Finally…home to San Francisco

There was a mix-up with the plane flight to San Francisco, and the day before we were set to leave, I found out that Tallulah would not be allowed to fly on the Frontier flight that I was booked on. Some last minute ticket-changing was done, and as luck would have it, Tallulah and I ended up in first class on a United Airlines flight to Oakland! The ticket was surprisingly cheap, and since overweight bags are allowed (without charge) for first class passengers, it actually ended up being less expensive for me to fly first class rather than coach (where I would have had to pay for my overweight bags). I had never flown first class before, and it was a real treat – lots of room, drinks constantly being served, and a yummy lunch!

Mary (one of my best friends from high school) met me at the airport and drove me to my rental apartment in San Francisco. The lower unit in an old Victorian (my boss, Ken, is renting the upper unit), my apartment is spacious, bright and gorgeous. I love it. After getting unpacked, Mary took me to Trader Joe’s to get some groceries, and then we drove over to North Beach where we had dinner at the Stinking Rose and drinks at Specs. It was great seeing Mary – I have missed her so much!

Chianti bottles at the Stinking Rose

Chianti bottles at the Stinking Rose

Mary

Mary

The next day my parents and my brother Simon came by and had lunch with me at Chow. It was lovely to see them. That evening I joined the crew at the Golden Gate Theater for load-in.

The Golden Gate is dear to me in that it is the theater where I saw my first touring Broadway show – “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1989, starring Topol. There is another tour of “Fiddler” out right now, still starring Topol! The Golden Gate is in a nasty part of town – the Tenderloin – which has gotten so much worse than I remember it. Maybe I was just ignorant or oblivious when I lived and worked in San Francisco a few years ago, but I don’t remember ever thinking the Tenderloin was dangerous – just kind of skeevy. Now I think it’s dangerous. There was a drive-by shooting outside the Golden Gate a couple of weeks ago. Apparently when there is no show in residence, the area around the theater is really, really bad. While a show is in performance there is security, a big police presence, and a lot of street light. I guess when the lights go out and the security and police go home, its a different story. There is talk of trying to clean up the area and make a real “theater district” by opening some restaurants nearby – but two of the city’s largest soup kitchens are within blocks of both the Golden Gate Theater and the Orpheum, so I don’t know how realistic that plan is, unfortunately. I remember after I visited New York City the first time, I was amazed at how few homeless people I saw – only a couple of people here and there on the subway. In San Francisco the homeless presence is huge – it always has been, and sadly, it still is.

We spent the next couple of days at the theater continuing the load-in, and doing a little bit of re-tech and rehearsal. For this engagement and for the next one in Los Angeles, the producers have beefed up our lighting and sound package, and restored our full orchestra (you might remember that we downsized the orchestra last year in West Point). So we spent some time looking at light cues, reprogramming, and on Thursday, we did a full dress rehearsal in the afternoon so that the cast could perform the show with the restored orchestration before having to do it in front of an audience. It also gave Linda Lee, our new wardrobe supervisor, a chance to go through the show with the local dressers. It actually proved to be very valuable on all fronts as all departments had a trial run before the first performance. It made our first preview on Friday very low stress as the local crew already had a clue about what they were meant to be doing.

There were some familiar faces at load-in. I had been wondering if any stagehands who I had worked with previously at ACT might be around. Denise, who had worked as assistant sound at the Geary, is now the house sound head at the Golden Gate – it was really nice to see her. The first person I ran into though, was Paul, my friend Regina’s husband (Regina was a stage manager who I assisted at ACT – now she works for the local producing organization), who was standing at the stage door when I arrived on Tuesday night. Paul is on our crew as one of our local spot operators. I also knew one of the riggers on the load-in, Cheyenne, who I had done “High Society” with in 1997 – and who I hadn’t seen since. I cannot believe it’s been twelve years since I worked on that show!

In between rehearsal and load-in, I did have some time off. On Thursday night I went to one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, La Mediterranee, for some middle eastern food, and on Friday afternoon I walked over to North Beach and spent some time at Cafe Puccini, and then went to Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Shop, where I had one of their amazing breaded eggplant sandwiches. Of course, I was thinking of and missing Michele the whole time. We spent so much time together in that neighborhood back in the day – I really wish she were here now as well! Earlier that day I walked over to 24th Street in Noe Valley to pick up shampoo at the Aveda store, and I happened upon Noe Knit, a yarn store. I went inside and started talking to Susie, the woman who was working there – and it turns out that she knows my friend, Patty, from when Patty worked in SF on “Jersey Boys” and attended the Chicks with Sticks knitting group. Susie is also a member of the 365 group on Flickr. Such a small world!

North Beach

North Beach

Mario's

Mario's

The best damn sandwich on the planet

The best damn sandwich on the planet

We had our first performance of “Spamalot” on Friday night – and it was an amazing audience – in fact all of our preview audiences were fantastic. It was a four show weekend, with lots of creatives in attendance – we had designers there earlier in the week and then Casey, our choreographer, and Todd, our musical supervisor were at the show on Friday. BT, our associate director, and Eric Idle would arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Monday was the day off. Mary and Erika drove into the city and we had lunch together at the Dolores Park Cafe. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley, and into the hills to Muir Woods. It was Memorial Day, so the park was a tad crowded, but we still had a nice walk through the redwoods. I love Muir Woods – so pretty, and so peaceful – even with the crowds. After our hike we drove back to my neighborhood and got in line for some ice cream at the Bi-Rite Creamery. It was a half hour wait, but well worth it. Their homemade ice cream is DE-licious. I had salted caramel and roasted banana. Yum!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

DSC_0041

Wednesday was our official opening night performance. It went very well, and was followed by a fun party at the Hotel Monaco. It was nice to feel the rush of a big opening again. Eric Idle and John du Prez got up on stage with the cast during the curtain call and joined in the sing-a-long. We were all allowed one guest to the show and party, and so my college friend Katherine was my “plus one”. We had a really nice time at the party, and I’m looking forward to getting together again with Katherine so that we can catch up properly.

Jeff and Alexa at the opening night party

Jeff and Alexa at the opening night party

Chris and Lyn at the party

Chris and Lyn at the party

I took it easy on Thursday and Friday, catching up on things like laundry and grocery shopping, and restoring my computer after I had a new, bigger hard drive installed. I spent some of Thursday afternoon walking around the Mission district, and on Friday I met up with Julie Haber, a stage manager who I worked with at ACT, for lunch. It was so nice seeing Julie and hearing all about her current show which is playing at Berkeley Rep, and catching up on what we’ve been up to the last couple of years. Julie is also a very talented photographer, so it was fun talking nerdy photography stuff with her.

I sit here now, writing this blog, on Saturday night – when I should be at work. However, Ken decided that he was going to call both shows today, so he gave Jovon and I each a show off. What a luxury! I stayed and worked the matinee while Jovon took off, and then I was free after the matinee. I walked over to North Beach and then down to the Wharf, and then back to North Beach for dinner, and then home to watch a movie and blog. Lovely! And shortly I will be off to bed as my parents are coming over early for brunch before they go to see the matinee of “Wicked”.

Cable cars down near the wharf

Cable cars down near the wharf

I can’t even express how happy I am to be “home”. I keep running into people I know and I love. I had drinks with Ruth Saunders on Tuesday night (Ruth used to work at ACT) and ran into some of the Geary stage crew as I was walking to meet her. Andrea, who was the wardrobe supervisor at ACT my first year there, stopped by the Golden Gate stage door on Wednesday to say hi. I saw my friend Regina over at the Shorenstein-Hayes offices (the local presenters) when I was there to pick up the mail. It is just great being back in a place where I have so many amazing friends. And I am looking so forward to seeing all of them in the coming weeks! I am trying to savor every moment – I just hope the time doesn’t go by too fast!

