Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Year Remembered, or…The Time When I Overdosed on Spray Paint Fumes.

(Guest Post from C. Riter)

It always feels necessary when writing about the past that you portray some sense of newly found wisdom, self – knowledge previously unrealized, or that your soul has been touched with a slow revelation about the human condition, the struggle for enlightenment, etc, etc…blah blah blah. A lot of the time it feels like when I read, or write, these remembrances that there is a terminus. When recalling the year just lived you get a feeling that all learning, introspection, self-assessment and moving forward consciously suddenly halts and the screen goes blank and the dials are set to zero again. The reports are turned in to silent managers and accountants who record the earnings and dues in ledgers scrawled across pages with the forgotten memories of millions of others. The train has pulled in to Union Station of Memory. All riders must depart. Next train leaves tomorrow, first stop, Union Station of Id en route to Union Station of Plantar Wart.

I can't pretend to have any profound bits of personal awareness to share with other people this year. I haven't fooled myself into thinking that the big picture is a little more in focus after another three hundred and sixty five days and nights. That, in turn, makes me think that maybe I've never been much on the big picture anyway. It's not that I don't see it. I know it's there. I just don't give a fuck about looking at it right now. You see the problem is that there's so many damn people in front of me trying to see it too, pushing and shoving, being rude, wiping their noses then shaking your hand, elbowing you in the face then looking back as if their blank mongoloid expressions are supposed to convey an apology, or at least some humanity, then turning away again, eyeballs bulging to see it, necks craning, hands waving, dancing in some meaningless and hollow celebration. The importance, the purpose of it all is right there. For sale. Look at it, and keep looking. Maybe I'm some kind of Zen Nihilist. Anyway, all I can do is recall the last three sixty-five with as much clarity as is allowed by Mr. Evan Williams (have you heard I'm unemployed?).

The story Twenty-Ought-Eight began with a great last quarter of Twenty-Ought-Seven. I made some new friends and got back together with some old ones. My buddy Aris Tompulis took on Eddie Carbone for A View From The Bridge and my old friend, roommate, and collaborator from W.V. Ed French joined the GreyZelda ranks as the D.P. for the filmed portions of the show. I also got to know Ravin Dave Lykins, who played Alfieri, on a personal and professional level and feel like I've been a better person ever since because of it. We started rehearsing that October and filmed in the first week of November. The rest of the cast included new and old as well. Good old friends Tom Gordon and Dave Goss were paired with new friends Gene and Nicolle Van Dyke, Holly Micelli, and Kelly B. The show went up at StageLeft on January 3 to great responses from audience and reviewer alike. Heath Hays and Julie Ballard continued to impress Chicago with their work on set design and lighting respectively. Overall, I think it's the piece of directing work that I'm most proud of so far. But, I'm not one to spout on about my feelings of accomplishment, or my process. Rather, I look back in appreciation at the great work everyone involved put forth and am truly reminded about how symbiotically cool it is when collaborative art works out. We all benefit and become better from the endeavor. I am better for having been and worked with them. They've heard it before so I'll stop.

Here's where it gets a little crazy. Around this time we found out BZ was carrying our progeny. As my full-on partner in crime, BZ is always in the mix of things regarding our productions, but this go round she had stand back a little bit due to some unforeseen complications with the pregnancy. As it turns out, strenuous work isn't very good for pregnant mothers and a couple of days before opening night our little baby (just an embryo then, but how fragile these negligible moments seem later on, for she was very close to not being born at all) had become detached from her mothers uterine wall, the lifeline, the well to her life that was to be. That being said, BZ did everything humanly possible to handle all things administrative regarding the show, and as always performed swimmingly.

The big challenge was in April. BZ still had to direct The Skriker, a show that spanks Views l'il ass like a red head stump chile in terms of directorial commitment and vision. The good news is that she had Lisa Wilson to play The Skriker and that was probably one of the luckiest things GreyZelda ever had happen to her. Lisa completely made the show her own with what may be one of the most physically and mentally challenging roles put to paper. And again, BZ continues to teach me the art of directing when I work with her. Her ability to create vast and specific worlds out of blank, black spaces still intrigues me and makes me enormously envious of her ability. The cast for Skriker was also as lot of fun to work with and I enjoyed working two separate analogue two-scene pre-set boards to run the lights on. Because of that, I can say that for the first time, as a light board operator, I felt like I had an organic influence in the flow of every show…for better or worse.

Suffice it to say that Lisa leaving Chicago was a huge blow to GreyZelda. Never have we had a stronger supporter, collaborator, contributor, colleague, and friend than her. She will always be with us and welcome to come in and get dirty with it. BZ and I will miss her and her Beau Dave McCaul, who both moved to Seattle. Dave formed a band called SuperSideways that played in our basement once and is now posthumously remembered by such recordings as the one you can listen to on Chicago Acoustic Underground right here.

