Old balls

•10 September 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on September 10, 2010.

As thousands of young college students flock back to the city, I’m reminded of how much of a jaded, old biddy I have become. Now, that’s not entirely true, but to a degree, I have mellowed in my post-college life. While I still keep ridiculous hours and enjoy a foolish adventure every now and again, I’ve also come to enjoy quiet evenings at home with my roommates. I rarely go to bars any more as I much prefer picking up a bottle of wine on my way home. Partly out of cost and partly out of preference, my avoidance of night spots further contributes to my sometimes-elderly disposition.

Two weeks ago, my friend James returned from his summer vacation in San Diego to begin his sophomore year at NYU. After a week of living on our couch in Astoria, James moved into his dorm, along with 800 other students. On Sunday, I took advantage of some free time to drop in and see how James was settling into his new digs. After a cramped elevator ride up to the tenth floor, I was transported back to my freshman year. The smell of cheap rum and cheaper tequila filled the halls that Saturday evening as screams and laughs came from behind one door and the acrid smell of foreign cooking came from behind another. As we sat and chatted in James’ overpriced, cramped suite-style dorm, friends and roommates came and went in a loud, excited frenzy as the production of going out came into full swing. Pre-gaming was well underway in one room, while someone in another room with a fake I.D. was collecting money for a booze run. All this was well and good, and reminded me of my adventures in Pierson Hall, but after over a year away from the college lifestyle, I was quickly overwhelmed by these young kids’ enthusiasm and volume.

Now, I’m not the only one to share this mindset.  Recently my roommates and I went through the process of finding a sub-letter for a room in our apartment. We posted our ad on Craigslist and waited for the emails to come in. After two long days of interviews, we all congregated in Haley’s room over drinks and hashed out the pros and cons of each “contestant” landing on a video editor from Georgia. The ultimate factor leading to our decision was the chill and easygoing mindset of Dan, the potential sublet. There were a few other candidates who would’ve fit in nicely in our Midwestern-infused mansion, but Dan’s mild disposition promised a month of drama-free, casual cohabitation.

As we all became acquainted during the first nights together, Dan recalled his experience of checking out possible apartments. Turns out there are some really crazy people out there. Dan explained how one group of people sat on one couch and interviewed him from across the room where he sat alone. As he began to answer, they would all furiously write on their clipboards. After a few questions, they quickly showed him the room and then said they’d be in touch. Turns out they didn’t stay in touch and rented the room to someone else. Thus we received Dan into our home. He explained how he appreciated the relaxed and cozy atmosphere of our house and how informal and chill our interview was. He also emphasized that it was about half the price of nearly everything else.

With Dan moved into his room for the next 22 days, we’re all adjusting to a new norm at Bilquis Mansion. Though the next three weeks will go quickly, I look forward to a more serene environment at home.  By keeping life calm and mostly ordinary, I can focus on each day’s blessings and trivialities without getting stressed about my starving artist lifestyle. Though I lack the energy or desire to drink until the sun comes up or participate in beer pong tournaments anymore, I can safely say that I enjoy this new relaxed lifestyle. I’m sure partying like freshmen will be in my future again someday, but until I recover from that Rep reunion, I think I’ll settle for laundry and video games.

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Celebrating theatre

•19 August 2010 • 1 Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on August 19, 2010.

After four solid days of nonstop fun and foolishness, the Prairie Repertory Theatre‘s 40th season reunion came to a brilliant finish. The weekend, organized by Joshua Westwick and Allison Weiland, brought together alumni who participated in Prairie Rep since its humble beginnings at Prairie Village in 1971. Through three days of beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres and more wine, alumni shared in storytelling, reminiscing and reigniting friendships from seasons past.

The first night featured a packed reception to welcome alumni from across the country. After an hour of schmoozing, drinking and eating as much cheese as possible, everyone was ushered into the Concert Hall where we enjoyed highlights from the past 40 years’ seasons. With multiple selections from each decade, the performance wore on late into the night, but no one was disappointed. It was a treat to see people perform selections they hadn’t done for 30 years. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into putting on such an incredible performance, but Ray Peterson did a magnificent job of organizing the evening and representing each of the four decades of PRT.

