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Some dubious accomplishments since we last spoke

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My 40th high school reunion is approaching at the speed of a Presidential error in judgement. I have compiled a list of recent accomplishments to remind myself, and everyone else, that I am not a failure. I am the best. I am the greatest.

Just today, no lie, I won the pie eating contest at work! At 57 years old you might think I would have been outclassed by the many young folks competing but I have a very large mouth and really like vanilla pudding.  Never choose the chocolate pie, the flavor is too distracting. I was a bit distracted myself when the judge noted that my boss was pulling ahead. I then decided that breathing was not that important to me.

Also a few weeks ago I completed a theatrical performance where I had to shoot someone in the head on stage. Previously I have drugged children or cut them down with a wooden sword but this was my first time pulling a trigger. In real life, I am a notorious peacenik who  left a very lucrative employment situation at a military installation because I made myself sick. It is more difficult in real life to swallow one’s morals than it is on stage.

I am not a fan of guns and was the only one in the production to actually drop mine on the floor in rehearsal. But I managed to pull off this role because I was not myself, but a character. Even though  people call me a “character” there is a slight difference between being a character actor and a character. I am what they call a “double threat” when it comes to theatre. I would be a “triple threat” if I could dance without resembling a praying mantis doing an Irish jig.

Other grand accomplishments – I have now sung  “At the Cross, At the Cross, Where I first saw the light and the burdens of my heart rolled away…” more times than I have heard the song “We are the World” played on the radio. My previous record for singing the same song over and over would be  “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” which I sang twice a day for a whole summer. Before that I believe I sang the role of Miss Mazeppa in “The Strippers song” from Gypsy nightly for a couple of summers in my backyard.

Last year I managed to get into an elevator wearing stilts.  This year I became addicted to the show “Victorian Slum House.” It is still a bit cold for stilts in Alaska but never too cold to watch people eating eels and trotters or trying to sleep in the doss house.

Oh I also slid into a telephone pole this winter in the company van, ripping off the handle to the wheelchair lift, effectively stranding a number of disabled people. Luckily, I have very nice co-workers who coordinated a rescue and mending of the handle. Did I mention that I did not have to take a drug test after this accident but did have to take a drug test after I got run over by a wheelchair?  I think this has to do with the idea of workman’s comp but still, what a waste of a drug test.

I tried frozen Russian cream cheese bars this year. Yummy! I have managed to avoid all flavors of Oreo cookies over the last few decades even though there are more of them springing up each month.

Mostly I am proud of having kept my sense of humor and my appetite, at least on most days.  Now time to break into my prize for winning the pie eating contest – a banana cream pie!

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This is what a winner looks like! Note the use of hairnet and plastic garbage bag vest. Napkin is placed in lap. Mouth appears to be full but plate is decidedly empty.

 

 

 

My incredible stint as an mature model

 

I’m having a hard time lately with auditions. As I get older, I know what I want and where I fit in.  Most of the time I have to make up my own opportunities. I went to a film audition the other day and asked to audition for one of the many male characters as I often do because they are usually less one dimensional. Even as a clown, I take my art seriously.

This modeling opportunity presented itself as a chore no one else wanted. Basically I volunteered to play an elderly patient who could not identify herself and needed help eating. We were helping Certified Nursing Assistant students practice their skills. Here I am pondering my meal tray.

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Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can do many things for themselves. Sometimes they cannot. The CNA’s had to practice not making assumptions and practicing good hygiene.  One thing I enjoyed is that they all basically talked aloud about everything they were doing. This is something I do in order to remember steps and to help the person understand and be able to give consent.

 “May I come in?” “Would you like a clothing protector?” “Would you like any assistance with that?”, “I’m going to put your bed in a position so you can eat.” “I’ll leave your call button here if you like.” These were all great prompts I heard. My part didn’t require much but I added small things to put the person at ease like saying “thank you” when they provided me with care. I exaggerated my shaky hands when eating and  did try to  help them out a little bit if they forgot something. For instance, I would say “Oh no, I’m spilling on my new pants” if they forgot to offer me a clothing protector. Sometimes I got a little goofy and asked them if they wanted to sing with me.

