What is Heaven but the Here and Now?

Yesterday, I reaped the benefits of AI as my photo albums coalesced into one giant photo album celebrating all of our summer trips to Chatham, Mass. The timing made sense, being about a month from the date when we usually headed out there. Our annual pilgrimage to Chatham was a usually routine, non-stop flight to Boston, quick overnight in Somerville with Liam and Elliott and now dearly-departed Rex. Early morning departure after a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for sustenance in the form of chocolate donuts and coffee, wending our way down to the Cape, sandy berms rolling by, avoiding most of the stand-still traffic that would have clogged our way by our early departure. We had several lovely cottage rentals over the years, visiting with Jimmie’s sister Kate and many other family who stopped in to take advantage of our extra bedrooms. We’d spend about two weeks there, and this morning’s photo and video montage provided a refresher course in the rituals in which we partook. Fried clams, sitting outside in the Adirondack chairs to feel the cooling evenings filled with familiar crickets, and winking fireflies as the light became dark and our shoulders lowered by many degrees of relaxation.

This morning’s video was shot in just such a moment, cub reporter interviewing distinguished actor after our first seasonal sampling of fried clams- said distinguished actor hamming it up, (only ever seen in my videos, by the way – he was the epitome of professionalism on others’ cameras) recounting the moments with an almost sexual satiation. You can hear me giggling as I record. Then comes the aha moment.

Cub: How’s your first day at the Cape been?
Actor: I think I’m in heaven.

Cub: It’s pretty nice isn’t it?
(Beat) Actor: I think if I had my choice of what heaven should be like, it would be Chatham. (shaking his head) Just marvelous. I’m at peace.

Cub: Yay.

Aside from suddenly rocking me to attention, rousing my napping grief into a bolt upright position, covers off, the video was a bittersweet reminder of perhaps the most important thing we should all know. Life is meant to be enjoyed, savored, made special and ultimately memorable during those inconspicuous moments of friendship and quietude. What I learned from spending long years with Jimmie is probably obvious to anyone over 60. Age forces you to slow down, settle, take those moments for what they can be. It allows you to take stock of all of your blessings, and to work through the other mental detritus, old resentments, regrets, sadnesses. Hopefully the blessings work outweighs the other, though both are important to process as we live.

From one of our impromptu Chatham reunions.

This year, in the middle of June, our usual departure time for Chatham, I am instead heading for two weeks to my favorite place on earth, Italy. Invited to share a summer farmhouse experience in Umbria by my high school theatre mentor and his wife, I will first fly to Rome, then train to their oasis in Umbria. After my stay with them, which I am anticipating like a puppy in front of a puddle, I’m taking the train to Venice, for four days there. I spent the year after college living in Venice, and have always wanted to return. The brilliance of this return is that two of my friends from 1982-83 are still in the area and I’ll be staying with them while there. I’ve been brushing up on my Venice by reading the wonderful book by Jan Morris.

I’ve been avidly reading the New York Times in recent weeks about the Venice Biennale, which will be taking place while I’m there, staking out the pavillions that I intend to see. I just purchased my “Plus” tickets because if one day at the Biennale is fantastic, wouldn’t three be even better?

I keep receiving pointed instructions from the Universe….

I had dinner with a friend, this week, who, at 94, is slowing down, but whose heart and mind are filled with the loyalties and memories of one who has worked tirelessly in his art, for those who both appreciated and early on, reviled his efforts. Our conversation, stilted as hearing loss mandates, ricocheted from my telling him about my upcoming trip to troublesome memories of his last trip to Italy. But the important thing was that we were there, breaking bread, basking in our mutual respect for my recently departed husband, and of each other. I watched his tender appreciation of his caring assistant, Joyce, who has become his bridge to the world, repeating what I said with patience and affection so that he could hear.

Today the rain sheets down outside my window, a surprising development for Los Angeles. Always welcome to our parched corner of the country, rain makes me want to cuddle up with a blanket on the chaise, but today’s events will beckon me out into the mists instead. Last night I pulled my balcony chairs back to the window so they wouldn’t get wet but can see the rain moving sideways across the dark expanse of the parking garage across the way. The sound of the traffic sluicing through the water eleven stories down cues me to get up and warm my tea at the stove, cozy in my urban aerie and thinking about my new definition of Heaven.

