On Hospital Food and Modern Dance

My mom has been in the hospital for nine days with pneumonia at UT Southwestern here in Dallas. She’s on the path to recovery thanks to a lot of really great modern medicine and doctors and nurses. My dad has been with her frequently, but now he’s at home having picked up some sort of bug himself. She’ll need oxygen for a while, and a machine and tanks and long green hoses now sit in our dining room where this picture was taken last year on her 91st birthday.

Going to the hospital is not my favorite thing. I’m sure I’m not alone. Over the years I’ve spent many days in them, wandering the halls when such things were permitted, strolling the grounds, eating in the cafeteria.

This particular hospital has decorated its halls with lovely modern art and has window-filled areas you can go to when your loved one is having a procedure done. It also has an excellent cafeteria. I can almost see meeting someone there for a tasty, inexpensive lunch, even if there’s no one we need to visit or bring flowers to. Parking is $3, but there’s plenty of space to sit and eat and talk.

My stress level has been high the past nine days, so my food choices have been a little off. Sometimes the only thing that will do is a Diet Dr. Pepper and Sun Chips. I’ll make up for it later in laps and steps and smoothies.

Speaking of steps. I saw some great Modern Dance this past Friday night at the Moody, which is a lovely space in downtown Dallas. It was a tonic to be in a theatre and see something new, beautifully staged and crafted. I had to write them a rave. You can see my extended review of B. Moore Dance here: http://thecolumnonline.com/review/07-11-2022_B-Moore-Dance-Season-3-Finale/ I am always grateful for my gig as a theatre critic that allows me to see all sorts of different performances.

It made me feel better to see those dancers in fab costumes follow vibrant choreography, extending and creating beautiful lines that evoked emotion. Between that and the curated efforts of the hospital to make what can be a terrible-awful place into something showcasing both lovely art and tasty food made my week infinitely better.

I hope you have some moments to enjoy what others have created from their thoughtfulness or talents this week as well.

On Finding Distractions When the World Just Gets Too Big

My goodness, it seems there are a lot of awful things happening. I am feeling weighed down by all of it. My anger wants to get the best of me, gnawing away at my insides and wanting to flash outwards, which would add to the problems.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade has made me oh-so-angry. Mostly because of the re-relegation of women to become human incubators, no matter what they think about it, of course. Speaking as someone who nearly died from an ectopic pregnancy, I can tell you it’s radically unfair to label that an ‘abortion’ and put me in jail for it once I heal up. It’s devastating all on its own, trust me. Don’t need jail time and shaming on top of it. Yep, that’s what several states have mandated. But it also chaps that several of those SCOTUS peeps when they were nominees lied about “established law.” Another just outright stated he’s still angry about his confirmation hearing, so he’s going to do anything and everything to “burn the libs.” Great. There’s who I want on the highest court in the land.

And then they ham-strung the EPA even though combating climate change is a pretty important issue.

 The shootings of children and shoppers and parade goers are gut-kicking. It makes me livid that there have already been 307 mass murders so far THIS YEAR. You cannot convince me that normal people who are not soldiers fighting in a war need rapid-fire AK-anythings. It’s ludicrous. I don’t believe the desire to own one or several is more important than children going to school safely. I also know I will not change anyone’s mind. And no, I’m not lumping handguns and rifles in there.

And it’s insanely hot. And my mom is in the ICU. And my car’s air conditioner quit working this morning.

I cannot control any of this, except my car’s air-conditioning. I’ll need to gear up mentally and emotionally to deal with that, as I always think car mechanics laugh at my ignorance once my back is turned.

Here’s what I do to distract myself and/or practice self-care so that Overwhelm and its sister Despair don’t swamp me and paralyze any forward movement.

1.       Look at Zillow for new places to live. Currently looking for houses on at least 1 acre, so there’s room for a garden and a granny flat. Maybe room for fences, turrets, and a moat, too. Depends on my mood. Must have a Trader Joes and a swimming pool nearby. And at least four seasons, not one really long, hot one, followed by a short less-hot month or two.

2.       Watch “Unexplained” type TV shows about world mysteries. I’ve watched all those ones about aliens (on the History Channel, which always makes me laugh) and Unsolved Mysteries. My new favorite is Bill Shatner narrating the UnXplained (yes, they spell it wrong). It’s exactly like that really old show that his pal Leonard Nimoy used to narrate called “In Search Of.” I find that so meta.

3.       Read recipes for cakes and pies. Maybe re-watch the British Baking Show. Except right now it’s too hot to turn on my oven, and I don’t like no-bake things, so not really doing this one right now.

4.       Watch Alligator reels. (I know!) I just don’t understand why people would go near them. They are not remotely cuddly. That said, one of my bucket list items is to go diving with sharks, so take it all with a grain of salt.

