Tag Archives: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Hey, Old Friend…Whaddaya Say, Old Friend?

9 Nov

Dear Readers,

Are there any of you left out there? Have I been absent for so long that you’ve given up on me? On a day in which it seems there is little hope to hang onto, I choose to hope that at least one of you has stuck with me. I might even go so far as to say I hope that at least one of you has been looking forward to the day that I write something new. That might be pushing it a bit, but who said hopes had limits?

It’s been a trying few hours, friends. If I’m being completely honest with you – and what would be the purpose of this blog if I weren’t completely honest? – it’s been a trying few months.

It’s been so long since I wrote anything that I truly don’t even remember where I left off. But here’s where we are today: I am struggling to keep my hopes up right now, as many others are, as well. This election has taken its toll on all of us and the results have left me and so many others feeling unsure of our future – scared for it, even. I’ll not go into a political discussion here tonight because, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of politics and debriefings and analyses and pundits, but suffice it to say that my heart is heavy and I am scared. Perhaps a grown man shouldn’t declare that in a public forum, but it’s the truth.

On top of our nation’s current state of affairs, we in Florida, and particularly Orlando, have suffered through a lot this year. Between the shooting at Pulse earlier this year, which directly affected many of my friends and coworkers, and Hurricane Matthew, which thankfully turned out to be little more than a thunderstorm for many of us in Central Florida because of a fortuitous shift in wind, we’ve been through a great deal of stress these last few months.

And on a more personal note, I’ve recently been struggling with something that I never imagined would be an issue for me – my age. Next week I turn 40, and while I don’t think of myself as a 40-year old, my body has slowly started betraying me and has been not-so-gently reminding me through a series of ever-changing aches and pains that, while I may look 28, I am, in fact, not 28 anymore.

Then there’s the weight gain. After the Pulse shooting, I started comfort eating because…well, it’s what I do when I get stressed. Instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, I turn to cakes and cookies and pizza, and since mid-July, I have managed to gain back all 27 pounds that I worked so hard to lose earlier this year. Right now I feel so defeated that I have kind of given up on even trying to lose it again. And that makes me mad at myself and makes me want to tear into a box of Twinkies. I mean, I just want to destroy those snack cakes. It’s a vicious cycle and I wish I could just snap my fingers and have the metabolism I had 10 years ago and the willpower that I’ve always wished I had. And then I get frustrated at myself for complaining about having too much food when there are others who are less fortunate than me.

I’ve also been thinking about where I am professionally at 40 and I’m unhappy with it. I came here with a purpose and, just as in New York, I’ve become so focused on simply surviving that I’ve taken my eye off the prize and I’ve gotten stuck.

Things aren’t all as bad as all that, though. During the time of the Pulse shooting, I had the wonderful opportunity of performing in a production of Ragtime the Musical at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. Through that show, I met some of the most wonderful people in Orlando, I laughed more than I think I have in a very long time, we cried – no, wept – together and we made some incredible music together. I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience and those people. I’m also performing on a semi-regular basis in the dinner theatre show at the Titanic Artifact Exhibition on International Drive in Orlando. I get to play J. Bruce Ismay and I absolutely love it. Once again, I’ve found a theatre family that I love and it helps bring in a bit more money every month, which is a great help these days. And my parents recently got to see me in the show, which was fun and pushed me out of my comfort zone, because there’s nothing much more terrifying to me than having to interact and improvise with my parents in a British accent and fake moustache. But I did it!

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A very sunburnt J. Bruce Ismay.

Even with those steps toward what I want here for myself, I often find myself wallowing down in the dumps lately, criticizing myself for living what I think is a pretty lackluster life. I sometimes find myself thinking that I haven’t done much with my life…that I’m pretty boring, even. And then every once in a while, people in the break room at work will be talking about Hamilton or New York or Japan and I’ll jump in and add something that, to me, seems insignificant – interesting, but insignificant – and it always surprises me to see the looks of disbelief on my coworkers’ faces. And then I’m reminded that I have, if nothing else, had an interesting life.

I’ve recently become slightly obsessed with storytelling podcasts (The Moth and Snap Judgment are my favorites), and I hear some of the stories people tell and I think, “I could do that!” I mean, isn’t that what I’ve been doing here for years now?

So here’s a story.

