Tag Archives: Evita

Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore

3 Feb

Greeting and salutations, Dear Reader. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with me, despite my lengthy absence. So much has happened in the last year and I’m anxious to tell you all about it.

In last year’s big cliffhanger (OK…it was more of a series finale with the possibility of a spinoff), I was about to leave the Kinky Boots national tour and move to Orlando, Florida to pursue my dream of performing at Walt Disney World. You’ll recall that I was quite anxious about the move and the return to the “real world” after being on the road for so long, and those fears and anxieties were for good reason, and unfortunately, many of those fears have become reality.

Now, I don’t mean to start this reboot on a negative note. Let me first start off by saying that I did, in fact, get myself a job at Walt Disney World, but not as a performer. Within a month of moving, I was hired as an Attractions Host at Magic Kingdom, working at Big Thunder Mountain – the wildest ride in the wilderness! I spent nearly 10 months at Old Man Thunder before I was transferred to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I am now an Attractions Host at the new Star Wars Launch Bay. I enjoy my job at Disney very much, though it is not by any means where I want to be in my career. Performing in the parks is still the goal, and I’ve been auditioning as often as I can, time and health allowing, for Voices of Liberty, the Dapper Dans, Finding Nemo: The Musical and other shows around the parks. More on those auditions later.


Me on my last day at Big Thunder Mountain.

In addition to working at Walt Disney World, I also landed a job selling merchandise – surprise, surprise! – at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which admittedly I knew nothing about when I interviewed for the job. Many would agree that I still don’t, but I do a very good job of faking it. I still can’t tell you what the horcruxes are. I’m not even sure that I spelled “horcruxes” correctly. Don’t you judge me!

Adjusting to life in the real world has been difficult. Money is, as always, a constant struggle for me, which was one of my greatest fears of delving back into reality. My money management skills are pretty much non-existent. Of course, I had to have a car, so I got a cute little green Kia Soul and named him Elliott (SEE ALSO: Pete’s Dragon), and then I realized that 90% of Kia Souls on the road are also Elliott Green, but I still love him. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out how much my car payment was going to be, though. I hadn’t had a car in 14 years and had just quit my job and had no prospects on the horizon. It was no exaggeration when I dramatically exclaimed to my Dad, “It’s fine! I’ll just get a third non-existent job to pay for it!” Even though I work nearly 55 hours a week between the two jobs, it still isn’t enough to cover all my expenses. I’ve fallen way behind on my student loan payments – again – but on the bright side, one of my credit cards is nearly paid off thanks to the credit consolidation plan I started before I went out on the road. Once that’s paid off, I can start applying that money to my loans. So there’s that.

There’s also my health. I would like to go on record to state that I never missed one show while I was on the road. Not one in two years. I was healthy as a horse. But here in Florida, I have been sick with something almost from the day I got here. Allergies, colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, strep throat, the flu…you name it, I’ve had it since I moved here. I’m sick now, in fact, getting over some sort of malady that laid me out at home for two days. But I can’t afford to call out of work, so I plow ahead, shortening my lifespan by a few years with each mucus-filled shift. I know that most of this illness stems from the other thing that has been difficult to adjust to: the weather.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Floridians…we live in the Devil’s Armpit. It’s hot, moist and, frankly, sometimes smelly down here. I’ve never lived in a place where a summer rain shower (and by “shower,” I mean “deluge”) actually makes the temperature hotter than before. I have accepted Swamp Ass into my life and should just go ahead and buy stock in Gold Bond powder to foolishly attempt stop the chub rub and chaffing between my thighs. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand to try to soak up all the moisture, so just accept the Swamp Ass and move on with your day.

It took me about three weeks to accept that every time I stood up from my seat on the shuttle bus from the parking lot or from a chair in the break room, I would leave a stamp of sweat behind. Sure, you can try to slide out of the seat to wipe some of it away, but after a while, you just give up. It’s a sad, sick, disgusting part of life down here and I hate it. I worked a parade shift once in August in which I sweat so much that I was sent back to change clothes because it looked like I’d wet myself.

I miss the snow! I miss the cold! I miss the air!

