Archive | May, 2014

See Ya Real Soon

25 May

Hi, readers! Greetings from Orlando, where tomorrow I will spend my last day of vacation. This week has been absolutely unreal – three days at Disney World followed by an incredible three days aboard the Disney Dream with my friend, Brance, and today I spent the day at Kennedy Space Center with my friends Kristi and Sara, who were also good enough to drive me to my hotel so I didn’t have to find a shuttle bus or taxi.

There are so many things to write about – and I will, but not necessarily tonight because I need to get to bed if I’m to get up in time for the bus to Magic Kingdom in the morning. But there were so many magical moments this week and, honestly, I’m quite sad to have said “so long” to Brance and the Disney Dream. I found myself getting quite emotional and reflective yesterday, wishing that my cruising experience could continue and that I could spend more time with my friend. I miss him already.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for this past week. “Thank you’s” and small gifts just don’t seem to be sufficient expressions of appreciation, but I’m afraid they’re all I can offer at this point. Brance can’t possibly know what this has meant to and for me. This was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries and to find my bliss again, and I’m so excited to have one more day in the Happiest Place On Earth.

I will definitely have more to write in the coming days as I return to Evita and the road. See ya real soon!

Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!

13 May
"Here Lies Love" is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

“Here Lies Love” is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

Today on my way in to work I had my iPod plugged in and on shuffle. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with it, but it tends to play the same song rotation over and over again, but today it switched things up and surprised me with a few forgotten treasures. One of them was, admittedly, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” which I may have sung full-out with shoulder-ography down I-45. A couple of times. Don’t judge me! As exciting as that was, I got even more excited when it started to play the opening bars of “Here Lies Love,” the title song from an incredible show with music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim that’s currently playing off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in New York City.

While I was back in New York last summer, my boss informed me that he was treating me to a night at the theatre. He had two tickets to a musical at the Public called Here Lies Love and all he knew was that it was about Imelda Marcos, the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, the former President of the Phillipines. I didn’t know anything about her other than she was famous for having several thousand pairs of shoes, so you can imagine that I was a little less than enthused about seeing a 90-minute show about her. Especially after we got to the venue to find out that it was an experiential theatre piece, which I typically hate. I enjoy the fourth wall, both as an actor and as an audience member. Set in a Filipino karaoke dance club, we entered the space to find a giant platform on wheels in the middle of the room and we were instructed to fill in the space around it. There were ushers in coveralls with fluorescent reflective tape all over them and we were told to pay attention to where they directed us to go throughout the performance. On one end of the room was a very small stage, but other than that and the big platform, there was no set to speak of.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos' shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

Suddenly the show started with a DJ up on a platform and cast members entering from all different areas of the room and the ushers started herding people and moving us around the room as smaller platforms were moved in from – well…nowhere, it seemed – and suddenly there was Ruthie Ann Miles, the actress portraying Imelda Marcos. David and I both looked at each other incredulously, not sure how she got in the center of the large platform, but he and I were both completely absorbed by the show in a matter of minutes. For the next 90 minutes or so the entire room moved and morphed and changed, with platforms and actors and lights moving and changing. The story of a young Imelda unfolded in front of, behind and beside us, only briefly giving a nod to the root of her obsession with shoes in a single lyric, but providing mounds of insight in to this woman’s past:

At least we have each other.
The neighbors pass us food.
No clothes, no bed, no jewelry.
Sometimes I had no shoes.

It occurred to me midway through the show that this show was to Imelda Marcos what Evita was to Eva Perón, which could have been a tired concept, but this show was so fresh and engaging that it stood no chance of being just another bioplay. Alex Timbers’ (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher) direction focused the audience’s attention to various areas of the performance space while other, less interesting things (like set changes) were happening behind us and suddenly our attention would be directed back and there’d be a new piece of scenery that hadn’t been there a moment before. During one scene, rain drops were projected on every surface of the room – walls, ceiling, set pieces – everywhere and one by one, the cast came out with umbrellas and stood on a stage as Natalie Cortez (A Chorus Line, West Side Story) sang the haunting “Just Ask the Flowers.” We – the audience – watched from a second stage on the other side of the room and suddenly in the middle of the song, the stage on which the entire cast was standing starting slowly moving toward us, creating the feeling of a slow zoom in on the scene. It was simple, but so cinematic and breathtaking. When the number was over, the cast passed through the crowd and we were ushered forward onto the stage that had just moved toward us. On the back side of that stage were a set of steps and we were asked to sit for the remainder of the show, and when it ended, we were encouraged to stand up and join in a dance party with the cast as they sang a reprise of the title song.