Just a few months after I moved to New York, it was announced that the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, would be producing a summer-long celebration of Stephen Sondheim. There would be six shows produced that summer, all featuring big-named theatre stars, running in repertory, meaning the first three shows would be presented on alternating nights for the first half of the summer, and then the second set of shows would follow suit for the last half of the summer. The lineup was incredible – Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski in Sweeney Todd, Melissa Errico, Raúl Esparza and Florence Lacey in Sunday in the Park With George, Lynn Redgrave, Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and John Barrowman (yes, that John Barrowman) in Company, Judy “Pocahontas” Kuhn, Michael Cerveris and Rebecca Luker in Passion, Raúl Esparza, Miriam Shor and Emily Skinner in Merrily We Roll Along and Randy Graff, Blair Brown and Kristen “Princess Anna” Bell in A Little Night Music. For a musical theatre nerd like me, this was heaven on Earth. The problem was – it was all the way down in Washington, DC.

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Luckily, I had a friend named David, who I’d met in the old Theater chat room on AOL, and he and I had become friends in real life. David was in the original Broadway company of Merrily We Roll Along and, naturally, was forever a Sondheim fan. David was going to see each and every one of those shows and had a spare set of tickets – I just had to get myself down to DC! So I did, of course – twice.

The first show we saw was Sweeney Todd, and honestly, the whole thing was a blur. I remember the sound being a huge issue – during the Joanna trio in the second act, Stokes’ mic went out and suddenly we heard Hugh Panaro backstage vocalizing, and as soon as Hugh stepped onstage, his mic went out and we could hear Celia Keenan Bolger singing scales backstage. And I remember going to dinner at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Watergate Hotel (yes, that Watergate Hotel) and sitting across from Brian Stokes Mitchell, which was a huge thrill for me. I had no idea what was coming next.

David’s friend, Annie, joined us for the second set of shows, which included Merrily. Annie was also an original cast member of the show – in fact, she was the leading lady, and she was sharing a hotel room with us. Ann Morrison is also one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever met in my life. On the train ride over to the theatre, I asked Annie if she would sing something from the show for me and, as we ascended the giant escalator out of the train station, she sang, “Charley…why can’t it be like it was? I liked it the way that it was, Charley – you and me…we were nicer then,” and my head nearly exploded. (Hear her sing it on the Original Broadway Cast Recording here at around 1:42).

But wait…there’s more.

As we entered the huge lobby of the Kennedy Center complex, we were making our way to the theatre doors when someone yelled out, “David!” We all turned to see who it was and, standing there in the flesh was Anthony Rapp. Yes, that Anthony Rapp. I couldn’t believe it. I had never been a Renthead per se, but I loved the show just as much as everyone else, and I had spent countless hours listening to him on the cast recording. And then, after the show, once again at the Watergate, he was sitting across from me and David and Annie, talking about how he’d just returned from opening Rent in Japan. And then he started singing “Seasons of Love” in Japanese! Right there at the table. Annie and I both couldn’t believe what we were experiencing as we shared a caesar salad with sirloin beef (she and I bonded very quickly), and as I went to bed that night, I simply could not wrap my head around everything that had happened that night. It was all so wonderful. I mean, the only way it could possibly get better would be if I actually got to meet Stephen Sondheim himself.

And then I met Stephen Sondheim.

That Sunday night, after the closing performance of A Little Night Music, which was also the closing night of the Celebration, David got us into the closing night party. Sadly, Annie had had to fly back home early that morning – she left us all lovely notes under our pillows before she left, because that’s the kind of woman she is – but because of his involvement with Merrily, David was able to get me and some friends into the party that night. A few minutes into the soiree, we turned a corner and there he was – basking in a halo of heavenly light (well…maybe not) – Stephen Sondheim! David walked up to him and said, “Hi, Steve!” They had kept in touch through the years and they greeted each other as old friends and then David turned and introduced all of us to Sondheim. I shook his hand and we all stood around nervously for a few minutes while he and David chatted a bit more and then someone else walked up to “Steve.” I’m not sure who he was, but “Steve” introduced him to David and then proceeded to introduce each and every one of us to this person. By name.

“And this is Jason…”

Whenever I feel like I’m a nobody…that I’ve led an uninteresting life…that my voice isn’t being heard…I need to remind myself of this:

For one brief, shining moment, Stephen Sondheim knew my name.

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Viva Las Vegas!

14 Apr

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102 years ago, Titanic was sinking right about now. Seems appropriate to remember by reposting this entry about the Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor in Las Vegas, NV, and my close encounter with the ship that has always haunted me.

Confessions of a Merch Whore

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Greetings from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where we opened last night at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is my first time to Vegas and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. Yes, it’s tacky and over the top, but it’s actually a lot of fun, even for someone who doesn’t drink or gamble. I always scoffed when people would say that Vegas was a family-friendly town, but the truth is – it really is!

