Tag Archives: Titanic

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!

img_9508

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.

sondheimcelebration
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.

Advertisements

Viva Las Vegas!

14 Apr

BlLAiC-CUAAML8S.jpg-large

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

Unknown
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…

View original post 822 more words

Viva Las Vegas!

27 Nov

Unknown
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!

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 7.42.33 PM

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.

Iceberg

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. 

Big Piece

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.

 

Lizzie Borden Took An Axe…

4 Aug

I have always had a strange, macabre fascination about unsolved crimes and catastrophic tragedies. Jack the Ripper is a constant fascination for me or, more specifically, the fact that he (or she) was never caught. My interest in the Titanic is borderline obsessive, though for the life of me I can’t really figure out why. I suppose it’s the actor in me – wondering what it must have been like to be aboard that fateful ship. Seeing James Cameron’s “Titanic” made me sick to my stomach the first time I saw it, not from seasickness, but from anxiety. I actually had to leave the theater at one point because I thought I was going to throw up. To have the opportunity to do Titanic: The Musical was almost too much for my brain to process. The Salem witch trials are another source of wonder for me, as well. When I travel on the road, I try to take any opportunity I can to see places of interest – especially if they appeal to my sick sense of curiosity. One such opportunity arose when I was out on tour doing Junie B. Jones in the spring of 2010 as we passed through Fall River, Massachusetts.

On August 4, 1892 – 121 years ago today – tiny little Fall River became the focus of the nation when two bodies – those of Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby – were discovered in 92 Second Street. Mr. Borden’s body was found first, slumped down on the sofa in the sitting room, struck 10 or 11 times about the head by a hatchet-like instrument. The skull of Mrs. Borden, who was found upstairs in the guest room, had been crushed by 19 blows. Lizzie was the main suspect in the case – one of the first times a woman had ever been accused of such a crime – and the case became a national sensation. Somehow, Lizzie was acquitted of the crime and the case remains unsolved all these years later.

Greetings from the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts!

Greetings from the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts!

The house in which the murders took place is now a bed and breakfast in Fall River. That’s right…you too can sleep in Ms. Lizzie’s bedroom or, if you’re brave enough, in the guest room where Mrs. Borden’s body was found. The B&B is run by a lovely, if slightly creepy woman, named Lee-ann Wilber, who was kind enough to agree to a rare evening tour of the house for me and some of my cast mates because it was the only time we’d be able to make it.

When we arrived, we were greeted at the front door by a young couple – probably in their mid-20’s – who were the only people staying in the house that night. They had been in the sitting room, sitting on a replica of the sofa where Mr. Borden was murdered – watching horror movies on the roll-away TV that lived in the sitting room closet. The only DVDs in the house were either documentaries about the Borden murders or slasher films and the bookshelves were lined with books about Lizzie and the events that transpired in that house. The young woman explained to us that her boyfriend had booked a night in the house without telling her, and she looked absolutely terrified to be there.

The house has been refurbished to look as close to the way it did on the day of the murders as possible: wallpaper, carpeting, furniture…the whole nine yards. Everywhere you turn there are family photos on the wall, and hanging over each murder scene is a copy of the crime scene photo, which was a relatively new tool in 1892. In Lizzie’s room, in a glass case, was the creepiest looking Lizzie Borden doll I’ve ever seen and just behind it, a book with the initials L.A.B. (Lizbeth Andrew Borden) written in the upper right hand corner. Creepy.

The creepy Lizzie Borden doll in Lizzie's bedroom.

The creepy Lizzie Borden doll in Lizzie’s bedroom.

Lee-ann finally met up with us and gave us the full tour – it lasted about an hour and half, I guess. The whole thing was fascinating and Lee-ann, being an actress herself, was quite good at her storytelling. We had a great time taking photos throughout the house, playing at ghost hunting. The truth is, though, that place is spooky and for good reason. Some horrible things happened in that house and someone got away with it. Everyone still assumes it was Lizzie that did it, but officially…? It’s a cold case.

On the left is the official crime scene photo taken of Mrs. Borden. On the right is me, laying in the exact spot where her body was found.

On the left is the official crime scene photo taken of Mrs. Borden. On the right is me, laying in the exact spot where her body was found.

Upper: The crime scene photo of Mr. Borden in the parlor. Lower: Me in the same location on a replica of the Borden sofa.

Upper: The crime scene photo of Mr. Borden in the sitting room. Lower: Me in the same location on a replica of the Borden sofa.

After our tour, we went out back to the barn where a small gift shop had been installed. Lizzie t-shirts, keychains, magnets, videos, books, bobble heads…who knew there was so much Lizzie Borden merch to be had? I, of course, had to get the bobble head, and she sits on my bookshelf, still in the box, watching over me. And for some reason that doesn’t creep me out. Yeah…I’m a weirdo. Happy Lizzie Borden Day!