“But what about the good things,” you ask? “Surely something makes it worth being there!”

Yes. The people I’ve met down here make it worth it. I’ve made wonderful friends at both of my jobs. Getting to go to Disney World pretty much whenever I want to makes it worth it. Mickey and I are very tight, and I get to talk about Star Wars all day long. I even run into Darth Vader – sometimes, quite literally, run into him – backstage and he scares the bejesus out of me, because I get to be an 8 year old again. At work. And that’s awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible Guests and made Magical Moments for people and

Me and Neil

That’s me behind Neil Patrick Harris.

have gotten choked up over meeting the coolest little kids on the planet in their cute Princess gowns and their little Darth Vader costumes. I’ve seen people weep over being chosen by a wand. I even got to perform at Epcot this Christmas as part of the Candlelight Processional, finally singing again and getting to do it behind people like Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. And one of my best friends in the world, Brance, moved down here this summer and we’ve played mini golf and watched movies and played in the parks and shopped for Star Wars t-shirts and I’ve loved getting to spend that time with him. I’ve hung out in the parks with my college friend, Sara, and her wonderful husband and totally amazing daughter, Nora. I’ve seen old friends from all aspects of my life when they’ve come to the parks on vacation and I get to see my Mom and Dad more often than I did when I lived in New York because my Dad works in Tampa for a few days every month, and we meet up for dinner when he’s near.

So things aren’t all bad, and part of the reason that I’m rebooting the blog is to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, y’all – the struggle is real – but I’m not alone in this. And I’m still pursuing my dreams. I’ve started taking better care of myself and taking control of the enormous amount of weight that I have gained over the last 3 years. Oprah and I are doing WeightWatchers and I’m making excellent use of my new FitBit Surge, walking an average of about 14,000 steps a day. More, if I’m able. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas gifts I could have asked for. And I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month.

FitBit Report

Almost every night, I take a screenshot of my FitBit summary and post it to Instagram (jasonb1976) and Facebook, mostly to keep myself accountable and excited about going out to exercise, but hopefully to also encourage others to do the same. Tonight, a friend of mine from the Evita tour sent me a message on Facebook to let me know that she was inspired by my FitBit posts and that she’s about to embark on a 28 day fitness challenge that’s making her a bit nervous. She wrote, “Long story short..it’s going to be hard for me but I was thinking about your posts and they just put a smile on my face and made me excited to work toward a healthier me.” Guys. Pick me up off the floor. I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. I have inspired someone to work toward being healthier!?! That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me. If I can inspire her, maybe I can inspire someone else on here, too. And then I can inspire the world! Or at least take over the entire tri-state area!

Next month I’m moving into a new living situation that I think will be better for me both financially and emotionally and, as you can see, I’m writing again, which excites and scares me. I’m under very strict guidelines regarding what I can and cannot write about with both of my jobs, so please understand if I don’t mention work very often. You won’t get any secrets out of me. Nor will you get free tickets, but that’s another entry for another day.

So there it is, folks! Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore. I look forward to seeing you again very soon. May the merch be with you.



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.


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:

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.38.31 PM
My friend Ryan commented a few minutes later, simply saying, “It’s liberating clearing out that inbox, isn’t it?”

Yes, it really is.


Haunting You…Haunting You!

31 Jan

Just like Jessie Spano, I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so…SCARED!! Why, you ask? Well…I’ll tell you.

Years ago, my old roommate came across a video that, to his knowledge, had never seen the light of day. It was a made-for-TV short musical from 1983 called “Love Cycle: A Soap Operetta.” It starred Patti LuPone, who had just won a Tony for Evita a year or two before, Tony Award-winner Priscilla Lopez (the original Morales in A Chorus Line), Lonny Price (Merrily We Roll Along, Rags) and Martin Vidnovic (Oklahoma!, Baby) as well as Walter Bobbie, who would go on to play Nicely Nicely Johnson in the 1992 revival of Guys & Dolls and would win the Tony Award in 1997 for Best Direction of a Musical for the revival of Chicago. Pretty great cast, right? Well, don’t get too excited, because the musical is pretty dreadful. Dreadful enough to be fun, though!

