Archive | August, 2013

I Think My Water Just Broke

31 Aug

Today is the 125th anniversary of the first Jack the Ripper murder, but that has nothing to do with today’s entry. Today marks my 9-month anniversary of being on the road! I could have had a baby by now!!

It was on New Year’s Eve that I headed out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to meet up with the cast and crew of Flashdance on a tour that, for all intents and purposes, answered a lot of prayers and met a lot of needs. It’s also restored a great deal of self-confidence.

In these 9 months, I have traveled to 24 cities in 18 states. I’ve visited 20 zoos and aquariums. I’ve worked over 280 performances of 2 national tours and 2 Tony-award winning Broadway shows. I’ve eaten countless pizzas, consumed (and given up) hundreds of liters of diet soda and I finally got to try In ‘n Out Burger. I’ve made so many new friends and have met up with dozens of old ones along the way, and I’ve made some pretty major life decisions, as well. It’s been a great time, and I look forward to seeing what my time with Evita has in store.

Several people have asked me what my favorite city has been so far on the road. That’s a tough choice, but I’m going to try to give you my list of what I consider to be the top 10 most beautiful cities I’ve visited this year…so far. These choices are based solely on my experience in each city, but I will try to back up my choices as best I can. Who knows…maybe this will help you decide where to visit on your next vacation!

So, here goes: My Top 10 Most Beautiful Cities

1. San Diego, California

Image

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California

What’s not to love about San Diego? The weather is almost always perfect – typically between 65° and 75° and sunny every day, there are beautiful beaches, wildlife, great food it’s only an hour and half from Disneyland.

2. Denver, Colorado

Image

Sunset over the Rocky Mountains, Denver, Colorado

The Mile-High City is maybe one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. The view of the Rocky Mountains from my hotel window is worth the visit alone, but this city is chock full of wonderful restaurants (ChoLon Bistro is a must), theatres and shopping. And apparently it’s great for people who like to do outdoorsy things, too. 

3. Seattle, Washington

Image

A view of the skyline from the West Seattle Ferry, Seattle, Washington

You can’t beat the view of the Seattle skyline from the ferry to Alki Beach or from Queen Anne’s Kerry Park, and the sunsets over the Olympic Mountains are stunning when viewed from the piers along Puget Sound.

4. New Orleans, Louisiana

Image

Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana

I hated New Orleans the first time I went there. Hated it. That was pre-Katrina, and I’m so glad to have gone back to get a new appreciation for the beauty of this city. From the uniqueness of the French Quarter and its architecture to gorgeous parks and creepy above-ground cemeteries, there is something different about New Orleans that has to be experienced to be understood.

5. Phoenix/Tempe, Arizona

Image

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, Arizona

I never dreamed I’d find the desert to be beautiful, but it is truly stunning and completely different from anything I’ve ever seen before. I felt as if I were on another planet. That anything so dry and inhospitable can be home to so many plants and animals is astounding. Why anyone in their right mind would choose to live in a climate so brutal is beyond me, but after seeing the Sonoran Desert in all its glory, I can understand why you’d want to live there.

6. Spokane, Washington

Image

Spokane Falls, Spokane, Washington

The little city of Spokane packs a lot of punch. The roaring Spokane River and Falls create wonderful, rainbow-colored walls of mist rising up from the swirling waters below the multiple bridges throughout Riverfront Park.

7. Portland, Oregon

Image

The Portland Aerial Tram with Mount Hood in the background, Portland, Oregon

One of the weirdest places I’ve ever visited, Portland is also one of the greenest places I’ve ever been…and I don’t just mean the flora. Portlanders are almost fanatical about going green to save the environment, and after seeing Portland and the surrounding area, I can understand why. The view from Marquam Hill gives you a panoramic look at both the city as well as Mount Hood, Mount Rainier and the infamous Mount St. Helens. And…my friend Colleen lives there. You should buy her albums.

8. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Image

The Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota

I don’t know what I expected of Minnesota – it was my first time there – but what I got far exceeded those expectations. The home of Mary Richards and grizzly bears, the Twin Cities are rich with art and theatre, delicious food and beautiful landscapes.

9. San Antonio, Texas

Image

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Because of the crazy heat, I wasn’t able to see much of San Antonio, but no trip is complete without a visit to the basementless Alamo and the Riverwalk.