Following the performance, most of the alumni journeyed across campus to the Tompkins Alumni Center to share more stories and reminisce. After a few more drinks and a couple of stories, I made my way downtown to Jim’s Tap and Skinner’s, where I relived some of my college days by sitting out on the patio and over-imbibing Stella Artois. As I whiled away the early morning hours catching up with old friends, the alumni from the ’80s and ’90s were doing the same back at Tompkins until 5 a.m.

The next morning I awoke at 8:30 a.m. with an hour of sleep under my belt and the world still slightly off-kilter. As I walked to the Performing Arts Center with my aviators shielding the morning sun, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what the day would bring. Upon entering the lobby, I was greeted with half-enthusiastic smiles from the hungover faces of over 100 alumni who had spent the previous evening reliving their summer nights of Rep seasons past. After we loaded up three buses, we began our caravan through the SDSU campus toward Prairie Village in Madison. During our journey, various alumni came to the front of the bus to recall stories of foolish accidents and entertaining mishaps from their time at PRT. As the buses rolled onto the gravel roads of Prairie Village and I disembarked into the summer heat, the boozy haze lifted over my eyes and I took in the sights. Walking through the old opera house was both eye-opening and somewhat terrifying. For over 10 years, performers endured the terrible heat and otherwise unsafe conditions of performing in that rickety old playhouse.

As the day wore on, we moved from Prairie Village to the Dakota Prairie Playhouse situated on the Dakota State University campus where Prairie Repertory Theatre also performed through the 2005 season. It had been five years since I had performed at the DPP, so it was fun to return to the space where I once pretended to be a cowboy and a dancing hippo. Following some witty conversations about the viability of producing theatre in that venue, we all jumped back onto the buses, cracked open some beers, and told more stories on the way down to Brandon where lunch awaited us.

After we gorged ourselves on fried chicken, caught a performance of PRT’s “Leaving Iowa” and rode the bus back to Brookings, it was time for the final evening of the alumni celebrations. When the evening began, I couldn’t help but be sad that the event I had spent all month looking forward to was about to wrap-up its final night. Dr. Johnson launched into a great speech about the history of Prairie Rep and its ability to bring people together to create not only a show, but to form a family. Later, Doctor J. brought a quiet to the crowd when his mention of friends gone by struck a chord in each of our hearts. In his authoritative professor voice, he reminded us all that it shouldn’t take a 40-year-reunion to reignite the friendships we formed in our years of PRT. Slightly admonished, we made commitments to see each other more often.

It was with that idea that we all went into the final night of celebrations. Against the protests of our livers, we all engaged in one more night of revelry. After the wine and beer was gone at The Shamrock, we moved to Skinner’s patio where the celebrations culminated in broken glasses, spilt beer, tears and an after party of epic proportions.

Despite the next day’s hangover, the four days of celebration were well worth any suffering. Never before have I seen a group of people so excited just to be together. Through all the laughs and tears that everyone shared over the reunion, the one unifying thread that brought people together from across the country is the love of and passion for the theatre.

Growing up

•15 July 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on July 15, 2010.

From the glitz and glamor of the Tony Awards to the sweaty, grimy work of hauling props across New Jersey, life in New York City is anything but monotonous. With a new job at The Broadway Concierge and Ticket Center and rehearsals of Euripides’ “Alcestis,” my next stage management gig, every day is filled with foreign tourists “…wanting to see the Broadway” and actors chanting in iambic. Though life remains as crazy as ever, I find that every day brings its own joys and forms of entertainment.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the Tonys, and it was easy to stay entertained. While the performers were on stage or Sean Hayes was cracking jokes, the laughs and excitement came easily. However, the real fun came during the commercial breaks while I watched celebrities interact with each other. As chance would have it, I enjoyed the pleasure of sitting next to Jonathan Groff during the majority of the evening, and to my delight, he welcomed conversation. We enjoyed casual chats about the Tonys, performing on Broadway and the joys of stage management.