Where else would you see Patti LuPone trapped in a dryer or belly dancing out of a washing machine?  Or how about Walter Bobbie doing the worst Scottish accent in the history of acting? Maybe Priscilla Lopez getting a load of wet towels tossed on her head just as she takes a bite out of a bright red apple…like you do at the laundromat?

I have told so many of my friends about this musical, but it’s never been available for people to watch. I even told Priscilla Lopez that I’d seen it when I met her at the closing night party of Rent. She couldn’t believe that it even existed anywhere. And, as far as I knew, it didn’t – until now! Someone has posted it to YouTube for the world to see, and I’m sharing it with all of you!

Ladies and gentlemen…I give you “Love Cycle: A Soap Operetta.” Enjoy!!


16 Jan

So part of the point of this blog is to give you just a little insight into the inner workings of tour life – or at least from my perspective behind the merchandise booth. In a post from June 27 called “On The Road Again,” I tried to explain the logistics of traveling and loading the show in and out of the theatres. June was a long time ago and tonight I had the idea to answer a few of the more frequently asked questions I hear from night to night and city to city. Merch people, I have found, are like cab drivers – people will tell us anything and ask us anything – and we’re expected to know the answers. So, like any good website…I give you a few of my FAQs.

Is this [CD] the performance from tonight?

Let me start by saying that I know that most people actually mean to ask if the CD we sell features the cast that they are seeing onstage, but some do literally mean to ask if we sell recordings of the performance they just saw and heard, so this one is a two-parter.

  1. No, we do not sell a recording of the cast that is performing onstage because [a legal] one does not exist. We sell the New Broadway Cast Recording which features the original company of Evita that was on Broadway in 2012, including Ricky Martin, Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris. The packaging on the CD clearly states that it is the New Broadway Cast and features photos of the three leads as well as their printed names.Making a cast recording is an extremely expensive endeavor. In addition to the rental of studio space, the performers, including the orchestra, the conductor and the cast, must be paid according to the agreements set by their respective unions. I may be mistaken, but I believe Actors’ Equity alone requires 2 weeks’ full pay for each singer featured on a cast recording. On Broadway, that works out to a minimum of around $3600 per chorus member on the album. I guarantee Ricky Martin was paid a lot more than that. Unfortunately, the economics of touring would make recording an album cost prohibitive. In all my years in this business, I cannot think of more than one or two tours that have produced their own albums that were produced in time to actually sell it on the road.Time is also an important reason why tour albums are rarely done. As I’ve said in previous posts, we often travel on our one day off every week, which leaves absolutely no time to get the company into a recording studio to make an album. Touring is hard enough on the performer’s voices and bodies – to make them go into a studio on their one day off to sing for 10 hours would just be cruel and would most likely not produce the highest quality recording.To record the album before the tour hits the road would also be fruitless as the actors require time to settle into the roles, which usually happens during the last week or so of rehearsals and even into the first few weeks of performance. Broadway cast albums are typically recorded on the Monday following opening night, which usually happens after a month or more of rehearsals, a week or two of tech rehearsals and a preview period of anywhere from 1-4 weeks.Also to be taken into consideration is that cast members eventually leave the show, including the stars and are replaced by other actors. Even if our cast of Evita cut an album, by the time it was mixed, pressed and packaged, chances are very good that some of the singers on the album would no longer be in the show. A new album couldn’t possibly be made every time a principal actor left (or joined, for that matter) the show. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.evita1
  2. No, we do not sell live recordings of the performance you have just seen. There are a whole host of union rules that would prevent that beyond the logistical nightmare it would create. I have heard of some concerts being recorded through the soundboard and then being sold on zip drives after the show, but that takes time. I typically get 20 minutes of sales time after a show – people would not stick around to wait for the recording to be uploaded to a zip drive by…who? Who would be responsible for doing that and how would we travel with the equipment needed to do it?Also, common sense would dictate that if I have a stack of CDs available for sale before the show begins, it’s probably not a recording of the performance you’re about to see and hear because…well…that performance hasn’t happened yet.The recording we sell is the most current recording of the show with the same songs and orchestrations that are being performed in this touring production as well as the song “You Must Love Me,” which was written for the film and was, for better or worse, added into the second act of the show. The album features a Grammy winner (Ricky Martin), an Olivier winner (Elena Roger) and a Tony winner (Michael Cerveris), so you can be pretty sure you’re getting a good recording.