Toronto

So. Toronto. Well, first of all, I got into the country. Which is good. It was a long drive and I was so tired, I had to pull over for a nap at one point. When I finally got to the border I was called into the immigration office for questioning, but when I opened the door, there were two other members of the “Spamalot” company sitting in there. Turns out they called us all in. After a few questions they let me through.  When I finally drove into Toronto and got to the rental house, I was exhausted. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the eccentric landlady that greeted me or the fact that the internet wasn’t working, but luckily all that got ironed out within a day or two and I was able to start enjoying Toronto.

The house we are in is a little on the kooky side – its all bright colors and arty furniture and strange paintings, but the light it gets is amazing, and it is so nice having a deck and backyard to look out onto, even if it is a bit too cold to hang out there now. We’ve been spending a good deal of time at the house cooking and watching movies, which has been nice, especially since the one-weekers are about to ramp up again and the days of kitchens and living rooms will soon be a thing of the past.

The theater, the Canon, is downtown right near Dundas Square. It’s an old, kind of dumpy theater, with a very, very small backstage. There is absolutely no onstage crossover – our castle butts all the way up against the back wall, so I spent a good deal of time during load-in marking out how to get from stage right to stage left through the basement and drawing up a list of modifications the actors would have to make in their usual backstage traffic patterns. Despite the tight space, opening went fine – and the run has proceeded without anything unusual to report. The houses have been small. I don’t know if its because “Spamalot” played here already (two years ago, before I joined the tour) or if its a sign of the bad economy. Either way, the small houses have been a bit of a downer.

On our first day off in town, we had a pretty lazy day, but did get out for a bike ride to Queen Street West, which is a shopping district, and home to quite a few yarn stores! I passed two, Romni and Americo, which I made a plan to return to another day when I had a bit more time and a plan in mind as to what I wanted to buy. The following day we ventured out to the Distillery District, which is fairly close to where we are staying in South Riverdale. The Distillery District is where booze was manufactured during the Prohibition to be sold to the U.S. All the factory buildings still exist, but now house galleries and shops and restaurants. It’s a very cool area. They were filming a Mini Cooper commercial while we were there and had a big fly rig constructed to hoist these actors dressed like ninjas into the Minis. It was all very strange!

Distillery District

Distillery District

On the second Wednesday in town, we had two shows – which we hardly ever do. It was weird and exhausting to have a two-show day in the middle of the week, but it always pays off on Sunday when we are done after the matinee. 

Atop the CN Tower

Atop the CN Tower

On Friday we visited the CN Tower, which is currently the tallest free-standing structure in the world. It was a bit strange looking out and not seeing any special monuments or mountains like you do atop the Space Needle or the Washington monument, but it was very clear out and the views were pretty amazing. It was fun to walk on the glass floor too – it kind of messes with your head a bit to be able to see through to the ground way down below you!

Since we only had one show on Sunday, Cuz, our sound guy, hosted a BBQ at his rental house in East Toronto. The house he is staying in is pretty great – big with a backyard.  Cuz made all kinds of delicious skewers and an entire cooler filled with corn on the cob. So, so good. Jamie Karen (she was one of our ensemble girls when I first joined the tour) and her husband Mark showed up – it was great to see them. Jamie is touring in “Jersey Boys” which is also currently playing Toronto. We had fun hanging out and eating and eating and eating. 

Ben enjoying some corn at Cuz's

Ben enjoying some corn at Cuz's

The following day Ryan and I took our bikes on the ferry to the Toronto islands. We biked all around the islands, which are beautiful and strange, all at the same time. Centre Island has no residents, and houses a small amusement park. This time of year the amusement park is closed, and it was a bit like a ghost town. There was a little farm with animals that was still open though, and we ran into Patrick and his girlfriend Abby there as we tooled around looking at the pigs and goats and geese. On one of the other islands, there is a small community of houses where people live year-round. It looks like kind of an artists community – the houses are all colorfully painted and some look like little gingerbread houses. There are no cars allowed on the islands, so everybody bikes. I think it would be hard to live somewhere where you had to take a boat to even get to the grocery store.

After spending the afternoon biking around, we took the ferry back to mainland Toronto and went over to the Distillery District for dinner. 

My loot

My loot

On Tuesday Ryan and I biked over to the Kensington Market area and checked things out. It is kind of hippie/ethnic area with some cool shops and restaurants. We had some yummy tacos and then stopped by three yarn stores on the west side before heading home. I wasn’t too impressed with Lettuce Knit, which I found to be tiny with not much stock that I hadn’t seen before. Romni Wools was huge and jam-packed. I spent about $150 in there on some malabrigo sock yarn to make a sweater (on very small needles, I know!). The last store I went to was Americo – a beautiful store that makes all their own yarns. All the fiber was very expensive in there so I only bought two skeins, to make a couple of hats.

The rest of the week was pretty lazy – we had a couple of new actors arrive to join the show – Candy and Carissa are joining our female ensemble, taking over for Tera-Lee and Bree, and Matthew takes over the role of Lancelot from Patrick after Toronto. So, when I wasn’t in rehearsal, I just kind of took it easy around the house.

On Thursday night Ryan and I went back to the Distillery District to get some beers and perogies, and when we came out afterwards, we found that Ryan’s bike had been stolen. Someone cut through my lock with bolt cutters and took his bike and left mine! Ryan filled out a police report, but nothing has been found. So, unfortunately it looks like Ryan is going to have to buy a new bike. Oh well. Enough with the thievery already!

Yesterday was our third Monday off here. Patrick, who leaves the show at the end of the week, threw a party on the roof of his building to go out in style! It was an amazing space with an incredible view of the CN Tower. Cuz barbecued and we had a blast drinking beers and hanging out. After the BBQ, I went to my first hockey game with Ryan, Matt and Scott! It was really fun!

Adam and Patrick at the BBQ

Adam and Patrick at the BBQ

Sarah Lin, Paula and Darryl on the roof

Sarah Lin, Paula and Darryl on the roof

Matt and Scott at the hockey game

Matt and Scott at the hockey game

So that’s the recap of Toronto so far. It’s a fun city – a lot like New York, very urban. It doesn’t have the beauty of a city like Vancouver or Seattle or the historical sights of a town like Philadelphia,  but definitely has some interesting neighborhoods and things to do, and lots and lots of good shopping!

The show seems to be going through a bit of flux right now with people leaving, and people wanting to leave. The small houses have been kind of demoralizing, as well as the canceled shows in Hartford. I’m hoping with some new faces around, some new energy will be infused into the company. It’s hard to stay happy and positive when there are a few people around who are so unhappy. Or when the people who are leaving are so happy to be leaving. I just have to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job like this, especially when the economy is so bad. So many Broadway shows are closing or not opening at all, and there are hardly any new tours going out. I try not take anything for granted. But sometimes it’s hard.

Anyway, that’s all for now – more soon as we wrap up the Canada leg and head back to the States!

Loving Madison

I’m a little down today because I had such a good time in Madison last week and it was very hard to leave. Today has been one of those days, getting by on very little sleep from an overnight bus journey, where everything seems to get me down. From a less than desirable hotel, to an unhelpful hotel staff, to a downtown, which although doesn’t seem awful, isn’t Madison.

So, Madison. I had a feeling I would love it from what everyone had told me about it. It is very much like Portland to me, only on a smaller scale. The town revolves around the Capitol and the university. It is very progressive, and very fun. There are tons of restaurants and bars and shops and miles and miles of bike trails. In short, it’s great.

I was a little apprehensive about our hotel before arriving, as it was a Best Western, which conjures up all kinds of horrible motel images. But actually, the Best Western Inn on the Park was quite nice. Ryan and I paid a little extra for a suite, which meant an additional sitting room – which is always nice when you are sharing. The best thing about the hotel though, well the two best things, were the location…and the view. Check it out:

I took that from our window. Probably one of the best hotel room views yet. It was great staying by the Capitol, because State Street was only a block away, meaning everything we needed – from groceries, to restaurants, to bars, to the theater, were all within a five to ten minute walk.

