspection.   I just went looking for a photo to include of the park from those days and googled Beeman Park. I think the place has had a definite face lift from the early 90s when we were habitués of it’s sandy slide and swing area. Ah the good old days. This was about the only image that looked the same.beemanpark

Jimmie has always been a great dad – still is, but he’s slowing down and our son, now twenty-seven and a father himself, needs less from us in the way of park bench sitting. It’s one of life’s little ironies that just when you’d really like to spend a lot of time sitting on the bench with your kids they go and grow up and get busy in their blossoming careers. Doesn’t quite seem fair. But I digress.

So we submitted the manuscript to the Createspace folks a few weeks ago, and as promised, there was radio silence while they did their line editing. This past Monday, my day off, we heard via email, saying the project needed our attention. As promised, they had attached  an editorial letter along with the copiously marked manuscript, lighter by about 1000 commas, and with all the titles of the plays like Girl on the Via Flaminia spelled correctly. All this time I had thought Circle-In-The-Square was the name of the theatre in the village in the 1960s. But no, just Circle In The Square is sufficient. You may have already noticed that my writing is markedly, (insufferably) better with numbers under 100 spelled out and much less use of the dreaded passive voice.

On the home front, it’s been a busy month, more doctors’ visits; so many, in fact, that after our third of this week, Jimmie said,

I have three days off from doctors’ appointments!

We’ll see about that. Maybe I can arrange something for you tomorrow? (Evil laugh as I twirl my moustache)

Last Saturday, we noted that Jimmie’s left foot was so swollen that he couldn’t get his shoe on. A trip to the podiatrist on Monday revealed he needs special shoes. Diabetic shoes – isn’t that charming?

Where did you get those lovely shoes?

Oh, these? They’re just my Diabetic shoes.

The Xray they took showed that he had also somehow broken a major bone in his left foot. He is now sporting a walking boot for the next 6 weeks. And we don’t have a clue how it happened.

In spite of that, we had a wonderful trip down to Anaheim last Friday night, where we watched our son coaching the defensive line of Tahoe Hockey Academy team, as they trounced Poway Unified 7-2.

Two things never occurred to me when we were hockey parents for thirteen years. Never thought that we’d be hockey parents of a hockey coach or that hockey coaches even had parents. You know what I mean – parents that came to games to root them on. Absurd, I realize, but I don’t ever remember looking around the stands and seeing old people like we are now there rooting for the hockey coaches. It also never occurred to me that we would be hockey parents again, eight years after we thought we were done. It’s kind of great to be back in the stands again, this times with our wallets intact.

This Tahoe Hockey Academy team looked amazing – tough, fast, working together, no overt egos out there hogging the pucks. They had clear systems that they were sticking by, and they were relentless on the opposing goal. Shot after shot after shot! I loved watching Chris call out to the boys on the ice to get them to come off. He and the other coaches worked so well together as they edited the lines. (See what I did there?) Deked and dangled that paragraph. (Non-hockey fans may have to look that one up…) Here’s a link. 

The other thing I noticed was that these parents were extremely well-behaved. No screaming obscenities at the refs like the good old days. Things have changed in the youth hockey world since Chris came up.

After the game, we went to Ruby’s Diner and, surrounded by teens on homecoming weekend, we ordered greasy food and an oreo-cookie fantasy shake (Els)  and laughed about the game and how weird it was to not be watching Chris on the ice. I don’t remember when I have seen him so happy, though. It was gratifying as a parent to see it all come together in one happy son. When we drove him back to the hotel to drop him off, we spied the team bus in the parking lot – pretty spiffy.img_5546

Also spiffy is the fact that this book is really happening. We received news today that a dear friend and major actor that he may be writing the foreword for the book. We are coming in to the home stretch on this project and hurtling toward our goal. Stay tuned for more updates!