Also, the day preceding load-in for Skriker I ended up over-exposing myself to critical amounts of toxic fluorocarbons and lots of other just-plain-evil-and-malevolent shit contained in spray paint. See it was raining that day, and like I said, load in was the next day. The decorative wrought-iron that we used to create the antebellum looking proscenium for Skriker was, well – iron colored, and it needed to be white colored. So, I built a paint tent off of my back stoop with drop cloth held in place by clamps from the awning over the sidewalk and spray painted some wrought-iron, which were many pieces, for like…over an hour, or two. The thing about spray painting inside a tent, as I'm sure you can surmise, is that there's no place for the fumes to go. Unless you count inside my body. When I was finished, I had spray paint lining my nostrils and filling my mustache, presumably from the inhalation. I passed out for a second and decided maybe it was time to stop. I scrubbed my nose and mouth with Fast Orange, went inside and took a shower, almost lost control of some bodily functions, puked a little, listened to the wah wah wah wah wah sound in my head for a bit (like wippits, except not fun kids) and had to focus for a little while on how to use my legs for the walking function. The moral of the story folks, is, if you're going to spray paint for hours on end, do it in a ventilated area. That stuff about masks; useless, don't believe it. Unless you enjoy the aforementioned symptoms, then it's a real hoot so spray away and inhale deeply. Sorry, did I mention the headache sent from the torments of the worst hell ever envisioned? No? Oh, well, too late.

Later on, BZ had the baby and that story requires another set of blogging ambitions. The list of names included Delilah, Violet, Mina, Clara, and Virginia. Clara won and Virginia took second and got the middle name. I witnessed her arrival upon the surface of Earth with my own eyes on 08/23/2008 and saw BZ display more strength and resolve than I'd ever thought imaginable from such a delicate and tender creature….Who am I kidding? She's a powerwagon. But it was the most grueling thing I've ever seen someone endure and she'll forever have my respect and honor for it.

Clara is the most precious and wonderful thing that could happen to me. I'm constantly amazed at the look of pure innocence and joy her smile brings. She has created an entirely new inner world for me. The inner world that is my imagining her life, the kind of mind I wish for her, the ways I can help her attain it, the world-view she'll develop over time, how she'll interact with others…the way that I'll factor into all of these factors. Suffice it to say, I'm fulfilled by her. I feel like, no matter how big a piece of shit I think I am sometimes, she makes me feel worthy. I've never been happier in all my life and I owe it all to her.

Later in October, I got let go from my job because my presence was deemed no longer "mutually beneficial". That one still gets a chortle from me. Anyway, I got approved for unemployment benefits after six weeks of red tape and Kafkaesque bureaucratic nonsense and we got the whole family covered for insurance on AllKids (thanks Blago). Knock on wood, for awhile bills and necessities should be covered as long as we're frugal, which honestly, we were to begin with. In the meantime, I love being home with my little family. Seeing Clara everyday is a constant joy and Becky and I always entertain each other pretty well.

I've begun work on writing a new play about my drug-study days and hope to re-write Thimbleberry Gallows. I'm also building a model of a '41 Ford pickup and love watching the Blackhawks. Yep, I'm a fucking dork friends. Maybe we'll all just have to get used to it, or maybe, I've always been this way and nobody's ever let me in on it. Oh yeah, and some time in there my man Barack Obama swooped in and took back the executive branch in the name of sanity and all things good about America. So overall, despite some hardship, I'm feeling decidedly optimistic about the upcoming year.

For those I love and haven't seen for awhile, let's get together and drink some whiskey in a seedy Chicago bar soon, or at least just talk while I still have the time. For all the others; the ones forgotten, forsaken, and forgone; I wish you good luck going about your way. Just stay out of mine.

Best wishes and happy new year,

The O.G.

Friday, December 19, 2008

GreyZelda's Year in Review from a Mom's Bird Eye View

In attempting to lasso all my remembrances of 2008 I realized that, from January on, that this year has been all about Clara Virginia. She was born on August 23 and our world has been turned on its ear in the most wonderful ways. I'm going to write about GreyZelda from the only perspective I have these days, which is that of a new mom. I was pregnant during both of our shows this year so my outlook was quite a bit different. I warn you, dear readers, that the following might contain too much mom information for your liking and sensibilities, but ... that's the way I roll these days. I'm going to try to cajole Chris to write an entry about his reflections as well.

I found out I was 7 weeks pregnant with Clara at the beginning of January when we were moving A View from the Bridge into Stage Left Theatre. I had lunch with Rebekah at Pick Me Up Cafe, which is right across the street from Stage Left, while our respective husbands worked on getting the set up. She was the first person, other than Chris, that I told about the pregnancy and because we had had a wonderful day searching for last minute props at Target and Lost Eras, I was inspired to share the news. We talked about parents, theatre, babies and the future.