On Monday I spent some time exploring State Street. I became a little obsessed with some toy cameras that I found in one of the novelty stores – there were a bunch of Holgas and Dianas and Fisheyes. They all take such cool photos, but I decided maybe I didn’t need one more thing to fill up my trunk. I finished up the day with dinner at a yummy Indian restaurant.

Tuesday was load-in and the show. The theater is only four years old, so it is new and spacious. Every dressing room and office has a TV, which was fun to pass the time. The crew, unfortunately, were not so good. A lot of old guys. A lot of lazy guys. My prop guy had to sit down between each cue. There are a lot of prop cues in the show – its not like you have tons of time between each. I was a little amazed by how he had to constantly sit down. I wasn’t all that impressed by the wardrobe crew either. Some of them had been around in the other Wisconsin cities as well. There were a couple who were pretty clueless. But, nonetheless, opening was smooth, and the run was sold out for the whole week.

On Wednesday, Ryan and I had lunch at a restaurant called The Old Fashioned, which serves food that is all home-grown in Wisconsin. I had a salad with these cherries on it that are grown upstate. Delicious! Then we took off on our bikes and explored some of the bike trails that go around the lakes in Madison. It was such a pretty ride, and so nice to be on dedicated bike paths.

Ryan on his bike

Ryan on his bike

Blossoms by the lake

Blossoms by the lake

Wednesday night we went to a brew pub called The Great Dane and drank some beers for Paul Baron’s birthday (he’s our trumpet player). It was fun catching up with Ben, our conductor, who is back with us now after a three month leave. Gurr, Suzanne, Adam and the Gribbster also joined us.

Thursday we decided to go for another bike ride since the weather was so nice. We ended up riding all over the place. First we rode up Williamson Street, where Paula and Matt were staying. They told us it was the hippie neighborhood, so we wanted to check it out. It looked like there were some cool cafes and bars on Willie Street (that’s what the locals call it). Then we rode through the residential streets surrounding and looked at some of the cute, cute houses. We cut over to the bike path and rode by the convention center, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Then we rode around the lake to Lakeside Fibers, a giant yarn store!

Lakeside Fibers was a great shop – it had four rooms of yarn (really good stuff, all the luxury brands), a cafe in the back (which made Ryan happy), with an outdoor deck, and a basement filled with weaving supplies. I bought some yarn to make Mitchell a Time Capsule cozy, which he has commissioned in “goth colors”. I bought black and purple – hopefully that suffices as “goth”. Ryan and I got some snacks from the cafe and hung out on the deck for a while, then got back on the bikes. We rode over to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, which was a mix of marshlands, forest and blooming trees. It was really pretty.

Lakeside Fibers

Lakeside Fibers

Ryan biking through the Arboretum

Ryan biking through the Arboretum

After getting through the Arboretum, we were running short on time, but we did make one more stop at another yarn store, The Knitting Tree, before heading back into town. The Knitting Tree was a much smaller store, with lots of novelty yarns, but they had some nice Berroco yarns and some Brown Sheep.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we figured out that we had ridden thirteen miles!

After the show on Thursday, Darryl (he’s one of our ensemble members) hosted a party at his parents’ house. It was really fun – it was held in their basement, and felt just like a high school house party, which was comforting and nice. Darryl’s parents prepared traditional Filipino food for us, which was delicious. It was fun looking at all the photos of Darryl everywhere, detailing every year of his life. It was also fun to see Jeff Dumas, our original Patsy. Jeff drove up from Chicago to see the show and then came to Darryl’s to hang out. I think he misses us!

Darryl and his niece

Darryl and his niece

Dumas gesturing emphatically about something

Dumas gesturing emphatically about something

On Friday we had understudy rehearsal. I went out between rehearsal and the show and bought some bags for my bike from one of the many bike shops in town. Now I am all set for Canada – I can bike to the grocery store and haul the groceries home in my new bags!

Friday night, Ryan and I went over to the Essen Haus, a bar that had been recommended to me by Lisa Chernoff. Essen Haus is a Bavarian Drinking Hall – complete with live polka music, waiters in lederhosen, and outdoor picnic tables. They also serve beer in giant glasses shaped like a boot. There are all kinds of rules about drinking from the boot – you can’t put it down, the second to last person to finish it has to buy the next boot…and on and on. The whole place would cheer on whoever was about to finish their boot.

Ryan and a boot of beer

Ryan and a boot of beer

We only stayed at Essen Haus for one drink though, before heading over to The Great Dane, where a birthday party was already in progress for Nate, our flyman, and Terry, one of our prop guys. I tried fried cheese curds for the first time at The Great Dane. Yum! I think the cheese curd is largely underestimated by the rest of the country.

On Saturday morning we got up early and went to the famous Capitol Farmer’s Market. It is the largest Farmer’s Market in the country that sells only locally-grown and made products. It was packed! We bought some things though – Ryan got some venison jerky, some oatmeal raisin cookies and some black popcorn, which sounded intriguing. And I was lured in by the jewelry. Ryan bought me one pair of earrings and then I bought myself three more pairs and a necklace. I couldn’t help it!

Unbelievable onions at the farmer's market

Unbelievable onions at the farmer's market

Fresh cut bouquets

Fresh cut bouquets

A musician playing a washboard

A musician playing a washboard

Between shows on Saturday we went into the contemporary art museum for a little while to check out an exhibit called “Myths and Monsters” by a Madison artist named TL Solien. The paintings were pretty cool – very colorful and trippy.

Saturday night was all about packing and then Sunday we closed, and load-out began. We took an overnight bus to Grand Rapids and arrived early this morning.

I wish we could have stayed another week in Madison. I feel like there was still more to see and do. And it was such a laid-back friendly town. I loved it. I’m a little blue today as we were greeted with less than stellar service at the Days Inn Grand Rapids. Oh well, I’m sure I will be cheered up tomorrow when I see Elaine, who is here to fill in for Mitchell’s vacation, and then later in the week my old friend Bret arrives to cover Ken and Jovon’s vacations – it will be great to see him as well.

…And there are only six more one-weekers to go before Vancouver!

Ryan's Hometown

Well, not exactly. Ryan grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but the theater there is not used much these days since a nicer, newer one was built about forty miles south in Appleton, which is where “Spamalot” played last week. Now, when Ryan’s home, he spends as much of his time working at the performing arts center in Appleton as he does working in Green Bay. The crew there are part of his home local, so it was a homecoming week for him.

I drove Ryan’s truck from Milwaukee, where he had driven it to do the load-out after having the week off and spending it at his house in Sobieski. That truck is kind of a beast – its huge! Once I managed to maneuver it out of the parking lot of the Hyatt in Milwaukee, it wasn’t so bad. I was convinced I was going to shear the roof off in that parking lot though.

Tallulah in Ryan's truck

Tallulah in Ryan's truck

After getting Tallulah settled in at the Candlewood Suites in Appleton, my favorite tour hotel (The rooms are efficiency studios with kitchenettes; each room also comes with a DVD player which is awesome, and the beds are really comfortable. Best of all, the Candlewood rates are usually fairly inexpensive), I went across the street, rented a car (Ryan took the truck to load-in), and I began running errands. Mostly they were boring – like going to the Petco to get more kitty food, but it was nice to have such a normal Monday – doing normal things, like going to the grocery store! The Woodmans grocery store that I went to was quite a sight to see – it was ENORMOUS, and had every product you could imagine. It was a tad overwhelming, but also great to be able to get everything that I wanted, rather than my usual grocery store run, which generally entails scouring the shelves at the CVS for anything that remotely resembles something decent to eat.

I also went to investigate Iris Fine Yarns – a yarn shop near downtown Appleton. What a shop! It is an old house which has been converted to a shop, and the stock they have is simply amazing! Who would have thought that in such a comparatively small town, I would find such a magnificent shop? I was blown away – they had all the most beautiful fibers and organized in such an attractive and user-friendly way. I came a little unprepared, not really knowing what I wanted to buy, so I just bought some wool to make a case for my new Time Capsule hard drive, and made plans to go back later in the week with a better list of wants.