In terms of self-care:

1.       I try to get my writing done as early as possible so the little words knocking around in my head don’t get the best of me and I stay on track to publish 7 books this year. So I get up at 4.30am. Yep.

2.       Exercise nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. Swimming and walking at the moment.

3.       I do my best to drink a lot of water.

4.       Reading. I love books. I just wish I had room for a lot of bookshelves. Thus the looking at new places to live, see how that all ties together?

5.       Naps when possible. Several years ago, a girlfriend took me to see the Dalai Lama be interviewed. When asked about his solution for the world’s woes, he said, “Everyone get more sleep.” I have to agree.

What about you? What are your go-to’s when the world just becomes too much for one body to handle?

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 Air Fryers and Terrible Toys

My husband and I have birthdays just 5 days apart. Now that our children are grown, this means that we often get combination gifts for the household rather than individual things.

This birthday week brought us an air fryer. I have to admit, I was leery of the thing. Just like I was with the Instapot I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. As I am totally without mechanical skills, the arrival of any new gadget fills me with suspicion that something could go very wrong, that it will explode somehow, leaving bits of both myself and the kitchen cabinets scattered on the linoleum.

Its name also reminded me of the Air Poppers that we all owned in the early 1980s. Nothing better than some cardboard-textured, tasteless air popped popcorn to go with your strongest-aftertaste-ever-on-the-planet Tab. Mmmmm.

The exploding thing was really what stopped me. The dread of what could happen. It’s like that feeling you get when you have to open those heinous round cannisters of poppin’ fresh dough. Please tell me this happens to you, too. I hold them at arm’s length and avert my eyes as much as I can. Trepidation builds as I get closer and closer to the POP when it opens. It’s almost not worth making orange sweet rolls on Thanksgiving morning. Almost.

I think those “peel and open” containers were invented by the scions of the super crazy loon who invented the Jack in the Box as a “fun” toy for children. That horrific building suspense, and then the awful “surprise” of a THING popping out at you. A thing dressed like a clown that then bobs around on a spring. I’ll give you a shiny quarter if that thing made you laugh, but you have to be honest about it. I am sure it made most of us cry. My Jack in the Box played “Pop goes the Weasel,” and I loathe that tune to this day. This is what mine looked like. Terrifying, am I right?

I’m sure a close cousin of the Jack in the Box was the inventor of the game Operation, where you pull the diseased and broken parts of a human being out of a man on an operating table. If you hit the metal edge of the game with your metal operating instrument, a buzzer goes off and the nose of the guy you are operating on blinks red. You might not actually get shocked for real, but the jarring sensation feels like it. Honestly, they should all be locked up for scarring us for a lifetime.

I’ll give you one more. My kids were raised on Legos, and we stepped on our fair share, to be sure. Not fun at all. However, I believe Jacks, with their multiple pointy bits were much more lethal on the night-time walks from bedroom to bathroom. How did we ever survive our childhoods?

Back to the present. I now love my Instapot and can cook whole meals in it if I get ambitious. The air fryer sat on the counter untouched by me in spite of this proof that newfangled gadgets can make my life easier. But my braver husband started making things with it while I remained in another room, far away. Then I tasted what he made. I’m now a solid convert. It was the air fries that sold me. Being that it was a potato product, it had a natural edge, but man those were good. Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside. I’ve made really good salmon in it so far. My son tells me I can bake with it too, but we will have to see about that. Preheating the thing seems to be the secret. It’s all very self-contained, nothing exploding that I’ve unearthed yet. And pretty easy to clean, too.

The Instapot was definitely more scary. I think it’s the hissing sound the steam makes. It’s just not a friendly sound.

It’s great to have the Air Fryer during the 100+ degree temperatures of summer. Anything that helps me avoid turning on my oven is a plus. Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. They tell me I can make bread in the thing too, I’ll let you know when I try it.

AIR FRYER SWEET POTATO FRIES

Preheat your frier at 380 degrees. Cook for about 10 minutes. Give the potatoes a little shake about halfway through.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into fries, about ¼ -1/2 inch or so.

Toss with a little olive oil (about a teaspoon). Or just spray the inside of the cooker with spray olive oil.

Sprinkle potatoes with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper.

Put in the air fryer in a single layer. One or two potatoes is plenty.

NOTE: It’s the same principle and temp for regular fries, just soak your cut potatoes in water for about fifteen minutes, then dry them first.

AIR FRYER SALMON

Preheat fryer to 400.

Make sure your filets are the same size. Season with a little lemon, garlic, and salt and drizzle a little olive oil on top. If you are getting fancy, some sprigs of rosemary are nice.

Place salmon skin-side down in fryer. Cook for 6-11 minutes, depending on thickness and how done you like your salmon. It’s not a temperamental thing, you can pull the basket out and check on it, and then put it back in.