Tuesday, February 26, 2008

RIP, Martin

A friend called earlier this evening to pass the word that Martin had died this afternoon. Martin would have been 97 next month. When I joined my church choir 16 years ago, he was already one of the longest-serving members and was often the entire bass section. (Ours is a small group.) Born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, he grew up speaking German, Hungarian and at least one or two other languages. He subsequently acquired enough English to serve as a translator to the US Army after WWII, and later worked for the Supreme Court, translating German.

Whenever we'd sing a hymn that had been translated from German, he'd always oblige me with a verse or two of the original. Physically small, his voice was quite strong until a few years ago. There was one hymn we used to sing for the first Sunday in Advent that had a declamatory introduction. That intro was the only solo Martin would ever sing, but he always made it compelling.

We'll miss him, but I'm sure the basses in the angel choir welcomed him with open arms.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My first flan

No, not the first time I've tasted it, but the first time I've tried to make it. I'd give myself a B or B+, depending on how much you want to take off for the caramelized sugar. The custard part was easy, of course, and turned out just right.

I'd never tried to caramelize sugar and the directions in my Joy of Cooking apparently weren't quite specific enough because it never did turn brown. When I finally gave up and poured it into the casserole dish, it hardened almost immediately; I barely had a chance to spread it around the bottom, and none on the sides. L, who works in food service and is an excellent cook, later told me that I had cooked it too long. He also reassured me that caramelizing sugar is a tricky process. I told him that next time I try this, I'll make him come over and talk me through it.

I had made flan for last night's Godspell cast party because it was a reference to a sanctioned ad lib in the show, and because L, for all his cooking experience, hadn't realized it was actual food and not just a made-up word. While the caramelized sugar didn't turn out, that was largely a cosmetic problem; as I noted above, the custard part turned out just fine. And it was a bigger success than the snickerdoodles I'd made for opening night, also because someone thought "snickerdoodles" was just a made-up word. The recipe was one of those that calls for multiple leavening agents, so I'd pulled them all out of the cabinet - cream of tartar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Unfortunately, it was only after I'd measured in the baking powder that I realized I was supposed to have used baking soda. It didn't affect the taste much, but the cookies didn't rise as well as they should have. L made some a few nights later that turned out much better; not only did he use the right ingredients, but he substituted shortening for butter so they didn't spread as much but were nice and thick and chewy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

His 'n' hers techs

The Chief has occasionally helped build or strike sets for shows I've been in and was on the scene change crew when I did Magic Flute, but this is the first time we've both teched a show. It was nice learning very rudimentary lighting stuff together, and when he finished his "spot op" (spotlight operator) duties at the end of each act, he'd come down to my spot in the stage right wings and wait until the end of the act, when we could start striking props. That was fun - at the end of Act I we'd usually boogie to "Light of the World".

I also enjoyed having company on the ride to and from the theater, chatting about the previous night's performance, technical glitches or things that went well, what a delight the director was, and so on. When it came to strike, he was very take-charge about which of us would take which props (we both drive Saturns; needed both of 'em to accommodate the old door and the beat-up trash can), set to work right away pulling gels as soon as the house lights came up after that last matinee, then got to business w/ his drill dismantling the set. Taking things apart, hauling pieces out to the loading dock, loading props into our cars - he probably worked at least as hard as any of the (much younger) cast members. We both crashed & burned once we finally got home after strike, but it was nice working together for a change.

The Producers

Monday and yesterday it was researching into where in our area he might be able to find classes on the tech aspects of theater. (As it happens, our county's community college has a certificate program.) Tonight I came home from work and the Chief was full of questions about what a producer does. I could guess at a few answers, but that of course was woefully inadequate. Fortunately for him, I could refer him to 3 or 4 producers of shows I've been in or companies I've worked with. I'm hoping they'll be able to satisfy his curiosity. He said he was thinking this might be fun (!). I warned him that if that proved true, he'd have people appearing on the doorstep with candy & flowers, trying to convince him to produce for their company.

