Wednesday, May 30

Riding the Dragon

Ahhhhh....I rode the dragon and survived. Tonight I had the pleasure of escorting 7 (!) young ladies from the JIFF program to dinner at the Hibachi Super Buffet. For those of you who haven't been to the HSB - it is a cornucopia of foods. There is Japanese, Chinese, sushi, salad, cold shrimp, mussels, seaweed salad, meatloaf, pizza, fried fish, little hot dogs wrapped in bacon, egg rolls, spring rolls, hot buttered rolls, mashed potatoes, fries, fruit, jello, a chocolate waterfall, cake, ice cream and cotton candy. And trust me, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There may have even been an iceberg.

I can't say it is a restaurant that I would go to if I had the choice...but for some reason it is a favorite destination of the girls in the JIFF program. We went last year and they each worked hard to save up enough chips to go back this year. long-suffering momma climbed in the big old church van with me and the excited group of young ladies for the great adventure tonight. After all - in order to stay within our Safe Sanctuary guidelines, there must always be two adults with a group. And it is safer for my sanity as well.

The group started off pretty subdued while we were driving across town - but little by little, the chatter grew as they talked about who had done what to who at school...and who liked who...and who wasn't talking to who... I had forgotten what junior high was all about! (although...since I was a complete nerd at that age...I'm not sure I knew who had done what to who, etc.)

When we arrived at the restaurant I reminded them that we would be minding our manners, would be polite to our server, and would take small portions of food that we weren't sure we would like so that we weren't wasteful. And I have to say, I was very pleased with them!

It is always interesting to see who is willing to try new foods and be adventuresome. One of the young ladies is pretty well versed in sushi and had several pieces without squealing, whimpering or flinching. Another one wanted to know about everything that I had on my plate (you KNOW I had to eat some sushi...but I generally stick to sushi nigiri at this place. The sushi maki always looks a little tired). There was a lot of fried stuff on everyone's plate - shrimp, chicken nuggets, etc. - but I was pleased to also see a lot of broccoli and other vegetables consumed. I even saw a couple of pieces of pizza being eaten (one of the LAST things I would consider eating there...).

After a couple of plates of dinner ("food food" as my brother would say) the girls each had a variety of dessert options. Several delicious looking cotton candy clouds came to the table (I never did get any...) and one girl had a strawberry about the size of my fist covered in chocolate!

Then the adventure eating began...through several dares, many items were sampled (some in very tiny bites). Things that I recall being tried were squid (pretty universally disliked...I'm not a big fan either), California roll (tolerated by most, enjoyed by two), raw white tuna (enjoyed by several!) and raw salmon (mixed reviews, which I totally understand. If you get a section with much connective can be kind of off-putting even for those of us who like it.). After that...things got kind of silly.

Did the girls have a good time? I truly believe that they did. Did Mom have a good time? I think so... Did I have a good time? Heck yes. It is a very chaotic experience. Sometimes I'm a little stunned by the topics of conversation (though I try hard not to show it...) and I do feel a need to tip the server VERY well (thank you were a paragon of patience and grace). But I have this wonderful series of memories of interaction with each girl.

I got to carry on a great conversation with one of the young ladies who may be moving away soon. She has family in NYC and may be living there for awhile. She has this incredibly generous spirit, laughs easily and will try just about anything. Another of the young ladies has this great curiosity about everything! She wanted to know what each item was in the California roll...wanted to know what part of the squid the piece was from (body). She is remarkably intelligent and I expect great things from her.

One of them had skipped lunch so that she would be plenty hungry for tonight. She tried a great variety of dishes and wasted very little space on silly things like dessert! I have always admired her independence. She does not follow the crowd - she is her own person and does not apologize for it. I like that. I would like to have been more like her when I was her age. I always wanted to fit in.

One of the girls is actually a graduate of the program who volunteers each week with the K-2 group (I refer to them as the ankle biters...). Since she works so hard each week I thought she would enjoy joining the group for dinner. She can be very quiet and thoughtful...once she warms up though...look out! She has an amazing smile that can always make me forget the troubles of my day. She loves to tease her friends about this boy or that boy...and doesn't get all moody when they tease her back! I have known her for years now. I'm very proud of the young woman that she is becoming.