Monday afternoon after we got into town, I met up with my friends Tom and Anthony, who just happened to be in town from San Diego. We met at Treasure Island and walked up and down the Strip, stopping to watch the water fountain show at the Bellagio and the volcano eruption at the Mirage, popping into various hotels and casinos just to look around and take some pictures. We then…

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Viva Las Vegas!

27 Nov

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Greetings from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where we opened last night at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is my first time to Vegas and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. Yes, it’s tacky and over the top, but it’s actually a lot of fun, even for someone who doesn’t drink or gamble. I always scoffed when people would say that Vegas was a family-friendly town, but the truth is – it really is!

Monday afternoon after we got into town, I met up with my friends Tom and Anthony, who just happened to be in town from San Diego. We met at Treasure Island and walked up and down the Strip, stopping to watch the water fountain show at the Bellagio and the volcano eruption at the Mirage, popping into various hotels and casinos just to look around and take some pictures. We then made the mistake of walking from the Strip to the Rio, which is a much farther walk than we had anticipated, and we had dinner at a buffet at the Gold Coast next door. The food wasn’t great, but the whole dinner was $14 a person, so we couldn’t complain and we were all completely stuffed by the time we rolled out of there. In all, we spent about 8 hours on the Strip, hitting most of the major casino/hotels. Tuesday I slept in and then went to the Luxor to go through their Titanic Artifact Exhibition, which was really wonderful.

I’ve always had a strange fascination with Titanic, but I’ve also had very mixed feelings about removing artifacts from the wreckage – especially pieces of the ship itself. It is a burial ground, after all. But the exhibition was tastefully done and with a great deal of respect and I suppose, much like animals in a zoo, seeing the artifacts up close made the story feel tangible and real, which hopefully encourages people to contribute to preservation and restoration efforts at the site.

The exhibit works chronologically through the Titanic’s history, from how it was built to now. You’re given a boarding pass as you enter with the name and a short history of a real Titanic passenger and then you make your way through the exhibit. There are replicas of third class (“steerage”) and first-class cabins with artifacts on display along the way. Midway through the tour, you come to a full-scale reproduction of the Grand Staircase (most of you will remember it from the movie “Titanic”), which is the only room in which you can take a photo. Actually, a staff member does it for you and you have to buy it if you want it. Or…take a screenshot of it like I did. Some of us are third-class steerage and can’t afford $12.95 for a digital copy of a photo!

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There is also a reproduction of the promenade deck, complete with stars and a slight chill in the air, much as it may have looked and felt on the night of the sinking. You soon walk into a room that is quite cold where there is a huge chunk of ice on display. You are encouraged to put your hand on this block of ice for 5 seconds to get an idea of just how cold it really was in the water that night. It is one of the most innovative displays I’ve ever seen and certainly gives you an appreciation for what those poor people had to endure.

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The ship is deteriorating rapidly and I’m honestly not sure if its worse to disturb a burial site for the purpose of preservation and education or to just let the ship rust away to nothing. Part of the Titanic Artifact Exhibition is an actual section of the ship that was recovered back in 1998. “The Big Piece,” as it’s called, is a 15-ton, 26′ x 12′ section of the starboard side of the ship and it is glorious. I am usually a stickler for rule-following in museums and exhibits, but I have never been more tempted to reach out and touch something in my life than I was that giant hunk of Titanic. It was my one opportunity in life to actually touch the ship that I’ve obsessed over for years, but I was a good boy and didn’t. I didn’t even try to sneak pictures (mainly because I read that there was a lot of surveillance throughout the exhibition). I just spent some time with it, examining it and marveling at how huge this section of the ship looked to me, knowing that it was just a tiny section of something that has become larger than life. 

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The Big Piece at the Titanic Artifacts Exhibition at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

Big Piece Map

The green outline indicates where the Big Piece fit into the grand design of Titanic. To think that that small section of the ship is nearly 30 feet long!

The end of the exhibition is a giant wall covered with the names of every passenger and crew member on the ship, divided by those who survived and those who died. I was surprised to find how invested I was in finding out if my passenger lived, but knowing that he was 1) a man and 2) steerage, I wasn’t surprised to find out that he didn’t survive the sinking.

I didn’t intend for this to be another post about Titanic, but it was a big deal for me to be there. It was very moving. It fulfilled a lifelong dream to actually see the Titanic with my own eyes and it was totally worth the $30 admission price. If you have the opportunity, be sure to stop by the Luxor on the Las Vegas Strip to pay your respects to the Titanic and her passengers.