Maskirovka as a tool on College Campus

There was a fascinating story on the front page of the New York Times yesterday by Andrew E. Kramer entitled Decoys in  Service of an Inflated Russian Might about the use of inflatable “dummy” military lures by the Russians. There were so many things that intrigued me about the article:

  1. That there were photos of these inflatable MIG-31 fighter jets taken by the New York Times (James Hill) from a distance of what looked to be less than 10′. This in and of itself contradicted the secretive purpose of the objects. The descriptions of their inflation, the company that makes them, etc. indicate that it’s common knowledge that they exist. The article even cited the fact that you could see in radar images the inflation and deflation of the devices, but obviously the trickery must work or the Russians wouldn’t go to the expense of fabricating them and then rolling them out.
  2. The theatricality of these objects and their deployment is extraordinary. It is mind boggling that somewhere in Russia in a Rusbal warehouse there are people stitching together these set pieces (you can see the video on their website – looks like a costume shop). That military TDs then are sent out to load them into temporary sites and strike them immediately afterwards, so that they appear and disappear with the ephemeralness of a site-specific theatre piece is extraordinary. This underscored again the relevance of theatre to the larger human condition. Of course, I would prefer to not see theatre militarized in such a fashion. Not the first time, of course; we have had all too many examples of the militarization of personalities using theatrical practice – Hitler comes to mind.

But the article stayed with me last night and I sat down to blog about it but didn’t yet have the hook as to it’s staying power. It is a much more personal issue that the concept of Maskirovka awakens in me.

Recent press about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sexual bravado (last Sunday) and accused sexual assault (by Wednesday) made tangible what I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. After watching students deal with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, these inflatables seem metaphoric to the campus experience. I don’t just speak about my university – the statistics about young women on college campuses and sexual assault are staggering.

Putting aside the grossest metaphor  of “inflatables” in a sexual sense, I am haunted by the image of the representation of a real object with a decoy as it relates to the aftermath of sexual assault. Disclaimer – I was the victim of a sexual assault in college, after leaving my eating club one night, having had way too much to drink. The episode, which I did not report because I was embarrassed to not remember what had happened, has remained with me for 35 years. I am a resilient person, and the event has less power in my life at this point; I have confronted it, examined it, flogged it, and more or less put it away. I do recall the time immediately following the event, when I had to continue attending classes, work at my student job, show up at the theatre at night as a stage manager, inflate myself with enough confidence to even come out of my dorm and not be afraid of every man on campus because I had no memory of what “he” looked like. I was a walking decoy for my wounded and vulnerable self. Classic Maskirovka.

Spending time on campus now as an adult and professor,  I am aware of events that unfold for many young women, and I see the aftermath of the abuse, but in a peripheral way, like the Times photographer standing close by and watching the military decoys inflate and deflate.  The other aspects of Maskirovka, denial and deception, are very much at play in these circumstances. In my own case, I practiced a huge amount  of denial with myself and with my closest friends, concealing from them any and all details of the event, not discussing it with anyone, and stuffing it away. It was only 25 years later when I had some counseling that I realized, AHA! I could have dealt with it more directly, treated myself more kindly by accepting assistance in processing the event with counselors who were, even in the early 1980s, available to me on my campus.

Hear me, Donald Trump, 25 years had passed since the event before I sought to explore it in any way.

A sexual assault is a lot to process. Time doesn’t slow down while one does or doesn’t do the processing. The daily demands to remain connected, far more than when I was in college with no email, rudimentary computers, no cell phones, places even more pressure on young women to conceal their panic, their grief, their heartbreak about what has happened to them.

Last night I listened to a CNN panel discussion about the “opportunistic” timing of Jessica Leeds’ and Rachel Crooks’ accounts of inappropriate touching by Donald Trump as a means to slander him. It made me furious just as obviously his statements galvanized something in both of them on Sunday night to make them reach out to tell their stories.

The story about decoy, denial and deception is an old story for many of us and a painful new story for many young women. We all need to be aware of the people around us, some of whom are not themselves, but inflated stand-ins passing for themselves as they move through processing their experiences.

So, as if I needed any more reasons to be with Her, thank you Donald Trump for triggering this last one.

Unpacking “Unpacking”

I’ve been hearing a phrase on the radio recently and today in the paper which refers to looking more closely at the details of a project. It’s used by interviewers to casually prod the interviewee to share the nitty gritty of their artistic process.

“Let’s unpack this experience of making this film…”

And from today’s LA Times article “A Shakespeare for our times”

It’s break time in rehearsals at the Music Center Annex in downtown L.A., and director Phylicia Rashad and actors Lillias White and Keith David exude familial warmth and ebullience as they unpack the musicality of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”…

Gary Goldstein, LA TIMES


Maybe it’s just me, but when I read that in an article or hear it on the radio, I just get annoyed. Usually it’s invoked with regard to an artistic project (but that could just be the things I listen to or read about – it may be in use much more broadly). Packing and unpacking represent the most boring phase of any vacation or trip. My least favorite thing to do when I travel is pack and unpack. Furthermore, when I’ve read the definition for this conceptual unpacking, thank you, but I don’t need or want things to be broken down into smaller, more manageable bits. I’m quite happy having  the whole big messy interview come at me and let me unpack it myself. Trust me when I tell you that I will take the socks and the pants and the unmentionables out of the story that I’m listening to or reading and I will put them in the appropriate drawer, filed them away until I need them to enhance a different outfit.

