Tag Archives: Tour

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.

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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.

 

 

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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Rocky Mountain Hi!

12 Aug

So I’m completely failing at the daily posts. The last couple of days have been simply fraught with important things to do. Mostly napping and watching “Shakespeare in Love” (why is Showtime showing it every night? And why can’t I not watch it?). We’ve now caught three – yes, THREE – mice. Two of them in my very own room, which sort of makes my skin crawl, but it’s better than roaches any day. I’ve done a bit of shopping, I’ve done some laundry, I’ve done some cooking and I’ve done some packing and purging. Yes, friends…it’s time to hit the road again.

It’s been a month since I said my farewells to Flashdance in Kansas City and tomorrow I fly to Denver, Colorado, to start the load-in and set up for the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher, which will start previews on Thursday. I really can’t believe that it’s been four weeks, but I must confess that I’m ready to get back out on the road. I actually miss tour life. I’m excited to go to Denver for the first time and to have two weeks there is just a bonus.

I must admit, however, that I am slightly anxious about loading in this show. My boss won’t arrive in Denver until early next week, so it’s up to me to set up the booth and display it out, or make it look pretty. I’m not terribly nervous about the actual set up – I know there will be a lot of folding of shirts and counting inventory. My main worry is that not everything will be at the theatre waiting for me. I have a tendency to worry and play out scenarios in my head – I suppose I’m preparing for the worst – and the scenarios playing out in my head now are doozies. What if the booth doesn’t show up? Or the display grids? What if I don’t have the supplies I need? At least I have two full days to get everything set up and ready to go, just in case there are problems.

I’m also anxious about joining another company full of people that I don’t know. I may be an oversharer in this blog, but in real life, I am painfully shy when it comes to meeting strangers. When I went to Pittsburgh to load in Flashdance, I had my boss and the Creative Director of our company there with me to make introductions and to guide me in building the display as well as folding all the shirts that had to go into the booth. It took three of us a day and a half to get it all done and it was nice to have the company. I’ll only be with Peter for two weeks, so I know I won’t really have time to make friends with anyone, and as long as I go in knowing that, I should be alright. I’ll simply find things to do on my own.

Arriving in a new city has become old hat for me in the last 7 months, but I have always arrived in new places with a full company of people l know, or I’ve known someone who lives in whatever city we’re playing. Or both. Denver is a complete unknown for me. I don’t think I know anyone who lives there – at least not anymore – and I will know absolutely no one connected with the show when I get there. I don’t know why that makes me nervous – I do very well on my own – but it does. Still, I’m excited to go somewhere new with a new show. It should be fun. I hope.

On a different note, I’m excited to see that my blog is being read all over the world in countries that I never dreamed it’d reach. This week alone, it’s been read in Spain, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Australia and since I’ve been writing, it’s also been read in the UK, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, France and Switzerland. Wow!! When I started writing this, I had no idea if anyone would read it, and while I’m still not hitting numbers in the thousands (or, let’s face it, in the 100’s) on a weekly basis, I am still quite humbled by the number of people who do read it. Especially people I don’t know in countries I’ve never visited. So…to all the readers out there around the world who might read this: ¡Hola y muchas gracias! こんにちはとどうもありがとうございました ! Ta very much! Salut et merci beaucoup! Ciao e grazie mille! Hallo und vielen Dank! Hi en baie dankie! Merhaba ve çok teşekkür ederim! مرحبا وشكرا جزيلا لك!

And many thanks to all of you here in the States who are reading along, as well. It means a lot to me. See you in Denver!

Back To Broadway

24 Jul

Greetings from my sublet room in Brooklyn, New York. It’s about 1:15 in the morning. I’ve just gotten home from working at Pippin on Broadway, and I have to be up tomorrow to turn around and go right back to the theatre. I miss being on tour, and I miss our tour schedule. 