Is there a DVD of the show?

No. At least not a legal one. The technical answer is, as with audio recordings, that there are lots of legal and financial hoops to jump through when videotaping a production for commercial release. There are union rules regarding pay (see above) as well as licensing issues that come into play pertaining to royalties and potential broadcasting rights.

Many stage musicals have been recorded and sold as DVDs. Shrek the Musical is the most recent example. That video, however, was not released on DVD or as a streaming video until well after the Broadway production and subsequent national tours had closed.

My standard response to this question, which is a more practical answer, is that releasing a DVD of the show, which would probably be available for $25-$30 in the stores, might cut into the ticket sales. After all, if you could watch the show as many times as you’d like from the comfort of your own living room for a one-time investment of $30, why would you ever pay $65 to come see it once in the theatre?

And, honestly, live theatre always better…well…live!

Do the actors ever come out?

No. They live backstage in cages and are only let out to prance about onstage for you. 

What I think people mean to ask is, “Where can I go to meet the actors after the performance?” The answer is the Stage Door. Every large theatre has a separate entrance for the cast and the audience. The Stage Door leads backstage and is traditionally where the cast and crew enter and exit the building. Depending on their mood or their plans after a show, they may choose on occasion to slip out a side door or through the front lobby. While it may be disappointing if you miss your favorite performer on his or her way out, try to understand that they are human beings, too, and may have dashed out for a whole myriad of reasons. They could have family or friends in the audience, they may have plans to meet someone, they may not be feeling well or they may have had a bad day and just want to go home.

S/he’s cute! Is s/he single?

This one is more of a generic example of personal questions I get about the cast. My general rule of thumb is to play dumb, even if I know the person is only asking as a joke. Most people are just kinda kidding around, but we do have a few fans who don’t have proper boundaries and I don’t want to encourage them. The cast and crew’s private lives are exactly that – private – and it’s not for me to divulge their personal information. If you would like to discuss their professional history, I’ll be happy to chat with you, time permitting. Otherwise…I don’t know if he’s gay or if she’s got a boyfriend or where the cast is going after the show because really…it’s none of your business.

We’re seeing the understudy tonight? Is s/he any good?

Understudies, covers, alternates and swings. Who are these people? They are the least appreciated folks up on the stage because no one understands how hard they work or the prejudice they face every time it is announced that they will be going on in someone’s place. But what do they do, and what’s the difference between them?

Let’s start with understudies. An understudy is usually a member of the chorus (we call it the ensemble) who goes on in a principal (leading) or featured (supporting) role if someone calls out. That means they’re in the show every night in the ensemble, but must be mentally, vocally and physically prepared to go on in any of the roles that they understudy at literally a moment’s notice. For instance, in the bubble of Evita, if Sean, the actor who plays Juan Perón, suddenly loses his voice or jams his toe backstage and can’t continue to perform, one of his understudies would change into their Perón costume and wig and go on in his place. In most cases, this transition is made to appear seamless – an audience member may not even realize there’s been a change at first – but I assure you it’s quite hectic backstage. I remember the first time I saw Avenue Q on Broadway, John Tartaglia finished singing “Purpose,” walked offstage and Barrett Foa walked out in the next scene and performed the rest of the show. When I was working at A Chorus Line on Broadway, Charlotte d’Amboise, who played Cassie, would sometimes step off the line just before Val’s monologue and song (“Dance Ten, Looks Three”). Sometimes she’d walk back on at the end of the song and sometimes her understudy would. In any case, the show went on.

