On Preparing to Travel

At long last, a postponed trip to Greece is here. The last throes of planning, list-making, and researching are done. I have tickets for everything I need to have tickets for. I’ve made a copy of my passport, left itineraries for my loved ones, just in case. I even got travel insurance.

I’m travelling to a brand-new place for me, Greece, specifically the island of Crete. I’ll be doing some touristy, sight-seeing things like taking a Cretan cooking class and going to visit the Palace of Knossos, and visiting a Hammam. I’m also (this will sound antithetical) gearing myself up to slow way down. I’ll be turning off my social media, disengaging from my life here in the States. I’m genuinely sorry I will miss a couple of weeks of celebrating your birthdays on Facebook.

I’m a fairly relaxed traveler these days. While I like to do a lot of advance planning (as in, I started using Duolingo to learn Greek a couple of years ago, and I love staring at maps and bus schedules), over the years my desire for a don’t-miss-anything trip has vanished. I’m looking forward to simply wandering the streets of the ancient cities of Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. To staying in a stone house built into the side of a fortress and a 15th century Venetian palazzo turned into a hotel.

Old places resonate with me. There’s something about touching stones laid by people hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years ago. Seeing art created by artisans long turned to dust, but what they made, how they saw the world, is still here. It makes me misty. I’m looking forward to wandering twisty streets that evolved from animal trails, poking my head into odd shops, having a beverage in a tiny tavern, or trying a new dish.

The other non-touristy part of this trip will be ultra-active. My friends and I are travelling to the south of the island, to a tiny village called Loutro. It’s only accessible via ferry or walking. No cars. Cash only, too, no ATMs. Side note: I got my Euros, which are different colors and sizes for different denominations. I wish American money was like this.

During the second week, my friends and I will join with some other folks to do a SwimTrek trip. We’ll be swimming in the Mediterranean sea daily, around 2-4 miles a day. There will be boats if we get tired, or just don’t feel like swimming further, so still a vacation, not an Olympic event. There will be villages to explore, castles to climb to, and walks along the coast. The village we are staying in is right on the E4, the long hiking route that traverses Europe. It’s also near where Paul washed ashore in the 1st century as he travelled the known world spreading the gospel. We’ll be swimming off of that beach.

It will be quiet. I will be in my own little room overlooking the sea. There will be coffee, and I will keep a travel journal. This is my idea of heaven.

To prep for the trip, I’ve been swimming, of course. I am a pretty strong swimmer, kind of metronomic as in once I start up, I just sort of… keep going at a measured pace. It’s a different kind of swimming in the ocean. You’re more buoyant, which is nice, but no walls to turn off of, no convenient straight line to follow beneath you. Waves and sea creatures will keep it interesting. I haven’t been able to practice those things. No open water swimming here in Texas that I’ve taken advantage of… there are alligators in all the lakes here, and ehhh… I’d frankly rather swim with sharks, not that there are very many of those where we will be.

I’ve also been walking and laying out, so I have a nice base tan. I know, I’m so old school about that. At least I wasn’t laying out with baby oil, a foil reflector, and my Tab cola sitting next to me. I’ll use reef-safe sunscreen during the swims, and wear a hat, I promise.

As always, I am waiting until the last few hours to pack. I’ve made a list though. I’m going carry-on, and if anything is forgotten, you can just pop into one of those shops and purchase it. My kindle is loaded up, although I am giving hard consideration to toting a hefty paperback (IQ84) as well, just in case it craps out. My sons have assured me I can just use my phone, no real need to get a Greek sim card, and instructed me where to turn roaming on and off so I don’t get a surprise bill later.

I’ve also pre-loaded next week’s blog, in keeping with my promise of writing one a week for at least a year, and I got out a short story to a dark mermaid anthology I’m hoping to be part of. Book 5 of the Darkwood series is still in progress. I’d wanted to have the first draft done before leaving, but didn’t quite make it. It will still be done before the end of the year, I promise.

For now, Kalispera!

On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock”

Over the past year or so, my husband and I have been taking advantage of seeing old movies on the big screen, hosted by TMC and Ben Mankiewicz. Usually they are classics, like “The African Queen.” Or musicals that are a delight on the big screen, such as “An American in Paris.” We recently saw “Cabaret,” which is still a stunner. I believe next month it’s “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger tearing up the screen. There are also anecdotes before and after.

