A Week of Barbecue and Blues

I don’t even know where to start to talk about our week in Memphis. I managed to cram in so much sightseeing and eating in one week I can barely believe it. 

We arrived in Memphis last Monday and my first impression was that it seemed a lot like Detroit – sort of run down, a lot of empty storefronts, not many people on the streets. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it – I had envisioned a much busier urban area. I went and grabbed some lunch with Ken and Jovon on Beale Street and then spent the rest of Monday at the hotel, exhausted from the travel (I had gotten up at 4:30am that morning in order to drive to the Fort Myers airport at 6am. Ick).

Tuesday was load-in at the Orpheum Theater on Beale Street, which is a beautiful old theater, which supposedly is haunted by a ghost named Mary, who was killed by one of the trolley cars at the turn of the century.

  

On Tuesday load-ins, stage management and company management usually have a “load-in lunch”, and this week was no exception. We headed down to Rum Boogie on Beale Street for some eats… and we had some special guests…Kitty and Baby!

Ken with Kitty and Baby

Ken with Kitty and Baby

Kitty and Baby are two characters in a painting that was found in the theater in Toronto – Ken has travelled them ever since, and Rachel and I took to dressing them up, starting with Santa hats at Christmas. I then made them beachwear for Florida. I knew they needed something special for Memphis, so I brought them to lunch with us so that I could take them for a costume fitting at Walgreens afterwards.

At Rum Boogie, I also noticed that amidst all the autographed guitars everywhere, was one signed by Chris Cain, who I did “Thunder Knockin’ On the Door” with ten years ago at San Jose Rep!

  

After lunch, and a successful trip to Walgreens, Kitty and Baby were dressed for Memphis.

We added two new set pieces to the show this week – a revised Camelot hangar, and also a new Mudcastle. Both are pieces that have been in the show all along, but needed to be downsized in order to travel more efficiently. Our original Camelot hangar and Mudcastle have both gone to Vegas to be in the production there. Both of our new pieces seemed a little cheesy at first as they are smaller than the originals, but when seen onstage under lights, they both actually look really good. The Mudcastle is especially painted well, and I think it looks much more like the castle in the Spamalot logo than our old Mudcastle.

Here’s Ryan with the new Mudcastle:

Tuesday’s opening went pretty well. There are still some growing pains happening on stage right, which I supervise the first three nights in a new city. Our stage right prop guy is new and has never run props before, so he is still getting used to his track backstage, and although he is trying to be helpful with the local prop hands, because he still doesn’t know the show that well, he tends to confuse them. All will be fine, I know, but right now I feel like I am constantly putting out a whole lot of little fires. It’s good for me though, because it really means that I have to know stage right inside and out.

Tuesday night after the show, Jovon, Ryan and I went to Westy’s for some food and drinks. I had the best jambalaya ever. I kept meaning to go back there again but never got the chance.

The wreath on the balcony is where MLK was shot

The wreath on the balcony is where MLK was shot

Wednesday I headed over to the Civil Rights Museum with Rick. It was incredibly intense – a lot of reading all about the really bad things this country has gone through and instigated throughout the years, with plenty of pictures to accompany the stories. The most incredible part of the museum, though, was seeing the spot where Martin Luther King was shot. The museum is actually housed in the Lorraine motel, which is where Dr. King was assassinated. You step into the motel room where he stayed and look out the window onto the balcony where he was shot down. Then you go to an annex across the street and stand where the assassin stood, and look out the window at the view he had when targeting Dr. King. The whole experience gave me chills and made me really ashamed for all that has happened between people of different races in this country. It really made me appreciate how far we have come since the civil rights movement, but also how far we still have to go. 

This week in Atlanta I am going to try and make it over to MLK’s birthplace and the museum that accompanies it.

Wednesday night was a blast as we celebrated Patrick’s (Lancelot) birthday at BB King’s. We listened to some amazing blues music and then explored some other bars on Beale Street.

BB Kings

BB Kings

Thursday was a trip to Sun Studios, where Sam Phillips discovered and recorded such acts as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. It is a tiny place, very much like the Motown Museum in Detroit, but has such an amazing history. We had a great tour guide, who told us all about Elvis showing up there as a teenager, wanting to make a record. We toured the studio and saw the spot where Elvis recorded, and the piano that Jerry Lewis played.
Tony and Amy at the soda counter

Tony and Amy at the soda counter

Jeff as Elvis

Jeff as Elvis

The whole group

The whole group

Sun Studios

Sun Studios

Thursday after the show I went out to Mud Island to see Ben (our conductor) and Christopher Gurr’s rental house. It was amazing! The whole neighborhood was filled with very tony houses and mansions, and Ben and Christopher’s rental was no exception. It was impeccably decorated and very comfortable. Unfortunately it was very cold (it was in the 30’s all week), so we couldn’t take proper advantage of the beautiful porch, but you could just imagine sitting out there sipping mint juleps. 

Graceland

Graceland

Friday was GRACELAND! No matter how big or small an Elvis fan you are, Graceland is not to be missed on a trip to the south. The house is not extravagant or huge, but feels comfortable and absolutely like a little time capsule from Elvis’s life. You can really imagine what kind of a person he was from his surroundings and you also begin to understand what enormous accomplishments he made throughout his career – especially when you see the hundreds of gold and platinum records that are on the premises. When you reach his grave site, it is all the more moving because you’ve had a glimpse into a life that was so huge, that it seems impossible that he could have died so young.
       
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Saturday between shows we went over to Rendezvous, a famous BBQ rib joint that has been recommended to me (and everyone else!) by so many people. The ribs are prepared with a dry rub and left on the grill for two hours. They were delicious.

The group

The group

Justin in his chef hat

Justin in his chef hat

Finally, Sunday between shows, the ladies in the theater guild in Memphis prepared us an amazing potluck spread of so many Southern goodnesses, I can’t even begin to list them all – fried chicken, corn casserole, brisket, baked beans, mac and cheese, collard greens, banana pudding, and on and on. It was unbelievably good. I have to say, this week of eating has been one of the best I’ve had in a LONG time. Southerners really know how to eat. I said that we should have had a weigh-in at the beginning of the week and then again at the end. Would have been funny to see how much we had all gained!

For all the eating though, this was the first city since I’ve been on the tour, that we’ve stayed close enough to the theater to walk to work, and have not needed cars. I have loved getting out and walking again, and so despite all the barbecue, I actually feel more in shape this week than I have in a while!

We left our mark at the Orpheum theater. Backstage…the theater has a tradition of all touring shows painting and signing a mural of their shows…here’s ours (painted by Vera, our props head).

And so this morning, we bid adieu to sweet Memphis and took off for Atlanta, which is where I write from now. I look forward to two weeks here exploring more of the South…

Walking in Memphis

A week in Memphis, Tennessee is just not enough time! Every waking moment has been spent doing or seeing something historic or fun. Today we did Graceland, yesterday was spent at Sun Studios, the day before at the Civil Rights Museum. There is still barbecue to be eaten at Rendezvous, a duck parade to be seen at the Peabody and more music to be heard on Beale Street. Not to mention two cast parties planned for the weekend. Phew. I promise there are tons of photos to be shared but for now this photo of Elvis’s grave will serve as a little preview. I’ve seen so many amazing things this week…all I can say is that I have the best job in the world to be paid to travel around see all I’ve seen. 

More soon from Memphis…no time now…off to see some ducks…