So if an understudy is pulled from the ensemble to go on in a principal track, who takes the understudy’s spot in the ensemble? That massive responsibility goes to the Swing. Swings do not perform every night, but stay backstage or out in the house, ready to go on at any moment should an ensemble member go out of the show. The swings are responsible for knowing every ensemble member’s “track,” so they have to know the choreography, stage blocking, music, lyrics and/or lines and where the costume and wig changes are made backstage for every track they cover. Evita travels with four swings – two male and two female. Flashdance only had one male and one female to cover about 5 tracks each. Just a few weeks ago, we had our first “All Skate” where we had all four swings, an understudy and an alternate on at the same time. It keeps everyone on their toes.

So, what is an alternate and how is that different from a cover? An alternate is a rare occurrence that really only happens with two shows that I’m aware of – Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. An alternate is, in these two cases, an actress who is hired specifically to play Eva or Christine (in Phantom) twice a week to give the “regular” Eva or Christine some vocal rest because of the demands of the role. That means that the casting director/composer/director/choreographer/whoever makes these kinds of decisions thought that the actress in question was qualified to play the role. In fact, if/when the “regular” Eva takes a vacation, the alternate bumps up to 6 shows a week and the understudy takes over as alternate.

A cover is someone who is also hired to play one specific role but only gets to go on should the “regular” actress call out. For instance, the women who play Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked both have covers who sit backstage, warmed up and ready to go should they need to go on. Again, the transition is typically seamless if they do have to do a mid-show switch, but like swings, they only get to on if someone is out of the show. In the case of our Evita alternate, she typically stays on site just in case she’s needed to go on. My friend Julie was the Christine alternate in Phantom for several years on tour and on Broadway. In New York, she merely had to call in before the show to make sure everything was OK and then try to be within a few blocks’ radius in case she was called in to go on. So she got an apartment near the theatre and could stay home. Brilliant!

I remember Karen Mason telling me that when she was covering Glen Close in Sunset Blvd., she would have to turn off the dressing room monitors because she could hear audience members booing when they announced that she would be going on in Ms. Close’s place. Imagine having to do the show knowing that 1,500 people have already made up their minds that they’re going to hate you because you’re not Glen Close. These are all very tough jobs, folks.

There are some performers who become known for their talents as an understudy or swing. Because it’s such a difficult job that requires a great deal of talent, smarts and organization, very few people are really, really good at it. When someone gets a reputation as a really, really good swing or understudy, they often get pigeonholed in that position, which makes it difficult for them to book jobs in the leading roles that they often understudy. Basically, they’re too talented to play the lead. Crazy, right? My friend Jessica has made a career on Broadway as an understudy. She’s understudied Cassie in A Chorus Line, Judy in 9 to 5, Wednesday and Morticia in The Addams Family: The Musical and Eva in Evita. She’s immensely talented.

That’s a very long explanation to come to this answer to the question: Yes, s/he is very good. They wouldn’t have been hired if they weren’t good, and they wouldn’t be allowed to go on if they hadn’t been approved to do so. I can understand being disappointed if you had your heart set on seeing Ricky Martin or Glen Close or Hugh Jackman, but they’re human, too, believe or not, and they do get sick from time to time and need a break. Give the people who keep the show going in their stead a chance – you will most likely be very pleasantly surprised.

Why can’t I take pictures of the show or of the merchandise?

This is a tough one to explain without getting snarky about it. The simple truth of the matter is, I don’t want to be in your pictures. I don’t want to be in your Twitter or Facebook feed or on Youtube. I don’t take pictures of you at work, so please give me the same courtesy.

Secondly, this is a place of business. I don’t have patience for people who monopolize the front of my booth – my selling space – by taking and retaking pictures until they get one that they like. Our booth is beautiful and colorful, but it’s not a photo opportunity. I’m actually working here, or at least trying to.

Thirdly, photo taking begets photo taking. It’s inevitable that when people see other people taking pictures with something or someone, they want a picture, too. Think about  how long the lines are to get your picture made with any of the Disney costumed characters. As I am trying to conduct business at this booth, I don’t have patience for crowds of people taking pictures with the merchandise.

Which leads me to point number four: The point of me being here with all of this fabulous merchandise with which people are so eager to take pictures is to sell the merchandise, not to let you take pictures of it for free. If you like the black shirt enough to take a photo of it, then maybe you should buy it. And people who take pictures of the poster…? Well, that’s just ridiculous. My point is – BUY it!