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Image

The Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore has a bad reputation, but it really is a beautiful if quirky city. Full of history, art and interesting architecture, they don’t call it Charm City for nothing.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me, encouraged me, housed and fed me and played tour guide for me over the last few months. Thanks, of course, to my Mom and Dad. Thank you to David, Cy, Brendan and Ildi back in New York for the job and the hard work you do. Thank you to Pete & Derek, Colleen, Tom & Anthony, Debbie & Gary for sharing your homes with me. Thank you to Nick, Maria, Julie, Dr. Almquist, Dr. Black, Stephen, Mike, Josh, Nicole, Davina, Sarah & Jay, Kristi & Robby, Rachel, Jill, Matt, Emily, Todd & Ben, Alicia, Laura & Sandra, TJ, Kinnie, Kyle, Kade, Megan, Renee, Rachel, Ariel, Kristin, Kris, Dean Parker, Debbie and Adam & Sue Ann for driving for hours to see me, for showing me around, for all the lunches and dinners and wonderful memories. And, of course, thanks to my friends at Flashdance the Musical. I can’t wait to see y’all again real soon!

Image

Let Us In! Let Us In! (Let Us OUT! Let Us OUT!)

26 Aug

You can never predict what will happen on the road. Today, for example…I went out…I took a nice walk…I visited a museum…I got locked out of my hotel room for nearly two hours.

My original plan for today was to rent a car and drive to the Garden of the Gods, but I slept in a little later than I planned and, honestly, I wanted to save some money. When I arrived in Denver two weeks ago there were free passes to the History Colorado Center on the call board backstage, so I grabbed one, and I decided to use it today. I took a lovely mile-long walk to the museum, stopping a couple of times to take some photos of things that I found to be interesting or beautiful and then spent a good two hours walking around checking out the exhibits. There were some very interesting exhibits there and I very much recommend a visit there if you have the opportunity. There was one exhibit in particular that I found to be very disturbing regarding the Granada War Relocation Center, also known as “Camp Amache” in southeast Colorado. It was one of the many Japanese-American internment camps our government sanctioned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. I had heard of such places, but I honestly don’t remember ever being taught about these concentration camps on our country’s soil. Because I don’t know much about the subject, I’m going to refrain from writing further about it until I’ve had an opportunity to do some more research. But I do plan to write more about it.

Anyway. After the museum, I headed back to the 16th Street Mall, where I grabbed some lunch and stopped by RiteAid for some toiletries and then walked back to the hotel. I was hot and tired – it was about 94° out today – and my stomach was full, which was making me sleepy. I just wanted to go back to my room, change clothes and take a nap. After all, that’s what days off are for…right?

I got to the hotel around 2:00 and headed straight to my room on the 14th floor. I swiped my electronic key and…nothing. No beeps, no lights, no clicks…just nothing. So after a long wait for an elevator, I headed back down to the front lobby to have them reactivate my key. The front desk receptionist told me to try it again and if the key didn’t work this time to just call down to the front desk using the courtesy phone near the elevator bank so I wouldn’t have to come back down again. When the newly reactivated key didn’t work, that’s just what I did.

“Thank you for calling the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver. This is ____________. How may I help you?”
“Hi. This is Jason Bratton. I’m staying in room 1420…I was just down there about my key not working. The reactivated key isn’t working, either.”
“Ok. I’ll send an engineer up to room 1422 to take a look at it.”
“No…no, I’m in 1420…not 1422.”
“Ok. 1420. And you are Mr. Braxton?”
“No. Bratton. B-R-A-T-T-O-N.”
“Ok, Mr. Braxton. I’ll have someone come up in a moment.”

An engineer finally came up about 5 minutes after I hung up the phone. He probably had to wait forever for the elevator, too. He swiped his key and nothing happened. He told me the battery in the lock unit was dead and then hemmed and hawed about how he hates when this happens.

“It looks like you’ve got a problem,” he said.
“Actually, I think it’s the hotel that’s got a problem,” I responded.
“Well, all your stuff is in there, so it is your problem.”

He had a point.

He told me he’d need to go get a second engineer to help him get the door open so they could change the battery. He told me he’d be back in 5-10 minutes and that I could come down to the front lobby lounge to wait. I really didn’t feel like going back downstairs, so I declined and chose to wait it out in the hallway. I could wait 10 minutes. No big deal.

Fifteen minutes later I was still waiting for him to return with his buddy. I stopped a housekeeper and asked her if she could give me a roll of toilet paper because I was out and then I explained that I was waiting to get back into my room. She correctly assessed that the battery was dead in the lock and told me that it shouldn’t take very long once the engineers got back to get inside and fix it. She was wrong.