I haven’t written in a while because, well…I’m home in New York and that means I’ve been hustling since I got here to make money. ‘Cause that’s typically how it works here. For me, at least. I’ve spent the last week or so working days in our office, looping thousands of gold tassels into bookmarks that are to be sent out to Chicago to promote the upcoming tour of Peter and the Starcatcher and I’ve been either working in the theatres at night or out trying to have some semblance of a life. Or I’ve just been avoiding the commute and shirt-drenching walk home to the apartment in Brooklyn. I miss Astoria, where I know where everything is and how late it stays open. Thursday night I went to Chelsea Cinemas to see “Murder on the Orient Express.” I dozed off midway through the film. I may have even woken myself with a snore or two. Sorry. Friday night I had dinner with a new friend, which was lovely. Sunday night I went to see “The Conjuring,” which gave me goosebumps almost from the moment the movie started. I highly recommend seeing it.

Now that my work in the office is done, it’s back to working the shows. It’s such a joy to work at Pippin, though it’s never been one of my favorite shows. This production, though, is thrilling and scary and dark and funny and touching. And Andrea Martin gets a standing ovation midway through the show almost every night. How many times have you seen someone literally stop the show?? Watching her number, I have caught myself so overwhelmed by joy and wonder at what she’s doing up there that I get tears in my eyes and I have to laugh. It’s truly remarkable.

Later this week, I’m working at Peter and the Starcatcher for the first time since it transferred back to off-Broadway. It’ll be good to work it and see the show again – and to familiarize myself with the merchandise and the prices again considering I’m opening the tour in Denver in a few weeks. I’ll be there for two weeks, as far as I can tell, setting up and opening the show and then training the regular merchandise manager during the second week of the run. From there I’ll come back to New York for a week and then I’ll head to Providence, Rhode Island to open the Evita tour. Then I’ll go to Memphis the next week to meet up with Flashdance again for two weeks and then I’m off to St. Louis, Missouri to meet up with Evita again and I’ll stay with that show until who knows when. Confused? Me, too. I better be getting a lot of frequent flier miles for this. That’s the plan for now, anyway. It could all change tomorrow. And that’s showbiz, kids.

Anyway. It’s late and I have a show tomorrow. I should hit the hay. 

 

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

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

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

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

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

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

Off The Road Again…

16 Jul

Greetings from my temporary home in Brooklyn, New York. Sunday night was our last night of Flashdance in Kansas City and was, as best I can tell, my last night with the show. My boss tells me there’s a chance I may be going back to it at some point in September for a week or two, but that’s all still up in the air. I’d like to say that it was hard to say goodbye to the show and the cast and crew, but it wasn’t really anything for me. It was hard to be sad knowing there’s the possibility that I’ll be going back, even if just for a short while, but I was also acutely aware that it could be the last time I saw them. It was very strange for me to not know exactly how to feel. Regardless of what happens in September, I’m going to miss them all very much and I wish them all the best.

Yesterday we had what amounted to an almost 12 hour travel day. We had a 2-hour delay in Dallas, so I got to my sublet in Brooklyn at around 11:30 last night. It was a long day. And it’s hot here. According to my phone, it was 86° at 11:15 last night. According to the thermostat on my taxi driver’s dashboard it was 91°. Is it autumn yet?

So, here I am, back in New York. I slept in today, enjoying the air conditioning and putting off the 15-minute walk to the subway. I need to go into the office today to drop off paperwork and sort of debrief…talk about the future…all that fun stuff. And I’m working tonight. No rest for the weary. Thank goodness I’m working – I can’t afford to be here for three weeks and not work. Honestly, I couldn’t afford to be here for three days without working! I’m already looking forward to going back into the bubble that is touring, where I don’t have to worry about making my bed or buying toilet paper or paying electric bills or rent. I can’t wait, actually. I guess there’s nothing to do but go out and face this hateful city, though, and try to make amends with her. I better get moving…

Jesus, Be A Raindrop. Or Central Air.

10 Jul
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A view of the audience and the stage from the back of the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO. My booth is under the white tent in the lower left hand corner.

Greetings from my air conditioned hotel room in Kansas City, MO. Tonight was our opening night at the Starlight Theatre, which is an 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater just south of downtown Kansas City. I had my idea of what the place was going to look like based on my experiences of working in outdoor theatre in Louisville and Tulsa, but I was pleasantly surprised by the facility. What surprised me most was the large garage door that actually closed off the stage, allowing it to remain air conditioned until the curtain/garage door went up for the top of the show. Good for the cast and crew. I had to sweat it out on the concrete.