And finally – and this pertains to the show as well as the merch – everything is copyrighted and, in the interest of protecting that copyrighted material, photography is prohibited. Believe it or not, there are people who will take pictures of a shirt only to go home and make it themselves. Likewise, there are unscrupulous (and unimaginative) theatre “professionals” who would use photos taken of the sets, costumes and lights to reproduce that in their own stagings in their high school, college, community theatre or regional theatres. The designers of the merchandise, sets, costumes, lights, projections, hair and makeup, etc. worked long and hard on those designs and if anyone wants to reproduce them, those designers should rightfully be paid for the use of their designs. Intellectual property, it’s called, and it’s a big business.

Obviously not everyone wants to go home and copycat our merchandise or this show, but there are those who would – and do. As they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch, so it’s not permitted for anyone.

In addition to copyright protection, photography is also not allowed to protect the safety of the artists onstage. You will always have some fool taking flash photos, which is not only distracting to the people up there trying to put on a show for you, but it’s also potentially dangerous. Have you ever walked into a very dark room from outside in the sunshine only to find that you can’t see anything until your eyes adjust to the darkness? That’s what happens when a flash goes off in your face unexpectedly – you can’t see, which is very dangerous when you’re three feet from the edge of the orchestra pit or when there’s a piece of scenery sliding in that could roll over your foot.

So that’s why we don’t let you take pictures. Also, it’s just rude to the people sitting next to you.

And there you have it – some of my most Frequently Asked Questions from behind the merch booth. I hope you enjoyed reading and maybe even learned something you didn’t know before!

Happy New Year-versary!

31 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!!


Christmas Is Coming And I Am Getting Fat

13 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 100th Performance, EVITA 1st National Tour!

7 Dec

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

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Meanwhile, Back At The Merch Booth…

7 Dec

Last night was rough in Tempe. It was cold – it actually got down to 44 degrees, which is real people cold, not “Oh, it’s 60 degrees – let me pull out my gloves, scarf and floor-length coat” kind of cold that we’ve been seeing out here in the desert for the last few weeks. It really was cold, and apparently that pissed everyone off in Arizona. Sales last night were bad and honestly, I’m not entirely sure why, but two of the women I encountered early on in my walk-in were fairly good indicators of how the rest of the night was going to go.

A well-dressed WOMAN approached my booth with HER HUSBAND. SHE spent a few seconds looking at the shirts with HER elbows on my booth and HER head in her hands.

WOMAN: Are these all the t-shirts you have? You don’t have any for women?
ME: The two fitted t-shirts on the mannequins are both fitted ladies’ tees.
WOMAN: Yeah, but…don’t you have anything SEXY?
ME: Well…the show is not entirely “sexy…”
WOMAN: Yeah, but she a HO!
ME (taken aback): Uh…sure…but just because she’s one in the show doesn’t mean people want to dress like one…
WOMAN: I do!

After several minutes of trying to get her to use her words, I finally figured out that what she meant by “sexy” was actually a spaghetti strap tank top, which we don’t have.

A few minutes later, ANOTHER WOMAN waddled up to the booth with long gray hair which had huge curls cemented with lots of hair spray – it kind of looked like an 18th century judge’s wig. SHE looked about as pleasant as one would expect an 18th century judge to be, as well.

ME: Hi! How are you tonight?
ANOTHER WOMAN (aggressively): I’m just looking at your stuff. Is that OK??
ME: Sure. Of course.
WOMAN: I don’t even want to be here. My daughter dragged me here. I would have given my tickets away if she hadn’t made me come.
ME: Oh…uh huh.
WOMAN: I mean, maybe it’ll be good. I don’t know. I’ve seen other shows here before that I expected to be a waste of time and they were fabulous.
ME: Uh huh. What makes you think this one’s going to be a waste of time?
WOMAN: I already know the story.

Pleasant, huh? Hopefully the next couple of days will be full of happier people with lots of disposable income and no need for “sexy” merchandise.