There was some weird chocolate rice hazelnut bar that was on the lunch tray. I would stick it in my belt after the meal to see if they recorded it as eaten or not. I soon began fantasizing about actually eating it and wound up taking it home with me. I consider that my payment. Here is my co-worker Jenny who did the judging for the enactment. I finally got to eat instead of just feigning it.

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We are birds of a feather, both a little kooky and dedicated to fun. The other enactments in our room involved processing a discharge and taking vital signs. They were much quieter folks but when they weren’t busy they would laugh at us.

Tomorrow I will go to an audition for a play about The Irish Uprising of 1916. I’m interested in this because it is supposed to be a working class perspective of the event. The majority reaction in Ireland is documented to be negative as there was little working class buy in to what was largely a project of the intellectuals of the time. It was a confused and confounded effort but was largely successful in galvanizing an independence movement because of the British decision to martyr the leaders. Even if there is no part for me, I hope I will learn something and have more fun.

I judge myself for not wanting to audition for stereotypical older female characters but life is short. My contribution to feminism is to resist conformity and expand expectations. I believe that is the challenge of artists and all those who are curious about humanity. It’s difficult not to want approval and security. I succumb to this everyday in terms of my anxieties about  work, relationships and the meaning of life. Luckily I live in Alaska where nature rules and human must be humble and creative to survive.

My roommates and I have a new project, the kazoo band. We have about 15 kazoos. It will be time to really celebrate spring when the trails get plowed in a couple of weeks. We are going to organize a flash mob of sorts to meet at Westchester lagoon and march to the nearest bridge playing popular tunes. The whole neighborhood will be invited to bring improvised instruments and dress in antic attire.  So far our playlist includes such classics as Row, Row, Row your Boat, Three Blind Mice and Losing my Religion by U2.  More details to come!

 

Life Backstage

Behind the stagelights lurks a dark room with half clothed women.

Behind the stage lights lurks a dark room with half clothed women.

Back stage lurks a shadow life of what you see from the audience.The crazy antics you see on stage don’t spring from nowhere. They’re fueled with real life wackiness.  Actors are collectively a bundle of nerves, and intestines, which can explode under pressure.

On occasion, I have been strongly advised to light a match after I finished my business in the toilet despite the fact that most theaters are fire traps. Just like nervous sweat smells different than regular sweat, nervous poop has a certain tang to it.

I tend to fart and swear when I get nervous. Because I have grey hair, it is pretty humorous when I say the word M*F*er.  After I emerge from the light booth, where I can surreptitiously check out the audience,  I might comment, “Ooh, there’s quite a few M*F*er’s out there tonight!”  It’s not about you. It’s about me. I want to make the other actors laugh.

It’s fun to make people laugh onstage and a challenge I relish backstage. Actors take themselves very seriously before and during a show.. No one wants to forget their lines or look bad.  Messing up lines is expected on my part.  I know myself. I’m never going to be perfect. Modeling failure gives other people a chance to shine and to not feel like they’re alone when they blow it. I have seen a great correlation between people who get every word right and a lack of humanity but perhaps that’s just my jealous rage speaking.

At the end of the first act I found myself getting warped and woofing in a quick costume change.Then I realized I could go on stage in disarray and continue to dress while there.  By trying to control the outcome backstage I had deprived myself of business onstage. It is never good to be slave to perfection. Theatre is about making clay look like marble, but even realistic marble needs a few cracks.

One of the ways we obsessively control our nerves backstage is through food.

Shove this food in your mouth before you scare the other actors

Shove this food in your mouth before you scare the other actors

I got into my character, (the crazy mom), by making the food for the dinner in the first scene. It was always pasta but i changed it up each night with the sauces and spices. One night about two tablespoons of garlic powder fell into the pasta. It was too late to make more so I scraped off what I could and hoofed it down to the show. My odoriferous entrance was noted and concerns were voiced about the effects on at least one of the kisses in the second act. I countered with the overwhelming benefit of smell-o-rama making our dinner scene all the more believable. It certainly cleared out the sinuses. There was none left over at the end of the show.