I arrived at the theatre today at 4:45 in the afternoon. At that point, our crew had been working for about 10, maybe 12 hours, loading the show in, so I really shouldn’t complain. I did my load-in as usual, only outside in the heat under a tent in an area with absolutely no ventilation. That’s a good thing for the display set-up. No wind means there’s no chance that giant steel plates set up behind me will get blown over. It also means no breeze for me.

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The temperature when I arrived at the theatre was about 100°F. The heat index was right at 106°F. I set up my booth as quickly and efficiently as I could. I’ve been doing this almost every week for six months, so it doesn’t take very long, but in such extreme heat, I was moving much slower than usual. Once the booth was set up, I went backstage into the air conditioned hallway to count in the three boxes that were delivered to me. There wasn’t much workspace back there, and I was so hot and sweaty…I was really starting to get grouchy. I could also feel that my skin was hot, which I knew was a sign that my body temperature was getting too high, so I slowed down, took a moment to drink some water and, once I’d cooled off sufficiently, I went back out to my booth and started folding the stacks of sweatshirts that I needed to add to my booth. And by “fold,” I mean “drip sweat all over.”

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Our show started at 8pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 9:00. That made the lighting and projection designs obsolete for three quarters of the first act. I was really concerned for the cast tonight, knowing how hot it really was out there…seeing them dancing full-out in coats and jackets and jeans. Apparently some of the girls backstage were taking bets on who would pass out first. Even though they were joking about it, I know each of them were fully aware of how dangerous it could have been for them tonight. Still, they all gave a wonderful show.

After the performance, and after everyone had gone home, I had to count my inventory and money as I normally do, and then I had to tear down my entire set-up and roll it back inside, just in case it rains or to protect it from being blown over by the wind. That means tomorrow I have to go back and set it all back up again. It’s only supposed to be 90° tomorrow. “Only.”

I’m sure most of you have seen this video floating around Facebook or YouTube, but it pretty much sums up exactly how I felt tonight, dripping with sweat and unable to get any relief. I wanted to slit somebody’s throat. I just didn’t have the patience to deal with the heat and stupid people. Where the hell is Moses?

You Gotta Have Heart! Miles And Miles And Miles Of Heart

1 Jul

I’ve just returned to the hotel from a truly wonderful going away party/company roast (think Comedy Central roasts Bob Saget…not Sunday dinner) and, even though I have to be up in seven hours to drive to Oklahoma City, here I am…writing.

Tonight was a celebration – not only of those six company members that played their last performance tonight, but also of the six new actors who are joining the family. It was  a celebration for those of us who have been here since we opened the show exactly six months ago today in Pittsburgh. It was a celebration for the company, as well, for getting through an incredibly difficult week of learning new material during the day and actually doing it at night. We were due for a celebration.

After our musical director’s brilliant roast which, somehow, I was lucky enough to evade, we sat around talking, laughing, and eating. Some danced. Most drank. I was talking with one of our cast members, Ariela, who is a staunch supporter of me writing this blog, and our show’s executive producer. We were talking about the blog and what direction I wanted to take it and how I planned to get it out to a wider audience. And finding a niche. Dani, our producer, asked me what I considered to be my niche. After a couple of seconds, the only answer I could come up with was “Heart.”

I suppose that there are many things that we, as actors and singers, hope to be known for in our careers… He’s funny. She’s “fierce” and can “belt her face off.” So-and-so has a lovely legit voice. I guess I’ve always wanted to hear someone tell me my voice was “sick” or “stupid good” or whatever, but one of the kindest – and enigmatic – compliments I’ve ever received came to me from a very dear friend while I was singing in Japan.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go to Japan for three months to sing a concert tour of Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the most life-changing thing I’ve ever done, and it almost led me to quit the business because I figured nothing could ever be so good again. It was such a wonderful experience that it deserves its own blog entry – or four.