The youngest of our outing tonight is not a shy person. You pretty much know where you stand with her at all times. That's not really a bad quality to have. I am not a fan of fake people - I'd rather have a frank discussion with someone that I disagree with than have someone tell me what they think I want to hear. She tried some of the "weird food" but if she didn't like knew it!

Another of the girls can come off as quiet...until you get to know her!! I have only known her for a couple of years, but I know for a fact that she is super smart. She asks good questions and retains most everything you ever tell her. Even though she didn't really want to even touch the squid...she did! I think she had a good time.

Which takes me to one of our ring leaders. I have probably known her as long as the girl who volunteers with JIFF. Sometimes she is an incredible challenge...probably because she and I are so much alike. We can see through the BS and aren't afraid to call people on it. She can be a little opinionated and sometimes a little loud (I'm a LOT opinionated and loud...she will probably catch up). But when she thinks nobody notices, she has a very sensitive side. I often tread lightly with her because I don't want to take the chance of damaging our tentative friendship.

Did I have a good time? Heck yes. I was out with 7 of my favorite people (8 if you count Mom) and we laughed and ate and laughed some more. And I will be ready to do it again - in about a year! Look out Ashley...we'll be back!!

Sunday, May 20


It has been a crazy journey these past few weeks. I can't believe that I have been away from theatre production for so long! I know that I was working with a pretty awesome group of people this time - but it made me think back over a lot of the productions that I have worked on...

I remember my very first show. Okay...I remember my VERY first was at Madison Heights Elementary School and it was an adaptation of a Dennis the Menace comic. In fact - I recall doing a lot of work on the adaptation...that was third grade. I played Dennis. I knocked down a cherry tree. I believe I was brilliant...but that may just be selective memory. One thing that I remember was that I was supposed to have my Dad make a cherry tree that was hinged so that I could hit the top and it would kinda break in half. But since my main vice is procrastination (and my secondary vice is telling people that my Mom/Dad/Brother/Etc. will do something...) - that part never got built. I believe I just knocked the sucker over.

But I digress. I was actually thinking about the first show that I did outside of school. I actually screwed up my courage as a high school senior and went to the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center and auditioned for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Yeah...nothing like jumping straight in with Shakespeare. I didn't get cast - but I was invited to help with set construction and running the show. I don't remember a THING about what I did for the running of the show. I have vague images of the show and the set (I remember that the king of the fairies "lived" atop a tower onstage that was about 10 feet high...He would step into a stirrup and was flown up and down to his perch. I thought that was awesome.) but the one thing I DO recall is the people. They were so welcoming! Here I was - some punk from Amherst County (the cool theatre program in the area was EC Glass...Amherst did one show a year) but I was made to feel at home.

The cast and crew that I just worked with brought back all those same feelings. Once again - I was an outsider. Most of these folks had worked with each other before, I was from the Lynchburg scene and when I got to rehearsals a few weeks ago...I didn't even know where to park. I had one very close friend in the cast - and I had met a couple of others...

Today was the last performance of The Nerd. When we met before the show for "green room" (pre-show meeting/pep talk. In this case, held in a black hallway...) a couple of the cast and crew shared how much they had enjoyed this production. When we joined hands for the traditional quiet moment before it was time to get to our places - I already had tears in my eyes.

At the very end of the show while the audience was roaring with laughter at the hideous pagan ritual onstage - I was preparing to make my exit. Because of a schedule conflict I was unable to participate in the work session to strike the set (I felt like the kid who has to go to the bathroom when it is time to clear the table after dinner...) and so my last moments would be as the cast exited the stage after curtain call.

The show was running a little long and I knew I was going to be late to the banquet I was attending - but I could not bring myself to leave until the show was completely done. And in the shadows of backstage - maybe nobody could see the tears in my eyes. But I suspect my tears were not the only ones.

All the running back and forth to Bedford? Climbing and descending the stairs to the dressing rooms a dozen times every show? Having to handle the same 6 rock cornish hens for over two weeks? The aging macaroni salad? Tiny cuts on my fingers from plate breaking? Frostbite from the dry ice? Nope - I won't remember those. Well, I'll remember...but they already seem amusing. The only thing that I will take away from this experience is the love and the laughter.

Thanks to Jamie for being the hook that got me back in. And thanks to Karen for finding a way for me to be a part. And to everyone else...thanks for the love.