I’m not sure why it took so long for them to return to my room – all they came back with was a battery and a contraption that looked like a cross between a plumber’s snake and one of those nooses they use to capture rogue alligators in Floridian’s backyard pools. I quickly surmised that the idea was to slide the contraption under the door, hook the door knob with the noose and then pull so the handle would come down and the door would open. Easy, right? Apparently not. After about 15, maybe 20, attempts, the guy operating the contraption said, “Maybe we need tape.” The other guy, who had been standing at the door saying things like, “It sounds like you got it! OH! You had it, man! You had it!,” agreed and headed back down to the basement to get some duct tape. In the meantime, the guy with the noose continued over and over and over to get the door open. Didn’t Einstein say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? I think he was proven right today.

Finally the second engineer came back with a roll of tape. They covered the noose with the duct tape, I guess with the idea that the tacky tape would help them grab onto the door handle. After 10 or 15 attempts using nearly a half a roll of tape, they started talking about getting out the drill. All the while, I’m sitting in the hallway floor as hotel guests walk past, and then eventually my housekeeper friend reappeared in the hallway.

“Are you still not in your room? It’s been at least half an hour since I saw you last!”
“Actually, it’s been an hour,” I thought, but I just forced a smile and shrugged my shoulders as the two men to my left wrestled to get my door open.

Ninety minutes after arriving back at the hotel, they finally got my door open. My housekeeper friend, who had disappeared briefly, returned with two $10 vouchers for the restaurant downstairs and a free bottle of water. “I thought you might like this for your trouble,” she said. Had that been the end of it, that might have sufficed, but it took another half an hour for them to replace the battery and then reset the lock, so I awkwardly meandered around my room, cleaning up since I haven’t had my room cleaned since I got here.

“How long are you staying with us?,” the first engineer asked.
“I’m here 20 days in total. I’ve already been here for two weeks. That’s why my room looks like it exploded.”
Twenty days!?! Phew! That’s a long time,” he replied.
“Yeah. Today was my day off.”
“What a way to spend it, huh? Locked out of your room.”
“Yeah. Not exactly what I had planned…”

I know things happen on the road that you can’t plan for, but…shouldn’t hotels have back-up plans for this sort of thing that don’t involve a wire hanger and duct tape? If your hotel is equipped with electronic key systems, shouldn’t someone have come up with a plan to get into a room should there be a battery or power failure? Do they not train for things like that should there be an emergency situation? Thank goodness I didn’t have anywhere to be today, like work or the airport. That would have been a nightmare!

Hilton HHonors (can anyone explain the second H?) tweeted that they would make the hotel management aware of the situation, so I’m hoping they’ll see fit to give me some additional Hilton points or something. I’m not usually one to feel entitled to free stuff when things like this happen, but it was an inconvenience and really, they should have been able to get me into my room much faster than they did. We’ll see what happens. My friend Chris said the same thing happened to him once and the hotel comped his entire week. I’m not expecting that, though I wouldn’t be opposed to it, either. I mean, really…at this point I might be assuaged if they just offered to do my laundry for me so I don’t have to tomorrow!

What are your travel headache stories? Hotels…airlines…busses…taxis…cruise ships…whatever. I’d love to hear them!

If We Could Talk To The Animals

20 Aug

My job on the road is a unique one. Unlike the cast and crew of the show, I am really only called into work for performances. Other than coming in a little early to receive deliveries of merchandise, which really only takes about an hour, I have my days free whereas the cast and crew often have understudy rehearsals, brush-up rehearsals, put-in rehearsals, press events, etc. that take up their days. One of the ways I keep myself entertained and active, both physically and artistically, is by visiting the zoo in every city I go to.

Years ago, I had a computer game on my PC called “Zoo Tycoon.” It was another variation of the Sims-type games in which you would build your own zoo – exhibits, public areas, etc. and care for the animals. It was actually very educational – it taught you what each animal ate and in what kind of habitat they lived in the wild. It lead me to visit the Bronx Zoo back in New York. I don’t remember my first visit there or who was with me – I’ve been so many times now I can’t keep track – but it made a big enough impression on me that I asked my parents for an annual membership for my birthday. The membership allowed me to visit the zoo whenever I pleased, granting me entrance to all of the attractions that would normally cost extra – the Congo gorilla exhibit, the monorail, etc. – and it also allowed me to bring one guest with me and 15% off food and gift purchases all around the zoo. For $100, it was a great deal, and it started my love affair with animals.

My birthday is just a few days before Thanksgiving and, until last year, I spent the holiday in New York, usually working a show or having an “orphan” Thanksgiving dinner with all my other friends who couldn’t make it home to their families. The year that my parents gifted me the annual pass to the zoo, I didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t scheduled to work. I didn’t have dinner plans with anyone. I was going to be alone, so I grabbed my little camera, hopped on the subway and headed to the zoo. It was an overcast day – kind of drizzling and damp and depressing. I called my Mom and Dad once the train went above ground and they passed the phone around to all my family members who were at our house cooking Thanksgiving dinner. My Mom and grandmother cried at the idea of me being alone on Thanksgiving, but I assured them that I was quite content to have a day to myself – just me and my camera – but the truth was, I had been feeling really lonely that day.

