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The Great Email Purge Of 2014

27 Feb

I am terrified of the television show “Hoarders.” Not only because they find dead things buried under years of hamburger wrappers and old Lillian Vernon catalogues, but because I’m scared that I could quite easily become a hoarder myself. Understand that my personal definition of hoarding is not defined by what we are shown on TV, but by what my mother would consider hoarding. That is to say, what most other people would just consider clutter.

When I first moved to New York, I shared a one-and-a-half room apartment with my friend Jennifer for a few weeks before moving into my first place with her boyfriend, Charlie. He ended up staying at her place, which got crowded, and I had a large first floor apartment basically to myself, so we eventually switched places and I took Jenn’s apartment and she and Charlie stayed in the bigger place. Jenn’s place was furnished, and I had furniture of my own, so the one and half rooms filled up very quickly. I had no intention of staying in that apartment very long – there was no kitchen and I had to share a bathroom in the hallway with everyone else that lived on my floor – so I kept all my moving boxes so I wouldn’t have to buy more when the time came to move out. No one was more surprised than I when it took me 2 years to leave that place.

One can accumulate a lot of things in two years. I seem to accumulate mail. I have an ever-increasing fear of identity theft, so I don’t ever throw anything out that has my personal information on it unless it’s been shredded first. I’ve already blown out the motors on two shredders. I also have a fear of the IRS coming after me and demanding I present all my bank and credit card statements to them. Why they would do this, I couldn’t say, but I never said the fear was rational. So I have shoeboxes full of old bank and credit card and student loan statements in my storage unit in New York. I should probably throw them out or spend the time to scan them into my computer and throw out the hard copies, but that requires time. And a scanner. And who has either of those these days? Not me!

I am always amazed at how much junk I tend to accumulate. Every time I move – and that’s been a lot – especially since The Incident – I get angry at myself for the amount of clothing and paper and books and just…stuff…that I’ve collected and then I spend far more time that I’d like to sort through everything and purge.

Purging is hard, though. You have to let go and trust that you will not, in fact, wear that t-shirt that you bought at Old Navy three years ago ever again not only because the armpits are stained and it doesn’t fit you anymore, but because there will always be more $12 graphic tees at Old Navy. That you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing out those personalized flip flops from so-and-so’s beach wedding 9 months ago or that birthday card that your grandmother sent you because really, no one else has to know but you. But I still feel guilty sometimes.

Last night I started to get frustrated with myself not because of the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated in my suitcases, but how much stuff seems to be taking up space on the hard drive of my MacBook. It’s a 320GB hard drive and I only have 50GB of space left. How is that possible? All of my music and movies are stored on external hard drives. The last time I checked, I only had 90GB of photos on my computer – now I have over 200GB. I don’t know how that happened. Then I took at look at my email accounts and realized that I had over 2000 “archived” emails – most of which could be tossed (and many that I thought I had already deleted). I may be hesitant to let go of things, but even I can recognize that I have no need for dozens of emails from Lumosity and Groupon or notifications from Facebook that someone mentioned me in a comment from four years ago.

So I began the arduous task of sorting through and deleting non-essential emails. I started by doing specific searches for things like LivingSocial and Groupon and then moved up to old emails from Flashdance and Evita from last year that I don’t need anymore. Like I said, non-essential stuff. Even after clearing out all of that stuff, I still had about 1700 archived emails, so I decided to start from the very beginning. I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start.

I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of my archives file and started deleting, one by one, all the emails I didn’t need. The archive went back to 2009 and, while there were some emails I decided to keep, I tossed most of them. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was the journey back in time as I read each subject line, revisiting events in my life that were both marvelous and humiliating…joyful and painful. There were the emails from the marketing/promo company that I worked for – a job that had been a life saver that turned sour. I traced my history with them from the day I was hired up to the day that I was fired from a promotion because of my looks, reliving and remembering all of the humiliating details. Emails back and forth from my employers at the other merchandise company I worked for in New York with abbreviations that no longer make sense to me, though I know they did back then. Shift requests and scheduling emails and emails about signing contracts for my tour of Junie B. Jones, about which I was so excited. And then the emails after Junie B. and The Incident between me and my former roommate about when I would be in to collect my things. The seemingly endless correspondence looking for places to live. It was a lot to take in.

Then I started finding the emails about Japan. “You should audition this year,” and “Welcome to DOC 2011!” Emails sent between cast mates before we’d even met one another, messages from our producers in Tokyo. I kept those. And then the return to New York…buying tickets to see Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand in concert…unemployment paperwork…job offers from the company I work for now. It was all there. And then there was the paper trail of emails from the marketing company after things changed and I was no longer the golden child and eventually was let go for being “imperfect” and “overly emotional.” I was happy to delete those.

It’s amazing to me how quickly I was taken back to how I felt when I wrote each of those emails. The emotions still there, raw, captured in time on my computer screen whether I wanted to acknowledge them or not. But, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and looking back of the narrative of the last two years that I was in New York actually opened my eyes to just how miserable I really was compared to where I am now and where I hope to be in a few months. I couldn’t believe how much I was hustling to secure work to just pay my rent and barely get by. I had emails from the promo company saying, “Sorry – we can’t get you on the schedule…we’ve filled all the available shifts in the 2 minutes since we sent out the first email.” You know what I didn’t have a lot of emails about? Auditions. Singing. Acting. Almost none, in fact. There were a lot that pertained to looking for places to live – I ended up moving to new places almost every 5 months after The Incident because of money issues. There were a few emails about flying home for the holidays or pathetic, halfhearted attempts at meeting people online through dating sites. I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I wasn’t having any fun. I was surviving – not living.

I’ve recently been accused of sounding unhappy with my job and my life as it is on the road by a “friend” on Facebook. While there may be a tiny amount of truth to that – I am starting to nest and plan for my new apartment in San Diego, though I have no idea when that move will be happening – I can honestly say that I am in such a better place now than I was 2 or 3 years ago. I’m certainly happier and more stable than I was just before I left New York, and honestly, I think a lot of that has to do with being away from New York. Yes, I’m fatter. Yes, I miss my friends in New York and sometimes I get very lonely and yes, I deal with idiots every day, but I don’t worry anymore that the FBI is going to come to my door. I don’t get calls from collection agencies anymore. I’ve seen parts of the country I never imagined I’d get to see. I’ve made dear, dear friends and I’ve decided what I want to do next. Those are all good things in my book.

Today as I was purging I posted this status on Facebook:

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My friend Ryan commented a few minutes later, simply saying, “It’s liberating clearing out that inbox, isn’t it?”

Yes, it really is.

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Frozen: In Japanese (日本語で「アナと雪の女王」)

1 Feb
Japanese artwork for Disney's "Frozen"

Japanese artwork for Disney’s “Frozen”

Today in our Foreign “Frozen” series: Japanese! Disney has officially released the “Let It Go” sequence, sung in Japanese by Matsu Takako, on YouTube! Unfortunately, beyond asking where the toilet is or how much something costs, my Japanese is not nearly good enough to give you a line-by-line translation of the song this time.

I can tell you that the Japanese title of the film translates to “Ana and the Snow Queen” and it opens in Japan on March 15. That’s right – the movie has made nearly $900 million and it hasn’t even opened in Japan yet – a country that is absolutely obsessed with all things Disney. From what I’m seeing on my Facebook feed, the Japanese are very ready for Elsa and Ana.

