Archive | December, 2013

Happy New Year-versary!

31 Dec

I can’t believe it, but one year ago today my adventure on the road began with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a dream. One year. I really can’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d make it 6 months, but here I am, back at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be out on the road, but I know that 2014 is going to bring some big changes and I can’t wait.

So, what does one year on the road mean? Well…for me it means this:

318 Performances (including tonight)
3 National tours
2 Broadway shows
1 off-Broadway show
33 Cities
21 States
29 Hotels
29 Flights
11 Buses
10 Rental Cars
23 Zoos and Aquariums
5 Trips to Disneyland
3 New Suitcases
…and a partridge in a pear tree.

I’ve said it before and I maintain to this day that taking this touring job was the answer to about a hundred different prayers and I am still so grateful to have the job and the opportunities it affords me. I miss having a kitchen, yes, and my own bed, but what a joy to be able to see my friends around the country, to go to Disneyland so many times, to eat such wonderful food everywhere we go and to have the memories of a wonderful year-long road trip.

To celebrate my year on the road and all the wonderful things that I got to experience and all the friends I made and reunited with, I made this slideshow of photos. I do hope you’ll take the time to watch and enjoy it!

Happy New Year!!

 

Please See “Saving Mr. Banks”

29 Dec
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Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L Travers visit Disneyland in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

I’ve been meaning to write a post about “Saving Mr. Banks” since I saw it a couple of weeks ago at a screening at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. I meant to write about it after I saw it again this past Thursday with my family. But I haven’t. I have not been able to find words that were eloquent and succinct enough to express the deep emotional impact it had on me. So I have given up and I will let someone else do the work for me.

Today I came across this review from Mark Hughes, a contributor at Forbes.com. I believe his review is about as close to everything that I would wish to say about this film as I could have written, but his is more precise and far less rambling. (I wrote a 4-page draft about my feelings regarding the movie. You can thank me later for trashing it).

My personal connection to the film is very different from Mr. Hughes’ – I am lucky enough to still have both of my parents (neither of whom are alcoholics or abusive, for the record) – but the film’s message of self-forgiveness and letting go of the past spoke to me on a very deep level because of my own traumatic experiences. Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to share my childhood trauma here for you, but today is not that day. Not yet. Beside…that’s not the point of this entry. The point is – you really should see this movie.

Christmas Is Coming And I Am Getting Fat

13 Dec

I cannot seem to come to grips with the idea that Christmas Eve is only 11 days away. This whole “West Coast” thing is really throwing me off, with 60-something degree temperatures and palm trees and t-shirts. It’s almost jarring to see a Christmas tree in the middle of all this warmth. And yet the locals are walking around in fur and scarves and gloves as if it were 20°F out. I do have to admit, though, that 50° feels cold to me now. That’s just weird.

I do know it’s Christmas, however, because I am filled with an overwhelming urge to buy things that I know people want and then immediately tell them about it. I’m great at keeping people’s personal secrets, but when it comes to gift-giving, I have a long history of letting the cat out of the bag. One year my Dad got my Mom a microwave for her birthday – this was back when microwave ovens were relatively new. He hid it downstairs in the basement under some packing blankets and boxes and within a couple of hours I had taken Mom down to “find” it. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise by telling her what he got her, so I just showed her.

I’ve so rarely ever been able to buy people things that I get very excited when I get them something I know they’ll want. This year my parents have said that they already have everything they need and they don’t really want anything, so my Dad told me specifically what he wanted and, while I’m sure my Mom will enjoy what I got her, it’s not really anything to get overly excited about. My brother and I pretty much trade iTunes gift cards every year, which is actually pretty great, but sorta silly because we literally give each other the exact same amounts. But this year I’ve also gotten a couple of friends something that I know they want but would never actually buy for themselves and I can’t wait for them to open them. I am so tempted to drop a hint that I have something for them, but I don’t want to make them feel like they have to get me something in return, so I’m biting my tongue. Sorta. I mean, I did just publish it on the world wide web for the world to read, but still…they don’t know who I’m talking about.

Our cast and crew are going to be doing a Secret Santa deal next week. I’m very excited about it – I’m already planning out ideas. Those ideas may change depending on whose name I draw. There’s a $30 gift limit, but I am really great at giving good gifts on a budget. One year I was totally broke, so I made my Mom a couple of CDs of songs that she and I used to listen to together when I was a kid. The CDs were printable, so I printed photos of us on each one – the first disc was of us when I was a kid and the second had a more recent picture of us. My Mom is not terribly sentimental, but I think she loved it. We’ll see how Secret Santa works out in the end, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

In the meantime…it’s time to go to work.