Following the conclusion of the event, I made use of my new companion’s notoriety and followed closely in his and Lea Michelle’s wake until Angela Lansbury parted the seas and made her exit. It wasn’t until I left Radio City Music Hall and was sitting in the cab that I realized the full magnitude of the evening I had just experienced. After less than one year of living in New York, I sat in the second row at the Tony Awards amidst a slew of celebrities. From the comforts of rural Brookings to the daily insanities of city life, the journey over these past ten months has been filled with constant surprises.

Now, as summer wears on and friends take vacation in the city, I can’t help but feel a little older. Recently, my dear friend Ashley came for her first visit to NYC. Though she and I have spent years going on various adventures across the Midwest, nothing compares to stumbling around half-drunk through The Bronx at 2 a.m. While she visited, we enjoyed our usual routines of playing Uno and jamming out on Rockband, but when the time came for her to leave, it wasn’t the same as goodbyes in the past. Instead of knowing that we’d be reunited over the holidays, the future is a little more uncertain now.

As a New York City resident, I no longer have the luxury of traveling home for frequent visits. Conversely, as friends move away to start families, pursue careers or continue education, there are fewer people to see when I return to the rolling plains. Now, each farewell carries a tone of uncertainty with it as I part with my friends for what could be a very long time. Though the big Christmas holiday is still a reason for people to come together, time and distance will undoubtedly prevent some friends from returning to South Dakota.

However, with renewed vigor, I look forward to a journey back to the Midwest. Though there are going to be loads of friends for me to see and plenty of hugs to receive from my family, there will be some faces missing from the crowd. Despite the sorrow of not seeing old friends and family, I know that this branching out of my peers is a good thing. It means that other people are out there, working to pursue their dreams and bring a little bit of their experiences back to the Midwest.

The show is over

•23 April 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on April 23, 2010.

After a month of rehearsals and three weeks of performances, the time has come to at last close “Hell and High Water” and put the show to bed.

No one ever really looks forward to strike. Hours of taking down lights, disassembling set pieces and cleaning dressing rooms may seem like fun to crazed technical directors, but to me it’s more than just another day at the theatre.

In college, strikes were just something to get through as quickly as possible. We made the time fly by watching freshman wander around or by plotting with Doug to sneak up and slap Meg. The hours passed quickly and soon we were thick in celebrations. We all congratulated each other on a successful show and shared our hopes for the coming production.

But this show is different. We worked through the rigors of any world premiere, and we worked through them together. Two years ago I went through a similar experience while stage managing the premiere of “Group” back at good ol’ South Dakota State University. During both that production and “Hell and High Water,” the cast and crew endured endless pages of script rewrites and a more-than-stressful tech process. Similarly, we also shared a bond of trust and reliance.

Through the challenging experience of mounting these constantly evolving works, we formed an incredible connection. The actors depended on my skills as a stage manager to make ensure a tight and easily flowing production, while I relied on them to accept the many changes and technical challenges we ran into along the way. With that mutual dependence in place, we solidified our bond and charged forward armed with open minds and a positive attitude. That relationship continued to hold strong and benefit us though our lengthy run, and in the end we achieved what we set out to do.

In “Hell and High Water” we relied on each other to maintain not only the production, but also each other. The story of the play is an emotional investment and incredibly daunting journey. It would have been easy to fall into the despair that so many people experienced during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Instead, the friendship between company members kept the mood light and our spirits high.

However, all good things must come to an end. That is the worst part about strike night. Sure, change is good, and moving from one project to the next is part of the business. Regardless, saying goodbye is never easy. With this show, we had a pleasant evening of story swapping, delicious food and egregious toasts. We delighted in our journey together and exchanged plans for the future. When the night finally did come to an end, bidding farewell was a production in itself. We all slowly meandered toward the exit and after a gauntlet of loving hugs and warm embraces made our ways into the world along separate paths.

Though we are no longer together as a group, I still feel a strong connection to the rest of the company. And who knows, with the incredibly small world of professional theatre, it is likely that I’ll have the pleasure of working with those incredible people again.

Keeping the show running

•13 April 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on April 13, 2010.

There comes a time when every stage manager wonders, “How the hell is this show ever going to come together?”