I hope you enjoy!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

29 Jan

Last night I wrote an entry about an encounter I had with a female patron who, for no real reason, told me to shut up.  Maybe she was having a bad night. Maybe she was just very cold. I don’t know. In the post, though, I found myself defending myself as a merchandiser and as a writer because of some comments that someone had made on Facebook indicating that perhaps I was the source of  a lot of the grief that I write about in my status updates and blog entries. I still stand by what I wrote yesterday, and I encourage you to go back and read it yourself, but it got me thinking about other examples of how my friends and I have been disrespected because of what we do and how people perceive us because of what we do.

Service industry workers have dealt with rude, thoughtless and hateful people from the beginning of the industry. I have visions of bar wenches being groped by drunk men as they fight their way through the crowded tavern with fistfuls of foamy beer steins. Anyway…anyone who works with the public has their fair share of stories. I have friends who are bartenders, servers, flight attendants, hotel concierges…we all have our stories. I remember my friend Brad, who was a server at a very nice restaurant in Columbus Circle in New York, telling me about guests who would rack up $300 checks and wouldn’t leave a cent for a tip. There’s a whole website devoted to the horrible and ridiculous things that people say and do to hotel concierges. What is it, though, that makes people think it’s acceptable to treat service staff as we don’t deserve the same respect as anyone else?

When someone approaches my booth and I say, “Hello! How are you tonight?,” the polite thing to do is to respond…or to even acknowledge my existence. Conversely, one should not march up to the booth and bark out, “MAGNET!” without the decency of a proper greeting. There was a time when, if faced with this situation, I would take a pregnant pause and look at the person and say, “
Hiiiii. How are you tonight?” Sometimes they would recognize that they’d just barked out an order at me, but most of the time they wouldn’t, so I’ve stopped that. Now I typically just keep my mouth shut, keeping the conversation at a minimum because they’re clearly not interested in small talk. It’s rude, but I can kind of respect that. I hate small talk, but I still think I deserve at least a “hello.” 

Then there are the people with no patience – the patrons who ask you a question but cut you off before you’ve had a chance to answer them fully. Or the ones who don’t seem to realize that cutting line “just to ask for prices” is still cutting the line. Everyone wants to know how much the shirts are – coming around to the side of my booth to ask me the prices while I’m in the middle of helping three other people will certainly not make you any new friends. And yet it happens all the time. Don’t be surprised when I direct you to the back of the line with everyone else.

Perhaps it’s just not something people think about, but I think one of the rudest things a person can do when making a purchase at my booth is to either hand me a wad of money or to toss their money on my booth, bill by individual bill. In Japan, the exchange of money is a significant action. When you hand a cashier money, you hold the money or credit card with both hands as you present it to them. They, in turn, will return your change or your card to you and you receive it in the same manner. This is to show that you are handling the money with care and that it is deserving of that care. It is done with dignity, which is something that I feel we often lack as Americans. Do not toss your credit card at me. Do not drop twenty-five wadded up $1 bills on my counter and expect me to open them up and flatten them out as you say, “I think that’s $25, but check to make sure.” I have been known, on occasion, to ask people to unwad their cash. It takes no more effort to hand me your card or your cash than it does to toss it on my counter, but it happens almost every night. Petty as it may seem, if you toss your money on my counter, I will toss your change right back. You get what you give.

But these complaints are really minor ones compared to the somewhat unbelievable personal digs people have taken on me and my friends.

I have been selling merchandise for a long time – I think it’ll be 8 years in April. I started out as a regular salesperson and worked my way up to management in less than a year, and I was actually really excited about the job when I first started and I was proud to be working on Broadway. It wasn’t long, though, before the ribbing started.

At Spamalot we had several t-shirt options, including one with the famous quote, “I Am Not Dead Yet” printed across the chest. Of all the shirts we had, it was my favorite, but I quit wearing it to work because I quickly tired of hearing, “You don’t LOOK dead!” Hardy har har. Still, that was all in good fun. It got old, but it was harmless.

At Mamma Mia! I became a rockstar at working the bag shift. I would go out into the outer lobby of the Winter Garden Theatre 15 minutes before the doors opened and I’d hawk CDs and programs – and I was good at it, too. There were some nights that I could bring in nearly $1200 on my own! I had my script: “Mamma Mia! CDs and souvenir programs!” and I’d hold a copy of the program and CD high above my head so everyone could see the product. Being a trained singer, my voice carried through that lobby beautifully and I’d often get comments about it – “Oh, are you a singer?” or “Oh…you sound like you should be on the radio!” I liked that, but sometimes someone thought they’d be “cool” and mock me from somewhere within the safety of the crowd, imitating the lilt of my announcement, saying things like, “Hot dogs! Peanuts! Getcha peanuts here!” In the beginning I’d shrug it off, but it still bothered me a little. What did that person get out of mocking me when I was just doing my job? I don’t go to stranger’s offices and make fun of them as their do their work, so why is it acceptable to do it to me? Develop a thicker skin.

I eventually became a manager and had to work the bag shift less and less. I quickly found out that the staff I had working the shows that I managed hated working the bag shift…mostly because they were embarrassed or uncomfortable hawking out on the street. When A Chorus Line closed, I was moved to the Broadway Theatre to assistant manage Shrek and once we had programs, I found myself working the bag shift again. I was happy to get back to doing something that I was really good at, and at Shrek we not only had programs and CDs to sell out of the bag, but also headbands with Shrek and Fiona ears on them, which I would wrap around my arm to make them easy to get to and because it was a cool way to display them.

I’m not sure what was so different about the crowd at Shrek, but any kind of mild rudeness I’d experienced up to that point in my merchandise career paled in comparison to what my coworkers and I would endure during the run of that show. My friend Rachel was working the bag one night, wearing her Fiona ears (which looked ridiculously adorable on her), when an older woman approached her and said, “Is this what you do?” Rachel replied that she was in school, but that yes, this was her job, and the woman looked at her and said, “It’s just a little pathetic, don’t you think?” The customer’s always right?

I was working the bag one evening, holding up a copy of the program and CD over my head with my arm covered in Shrek and Fiona ears, and a woman walked past me and actually shoved me in the shoulder as I heard her say, “God, what a terrible job.” On another occasion a woman looked at me and said, “Your mother must be so proud.” And I can’t tell you how many people came up to me as I held my wares above my head and “tickled” my armpit. If I were a doctor or teacher or police officer, would someone think it was OK to stick their finger in my armpit? Of course not. I have a freaking Masters degree!

Eventually we would also have Gingy hand puppets to sell out of the bag. That meant that I had a program and CD in one hand above my head, Shrek and Fiona ears covering my arm, a messenger bag full of programs and CDs across my chest and on the other hand I had a hand puppet. One group of tweenaged girls once commented, “It looks like your hand is up that puppet’s ass!” When I cautioned them to be mindful of the young children around them, their mother chastised me and called me an asshole. Welcome to Broadway, kids!

I don’t know when calling someone an asshole or telling them to shut up became acceptable social behavior, but I’m here to tell you it’s not acceptable. I don’t throw it around very often because, well…it’s kind of douchey, but I do have two degrees. I have dreams and aspirations and talents that reach far beyond the merchandise booth. I work a challenging, demanding job that most people can’t understand and I have a lot of responsibility. I am a person worthy of a simple “hello.” I am worthy of a “thank you.” I am worthy of your respect.

Take care. TCB. Sock it to me.