Iris Fine Yarns

Iris Fine Yarns

I also drove down College Ave, the main thoroughfare in Appleton. The performing arts center is there, as well as a ton of bars and restaurants and cafes. It was a really cute little street, and proved to be a great place to hang out for the week.

The performing arts center was big and new and clean, and once again we had a smooth load-in and opening. The stagehands there were very nice and welcoming. On Thursday night we were introduced to real Wisconsin cheese curds and beef jerky, as provided by the local sound guy. I have to say, the curds were good! (and squeeky!)

On Wednesday I went back to Iris’s with a list and picked up some more yarn – two skeins of Malabrigo to make a beret, and six skeins of Rowan Kid Classic to make the Lush and Lacy sweater from Sweaterbabe. 

Thursday we had understudy rehearsal, but wound up with quite a long break before the show, so I went and read a magazine at Brewed Awakenings, a really cool independent coffee shop on College Ave. They not only make good coffee and sandwiches at Brewed Awakenings, but also some kick-ass gelato (which I indulged in over the weekend. One of the flavors they have is Guinness!)

On Thursday night after the show I packed up Tallulah and we went to Ryan’s house for the night. Tallulah didn’t know what to do with herself, she had so much space to explore. Ryan is still working on the house, having only really spent a few weeks there since he bought it, so it’s still in sort of a state of construction. He tried to pick up as best he could before we got there, but Tallulah still managed to find various ant traps and things she shouldn’t get into. 

On Friday we hung out at the house, then went for lunch at a bar in Sobieski (the small town where Ryan lives has only three bars, a church and a daycare. That’s it!) Then we drove around the area a bit and looked at other houses. It’s amazing how quiet it is at Ryan’s house – I’m so used to traffic noises, or some kind of ambient noise – but at Ryan’s it’s dead quiet. Oh, and I saw a wild turkey in his front yard! Crazy, right?

On the back deck

On the back deck

On the way back to Appleton, we picked up libations for shot night on Saturday, which we were hosting.

On Saturday morning I worked on felting the case I had made for my time capsule. It turned out pretty well, I think!

On Saturday between shows, the theater hosted a cookout. We enjoyed brats and burgers and cheese curds.

Saturday night was shot night. We made “Jamaican Bobsleds”. The shot itself was a mixture of Bacardi rum, Malibu, banana schnapps, pineapple juice and cranberry. Pretty tasty. Ryan and I had come up with this idea (leftover from college party days) to freeze two blocks of ice and then carve “bobsled runs” into them. Someone pours the shot into the top of the run, and someone else has their mouth at the bottom of the run, catching the shot, which has gotten cold by going through the groove in the ice. Unfortunately our blocks didn’t freeze all the way through. We had to ditch one of them, and the other ended up getting quite a hole in it, but everyone who wanted to did end up being able to do at least one shot on the ice block. It was a success in the end, I think.

Here’s my favorite photo from shot night – it’s Gary, our King Arthur, partaking in a shot on the bobsled run:

We closed on Sunday night and today traveled to Madison, which I already love. It is a college town, and reminds me of a little Berkeley. We are staying right near the Capitol (which we have an amazing view of from our hotel window), and steps away from State Street, which is lined with all kinds of fun shops and restaurants. The University of Wisconsin is at the other end of State Street. I think it is going to be a very fun week!

Falling in Love with Portland

We arrived in Portland last Monday, and although anywhere probably would have seemed great after Kansas City, Portland far surpassed my expectations. Portland is another one of those cities, like Minneapolis, that I always suspected I would love, and I can confirm after almost two weeks of being here, that I LOVE Portland.

I had the luxury of a full day off on Tuesday as we were not opening until Wednesday – the trucks needed the extra time to get across the country from Missouri. The travel day was thankfully uneventful, and with the opening not until Wednesday, Ryan and the rest of the crew were able to have Monday night off. After checking into the Mark Spencer Hotel on 11th Avenue, Ryan and I headed to Thai Peacock for dinner – after being in the midwest for weeks I was seriously jonesing for some Thai food. Our meal was DELICIOUS! I actually went back the next day, I loved my food that much! We then went and checked out Powell’s Books – a ginormous new and used bookstore. We actually had to text each other to find each other’s location, it was so big.

Powell's Books

Powell's Books

The next day I walked all over the place and did some shopping. To my delight there is a yarn store, KnitPurl, one block from the hotel. The Mark Spencer, where I am staying, is an old apartment building, a little on the shabby side, but homey, and my room gets great light and has a nice view of the city – it’s very comfortable, and feels just right for Portland. It is also in a great location, just south of Burnside and the Pearl District, and surrounded with restaurants and shopping. I explored all of downtown on Tuesday, as well as walking around the Pearl District, and the 23rd Avenue shopping area.

Wednesday we loaded in all day and opened the show. It was delightfully smooth – the crew here is good, the theater is big, and the audience loved the show.

Thursday we had two shows, making up for not having a show on Tuesday. A large group of cast and crew went over to Veritable Quandary following the show for drinks and appetizers. We sat in their outdoor garden, which was lovely, and were pleasantly surprised by a round of champagne bought for us by a patron who had been to see the show.

The next day, Ryan and I rode our bikes back up to 23rd Ave and had lunch at Sushiville, a super cool sushi boat restaurant. We were there for almost two hours, picking dishes off the conveyer belt and trying different things – and we each spent less than $20! We then rode up to Washington Park and walked around the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden, both of which were beautiful. We also spied Mount Hood for the first time.

At the Rose Garden

At the Rose Garden

At the Rose Garden

At the Rose Garden

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Friday night we all went out for Jovon’s birthday, to a tiki bar in northeast Portland, called Thatch. It was a blast – we all had pupu platters and fruity drinks, and Jovon enjoyed more than one volcano cocktail.

My parents arrived Saturday. They took the train up from San Jose and I met them at their hotel after the show for some wine and dessert. They came to the show on Sunday night, where we had some seriously scary feedback after the Feet of God scene – it sounded like a massive foghorn going off. My parents loved the show though, and came to shot night afterwards, where they met a lot of the cast and crew. We then headed over to Veritable Quandary again for dinner with Ryan. 

On Monday my dad rented a car and we drove out to the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery was so beautiful – as much as I love New York, there is NOTHING like the west coast for natural beauty. The mountains and coast are just amazing. We stopped at Multnomah Falls and hiked to the top. We had lunch at the lodge there before driving on to the Bonneville Dam and then on to the town of Hood River, where we ate ice cream and shopped for cat and dog accessories at a cute pet shop. After that we drove on towards Mount Hood to get some pictures before heading back to Portland for dinner.

My mom and dad at Multnomah Falls

My mom and dad at Multnomah Falls

The Bonneville Dam

The Bonneville Dam

The Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge

Rock Formations

Rock Formations

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Tuesday, Ryan and I met my parents for lunch at Jake’s Grill and then headed to the bike shop to buy a rear rack and baskets for my bike, while my parents went to the art museum. We met them again the next day for breakfast and then bid them goodbye – their return train to San Jose left in the early afternoon. It was great to get to hang out with my parents and see the city with them – I miss seeing them everyday! 

I almost forgot to write about the Portland Saturday Market! On the previous Saturday morning, Ryan and I went to check out the market underneath the Burnside Bridge. It was awesome! There were TONS of vendors selling jewelry and art and food, and there were lots of musicians playing in the street. I bought a couple of necklaces and a pair of earrings. We saw this guy playing guitar who only had one hand – it was amazing!

So – back to Wednesday. After breakfast with my parents and Ryan, I met up with Fran and we headed to Mount St. Helens! There is just no end to the amazing sights here – Mount St. Helens was so unbelievable – it really did not look real. We stopped along the way and took tons of pictures. At the Observatory we listened to a ranger talk about the current volcanic activity – did you know there was a small eruption in 2004? We also watched a very dramatic movie about the eruption in 1980, that ended with the movie screen rising to show us the actual Mt. St Helens through a giant panoramic window. 