Once I got into the zoo, though, that lonely feeling quickly went away. There was no one in the park – I basically had the place to myself. The souvenir stalls were closed, the one restaurant that was open was being run by a skeleton crew. It was just me and the animals, but I felt completely at peace. Because the weather was cool and there were no crowds of screaming children banging on the windows, I had an unprecedented front row seat to seeing every animal in that zoo. Spending 15 minutes staring into the eyes of a lowland gorilla with your hands pressed against the 2 inches of plexiglass that separate you is exhilarating. Feeling the roar of an African lion resonating through your chest is awe-inspiring. I took out my camera and started to play.

One of my creative outlets is photography. I’m completely self-taught and I really only do it for fun, but I really can spend an entire day taking hundreds and hundreds of photos, trying out new angles, new settings and lighting. Being at the zoo with my camera is one of the few times that I am absolutely a paragon of patience. One of the things that I have learned and now greatly appreciate is that you cannot make an animal do anything – they will do what they do and it is our privilege to get to watch them do it. No amount of banging on the exhibit’s glass or shouting or yelling or whistling is going to wake a sleeping snow leopard. Chances are that you’re not going to get that lion to raise his head by roaring at him…I think he probably can tell that you’re not really a lion. And throwing things? Well, that’s just going to piss someone off, and it’s probably going to be me.

I know a lot of people have mixed or negative feelings about zoos. Many argue that keeping wild animals in captivity is cruel and detrimental to the well-being of the animals and that they should be out in the wild where they belong. Early zoos would keep large animals – bears, cats, etc. – in cages that weren’t nearly large enough and provided no stimulation for the animals. Zoos have grown and developed in the last 50 years, though. Most zoos around the country – and I can attest to this because I’ve been to a lot of them now – have moved away from small caged enclosures in favor of large, open exhibits that more accurately represent the animal’s native environment. Last year in San Francisco, the zoo created 10 tons of man-made snow for the polar bear exhibit. The Denver Zoo, with funding assistance from Toyota, just completed a $52 million dollar elephant pavilion. Rather than bars and cages, most exhibits in modern zoos are surrounded by moats and rock walls, which not only give visitors a clearer view of the animals, but also provide a buffer between the animals and the humans, which helps to reduce stress on the animals. The animals are very well-fed with a diet that reflects what they would eat in the wild combined with additional nutrients, vitamins and medications to keep them healthier than they might ever hope to be in their natural habitat. Every animal has an indoor, temperature-controlled night house to serve as protection from the weather as well as the other animals in the exhibit and the animals are under constant observation by zoo staff to ensure that they’re healthy and happy. Speaking with a docent at the Denver Zoo yesterday I learned that the zoo staff actually performed acupuncture and physical therapy with one of their sea lions to help alleviate her arthritis pain. That’s better care than a lot of humans receive.

Because of the number of breeding programs throughout the zoo system, both in the U.S. and worldwide, animals are no longer taken from the wild – the majority of the animals in zoos were born there. Zoos will typically only take in animals from the wild if they are orphaned or injured – two scenarios that would certainly leave the animal vulnerable to attack or starvation. To ensure a clean gene pool, extensive notes are kept regarding breeding and, when needed, animals will be transferred from zoos all over the world to make sure that there’s no accidental inbreeding.

Zoos serve a far greater purpose than just entertaining humans: they provide an up-close encounter with animals that we might only read about in books or see on television, thereby giving us a greater appreciation of those creatures and, theoretically, making us think twice about making choices that might endanger those animals in the wild. Psychologists have learned that it is harder for a kidnapper to hurt or kill his victim if s/he begins to view the victim as a person and not an object. Think back to that scene in “The Silence of the Lambs” where Catherine Martin’s mother goes on television to ask Buffalo Bill to bring her daughter back to her. She keeps repeating Catherine’s name and Clarice Starling says, “They’re trying to make him see Catherine as a person – not just an object.” I know that’s a kind of twisted reference, but I feel like zoos do the same thing. If you have a personal experience with a tiger or polar bear or a panda, perhaps you will be more conscious about their conservation, even if it simply means making a donation or recycling your Mountain Dew bottle.