In other, completely unrelated news – I saw “Frozen” with some friends the other night. I had a few issues with the storytelling, but for the most part, I really liked it. Much more than I expected to, at least, and I loved the score. Christophe Beck wrote the orchestral score, which is stunning, and Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q, Finding Nemo: The Musical and The Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Finding Nemo: The Musical, “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Wonder Pets”) wrote the movie’s musical numbers, including one of the most exhilarating, fantastic songs I’ve heard in a Disney animated feature maybe since “Part of Your World.” “Let It Go” is sung by Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked and currently If/Then on Broadway) and Idina certainly does let it all go. *Spoilers ahead*: The song is sung by Elsa, one of the two lead female characters in the movie. Since childhood, she has been cursed (or blessed…?) with the ability to freeze anything she touches and the power gets stronger as she grows older, so her parents – the King and Queen – decide it best to seclude her from everyone to protect both her and everyone around her. For years, she is closed up in her room, unable to interact with anyone, including her sister, Anna (voiced brilliantly by Kristen Bell) until she is forced to come out on her coronation day to take over as Queen. Elsa’s curse/gift is exposed in front of the whole kingdom and she is run out of the kingdom because everyone thinks she is a witch. As she climbs a snowy mountain, alone and scared, she sings “Let It Go,” in which she finally accepts herself and her talents and begins to explore what she’s actually capable of now that she no longer has to hide it. It’s an empowering song and Menzel’s vocals are incredibly exciting. I have a feeling the Lopezes have won themselves an Oscar this year.

And thirdly…a friend posted this link to my Facebook page today. It’s a blog called “How May We Hate You” and it’s basically the same idea as what my blog was originally intended to be: ridiculous retellings of the stupid things people say and do, only these are stories from hotel employees and they are hilarious. I hope you’ll visit their page and enjoy their stories. Tell ’em the MerchWhore sent you!

Happy November From Blah-Blah Land!

1 Nov

Hooray for it!

I can’t believe it’s already November. Of course, who would know it out here in L.A., where the temperatures today were in the low 80’s and half of West Hollywood was out in Speedos last night for Halloween. Apparently underwear and a cute hat constitute a costume in Los Angeles. Who knew? If I wore that, I can guarantee you it’d be the scariest costume you’d see all night.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life – I’m very lucky and grateful for that – but I have to say I’ve rarely suffered from culture shock the way I have here. Tokyo might have been a little more shocking, but only slightly. We’re coming up on the end of our second week here and for the entire first week I was taking public transportation to get where I needed and wanted to go. In New York, that’s no problem. In L.A.? Fuggedaboutit! I’m splitting my stay in two different places – one in a house in West Hollywood with some friends of my boss and the other place is a condo a few blocks away off of Santa Monica Boulevard. The owner of the condo is away for a year shooting a movie, so her place is empty. This is my first real stay in Los Angeles – ever – and while having my own condo in West Hollywood sounds amazing and glamourous (which sometimes it is), it’s also quite disconcerting and lonely being in a new town with no friends and no way of getting around. I’m 7 miles from the theatre and about 10 miles from the rest of the cast and crew’s company housing, which doesn’t sound bad, but distance isn’t measured in mileage here – it’s measured by time. Seven miles could be 10 minutes or it could be an hour, depending on traffic which, in my limited experience here, is almost constant.

I learned the hard way that certain buses that run express only run Monday through Friday and only at certain hours. I’ve also learned that I don’t like being on any corner of Hollywood Boulevard late at night waiting for a bus, but particularly at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. I’ve lived in New York for 12 years and honestly have never felt unsafe, but L.A. is a whole other animal. During my hour-long wait for a bus last Saturday night, I witnessed a young man being chased down the sidewalk by a cop and a small crowd of screaming people. The young man was thrown against a chain link fence and handcuffed while three other cop cars pulled up and blocked off the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Half the crowd was screaming at the guy being arrested and the other half of the crowd was yelling that the policeman was being unnecessarily rough with him. Two other people were subsequently arrested. I walked to Sunset Blvd. and waited for a different bus. By Monday I had a rental car.