My biggest success was with cleaning up backstage before our last show. I was picking up empty water bottles, peppered figs and other assorted and sordid trash from the floor when I spied a plastic grocery bag under the couch.  In it was a box of unopened “Gourmet chocolates from Canada” with a thank you note.  Since none of our actors or crew was named “Rachel” we opened up the note to find out that Rachel had done a fine job supporting the children in some long ended production for which Henry’s parents wanted to thank her with this gift. So thank you Henry’s parents for the nice gift. I’m sure Rachel did not forget these delicious chocolates. She was probably just allergic to them. For about a hundred and ten seconds, people acted like the chocolate was too old to eat and that it would be tacky to devour it, until they did. It was gone by intermission.

So besides being a 55 year old woman with cellulite having to take off her pants and shirt in front of a bunch of twenty somethings in the blue light of pretty tight quarters, life was not that bad backstage. When I feel my real life is sad and useless I think of how badly I had to go to the bathroom each night right when we were supposed to start and  how I would forget about it while I was onstage trying to look relaxed and get the words out of my mouth. The mind and the body can be fools and they can fool others. It’s called acting.

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My life as a snob

Yes, I am lonely at times but I will die with my unspoken standards held high.  We all have unreasonable expectations, some of us are just more unreasonable than others.  Let us speak of our discerning palate before we die of emotional hunger.

Humor

I would love to be a humor omnivore but alas I am not. I have been known to laugh at talking animals but that is an unhealthy weakness. Here is an example of the level of humor I would like my friends and I to share, were it possible, on a daily basis.

I will never be so funny.  Maybe I would if I were undead, or surrounded by like minded people or undead people. It is a shame to have such high standards. I don’t know what I would do if a person did not find this film funny. I might shed a tear at their shallow sensitivities and allow for their simple delight in Transformers. I might have to move very far away from them before I barfed.

I also find comedy that addresses racial and political issues funny as long as it is not on a fake news show. Please stop this trite setup. I know it is a money maker which is loved by millions as was Mad Magazine and The Three Stooges. I confess that this dislike might arise because I would prefer anyone but a white man to deliver my comedy. Now my prejudices are revealed and my advice will be discredited and discarded. Oops, it almost always is anyway.

Dessert

I hate boxed brownie mix. It’s the Pringles of dessert.  I have met brownies that were overpriced, salty, gritty, hard and then there are the unfathomable “cake like” brownies.  No one loves a hybrid. Eat cake if you want cake!  There are many good brownies in Anchorage. George and Deb at Side Street Café have a good gluten free one. If you want to be sure of quality I instruct you to look for The Illusions label. Illusions is a wholesale bakery in Spenard which sells the highest quality of moist brownie-ness to retailers in the Anchorage area.

So you don’t live in Anchorage? How about this?

It was enormous!

It was enormous!

This I had in Paris. I shared it with my sister but just barely.  Giant raspberry macarons have not hit Alaska yet but there are many ripe berries poking out in the alley up the street from me. They are fair game as far as I am concerned. Raspberries look like little crowns because they are the king of berries. Strawberries and blueberries are so weirdly large and bland when cultivated. I suppose fresh home grown ones are okay. Even a frozen raspberry is a gift from God. If you doubt what I say, visit The Holocaust Memorial in Boston where you will find this.

A tribute to love and to life

A tribute to love and to life

and to a raspberry.

I don’t care for dark chocolate. I am not that kind of a snob. I am a shaky snob and the higher the cacao content, the more I shake and the less I sleep. I don’t like coffee for the same reason. Drink whatever beer you want. I do not judge as it means nothing to me.

