Camera Shy

One night, I was managing a show called The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia at a tiny bookshop in downtown Buffalo.  I could fit maybe 15 people comfortably in there at a time, but this particular evening at least 20 folks showed up, one in a wheelchair.  It was my job to handle the crowd while they were in the small space, and so I did what had to be done.  I stood on the stage area and announced we were all going to play a game of Tetris.  The crowd laughed.  I then comically rearranged all these strangers so that everyone could sit comfortably, and so the woman in the wheelchair could get a spot in the front row.  For five or ten minutes, I just riffed, no problem.  In my head I thought, what is this, if not acting?  I mean, it’s basic improv.  I’d been onstage acting for so many times in my life at that point, that it was just natural.

Now, I don’t believe I have lost this ability, but technology has altered it.  As it turns out, I have no stage-fright, but I am painfully camera-shy.

I never liked having my picture taken, and with the advent of the selfie I was very cautious.  But now, things are changing again, and it is videos that rule the world.  And I just can’t.

I’ve made a few.  The ones where I introduce myself and read a poem are best.  The one I made for the suicide walk didn’t turn out too bad, but I stumbled a little, and my palms were sweaty, and my heart was racing.  Then came the Patreon idea.

On my Patreon, I have The Vociferous Vlog, where I read a poem and then talk about the inspiration behind it.  In theory, it’s a really good idea, but as it turns out, videos are not my strong suit.  I should have realized…I’d always rather read the article, y’know?

The first one I made was ok, but E and I did it together and couldn’t quite get the angle on the camera right.  I was far away and not as clear-sounding as we had hoped.  The second one was worse, because Mark tried to hand-cam it and shook the whole time, which wasn’t even obvious until I uploaded it to the computer.  Then, it looked terrible.  I looked good, but I also kept my eyes down the entire time, which is something I will have to work on.

You would think I would be better at this.  And also, I’ve done plenty of Zoom calls during the pandemic, and never felt this way about those…perhaps because I’m talking with someone?  PLUS, my Patreon is just starting out and only has a few subscribers, so why am I bugging over people I KNOW seeing me in a video?

No really, I’m asking.  I have no answers.

I know that you could drop me in the middle of a stage and I could entertain for an hour.  I know it.  But to get me to film myself doing five minutes of poetry talk on my own?  Nope. I try to summon the theater person deep within me but I guess she’s sleeping (likely due to some SSRI’s,) and won’t be coming to my aide today, at least.

I shall try again tomorrow.

Football Sunday

I haven’t been around for a variety of reasons, none of which I feel like delving into, so let’s talk about football.

When I got married, my husband and I made an agreement of sorts.  He would listen to a bunch of Canadian rock and folk pop music that he never heard before and I would learn the game of football.

Let’s just say he’s taken to the music better than I took to the game.

Sometimes I’m involved, because I get the basics now and can follow it all, but I also get distracted a lot when they aren’t making plays.  So, I like to tease.  As one does.

Sunday, I decided to make some comparisons between the football game and live theater.  Just for funsies.  Just to get on Hubs nerves a little.  But oh, my goodness…it became so easy!

First of all, there’s merch in the lobby.  Nothing I could find in the way of a Playbill, but you do need a ticket to get in, so there’s that. Then you get your snacks and find your seats, and the preshow starts…usually they send you a band or an organ player or maybe a comedian, but here we have some people singing and cheerleaders dancing, and some folks make the house announcements…the signal for the start of show.  Except no one tells you to turn your cellphones off.

Then the opening scene, the coin toss!  Filled with drama and suspense right off the bat as they decide which team will get the ball first, and then the dance begins!  I say dance, because if you think about it, this is all carefully choreographed.  They follow plays that are laid out in the locker room and on the field, and while there may be some variances in execution, they have a game plan when they head out onto the stage…I mean field.  The “live stream” shows the coach, who is, for all intents and purposes, the director of the piece.  They show the quarterback, our leading man!  Then the supporting players are on the field and they are running and kicking and throwing and catching and how elaborate this performance is, truly.

At some point Mark was getting annoyed with me, but then one of the players made a touchdown and took AN ACTUAL BOW, and he hung his head in shame.  I was rather disappointed by what appeared to be a lack of climax followed by little to no curtain call, but overall, it was a lovely little Sunday matinee.