David and I are pretty seasoned theatre professionals and we’ve both worked with some major talents in our time working on Broadway, but both of us were so gobsmacked by the show that we decided to stick around and meet the cast – particularly Ruthie Ann Miles – to congratulate them on such an incredible theatrical experience. We both downloaded the concept album before we’d even gotten home that night and until just a few days ago, we were anxiously awaiting the release of the Original Cast Recording of the show, but unfortunately, due to the Public Theatre’s schedule, Here Lies Love had to close just a few weeks after we’d seen it, which made us worry that a cast album wouldn’t happen. Well…it’s finally out and it’s fantastic, and I’m happy to say that the show re-opened in its original space at the Public for an open-ended run, which means more people will get to experience this strange, wonderful and surprisingly moving piece of musical theatre. Hopefully that will include you, Dear Reader.

Go see this show. In the 13 years I’ve lived in New York, Here Lies Love ranks in my personal Top 5 Best Theatrical Experiences and I encourage you to experience for yourself.

New From Disney: It’s “Market Me Elsa!”

12 May
"Frozen" is coming to ABC's "Once Upon A Time."

“Frozen” is coming to ABC’s “Once Upon A Time.”

OK. So I admit, I haven’t watched the show in a couple of seasons because I can’t really watch TV shows in real time on the road (and, honestly, because I was starting to lose interest), but ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” has grabbed my attention with the teaser that they showed at the end of last night’s episode, although I have no idea what the blue liquid has to do with Elsa…

Apparently Elsa, the Snow Queen from Disney’s “Frozen,” will be joining the citizens of Storyville next season, and I have to say – she looks good! I have a few friends that object to Elsa’s inclusion in the roster of storybook characters mostly because she’s the princess du jour thanks to the popularity of the movie while many other more classic Disney characters have yet to make appearances on the show. Others think it’s just too soon to have her included on the show, but I think it’s a brilliant marketing plan – not for the movie (it’s done $1.19 billion worldwide and sold 3.2 million DVDs and BluRays in a single day), but for the show, which has been showing a slightly declining viewership since last season. Disney would be foolish not to take advantage of the film’s popularity to tie in with the show, regardless of how new the character and film may be. People clearly have connected with Elsa (and Anna), so why not give them what they want?

Another complaint I’ve heard about Elsa’s appearance last night is that her hair is too blonde – not white enough. I’m going to reserve judgment on that, but I will say, though, that hers is the best Elsa costume I’ve seen yet. Even better than the costumes being used in the parks, in my opinion.

Speaking of Elsa costumes…there’s still an alarming lack of “Frozen” merchandise out in the world. I was at the Disney Store in The Woodlands Mall here in Houston today and I did not see one piece of “Frozen” merch anywhere in the store. Not even a keychain. I don’t really care, personally, but there are some incredibly angry parents out there who want – no, need – to dress their little girls from head to toe as Anna or Elsa or their children’s lives will be ruined. Or they’ll just learn that you don’t always get what you want. Either way, this site is hilarious and sad all at the same time. Have some patience, people! They’re making it as fast as they can!!

In related news, however, I did manage to pick up a Maleficent t-shirt and keychain at Hot Topic…and that movie hasn’t even been released yet! Even Barnes and Noble had an end cap devoted to the old bat. Perhaps Disney has learned from their mistakes with “Frozen…?”

Maleficent is also coming May 30.

Maleficent is also coming May 30.

P.S. – This was officially my 100th blog entry!!

Don’t Look Back

10 May
Desi Oakley's debut album, "Don't Look Back," is available on iTunes May 20, 2014.

Desi Oakley’s debut album, “Don’t Look Back,” is available on iTunes May 20, 2014.

One of the amazing things about this job is getting to meet and work with some very talented people. Desi Oakley is one of them. Desi is our Alternate Eva on this tour, meaning in a very simplified way that she plays Eva Perón twice a week, allowing our “Regular” Eva (and her best friend in real life), Caroline Bowman, to give her voice a break. She was on Broadway in the recent revival of Annie as well as Wicked and she’s worked regionally playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid among other things. While that is all well and good and impressive and whatnot, she is also a very talented songwriter and is about to release her debut CD of her own music. I’ve heard Desi sing this show dozens of times and she’s fantastic as Eva, but I’ve never heard this voice from her, literally and figuratively. There’s beautiful, heartbreaking storytelling going on here, folks, but it’s not at all Broadway, as the American Idol judges would put it.