Our show’s director/my cast mate/my dear friend Tony and his partner Rob and I had worked together in New York selling merchandise, and I had heard them talk about this concert tour that they did in Japan, but I was so incredibly intimidated by them both (now I realize I was intimidated by their résumés, which certainly do not make a man) that I never dreamed of asking them to audition. My friend Michael did the tour in 2010 with Tony and, even though he denies it, I think he suggested to Tony that I be seen for the 2011 cast. Tony and Rob had never heard me sing. Come to think of it, neither had Michael. I was desperate to make a good impression on them both because they were sticking their necks out for me by bringing me in.

Tony walked me out of the first audition, gently laying his hand on my shoulder, and when we got out into the hallway he hugged me tightly and said, “I had no idea you could do that.” It was one of the few times in my adult life when I felt like it was OK to be proud of myself (which makes me think I need to explore this further in another entry). I hadn’t made Tony look like a fool in front of the Japanese producer and I felt really good about the work I had just done. I mean, I had just sung 5 songs in my first audition, ranging from Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid” to singing high Ds in “So Close” from “Enchanted” without even flinching. And I made the Japanese guy with the big hair in the back of the room dance. (I would later find out that his name was Francesco Sasaki, and he would become one of my favorite people on the planet). The callbacks were the next day, and when I got the call that night that I’d been chosen to go to Japan, I wept in my room. And then I started telling everyone I knew.

I was so excited and grateful to have booked a job, but there was more to my excitement. Just a few days before our auditions in New York, the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami destroyed a huge chunk of northeastern Japan’s coastline, wiping out entire cities and towns and causing some serious problems at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I was surprised that they even had the auditions, but as it turned out, the Japanese contingency had already flown into the States to meet with the show’s conductor in L.A., so they were able to make it to New York. Whether the U.S. government would allow us to go into Japan with the threat of nuclear fallout, though, was anybody’s guess. After seeing the devastation on the news, I wanted to do anything I could to help, but I had no money to send. I had nothing of any material value to offer as aid. But I had my voice and my heart, and I was being given a chance to hopefully help, even if it just meant making someone forget their troubles for a few minutes by singing a song.

Rob came to visit us in Japan in November. Knowing Robbie was in the house watching us made me a nervous wreck. Not only would he be out there judging us on our musicality and voices like everyone else, but he was also one of the only people in the house who actually understood the words we were singing. One of the things I love (and fear) about him is that he will tell you exactly what he thinks – no sugar-coating. So when he came backstage during intermission his first night seeing the show, I was terrified. And I had to know what he thought. Immediately.

I happened to be in the hallway with Tony when Rob started toward us, and when he saw my face, he opened his arms, wrapped himself around me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with so much heart as you have onstage. Every moment is sincere.” The insecure actor-y part of me at first thought, “Is that the best compliment you could come up with? Am I that awful?,” but then the saner part of me stopped for a moment and realized that Rob’s was one of the best compliments I could have possibly received.

Two weeks before the tour ended, I started having meltdowns at rehearsal and soundcheck. I’d get choked up at soundcheck, people! I specifically remember the orchestra running the Princess section of Fantasmic!, and as I heard the strings and crashing cymbals swell and swirl into a frenzy, as I watched the 72 people who had somehow, unimaginably become my dear, dear friends despite language and cultural barriers, I turned to my friend Katie and buried my face into her shoulder and sobbed. In front of everyone. I quickly became known in the orchestra as a crybaby. At our final soundcheck, it was suggested that as a surprise to the orchestra, we – the singers – should run the opening number facing them as opposed to facing out into the house as we would in performance. It was an opportunity for the orchestra to actually see the number as the audience would, instead of just the backs of our heads. The Japanese love surprises, and to see their faces light up as we made our entrance – and to see tears coming down some of their faces – turned me into a blubbering mess and I couldn’t sing a note.