Happy Mother’s Day

Twenty two years after losing my Mom to cancer, she remains a powerful force in my life and in my actions as an adult woman and mother.

From happy times at the opening party for La Bete on Broadway in NYC 1991. L. to R. Me, Mom, my brother Don, and Jimmie, our reason for being there

I was struck this Mother’s Day morning as I texted feverishly with son Chris, he in Las Vegas at a Hockey Player Development event, me surrounded by my newspapers at the dining room table. What makes us mothers is a complicated algorithm of events, choices, mistakes and fortuitous synchronicities that have very little to do with our abilities as parents.

There’s nothing more uplifting for a mother than hearing/reading the excitement in her child’s words about something that is going well. Chris’ hockey went well this weekend as he attended with many of his players, the USA Hockey Pacific District Player Development event in Las Vegas. His hard work in skills development and player development over the last four years as an assistant coach shone in his players and their ability to be recruited to the next levels of the game. As one of his moms, I can claim responsibility for starting him on the path to hockey. But it was he who first expressed interest, his five-year-old face pressed up to the base of the glass at Iceland in Van Nuys, a tiny rink run by Russian players, his breath steaming the plastic, as he watched, his mouth agape, as the five-year-old Mini-Mites skated as fast as they could, flinging themselves down onto their bellies before pulling themselves up to continue skating.

I wanna do that!

Without rehashing the hockey history, suffice it to say that as a parent, we need to listen for our cues. I had a long chat with some of my colleagues recently about the difficulties of doing just that.

In light of the recent college admission scandals, which I managed to avoid as a parent by A) not having the funds or moral ineptitude to invest in such chicanery, and B) by listening to the cues about where Chris should be or not be at that time in his life, I’m feeling quite pleased with how he’s evolved. His path was not explicitly academic, though I suspect he will never give up the love of teaching that he brings to his hockey endeavors.

The hardest thing about parenting well is that our children are their own, unique individuals, and often quite different from us. It’s so tempting to try to mold them into little mini-mes, but that can be like trying to shove a round peg into a square hole and serves nothing but friction in the doing. I can attest to that.

My parents succeeded with my two brothers and me by:

  1. Instilling a strong work ethic – our Dad after working long hours during the week, on the weekends had us plant the entire back yard per a horticultural ground plan that would have made Frederick Law Olmstead proud.
  2. Grounding in us an appreciation of family and family bonds through Sunday dinners with our grandparents who were local, and long trips to Wilkes-Barre to spend time with the non-local grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
  3. Developing a love and appreciation of the Arts. Believe me when I tell you that I didn’t ever want to go to a museum, nor would I have done so willingly, but because we were tromped off to various arts institutions by Mom, I became so imbued in them that I eventually became an art history major in college, and a theatre practitioner for the rest of my life.
  4. Training us in the prudent use of our resources and generosity to one’s children and others. As a young adult, I watched mom pay her bills each month, knowing that she was being stretched by expenses on her journalist’s salary. Still she managed to send me $100 every month for years, beginning with the year I spent in Italy, and continuing even after I was married and we were financially secure.
  5. Providing us the models of physical exercise and mental stimulation. I remember as a child at the public tennis courts watching our parents play tennis, and later, learning the game ourselves. We swam, ran and generally exercised. Of course, we were fortunate not to be digital natives, so had to keep our minds and bodies active.
  6. Telling us that we could do anything we set our minds to doing. This was an extremely powerful message for a young girl in the 1960s. Not only did they say it, but they backed it up by supporting my education at top notch schools that fortified that message.
  7. Finally, they reveled in our successes, and listened, but didn’t coddle us when we failed. This last one I may have taken too far with Chris but when I see him parenting his three-year-old, I think he’s on the right track. She’s a tough little girl, and fearless, as comfortable on the ice in her hockey gear as she is in her tutu, while coloring at the table.