Sunshine On My Shoulders Makes Me Happy

16 Jan
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A reflective puddle in Portland, Oregon

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I was so excited to see clear skies that I had to take this photo of the sunset at Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado

Greetings from sunny Denver, Colorado! It’s such a relief to finally be here after spending the last two weeks in absolute gloom and rain in Seattle and Portland. I know I listed both of them as two of my top 10 cities that I’ve visited, but I may have changed my mind after experiencing real Portland weather. It rained every single day we were there – every day – and there was more than one day when I couldn’t even see more than 10 feet in front of my face because of the fog and mist. It was gross. Seasonally affected people do not fare well in cities like Portland and Seattle, though it was absolutely beautiful when we were there in the spring. Regardless of the weather, I was very glad to get to see my dear friend Colleen. She let me stay in her apartment and took me to some delicious restaurants and I finally got to hear her sing with one of the Irish bands that she sings with. You should buy her CDs because she’s wonderful. Still, as wonderful as it was to see her, after only two weeks of that kind of weather, I was certainly glad to get to Denver where they claim that the sun actually shines 300 days a year. I absolutely love it here.

I’m very lucky because for the next week and a half I’m staying with more friends – this time my friend Adam and his wife. Adam and I went to graduate school together. We did Sweeney Todd together and I sang with him in his junior recital. After he graduated, he went back to OCU and got a law degree and I’m pleased to say that he’s established his own firm here in Denver and is doing very well for himself. And he and his wife are expecting a baby! That’s something to celebrate. They have been so kind to let me stay in their spare bedroom and Adam has even let me borrow their car to go run errands. And I get to hang out with their dog. I’ve been able to cook and they have laundry in their apartment – not in the building, but actually in the apartment like real people. Maybe only New Yorkers will really appreciate how amazing that is, but it’s a big deal. (For the record, Colleen also has her own washer and dryer).

One of the things I really love about downtown Denver is the easy accessibility to things thanks to the free 16th Street Mall Shuttle. Today I visited a Concentra Urgent Care Center to have my eyes looked at (by a very cute Physician’s Assistant, might I add). Since I was in Memphis with Flashdance in September, my eyelids have been red and itchy with dry, flaky patches. At first I thought it was an allergic reaction to the shampoo I was using in the hotel, so I switched shampoos to something familiar. Then I thought maybe it was the laundry detergent they were using on the pillowcases. Or the weather. Or the pollen. Or it was eczema or psoriasis or herpes (I get cold sores). I took allergy medicine. I used hydrocortisone cream, moisturizer and Neosporin – none of which is good to use on your eyelids because the skin is so thin it will absorb and irritate your eyes). I switched shampoos, soaps, detergents, lotions – everything I could think of. Until now I haven’t had a chance to get them looked at, really, but since there was a Concentra nearby, I went. Apparently I have something called blepharitis, which is essentially an inflammation of the eyelids that they think is the result of the oil glands around the eyelash follicles getting clogged. One of the treatments is to gently wash my eyelids with a solution of warm water and Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” baby shampoo. Weird, right? The P.A. also prescribed a cream to put on my lids to hopefully help with the flakiness and redness and itching. We’ll see how it works out. I’m also supposed to do a warm compress on my eyes for 10-20 minutes a day to get the oils in the glands moving so the follicles won’t get clogged again. I ordered these on Amazon tonight. I look forward to using them to see if they do any good. Other than the itching, my blepharitis isn’t bothersome, but it’s embarrassing more than anything else. I feel very self conscious about it – especially when I’m dealing with the public, which I do every night. I hope this regiment of treatments will help.

In totally unrelated news, today I received an offer from LivingSocial for a 7-day trip, including the round trip flights, to Tokyo for $1699 and, for the first time in my life, I could actually afford to go! I’ve never been in a position to be able to afford a vacation, let alone one on the other side of the globe. I’m torn, though. Should I fulfill my dream of going back to Tokyo or should I save the money for my move to San Diego? I mean, I’ve been wanting to go back from the second I left, and this is a really good deal. The package includes round trip flights from L.A., five nights at the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku, which is just around the corner from the hotel we stayed in in 2011, so I know the neighborhood very well. A guided tour of Tokyo is also included. Should I do it? I have a couple of week-long layoffs coming up in the next few months, so I have the time and, honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever find a deal that’s any cheaper than this. But I am planning on moving and I’ll need a nest egg… Even if I bought the trip, I’d still have way more money left in the bank than I had last year. I’m so torn! What should I do, readers? I have 12 days to make a decision. What do you think? What do I do?!

Who’s The Leader Of The Club That’s Made For You And Me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

22 Nov

Someone just had a birthday! He’s cute, sweet, funny, rich and incredibly famous. Those last two adjectives clued you into the fact that it’s not me, right? No, folks…I’m talking about Mickey Mouse’s 85th birthday, which was this past Monday! Can you believe it? He doesn’t look a day over 63.

My love of Disney and the Mouse started as a kid. As I mentioned in my last post, my grandparents had a lot to do with that, taking me to the movies to see re-releases of the classic animated features or to meet-and-greets with the Mouse himself. My parents spoiled me with dozens of Disney albums (remember LPs?) that featured classic Disney tunes or told the stories that we all know so well. I had Picture Disc albums of “The Lady and the Tramp,” “The Fox and the Hound,” which still breaks my heart, and “Mary Poppins.” I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and had a big pin to prove it. I used to Mousercise. Don’t judge – it was a thing!

When I was 8 or 9, my Grandmama and Popaw decided that we should take a road trip to Orlando so I could meet the Mouse on his home turf. My uncle, who’d just gotten out of a stint in rehab, and his friend were going to join us. The plan was to go to Fort Myers first, hitting the beach before we headed up to the Happiest Place on Earth. It was the first time I’d ever taken a major trip without my parents and honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about it, even with the looming opportunity to meet Mickey and friends.

My Mom bought me a brand new (expensive) pair of Reebok high tops (that was a thing, too) and packed my case full of matchy-matchy Bermuda shorts and button down short sleeved shirts and we were off. On the way down to Florida, we got a flat tire somewhere around the Georgia/Florida state line. It was a real doozy of a storm, and I’ve always had a paralyzing fear of being caught in a tornado, and as my Popaw and uncle got out in the storm to change the tire, I sat in the front seat with my grandmother, sobbing and begging them to get back in the car before they were killed. They lived, of course – it would be inappropriate to write such a macabre story on Mickey Mouse’s big day – and we continued our trip down to Ft. Myers.

It was in Ft. Myers that I developed a distaste for beaches. It’s not the beach itself that I dislike – I think they’re quite beautiful – but the experience ruined me on beaches for life. We found a choice parking spot in the beach’s public lot and in my excitement, I ran ahead as my grandparents got the beach bags and towels and things and locked up the car. I was still wearing my Reeboks and my grandmother didn’t want me to traipse through the sand in them and told me to take them off and put them in the trunk of the car. Well, who had time to run all the way back to the car when we were losing precious time on the beach? Not me! So I took my shoes off and hid them next to a garbage can and ran back out to the beach. I hastily slathered on some sunscreen and headed straight out into the water.

Grandmama asked me several times if I had applied sunscreen – and I had – so I always answered, “Yes.” Had she asked me if I’d reapplied after being in the water, things might have turned out differently… We had a great time at the beach, running in and out of the water and building things in the sand, but all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our things and headed back to the car. On the way, I went back to my secret hiding spot to pick up my shoes. They weren’t there.