Backstage, we exchanged gifts and notes. I somehow managed to keep it together after I got over my initial soundcheck breakdown, but I knew there was a whole ocean of tears waiting to be let loose. I also knew once they started, those tears would not stop. Tony and I had been friends before Japan, but he and I had really bonded while we were there along with our youngest cast member, Joey. I have been part of shows before where I’ve become close with people, and despite the promises to keep in touch and call and write and email and Facebook and tweet and Instagram and everything else we promise to do, it’s inevitable that you will never have the relationship in real life that you had on tour with your cast mates. People go home to their lives, their families, other gigs and, try as you may, you lose touch. I knew this going into our final show. I knew this could happen with Tony. I knew it would most likely happen with the rest of the cast. I knew it’d be almost impossible to keep in touch with my new Japanese friends from the other side of the world, and I knew there was a good chance I’d never see those new friends again.

In our dressing room, Tony gathered us up and started handing out closing night gifts to us. As he presented them to us, he said a few words about each of us, and when he got to me, he got a little choked up and said that in the five years he’d worked as part of that concert tour he’d never met anyone with as much heart as me. That’s all he had to say and I went into the ugly cry. I’m talking the hideously ugly cry. It was coming to an end and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My heart was broken.

Throughout my life, my heart has been a recurring theme. Not the actual organ, mind you. That is, as far as I know, and in spite of the food that I eat, still in good working condition, but my heart isn’t always working as well. “Sensitive,” “emotional,” “tender-hearted,” “weak,” “sappy,” “sentimental,” “soft”…they’ve all been used to describe me. I used to think that was a detriment to my character. “Real men” aren’t supposed to be sensitive or emotional. New Yorkers are tough – they don’t cry. Just suck it up. Toughen up. Be a man.

The truth is…I liked myself better in Japan. I liked feeling things again. I’ve done the tough New Yorker thing for almost 12 years and honestly, it doesn’t work for me. In the song “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” Dolly Parton sang “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” Preach it, Dolly. How can I be the performer or writer I want to be if I close off my emotional well just to survive in a city that doesn’t give a damn about me? Would I ever have a performing job that would be as emotionally and artistically fulfilling as the one I’d just had? Should I just quit while I was ahead? These questions plagued me for the months following my return to the States. Honestly, they’ve haunted me until just a few weeks ago when I made the decision to leave New York. I thought it would be a gut-wrenching decision. Actually, I never thought I’d choose to leave New York, but I’m following my heart rather than continuing to be stubborn because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do. Clearly other people can see that my heart is one of my greatest assets, so I’m going to trust them and in doing so, trust myself. That I have had no second thoughts about leaving since I made the decision just proves to me that I’m making the right choice.

Tonight’s going away party was a lot less emotional for me than it would have been if I were a cast member. As the merch guy, I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with the performers in the show. There are full weeks that have gone by without me seeing even one of them, even though we stay in the same hotel and work in the same building. It’s the nature of the job, I suppose. That being said, I will miss each of them. I myself will be leaving the tour in two weeks, so another round of goodbyes is in short order. In six weeks, I’ll meet another cast and I’ll open another show in another city. And that’s showbiz, kid.

There’s Bobby and J.R. and Jock and Ellie and Ray and Pammy and Lucy and Sue Ellen Who Drinks and Drinks and Drinks…

29 Jun

ME: Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the show!
PATRON: Thank you. Be safe.
ME: …??

Greetings from the front lobby of the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas, TX. The show started about 40 minutes ago – yes, they have 1:30 matinees here (can someone explain that to me?) – and I’m waiting for the next episode of “Dallas” to download on my iTunes. I’m already on Season 2. I won’t spoil anything for you by telling you what happened in case you decide you want to start watching a 35-year old television show, but I will say this: That J.R. Ewing is a slimy bastard. It was no joke when that character became known as “the man that everyone loves to hate.”

But enough about “Dallas.” Let’s talk about Dallas.

There have been cities on this tour that I have absolutely loved and a few that I’ve loathed. Sometimes it’s the people that I can’t stand. Sometimes it’s just the city itself. For example, being stuck in a downtown hotel that’s surrounded by businesses and restaurants that close at 6:00 every night. Or – worse – being stuck in a downtown hotel where, inexplicably, there are no restaurants to be found.