Zoos also provide me with an absolute sense of wonder and appreciation for the sheer engineering and architecture of the animals on our planet. Consider the animals that live on the African savanna: four of the largest mammals in the world live there (elephants, giraffes, rhinos and hippos) and each are, depending on how you view things, built or have adapted to living in that environment. Giraffes can grow up to 17 feet tall so that they can reach the tender leaves higher up in the acacia trees, allowing them access to food that no other grazing animals can reach. Because their necks are so long, though, they should theoretically pass out or die from the amount of blood that would rush to their heads when they bend down to drink. They don’t, however, because there are valves the blood vessels in their necks that prevents the backflow of blood to their heads. Every one of a giraffe’s spots contains a bundle of blood vessels that release heat, helping to cool the animal in the hot African sun. I don’t care how you think giraffes got that way, but that’s pretty incredible engineering. It’s incredible to think that every animal – including humans – has a physiology that aids in our survival. I am in awe every time I look at these amazing creatures – gigantic elephants down to the tiniest of poison dart frogs. I have never once visited a zoo – even the worst ones – that I haven’t stopped and marveled at the beauty that exists in this world. It’s a very spiritual thing for me. In a way, I feel like it brings me closer to God.

Many of my friends have poked fun at me for my obsession, but I know it’s all in good fun. I’m fully aware that it’s odd for a grown man to choose to spend his day off at a zoo every week, but it’s my happy place. Being near the massive San Diego Zoo definitely figured into my choice to move there once I’m done touring. In the last 8 months I have been to 18 zoos and 3 aquariums across the country. I’ve had the rare opportunity to pet a koala, to scratch the throat of a Galapagos tortoise, to play with New Guinea singing dogs, to feed giraffes and kangaroos, to ride camels and to snuggle with one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever met. And I’ve documented the whole experience with literally tens of thousands of photos and I’m compiling them into a picture book. Here are a few of them. I hope you enjoy!

Image

Penguin, Ueno Park Zoo, Tokyo, Japan

Image

Asian Elephant, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO

Image

Amur Tiger, Brandywine Zoo, Wilmington, DE

Image

Orangutan, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, LA

Image

Snow Leopard, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO

Image

Feeding giraffes at Zoo Miami, Miami, FL

For more information about zoos’ and aquariums’ roles in conservation, education, science and recreation, please visit the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s website at www.aza.org.

Ladies And Gentlemen: Elvis Has Left The Building.

16 Aug
Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Even though I was 9 months old when he died, Elvis’ music has had a major impact on my life. I don’t consider myself to be a fanatic by any means, but my love of Elvis cannot be denied.

It started in high school when I joined the show choir and met a guy named Adam. His mom and dad were local celebrities in Paducah, known around town for their band playing gigs here and there, but mostly for their history of covering Elvis’ music. They had both toured in the late 80’s with a show called Elvis: An American Musical and Terry Mike, Adam’s dad, had played “young” (1950’s) Elvis. Debbie was in the ensemble. She once told me that her big featured solo was at the top of the show, singing a gospel number at what was supposed to be Elvis’ funeral. She said one night just before the curtain went up, the follow spot operator who was sitting just above her behind the proscenium dropped an entire bag of Skittles, scattering little rainbow-colored candies all over the stage floor and into her wig. As she told it, the only way she could keep from laughing during what was supposed to be a very sombre moment was to play off her chuckles for sobs. That’s a pro, ladies and gents.

The Playbill for Elvis: An American Musical.

The Playbill for Elvis: An American Musical.

Adam’s family was wonderful to me from day one. Adam and I had become close friends through show choir, and they invited me into their home many times. Debbie and I became close, as well. She was so sweet and funny – a cool mom who happened to be a pretty kick-ass rock and roller. She also wrote beautiful poetry. Terry Mike was always great to us, too, but he wasn’t around as much because of performance obligations. The fact that he had actually met The King a time or two made him incredibly intriguing to me, though I rarely ever got up the nerve to talk to him about it.

Because of the Jeffrey family’s connection to Elvis and his music, I became slightly obsessed, too. I bought his greatest hits CDs. I had Elvis t-shirts. I watched the movies. When I got a car, I got a “1ELVIS” novelty plate for the front. I went with Adam’s family to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one weekend and there I had a “Viva Las Vegas” hat embroidered at a kiosk in one of the strip malls. And, of course, as I’ve already written, we did a medley of Elvis music for our year-end choir show, which very nearly killed me.

Adam and I at Dolly's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, TN circa 1994. I was rockin' that Elvis t-shirt!

Adam and me at Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, TN circa 1994. I was rockin’ that Elvis t-shirt!