I immediately started to panic. My grandparents quickly caught on to the fact that something was up, but I was scared to death to tell them what had happened. It had never occurred to me that anyone might even find my shoes, let alone take them. My Mom had made such a fuss over how much the shoes cost that my first thought was, “My Mom is going to kill me!” and I started to cry. We looked all over Ft. Myers beach for those shoes, with my grandmother even going so far as to ask the people at the hotel (where my not-so-secret hiding place was) if she could dig through their dumpster to see if they’d been thrown away. The hotel wouldn’t allow it, of course, so we were forced to leave with me in tears and barefoot.

We drove to the nearest K-Mart and my grandmother bought me some cheap – CHEAP – sneakers (which lasted me forever, by the way) as I followed behind her, still sobbing and mumbling, “My Mom is going to KILL me!” I hated the shoes Grandmama picked out, but beggars can’t be choosers. We went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and I calmed down a bit, though I was still certain my Mom was going to disown me when she found out that I’d lost my Reeboks. We went out to eat and when we came back to the hotel, my grandmother told me to get ready for my shower.

I started to take my shirt off and couldn’t get my arms over my head. I knew I was sunburnt – I could feel it – but my grandfather couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get my shirt over my head. He was, understandably, a little fed up with me by that point, and started to yank the shirt up over my head as I started to scream in pain. By the time he finally got my shirt off, my grandmother gave a little shriek (she’s a bit dramatic) and started to cry. On each shoulder were blisters that covered the entire tops of my shoulders and they were probably a quarter of an inch thick. I was still crying from the pain as my grandfather put in me in the bathtub and started pouring cold water over the blisters. My grandmother was still a blubbering mess in the bedroom. I guess I know where I get my excitability and inability to function well in times of crisis…

The next day we drove to Orlando. I have a long history of car sickness, and about the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I started feeling a bit green around the gills. My grandmother grabbed my sand bucket and I puked in the front lobby of the hotel. I’m classy like that. I felt better a few hours later, but my grandmother was still a mess. The next day we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

I don’t remember much about our trip to Walt Disney World. Mostly I remember wondering why all the costumed characters were putting their arms around me and patting me on the shoulders. I was wearing a red button-up cotton shirt, and the first character that patted me on the shoulder popped the blister and it oozed all over my shirt, leaving a dark red stain. And I cried. But at least I didn’t puke.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

The next day we went to EPCOT Center, which I also don’t remember well, but I do remember feeling much better that day. I vaguely remember riding the ride inside the big golf ball and Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, and I remember Figment, the little dragon. Other than that, I don’t remember much of EPCOT, either.

My mother obviously did not kill me over the shoes and I didn’t die from sun poisoning, but my interest in Disney ceased as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to set foot in another Disney park again in my life, and I was approaching the age where the animated features didn’t interest me much anymore. Like Wendy in “Peter Pan,” I was growing up.

In 2011, I was hired to sing in a concert tour of Disney music in Japan. I was incredibly excited to visit another country, but I really couldn’t have cared less about singing Disney stuff. I was a serious singer/actor! Who had time for that bibbidi-bobbidi crap? It didn’t take long to get wrapped up in that bibbidi-bobbidi goodness and at the first mention of going to Tokyo DisneySea, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long, long time got very, very excited. A few weeks later I got to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It had been more than 25 years since I’d been to a Disney park, and this time around I made sure I did it right.

The joy that I felt seeing the costumed characters – that I still feel – continues to baffle me, but it’s there. My friends Eri-san and Saya-san stood in line with me for 30 minutes to get our picture made with Mickey Mouse and throughout the day at Tokyo Disneyland, we stopped and took pictures with each character we met. They didn’t judge me – they loved it! I felt like I was that 8-year old boy again. We rode every ride, we ate tiny little Japanese turkey legs, we watched the Electric Light Parade, we sang “It’s A Small World” in our native languages as we went through the attraction and we went to our laughing places. It truly was magical and for the first time in years, I felt carefree and, as silly as it sounds, nourished.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

This past May I was lucky enough to take my first venture to the original Happiest Place On Earth – Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, with two of my best friends who now live in San Diego. I arrived at the park before they did and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got my picture with the Big 5 characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – and I took my time marveling at Main Street, U.S.A., taking as many pictures as I could before Tom and Anthony arrived. Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure five times with another visit planned the week before Christmas. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t feel silly. It’s wonderful. And it all started with a mouse.

So, to my friend Mickey Mouse, I wish a very happy 85th birthday. I’ll never leave you again, and I know you’ll always be there for me, too.

See ya real soon!

Disney Character Collage

The Hardest Part Of Show Business? The Hellos and Goodbyes.

10 Oct

Greetings from 32,000 feet above somewhere in Alabama. This morning I left Indianapolis and the company of Flashdance to go to St. Louis, where I will meet up with the national tour of Evita again.

The past three days have been difficult for me. I’m a very tender-hearted person, though I try my best to keep that from people. It’s one of my greatest assets, but it’s also my Achilles’ heel, and people take advantage of it. I’ve never been good at saying goodbyes, which makes being in show business tough because it seems like you’re always saying goodbye to someone. I thought I was going to die when I had to say goodbye to my friends in Japan. I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever died of a broken heart, but I was sure that I was about to be the first. I didn’t die, but it hurt for a long time. It still does from time to time, but not as badly.

Friday my replacement flew into Indianapolis to start his training. I tried to fit 10 months of experience into three days of training, but there’s only so much you can do and, as harsh as it sounds, there are just some things he has to learn for himself. It was a real challenge for me to let it all go – to not get picky about how the shirts were being folded or how he counted his money. I had to remind myself that it’s no longer my show and he will do things his way, but I got frustrated nonetheless. Flashdance has been my baby since the show opened in January and I’m very protective of it. I’m sure my replacement will be fine, but I really had to distance myself from him and the job while trying to teach him how to do it properly. It was also hard for me to remember sometimes that all of this is new to him, so he was going at a much slower pace than I would have. It wasn’t his fault – I know he was overwhelmed and it is a lot to learn in a short amount of time – but my frustration wasn’t just about teaching him the job. It was also – and mostly – about the impending farewells.

I spent a lot of time on my own when I first came out on the road with this show. I didn’t know anyone and honestly, I needed some alone time to regroup from what had been a very trying autumn in New York. Meeting people is difficult for me – despite being a performer, I am terribly shy when meeting new people and I’m not the type to go up and introduce myself or invite myself along if people are going out. If I’m being completely honest (and isn’t that part of what this blog is for?), I was also terribly intimidated by the cast, not only because of their enormous talent, but also because they were working actors and I was not. Because I felt I was a failure as an actor, I assumed that they would, as well, or just assume that I was a talentless hack whose only real skill was folding and selling a t-shirt. I was relieved to find that that wasn’t the case at all.