I don’t know if I will ever be a true football fan.  I have no problem telling you that I am bandwagon hopper, even though I was born here in Buffalo, which comes with it certain inalienable rights, such is that you are, first and foremost, a Bills fan.  To be other in Western New York is to be an outsider.  I don’t know what to tell you, that’s just how it is.  So, thinking to myself that it’s also a little like church, what with the Sunday of it all and the community connection and weird veneration of things, and I’ve done church, so I could do football, right?  Then to my surprise, to find it so much like theater!  Yes, I may annoy my husband during the game with my commentaries, but at least I’m trying.  Like I said, he cam belt out some Ani DiFranco and Marianas Trench with the best of them, so I had better pick up the ball…har dee har har.

Also, the snacks are usually good.

Oppression Comes in All Sizes

A while back, I saw a call for submissions from a local theater company called Green Buffalo Productions.  They were working in association with Madwoman in the Attic, a mental health advocacy organization that I follow and for which I have down some writing.  The project at the time was called The Big O, but has since been renamed to What it Means to be Human.  What it comes down to is oppression, in all its various forms.

Now, I know I am privileged.  I’m white, I live in America, and I was raised in a middle-class environment that sent me to private school, plus a year of college.  I’ve got privilege upon privilege.  So, when I sat down to think about how I have faced oppression, originally, I had nothing.  I talked my way out of every slight against me with the knowledge that it could be worse.  However, the more I thought about it, we all face some form of oppression in our lives, even if it’s just a small thing.  I looked for small things, things I disregarded as oppression because of the bigger, badder sorts of it out there.

The first piece I wrote was for myself.  It’s a monologue about Pam Stenzel.  If you know who she is, you probably just groaned or laughed, or some combination of the two.  If you don’t know who she is, you’re fortunate.  (Sahar, who had no knowledge of her, read the piece to give me notes, and the only one she provided was “fuck Pam Stenzel.”)

Pam Stenzel is an abstinence-only speaker who travels to Christian high schools and tells you about how you’re going to die from HPV.

In grade school, we watched her video.  In high school, she actually came to speak to us.  But that’s beside the point.  The point is that sex was verboten in my high school for religious purposes, and she was the symbol of that.  I thought of her and I realized…wait!  Is that…sexual oppression wrapped in religious oppression?  And so, I started to type.  I sent the piece off and received word back that they would be doing the show sometime in the spring, and if I wanted to send anything else I could.  I think this was in December.

Then, COVID. 

So, everything got pushed back a little, and when I saw their second call for submissions last week, I thought, hey, why not.  The only other project I was working on really was my chapbook, and I just approved the final proof yesterday, so nothing to do on that front for a few days.  But what other opression could I write about?

In October, Hubs sister came to town and took him to a Post Malone concert for his birthday.  Without going into too much detail, it was a traumatic experience for him-he was stopped by police and security, and they ran his ID.  Now, here’s something I don’t often tell people, for no other reason than I rarely think about it: my husband has a felony from when he was seventeen.  He was homeless and desperate and broke into a house and got caught.  He spent three years in prison, and we met right when he moved to Buffalo, and lived in a halfway house downtown.

Mark never hides this fact.  I don’t think about it much, as I said, but it does affect our lives, twenty years after the fact.  He can’t get the job he wants, so he can’t make enough money to get it expunged.  Which means he will never get the job he wants, or a million other things.  And, sometimes, (more often than he would care to admit, really) cops give him a hard time. 

I don’t know why.  He usually isn’t doing anything.  He’s been stopped by a cop for walking near where a car was stolen the night before.  Once an officer stopped him for walking and eating a sandwich at the same time…I swear to God.  And then the concert, where they called him a drunk and slammed him on the hood of the police car and threatened to arrest him.  And each time they run his number and see that felony and he becomes suspect number one, even if there’s not a crime to be found.

So…I wrote a little play about that.  About how a hardworking, law-abiding citizen can still be discriminated against long after he supposedly paid his debt to society.  And I sent that off.  So now I may have two pieces in this production.

So…that’s it, right?

