New York or Bust

The second of three storms passed through Philadelphia on Sunday night, effectively snowing everyone in. I did try to get to work in the morning, but was told to stay home, where I had my therapy session over Skype. But there was no getting out of work the next day, and it was then that winter defeated me: the snow had turned to ice, and as I was chipping it off my car roof (since the new law requires roofs to be clean) when my ice scraper broke in half. So I just hacked at the ice with the handle. I shoveled the snow from around and behind my car and got in to go to work… and couldn’t get past the ice the other cars had mashed down. So I pulled back into the driveway, stomped through the house three times to have enough salt to melt the ice, and threw it all over he ground while my Chinese neighbor watched.

The second time I tried to get out of the driveway, my car seemed to have forgotten how to go in reverse; when in that gear, the car went forward when I hit the gas. I was on the edge of a panic attack, crying and shaking and feeling like my head was full of buzzing bees. But thankfully, the third time I tried to leave, I managed it, even though it happened very slowly.

All that got me through the long, mediocre workday was the thought that this morning, I would be on my way to NYC for my birthday gift to myself: seeing Machinal on Broadway. In addition to getting to see an awesome show, I was also missing a work seminar that I wasn’t prepared for. But while at work, I got a message that my bus to New York had been cancelled. I bought a train ticket. Then I heard trains were shutting down and I started panicking. I didn’t want my ticket money for the show or the train to go to waste. And also I DID NOT WANT TO GO TO THE SEMINAR.

With the inextinguishable drive of a Jehovah’s Witness, I got on the (operating) subway, hoping that was a good sign. But when I got to 30th Street Station, there were no trains to New York because those were coming from Harrisburg, and all trains from the capitol were cancelled. My anxiety level was climbing, especially when I heard announcement after announcement saying that, because of the weather, any ticket would be accepted on any train. I went to the info desk and said, “I know all trains from Harrisburg are cancelled, but is there any way at all to get to New York?” As the guy behind the desk started to look it up, another guy came over and said, “The 614? That’s running.”

THANK GOD. I still wasn’t convinced I’d make it to New York in time to lunch with Molly, but at least I was going to New York. To my surprise, I got there in plenty of time, with no problems or delays. So I walked to the restaurant near Bryant Park where Molly and I were meeting. We had lovely conversation and delicious food before she had to go to the library and I to the show.

Between the weather and the fact that Machinal is almost a hundred years old and a play, the theatre was pretty empty. I got the most awesome usher who, when I asked if I could move down if no one took the closer seats, whispered, “Just go down now, as close as you want.” I stayed up in the mezzanine, but sat at the front, about seven rows closer than I had paid for.

The play was INCREDIBLE. I read it very quickly for a hurriedly-composed essay my senior year of college, but didn’t remember that much. But whatever I expected, the show was better. The acting was great, the revolving set was so ingenious and cool, the costumes were beautiful, and the sound design gave me chills. The script itself is very sparse, and, in the wrong hands, could be very awkward and jerky. But the combined efforts created a show that was staccato when it called for it but never unnatural. My favorite thing is that it made me FEEL what the main character was feeling. I didn’t just think, “Oh, she’s feeling trapped and scared,” I actually FELT trapped and scared. And when I left the theatre, I didn’t want to. I just wanted to find a quiet corner and think for awhile. It was a theatre experience that left me wonderfully dazed.

I got an early bus home after grabbing some dinner. My post-NYC low hit me, but not nearly as hard as it used to. It’s worse now, but again, not as bad as it’s been. It was nice to get away for a day and see a good friend and good theatre.

Columbus Play Adventures Part 1

This weekend was The Weekend, when my first full-length play, my baby, was put up onstage for the first time.

I headed to my parents’ house on Tuesday and my mom and I left the next morning at nine. We stopped twice to eat/stretch and, after getting lost for awhile upon arriving in Columbus, got to our hotel around 6:30. We decided we wanted to go to Chipotle for dinner, since I love it and Mom had never been there, and Google Maps told me that it was a six minute walk up the road. Long story (and long walk) short, Google Maps lied. We stopped in an ice cream shop for directions and the employees told us that we were very far away from the restaurant. Some locals standing near us heard us talking and gave us amusedly disappointed looks. “There are so many better places to eat here than Chipotle, guys,” the woman told us. Then she and her husband led us to Betty’s, a restaurant/bar a block away. And as much as I love Chipotle, they were so right. We had some amazing hummus and I tried fish tacos (yum!)

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Signs in Betty’s

The next morning, we headed out to explore Columbus before opening night. We went to an area of the city called Short North, which had some really awesome boutiques. I bought way too many things while we were out- a nifty new hat (my ears were cold), some postcards, a notebook (I hadn’t brought mine, figuring I’d just take a pad from the hotel room, but we weren’t given any), some chili chocolate, and a Bell Jar shirt. While I did want all of these things, I also think I was trying to distract myself from my steadily building nerves.