I remember when I started selling merchandise at the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, before I became the manager there, I was standing outside with a rolling merch booth, setting up for walk-out. I looked up and saw two beautiful young women walking out of the lobby and I immediately recognized both of them and wanted to crawl into a garbage can and hide. One I had gone to school with in Oklahoma City and the other I had done summerstock with in Louisville nearly 5 years earlier. They both were surprised to see me and came over to chat. It turned out that they were both in the show – Lyndy was the dance captain and Jess was covering Cassie and a few other roles. These girls – my peers and colleagues – had made it to Broadway and I was selling t-shirts at their show. Just around the corner, my friend Jeremy had just made his Broadway debut as Enjolras in Les Misérables at the Broadhurst. My friend Brandi was next door in the chorus of Spamalot. Lyndy and Jess were in A Chorus Line and my friend Julie was playing Christine twice a week in The Phantom of the Opera. All of them performing in Broadway shows on the same block. And I was selling merch. I was so embarrassed and ashamed and I made a half-hearted joke about it to Jess and Lyndy. They were both so wonderful about it – one of them said something to the effect of, “We have all done random jobs to get by. We’re just happy you’re going to be here with us.” It wasn’t condescending. It wasn’t fake. They meant it. But this feeling of being “just” the merch guy has always been there. I’m a full-time manager now with insurance and a livable wage and I’m seeing the country and I am incredibly grateful for it. I take great pride in the work that I do, but the truth is, I’d rather be performing.

The intimidation factor coming into Flashdance was exacerbated because of two people in the company in particular: Rachelle Rak and DeQuina Moore. Rachelle (we call her Rak or Sas) has been in more Broadway shows than I can count. She’s what we call “old school Broadway” and her reputation often precedes her. Rak doesn’t take any shit off anyone and she will tell you what she thinks without sugar coating it. You know what you’re getting with her, which is something I really admire about her. I knew of Sas not only because of her résumé on Broadway, but also because of a charity event called Broadway Bares – a strip show featuring literally hundreds of dancers and Broadway stars to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Sas has done Bares a lot and I was familiar with her because of a video clip I’d seen of her doing a Wonder Woman number one year. I have a thing about Wonder Woman, and Sas looked amazing in that costume.

I also knew about Rak because of a documentary film that was made about the audition process for the revival of A Chorus Line. She was up for the role of Sheila and in the film, she is seen at a callback 8 months after her initial audition. The audition panel behind the table (the producer, the choreographers, the director and the casting agent) said that they didn’t think she’d given them the same audition this time and would like to see her do it again, only this time trying to do what she did 8 months ago. She did the scene again and when it was over, before walking off the stage, she told the casting director that she wanted to see him backstage. Their conversation isn’t in the movie, but Jay Binder comes back to the table and tells the panel that Rachelle wanted to know whether she’d booked the show or not before she left, which is almost unheard of in this business. It’s ballsy. Like, big, brassy bull cojones kind of ballsy. The kind of thing that can put you on a casting director’s blacklist. The documentary shows the very tail end of the conversation between Rak and Binder and, understandably disappointed and hurt, she leaves in a bit of a huff. That’s the impression that the film left of her, anyway – that she’s pushy and bitchy and ungracious, and I was terrified of her.

And then there was DeQuina. I knew of her, as well, from her work on Broadway in Little Shop of Horrors and Legally Blonde as well as the “Turkey Lurkey Time” scene in the movie “Camp.” So I was already intimidated by her because she really is stunningly talented and beautiful. Our last night in Pittsburgh, I turned on the TV and there she was on HBO in a movie called “Joyful Noise” with Queen Latifah and one of my idols, Dolly Parton. When she boarded the bus the next morning to head to the airport, wearing her gigantic sunglasses and struggling with two oversized bags, all I could see was her standing between Latifah and Dolly and I thought, “Lord! She ain’t gonna have nuthin’ to do with me!”

What I didn’t know was that two months later, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I’d be out with Rak and DeQuina after a show, laughing and having the time of my life. Walking with the two of them down Bourbon Street, we darted in and out of bars as they danced the night away and I stood watch over their bags and drinks. I don’t dance in public unless it’s choreographed and I’m getting paid, but my jaw was on the floor the whole night as DeQuina and Rak wiggled and shimmied and Cha Cha Puus’ed™ their way down Bourbon Street. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time, and I loved the feeling of walking through New Orleans with those two gorgeous women on my arms. I was honored and flattered to have been one of the cool kids that night.

A few nights later I ran into Rak again on the way out of the theatre. We walked back to the hotel, arm in arm, having a very honest and heartfelt conversation about “the Business” and Rak’s experience with “Every Little Step,” the Chorus Line documentary. The Sas that I had seen in that film and that everyone thought they knew from her Broadway Bares numbers wasn’t the Rachelle walking down Toulouse with me. Behind the glamour and the glitter and the showbiz is a genuine, kind, loving, no nonsense woman with a heart as big as her smile, which is huge. She gave me invaluable advice and encouragement and opened up to me in a way that I never expected. I no longer felt like I was a cool kid for the night, but an actual friend.

Rak left us in April when her contract was up. DeQuina and I were both heartbroken, but I know it affected her more because she and Rachelle had become very, very close. Because of our schedules – her in rehearsals and doing press and me visiting or staying with friends in almost every city we went to – DQ and I didn’t hang out as much as I’d have liked to until Kansas City, which I thought was going to be my last city on the tour. By then a good chunk of the cast had left and been replaced, and in Dallas we welcomed a new company member named Doreen to the show. She was going to take over the role of Louise in Chicago, so she started rehearsals in Dallas and had her put-in in Kansas City. Doreen would come by my booth every night and say hi and our first night in KC, when the temperature was around 105º, she bought me a cherry Italian ice to help me cool down. It was the best and most appreciated Italian ice I’ve ever had.

When I left in July, I didn’t know if I’d be coming back to Flashdance. There were so many people in the company that I was going to miss and with the uncertainty of my future with the show, it was really hard to know how to feel. I didn’t know if I should say my goodbyes or not, but if I didn’t, then I might never get the chance. It was a weird situation and I was actually quite happy to get to come back in Memphis for a few weeks. Knowing that I had a definite end date allowed me to get some more time in with my friends before I had to give a definite goodbye, but at least I’d have some closure.

Memphis was, beside New Orleans, maybe my very favorite stop on the tour. We had four extra days off there, and I made sure I got to spend time with everyone I could. We certainly created a lot of memories there, but I spent the majority of my free time with Doreen, DeQuina and a handful of company members with whom I had really bonded. We ate ourselves silly, saw all the sights and even had a religious experience with the Reverend Al Green.

Indianapolis was my final stop on the Flashdance tour and honestly, it was a huge  letdown after Memphis. But I made sure I went out after the shows and spent time with my friends, trying to get in as much face time as I could with everyone before I had to leave.

I wanted to give everyone something as a going away gift from me to express to them how I felt – a combination thank you note/love letter that would somehow let them know how much they really meant to me. I wasn’t sure what to do, but then I remembered the videos that my friends in Japan had made before we left – slideshows set to music. Tony had made one using every single photo he’d taken since day one of the tour. Katie had put together a slideshow including video she’d taken and photos that all of us had posted on Facebook throughout the tour. I remembered how moved I was by them and how much I treasure them now as a reminder of that incredible time together, so I decided to do something similar.

I shared the video with the Flashdance family before I posted it publicly for everyone to see. Because I had seen so many of my friends on the road, it only seemed fair to share it with them, as well, because they had made the experience just as meaningful for me as the company had. I was sad to realize that the majority of the photos I had taken didn’t include anyone from the show because I had spent so much time by myself when we started. Pictures with company members started showing up about midway through. It made me wish I’d spent more time with them.