The 40th anniversary director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan” was like putting on a pair of cozy fuzzy socks and sweatpants for me. I started smiling the moment the excellent James Horner soundtrack began, and the theatre darkened. More about the movie in a moment.

 I got to work for a few years within the Star Trek universe on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine as a writer’s assistant. The adventure and honor of it was not lost on me, I promise you. I also met a friend for life in the process*, so double good things came from it.

The original Star Trek series, along with “Wild Wild West” are among the very first television shows I remember watching on our little black and white television when I was five or six years old. The way the characters related to each other, had adventures, and told stories has stuck with me for a lifetime. Remember when Capt. James West had his hands handcuffed behind his back, and then jumped over them to get free? The actor loved doing stunts, so they got him to do all sorts of crazy escapes. Curious to know how many remember that exact moment. The show pioneered the steampunk genre. We will not speak of the terrible movie remake.

I always related to the sidekicks. Mr. Spock, Artemis Gordon, Chekov and Mr. Scott were among my favorites. I got to meet James Doohan once. He was a delightful man, charming as could be. I think I almost fainted. In later years, I watched “In Search Of,” just so I could see more Leonard Nimoy. I always wanted to be a Vulcan.

That “The Wrath of Kahn” got made at all is a miracle. The first movie was dreadful, there’s no denying it. Thankfully, it’s also quite forgettable. Among Trek fans, it has a similar reputation to Season Eight of the Show That Shall Not Be Named (dracarys). Now that said, I’m glad the first movie existed. At one point, I was gifted a silk jacket that belonged to the special effects crew of that movie. Possessing anything Star Trek is cool to me. It got burned up in The Fire.

The movie holds up pretty well, even at 40 years old. The gravitas and pure spite Ricardo Montalban embodies as Khan holds the whole thing together, and extra points for bringing an old episode from the original series to the fore. He stops just this side of chewing scenery and is utterly mesmerizing. I love his final lines quoting Captain Ahab. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” He really sells it. Side note: I had to laugh when I learned that most of his crew were working Chippendale dancers at the time of the shoot. They had to cast them to keep up with Ricardo’s I-do-a-lot-of-pushups chest.

 I still squirmed when the bug thing was put in Chekov’s ear. It’s a memorable moment. The interplay between the main characters is a little strained, the dialogue a little too on-point for parts of it. True to 40-year-old movie making, the pauses are excruciatingly long, and well, special effects were still in their infancy. However, the “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene STILL makes me cry, although I know what happens later. I remember seeing this thing when it came out in the theatres and SOBBING, and then Mr. Scot piping “Amazing Grace” as the pod is jettisoned into space…. Oy.

As we came out of the theatre, I realized I just HAD to see “The Search for Spock” right away. My husband indulged me. This one also held up. Made only a couple years later, in 1984, and kind of on the cheap compared to the other movies, you can see the jumps forward in technology and creating special effects. DeForest Kelley finally gets his moment in the sun as an almost-main character and has some very fun moments as Spock takes over his body. Leonard Nimoy directed it and did a good job. You know he knows his audience. This one doesn’t make me cry, although Spock’s last line, “Jim. Your name is Jim,” got me. I also love that they got Dame Judith Anderson to step in and use her incredible voice. Good casting.

This one also has the benefit of an unrecognizable John Larroquette as Maltz, a Klingon second in command, and Christopher Lloyd (Doc in “Back to the Future”) as the main evil Klingon. He looks like he had a great time with it, shouting his Klingon lines with a zesty fury. It has a quick appearance of Tribbles, too. You really can’t go wrong with that.

All in all, a nice double feature.

*Looking at you, Sandra Sena.

On What Goes On Before, During, and After a Community Theatre Play

Two days ago, my play “Like Kissing Moonlight” closed. Over 600 new people got to see this delightful production about a family navigating a crisis point. The actors did such a wonderful job. The audiences laughed, a few cried, all enjoyed their two hours in air-conditioning as temps spiked over 100 degrees here in Texas.

A few posts ago, I covered the odd verbiage that surrounds the theatre, and what Tech Week is like.* This post is about the activity an audience member doesn’t see before then, a pulling back of the curtain, if you will. What I can say with all certainty that all of us crew and performers want is to do a good show and that you have a good time.

I just thought a few folks might find this interesting.

There were nine actors onstage for my show. There were a lot more crew people and artisans that worked behind the scenes who brought the show to life. Here is a timeline of what goes on in the life of a little community theatre play. Please keep in mind that most of this is a labor of love. The pay is minimal if you get paid at all. The theatres themselves are mostly non-profit, too.