Unless you have a bottomless expense account, which I do not, a steadfast rule of life on the road is to avoid eating at the hotel restaurant when possible. If the hotel’s is the only restaurant in the area, they can – and will – charge whatever they want because…well…people have to eat. If your only food options are in the hotel, at least be sure to get loyalty rewards points for the money you spend.

Our hotel in Dallas is situated downtown on the east side of Main Street, and there are lots of restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, none of them are open after the show. So last night I ventured out of my comfort zone – meaning I chose not to go to the McDonald’s across the street from the theatre again – and found a Taco Bueno a few miles from our hotel. I hadn’t had Taco Bueno since I was in graduate school in Oklahoma City, and a taco sounded really good, so I followed the directions that were barked at me by my Google Maps guide (why does she always sound pissed off?) and got my dinner and started back.

I ended up driving through the Gayborhood in Dallas which, on the heels of this week’s Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, was a hub of celebration and just crawling with people. Driving at night – especially in a new town – freaks me out and pedestrians just add to the stress. Pedestrians…and a ton of construction. I found myself yelling back at Google Maps Girl, “I CAN’T turn left there!” and “Where the hell is the road?!?!” but she never answered me back. And I swear…if she told me to make a U-turn one more time… If I didn’t love my iPhone so much, she’d be out on the side of I-30 somewhere in North Texas.

I made it back to the hotel safely. Back to the most confusing parking garage I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s very Escherian – one moment you’re on the level marked 5 Red and before you know it, you’re on level 7 Blue. Where did 6 go? And…was it purple? One day I was parked on level 3 Red, so I got on the elevator and pressed 3. When I stepped off the elevator, I was on level 4 Blue. The first day we were here, a couple of the ladies in the cast and I went to see a movie. When we went to the garage to get my car, I couldn’t find it. Like, sweaty pits “I-think-someone’s-stolen-my-rental-car” couldn’t find it. We finally found it on one of those hidden floors. I feel a bit less embarrassed now because our conductor had the same problem. Yesterday he posted a picture on Facebook of himself sitting in the lap of a cast member as they drove him around the parking garage looking for his car as he just kept hitting the PANIC button over and over again, hoping it would start honking at him. I think the assassination of John F. Kennedy is not the only conspiracy in Dallas.

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A copy of the original blueprints of the parking garage across the street from our hotel in Dallas, TX.

I’ve spent time in the suburbs of Dallas before. I’ve even been in this theatre before. Several of my friends and I came here to see our friend Julie make her debut in The Phantom of Opera here in 2000. She learned the show in Albuquerque and Dallas was her first performance city. She would go on to do Phantom on the road and on Broadway for over 6 years, I think, as Christine, as the understudy, the alternate and full-time Christine. I’ll never forget the day she called me from New York, where she was having her costume and wig fittings, and she told me she would be wearing shoes worn by Sarah Brightman – the original Christine in London and New York. By my estimation, that made her just about the coolest person I knew. I still think she’s pretty cool, but not because of the shoes or the show. She’s just a great person, and now she’s playing an even more impressive and important role – she’s a mom.

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A display at the Music Hall in Fair Park, Dallas, TX, made by company members of “The Phantom of the Opera,” including my friend Julie, who made her “Phantom” debut here.

I also remember coming to Dallas for an audition at SMU, though I can’t remember what the audition was. To work at Disney World, perhaps? All I really remember about it was driving down with a couple of friends and two days later having full-on strep throat, which had been spreading through the School of Music. One of the passengers in my car had it and didn’t tell us, and so suddenly I had it, too. On opening night of Street Scene which, as I recall, was also my birthday. In Street Scene I was playing Daniel Buchanan, a young Irishman who had just become a father for the first time. He has a arietta in the first act called “When A Woman Has A Baby” that goes up to an A or A-flat above middle C, which for me at the time seemed impossibly high. I still considered myself a baritone and singing anything over an F# seemed high. To have to sing the highest note I’d ever sung in public in front of 1,100 people was daunting enough, but to have to do it with strep throat (we didn’t have understudies) was terrifying. I somehow got through it, but I don’t remember any of the rest of the show. I just sat up in my window, holding my plastic baby, watching the rest of the company do their show through steroid-crazed eyes.