After the final performance in Indy, after we’d loaded out the merch booth, DeQuina, Doreen and one of the show’s dance captains, Lynorris, came over to my room and we watched “The Butler” together. During the movie, Lynorris and DeQuina pronounced that they thought that I would have most certainly been right there, fighting alongside them for their rights if we were living in the 60‘s. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but I was often the only white boy in our little group. And they were right – I would have been right there with them. I can’t imagine a world in which they could not be my friends. My family, even.

All of us were a little choked up over the movie, but when it came time to say goodbye to the three of them I couldn’t hold back my emotions any more and I went into the ugly cry. After they left, I packed up the last of my stuff and went to bed – still crying and contemplating going downstairs to say goodbye to the entire company the next morning. I knew if I did that I’d embarrass myself, so I stayed in my room until I knew the bus was gone. It was a sad day for me.

So I have started a new adventure with a new group of people – most of whom I don’t know. Many of whom I haven’t even met yet! I miss my Flashdance friends, but I have to get past that and start making new friends, which is hard for me. But Flashdance proved that I can do it. I am one of the cool kids. They just don’t know it yet. Thank you, Flashdance family, for teaching me that.

Take your passion and make it happen!

What A Difference A Year Can Make

18 Sep

I’ve written a lot about my experience performing in Japan and how meaningful it was to me, and I’m sorry to tell you that I’m sure I will write about it more. It was, up to this point, the most perfect experience I’ve ever had in my life. So perfect, in fact, that I actually considered quitting “the Business” because I could not conceive that any other job or life experience could be so fulfilling.

That’s a lot of weight to put on one three-and-a-half month chunk of a person’s life.

Today I learned that the 2013 cast of Disney On Classic, the show that I was a part of in 2011, made that grueling, seemingly endless 14-hour flight to Tokyo to begin their tour experience. Fourteen hours in a cramped seat, trying to sleep, wondering what will be waiting for you when you step off the plane. Fourteen hours of nerves and excitement and reviewing your music and replaying those last few hours you spent with the people who mean the most to you before you essentially moved to the other side of the world. Watching the flight tracker on the monitor in front of you, realizing that there is nothing below you but the Pacific Ocean and that there’s still 5 hours to go, you study your basic Japanese phrases, marveling at how many syllables there are in hajimemashite. Looking back at it, it was the most thrilling, exciting and daunting flight I’ve ever taken, and I’d gladly do it again.

Now imagine the flight back. The night before, you’ve given an emotional final performance to an audience of 5000 people with a 74-piece orchestra full of friends you may never see again in your life. You and the cast pile into someone’s room for a final kampai and to watch surprise video compilations that somehow manage to cram the 4 best months of your life into 10 minute music videos. Holding Katie’s hand as you sob, remembering and reliving each wonderful moment, wondering if anything will ever be that good again. You rush back to your room to finish shoving all the souvenirs you’ve bought for your friends and family and all the little gifts you’ve been given into your already overstuffed suitcases and take a few minutes to say your goodbyes to the hotel that’s become your home-away-from-home. You take one last look out the window at the view that you’ve fallen in love with, remembering those first few days in Shinjuku when you went out to explore the new neighborhood and that first night that you all went out as a group for your first meal of oudon and tempura. Suddenly it’s time to drag your suitcases downstairs and check out of the hotel for the final time and take that long bus drive to the airport before boarding a plane to take you home, though you would rather stay.

Your flight leaves Tokyo at 11:30am on Tuesday. You arrive in Chicago at 10:40am on Tuesday. How is that possible? After 14 hours of alternately grieving and sleeping, you step off the plane and are greeted by security guards yelling directions at you and fat, sloppily-dressed Americans shoving McDonald’s into their faces and leaving their garbage behind in the seats next to them. You suddenly become painfully aware that you are not in Japan anymore and you gain some insight into what foreign travelers must think about us when they first arrive in America. What day is it again? You yourself go to the nearest McDonald’s because sadly, that’s the healthiest option the airport terminal has to offer for breakfast. Where are the immaculately dressed employees in their perfectly pressed Disney World-esque uniforms? Where is the chorus of “Irasshaimase!?” The girl behind the counter has barely even acknowledged your existence, let alone welcomed you to her store. You have culture shock in your own country. You want to go back. Now.

Returning home, you hope your roommates and family will greet you with arms wide open. That they’ll sit down with you and look through all of the wonderful pictures you took to document your trip. That they’ll want to listen to you relay every minute detail of your trip: how wonderful C.C. Lemon is; the time you ate a seaweed-flavored donut; the night in Utsunomiya that you and Tony and Joey ran out of Tony’s room, screaming like little girls because a giant bug flew in the window; how incredible it was to sing for the orphans in Kuji; about your friend Sasaki-san, who dressed like an anime character and spent his days off in Sendai helping with the disaster relief; about Magical Georgie and his rubber band trick; about how much you miss your friends. They listen for a while, but not as attentively as you’d like. No one wants to drop everything to listen to your CD. No one wants to look through thousands of pictures. No one cares as much as you want them to because no one knows how wonderful it was except the people who experienced it with you.

The jet lag sets in. You fall asleep by 5pm. You start getting text messages at 4am from your cast mates, but that’s OK because you were awake, too, and hearing from them makes you feel less lonely – makes you still feel connected to the experience. But soon those texts stop as you realize that people have gone back to the lives that they were living before Japan. But you don’t want to go back to before Japan, because before Japan you were working three jobs to make ends meet. You were lonely, you were broke and you didn’t have much to look forward to. Who would want to go back to that? So you go back to New York, you file for unemployment and you audition more than you ever did before – sometimes three times a day if you can manage it. You make sure you get to the Tokyo Disney auditions, hoping that’s your way back, but no one behind the table even acknowledges that amazing new credit at the top of your résumé. You’re in the best vocal shape of your life, but not one callback. Not one booking. The confidence you gained is depleting, as is your savings account balance. Things are not going well.

Two months after you get back from an experience you would give anything to relive, you get an email from your show’s director…one of your dearest friends. The casting notice for the 2012 tour is about to go up – auditions are happening in March and he wants recommendations from former cast members. You aren’t ready for that yet and it’s a punch to the gut, but you try to get past your own sadness and you try to silence the voices in your head and heart that are whispering, “Maybe they’ll ask you to go again,” because you know they won’t, and you submit a couple of names of friends, trying to pay it forward. Even though your brain knows it won’t happen, your heart still holds onto the idea that they might not find anyone and ask you back. But that doesn’t happen. A cast has been chosen and you’re not part of it. Everyone seems to be moving on, moving forward, but you can’t. And you’re gaining weight.

You make it through the summer, filling your time with work and moving apartments and suddenly it’s September. The new cast is in rehearsal and you’re back to working two jobs, which are barely paying your bills. You haven’t auditioned since April. You haven’t had a voice lesson or even wanted to sing since June. Everyone else in your cast has booked work and the seed of doubt is blossoming in your mind about your talent. And then the day comes – the day the cast posts on Facebook that they’re flying to Tokyo. In an attempt to be gracious and supportive, you post a nice boy voyage message for the group, but offline you’re heartbroken. Your grandmother happens to call that day and when she asks if anything is wrong, you have a full-blown breakdown over the phone, incomprehensibly mumbling things about Tokyo and flying and hating New York through hot tears and an embarrassing amount of snot. If you drank, you’d be smashed by now, but instead you order a pizza. Did I mention you’re gaining weight?