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Legzzzzz

While my mom and I were exploring a great vintage shop (which housed many pairs of amazing shoes), I got a Facebook message on my phone. I didn’t know who it could be, considering that most of the people I talk to aren’t usually online at 12:30 on a weekday. It was the director of my show. “Hey,” she wrote. “I heard you’re in town. I just wanted to let you know that we had an emergency last night and may not be able to put the show up until tomorrow night.”

My heart dropped to my shoes. We had come all the way to Columbus to see my show and now it wasn’t even opening that night? I wasn’t at all mad at the director or cast- an emergency can’t be helped- and I wasn’t feeling badly about myself; I was just disappointed. And at first, that’s all it was, just a slight feeling of being let down. But as the day wore on, I started to get sad. Then I got sadder. I started to say how sad I was out loud to see if it would make me feel better (only a little.) Because while no one had said the run was cancelled, I was afraid that’s what was going to happen. This fear doesn’t come from nowhere; last year, a short play of mine was supposed to be produced and then got cancelled two weeks before opening. This afternoon, my mom remarked how I hadn’t put anything on Facebook about opening night being postponed and I said, “I can’t handle being the girl who cried ‘Production!’ twice. I didn’t even want to get into it.”

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be seeing the show that night, my nerves didn’t go away. I texted my friend and fellow playwright Molly. “I am freaking out,” I wrote. “Is this normal?!” She wrote back, “YES. You will likely be freaking out all night.” And even without actually seeing my play, I was. Mom and I went out for pizza and I fell off my chair at the restaurant, then, a few minutes later, spilled my soda all over the table. The waitress asked me if I was drunk. Nope… just a nervous wreck.

This morning, I woke up in a bit of a doom-and-gloom mood. I was convinced that my play was never going to premiere. When we stopped for a snack his afternoon, I said to my mom, “If it gets cancelled tonight, can we go to the matinee tomorrow? I can’t leave not having seen it. Not after we came all this way.” All day, as we toured the beautiful German Village area of the city, I was praying that my phone didn’t go off with a text or Facebook message, sure it would be from the director, and every time I received a text from anyone at all, I jumped about a foot in the air.

But finally, it was too late in the day for the show to be cancelled for tonight. Instead of going out to dinner, Mom heated up some chicken fingers she had pre-made. I could only eat one and a half, I was so nervous. We got into our theatre-wear and headed for the youth center where the show was being held. Ten minutes before the show, hardly anyone was in the audience and I was really nervous that no one else would show up, but in the end, there were probably about sixty people at the show.

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Posters by the bunch

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Performance venue!

The set was very typical of a community theatre (no frills, simple sets and costumes) and so was the acting (most performances being okay, with some excellent stands outs) but what I cared about was the script and whether it worked.┬áThe show began and the first scene- done in complete darkness except for a light in a jar- looked exactly as I had pictured. And while the times the words I wrote were dropped, either because they were too fast, too quiet, or forgotten (which sometimes happened in large chunks) made me sad, I was in general happy with the way the show went. I wasn’t there to review the show; I was there to see how my script worked for timing and story, and I was able to do that. I took a lot of notes on what worked and what didn’t, and the audience was really responsive, which helped, too. One of the best moments happened at the very end of the show during Peter’s last line. The actress fumbled the line, saying the main character Mary’s name instead of her daughter Wendy’s, but it actually made the scene even more poignant and made me catch my breath, and now I want to look at the moment and see if the change will work. I don’t know if it will fit in the long run, but that’s why I, as a playwright, love to see actors actually perform my work- often they do or say things differently than I had in my head and it turns out to be so much better than I imagined.

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Peter and Mary in one of my favorite scenes.

I’m such a control freak that I can’t believe playwriting works for me. Usually I’m the kind of person that wants everything the way I have in my head, but oddly, I completely accept that the world I’ve constructed might be totally different than I think it “should” be. I’m fine with a simplistic set, or few costume changes, or colorblind casting, or what people will think of my words. Somehow, I’m able to accept that in the hands of a few dozen people I’ve never met, my play will become what they make of it.

Interestingly, one part of any kind of backstage work rings true for me as a playwright as well: the complete panic when someone drops a line and I know what it is. I’ve experienced this as a stage manager and assistant stage manager, and now as a playwright, and it’s just the worst thing because I can’t do anything about it. At least as an actor, you can work toward or around the line the actor dropped. I was also surprised that I knew what the lines were tonight; even though I haven’t looked at the script in months, I’ve spent so much time with it over the past three and a half years that it’s imprinted on my brain.

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Peter and Mary

At the end of the show, the director told the two lead actresses that I was there and I got to say hi to them. They were great and wonderful to talk to, and it’s funny to be on the other side of the experience. I kind of wish I had been in this position before I was the actor trying to please the playwright, because then I would have known that it wasn’t really about that! For me, tonight was about the amazing fact that a bunch of people read and memorized my words and put six weeks of rehearsing, set building, composing, and general hard work into something that three and a half years ago was just a few scenes in the “PP Play” folder on my computer, with me dreaming of having it produced one day. It makes me want to cry from happiness just thinking about it. I am so glad to have had this experience, and it felt great at the end to have people who heard I was the playwright come over and tell me how much they enjoyed the play and that they could see a future for it. I am proud of myself and my work on this night.

sotmprog