Lizzie Borden on the day of her acquittal.

Lizzie Borden on the day of her acquittal.

Get Me Aboard, Call Out My Name! I Must Get Off That Ship!

5 Jul

In the summer of 2003, I booked a summer stock job at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. BCP had, at one time, been a theatre where many Broadway shows were tried out, including Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. Dick Van Dyke, Liza Minnelli, Tyne Daly, Grace Kelly, Walter Mathau and Angela Lansbury had all performed there. Audra McDonald had played Aldonza in Man of La Mancha there. It had been a big deal.

By the time I was hired to work there, it was a non-Equity theatre that did summer stock. It was owned and operated by a man named Ralph Miller, who also owned three other theatres – The Falmouth Playhouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome, PA, and the Woodstock Playhouse in Woodstock, NY. The Woodstock Playhouse mysteriously burned to the ground in 1988 and the Falmouth Playhouse, which had been insured at $1.5 million, also burned to the ground in 1994. See a pattern?

I had been hired to do Maury Yeston’s Titanic and Frank Wildhorn’s The Scarlet Pimpernel at both the Bucks County Playhouse and the Pocono Playhouse. There was another group of actors – the Dancer Company, we called them – who would perform Fiddler on the Roof and Lil Abner (I think) – in one theatre while we were in the other and then we’d switch. And the Singer Company would have a three week hiatus mid-season, so I could go home to New York for a bit. That also meant I wouldn’t be able to sublet my apartment. I had to pay rent. I don’t remember how much I was being paid – $250 a week, maybe? That sounds a little high… My rent at the time was $550 a month for one room with no kitchen and a shared bathroom in the hallway. Needless to say, I wasn’t making any money off this gig.

I had to take a bus out to Mountainhome to start rehearsals at the Pocono Playhouse. Our stage manager, Grey, picked me up and drove me to our company housing, which turned out to be an old, run-down summer camp – very Camp Crystal Lake. The rooms stunk of mildew, the mattresses were about 3/4” thick and there were mushrooms growing out of the floor in the bathroom. The dorm buildings were situated about a quarter mile back from the main road down a dirt road that cut through the woods with no lighting whatsoever. There was a rec room/commons building on the corner of the main road, which is where the TV and kitchen were. And a chipmunk that lived in the garbage can. It would jump out at you like that squirrel in the Christmas tree in “Christmas Vacation.” I was terrified to go in there. There was a bathroom in the commons building, too, but someone pooped in there before realizing the toilet didn’t flush. That turd, which stuck around for weeks, should have been a warning…a sign of things to come.

The next day, we all went to the Pocono Playhouse to start rehearsals for Titanic. I was so excited to do that show – it was one of my favorite scores, and I had always had a strange connection to the story of the Titanic’s sinking. It fascinated and horrified me. I looked forward to getting to wear fantastic costumes and I was really, really curious to know what the sets were going to look like.

The first few days of rehearsal were just about learning the music. That score is tough. It’s practically an opera. It sits high in the voice and there’s a lot of it. The harmonies are very tight. And did I mention there’s a lot of it? Our cast was comprised of a lot of folks with varying levels of musical knowledge. A few of us had degrees in voice, some had acting degrees, some were just folks who dabbled in community theatre. It was a challenge even for those of us who could read music and had a good ear. But we sounded good! I was very excited to see where this was going to go.

Once we got the show on its feet, I started putting a few things together that didn’t quite add up. Our stage manager was also playing Mr. Strauss. How was he going to call the show and work the fly rail and move set pieces and then come out and sing a love song to his wife? Where was the tech crew? And where was the orchestra? Surely they must be rehearsing off-site somewhere and we’d have a sitzprobe later… Right?

The set was a huge, billion-pound mass of 2×4’s and plywood. We had huge ramps that would serve as the loading ramp for the passengers at the top of the show and, when flipped around the other direction, would be the sinking ship, and then there were a bunch of other platforms that would serve as other acting spaces. As it turned out, we – the actors – were also the crew and we had to move those giant pieces while Grey would run around in his tailcoat and heavily drawn-on age lines, flying in drops and then sprinting back out to do his scenes. During one of our last rehearsals before opening, it still hadn’t been decided how, exactly, we were going to hit an iceberg, and it became clear that there was to be no orchestra. We were going to be singing to a track, and it sounded like it had been recorded on one of those tiny Casio keyboards from the early 90’s. *plink plink…plink plink…plink plink…plink plink…* It was horrible.

I don’t remember if it was final tech or opening night – I’ll call it opening night for dramatic effect – but I remember standing in the wings just before curtain. The lights went down and suddenly this glorious, huge orchestral overture started. Had Ralph spent the money to have the tracks recorded with an orchestra?! Our answer came about 2 minutes into the overture, when the track switched back to the *plink plink…plink plink* of the Casio. Ralph hadn’t paid for new tracks – he’d just taken the overture from the Original Broadway Cast Recording and tacked it onto the beginning of our show! Surely that wasn’t legal, not to mention how deceiving it would be for the audience. My friends Matt and Don (who had to come out and sing the first song over that awful track) and I couldn’t believe it. It was just so…wrong. Still, the show must go on.