Besides the grandeur of the mountain, what really struck me about the area, was all the gorgeous wildflowers that have grown up through all the ash. It’s really an amazing sight. And proof that life does go on.

Mount St. Helen's

Mount St. Helen's

Wildflowers growing out of the ash

Wildflowers growing out of the ash

Fran shooting pictures of Coldwater Lake

Fran shooting pictures of Coldwater Lake

We only have three days left here and I still have a whole list of things I want to do and places I want to see. I don’t know how I am going to fit everything in – I guess I’ll just have to come back!

The company has been so happy here – how could you not be? It’s such a great town. I love that Portland has all the amenities of a city like New York – great shopping, great restaurants, TONS of coffee shops – but it is surrounded by such natural beauty – and that both the ocean and the mountains are so close. You can be in the city center, get in your car, and an hour later you can be in the middle of nowhere. And it will be stunning. It also seems like there is always something going on in town – a festival at Pioneer Square, a free symphony performance down by the river, a fair under the Burnside Bridge. There are lots of very unique shops and restaurants and bars. Its not all Hooters and Home Depot! I love it. The town has such personality. I could definitely see living here in the future.

In Tallulah news, she went to see “The Cat Doctor” last week here in town (I love that Portland has a vet specifically for cats). She got her annual rabies shot and the vet implanted a microchip in her in case she ever gets lost. They were so nice to her and she was sooo well behaved. Of course everyone in the office fell in love with her. The results of her check-up were that she is healthy and FAT! A pound and a half overweight! The vet talked to me about putting her on an Atkins diet – cutting down her carbs. I can’t believe there is such a thing as putting a cat on the Atkins diet. I don’t want to deprive Tallulah of food, though, since she is being such a good sport about being dragged around the country. I think the key may be trying to get her to exercise more. I would love to try and train her to walk on a leash, to get her exercise in that way. We’ll see… at any rate, I have a healthy, happy cat – and that’s what really matters the most.

So this weekend is Ryan’s birthday. We have a couple of fun things planned, so more info to come in the next post about the festivities. And on Monday we head to Salt Lake City and for us, Park City, where we are renting a condo. I’m excited, but am also going to miss Portland terribly! Like I said before, I am just going to have to come back!

Feeling Minnesota

Near the Capitol building

Near the Capitol building

I had always suspected that I would like the Twin Cities, specifically Minneapolis, and in the short list of top places where I think I could live, for some reason Minneapolis has always been near the top. We are currently playing St. Paul, Minneapolis’s twin city – they are about ten miles apart. When we first got here last Monday, my first impressions weren’t much. Downtown St. Paul is fairly desolate, sadly like so many of the downtowns that we have visited across the country. There are a couple of strips of restaurants and bars, so I wouldn’t categorize it as one of the worst, like say Rochester or Tulsa, but there’s definitely not a whole lot going on in the general vicinity of the theater. 

The thing about St. Paul, though, is that at first meeting it seems like another throw-away city, but then you start making daily discoveries of little gems.

I’m staying in a corporate apartment building about seven blocks from the theater with Ken, my boss. The first St. Paul gem is the balcony that my bedroom opens up onto. Surprisingly, none of the hotels I have stayed at so far on this tour have had balconies – thinking back to family vacations when I was growing up and the hotels, and even motels, that we stayed at – most of them had balconies. These days this is a rarity. I have an amazing view of the St. Paul skyline and am loving the ability to have fresh air in my room so much that I am sleeping with the sliding glass door open. Tallulah is loving the space of the apartment, the large window ledges, and another human whom she can beg attention from.

Night view from my balcony

Night view from my balcony

And day view...

And day view...

Load-in and opening were easy. The Ordway Center is big and beautiful, the woodwork and glass of the lobbies and the exterior of the building remind me of Fort Lauderdale, while the tiered music hall seating looks much like the Academy of Music in Philly. The crew are smart, quick and can hear. A big plus over the Des Moines crew. We had an opening night party in the lobby at the Ordway and a group of us discovered an outdoor patio where we spent much of the night, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, laughing, and making fun of Patrick (our Lancelot)who could not keep a drink in his hand to save his life – multiple spills, multiple spills. We also were regaled by he and Nigel’s stories of picking up women in the various cities (lovely, I know). In St. Paul they had met twins. “Twins in the Twin Cities!” was their motto.

The town is embracing the show, that’s for sure. The local brewery, the Great Rivers Brewing Company, has a whole Spam menu and they have cans of Spam on all the tables, Spam napkins, and the servers are wearing Spam t-shirts. I went out for sushi the other day and even the sushi restaurant had a can of Spam displayed behind the counter!

Wednesday night was Brian O’Brien’s debut in Kevin Crewell’s ensemble track. He did great and it is so nice to have another tall boy in our ensemble! He is also very athletic so the Nun and Monk pas de deux is nothing to him, nor is the oft-whined about “bullet cross” in “Run Away”. 

St. Paul gem #2 was the discovery of another great mom-and-pop cafe/wine bar a couple of blocks from my apartment, called Black Dog Coffee Bar and Cafe. I don’t know why finding these kind of spots makes me so happy, but they really do. I am sitting in Black Dog right now, as a matter of fact, enjoying a salad and an iced coffee. These funky cafes just give a city some personality and provide a little comfortable haven to hang out in and relax. 

 

On Friday I wandered over to the state capitol to take some photos. It is another very impressive building, like many of the state capitols that I have been lucky enough to see along the way on this tour.

Minnesota State Capitol

Minnesota State Capitol

Saturday night, Ryan’s good friends Neil and Tara came to see the show. We had a nice dinner with them at a woodfire grill restaurant near the theater and then some drinks at the brewing company afterwards. It was great to meet some of Ryan’s friends from home.

This past Monday I rented a car and drove to Mankato, Minnesota, which is a town that I have wanted to visit for years. What is in Mankato, you ask? Mankato is the birthplace of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books which are a series of books that I loved growing up. These books are about two best friends, Betsy and Tacy, who grew up in Deep Valley, Minnesota, around the turn of the century. They start with the book “Betsy-Tacy”, which begins with Betsy’s fifth birthday, and end with “Betsy’s Wedding”, which is obviously about the main character’s wedding. The high school books are my favorites, and I still go back and read them. Just picturing the dances, sleigh rides, parties and football games that the kids enjoyed – the books just really make you appreciate a time before tv and video games. 

Years after I first read the Betsy-Tacy books, I discovered an amazing book called The Betsy-Tacy Companion. It was after devouring this book, that I found out that the character Betsy was actually based on the author, Maud Hart Lovelace, and that Tacy was based on her real-life best friend, Bick. Deep Valley was really Mankato, MN, and all the characters in the books had real-life counterparts, and that the stories in the books had actually happened. I did a bit more poking around and found that there is a group called The Betsy-Tacy Society who have not only worked very hard at keeping the books in print all these years later, but have bought the two houses in Mankato that Betsy and Tacy (Maud and Bick) grew up in, and are in the process of restoring them to the way they were in 1900. 

So, to make a long story short, I printed out a walking tour of Deep Valley (Mankato) from the web page of the Betsy-Tacy Society, drove to Mankato, and spent an afternoon wandering around the neighborhood that I had been reading about for years and years.

What was truly amazing about Mankato, was that without trying all that hard, I was able to block out the KFC and Dairy Queen, and really imagine what it was like to be living there a hundred years ago. Many of the houses are the same structures that they were back then, and the descriptions in the books are so good that I realized, walking around, that “Deep Valley” really looked exactly as I had imagined.