Writing

I enjoy the occasional Viking in Ireland novel or Icelandic murder mystery but really one can not beat existential or post-apocalyptic fiction. I can not fathom why The Road was an Oprah’s book club choice. Was she high? I don’t believe Oprah and I read the same books.  She may have some choices that were not necessarily mass marketed. We may actually have more in common than our love of bright colors and lack of desire for matrimony.

I do not like fancy decorative writing about birds or the desert. I want something that is less fine and detailed, something that has character not bouquet.  I may have a mediocre mind but I want to see some angst sans literary musings on anything less than the suffering of humanity. Do not try to uplift me with your American Sniper or your Unbroken heroes.  They are just that, heroes. I want to hear about you and me and the other broken snobs of the world.  That should be my new name for a book club.

Theatre 

I get lonelier by the minute. I like theatre, but I can’t see plays for which I auditioned  and did not get cast. Sorry, I am an actor and I am insane.  I have given up on  ever seeing Wicked but still embrace the possibility of seeing Hamilton. As a mediocre actor, I am accepting of mediocre acting. I can not stand poor direction.  I figure a good cook should be able to produce a good meal even If they have slightly withered produce or a tough piece of meat. If you put yourself in charge then don’t blame the vegetables! I do not care to see Arsenic and Old Lace again or even hear its name spoken, please.

Music

I prefer popular music that is not about love. I despise love unless it is broken. I am single. I like broken people. I don’t trust unbroken ones. But I repeat myself. I like happy songs as long as the people aren’t in love. If you like love songs, I look down on you. You believe in magic and probably have visited Disneyland. I will not. I am a vampire who can not tolerate the sun and has many roommates. We have turned away from and are turned away from Disneyland.  These people I live with are men. They  force me at times to listen to their musical choices which I can not fathom without a shot of testosterone to ease the translation. They let their musical tastes define them. I let my distaste for all define me. I embrace diversity of taste only because I find it  so entertaining and challenging. I like real drag queens but I can not enjoy The Rocky Horror Picture Show no matter how hard I try. Its sad. They have auditions so often.

I’m sure you’re a snob about something if not about everything like I am. Let me know in the comments so I can laugh with/at you.

When expectations kill… auditioning for the theatre!

 

 And I don’t mean kill like in stand up comedy!

I went to an audition yesterday with high expectations. I had an email from the artistic director of the theatre, not the director of the play, but still pretty flattering.  The artistic director did improv in the 1960’s. The director of the play  is a classically trained actor. The director of the play announced that although there were women who were at the audition she couldn’t see using them in any part but one, even though it was an improv based play.  Some of the humor in the play was  based on cross dressing but I could easily see my way around that. Cross dressing is so Benny Hill anyway. Theatre is supposed to open and welcoming to people of all races and folks in wheelchairs etc but at least she read us for all the parts if we asked.

  After all these years I still hesitate to call myself an actor. I’m more a comedian and an improvisor.  I don’t have a degree in theatre, I am an attention magnet because of my height.  When I’m onstage you don’t know what is going to happen and that isn’t what most directors want.  I am also political so this can be dicey for people who just want to have fun or play it safe. One of the reasons I like to write my own shows and do improv is that I can challenge the status quo.  But just being known for that is not a good thing either. I try to find a balance. Sometimes I fall from a great height. That’s usually because my expectations took me there.

I thought I was going to have fun doing an improv audition but I got real nervous.  My hands shook harder than usual, like I was at sea and it seemed so dark in the theatre that I couldn’t read the script.  I forgot I had been sick and hadn’t slept the last few nights. My expectations of my own performance and of how I would be received were dragging me down.  After a couple hours I had used up all my  nervous energy. I hadn’t paced myself. As a young person I never had to, but being over 50, with no sleep, makes pacing imperative unless you are using cocaine or something a la Michael Jackson ( same age as me and dead due to pacing errors). 