Terry Mike once took several of us to Graceland for a day trip. I don’t know if we actually did or not, but I felt as if we got VIP treatment because of Terry Mike’s connections. I’ll never forget my first time entering the TV Room, decorated in yellow, black and white with a huge lightning bolt in the center of wall and the letters TCB, which represented Elvis’ personal credo, “Taking Care of Business in a Flash.” Or the hideously tacky Jungle Room, which is covered in green shag carpet. The racquetball court now features all of Elvis’ trophies – awards, gold and platinum records, etc. as well as some of his fancier jumpsuits. And across the street, his private jet, the Lisa Marie, which had a “King” sized bed fitted with a huge seat belt that went across the width of the bed so you could be strapped in for safety as you napped. Yes, it was tacky and yes, it was over the top, but would you expect anything less from a man who wore bedazzled white polyester jumpsuits?

Elvis' TV Room at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

Elvis’ TV Room at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

My Mom loves Elvis. She’s particularly moved by his recording of “Mama Liked The Roses.” It makes her cry every time she hears it. I sang “Can’t Help Fallin’ In Love” at my friend Lissa’s wedding. For auditions, I have an entire book of monologues about or involving Elvis. And every time I hear “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” I can’t help but think of the episode of “Designing Women” in which they visit Graceland and Julia finds out why people really love Elvis’ music. He’s the butt of a lot of jokes now, but Elvis was the real deal and I will always be a fan.

So, in honor of the King, here are some of my favorite Elvis performances. I hope you enjoy.

As Yer Ship Breaks To Bits, From Yer Deck, For A Sec, You Can See My Lovely…

15 Aug

Greetings from the front lobby of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colorado, where the first national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher is playing its first preview. The last two days have been crazy for me. I can’t even begin to imagine how crazy it’s been for everyone on and backstage.

The marquee for the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher outside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, CO.

The marquee for the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher outside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, CO.

After arriving in Denver on Tuesday, I checked into the hotel, got some lunch and headed to the theatre to start loading in this show. Having worked the show on Broadway, I knew there was a lot of merchandise to count in and fold and I really just wanted to get as much of it done as early on as I could. No need for additional stress when it can be avoided…right? Upon arrival backstage, everything seemed to be going swimmingly – the merchandise had been delivered, the booth was here (one of my biggest fears was that it wouldn’t show up) and my storage hamper was here, too. I was chomping at the bit to get to work, but the cast and crew were in the middle of tech rehearsal, which meant everyone was busy and tired, including the people I needed to help me. I ended up sitting around for three hours waiting to get my booth rolled out to the lobby to get started, only to find out that four of the wheels had broken off of it, making it unmovable. I was told they could fix it, but probably not until today. Now…I had two and half days built in for load in and set up, which is a day longer than we had for Flashdance, but I am here alone this time. I had two people in Pittsburgh helping me load in, fold and display Flashdance.

After sitting around for so long, I decided to take matters into my own hands, which may or may not have violated some union rules, but they were on their dinner break and I couldn’t wait any longer. I emptied out the broken booth, counting inventory as I went, and transferred everything into the empty hamper, which I then rolled out into the lobby myself. I also moved all the boxes of merchandise out front so that I could have as much of my stuff in one place as possible. My plan for Wednesday was to set up the display grid that would be behind the booth, count the merchandise, fold and box up the shirts, dress the mannequins and call it day. Well, luckily the amazing props and carpentry crew for this show took the initiative and put my booth on dollies as a sort of temporary fix so that it would be functional. Hallelujah!! These folks deserve a free hat at very least! They’ve even offered to paint the booth to make it match the set! Amazing. Anyway, when I came in yesterday I was able to get them to roll the booth out front and I set to work. After eight non-stop hours, I had done all I could do, so I packed up and went to dinner.

The booth just before house opened tonight for the first preview of the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher in Denver, CO.

The booth just before house opened tonight for the first preview of the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher in Denver, CO.

I don’t know if it’s the thin air or if it was the exhaustion and lack of food, but I felt so weak and tired on my way to dinner last night that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it the four blocks to the restaurant. I’ve not really had any issues with the thin air so far as I can tell, but I do notice that I’m a little more out of breath than usual if I walk at my normal New York pace. I’ve also been sleeping a lot more than usual. In any case, I found a wonderful little cafe that happens to be celebrating their 15th anniversary this month, so they have slashed the prices on their dinner specials. I got half of a roasted chicken with haricots verts and mashed potatoes for $10.99. Seriously?!? It was such a deal that I decided to treat myself in honor of my Mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Mom!) that I also had the crème brûlée, which is one of my very favorite desserts. I will definitely be returning to the Rialto Café to try the other specials. The $8.99 chicken pot pie sounds delicious, and it’s right within my price range.