The play opened and we told a few more people that we were pregnant, but we had a scare during opening weekend which kept us mum from spilling the beans to everyone involved in the show. I had started bleeding heavily after helping out with the set and the load-in. One of our cast members was in the bathroom with me during intermission while I was silently freaking out and asked me what I thought of the acting that night ... the person, of course, was doing a wonderful job and I told the person so, but ... I had other concerns on my mind and was hoping that everything was ok...I probably sounded a little weird when I answered. I went to a fetal specialist the following day and discovered that the embryo had separated from the placenta but it was still fine and, with a few weeks of bed rest, it would most likely reattach itself to the uterine wall and would continue growing but there was still the chance of a miscarriage. Dear God. So, I had to excuse myself from helping out backstage and with box office. Thankfully, Melissa Kuhlmann filled that position almost every night and Lisa Wilson filled in when she couldn't. Holly Micelli rocked out as the Stage Manager and Chris did the lights, sound and video, so my help wasn't needed, to be quite honest. I just chilled at home, took reservations, managed Ovation Tix and attempted to produce the show as much as I could from behind the computer screen and on the phone. Clara, being the tenacious wonder that she is, reattached herself and the pregnancy continued as normal. I'm so thankful for the support of our friends and family during that time. It was pretty scary for me.

I was set to direct The Skriker in the spring but wondered if I would be able to do it. I had always wanted to be the type of pregnant woman who could do everything, but discovered that wasn't going to be the case. I really needed to take it easy and focus my energies on creating the healthiest baby I could. I wanted to keep myself cool as a cucumber and avoid the stresses that often accompany a production. I strengthened myself up mentally and, with the help of Chris and Lisa, I decided to go ahead and direct the show. We held auditions in February and selected an amazing group of ladies and one guy.

The rehearsal process went smoothly, the design staff was exceptional and my dear husband helped me keep my sanity during the whole process. I lost my cool a couple of times with folks not directly involved in the production and I could blame it on hormones being all over the place, but that seems too easy. I realized during my pregnancy that I didn't have much of a filter and I could say that I regret my actions but that would be lying. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it again to the extent I did it? Probably not. Do I feel like I should apologize for my actions? Not at this point. Would I like to move forward? Most definitely.

In June, we attended the Jeff Awards for the first time to celebrate Nicolle Van Dyke's nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her portrayal of Beatrice in A View from the Bridge was so honest, so raw, so supportive and so touching. It was an honor to be with her that evening and I'm still elated that her first role in years garnered her a nomination from the Jeff committee. Melissa Kuhlmann and Tom Gordon also were there to support her, along with Gene, her husband, so we had a grand turnout from the GreyZelda peeps.

And, that, as they say was that in terms of mingling with the theatre community this year .... I did get a chance to see The Mammals'Clay Continent, Point of Contention's Radium Girls, Kat Daniels in a show at the Irish Heritage Center (can't think of the title right now ... I think my brain's still a little smaller from the pregnancy) and, of course, Our Town, which, like the rest of Chicago's audiences, I adored. I said to Chris before I left, "If I don't like this show and if it gives me the same 'meh' feeling I've gotten from so many other shows the last few years, than something's seriously wrong with me and I've lost my love of theatre." Our Town delivered, I was moved to tears and I couldn't stop gushing about it when I returned home. Thank you, David Cromer and The Hypocrites, for being that spark that reminded me why I am attracted to this art form.

Which leads me to the present and our future ...

Internally, we've shuttered the doors and windows for a spell. Lisa Wilson, a company member who was with us from One Flea Spare, moved to Seattle with dear Dave McCaul in August and that's created a pretty big void as she was a huge supporter and collaborator with the company as well as being a creative, driving, inspirational force of an artist and friend. We've got an incredible pool of actors, designers, etc who have helped keep our company strong, but we don't have the driving force to keep this going right now while I'm home rearin' our dear baby girl. Chris and I, in the meantime, are blowing off the dust from our Metamorphosis adaptation and our original play, The Thimbleberry Gallows. We're going to rework and take the editing knife to them. We might send the scripts out after we're finished to see if anyone would like to take a swing at producing them. Chris is also starting work on a play that's been rumbling around in his noggin for several years. There's been some very light talk of joining forces with another theatre company in town. Basically, it comes down to this: Chris and I have been a team and we've been able to to work and produce shows together. Now, we have a little girl on the scene that we want to devote the majority of our time to. In order to get things rolling theatrically again, we need another person who is willing to devote as much time and energy into the company as we have so that Chris and I can swap out responsibilities instead of doing the majority of the behind-the-scenes roles and responsibilities.

I'm not sure what 2009 holds for us at this point ... Chris lost his job in October and is still on the job hunt. I'm not quite ready to go back to work because I love being Clara's mom full time. We're going day to day, at this point, and hope that we have enough money from Chris's unemployment to pay our bills, rent, etc. So, thinking about what we're going to produce next is very far down on our list of priorities. I'm sure we'll figure out the balance and I hope that's sooner than later but, right now, we're just trying to survive and take care of Clara, who is a pure ray of happiness and fills our world with wonder and warmth.

In closing, I'd like to say that we hope that your Winter and Holiday Season proves to be merry and bright. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy your respective companies. Try to escape to the theatre when you get the chance. Support your local Storefront scene. Be there for each other and appreciate those that surround you. Give each other support, love and kind words.

It's been an incredible year and thanks for reading.