“Don’t Look Back” will be available on iTunes on May 20, 2015, but you can go to YouTube and listen to the title track now – and I recommend you do. Or you can just watch it here. And then you can order the CD, because I know you’re going to want to.

 

Return To Neverland

10 May

Do you ever have moments in your life where you stop and think, “When did I become such a grown up?!” I had one of those moments a couple of days ago as I began to put the finishing touches on my upcoming (and much needed) vacation. We’re in Houston, Texas, now, just wrapping up our first week with one more to go and, apart from my general distaste for Texas in general and Houston specifically (this is the only city in my 18 months of touring that I’ve been cussed out by a patron because I told her grandmother she couldn’t walk away from my booth with merchandise she hadn’t paid for), I cannot wait for this upcoming layoff.

“Layoff” is often a scary word to “normal” people (read: those of you who don’t work in the theatre), but to those of us on the road, a layoff is doesn’t mean you’ve lost your job – it just means that you have a week or two (or four) off before your next city. For the cast and crew of the show, it means they’re able to file for unemployment insurance for the duration of the layoff. For me it just means a week off and, for the first time in my adult life, a full-blown vacation! Normally I would either go home to Kentucky for the week and sit at home or be put to work by my mother on various projects that she always has going or I’d go back to New York to work whatever shows our company has running on Broadway, but I opted out of both of those options because I have an incredible opportunity to take a very cheap cruise on the Disney Dream for 3 days.

One of my best friends from undergraduate school is a cast member, both by Disney and theatrical terms, on the Dream, performing in their stage shows for the cruise guests. As a Cast Member, he is allowed to have guests on the ship from time to time and they can either stay with him in his cabin or, if space permits, the guest can upgrade to a stateroom for $60/night. There’s a $12 charge per day to cover food, as well, so basically it’s a cruise for $72 a night. That’s an absolute steal. The ship sails out of Port Canaveral, FL, on Thursday afternoon and returns on Sunday. Since our first city after layoff is Miami, I asked my boss to book me a flight from Houston to Orlando on Monday and a flight to Miami the following Tuesday. That means I get three days at the parks before I head to the ship, and then an additional day at the Magic Kingdom the Monday after the cruise! So much Disney, so little time. I know, I know…I was just there less than a month ago, but this time will be different. This time I don’t have to work shows at night, so I can spend the entire day in the parks, allowing me time to do whatever I’d like without feeling rushed or worried about time.

Even better? I’m not paying for a single night in the hotels in Orlando. Not with money, anyway…though I am paying with months and months of hotel stays. After being on the road for so long, I have racked up some serious hotel loyalty rewards points – enough to book 3 nights at a Hampton Inn (with free shuttle to the parks) for free and still have some Hilton HHonors points left over, and I barely had to dip into my IHG points to get two free nights when I get off the ship. As I’m allowing myself to splurge a little bit (I haven’t had a proper, non-working vacation since 1991), I bought myself a 4-day Park Hopper pass and made reservations for lunch at two of the full-service restaurants (Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom and the 50’s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). I’m going to try to get into Be Our Guest for lunch one day, though as I wrote in a previous post, it’s nearly impossible to get in without a reservation. We’ll see… Anyway. As I sat at my computer making hotel reservations and arranging transportation and things I thought to myself, “When did I become the grown up who books his own vacation?!”

Sometimes I find myself feeling that way on travel days – especially if I’m traveling separate from the company. I find myself walking through the airport thinking, “Did I really just get myself from Los Angeles to Miami on my own? Aren’t I the grown up!” It’s usually at that point that I find myself face down on the sidewalk with my suitcase, full of Disney plush toys, splayed open for the world to see, having tripped over a floor mat or small child, and I am suddenly snapped back to reality.