There were a few disappointments. The bench at the end of Hill Street (Center Street) where Betsy and Tacy spent many a night hanging out, was gone. I could see the impression in the cement where it should have been. There was some repaving of the street going on, so maybe it had been removed for safe-keeping. Because I was visiting on a Monday, I was not able to go inside Tacy’s house (it is only open on Saturdays), nor was the Blue Earth Historical Center open (where there is a Maud Hart Lovelace display). I also couldn’t get to the Glenwood Cemetery, where Maud is buried, because of roadwork. I was also sad to find that the house Betsy lived in during her high school years had been torn down to make way for a parking lot (!)

HOWEVER, the day was magical. Betsy and Tacy’s houses are exactly as I imagined, and because no one was around, I could sit on their porches and transport myself back into the time of the books. I walked up the Hill Street hill and the Big Hill. I saw many of the houses of their friends, including Tib’s (Midge Gerlach, their other closest friend) which was around the corner on Byron Street. I saw the high school where so many of the stories take place, and the slough, where the characters went picnicking and sledding. Carney’s (Marion Willard) house, with its big lawn, is still standing, and looks exactly as it did in my mind’s eye.

Betsy's house - 333 Center St.

Betsy's house - 333 Center St.

Tacy's house - 332 Center St.

Tacy's house - 332 Center St.

Carney's house - Broad Street

Carney's house - Broad Street

Tib's house - Byron St.

Tib's house - Byron St.

It was an amazing day, seeing the town where I had spent so many hours visiting in my mind. I was so happy to see that Mankato takes a real pride in the fact that Maud Hart Lovelace is from there, and was also happy to see so many of the old houses still in existence. There were other parts of the town, the Front Street business area, for example, that made me sad though, because the original architecture is gone. Seeing photos of the spectacular old storefronts just made me more disgusted by the new generic buildings that have taken their place. Where the old opera house used to stand is now an office building. Where the old Melbourne hotel was is now an ugly Holiday Inn. I went into a mostly-abandoned shopping mall downtown and saw that a couple of the old brick storefronts are still there, but have been enclosed inside the modern indoor shopping center. And just seeing the KFCs and Burger Kings, etc., made me ache for the days of mom-and-pop businesses, when towns had originality and personality. Although I am happy that many of the original houses are still standing in Mankato, the business district, like so many other cities in America, has sadly become generic and ugly and could have been almost any city, really, personality-less. I think these are the reasons I love the unique coffee shops in the various cities, and why New York City and San Francisco, despite their flaws, remain two of my favorite American cities – because they still have one-of-a-kind, interesting shops and restaurants that make up the quirky and unique personalities of those cities. There are pockets of those cities that are not all Hooters and Home Depots. 

I wish we could go back to a time where small, individual businesses could flourish and not be such a rarity.

I drove back to St. Paul from Mankato on a couple of rural highways where I could really appreciate what a beautiful state Minnesota is. They don’t call it “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” for nothing! There are lakes everywhere. It is really amazing. I wanted to stop and pull over constantly because there were so many breathtaking sights.

I reached St. Paul as the sun was getting low in the sky and took advantage of the great light and the rental car, and drove up the hill to the cathedral to take some photos of this stunning building. I plan to go back this week or next to see the inside. I realized that the Cathedral hooked up with Summit Avenue, which is lined with all kinds of big, fancy houses, including a house where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived. I made another plan to go back and wander around before we leave town.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Yesterday I drove over to Grand Avenue, St. Paul gem #3. There is a strip, about three miles from downtown, which is oh-so-cool, with boutiques and restaurants and coffee shops. Another place I must go back to. I popped into The Yarnery – a yarn shop – to look for some buttons to put on the sweater I just finished (pictures next post). What a great yarn store! The outside doesn’t look like much, but this store is STOCKED! They have tons of really quality yarn, including lots of Rowan. They also have a ton of pattern books and magazines, and lots of notions, needles and bags and accessories. I was REALLY impressed. If you a knitter and in the area, check this store out.

I then drove over to Minneapolis and visited the Uptown neighborhood, which is filled with shops and restaurants. I spent the afternoon doing a yarn shop tour – visiting three different shops in the city. None were as good as The Yarnery, but it was cool driving around to the different neighborhoods. Minneapolis has some spectacular houses and again with the lakes everywhere! Amazing! Funnily enough, I ended up finding the buttons for my sweater at good old Joann’s Fabrics! 

I finished up in Minneapolis with a little bit more Betsy-Tacy history – visiting Betsy and Joe’s (Maud and her husband Delos’s) first apartment, which is immortalized in “Betsy’s Wedding”.

Betsy and Joe's first apartment

Betsy and Joe's first apartment

This week I am looking forward to visiting the Farmer’s Market around the corner from my apartment building, which I suspect may be St. Paul gem #4, and driving to Sobieski, Wisconsin on Monday to see Ryan’s house (he is there this week doing some more work on the place). And I definitely want to get back to the Cathedral, Summit Ave and Grand Ave.

I am definitely feeling Minnesota.

One Crazy Week

Sorry for being MIA for a few days – I’ve gotten a few emails from friends and family asking what’s up, why no blog entries or emails from me – well let me tell you, this has been a truly exhausting week and I haven’t had time for much of anything besides work.

We travelled to Philly on Monday – it was only  a two hour bus ride from Baltimore. Because I had Tallulah though, I had to sit in the way back of the bus since a couple of cast members are allergic to cats. I tried to get some knitting done but was starting to feel carsick from being lurched around back there, so I had to stop and just look out the window. Luckily my cat was perfect as always and very quiet. Callie’s cat Oscar, on the other hand, howled loudly from the moment she brought him through the lobby of the Radisson until he was settled on the bus and buried underneath her parka. The Radisson doesn’t allow pets, so Elaine and I had been trying to hide ours in the lobby that morning while we waited for the bus – we were afraid all would be discovered when Callie brought Oscar down howling, but luckily no one from the hotel said anything.

I am staying at the Club Quarters in Philly – I was pretty disappointed with my room when I first arrived – not only was it very small, but it also had only a tiny sliver of a window, so it was also very dark. I had specifically requested a bright room, and this is what I ended up with. After speaking with a number of unhelpful people who work there, I finally found a girl who was willing to help me, and after sticking it out in the dark room for a few days, I was able to move into a corner room this past Saturday that has four large windows and is great. I love it, love it, love it. I also went to Urban Outfitters and bought a few new scarves to drape over the furniture and a bright lightweight bedspread to cover up the drab hotel one. The hotel is in a great location – Chestnut between 16th and 17th, right in the heart of all the great shopping. And, it’s only a few blocks from the theater. So now with my lovely bright room, I am very happy. 

So Monday was all about laundry and grocery shopping and then Tuesday was spent at the theater all day loading in. Tuesday night we had our “opening night”. All was going fairly smoothly until Act 2 when Jaki, one of our asst. wardrobe supervisors, fell to her knees and started puking into a trash can stage right. She’s been sick for about a week, but had started feeling better – then was hit again hard on Tuesday. She spent the rest of the show basically leaning over a trash can in the wardrobe room. Since Jaki usually teaches the changes to the locals on stage right on opening night, I had to jump in and pinch hit. Todd, who is here to replace Mike (the wardrobe supervisor) for a couple of weeks while Mike is away, is fairly unfamiliar with Jaki’s track, so didn’t really have any more knowledge than I did. I started asking the locals if I could see their cue cards and tried to interpret the cues the best I could to get them through the show. Somehow we made it through without any major mess. Phew. It was exhausting though. 

And now poor Jaki has been out the whole week. She finally went to the hospital on Saturday to get some fluids and food in her system. Hopefully she will be feeling better soon. The poor wardrobe department has had a time of it lately. On top of Mike having to take off for a couple of weeks and Jaki being sick, many of the cast caught a nasty flu bug this week and have been out, meaning that we’ve been throwing understudies on who have never performed those parts before. Trying to costume them has been an adventure in itself. Eric Hayden made his debut as Galahad on Friday, and the poor guy has such skinny legs that the Black Knight legs kept falling off of him. Fran and Todd had to work some major magic to make that costume fit his body. 