My delicious crème brûlée from Rialto Café in Denver, CO.

My delicious crème brûlée from Rialto Café in Denver, CO.

I’m also very excited to be in Denver because, as I found with Flashdance, I know several people here! A couple of my friends from grad school live here now and a young woman I used to work with in New York has relocated here, as well. The What A Feeling! 2013 Reunion Tour continues…only with a little Starstuff mixed in for good measure.

It sounds like Act One is about to come to an end. And away we go!!

The amazing Rocky Mountain sunset on my first night in town as seen from my hotel room in Denver, CO.

The amazing Rocky Mountain sunset on my first night in town as seen from my hotel room in Denver, CO.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

13 Aug

Greetings from 40,000 feet above somewhere over Indiana. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night – I don’t know if it was anxiety, excitement or the 2 quarts of iced tea I had, but I just could not get myself to sleep. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. when I finally nodded off, and my first alarm went off at 6:45. I should probably be sleeping right now, but as I said before, I don’t like to sleep in public.

Somewhere over the Midwest...

Somewhere over the Midwest…

I said my goodbyes to Mom before she left for work and Dad and the dog dropped me off at the airport at 8:30. Due to weather in the northeast, my plane’s arrival was delayed by nearly an hour, but that was fine – it allowed me time to get some breakfast at the Chili’s Too in the Louisville airport. P.S., Chili’s Too – calling your breakfast platter the American “Feast” might be just a touch overzealous.

Even though I knew I had some extra time, I shoveled the “Feast” into my face as if I were in an episode of “Man vs. Food,” where the only prize is indigestion and oily skin. In fact, I got through check-in, security and I had finished my breakfast by 9:15 – 45 minutes start to finish. That left me a lot of time to sit in the terminal, which I actually don’t mind as long as it’s quiet. I picked out a seat to myself two gates away from my own where there was no one near me and I sat for a while watching CNN on the flatscreen TV mounted above my head. Remember when they used to have small TVs in the terminals mounted on long rows of seats and you had to pay to watch your favorite show in miniature black-and-white? Am I dating myself? Moving on…

My peaceful Valhalla in the middle of Terminal B quickly crumbled around me with the arrival of a family of 5 – a mom, a dad and their three beautifully blonde daughters who were probably between the ages of 8 and 13. Despite the hundreds of empty seats throughout the terminal, the dad planted himself in the seat nearest me and in an instant, as if they were in their living room, all three girls dropped their rolling carry-on bags and laid themselves out in the middle of the terminal floor, shoes off and iPhones in hand. Despite laying right next to each other, they shouted back and forth about how hungry they were and how they needed to find an electrical outlet to charge their various devices while the mom and dad both ignored them and focused on their own iPhones. So as to not look out of place, I pulled out my iPhone, as well, and managed to  snap a quick picture of the dad and the several dozen empty seats behind him. At such close range it was difficult to snap a picture of the entire scene, but I think you’ll get the point.

My awkward attempt at a picture of the close-sitters. Do you see all those empty seats that they could have chosen?

My awkward attempt at a picture of the close-sitters. Do you see all those empty seats that they could have chosen?

I don’t know what it is about me that attracts people to me. I don’t mean this in a conceited “everyone finds me to be incredibly handsome” kind of way. I mean in a “Hey! I see that you have your headphones on and, despite the 20 other people around you who are not enjoying music or are in the middle of a phone call, I’m going to choose you to ask for directions” kind of way. It happens to me all the time. I am a magnet for personal space invaders. If I were a betting man, I would put money down that any time I get on an empty or mostly-empty subway car, someone will come sit right next to me. There could be sixty empty seats and sure as shootin’, I’ll have a neighbor. If I happen to be seated in a moderately crowded train where there are no more seats available, you can be sure that momentarily someone will grab onto a rail or pole directly in front of me, and they’re probably not wearing deodorant. If I’m in an empty movie theatre, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will end up sitting right in front or right behind me. I don’t get it. Am I so devastatingly handsome? Does my Midwestern charm and delightfulness just ooze out of every pore, inviting people to approach me? Do I just smell really good?

While I do smell pretty great (L’Occitane’s Green Tea is my signature scent), I’m pretty certain I am not an overly inviting person – especially when I’m out on the streets of New York. I put on my best bitchy resting face (B.R.F.) so as to say, “Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t even think about it.” And bam! “Um, excuse me sir? Which way to Macy’s?” or “Can I just squeeze in there?” Sometimes when people plant themselves next to me, I will passive-aggressively get up and move to one of the dozens of empty seats while flashing them my best B.R.F., which inevitably invites someone else to come park himself next to me and want to strike up a conversation. Or a mariachi band will step onto the train just as the doors are closing and play “Cielito Lindo” just inches away from me.