After my three days at the parks I will (somehow) get myself to Port Canaveral to board the ship. If I’m lucky, this will be the most stressful part of my vacation. I still haven’t found an affordable way to get myself to the Port, but Brance and I are working on that. I know there is a shuttle bus that runs from the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, but in order to get a spot on one of those shuttles, you must have a ticket confirmation number – essentially a boarding pass. Since Brance is walking me onto the ship as his guest, I don’t have a proper ticket, so I can’t get on that shuttle bus. Not even Disney magic could make that happen, apparently. I also know there’s a shuttle from Orlando’s airport, but I’d have to take a cab all the way back there, which won’t be cheap. I tried calling the Hampton Inn to speak to their concierge, who is actually a Disney concierge, but s/he wasn’t available after noon. That totally makes sense to me – who needs a concierge after noon in a town that is solely driven by tourism? If any of you have any insights or ideas about getting from WDW to Port Canaveral without having to cab it back to the airport, I’d be very appreciative!

Once the cruise is over, I’ll head back to Orlando and check into a Staybridge Suites for Sunday and Monday night, and I’ll spend Monday at the Magic Kingdom again. Tuesday morning I’ll be on a plan to Miami, where we’ll open that night. It sounds a little hectic, and perhaps it is, but I’m excited for it. And who knows…maybe this time I’ll get to meet Anna and Elsa…?

And in other news…I’ve lost 25 lbs. Have a magical day!

Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

I See Your Schwartz Is Bigger Than Mine

3 May

Greetings from San Antonio – home of the Alamo, some of the most delicious carne guisada I’ve ever eaten and the city where the MerchWhore blog got started nearly a year ago. This is also one of the busiest cities I’ve ever played in terms of merchandise sales. While I love being busy, this particular city presents some problems that other cities don’t – primarily that the merchandise booth is situated in the back of the theatre. I’m talking…inside the auditorium. That’s pretty typical in a Broadway theatre that seats around 1,000-1,400 people, but it’s almost never the case in a touring house. Working in the back of the theatre means that I have to turn out all my lights once the show starts and basically can’t make any noise so as to not disturb anyone around me, including the light and sound technicians sitting near me…not to mention the actors onstage.

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage...

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage…

Working in the dark presents challenges, as well, such as counting money, pulling and folding stock and doing paperwork. With Flashdance, I had a little flashlight that I held between my teeth so that I could see what I was doing. For Evita, our head carpenter let me borrow a headlamp so I could have my hands free. It’s very useful, but I still have to be careful not to turn my head too quickly or in the wrong direction or I may find myself working as an unintentional spotlight operator. But seriously, I do have to be careful not to become a distraction with my light to the audience or the people onstage. A random light bouncing around on the back wall of the house can become not only distracting to the actors, but it could be dangerous. This is one of the many reasons flash photography is not permitted in the theatre – a sudden burst of light can distract or even temporarily blind an actor or dancer and they could potentially hurt themselves because of it in a whole host of ways: falling into a trap door, not moving out of the way of a moving set piece or falling off the stage. It sounds silly, but it’s happened. The setup in this house is not an ideal situation, but being flexible is all part of the job.

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Another challenge this setup presents is a shorter selling period. Typically when I’m set up in the front lobby of a big performing arts center, I’m set up and open an hour before the show starts. Because I’m not inside the auditorium, I can keep my lights on and I can open and close doors and drawers and move things around without fear of disturbing anyone but the ushers. I can also sell to patrons who have maybe stepped out to use the restroom or get a drink. I don’t like doing it, but as long as they’re not disturbing the people inside…I’ll make the sale. I mean, that’s my job.

Here, however, the doors to the auditorium aren’t opened until 30 minutes before curtain, so I have half the time to do twice or sometimes even three times my regular sales. Again, this is typical of a Broadway production in New York, but tours generally play to houses twice or even three times the size of a Broadway theatre, so that extra half hour of sales time is important. Still, I’ve been doing this a long time and I am quite good at getting people through the lines quickly and accurately. It generally means I don’t have time for small talk or banter – just get ’em in and out – and sometimes people get offended by that, but my priority is getting through 50 people in 15 or 20 minutes. I don’t mean to be rude or short with anyone…I just have a limited amount of time in which to do my job.