And There Was Much Rejoicing

12 Dec

It is 7:51am on the West Coast. For those of you keeping track, that’s really, really early for me, but thanks to last night’s scare, I wasn’t sleeping very well, so when I woke up for a pee (I’m old. It happens.), I decided to go ahead and make the phone calls needed to figure out what’s happening with my student loans.

Well, here’s the skinny: They screwed up this time, not me!! I am completely paid up to date on my loans, but Brazos hadn’t updated my file with PHEAA, so PHEAA has continued to try to contact me about a default on an account that is actually current and has been for many months. So that “FINAL NOTICE” that I got yesterday which told me that I had “FAILED” was, in fact, an empty threat. Brazos has not submitted any paperwork or requests to PHEAA to initiate a default because my account is paid up. Basically, the letter I got last night gave me a panic attack at work for no reason at all. Thanks for that, Brazos and PHEAA.

So that’s it. I can go back to celebrating. And back to bed.

I May Have Spoken Too Soon…

11 Dec

Remember the other day when I wrote about how excited I was to, for the first time in my adult life, be completely paid up on all my outstanding bills and be pretty much done with my Christmas shopping? And that I still had money left – a pretty good amount of money, actually, that I’ve been saving this entire year I’ve been on tour so that I can move to San Diego when this adventure comes to an end…? Well, as I should have expected, my optimism was suddenly crushed today with the receipt of a letter from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

As I wrote in my earlier post, I was in a very bad place financially when I took this tour. It has taken me nearly a year to pull myself out of that rut, but I’ve done it – a feat that I once considered impossible. But over the summer, as I was still trying to get my things in order, I became behind in my student loan payments again. In July, I submitted a request for a Graduated Repayment Plan to Brazos Loan Servicing – one of my two student loan lenders. They accepted my request and reduced my payments to a manageable amount, also bringing my account current and waiving any late fees up to that point. Since then, I’ve done my absolute best to keep on top of those payments.

As recently as December 6, I phoned Brazos and made a payment of over $90, bringing my account current (meaning not delinquent and certainly not defaulted) with my next payment due on December 19.

Tonight when I arrived at the theatre, there was a delivery of mugs, magnets and keychains waiting for me at the stage door. I struggled to get them both through the maze backstage and through the doors with annoying handles and up the stairs to my booth. When I opened the box of magnets and keychains, my mail was there, as well, as my office forwards it to me from New York. A couple of pieces of mail had been opened (I assume accidentally, even though my name was clearly printed on all of it) and one happened to be a letter from PHEAA dated November 27, 2013.

The letter is clearly intended to immediately put the fear of God into the reader. It read, “Dear Borrower: FINAL NOTICE: PLEASE READ. According to our records, you have FAILED (thank you, PHEAA, for making me feel like more of a failure…and yes, they wrote “FAIL” in all caps) to respond to previous notices that your student loan is severely delinquent. As a result, your student loan will default!…” The letter goes on to explain that should I default, the entire amount I borrowed will be due in full to PHEAA immediately. I will be reported to “all nationwide consumer reporting agencies as a defaulted government debt.” PHEAA will “initiate collection action against” me, which could include garnishment of wages and IRS refunds. A 19% collection fee would be assessed and added to my defaulted balance, increasing the amount by nearly $2,300. Ain’t that a fine how’dja’do? The letter concludes with, “THIS IS YOUR FINAL NOTICE. PLEASE TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS AND CALL TODAY.” Talk about intimidation!

I immediately went into a tailspin after reading that letter. I very nearly cried in front of our two Evas tonight when they came to see me at my booth before the lobby opened. They both could tell that something was wrong. What do they mean, I’m defaulting? I’ve been paying my bills! I spoke to someone at Brazos on Friday – someone who gladly took my money – and she never once indicated that I was even late with the payment, let alone on the verge of defaulting! Is there another loan that I’m missing or forgetting? If that were the case, wouldn’t the woman at Brazos have mentioned something about it?

I went to Brazos’ website tonight after walk-in ended (sorry to all the patrons here tonight – I’m pretty sure I looked like a whipped puppy/zombie). I signed in and made another payment of $90 (a few dollars more than is actually due on the 19th) and, according to the site, my account is current and in repayment – not delinquent or in collections. I called ACS – my other loan lender – and checked my account there, too. Current and in repayment. Next balance due December 14.