First, of course, the writer writes the play, then starts the often-arduous process of finding a theatre to produce it. This can literally take years. A dramaturg reads it, thinks it might be right for the theatre, and brings it to the decision makers. Seasons for Community Theatres are usually set 1-2 years ahead, as the rights to obtain popular shows are based on geographics. The companies such as Samuel French that own the rights to distribute plays will not allow you to do a newer show if someone nearby is also doing it. The theatre will then approach directors, who are usually booked a year or two in advance to see if they’d like to direct the show. The director will submit a proposed budget for the show, and what their vision is for the piece.

Once the play is locked in for the season, the director’s budget is approved, and the rights obtained (generally $100 per show) a producer is chosen, who will work on publicity and help staff the show, and who will be working what is called ‘the front of the house,’ the ushers, the box office folks, etc. They find a graphic artist designs the program and posters, as well as help assemble the design team for the show. They order the scripts or have them made. They handle the money and reimbursements, collecting receipts along the way, making sure the show stays in budget.

The Props, Costumes, Set, Lighting, and Sound designers are found and then sent a script so they can start planning alongside the director for the look and feel of the play. The designers also find running crew if appropriate, or sometimes the stage manager will take this on. A running crew are the folks who change sets, move props, and help actors change costumes during the actual run of the play. They become like family and cannot be flakey. The director finds a Stage Manager and perhaps an Assistant Director as well to help everything run smoothly. The bigger the cast, the more need there is for a strong AD. If it’s a musical, a Musical Director is brought in, and they find a rehearsal pianist, and make arrangements for any orchestra or band. Renting scores is incredibly expensive, so they watch who has those music sheets like hawks. If it’s a musical, you’ll need a choreographer too, and need to make time for them to do their work in the schedule. The director is in charge of all of these things happening in a timely manner, and replacing people if issues come up. It’s a volunteer army for the most part, so there is inevitably someone who thought they could do the show that ends up needing to be replaced. I have replaced nearly an entire cast. I don’t recommend it.

The director sets a rehearsal schedule and a point of contact, such as a FB page for easy communication. The producer makes sure the space for rehearsals and the show itself is available and posts announcements for actors to come audition. The set designer brings in a model or drawing of the set, and it is discussed before the go-ahead is given to purchase the materials needed to create it. This all happens 2-3 months out from auditions.

The director blocks (how the actors move around on the set so that they can be seen and heard at the right time and that they are making pretty pictures on the set as well, and can make entrances and exits) the entire show based on the set design, and meets with light and sound folks to be sure what they are seeing in their heads all match and that the physical equipment at the theatre can execute that.

The director then decides how they want auditions to run–readings from the script (called cold readings), prepared scenes or monologues, and if there will be call-backs or not. If it is a musical, the Musical Director is in on this too, and the choreographer. The stage manager and the AD and sometimes the Producer help make sure the auditions run smoothly and on time.

Actors come, bring a picture and resume, fill in audition forms, read for parts.

The Director, and anyone else who needs to have input, cast the show. The director contacts the people who are cast. This is a happy job.

First read-through involves the costumer who is taking measurements and sometimes the production photographer who gets headshots for the program. Schedules are handed out.

Rehearsals begin. This is usually a 4–6-week process, between 15 to 30 of them, depending on the show’s complexity. While the director is blocking the show and the actors memorize their lines and movement, the design team is hard at work building the set, gathering props and costumes, hanging and focusing lights, and designing the sound–doorbells, incidental music, whatever will enhance the production at hand. Sometimes the actors help build, other spaces have a crew of people who help build and decorate the set. If there are fight sequences or intimate scenes, a specialty person is brought in. We love our fight coordinators and intimacy coordinators because everyone gets to be and feel safe night after night.

The producer lines up reviewers, publicity opportunities, and makes sure the programs get designed and printed. The director approves and participates in publicity, as does the cast when asked. I love doing radio and television spots, other directors hate it.

Tech week comes… see my post about that. A production photographer comes in to get the shots needed for the reviewers and publicity. Tech week is for sure a full week of non-stop work for everyone. The running crew figures out what needs to go where, who has that fast costume change, that this piece of furniture needs to be placed in exactly that spot. The actors figure out where personal props (ones they carry on and off the stage) need to be, and the mayhem starts to settle.