Those and more colorful words ran through my head for the four days we spent teching “Hell and High Water Or Lessons for When the Sky Falls.” Short of the set burning down, every possible problem that could occur most certainly did. Tensions were high, sound cues were missing and our fearless director was on the verge of breaking down, but through it all, I sat there trying to stay calm and keep the actors from staging a mutiny instead of a play.

For those outside the realm of theatre, the stage manager is essentially the most important person in the show. OK, so maybe that’s slightly exaggerated — but only slightly. As a stage manager, my function is to ensure that all of the action of the stage is tracked by taking down blocking and communicating with designers during rehearsal. In tech, it’s my duty to coordinate the sound, lights and video projections to ensure seamless transitions throughout the show. Most importantly, every stage manager takes a silent oath to make sure that everyone stays happy.

This is by far the hardest part of my job. Though I posses an uncanny ability to get along with most anyone (Tea Party members excluded), keeping a cast of nine incredibly talented and slightly egocentric actors happy is no small task. One benefit of working with professionals is that they all know how to play nicely, for the most part. However, though the stresses of 11 pages of rewrites and four hours of extraordinarily slow cue-to-cues, tensions start to mount and nerves fray to the point where whispering the wrong way could set off a chain reaction of swollen egos exploding and splattering the walls with bits of brilliance and grandeur.

There are three ways of preventing this terrible disaster from occurring. The first is to maintain a positive attitude. Even though 15 hours of work in a hot theater with stage lights glaring sounds like loads of fun, it isn’t. As hours wear on and obstacles arise, people start to get testy. While crewmembers snap at each other when things go awry, it’s my job to calm down the party in question and reassure them that the show will come together — even if I have doubts about it myself.

The next method of keeping everyone pleased is to facilitate effective communication. It’s true that the majority of problems between people are at the fault of a simple miscommunication. With directions coming from a number of sources, it’s easy for actors and/or designers to become confused as to who and what is right. With so many people in and out of the theater and instructions being shouted from the booth, it’s not always easy for people to understand which action should be taken. The simplest way of preventing this communication breakdown is to deliver all messages through the stage manager, which I always try to do with the most positive demeanor.

Lastly, in the event of imminent disaster, tell the actors what they need to hear. Now this is tricky territory to walk. Actors frequently have complaints or issues that they need to voice, and as a stage manager, it falls to me to be their sounding board. Sometimes, they just have a simple question like, “Where’s my costume?” To which I simply have respond by pointing at the clothes rack five feet from them and the problem is solved. At other times, more pertinent and severe issues arise, such as problems with other actors or pubic lice infestations for which there is no easy response. Nonetheless, I have found that by bending the truth (only slightly) and promising to take action, that most actors will leave the problem in my capable hands and go on their merry way.

Though it may seem wrong to fib to someone else, this isn’t necessarily the case with actors. Sometimes they just need a little nudge in the right direction, a reassuring hug or a blunt note to get them motivated into the proper course of action. However, when all is said and done, as long as the cast, crew and director are happy, any production is bound to succeed. Thankfully, I have had the honor and privilege of working with some of the kindest and most incredibly talented people on this production, and this is one show I won’t soon forget.

Spring in the city

•13 March 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on March 13, 2010.

After a two-week hiatus from the theatre, I am back behind the table working on the production of Glass House as the stage manager. Though I enjoyed some quieter evenings with my friends and roommates and a couple of nights at the theatre, I’m glad to be involved with another project. Without something to do during the evenings, life quickly becomes stagnant and monotonous.

Despite the countless adventures I go on during my off hours, nothing compares to the fun and hard work of mounting a production. Though there are days when I want to stay in my bed and avoid going anywhere, I know that through all the difficulties, I couldn’t be happier. After all, I’m working in my field in a career that I enjoy. A year ago, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at South Dakota State University and preparing to work all summer in anticipation of my ultimate move. Now, I’m enjoying a night off before I go back to the theatre where I’m still stumbling to get the show running smoothly. After being quickly promoted to stage manager in the midst of tech, I’m scrambling to accept my battlefield promotion and call the show while dodging the bullets of missed cues and late entrances. Thankfully I have a supportive production crew to call on for backup should the need arise.