Two days later, your friends in Japan start posting photos on Facebook with signs that say, “We miss you, Jason!” Even though they bring on another wave of emotions, the pictures help reassure you that you’ve not been forgotten. Soon enough you become distracted with all the things you’ve been ignoring while you’ve been in your Japanofunk and you become less aware – it hurts less. Before you know it, you’re on another tour – not performing, but seeing the country on another adventure, constantly being reminded that you’re neither alone nor forgotten as you reunite with friends and family all across the country. And then the next September you read that it’s the cast’s travel day to Tokyo and you’re OK. No tears, no heartbreak – just the appreciation of how lucky you were to have such a unique, wonderful experience.

Image

I miss you, too, Keiko-san and Sasaki-san!

To the 2013 cast of Disney On Classic, I wish happy and safe travels and a marvelous tour experience. Ganbatte ne!

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!

The World Is A Carousel Of Color

11 Aug

I have been severely remiss in my blogging this past week. Most of that has to do with my being home in Kentucky this week – I simply haven’t had time to do much writing and life here this week has been pretty run-of-the-mill. The most exciting thing to happen since I’ve been home so far, really, is that we’ve caught two mice in the house this week. My mother is freaking out about it. “I can’t stand to be in this house, knowing that they’re running around pooping all over the place!”

I need – and want – to get into the habit of writing every day. It’s difficult sometimes – I have personal and professional obligations that keep me from it, sometimes I’m just lazy and sometimes I simply can’t think of anything interesting to write about. So, I’ve started checking out the daily prompts that WordPress provides. Basically, they give you a topic or word and you go from there. A few days ago, for instance, the prompt was, “Write about something you tried that you swear you will never do again.” My best response to that would be brussel sprouts. Today’s prompt was something that immediately got me excited to write: “Moved To Tears: Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.”

I have referred to myself in past posts as a Disnerd, a term which I first heard from my friend Katie, who traveled with me and a handful of other singers to Japan to perform Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, I grew up on Disney. Disney records, Disney movies, Disney Underoos. I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club (the real one – not the Britney Spears MMC thing). Today as I was talking with my grandmother, she reminded me that she and my Popaw took me to a mall in Lexington once to meet Mickey Mouse. She said I never once took my eyes off him. For some reason, however, I wasn’t able to meet Mickey or get my photo with him. A few years later they took me on a trip to Orlando to meet the Mouse on his home turf. That vacation turned into a Class A disaster (that’s another story for another entry), and I still didn’t get my picture with Mickey. But in terms of my level of Disnerd, I’d rank myself as a fledgling novice.

In November 2011, while we were in the middle of our concert tour of Japan, one of the Japanese executives from Disney Music Group purchased passes for us to go to Tokyo DisneySea, which is a park themed around water. The park features a huge lagoon where “Fantasmic!” is presented as well as various themed areas such as the American Waterfront, Port Discovery, the Mermaid Lagoon, the Arabian Coast, Mediterranean Harbor, the Mysterious Island and the Lost River Delta. It’s a truly spectacular park, and it’s very un-Disney. We weren’t able to make it into the park until 2:00pm and we had to be at the lagoon for “Fantasmic!” by 7:15, so we pretty much rushed through to get everything in before the show. Because we were singing a 12-minute arrangement of the Tokyo DisneySea version of “Fantasmic!” in our own show, we were given seats in the VIP section, and it was very important that we see the show.

While I loved Tokyo DisneySea, I was a little let down with my first Disney park experience since the early 80’s. Because we were so rushed to get through everything (and we spent a good deal of the day waiting in lines), I didn’t get much of an opportunity to soak in the “magic” of the place. The only characters I recall seeing the whole day there were Pinocchio, Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket, and I was certain to get a photo with Jiminy. The only other characters I recall seeing that day were in “Fantasmic!,” and thereby inaccessible for photos. Don’t get me wrong – I had a great time at TDS, and I would love to go back there again, but I was hoping for more.

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea. Pardon the crazy eyes.

Three days before we left Japan, I got what I was hoping for. We had reached the end of our tour, which meant lots of last minute gift-buying, sightseeing and packing. We only had one real day off that week, so when I suggested we maybe go to Tokyo Disneyland, it wasn’t surprising that the response was less than enthusiastic. People were tired and broke. I got that. But I also didn’t want to be that guy who went to Tokyo Disneyland by himself.

I had mentioned to our company manager that no one really seemed to want to go to TDL with me and I asked if he would speak to some of the orchestra members to see if perhaps they’d like to go with me. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he came back to me with two of our contrabass players who wanted to know if they could take me to Tokyo Disneyland. Neither of them spoke English well, and I certainly didn’t speak Japanese well enough to communicate with them, but it didn’t matter. We figured it out. That’s the magic of Disney – happiness has no language barrier. We spent the entire day at the park, riding every ride at least once, seeing a show and eating to our heart’s content. I even introduced them to the famous Disney turkey legs, which are significantly smaller in Japan.

It was at Tokyo Disneyland that I finally got my picture with Mickey Mouse. Saya-san, Eri-san and I waited in line for half an hour to meet the Mouse and let me tell ya…it was totally worth it. The two of them seemed to have more fun finding characters for me to get my picture taken with than I did…and that was saying a lot. I felt like a kid again. For that day, it was completely OK for me to be a 10-year old again. I was euphoric to the point that I actually found myself bouncing up and down during the Main Street Electrical Parade and “oohing” and “aaahing” as my favorite characters would pass by. “Mary Poppins desu! Minnie-san desu!! Sugoi ne?!” I would shout to my two friends and we would all snap pictures. Leaving the park that day was unspeakably difficult for me. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

It would be another year and a half before I made to another Disney park. This time, it was the original – the Motherland of Disney – Disneyland in Anaheim, California. My friends Tom and Anthony, who live in San Diego and have annual passes to the parks – came up to meet me on my two days off from Flashdance (yes, we went two weeks in a row) and the second time we went, we made sure to get our Fast Passes to see “World Of Color” at Paradise Pier in the California Adventure park. I had no idea what the show was, but I’d had such a wonderful time up to that point that I didn’t really care. I knew it involved water fountains and lights, but beyond that, I was clueless.

An aerial view of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

An aerial view of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

What it is is breathtaking. With California Screamin’ and the 160-foot tall Mickey’s Fun Wheel as a backdrop for the show, “World of Color” is a 25-minute laser-light-water-fire-projection show set to a soundtrack of some of the greatest hits (and a few obscure tunes and visuals) from the Disney canon including “The Little Mermaid,” “Up,” “The Lion King,” “Fantasia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Brave” as well as Broadway’s Eden Espinosa singing the main theme. (Ms. Espinosa also recorded the female vocals for “Fantasmic!” at Tokyo DisneySea and the Magical fireworks show at Disneyland).

"World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

“World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

From the second the show started, I was moved to tears. I was overwhelmed by the day – the friends, the fun, the sun, the food, the rides, the characters, the music…all of it. The lights all around Paradise Pier were part of “World of Color,” twinkling and dancing as the synchronized water fountains began their dance of color and light. Mist curtains provided the backdrop for high definition projections of Ariel and Simba and Dory and all your favorite Disney characters to become a part of the experience, much as they do in “Fantasmic!” The water fountains are capable of shooting 200 feet in the air, making it impossible to avoid being sprayed with mist at some point and the heat from the flame effects used in the “Pirates” section could be felt from 100 feet away. My description of the show is insufficient to describe how magical it really is, but if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you should. It’s pretty brilliant. I look forward to going back to both parks in December and seeing “World of Color” again. I know it probably won’t have the same effect on me the second time around, but I’m sure I’ll be moved by it all the same, and I can’t wait!