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My friend Jennifer and I backstage during “Street Scene.”

I do remember, just before curtain, our conductor for that show, a small man with absolutely no sense of humor, came down to my dressing room to give me some notes about watching him for cues. I don’t know if it was the fever or the meds or the fear or a combination of all three, but I remember turning to him and saying, “Considering I have strep throat, you’ll be lucky if the notes come out of my mouth on your cue or not.” I immediately regretted saying it, and I would never behave that way now, but to be honest – it kinda felt good. He took a step back – either out of shock or because he was afraid he’d be infected – and just said, “Oh. Well then, have a good show” and walked out. I’d like to think I gained a little bit of his respect for even going on, let alone actually pulling those notes out of my ass while my throat felt like I’d swallowed glass shards, but I also recognize that I had had a diva fit, and that wasn’t cool. Lesson learned.

How did I get so far off topic? Dallas. Back to Dallas…

It’s hard to imagine we have another week here. Yesterday the temperature reached 106 in the city. It’s supposed to cool down to the high 80’s by Monday or Tuesday, so hopefully I’ll be able to actually get out and see a few things without dying of heat stroke. I still have to make it to the zoo and I’d really love to go to Six Flags Over Texas. And I have friends in town I need to see! So much to do, so little time…

Monday I’m driving up to Oklahoma City for the first time in 12 years. Time to face the demons so I can let them go. More on that later…

Take your passion and make it happen!

Love Is All Around

28 Jun

Isn’t it strange, the things we remember? Stranger still are the things we didn’t remember we remembered until we’ve remembered them!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon visiting Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Southfork is the ranch on which the fictitious Ewing family lived on the long-running television series, “Dallas.” The show is currently enjoying a revival of sorts with the new series of the same name which focuses on the next generations of Ewings, and a lot of the show is now filmed on the ranch. (During the original series’ run, only exterior shots were allowed to be filmed there per the agreement with the family that actually lived in the house).

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on "Dallas."

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on “Dallas.”

Pulling up to Southfork yesterday brought back so many memories of my childhood, even though I don’t recall anyone in my family actually watching “Dallas.” My Mom used to make fun of Linda Gray, who played Sue Ellen Ewing, and the way she would overwork her mouth when speaking. But seeing the ranch, I immediately starting singing the “Dallas” theme song to myself, and walking into the Visitor’s Center, I was confronted with a room full of tacky Texas souvenirs (there is a book called, “The Art of Boots.” Who knew?) and a handful of “Dallas” related merchandise. On the walls were huge black and white headshots from the late 70’s of Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes…all the stars of the original show. The prop gun that was used to shoot J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) in what would become the second most-viewed episode of television in U.S. history (the final episode of M*A*S*H* still holds the record for the largest audience in American history) was on display in a glass case. A wave of nostalgia started washing over me, even though I was only 2 years old when the series began.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on "Dallas," on display at Southfork Ranch.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” on display at Southfork Ranch.

From the Visitor’s Center, we were driven over to the mansion on a tram which was pulled by a giant green John Deere tractor. The ride was a good 10-15 minutes, though it only took me 5 minutes to walk back when the tour was over. (Side note: I was surprised to learn from our guide that the original “Dallas” series was seen in over 95 countries around the world in more than 50 languages.) As we drove up to the house, I had a strange feeling that I’d been there before. We walked into the back patio door and suddenly I felt like I was back in 1978. As I mentioned before, none of the interior scenes for the show were filmed inside the house, but the current owner decorated the inside of the house to replicate what it may have looked like in the late 1970’s. Big floral patterns, earth tones, maroons, dark navy blues, lots of mirrors and crystal and carpet, tassels…just absolute tackiness by today’s standards, but the height of sophistication back then. It reminded me of one particular dress that my Mom had – I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fabric it was, but whatever it was, it was flowy and most certainly synthetic – and the wide-collared shirts my Dad used to wear. It also reminded me of being in my Aunt Carol Ann’s Tudor-style living room, watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear in 1983. If these little tidbits are floating around in my head, what else is up there, I wonder?