At the end,  we had to improvise a book in 30 seconds.  Some of the improvs  seemed longer than the books themselves.  I couldn’t think of what to do. Everyone was trying so hard to be smart and funny.  I gave up on trying to impress people with my acting. I used my last twenty seconds to kill my chances. I  got up and told them that I read too many serious books. I thought about doing the white characters in 12 years a Slave at which point there was a sick silence. Instead I took the last 15 seconds to act out Yossarian reacting to the face of the tail gunner in Catch 22. I told them what Catch 22 was. I didn’t tell them that I feel that being an artist is like Catch 22. You have to be crazy to be one and you have to be crazy like me to be excluded. 

I feel like that about being a therapist. Most people know that therapists and social workers have their own mental health issues which may have consciously or unconsciously brought them into the field.  At my job I am a peer provider, meaning that I share my own mental health challenges with the people I serve so that they can travel the road together with all of us in recovery.  When I went public about my mental health challenges I didn’t think I had much to lose. I don’t hide my anxiety or depression very well. I can be seen as passionate or damn angry, thoughtful or negative, goofy or unhinged, funny or scary.  I did not think that I might want to foster a child or house an exchange student one day  when my mental health recovery would be looked upon as a failing.   Apparently this is something to be considered.

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Angry actress

 

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goofy actress

 

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Unpredictable actress given a powerful weapon – a microphone!

The good thing about the audition is that I see more where I fit in. I can focus on doing political improv, even feminist improv. It will be difficult to find people who want to do this in Alaska but then maybe I need a change of venue.  I need to take an inventory before I go into the theatre. If I’m run down, I can try to have fun but not expect miracles. I can appreciate that every audition is a performance for an audience.  I can remember back to the time when I had good auditions and didn’t get the part  and auditions where I was so depressed I hardly got through the lines and yet I got the part because they were looking for someone who could play depressed! I can also remember that I’m brought to the theatre for my own illness (wanting others to accept me and laugh) as well as for my own healing( to claim the stage authentically.)

May you enjoy and learn from all of life’s auditions. I felt pretty bad yesterday but I feel better today.  And may the odds forever be in your favor. 

 

 

Zombie Apocalypse Anchorage Redux

What a lovely day for a Zombie Apocalypse. The sun was bright, the wind mild, the zip of fall in the air. I put on my reporter clothes and headed down to the Emergency Operations Center where I was a bit early so they put me to work writing down information on the white board. This is what extras do on films. They make the background look busy by having fun. I got to wear an official “I.T. manager” vest which was powder bleue and so me. I enjoy starting trends so I told the other extras that the elephants at the zoo had become zombified.  They were not sure how far they could go before but pretty soon zombie gorillas had appeared and The Great Alaskan Bush Company was both zombified and inebriated.  We decided that the reservoir had been tainted by zombie blood so we were sending people to the water falls outside of Girdwood for fresh supplies.

After a small break I began to warm up for my tiny cameo role. I somehow got lines in the best piece of the day. I’m not sure you will see much of me as I am the straight man, (believe it or not), to a very funny young person who has just been bitten and is in a trans-zombie sort of way. I won’t give away the whole plot but here is a photo of his wound which looked very nice and did not attract bees as much as the root beer served for lunch.

Just an appetizer for a very funny scene

Chris, (I think that was his name), was very hippy like and laid back which was a wonderful contrast to my intensity. He is naturally goofy and was very at ease. Best of all we had both memorized our lines unlike all of the other people so we got to play around a little. The direction was straight forward and mellow. The zombies were having their first scene of the day so they were very excited  and their bloody faces looked quite fresh. Some of the kids were excellent actors and the make up artist was fantastic. Chris thought I should wear my hat so I did, deciding that it made me look NPR’ish.  I really had too much fun and must find a way to make some little films. Here are some examples of the work of the talented make up artist.

Very nice zombie lady who didn’t have access to a napkin

 

 

All in the family zombies

 

I liked it so much and the people were so friendly that I decided I would be a zombie extra  for the afternoon shoot. I went home and did my makeup in less than an hour. Luckily I had practiced and surprisingly my staph infected leg was very effective and popular with just a little green and red added for fun. Here is a photo of me  at the Health and Human Services Building  downtown.