Tuesday night after the show, the presenters in Philly threw us an opening night party at Ted’s Fontana Grill. The food was excellent! The bison burger was my favorite. We were all so tired though, that most of us just grabbed plates of food, and then ate while staring out the window. No one even really had energy to talk.

The theater where we are playing – the Academy of Music – is really beautiful. After playing such an intimate house in Baltimore, though, it has taken some getting used to. It is very tall with many tiers – I think it used to be an opera house. It looks a bit like a coliseum inside. Here are a few pics:

The local crew seem worlds better here than the crew we had last week. They all are pretty on top of their game. We had one small problem of the guys on the fly rail, which is up above stage right, looking down into the girls’ quick change booths during the show, so our traveling crew built a “privacy” curtain for the booths on Wednesday to curtail that problem. One of the local dressers told me that they have the same issue on every show – the guys can never resist peeking at the girls changing. Can we say grade school, anyone?

Wednesday, which is usually the first opportunity for rest and for exploring the new city, was a two-show day. No rest for us!

Thursday we had a full company brush-up rehearsal. Saturday was a big day – Mike Nichols, Eric Idle, Casey Nicolaw (our choreographer), as well as a number of our producers and general managers, were coming to see both shows, so Thursday was spent going over music notes with Ben (our musical director/conductor) and dance notes with Callie (our dance captain), in preparation for all the bigwigs seeing the show. 

Then Thursday night after the show, we had a party for our first anniversary. It’s hard to believe the show opened a year ago already! The party was at a restaurant on Walnut Street. We all got dressed up (it was so nice to see the crew in ties and dresses!) and went for food and drinks, and pretty soon after that the dancing started. Along with our regulars, Paula and Darryl, who can always get the party started, we discovered that our new swing, Nigel, is quite the dancer as well! Also, Robbie, one of our swings, put on quite a show, and Pia was also in fine form. She and Robbie were hilarious together as she must be at least six inches taller than him, and with heels on, even taller than that. My camera was taking some funky pictures in the low light, but here are a few:

The original cast and crew still with us

The original cast and crew still with us

Ben and Jamie

Ken and Karl

Ken and Karl

Pia and Robbie

Pia and Robbie

Michael with Jamie and Paula

Michael with Jamie and Paula

It was definitely a fun night and well-needed after a busy few days. 

Friday was my first opportunity to see anything of Philadelphia, and of course, it rained ALL DAY! I did go out for a long walk, and got soaked, but it was nice to be out exploring, nonetheless. I walked all the way down Walnut Street to where all the historic buildings are, including the Liberty Bell (which is inside, so I haven’t seen it yet), and then cut down to South Street, which is a lot like Haight Street, or St. Mark’s, and I walked along there back to the area where I am staying. I also hit two yarn stores along the way – Loop and Rosie’s Yarn Cellar. Both were fantastic. I bought some yarn in Rosie’s for two projects I have planned, and I want to go back to Loop. I was a little overwhelmed by their stock, and need to go back with a list.

Here are a few pictures from my walk:

City Hall

City Hall

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

First Bank

First Bank

Cemetery

Cemetery

Magic Garden on South Street

Magic Garden on South Street

Saturday was the day we had all been gearing up for. We set up  a waiting room for Mike, Eric, et al. with the small evian water bottles that Mike likes (and which are not easy to find, by the way!). They all arrived around 1:00pm. I tried to just stay out of the way. The matinee was surprisingly smooth after the chaos of the week. We had a note session following the matinee which lasted until about 5:45pm, at which time I had to haul ass over to my hotel to move into my new and improved room. Mike and Eric seemed very pleased with the show and gave very few notes. Casey had more notes, mostly about being more specific in the dance numbers and not letting them get generic.

The evening show technically was not as smooth as the matinee. Patrick, who plays Lancelot, forgot to properly clip his flying harness before entering as Tim the Enchanter, so we had to fly him in and clip him, thus delaying his entrance a few beats. We had notes again after the evening show and Mike said “Does everyone know Tim was late entering?”. Um, yes. Patrick admitted to forgetting to clip the harness. All in all though, Mike and Casey were overjoyed with the evening show and the way everyone had implemented the notes from the afternoon. Esther, who is our Lady of the Lake standby, and who is taking over for Pia when she leaves, was on for the Lady that night, so it was great for the creative team to see her and for her to be able to get notes from them. The funniest note that came out of the whole day, though, was in regards to the Carmen Miranda fruit hat that Chris Sutton wears as Herbert in the number “His Name is Lancelot”. The hat is supposed to have a banana strategically placed to make a joke at the button of the number when Herbert slides between Lance’s legs. Mike said that the hat was all wrong, there needed to be work done on it, that “it was all leaves and not enough dick!”. Hilarious.

So we finally left the theater close to midnight on Saturday, relieved that the day was over. Sunday, fortunately, was only one show. We bid goodbye to Kevin Burrows, one of our original swings, who is leaving the tour. Most people headed to New York for the day off, where there is a Spamalot tour reunion planned for tonight with all the former cast members. I decided to stay in Philly and rest and try and see a bit of the city. I am planning to go back to NYC next Monday and Tuesday though to catch up with friends.

So that was the crazy week. I’m glad it’s over and I’m sorry for being out of touch! Happy first week of Spring!

J'Adore Baltimore


Of all the cities we have traveled to so far, Baltimore is the first city that I could see myself living in. I just love it. Although I probably would not protest too much about living in Fort Lauderdale either, Baltimore has such a vibrant personality, charming neighborhoods, bars with such character, and a fantastic waterfront – even Fort Lauderdale with its beautiful beaches, doesn’t have quite the charm of this town.

There has been a lot of hanging out in bars since we arrived here. The Radisson, where we are staying, has a pretty cool bar, so most nights we have been there, but there is also a great pub called Maggie Moore’s across from the theater where we have hung out a few times. The presenters here threw us an opening night party at Maggie Moore’s, where we all got complimentary shepherd’s pie as well as free drinks. There is a big Irish population here in Baltimore as far as I can tell with Irish pubs a-plenty, and the approach of St. Patrick’s Day is definitely felt. 

Keith, Steve and Tony at the Radisson bar

Keith, Steve and Tony at the Radisson bar

Maggie Moore's

Maggie Moore's

Last week I did quite a bit of walking around and exploring. The waterfront here, called the Inner Harbor, is a great shopping area and loaded with restaurants. The Aquarium is also there as well as a number of old boats which you can tour. The big Barnes and Noble (which I mentioned in my first Baltimore post) is also at the Inner Harbor, housed in an old red brick power plant building.

Fell’s Point is to the east of the harbor, and is filled with fun pubs and restaurants. There is also a cute yarn store there called A Good Yarn, where I picked up some yarn for a hat. Fell’s Point is filled with beautiful brick townhouses – and I looked online this morning, and rents are cheap! Only about $1000 for a two bedroom!

A Good Yarn

A Good Yarn

Fell's Point

Fell's Point

Irish bars in Fell's Point

Irish bars in Fell's Point

Fell's Point

Fell's Point

Harbor

Harbor

On Friday, Ryan and I went to check out the Mount Vernon neighborhood. There are tons of historic buildings there as well as the original Washington monument, which we climbed 228 steps to the top.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Cool old church

Cool old church

View from the top of the monument

View from the top of the monument

The weekend was filled with four shows, which mostly went well. The theater here is really great in many respects. It is a large house, but intimate, so the audience feel very close, which is a good thing after all the mammoth performing arts centers we have been playing. The crowds have not been quite as raucous as the rock star houses we had in Atlanta and Memphis (who knew the south was filled with such Python fans?), but they have definitely been having a good time. The local stagehands here have been a challenge, very forgetful and a bit on cranky side, but luckily, so far, no huge mishaps backstage. Jaki and I butched it up and struck a piece of scenery the other night when the local carpenter was nowhere to be found, but other than that…nothing too tragic.