I had done some research before I went to Southfork, so I knew not to expect to see the actual sets from the show, but seeing the house and, in particular, seeing the gate that leads to the house, was a real thrill for me. “Dallas” and Southfork are such a part of popular culture and history that I was really glad I went to see it. Sure, it’s 25 miles outside of Dallas, but I had a car, so it was fairly easy to get to.

Getting to Mary Richards’ house was another story.

One of the things that I’ve really loved about this tour is doing research for each city that we go to. I like to find weird things that most (read: “normal”) people wouldn’t think to do…like going to Southfork Ranch when they visit Dallas or finding the house that was used as the exterior of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Mary Tyler Moore,” which is the actual title of the show, premiered in 1970 and ended exactly 4 months to the day after I was born, so I never saw it in its original run. I’d heard about it – I mean, I’d seen “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” but I had no idea what “I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda” meant. I saw the episode of Oprah where she talked about how the show had influenced and inspired her and then Mary Tyler Moore walked out and surprised her and she became a blubbering mess in front of millions of people. And I remembered seeing Mary toss her hat in the air. But I didn’t know the show.

Then Valerie Harper went public with her terminal cancer diagnosis in March. Even though I’d never seen one episode of “Mary Tyler Moore,” the idea that Rhoda was dying upset me. I don’t know why I was so upset by it – like I said, I’d never seen the show and I certainly don’t know Ms. Harper personally – but there was a deep, visceral sadness about her illness that I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it upset me because I have already known too many people who’ve died from cancer. Perhaps I was just moved by her astounding display of strength. Perhaps I was upset because I’m getting to a point in life where the people I grew up watching and admiring and emulating are starting to die off and it’s made me realize that the people I admire – and the people I love – aren’t going to live forever. I’m 36 years old and, remarkably, I still have three of my four grandparents. My parents are starting to talk to me and my brother about their wills and the benefits of cremation vs. burial. I’m getting older. Maybe that’s what upset me about Ms. Harper’s announcement. It made me realize my own mortality.

In any case, out of curiosity and respect for Ms. Harper, I decided to see what all the fuss was about “Mary Tyler Moore.” I watched the first three seasons on Hulu+ in three weeks. One of those weeks, we just happened to be in Minneapolis. I knew the show had been taped in California, but Mary had clearly been in Minneapolis to film shots for the opening credits – including the famous hat toss – so I did a quick Google search to see what I could find. There is a statue in downtown Minneapolis of Mary Richards tossing her Tam o’Shanter right in front of Macy’s. The first morning we were in town, I found the cross streets and headed straight there. Standing on the spot where Mary threw that hat into the air felt strange somehow. It almost felt magical. History had been made right on that spot. Maybe it didn’t change the world…but maybe it did.

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The Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mary Richards – the character played by Mary Tyler Moore on the show – was a single woman in her early 30’s who had a career, her own apartment and a love life. She didn’t need a man to support her. She confronted her boss about equal pay. She was awkward and funny and sexy and she was something TV had never seen before. This was good television, folks…even (or perhaps especially) by today’s standards.

The more I watched, the more I fell in love with the characters – especially Mary and Rhoda and their nosy landlady, Phyllis. I wasn’t sure if it even existed, but I did a quick search to find out if the house that was used for the exterior shots of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building was in Minneapolis and, if it was, if there was any way I could get to it without a car. As luck would have it, the house was still there and, after a 20-minute bus ride and a mile-long walk, I found it. Things had changed a lot in 40 years – trees are taller and paint colors have changed – but you can tell it’s the same house. Apparently the previous owners did some cosmetic work to the front of the house to make it look a little less like the “Mary and Rhoda House” because they have so many visitors in their front yard taking pictures – like me. In fact, while I was there, I met another man who had driven 45 minutes just to get a couple of snapshots of it for his wife. I had noticed the house was up for sale and he mentioned to me that the asking price was $3 million. Sounds fair to me for a piece of iconic television history.

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Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis’ apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

I wonder where the current generation will make pilgrimages to seek out the happy little nuggets of their childhood? What will be their nostalgic mecca? What would be yours? Have you been there? If you have, I would love to hear about it.