California Screamin' and Mickey's Fun Wheel are part of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

California Screamin’ and Mickey’s Fun Wheel are part of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

Update: Eden Espinosa just informed me that she was not, in fact, the female vocalist for “World of Color” or TDS’ “Fantasmic!” Just “Magical.” For the record, whoever did do those tracks does a heck of an Eden Espinosa imitation.

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This just in from Eden Espinosa.

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

Today at lunch I was talking with a friend who had recently traveled to Japan. He spent a week there last year, mostly staying in Tokyo with a short trip to Kyoto. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about Japan until I’m hoarse, and he made the mistake of asking me what I liked about Japan. He wasn’t being critical – he just wanted to understand why I loved my time there so much.

I gave him the only answer I could come up with: I loved everything. I completely fell in love with the country, the people, the architecture, the landscapes, the culture, the language, the order and structure and, as I would come to realize midway through our tour, I fell in love with Japanese tamashii, or spirit.

A few months ago, as I was flipping through the channels on our television, I came across a new channel – NHK World – which basically featured all things Japanese, just in English. I love to watch their news broadcasts to find out what’s actually going on in the rest of the world as opposed to hearing more about Jodi Arias or what the Kardashians are up to these days. It’s nice to have another perspective on the world. And their cultural programming warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes because it often reminds me of the wonderful friends I made while I was working there.

The more I watched, the more I noticed a tune in the background of all of the NHK World commercials. It was beautiful, but I’d never heard it before and I had no way of identifying it. Shazaam certainly was of no help, so I did some investigating by way of Google. Finding a Japanese song title is incredibly difficult when you don’t read or write kanji, so I used the listening skills I learned in Japan to write out a line of the song phonetically so I could search it. Turns out, it was either incredibly easy to find, or my Japanese is better than I thought.

The song was written and produced by NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of eastern Japan in March, 2011. The version I’d been hearing on NHK World was sung by a children’s choir, but I found this video of various Japanese celebrities lending their voice to the song. It’s called “Hana wa saku,” which roughly means, “flowers will continue to bloom.” It’s a song about strength and hope and faith. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of our time in Kuji, Japan.

As I mentioned in “You Gotta Have Heart! Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart,” I went to Japan in September of 2011, just six months after that devastating earthquake and tsunami, to do a concert tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic “Neverland” Orchestra. All of us involved in the show had been keeping a close eye on the State Department website regarding the nuclear crisis happening in Fukushima, worried that our government might find it unsafe for us to travel there. But mostly I kept watching and wishing that there was something that I could do to help. I didn’t have any money to send, and I wasn’t entirely sure that money was what they wanted or needed, anyway. I felt helpless. I wanted to help them and couldn’t. I saw booking the concert tour as my opportunity to do something – even if it was just to make someone forget for a minute or two or to make them smile with a song. That desire to be good for them drove me to study my music and to do the best I could at each and every rehearsal and performance.

There was one show in particular that stood out from the rest. We had been in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and we traveled south by train, back to the main island of Honshu. At the time, we still weren’t allowed by the U.S. government to travel within 50 miles of Fukushima, so we weren’t able to perform in any of the hardest hit areas, but we were able to perform in Kuji, a small town about 250 miles north of Fukushima.

From the train station, we transferred to a bus that would take us to Kuji. Japan is a country of overstimulation – color and lights everywhere – but we could tell something was different about Kuji. It was dark. Most of us didn’t even know we’d passed through the downtown area. There were no lights – not from houses, not from businesses, not from billboards or street lights. It was just dark. I think it was then that we realized that the town had taken a serious beating. It was dark because they still didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole town.

The next day we went to the theatre to do our show, and in the daylight most everything where we were looked alright. We were told, though, that a few miles out toward the shore was a completely different story.

Before every performance, we would arrive at the theatre approximately four hours before the curtain actually went up. (That would never fly in the States). During those four hours, each and every instrument on the stage got its own private sound check. Every triangle, every flute, piccolo and penny whistle…they all got a sound check. Then each section of the orchestra would have a sound check together for balance. And then the entire orchestra would have a sound check for balance. Then it was the singer’s turn – each of us got about 30 seconds to sing whatever we wanted as we wandered the stage, checking to make sure they could hear us and that we could hear ourselves in the monitors. Then our Navigator (emcee), Francesco Sasaki-san, would get his own sound check. And then we’d have a rehearsal. Depending on what needed to be run, we would spot check songs or do entire pieces – with choreography – to make sure everything was right. The Japanese aren’t known for being perfectionists for nothing! After our rehearsal, we would be fed. The orchestra would get pre-packaged bento boxes, but the singers and our conductor got hot catered food – usually something the caterers thought Americans would like, which typically meant some form of a hamburg steak (a beef patty smothered in a Worchestershire-esque sauce) and/or a piece of grey, chewy chicken. There was also often salad or fruit of some sort, which is incredibly expensive in Japan, and there was always miso and rice. We also had a fantastic snack and drink table where we’d have all kinds of cookies and rice crackers and chocolates. They took great care of us.

In Kuji, we were still called four hours prior to curtain, but that day, our rehearsal would be an open one, meaning there would be people there watching us. We had a set list, and instead of spot checking numbers, we would basically give an hour-long performance. The audience members would be people who had lost their homes in the tsunami as well as many children who had been orphaned in the disaster. Backstage, next to the snack table, was a book about the tsunami and someone had marked the section with photos from Kuji.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

The devastation was unreal, and to think that we were there to sing some Disney songs made the whole situation seem ridiculous. All through rehearsals in New York we had made jokes at the expense of some of the lyrics we were singing. In the opening number, “One Man’s Dream,” we sang about Walt Disney’s dream “to give to us a Disneyland where young and old can play” at a breakneck tempo. The next number was a song that had been written for the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. It was called, “Be Magical!” and featured lyrics like, “Friends will be near for you./It’s all here for you./The perfect place to be,/Tokyo DisneySea!/It’ll be magical!” and “Worries behind you/Here you will find excitement instead.” That transitioned into “Fantasmic!”, in which we had to sing, “Imagination!/Follow your dreams/Imagination!/Catch a ride upon a moonbeam!” And then, of course, we closed the show singing “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Japanese, complete with a violin solo that would make even the hardest heart explode into fairy dust. It just seemed so trite. So…silly. Or maybe we were just jaded New Yorkers…

Those songs and their silly lyrics took on a whole new meaning that day. Standing out there, singing to kids who somehow were able to smile and laugh after all they’d lost; seeing grown men and women – Japanese men and women, who are notoriously stoic – openly weeping, either from joy or sorrow, or both. It suddenly made me realize that all they had were dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination, and we were telling them to follow those dreams. That nothing was impossible. And we were telling them that somehow, everything would be alright. Uncle Walt would make it so. And standing on that stage as Aoki-san started playing the all-too familiar, all-too sentimental melody of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as thousands of colored lights began to rise up all around us on stage, I found myself weeping, too. That’s what I had come to Japan for. That’s why I was there. I had finally found my way to help. I had never felt so fulfilled and satisfied in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much gratitude and humility.

The rest of the tour took on a new feel for me after that, and I think for some of my cast mates, too. That day changed the show for us. We were all a little more committed to those lyrics. They felt a little more relevant and substantial. It was…magical.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.