Let’s just be direct with our questions without wrapping them up in a Gucci bag or even a mere duffel. I really hope, but think if I’m looking at this word’s recent bump in use, that it’s probably way too late – it’s not like I’m in the vanguard of epistemological surveillance – that we can curb this frequent use of the word.

There, rant over. Unpacked and put away.






SDA Rodeo

Today marked the start for our new class of freshman at USC School of Dramatic Arts. Sergio Ramirez, Director of Academic Services, along with Admissions Counselor Ramón Valdez, planned an extravagant theme, which Marissa Gonzalez, Director of Special Events executed with her usual panache. The theme, SDA Rodeo.

I’ll admit, I groaned audibly when Marissa told me I would have to wear something appropriately festive for the lunch. All my cowboy boots (remember the 80s?) are long gone, and the only jeans I own are more Mom jeans than Dude ranch. Marissa confessed that I was not the only one who complained. But once we arrived, given the opportunity to humiliate ourselves with silly costumes, we embraced the moment.

The apron of the Bing stage was garnished with two stacks of rodeo-themed props downstage left and right.  The ubiquitous crates which multiply in the Shrine basement when we aren’t looking were stacked up artfully, a homey picture frame chalked with Welcome SDA! sitting atop another pile of barrels and other Rodeo-themed props near the podium.

Marissa instructed us to enter through the lobby, where we passed the new students checking in at the box office window, then gathering in effervescent groups just inside the door. You remember what it was like those first few days of college? Where everyone you met held the promise of being your next best friend? When you were terrified of not knowing anyone, and worried about seeming unsophisticated, or clumsy, or unfashionable? Or all three? When you weren’t sure who you would go to lunch with? The angst! The butterflies in the stomach!

Dean Bridel talks with Christopher Shaw and Dan Fishbach

What could be more brilliant than to give everyone goofy costume pieces so we all looked clumsy, unsophisticated and unfashionable? And then feed us lunch together? Two problems solved! Ramón thrust a large rectangular frame toward me, and I took it, fitting my face inside and smiling broadly. He snapped a picture. Then I turned the frame around, read “Wanted” across the top, and made him take another less animated photo. I wandered over to see what goofy costume piece I could try. I grabbed a red bandana, tying it to my Mom jean belt loop, then added a silly paper cowboy vest. Dan Fishbach wandered by, a teeny cardboard cowboy hat perched jauntily on his head. His hat was dwarfed by Sheriff Bridel’s massive headgear.

Dean Bridel welcomes Stand-Up Comedy Instructor Jude Shelton

The faculty and staff greeted each other warmly with hugs, taking private moments to acknowledge our shared loss of colleague Paul Backer. But this was not the time for grieving. We entered the Bing, the students were herded into the center, the faculty and staff corralled off in the back forty (okay, it was house right).

We have several new faculty this semester. Christopher Shaw, above, will direct George F. Walker’s play, Escape From Happiness;  director VP Boyle (below)  is directing Side Show, book and lyrics by Sam Russell, music by Henry Krieger. VP was rocking a terrific hat today. Later I saw him talking with students at lunch, who were leaning in to hear his thoughts.

VP Boyle, director Side Show

After a slide show of photos and captions sent in by the incoming students and edited by Sergio and Ramón, and welcoming remarks by Dean Bridel, we lined up for delicious food, burgers and salad, roasted corn on the cob, and ice cream.

Paula L. Cizmar, author of the upcoming MFA Rep production of Antigone X and I hung out in the lunch line, this photo of Paula (looking rather skeptical) taken by Sara Fousekis. We then scattered to eat with the students at gingham cloth-covered tables, pulled up the antiqued white folding chairs like we were at the county fair. The students were having a ball, and by the time we got our food and joined them, they had bonded with each other so really had no use for us. FullSizeRender 10

At 1:30, the students all assembled on the steps of the Bing for their class picture and we wandered back to our offices to continue prepping for the start of the semester.

Time to buy your tickets for our upcoming shows! Click on this link and check out our season.

And Marissa, you threw a great party today! Thank you for making us all feel at home.