I got through my first scene as Mr. Pitman (“First class passengers, proceed at once to the gangway!”) and had a 30-second costume change to Mr. Henry Etches before I had to run up the steps to the top platform for my next scene. We didn’t have dressers, so I had pre-set my Etches jacket and vest, draped over a support beam of one of the giant ramps upstage right. As I was making my change, I felt as if I were stepping on something, but I wasn’t sure what it was because it was completely dark back there. I made the change, got up the stairs (barely) and served Captain Smith his coffee. A few minutes later I was onstage for something else and I started noticing silver splotches on the black floor. Then I noticed them on my tux pants. I had no clue what it was until I noticed my suede-soled Capezio character shoes were sticking to the floor. I had stepped in a puddle of silver paint that had been spilled right where my quick change was. Rather than clean it up, someone had just thrown some newspaper over it and left it there. By the end of that performance, there was silver paint everywhere and my $200 character shoes were ruined. I was never reimbursed for those…

By the end of the first act, the actors in the show still weren’t sure how we were going to hit an iceberg. The scene involves lots of vignettes of various passengers interacting with one another, so we were staged in couples and groups and we were awash in a pale blue light. We heard, “Iceberg! Right ahead!” and suddenly a white scrim – a piece of fabric which is opaque when lit from the front and transparent when lit from behind – flew in downstage and we saw a beautiful video of the Titanic sailing along the Atlantic and suddenly hitting an iceberg…while a tiny computer-generated Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio dodged falling pieces of ice. Now, I knew this was illegal – we’d just used part of James Cameron’s multiple Oscar-winning film as part of our show. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could anyone else.

We opened Titanic at the Bucks County Playhouse and played there for three weeks. During the third week of the run, we started rehearsals for The Scarlet Pimpernel. We were so happy to be working on new material that few of us seemed to notice how exhausted we actually were. We learned that show in a week. For this show, we had wigs and tights and gigantic period costumes made out of upholstery fabric you would typically use to cover a large sofa. By this time, it was late June and it was hot in Pennsylvania, even with the air conditioning running in the theatre. We didn’t have air conditioning at the cast house in New Hope, which was a large farm house out in the middle of nowhere, where we had three or four people to a room. I was so looking forward to going home to my dumpy apartment in New York. I couldn’t wait.

Pimpernel ran for two weeks at Bucks County and then we had a three week hiatus before we opened at the Poconos Playhouse, where we had rehearsed Titanic earlier in the summer. We got to the theatre after our break to find out that we would be doing two weeks of Pimpernel and one week of Titanic in the Poconos, which was flipped from what we’d been told we would be doing when we signed our contracts. We only had three weeks to go, and it wasn’t as if they were canceling anything, so it wasn’t a big deal.

What was a big deal, however, was our first brush-up rehearsal before opening night. When we arrived at the theatre, we were told to search through the various big black garbage bags in the dressing rooms for our costume pieces. I assumed the costumes had been dry cleaned and put into the bags for storage, but no…they had been taken off the hangers and shoved into the bags – wigs and all – soaking wet with sweat, and sent up to the Poconos to stew for three weeks in tied up garbage bags. They smelled terrible and they were still wet with month-old sweat, and we were being asked to put them on and do our show. Bottles of Febreeze had been provided in each dressing room to help with the smell, but we were told that there wasn’t enough money in the costume budget to get the sofa coats cleaned. And we were told that there was no air conditioning in the Poconos Playhouse – onstage or off. Two weeks later we found our Titanic costumes in a similar condition, having steamed in our various juices for over six weeks in those big black bags. The life vests seemed to smell the worst, but nothing there smelled good.

I have kept in touch with many of my cast mates from that season. They’re scattered all over the world doing all sorts of amazing things. I’m incredibly proud of all of them. As miserable as parts of that summer were, I remember standing next to Liz Asti during the finale of Titanic and just sobbing – both of us. But I was also ready to be done with that experience. It wasn’t for me.

Image

The Pocono Playhouse after the fire in 2009.

In 2009, several of my BCP friends sent me messages on Facebook to let me know that the Pocono Playhouse had “mysteriously” burnt down. None of us were terribly shocked and we all came to the same conclusion as to who was responsible. Bucks County Playhouse was bought in 2010 by several big New York theatre people and it’s been revamped into a legitimate Equity house again. But I will never, ever forget that summer of 2003, wearing a wet, limp wig on my head, a soggy sofa on my back and silver character shoes with some of the coolest kids I’d ever met. Gosh, I wish I’d taken some pictures…