Then, if you are lucky, you get a preview night, where friends and family or invited members of the community come to see the show. This is especially helpful if you are doing a comedy, as laughter (while dearly appreciated) needs to be gotten used to.

Opening night is always exciting! Call time for every show is usually an hour to an hour and a half before the house opens for the audience to sit down. Fight sequences are run through in slow motion, and vocal warmups soar from backstage. Gifts from director to the actors are given, the control of the show passes to the stage manager who calls all the cues of the show, and coordinates front and back of the house.

The curtain goes up… and hopefully… magic happens.

After the last performance of the show, everyone joins together to return props and furniture and borrowed costumes to their rightful owners. The set is taken down bit by bit; the flats stored for the next use. Sometimes you paint the floor back to black.

Then you go out for drinks and dinner and laugh so that the bittersweet pang that settles in doesn’t hurt quite as much. Yes, it’s true, that particular show with those particular people will never be together again.

But while we were together, all of us, front and back of house, on stage and off… we created something special.

That’s show business. Here’s some of the wonderful cast and crew. “It’s the people you miss.”

*On Tech Week and Theatre as an Alternate Language

On 43, 9/11, and Northpark Mall

My dear friend was in town this weekend to see my play. It was a quick but delightful trip, eating and talking and exploring a little bit of Dallas.

The normal places I like to take first-time visitors—White Rock Lake, the spot where JFK was assassinated, Clyde Warren Park, and Bishop’s Art District—were all off the table this time. It was just too hot outside for walking.

Instead, we visited the Bush Library and had lunch at Café 43 on the grounds of the SMU campus. I highly recommend the café, and you don’t have to go into the library to eat there. The service is lovely, the space elegant but welcoming, and the food was mighty tasty.*

My friend and I did opt to tour the museum/library. It’s extremely well laid-out, with a special exhibit on humor in the White House that was quite funny. I enjoyed talking to the docents in the replica of the oval office, and revisiting some of the history I remember from President Bush’s two terms in office.

That time includes, of course, 9/11.

It was not pleasant per se to revisit that morning when the towers fell. The memory is still crystal clear. I’d been at home with my boys, the oldest of whom was five at the time. My husband called me on his way to work and told me to turn on the television. I did so right as the second plane flew into the south tower. My little boy turned to me, his brown eyes so wide and earnest. He said, “That’s not special effects.” You should know that I worked in the film industry, so my son’s comment was based in solid knowledge. I sent him to go play with his brother and sat glued to the television, the images we were seeing seemingly impossible.

The Bush Library has created a respectful, solemn memorial to that day and the days that followed. The featured image on this blog is chilling to see in person, that twisted metal looking almost like modern art, but so terribly, horribly real. I realized I’d not “forgotten” any of it, that the memories of that time in our history is etched deep. I knew a couple of folks who died in the towers that day, and while the anniversary of the date always makes me think of them, this was an impressive, immersive, resonant section of the museum that gave a bigger picture.

Can you be glad you saw something, yet saddened by it too? Evidently.

We had a few hours before my friend needed to catch her plane, so I suggested we stay in air conditioning and took her over to the always visually interesting Northpark Mall. I used my turn signal aggressively in the interior covered parking lot to get one of the hotly contested spaces.

The mall itself is a big 2-level square surrounding a large inner courtyard. Inside are some 250+ mostly upscale shops and restaurants, along with a food court and movie theatre. What makes it unique is that it houses a fantastic collection of Modern Art that has been bequeathed to the place by Nasher family.

It also has beautiful planters inside and out that boast different flowers seasonally. The mall and its art are run by Nancy Nasher, the daughter of Ray Nasher, who refused to put the collection in a museum. Instead, he put it here, scattered throughout the mall. His reasoning? “Maybe 90 percent of people will never go to a museum, but maybe they’ll be inspired to learn more about art and study art, just by coming here.” I like that and hope he’s right.

After wandering the mall and browsing in my favorite store, Sundance, we stopped at Eataly for a beverage. It’s also a fun place to people watch and goggle over all the food choices there. Both the museum and the mall got high marks from my friend, so if you’re looking for something to do while its nine million degrees here in Dallas, you might give them a try.

*You should make reservations, and you have to pay for parking in the lot across from the Cafe. It’s $5 for the first hour and $2 every hour after that. Or maybe just cruise around and find street parking, if you’re not worried about melting before you get inside.