Friday, May 11

A dearth of divas...

Dearth = an inadequate supply, scarcity, lack (

In this case - a dearth is a good thing!

I've been involved in a lot of theatre productions through the years. Literally thousands of performances (ok - one reason for that is the three years at Kings Dominion with over 500 shows per season) and I know quite a bit about dealing with divas. #1 - don't take them as seriously as they take themselves. #2 - don't become one. Oh sure, I joke about being a diva in the church choir...but I hope nobody really think that I act like one for real! Mostly I try to defuse any attempt for real diva behavior by poking fun at diva behavior.

Diva = prima donna, from the latin divus - goddess. Prima donna = pain in the tuckus

I have spent a little more than a week working on the Bedford Little Town Players production of Larry Shue's The Nerd. And one of the greatest things about this cast is the complete lack of diva behavior. And it isn't that there aren't talented performers - quite the opposite in fact!

About 6 weeks ago I went to auditions for the show. It was a good experience (even though I wasn't cast) because everyone seemed to have fun. This was the first time I had been at the Elks Theatre for an audition (mostly because of the 40 minute drive) and although I saw a few familiar faces - I knew I was an outsider. The amazing thing is that I actually would have cast the show exactly the same way Karen Hopkins cast it! OK, I might have cast myself...but that is just because I have an oversized ego...

Each cast member is perfectly suited for their role. I know that is the result of long weeks of rehearsal and study...and the exquisite talent of the beautiful Karen Hopkins (sucking up in case I audition for her again...). And this cast had some interesting obstacles to overcome during rehearsal! During the early weeks of rehearsal there was a stand-in for Jamie Watson, guest Equity actor from NYC, who is cast in the titular role. Titular. Great word. Just means the role in the title - in this case "the Nerd" - but it makes me giggle like a kid anyway.

In addition to the stand-in for Jamie, another key cast member decided to kick off rehearsals by having heart issues that led to a triple bypass! So Karen had to find someone to stand in for Brian Lee's Axel. By the time I started working on the production (assistant stage manager / food wrangler) the cast had already melded into the cohesive unit that audiences will enjoy May 11, 12, 18, 19 (8pm) and 13, 20 (2pm). I never would have suspected that they hadn't been together all along.

I remember Brian Lee's audition. He read several roles - but his deadpan delivery of Axel's lines and his effortless adoption of the world-weary theatre critic were spot-on. Axel has been around the crazy people of show business and has seen it all. I get the feeling that Brian Lee has seen quite a bit of it all too! He has some of the best lines in the show...and he keeps me on my toes, finding different places to secrete deviled eggs on the set...

Danny Grigsby's portrayal of Warnock Waldgrave (rags to riches businessman) is fantastic. I think that I would have just told him to start highlighting his script the night of auditions. When Waldgrave gets frustrated with the antics around him...Danny conveys that without turning him into a caricature. Sometimes one scene becomes so realistic I actually fear that Danny is going to have some sort of stroke! But then offstage he returns to the happy-go-lucky Danny Grigsby. Real talent.

Oh, and the lovely Mrs. Waldgrave! I can't reveal too much, because I don't want spoil the fun...but I'm not sure how the relaxed and generous Lisa Butler becomes the uptight and neurotic wife of Warnock Waldgrave. It is quite the transformation! And she saves my butt by helping me with all the dishes that have to be washed and food that has to be run up and down the stairs! I love her!

Which leads me to the gorgeous young woman who plays Tansy, love interest of Mr. Willum Cubbert (whose home is invaded by The Nerd) - Andrea Gillespie. Bless her heart - until I arrived last week, she was running amok trying to keep all the dishes and cups and such straight. For some reason, since she brings most of those props on stage...she took on that responsibility in addition to learning lines and getting into character. She thanks me every night for being there! Holy moly girl!! You should be sainted for doing all that you did during rehearsals! I barely have time to get everything in the right place - and I spend NONE of my time delivering lines!

Now...I have to say...because most of my friends are aware of this...I hate kids. I have worked with a LOT of kids in my years. Munchkins in Wizard of Oz, children in the Nutcracker, orphans in Oliver, and dreadful singing children in a musical version of Cinderella. I have very little patience with them and prefer that they stay out of my way. But I have to say that the young man who plays the Waldgraves' son Thor is a delightful change of pace. He has taken responsibility for making sure that his costumes and props are in the right places, knows his lines and responds pretty well when I have to move him out of the way. Mr. Bobby Bays is very talented - and in spite of that talent...he shows no signs of diva-ness.