The logical side of me keeps saying that I’m OK – that this is just a mistake that will be taken care of tomorrow. (The downside of being on the West Coast is it’s difficult to conduct business with the East Coast because of the time difference). The freaked out part of me thinks that I’m about to slapped with a bill for $14,000 just a week or two before Christmas. Harkening back to the shame factor I talked about in my last entry about money, I considered calling my Dad to try to get him to calm me down, but I didn’t want to admit to him what’s going on…not because I think he’ll fly off the handle, but because I don’t want to disappoint him and because I’m embarrassed. But…embarrassed of what?? According to everything I can find, I am all paid up on my bills! Completely! This should be a time of relief and a rare moment to relax and be proud of myself, but in this moment, all I can keep thinking is, Is there something I’ve missed?

Perhaps it’s irrational of me to look for trouble where there is none, but it has been my personal experience that no matter how much I try to be in complete control of the things going on around me (which creates a whole other set of issues) –  no matter how many times I check that the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted, it’s almost a guarantee that I have somehow missed an entire page of incomplete lettering and things will come crashing down around me. I know that’s a very Negative Nancy approach to living. I’m not proud of it and I am trying to change it.

So, what do I do? There’s not much I can do. I have to sit and wait until their offices are open tomorrow. I have to try to sleep through the anxiety of what I may be told when I speak to them. I will do what I always do – prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Are You A Good Witch Or A Bad Witch?

8 Dec
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Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”

Tomorrow marks the 111th birthday of Margaret Hamilton, better known to most of the world as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West in the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” You might be surprised to know that Miss Hamilton’s Witch had twelve minutes of screen time in the film and in those twelve minutes, she gave life to a character that continues to terrify children almost 75 years later. Her Wicked Witch of the West has become a part of popular culture around the world, introducing phrases like “I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog, too!” and “I’m melting! Melting!” into the popular vernacular with people often attempting to imitate her distinct Witch’s voice and laugh. Her green skinned, hook nosed Witch, thanks to the work of costume designer Adrian and makeup designer Jack Dawn, has become the standard look for a witch. Her Witch is the highest-ranking female villain on AFI’s Top 100 Film Villains list, topped only by Hannibal Lector, Norman Bates and Darth Vader.

Like most Americans, I have a very strong connection to “The Wizard of Oz.” I remember watching it on television every year and specifically I remember watching it one year at my aunt and uncle’s house. It must have been around Halloween because I remember the adults being in the living room watching “Psycho” while my cousin Meredith and I watched “The Wizard of Oz” as we played “school” in the room next door. When the Wicked Witch made her first appearance in Munchkinland, Meredith started getting a little skittish. By the time she set the Scarecrow’s arm on fire along the Yellow Brick Road, Meredith was gone. She actually chose to go watch “Psycho” – “PSYCHO!” – because Norman Bates was less scary to her than the Wicked Witch of the West. (Didja hear that, AFI? You might want to reconsider your Top 5 Villains, thankyouverymuch).

In 8th grade I was cast as Uncle Henry in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. It was my first lesson in the heartbreak of Show Business – I so desperately wanted to play the Scarecrow or Tin Man, but no such luck. Once a character actor, always a character actor. Our choral teacher, Mrs. Nellis, was kind enough, though, to let me sing a song – “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Railroad.” You may have missed it in the film because, well…it wasn’t there. I sang it a cappella while I raked up…something. We never established what it was that I was raking…horse poop, perhaps? What do you want from me? I was 13 and it was my acting and singing debut. What did I know? I was just so excited to be a part of it.

The night before our opening I was at church hanging out with some friends after the service while our parents socialized. One of the things we liked to do was to run across the concrete parking curbs, trying to test our balance. Apparently mine wasn’t very good because I fell and cut my knee open on some iron rebar that was sticking up through one of the holes in the concrete curb. I laughed about it with my friends, trying to hide my embarrassment and horror at the fact that I had torn the knee of my jeans. I stopped laughing, though, when I started to feel something running down my leg. Blood. Lots of it. Someone ran to get my Dad and I started having a panic attack. I was scared because I was bleeding, but also because I was afraid I’d get in trouble for having to go to the emergency room for stitches. But most of all I was scared that I’d miss the show.

Dad took me to an immediate care center not far from the church building and I was sobbing the entire way there. I begged him to call my teacher to tell her what happened because I didn’t want to let anyone down and I wanted to see if there was any way possible that I could still do the show, all while someone was poking around inside my knee with needles. I couldn’t have cared less about that – there was the show to think about! My Dad was able to get in touch with Mrs. Nellis and they agreed that he’d keep her updated on what was happening. I ended up getting several stitches and going home, where my parents had to make sure I kept my leg elevated and the bandages clean.