During certain periods of the year, the actors in the show will sometimes collect donations from patrons at the end of the show for an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. If you don’t know about them, you should read up on them. They do wonderful work not only in AIDS research and support, but also in women’s health and other organizations such as the Actors’ Fund, which helps actors with a whole host of things. I’ve even used the Actors’ Fund’s services by way of the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic when I’ve had anything from a sinus infection to mono and didn’t have insurance to cover the bill. Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. During those collection periods, some of the cast members would come out with their little red buckets and be absolutely appalled at the number of audience members that would leave during what’s called the curtain call, which is when the actors come out after the show to take their bows. The curtain call is an opportunity for the actors to thank the audience for their attention and support and applause, and it’s a chance for the audience to show their appreciation for the work that the actors did onstage. In our business, it’s a sign of disrespect to get up and walk out while a company of actors is taking their bows – even if you are just leaving to beat the traffic or because your babysitter needs to get home by 11:00. As much as I dislike it, I do sell during the bows when my booth is out in the lobby, but because I’m actually inside the theatre here, I don’t. Not only do I feel it’s disrespectful, it’s also impossible to do in the dark.

Tonight during the last few minutes of the show, I headed to my booth and started to get set up for the walk-out. I carefully chose my moments to move the booth in and out, choosing only the loudest musical moments so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone. The last 4 or 5 minutes of the show are very somber and quiet – SPOILER ALERT: she’s dying – and it would be an absolutely awful time to accidentally knock over a mug or drop a CD. As I was standing behind my booth, watching Eva die through the hinged cracks of my back booth, listening to her quietly sing, “The choice was mine and mine completely…I could have any prize that I desired…,” a man approached me in the dark and started talking to me in his full voice, not even bothering to whisper.

“I want a Star Quality t-shirt.”
“I’m sorry…I can’t sell while the show is still going,” I responded.
“Oh!,” he said, a little miffed. “Well then, never mind.”

A few seconds later he came back to me. Eva was still dying.

“Y’know what, just go ahead and get it ready.”
“I’ll get it ready when the show is over. She’s still singing, sir. I can’t sell while the show is still going.”
“Forget it! You lost a sale,” he said. “Your loss.”

I thought that was the end of him. I thought he’d left. I watched the rest of the bows, waiting for the blackout onstage so I could turn on my lights and start selling as I heard what sounded like a herd of cattle leaving the theatre behind me. At the appropriate time, I switched on my lights and turned around to find the man and a younger guy (I assume his son?) standing at my booth. His son very snarkily said to me,

“Dr. ______________ would like to buy a t-shirt. Is that alright with you? Is he allowed to do that now?”
“Yes. The show’s over now, so I’m happy to help you. What can I get for you?,” I responded, as pleasantly as I could, despite his complete douchtasticness.
“I want a medium Star Quality,” Dr. ________ said.
“Unfortunately, I only have that one in a ladies’ large or extra large. Would you like to see the large?”
“Seriously? Y’know what? Forget it. And you know somethin’? You should learn some respect,” said the man who tried to buy a t-shirt during the show. As he walked away, he added, “This is why you’re going to be stuck working for $15 an hour for the rest of your life!”

And y’all wonder why I dislike people so much.

I’ve worked with the public for a long time and I’ve had a lot of insults thrown at me in that time – it comes with the gig, unfortunately – but for some reason, I’m having a hard time shrugging this one off. I guess it’s always kind of bothered me that I have a Masters degree and I’m seen as just a guy selling t-shirts and I guess that’s a personal insecurity that I need to deal with, but what was I supposed to do? If I served the guy while the show was still going on a few hundred feet behind me, it would have disturbed the audience and the technicians near me. It would have been disrespectful to our incredible Eva, Caroline, as she stood up on that balcony…still singing after being onstage for 2 1/2 hours. It would have been disrespectful to the sound and light techs sitting mere feet away who had to listen for cues in order to run the show that was still going on. Had I turned on my lights, the house manager and probably stage management, as well, would have pounced on me – and rightfully so. So what else could I have done?

I suppose I don’t really care about Dr. Whatshisname, but that last comment was the one that got to me. Yes, it stung a little, but it also just felt like he was trying to establish some sort of dominance. Mine is bigger than yours, if you will. I half expected him to pull it out and pee all over my booth to mark it as his own. I get the feeling that he wasn’t accustomed to being told “no” and therefore felt he needed to assert himself, but really he just came off as being an asshole.

It must have affected me more than I expected, though, because it triggered me to go eat WAY beyond my Weight Watchers points for the day. I was aware of what I was doing as I ate that giant burrito, though, which is progress. I recognized that I was eating my feelings and I knew that I was choosing to go way over my points for the day. If I have gained weight next week, I have no one to blame but myself. Well, myself and that San Antonio doctor who wanted to buy himself a woman’s fitted shirt.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.