One man who could easily get a swelled head is John Langston who plays the long-suffering Willum Cubbert. John came to auditions with almost no theatre experience. Apparently he DID play a shepherd back in the 1st grade. He had one line - but he doesn't remember what it was. Since then, he's been doing silly stuff like becoming a certified physician assistant during a career in the Air Force. So far I have resisted calling him Doc... (but when I gave myself a brush with anaphylactic shock the other night - by ignoring my allergy to apples - it was vaguely comforting to know that there was medical personnel nearby). We are fairly stunned by John's talent...and although we mention that on a regular basis - he also has resisted becoming a diva.

And the one guy who you would expect to be a diva - the big star from New York - "appearing through the courtesy of Actor's Equity Association and the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers of the United States"...he is the least diva-esque of them all. Mr. Jamie Watson is pretty awesome. He is a fantastic Nerd. But he still will fetch stacks of plates for me from downstairs...he does his own makeup and sets his own props. And tonight when everyone was gathered together before the show...he actually said some pretty nice things about how much he appreciated everyone in the cast tolerating the extra obstacle of having a lead join rehearsals a couple of weeks before opening. And how much this experience has helped reinvigorate his love of the craft of acting.

yep...working on this show has definitely been worth the drive. And it's a damn funny show to boot. I will say this once more: do not miss it. Audiences are in for a real treat!

Saturday, May 5

a little something extra...

I've said before that if there is something in particular that you want me to blog about - just let me know. And today I was encouraged to blog about something in particular...and I can't figure out the angle! Just can't make me happy, can ya?

I'm very excited to be working with a great group of people on the upcoming production of The Nerd with the Bedford Little Town Players. Their first ever guest Equity artist is one of my favorite people on earth - Jamie Watson. So when the opportunity to be involved arose, I jumped on it. This past week was the first time that I've been around for rehearsals and I remember why I love working with theatre people. Especially this crowd.

It is like family - without all the baggage! After rehearsal on Friday night a bunch of us went out for some food and beverages...I haven't laughed so much in a long time. And at some of the stupidest stuff! This afternoon was a continuation of the same...

A few of the cast gathered to run lines and I tagged along to fill in the parts of folks who couldn't be there. It was the most content afternoon I have passed in quite awhile. Between acts we shared conversation and everyone got to know each other a little better. It is that sense of camaraderie that is so key to a great cast and crew. And although it isn't a rare thing - I have been involved in productions where that just isn't the case. And those - although probably successful shows from the audience's point of view - are the shows that are just forgettable. You perform your lines (or your backstage tasks) and you go home...nothing special.

But then there are the somewhat magical times that everything just gels - and those shows are unforgettable. We shared a few of those stories this afternoon, too. Those casts where the people get under your skin and you know that you'll carry those memories a little closer to your heart forever.

As a theatre tech, I've collected mementos of a lot of shows through the years...and being a horrible pack rat (not yet to Hoarder status...) I have those sprinkled around the house. (in fact...I just looked up from the computer to see that one of the pencil cups on this desk is from Kings Dominion 1991) Sometimes I look at a piece and can immediately recall many details about the show and the people involved...I have a poster from a production of Deathtrap in my room. Not the show poster - but one of the posters from the set itself. I remember that particular production vividly...Calvin "Pete" Candler, John Gunnoe, Pam Ashworth (now Nowell) the Fine Arts Center (before it became a parking lot for Centra). I remember gathering all the weapons for the set. I remember the director explaining to two performers that when I couple comes together to kiss that they should be like a tree - their lower halves joined together like a trunk. She said that too often stage kisses look faked because they just bring their heads together and not their bodies. She was a very talented director...she passed away far too early. Heaven's gain.

All those memories triggered by a poster that hangs in my bedroom (and dozens more images that I can't form into complete thoughts). That is just one of many examples I can think of when a cast became more than just a cohesive became a little something more.

The cast of The Nerd has that something more. It is hard to explain. But I know something for certain - even if they aren't aware of it - the audience will have a richer experience because of it.

Get your tickets. You're not going to want to miss it.