The doctor said I should be fine to do the show as long as I didn’t bend my leg, so Mrs. Nellis and my Dad had the idea that I could use a cane. Uncle Henry was supposed to be an older guy, so that should give me depth of character…right? So, in true trooper fashion, I hobbled out onstage with my cane, picked up my rake and began my first solo in front of an audience. And I was good – all my family said so.

Because of my involvement with the play, I became slightly obsessed with all things Oz. I bought books about the making of the movie, I bought the screenplay, I had posters and puzzles and I watched the movie hundreds of times. I love all of the characters in that film, but the one that stood out to me was the Wicked Witch of the West. She didn’t scare me – she fascinated me and I couldn’t really tell you why. It was her look, her sound and her motivation that intrigued me and she quickly became my favorite of all the Ozian characters from the film. So much so that I decided I wanted to be her for Halloween.

We had a Big Lots near our house and I would go in there whenever I could. As a preteen, I only had the money I got from my allowance and what I made mowing lawns, so Big Lots was a wonderland for a kid with $5 to blow. By the end of August they had started putting out Halloween costumes and makeup and it was then that I decided I was going to be the Wicked Witch. I bought up every shade of green makeup I could find – foundation, lipstick, fingernail polish – a black wig, fake nails, a plastic nose and a pointy hat. I watched the movie over and over, making sure I made myself look as much like her as I could, though in reality I just ended up looking like a kid in a thrown together witch costume.

It never occurred to me that other people might think it was strange for me to want to dress up as the Wicked Witch of the West. I would never have considered dressing up as Dorothy, but for some reason the Witch was different. Yes, she was a female character, but in my mind she was just a character. I suppose I never really assigned a gender to the character, though Gregory Maguire eventually played up her femininity and sensuality in his retelling of the Witch’s story in “Wicked.” I was fascinated by her look – the angles of the face, the color of the skin, the detail in the costuming and how they used cut up bits of celluloid to make her fingernails. I also remember being fascinated and horrified by the story I had read that Miss Hamilton was very nearly burned to death during her exit through the trap door in Munchkinland when the fireball went off too soon and the makeup on her hands and face caught fire (see video below).

I can’t imagine what my parents must have thought when they saw me walk out in full Wicked Witch drag, but I don’t remember them ever saying anything to me about it. They may have despaired and wrung their hands in agony behind closed doors, but I don’t remember seeing or hearing it. I took my brother out trick or treating that night. We came to the houses of a couple of people I went to school with and I remember suddenly feeling uncomfortable being dressed as I was. I hoped that they wouldn’t recognize me under the nose and makeup, but I’m sure they did. When we would come to those houses, I would stay closer to the street so they couldn’t see me so closely.

Halloween that year happened to fall on a church night, so we went out trick or treating early and had to head home to get ready for church. I showered and tried to get all the fingernail adhesive and green makeup off, but when we got there, my friend Wade leaned over and said, “You’ve got some green makeup behind your ear.” It wasn’t a judgement – just a statement. I was finding green makeup around my face and hands for  days. Elphabas of the world, I felt your pain.

As I got older and looked back at that Halloween, I found myself judging my 13-year old self for choosing the Wicked Witch as a Halloween costume. I became embarrassed for something I hadn’t thought twice about originally and soon I began to let go of any interest I had for “The Wizard of Oz” to distance myself from the thing I had become ashamed of. For years, I rarely gave it another thought.

A couple of years ago, though, a friend posted a video on YouTube that really moved me and gave me permission to let go of that shame and embarrassment. It was a video of Margaret Hamilton meeting Mister Rogers on his show. In the segment, she dresses as the Wicked Witch and the two of them talk about the character, trying to make her seem less scary to children. Miss Hamilton explains that the costume is just that – a costume – and that the Witch was the way she was because she had never, ever gotten anything that she’d wanted in her entire life and that made her frustrated. It’s a beautiful piece of television. The part that really was wonderful to me, though, was the discussion they had at the beginning of the segment about wanting to dress up as a witch for Halloween. Miss Hamilton said it was the one thing she wanted to be most for Halloween and what a thrill it was for her to get to be one in the movie and then Mister Rogers said something that really floored me. He said, “Well, girls and boys like to play witches, don’t they?,” and she agreed with him. With that short statement, all the shame and embarrassment I felt about dressing up as the Wicked Witch of the West melted away, if you’ll forgive the pun.

So to the great Margaret Hamilton, who created a timeless character in just 12 minutes’ worth of celluloid, I say “Happy Birthday!”

Happy 100th Performance, EVITA 1st National Tour!

7 Dec

Tonight marks the Evita tour’s 100th performance. In celebration of that milestone, I spent the first act of the show working up some new publicity art for the show. (I get bored). Enjoy!

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