But really – what makes people feel compelled to encroach on someone else’s space when there are plenty of more comfortable options? Why is that when you park your car all the way in the back of mall parking lot, where there are no other cars for hundreds of feet, there are always cars park in the spots on either side of you when you return? What makes someone think, “Oh! Someone has chosen this secluded toilet stall in the back corner. They must want a neighbor while they relieve themselves.” Is it a safety in numbers thing? And while we’re at it: Gentlemen, let’s talk about urinal etiquette, shall we? Always take the outside urinals first and then fill in the middle, only using every other urinal unless it’s particularly crowded and you’re forced to stand next to someone. And do you really need to prop yourself up against the wall while you pee? Is the force of your urine flow so strong that you must brace yourself to avoid being blown backward by the pressure?

Sorry…I went a little off-topic there, but that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

Speaking of peeing, the gentleman in the “I Love Cheese” t-shirt just came out of the lavatory that I’ve been waiting for for the last 10 minutes. Excuse me while I climb over the lady who plopped herself into the center seat next to me just as they were closing the door. See you in Denver!

Rocky Mountain Hi!

12 Aug

So I’m completely failing at the daily posts. The last couple of days have been simply fraught with important things to do. Mostly napping and watching “Shakespeare in Love” (why is Showtime showing it every night? And why can’t I not watch it?). We’ve now caught three – yes, THREE – mice. Two of them in my very own room, which sort of makes my skin crawl, but it’s better than roaches any day. I’ve done a bit of shopping, I’ve done some laundry, I’ve done some cooking and I’ve done some packing and purging. Yes, friends…it’s time to hit the road again.

It’s been a month since I said my farewells to Flashdance in Kansas City and tomorrow I fly to Denver, Colorado, to start the load-in and set up for the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher, which will start previews on Thursday. I really can’t believe that it’s been four weeks, but I must confess that I’m ready to get back out on the road. I actually miss tour life. I’m excited to go to Denver for the first time and to have two weeks there is just a bonus.

I must admit, however, that I am slightly anxious about loading in this show. My boss won’t arrive in Denver until early next week, so it’s up to me to set up the booth and display it out, or make it look pretty. I’m not terribly nervous about the actual set up – I know there will be a lot of folding of shirts and counting inventory. My main worry is that not everything will be at the theatre waiting for me. I have a tendency to worry and play out scenarios in my head – I suppose I’m preparing for the worst – and the scenarios playing out in my head now are doozies. What if the booth doesn’t show up? Or the display grids? What if I don’t have the supplies I need? At least I have two full days to get everything set up and ready to go, just in case there are problems.

I’m also anxious about joining another company full of people that I don’t know. I may be an oversharer in this blog, but in real life, I am painfully shy when it comes to meeting strangers. When I went to Pittsburgh to load in Flashdance, I had my boss and the Creative Director of our company there with me to make introductions and to guide me in building the display as well as folding all the shirts that had to go into the booth. It took three of us a day and a half to get it all done and it was nice to have the company. I’ll only be with Peter for two weeks, so I know I won’t really have time to make friends with anyone, and as long as I go in knowing that, I should be alright. I’ll simply find things to do on my own.

Arriving in a new city has become old hat for me in the last 7 months, but I have always arrived in new places with a full company of people l know, or I’ve known someone who lives in whatever city we’re playing. Or both. Denver is a complete unknown for me. I don’t think I know anyone who lives there – at least not anymore – and I will know absolutely no one connected with the show when I get there. I don’t know why that makes me nervous – I do very well on my own – but it does. Still, I’m excited to go somewhere new with a new show. It should be fun. I hope.

On a different note, I’m excited to see that my blog is being read all over the world in countries that I never dreamed it’d reach. This week alone, it’s been read in Spain, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Australia and since I’ve been writing, it’s also been read in the UK, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, France and Switzerland. Wow!! When I started writing this, I had no idea if anyone would read it, and while I’m still not hitting numbers in the thousands (or, let’s face it, in the 100’s) on a weekly basis, I am still quite humbled by the number of people who do read it. Especially people I don’t know in countries I’ve never visited. So…to all the readers out there around the world who might read this: ¡Hola y muchas gracias! こんにちはとどうもありがとうございました ! Ta very much! Salut et merci beaucoup! Ciao e grazie mille! Hallo und vielen Dank! Hi en baie dankie! Merhaba ve çok teşekkür ederim! مرحبا وشكرا جزيلا لك!

And many thanks to all of you here in the States who are reading along, as well. It means a lot to me. See you in Denver!