I am zombie, here me roar!

You can see bicycle zombie and insurance  adjuster zombie behind me. There was, of course, a wedding party of zombies and a small party of human snacks. This second shoot involved a good amount of waiting so I decided to egg on the others by waving to passing Muni and tour busses.  It was quite amusing. I scared the organizer a bit. She kept hoping we wouldn’t cause an accident, which of course would be rather bad PR for a public safety announcement.

The last scene of the day involved a real doctor who is head of the Public Health Department for the City. He was so wonderful. He epitomized the character of a physician who heals. He had to be about 80 years old and 6’5″ tall. He shook hands with all of us and laughed when he said his lines. He had lots of badges on but his pockets were kind of hanging out. He would be who I would want in charge of my case. He just looked very human.

I would rate my zombie apocalypse experience very highly. I learned a bunch about emergency management and the importance of being prepared whether that means having water stored up or memorizing your lines!

Master Thespian rates the Tonys

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What a night, what a night! Full of ACTING!  And who but an ACTOR, or perhaps some gay men or Jewish people as Mr. Neal Patrick Harris confirmed, could enjoy The Tonys as much as I, MASTER THESPIAN?

Maybe it was because NPH always seems to have something up his skinny sleeves. He managed to play Puck without stealing the show, or perhaps he did steal the show and just appeared to let all the others shine because he was ACTING! He made that lovely boy from Harry Potter and The Wolverine look like they were trying ever so hard. Mr. Harris has a fine comic edge, less droopy than Whoopi, less goofy than Letterman and more light on his feet than Hugh Jackman, who at least cut his fingernails for the event.

This is a banner year for Broadway so  the pieces presented were DIVINE!  Or perhaps they were terrible but seemed very good because everyone was ACTING?  Except for Frances McDormand, she did not appear to be ACTING. She appeared to be trying hard not to ACT, but at the same time ACTING somewhat silly.  I am silly myself to wonder why a woman in who is part of one of the largest crowds of narcissists congregated outside of Washington D.C., (and I suppose the Malibu coastline), would list all the parts she has ever played and crow about how she had just made a classic to be followed by “young women” for years. What’s wrong with middle aged women playing the part? She seems to have done just fine. She may have fooled me and was just ACTING like she was going to pull a Marlon Brando and throw the thing away except that she thought she was accepting it for all women kind. I do love her ACTING, even if I did not like her speechifying.

I am not a big fan of Spider Man, Shrek the Musical or Young Frankenstein. Is anyone? I guess there might be some ACTING involved in these endeavors, ACTING like you are doing theatre when you are actually doing a long product promotion. I’m sure Spiderman has a backstory and a throughline but it must be difficult to hold these while fearing for one’s life.

Then there is the lovely Sutton Foster.She is, of course, a triple threat. She dances, sings and ACTS! She probably even had to fart and burp in Shrek. Is there anything to hate about her? No, perhaps a bit too perfect and not as quirky as Bernadette Peters but she seems game for anything they throw her.

I would speak about Mark Rylance but he frightens me. He seems like one of those actors who enjoys being another person and playing with the audience. Reading that poem was a strange trip but then he could have been ACTING absurd! He sure fooled me.

A Normal Heart is a play that will last for centuries but The Book of Mormon, like South Park, may be the defining art of the decade. God is dead! But not ACTING!

And then there is Mr. Norbert Leo Butz to whom I must bestow the title MASTER THESPIAN.

With thinning hair and a short stature, (remember Master Thespian is incredibly tall), he does what Hugh Jackman and NPH do backwards and in high heels. The energy that man puts out is inspired and enjoyable.  It’s like watching someone wearing The Red Shoes! Hats off to him and may he ACT forever!

And now I will retire to my room, to my vocalease and tongue twisters. To sit in solemn silence in a dull dark dock,  ACTING!