No.  Nonono.  There’s a little part of me that wants to ask, you know…a little part that wants to know if they have a stage manager.  A little part that wants to know when auditions are.  A little part that wonders who is directing…

 Oh, but that’s another blog for another day, isn’t it?

Ode to a Theater

The way I see it, we go through life collecting people and places we love like a mental scrapbook.  Today I shall write about a place and a person.

When I was fifteen, I saw a flyer on a bulletin board at school, advertising an Explorer post.  Explorers are a group run through the Boy Scouts that specifically concentrates on a field of study.  It was also the only co-ed program the Scouts had at the time.  This particular post was for the study of theater.

I had been bitten by the theater bug when I was seven and sat in the balcony of the Kavinoky Theater all by my little lonesome, watching a production of Noises Off, while my father ran sound from the booth.  I did all the plays in grade school, and auditioned for everything in high school (no roles had come my way at that point, though that was soon to change.)  I was in the school’s drama club, but if you weren’t in the productions it was kind of useless, so I was happy to see that there was a hands-on program in my area. 

The meetings were held downtown at the New Phoenix Theater on the Park, which at the time also housed the Buffalo Ensemble Theater, the latter of which sponsored the post.

I went to the first few meetings and was elected Treasurer.  Every week I learned something new.  I met a woman named Rose who ran the group and encouraged me to follow my theatrical dreams-she was the first person outside my family to see a spark of talent. 

Anyway, about a year into it, Rose’s sister Angela came to us with a play she wrote.  We held auditions, and I didn’t think I would get a part…I just wasn’t quite right for any of the roles, and I knew that when we first read the script.  I was only dejected for a second, because Rose pulled me aside and told me she wanted me to direct the piece.  And so, at sixteen, I began directing my first show.

It was a couple days later that Rose told me I would be getting a stage manager.  Two girls were doing internships at the theater for their school, and would be joining us in the production.  My sixteen-year-old snap judgement was that they were going to be a problem.  We had a very cohesive group by this point, and two cliquey chicks from the suburb were going to come in here and mess up our vibe?  No, thank you.

At first, they kind of kept to themselves, as I suppose I would have if I was in a new situation and only knew one other person.  One girl, Ashley, would be acting in the show.  The other, Sahar, would be my stage manager.  The stage manager/director relationship is vital, because you really can’t do either job without the other, unless you’re trying to have a nervous breakdown.  I was learning this as I was directing for the first time, and as such, Sahar and I ended up spending the most time together. 

After the show opened, and her internship ended, I hoped she would stay in the post, but she couldn’t.  Sahar was unique in my friend circle in that she was probably the first Muslim person I ever met, having been raised in a strictly Catholic setting myself.  Her parents were immigrants, and very protective of their eldest daughter…which was probably a good idea, because I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to get her to sneak out to a club with me on a Friday night.  The thing was, because of the expectations and responsibilities she lived with, we didn’t get to see each other much after the show closed.  Somehow, though, we stayed friends.

Sahar lives in Kentucky now, which I complain about regularly.  Her husband is hoping to land a job in Cleveland, so I am crossing my fingers for that little miracle.  However, she is in town right now, so when I heard a friend was having a reading of her play at the New Phoenix, I immediately asked Sahar if she wanted to go.

I sat in the audience before the show and looked around the room.  After the show with Sahar, I did three Christmas shows there, finally flexing my acting muscles.  My fourth show with the post, which I wrote, was rejected in the eleventh hour, and the Explorer’s pulled my funding because they didn’t care for the subject matter…fortunately Richard, the owner of the New Phoenix, stepped in and saved the day.  The show opened on time.

The post dissolved not much longer after that, as there was no one available to run it anymore. At this point, I was 21.  I had learned invaluable lessons and made a dozen new friends.

Later in my 20’s, Richard would get in touch with me about stage managing, something I had only recently become interested in.  This led to me stage managing two shows there.  Which led to me stage managing at another company for four years.

The reading began, and I found myself instantly captivated as I usually am when presented with live theater.  It was a heartbreaking play, about the struggles of a nurse who witnessed the agony of loss firsthand during the early days of the AIDS crisis.  Beautifully written by the talented Kerrykate Able-Smith and masterfully performed by powerhouse Marie Costa.  I mean, I could be biased…I’ve worked with both of them before.