Those are just a few of the things that Moms and Dads do for their children. So thank you! Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

The Grieving – Aqua Alta, the 14 Coast Starlight Express and Mixed Metaphors

The days are jumbled together, with continual kindness the watchword. During the first week back at work I started slowly, spending the bulk of the first day entering petty cash receipts and doing equally unmindful tasks, trying to remain mindful. 

It’s a treacherous thing to wade back into the world after such a major loss.

Side note/Metaphor alert- I lived in Venice, Italy for a year after college, and in the winter during Aqua Alta (high water)  we denizens of Venice would put on our hip wader boots, and go to market, walking the boardwalks through the public squares (campi)  throughout Venice. Like the dance of the umbrellas through the narrow streets (calle) of Venice, one learned how to navigate so that you could pass people on the boards without plunging up to your waist in the water on one side or the other of the boardwalks. It was how you made your way to the necessary daily events amidst the extraordinary and haunting hassle of this flood of a magical city.

The first week back to work, donuts aside, felt a little like I was navigating the Venetian boards. I’m aware, and not in a critical way, because I get it, that some people are only able to walk by and salute you for being “on the boards”, while others will stop and fully acknowledge the depth of the waters all around you. My students, for the most part, were in the first camp. I knew they were glad to see me, but were unable to speak of what for them was the unspeakable. There were, of course, exceptions.

Perhaps they were being kind and not wanting to see me lose it, or perhaps they didn’t want to/couldn’t think about the lapping waters of death around their feet and the flimsy supports that keep us all out of the depths of despair and loss.  Okay, I’ll curb the metaphor before we all have to don our waders. It was just interesting to observe it happening. And yes, I did lose it several times during the week when someone acknowledged the depth of the waters around us.

But remember the words of my wise widow friends – you are either in the boat, or under the boat. Either way, you are where you are and you can’t resist or the flood of grief will last longer.

I remember coming away from years of sessions with my psychologist after losing my mom, knowing that words are words, feelings are really just feelings and they ultimately won’t kill you unless you overreact to their emotional impact. (Forgive my privilege as I recognize I’m likely shortchanging serious sufferers of the power of those emotions). 

What’s been lovely were the social events that happened this week, my dinner with Lynn and Christina, where we laughed and ate healthy food, then walked to the roof of Lynn’s building to survey the sights (see top image) and make silly faces. I only wish I’d captured Christina’s response to the stairwell…. 

Trust me, the silly faces were cute but I don’t want to risk being killed by my friends for sharing them here.

I made it through the week, facing with dread Jimmie’s birthday, which fell mercifully, on a Saturday. I knew I’d be a basket case anyway, so chose that day to clear the closets. 

There are those of you who probably think I must be cold or unemotional to remove his clothing so quickly, but actually I find myself gasping for space, for breath, for liberty from stuff. Stuff is stuff, it’s not Jimmie. This was his special birthday horoscope yesterday. I made chocolate cake in a cup to celebrate. I knew better than to make a full sized chocolate cake and have that lying around but it felt important to honor his favorite dessert.

Spooky, right?

My widow pal Jennifer, thoughtfully invited me to dinner at her house on Jimmie’s birthday, which she knew would be a tough day. It was so lovely to be in safe hands where our shared experiences sustained us both. 

When you go from caring for someone 24/7 the trap is to fill the 24/7 hours with activities. I did a bang up job last week doing that. I can see from my calendar that I’ve done the same for the coming weeks. I’m showing up. I call myself, affectionately, “Spectral Els” because I have a short attention span, a goofy good humor which is filo dough thin and can erupt into sobs at the least provocation. Consider yourself warned.

At the advice of my friend Tina, I’ve booked a train ticket to Seattle to join Chris and Whitney at Christmas.  A sleeper car and 33 hours to contemplate life as a soloist. Occasional people are starting to ask about what I’m thinking about the future.  I’m still treading the boards over the Aqua Alta, and that answer is way ahead when things start drying up. But I sincerely thank you for caring and for not being afraid to ask.

I Remember

I remember the feel of your cool hand in mine

My palm outstretched, belly up, submissive to your eager fingers entwining.