The clocks changed on Saturday night and with an early show anyway on Sunday, we were waiting to see who would be the one to miss the call. We thought it was strange when one of the actors, who is normally very early, hadn’t arrived at the theater by an hour before the show. Sure enough, shortly before half hour, that actor called in sick. Now, it is really bad form to wait until half hour to call in. If you’re going to do it, you should make sure you call in at least an hour and a half before curtain as that is when all the production departments are in readying for the show. For this actor to call in a half hour before curtain was very discourteous, to say the least. Her understudy had only had a half an hour to get herself ready, as well as the wardrobe crew, who had to run their asses off to change out all her costumes to the understudy’s. All this for what? Because this person woke up too late to spend two hours on make-up? Lame. AND said actor was back for the evening show on Sunday, so it was fairly apparent that there was no sickness involved in calling out. I’ll say no more about that.

Sunday night a group of us went back over to Fell’s Point to go to a bar called Bertha’s, which is known for it’s mussels. They give away bumper stickers that say “Eat Bertha’s Mussels”. Well, we got there, and wouldn’t you know, they were out of mussels! We had a good time anyway, with our crazy bartender Michelle. There were also a couple of old drunk Irish guys down the end of the bar that kept yelling “Ni!” all night once they heard we were from Spamalot. There are bumper stickers all over the walls of the bar that people have created by cutting up the Bertha’s stickers to say something else. Tony made one for us.

Tony making our sticker

Tony making our sticker

Crazy bartender Michelle

Crazy bartender Michelle

We finished the night at the Cat’s Eye Pub, where we listened to some good blues musicians play some tunes.

On Monday I headed to the Aquarium, which was not quite as impressive as the one in Atlanta, but did have dolphins, which I love.

Then I checked out the ‘hood of Federal Hill, which like Fell’s Point, is chock full of beautiful brick townhouses and cute restaurants and businesses.

Monday night was made complete by a delicious dinner at the Rusty Scupper, which is right next to Federal Hill Park. The crab cakes were amazing.

Yesterday I headed back to Fell’s Point for the third time with Ryan to get some sushi and check out the Baltimore Tattoo Museum. It was way cool! The museum is actually part of a tattoo shop and is a small display of the history of tattoo art in America, with bios on some of the prominent artists over the last century and examples of their work. Very cool.

After the museum, we had a bit of time to grab some coffee at the Daily Grind, a coffee house in Fell’s Point, and for me to catch up on a bit of knitting. I am desperately trying to finish the cable skinny scarf I am working on before we leave Baltimore! There are a ton of great yarn stores in Philly and I am looking forward to buying some yarn for some new projects there.

So we have a few more days left in Baltimore and then on to Philadelphia. I am planning on heading back into New York for a day or two at the beginning of April to see friends and catch a couple of shows…will be strange after being away for almost four months! 

Day Five in Detroit

City Knits

City Knits

Well Detroit is everything I thought it would be! The theater is in the downtown area, which is really rundown and empty. I was surprised to see that there aren’t even really any restaurants around – I would have thought that people going to the theater would need places to eat but I guess not! The Fisher Theater, where we are playing, is luckily in a building which also has a few shops and places to get food, so it is not an entirely inconvenient location to be performing. There is actually a pretty good coffee shop in the building as well as a post office, deli and funnily enough, a really great yarn shop called City Knits which of course makes me really happy!

Fisher Theater

Fisher Theater

Tuesday was my first day of work. Rachel and Lee (our drummer) picked me up at 7:30am and we headed towards Detroit from Troy, the suburban town where we are staying. We immediately hit traffic – welcome to Detroit! We managed to get to the theater shortly after 8:00am though, so were not too late for our call. The stage door for the Fisher is accessed through an old gas station – how appropriate is that? Our crew and the local stagehands had been up all night loading the show in. Ken, the PSM, had also been there all night, so needless to say, everyone was not in the finest of moods by the time we got there, for lack of sleep. The load-in actually went really well though and everything was in ahead of schedule. Rachel went through all my responsibilities for load-in with me, which mainly entail getting the dressing room areas set up with cots, valuables bags, and signage, and setting up the houseboard, getting water stations set up, the call desk set up, ordering office supplies, setting up our desk areas, and getting the stage ready for actors – putting down white tape where needed and touching up the spikes. 

The Fisher Theater presents an interesting challenge as it is very tight backstage. We have no crossover on deck, everyone has to use the basement to get from stage right to stage left, so we had to do some strategizing to figure out how to make that work with quick changes, etc. The wing space is also really tight, so much of the scenery and large props are hung in the air and it is a jigsaw puzzle in figuring out when things can be set-up and where to put them when they come offstage.

The show that night was an interesting experience. “Spamalot” travels with two carpenters, two prop staff, and one flyman…so in each city local stagehands are added to round out the crew. They spend all day Tuesday loading the show in and then go into running the show that night with no rehearsal. The two ASMs split the deck for the first three nights in a city – one on stage right and one on stage left, and we basically have to talk through the show as it goes with the new stagehands. It was a bit nutty the first night in Detroit as we had not only 2 local carpenters and a local props person on each side who were learning the show, but also two new ensemble cast members doing their first performance as well as a bevy of local wardrobe crew who were running the show for the first time. Couple that with a theater that has no backstage space and it made for a bit of chaos! It was really fun though to see how it all works backstage. Everyone kept saying it was the craziest first night they’ve had jesince they were in Toronto, which was also a very small theater. I had quite a few people come up to me at the end of the night asking me if I had signed a contract, and would I be coming back the next day! They thought the first night might have scared me away…not likely! 

I wish I had some good pictures of the interior of the theater but even with a flash the ones I have taken are still very dark. It’s quite a sight. Very seventies. Just think gold. Everywhere. Seats, walls, everywhere. Wow. Hopefully I will be able to get some decent pictures before I leave. The one at the top of this entry is about as good as it gets for the pictures I have taken of the theater so far.

It has been great seeing the old cast members again and meeting all the new ones who have joined the company since I did rehearsals with the show last winter. And the crew all seem really great. Everyone has been very welcoming.

So tonight we “marry” the deck, which means only one deck stage manager and the crew are essentially left to their own devices in many cases. So we’ll see what happens. Hopefully no train wrecks. I will shadow tonight and tomorrow and then start running the deck alone on Sunday. Rachel leaves Monday and then I start to learn to call the show.

In terms of sightseeing, I went the giant Somerset mall on Wednesday with Rachel and Rick. It is enormous! We went intending to Christmas shop and instead all we got was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree for Brian (the other stage manager) from Urban Outfitters. It’s a great mall though…I’m sure I’ll be spending some more time there. It’s funny how much you appreciate the mall after living in the city for some time.

Here’s Rick and Rachel in front of Santa’s Castle at the mall:

Rachel and Rick at Somerset Collection

Rachel and Rick at Somerset Collection

and an interior shot of the mall:
  

Car where JFK was shot

Car where JFK was shot

Then yesterday, Rachel and I headed over to Dearborn to the Henry Ford Museum, which is amazing! We unfortunately got there only an hour before closing so only really took in the highlights, but hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back. Henry Ford was a big collector of American artifacts and the museum is filled with some really amazing objects, which include the chair which Lincoln was shot in and also the car in which JFK was killed.
There were also a lot of really cool cars:
 
And the Weiner-mobile:
And lots of other fun things:

There is also a ton of info and exhibits on all of American history, from the Civil War to civil rights – they have the bus that Rosa Parks rode, and all kinds of other bits and pieces from American history. Very cool. They also had a mock-up of a teenager’s room from 1987 that looked just like mine did, with a Cabbage Patch Kid and Depeche Mode poster and other fun ‘80’s memorabilia.

There is also a car factory tour and a reproduction of a historic American village, which I did not get a chance to see, but hopefully if I go back I will. 

Ford Museum

Ford Museum

So that’s about it for my first few days in Detroit – our “opening night” party is tonight. I’m sure there will be more stories to come…