I was hoping the rental would solve my transportation woes – and it has, for the most part. L.A.’s is a car culture and this city is so spread out that you really need one to get anywhere. As William Holden’s character Joe Gillis says in “Sunset Blvd.,” “If I lose my car, it’s like having my legs cut off!” Cars bring on a whole other kind of responsibility, however, that are a headache. Parking in West Hollywood is a nightmare unless you have a spot in a parking garage or a driveway, which I don’t, so that means finding parking on the street. As in New York, you have to be aware of the street sweeping schedule – NO PARKING THURS. 8AM-10AM, for instance. You can park there, but you’d have to make sure you move your vehicle before the designated time, and let’s face it – I’m a night owl and I am not getting up at 7:45 to move the car. There’s also a parking permit system in place in WeHo that gets to be tricky. North of Fountain Avenue you need a 6R parking pass, but south of Fountain you need a 7R permit. South of Santa Monica, you don’t need one at all. It’s very confusing and, since I was staying by myself, I didn’t know what any of it meant. Thank goodness my hosts live 10 minutes up the street and were able to fill me in on the whole system.

L.A. is also very laid-back in a way that is completely opposite from New York. People aren’t really in a rush to get things done, which kind of drives me crazy when I’m in a rush. You can take the boy out of New York… All of this, along with a few work-specific things, have put me in a bit of a funk since we’ve been here. I don’t know if it’s the time change or the non-stop sunshine or the flu shot I got last weekend, but I just haven’t felt “settled” here since I arrived, but I’m learning and adapting. I’ve already mastered the “pull into the center of the intersection to make a left turn and wait to go until the light turns yellow” move, which would get me killed in New York. I learn! I LEEEEARN! WAAAH WAAAAAAAAAAH!

She learns! She LEEEEEARNS!!

Things are not all gloom and doom and crazy shootings at LAX, though. I have managed to have some fun while I’ve been here. If you’ve been following my blog or Twitter (@JasonHBratton) at all (and why haven’t you been??), you’ll know that my idea of fun is slightly different than others’, and I’m totally OK with that. I’ve done some of the typical touristy stuff like walking up and down Hollywood Blvd. (in the daylight), stopping to take pictures of all my favorite stars’ stars on the Walk of Fame. I went to (Mann’s Grauman’s) Chinese Theater to snap pictures of all the hand and footprints in the cement. I went to the Griffith Observatory, where a good chunk of “Rebel Without A Cause” was filmed, and took in the amazing view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits and looked at mammoths and saber-toothed cats’ remains and my friend Bert surprised me with a trip to Disneyland on Monday. So I have had some “traditional” fun, but I also spent about three hours looking at gravestones the other day, which I actually found quite fascinating.

Griffith Observatory Panorama 1

A panoramic view of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign.

As I’ve said before, I don’t generally get starstruck, but walking around Westwood Village Memorial Park was a bit overwhelming. Celebrity after celebrity is buried there – Farrah Fawcett, Truman Capote, Natalie Wood, Don Knotts, Eva Gabor, Donna Reed, Eve Arden, Walter Matthau, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne from the “Poltergeist” movies) and, most famously, Marilyn Monroe. It’s a pretty impressive representation of Hollywood in one tiny little cemetery. And now I’m eager to go to the Forest Lawn cemeteries where the REALLY big names are buried. I’m sure some people would think that’s kind of morose and weird, but it’s the closest I’ll ever get to these people, even if they are dead. My friend Joe is a big movie buff and he knows each and every actress to ever win an Oscar. Today I told him I wish he were here to go with me to these cemeteries to find all the stars and he said that it was one of his dreams to do just that. It was a much-needed reminder that, despite how challenging it may be, I am very, very lucky to be getting to travel the way I do and that I am living a dream life in many respects. DSCN8518

Marilyn Monroe’s grave at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California

I have a list of things I have left to do here. The Museum of Tolerance is high on the list. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is another. I’d like to go to Santa Monica Pier, Malibu and Venice Beach and I have to get to Little Japan downtown. But not before I go back to Disneyland with my pals Tom and Anthony on Monday, lunch with Jill on Tuesday and four shows this weekend. Eek!!