Which never would have happened if I hadn’t seen that flyer when I was fifteen.

You know what else wouldn’t have happened?  The woman who sat to my left, who stood up in my wedding, who has never let distance come between us, and who will always be the stage manager of my life. 

I don’t work in theater anymore.  It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, it would just have to be the right project with the right people.  But the New Phoenix will always hold a special spot in my heart, right next to the one where Sahar lives.

Me and Sahar, in the place it all began,

The Waiting Game

Once upon a time, I was in theater.  You name it, I did it: writing, directing, acting, stage managing, various crew positions…I was a Jill of all trades.  I learned an immense amount of skills in my ten years walking the boards, and while I don’t do it anymore, I don’t regret a second. 

My favorite thing, besides writing, is acting.  I loved acting.  I had the ability to slip into a character with incredible ease, and often thought I must be doing something wrong when I saw my fellow thespians struggle to do what came naturally to me.  My only problem was line memorization.  I usually got it by opening night but I would have a script in my hand right up until then, terrified that I would flub a line.  I was often comforted by the fact that as a stage manager I knew that audiences rarely pick up on dropped lines if you’ve got the chemistry to cover it.  Chemistry, I always had.

Anyway, one time I got it into my head that I should try to make a career of this, and I applied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.  I was all set to go, had my pieces memorized perfectly, and disaster struck.  My friend Rick, who was to take me to my audition, couldn’t drive me because his mother was wary of the situation.  This led to a massive three-hour panic attack where I screamed and sobbed to my father, while Rick tried to persuade his mother.  Eventually, we were on the road, but this was a time before my correct medications so that panic attack stuck around all day.  We got to the hotel and settled in, and I went to sleep, finally calm and dreaming of my audition.

The next day, I opened my eyes to see Rick lacing his sneakers and humming a Green Day song.  There was a pain in my throat and chest.  I was shivering, but my head was on fire, and in a fair amount of pain as well.  I stumbled to the shower, forced myself to get dressed and ready, and then we were on the way to the train station.  I felt like death.  I felt like I could collapse at any moment.  Rick felt like a kid at Disney World because it was his first time in the Big Apple.  His merriment was nauseating. 

First, we went to Jamba Juice, where I had never been, and I discovered a menu item called “The Flu Buster.”  I almost cried from joy and ordered a large, which I drank so fast I got a brain freeze.  I don’t know what they put in that thing but it gave me a high for maybe two hours, just long enough to get to my audition and do my monologues and get out of there. 

The rest of the day was spent walking around looking for an arcade because for some reason Rick thought it would be cool to play Dance Dance Revolution in NYC.  Then, finally, blessedly, we headed back to the hotel.  I slept like a baby.  When I awoke in the morning, I was well.

Cut to about a week and a half later.

I am sitting in my living room watching TV when I hear the mailbox open and close.  I run to it.  I have run to it every day for a week.  There in my hands is the letter I have been waiting for.  And it is thin.

I’ve already been through college acceptances, so I know what that means.  I sigh, I open it, I read its caustic form-letter tone, and I go back in the house, dejected.  In about a week, I am my old self.  In about a week, I get a call about a stage-managing position.  In about a week, it doesn’t matter.  Because I am really good at rejection.  What I suck at is the waiting period.

That week and a half was the longest of my life.  Until now.

A few days ago, I got an email from a publisher.  They asked me to send along my manuscript.  They said it typically takes three weeks for them to make a decision.  Now, usually when I send out a submission, I log it and forget about it until I receive word back.  Just like I did when I sent a query to the publisher that I most want for my chapbook.  I didn’t even know if they published chapbooks, I was just inquiring, and mentioned my chapbook, and he asked to read it.  I was flabbergasted.  Half of me thought that this was the miracle I’d been waiting for.  The other half was like kid, it’s just an audition.

My theater background really helps me with my writing life.  I handle rejection better because of it.  I understand the process of selection.  I know the behind-the-scenes struggles of putting a project together.  Still, it’s the wait that gets you.  In this case I am going with the “no news is good news” philosophy right now.  I mean, if he read it and hated it I would have already been rejected.  And if I get rejected, that’s fine, on to the next adventure.  But the waiting?

That’ll kill you.