Our fingers have aged, yours, papery, spotted vellum, fitting in the padded comfort of my now-pruning palm.

Your reprobate trigger index, for whom we drove to Woodland Hills to try to coax back into submission

Ingrate!

Hot wax treatments and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing that rubber ball

Those four weeks were like a road trip

We chatted with the ease of good old friends and sat in cozy silence when the bumpers greeted us fore and aft

The scratched white gold twinkling with a tiny diamond at it’s apex

The ring that replaced your original band after twenty-five years of marriage

Not the original, though-

That you’d lost while floating in the shallows of the Dead Sea during a trip to Israel we’d dubbed our honeymoon

Had we been able to see that day through the salty abyss, we’d not have been able to plunge into her depths, so resistant were her Dead waters

How the salt stung against our skin

We’d laughed at the irony of losing one’s brand new wedding band in the Dead Sea

And here, now thirty-three years later, I remember the feel of your hot hand in mine when we dashed up the beach to the showers

I remember, because it was only last night when our hands cradled each other’s.

I remember the feel of your cool hand in mine

As we drift to sleep each night in our bed

And then, pulling our hands apart and rolling to our sides, our backs turn to kiss each other as we slip away to sleep

These are the memories that visit my brain

These are the memories I take care to preserve lest there be a day when your cool hand no longer rests in mine

Ninja Grief

Chris, Jimmie and Els at CPK 10/4/18

At the risk of sounding like a wannabe social media influencer, I wanna talk about my new juicer. I’ve thrown out the box, an uncharacteristic sloughing off where I’m usually way more conservative, so all I can tell you is that the juicer base, emblazoned with Ninja sits on my counter, poised to pulverize the fresh fruits and vegetables which now clutter my kitchen counter and fridge.

This morning, home from the gym, I mashed a blackening banana, one kiwi, a spear of pineapple and some orange juice into a thick, sweet,  pap of a drink.

An apt metaphor for the treacly aftermath of my husband’s passing. One part blackening remorse, one huge hairy globule of gratitude ripe for the peeling, three parts fear of forgetting and a dash of anxiety about the future all swirled together by a jolt of the crushing blades of fate. Not as sweetas my morning shake, but tasty nevertheless.

In the days following his death, time has been flaccid, activities random. Chris and I spent the weekend on outings with his dog, Cupid. We walked blocks and blocks together  repeating to each other “this is so weird.” Our favorite new conversation was “Do you wanna do it? Do it.” There are currently no obligations to attend to, other than the logistics of contacting people, closing accounts, shifting furniture, shifting expectations. 

We rented metro bikes and rode to Little Tokyo to have sushi at Oomasa. Then we walked home, me cursing the fact that I’d left my fitbit at home charging. 

We stopped at a boutique on Broadway that’s art drew us from across the street, flaunting traffic. Gentle Monster sells high end arty sunglasses. I found myself imagining if I would buy a pair and shake things up. Chris danced in the window with one of the art installations.

I returned to the gym on Sunday and Monday, grateful for the inclusion in the workout routine of friends, who embraced me and in whose sweaty breathless company I was able to remember how to move my body, to feel the life force again in my own skin. The third day, I rose again from the bed… having worn Jimmie’s pajamas to bed the night before, and the pain of muscles reawakening in my mind echoed the pain Jimmie had been feeling before we went back to the hospital for the last time.

The outpouring of love and support has been unexpectedly moving, the threads cast from friends and associates of all three of us weaving together in a hammock of gentle surrender. 

 

Chris and Els having some Sushi Therapy

Having time to putter and reposition is a bonus. I remember when my Mom passed away, I undertook a complete repainting of the downstairs at my house. I was crazed with grief and it felt like I was cleaning away the sorrow. I think that is, to a certain extent, to be expected. With the help of the maintenance staff here at my condo, I’ve restored the guest bedroom from hospice suite to hospitality suite again and it feels good to put things in order.

One day at a time.

One foot in front of the other.

Open mind, open heart.

This too shall pass.

I think I’ll throw all the cliches in the blender and see what happens next. 