With friends graduating around the country as summer begins to creep across our nation, I’m amazed that I’ve already been out of school for a year. I can recall rushing to finish those last minute projects while planning my farewell to Brookings. Upon reflection, there are aspects of my life back at dear, old SDSU I long for. Late nights at Jim’s Tap and early mornings at the Performing Arts Center on campus have been replaced by 3 a.m. subway rides home and 15-hour days at the theatre.

I guess not much has changed. Instead of avoiding course work, immersing myself in school functions and spending countless hours at Doner Auditorium, my days are filled with work, rehearsal and seeing shows. There are still nights I stay out too late and mornings when I get up too early. Coffee remains a habitual need and I sometimes have more fun than I should. Despite the year that’s passed and the thousand-or-so miles I’ve traveled from home, these old habits seem to have stuck. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now as a new class embarks on its journey into the unknown of adult life, I can’t help but feel at least a little proud of the work I’ve done since I walked down the aisle at graduation, packed my diploma in a box and skipped town. In half a year, I’ve managed to get my life together enough to enjoy a great job, make some awesome friends and find a theatre family.  Though it seems easy, there have been moments when I questioned my decision to drop everything and move away. But through those moments I always enjoyed the encouragement of my family here and in the Midwest.

As spring wears on, and summer (hopefully) comes out of hiding, I look forward to another year of life in the real world. With two busy weeks looming in the forecast, I feel a sense of dread at the lack of sleep I’m about to endure. But, despite all the craziness and heaps of stress, I still have an insatiable desire to continue on the great adventure of life in the big city and see what’s just over the horizon.

Life: One year ago

•11 March 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on March 11, 2010.

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to the Bronx to hang out with some friends at the end of a busy workweek. After a few drinks, a tasty burrito and an hour of figure skate dancing, I began the pleasant journey home. Following a quick train ride to 125th and Lex, I emerged to the street and headed for the bus stop. Through my journey down the icy sidewalks, my eyes continually surveyed the surroundings. Often times I find myself easily distracted by the skylines and sights of the part of town I’m in.

While I stood patiently waiting the 25 minutes for the M60 to arrive, I couldn’t help but have this overwhelming feeling that made my head start to spin.

“Holy shit. I live here.” The constant sound of the Raymond’s Room sign smashing in to the metal security grate as it thrashed around in the howling wind over and over again provided a strange soundtrack as I drifted away in thought. It was strange standing there in Harlem thinking about where I was one year ago.

In the thick of performances for “Blood Brothers” (a musical that I was in at South Dakota State University), my mind was torn between a thousand things including classes, graduation and planning a move to New York City. It was around this time, a year ago, that I finally set a date to move. That was the moment I henceforth committed to moving out east in pursuit of my dreams. Though I was securely and comfortably enjoying my senior year of college, my life had a new purpose and every action was dedicated to the impending move to The Big Apple.

Thinking back now, I am amazed at how much has changed in the span of a year. Instead of enduring last March’s 30 days below freezing in Brookings, I have enjoyed New York’s mere 14. OK, so that isn’t that much better, but at least I didn’t have to worry about skipping class in the Brookings tundra. Instead of the worries about midterms on my mind, my most stressful moment of the day is getting on the N Train in time for work.

Now as old college friends journey to the city for spring break, I am reminded of how much time has gone by outside of my life. As many of my friends have commented on frequently, an astounding number of classmates are planning weddings, having children and moving along in their adult lives. With shared stories and comical reminiscing, we enjoy a few short hours of time and then part ways left wondering when our paths will cross again.

It is this aspect of adulthood I am least fond of. There are so many wonderful people that I would love to sit down with and resume our casual dalliances without a single worry.

However, reality must continue. Instead of mustering the energy to leave my bed and go to class, I now focus on keeping caffeinated enough to get through work and rehearsal. With rehearsal reports, prop shopping and a conference to prepare for, I have to feel proud.

I set out to accomplish a dream by working in my field, and by George, I’m doin’ it.