Receiving Gifts – I See You

The other day while checking my  mailbox at work, yes, the physical one in the reception area, I found a simple red envelope inscribed with my name. In a hurry (as I seem to be all the time these days), I shoved it into my purse and carried on with my day. Honestly, it may have been last Friday, or could have been Tuesday or Wednesday when I did that. On Sunday, I saw it sticking out of my purse, and I retrieved it, opening it to see the most unexpected paean to my humanity I’ve ever received.IMG_0900

I’ll spare the sender the embarrassment by excluding the signature, but those of you who work at the School of Dramatic Arts wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to know that the sender is someone who mirrors all that was ascribed to me in the love bomb.

Jimmie and I – we’ve been under fire for some time, love bombs falling with stray abandon all around us. Phone calls to check in, visits by friends foraging through Valley Traffic for hours to have extravagant hot dog and baked bean dinners and watch a little baseball. Most recently, a visit by our friends Tina and Michael with pie. Now we like us some chocolate cream pie just fine. For the record, it would have been any type of pie we wanted. I specified Claim Jumper Chocolate silk pie because I like it, and Jimmie, not remembering exactly what his favorite pie is, always does too.

It wasn’t just the pie, though. It was the laughs we had while sitting around our dining room table on Saturday night, catching up with good friends and appreciating their actions of support. And just having a good laugh.

One of my spin instructors, Brandon, always has us (at the end of his brutal 45 minutes of sweat and lather inducing cycling) lean over our monitors, towel covering the numbers, and extend our hands with open palms facing up so that we can receive the gifts that the day will bring us. I do it because I know how powerful those gifts I get are.

So, to steal my colleague’s phrase, I see you, all of you, who text and hug and cajole, and invite me to the fitbit challenges that keep me engaged. Your love bombs are so appreciated. Carry on!

 

 

 

W & M: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am soooooo glad you are home. I missed you so much. I’ll tell you why.
I don’t know who that woman was that you hired to come by to check on me but I can just tell you that she was Invasive (note the capital I). Every time I settled into an activity, she was at the door, kicking me out of the way to come in.

Sure, she changed my water and scooped out the litter but she was constantly interrupting me. One night I had a perfectly harmless poker game going on while we ate Russian food and drank some vodka and in she blasted, making me clean up the game and play with the boingy toy with feathers on the end instead. It was really irritating. M had to scurry out the living room window to get back down to her apartment before this Invasive woman went down to check on her. (I hope she made it).

Another time, she barged in and interrupted my reading. I was just reading an engrossing book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” with an eye to helping you guys out before you came home by cleaning up O’s toys (which really have taken over the place, don’t you think?)

 

M’s always after me to mount this campaign (She’s a bit of a neat-freak. She’s Felix to me, Oscar) and she pushed the book with her little paws all the way over to the elevator, then jumped up and hit the 2 with her nose, then pushed the book all the way down the hallway to our apartment. Then she jumped up and rang the bell with her paw (I heard her outside the door thumping up and down pretty actively for about 15 minutes, but waited it out until she connected with the doorbell before I opened the door and let her in because that’s what friends do for each other – they allow them to have their successes and failures). Anyway, I tugged on the string I’d put around the door handle and let her in and I had just made a cup of tea, and was settling in for a quiet read when I heard the key in the lock and that woman showed up again. GRRRRRRR! I was so mad.

Anyway, she eventually left, but not before I gave her a piece of my mind and a good chomp to the forearm. IMG_0472 2She looked pretty surprised and the next day when she showed up, she was way more tentative in her approach. I give her some credit for actually sitting down on the couch and letting me climb in her lap.IMG_0467 But she looked really scared all the while. I think I made my point. Not that I aspire to be a bully or anything, but you know, a girl likes her privacy every now and then to get things done around the house and to let her hair down.

Anyway, all this to say M and I are sooooooo glad you are home again. We hope you had a splendid time and I’m sure it was important whatever you had to do while you were gone, but next time, find someone a little less responsible so we can have some unguarded time alone, okay? In other words, can you find someone a little less Invasive?

Love, M & W

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.

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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.

IMG_7831
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