I'm glad he's getting interested in this; I had felt a bit guilty at how hard he was working on Godspell when that's not something he's ever shown much interest in. And losing sleep over it into the bargain. He works a very early day, getting up at 0440 to get to work around 0600. Not getting to bed until 11 or midnight is hard enough for me (my alarm doesn't go off until 0530); it's an hour worse for him. I don't know how long he'll sustain this interest, but you can bet I'll be encouraging it! That's me - theater habit enabler. :D

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hmmm; yep, the calendar does say "February"

We've had a winter that for the most part has been unseasonably mild. So mild that nearly all my crocuses have their shoots up, and today I had several of them actually in full bloom! This kind of weather in February always makes me nervous, as if Mother Nature were setting us up for a sucker punch, be it a snowstorm or, worse, an ice storm. But when I went out to get the paper and realized that, at 9:30 a.m., it was warmer outside (70 degrees!) than inside, I actually opened up the back door and several windows. In February!

Will he become a techie?

Yesterday was the last performance of Godspell. After the Chief spent the rest of the evening climbing around up in the catwalks pulling gels & gobos during strike, then helping dismantle the set and load it out (I sorted props, helped pull gels, and also hauled lumber to the loading dock - a LOT of lumber!), we're both very glad today is a federal holiday so we could sleep in and be lazy for a welcome change.

He got interested in the mechanics of running his spotlight and developed an appreciation for how complicated lighting design can be. Today he was pondering hunting up classes on the technical aspects of theater - lighting, sound, set design and so on. Given the plethora of community theater groups in the area, he'd be greeted by any of them with open arms anyway (it's always much easier to find folks willing to perform than to tech). If he had an actual certificate or degree or whatever in this stuff, they'd probably start actively wooing him with free tickets, free beer, power tools, etc. He may not pursue it, but if he does, I suspect he'll find himself very much in demand. Who knows - maybe instead of being a Theater Widower while I'm doing a show, he may make me a Theater Widow when he's doing one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fickle February

When we loaded the Godspell set into the theater 10 days ago, we were blessed with mild weather, and only slightly overcast. Temps in the upper 50s are just the thing when you're loading piece after piece onto a truck in an unheated set bay, then loading off the truck into the theater's unheated loading dock.

Today, however, it's definitely winter - sharp, gusty winds, much colder, and freezing rain and sleet that arrived just in time for the evening commute home. I cancelled my voice lesson - it just wasn't worth the risk. I heard nothing but accident reports on the traffic news and knew it would only get worse. The forecast for tomorrow doesn't sound too promising, either. I do hope this all passes us by or ends by mid-day, or we won't have more than a handful of people in the Godspell audience tomorrow night. That's always a nightmare - you never want your cast to outnumber the audience, especially when your cast is only 10 people!


Had my first Pirates rehearsal last night. (They had a couple last week, but because I was up to my eyeballs in Godspell, I couldn't make any of them.) We ran thru most of the music in Act I. I happened to be sitting next to our Mabel, who has already done the role twice since July. We had a great time singing everything together (yes, even the men's parts; we just turned the volume down) and clowning. Our ladies sound lovely, better than the men, but none of the men have done the show before while half the ladies have, and I think most of them have never done any G&S, making it that much harder to sightread the music. Once the men get the music under their belt (and we manage to find another tenor or two for the chorus), they'll be just fine.

I had been getting very nervous because I hadn't heard a peep out of the director in two whole weeks. No tentative rehearsal schedule, not even a "hang in there; they took the space away from us again". Finally I e-mailed her wondering what was up. I didn't see her response until yesterday evening, barely 2 hours before rehearsal. And she forgot to include the location - yike! Fortunately, she had e-mailed the cast a couple of weeks ago, so I spammed everyone asking where rehearsal was. I got a response, made it on time, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Our Major General, upon receiving the initial cast e-mail, sent out a short note introducing himself and some of the rest of us decided we liked that idea so much that we followed suit. I haven't seen that done before, but I liked it and will certainly remember it for future productions. I thought I knew no one else in the cast, but our Samuel reminded me that we'd done another production together a few years back: one of those experiences that was so grueling that it brought to mind the phrase "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". This won't be like that - while they're still auditioning Frederics, the cast we do have promises a good experience, and I liked the way our MD ran last night's rehearsal. (And the fact that he started w/ stretches before the vocal warm-ups.)

Next week we start blocking Act I - I'm looking forward to seeing what our director has up her sleeve.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Another open of another show

Tonight's the night the Chief makes his debut on light crew, running follow-spot #1. He's occasionally helped build sets and once was on crew to help w/ scene changes, but this is his first lighting job and his first program credit. He'll have to save one for his scrapbook. ;)

It's been a rough tech week - "Jesus" has been fighting a cold or sinus infection or some such all week long, which has made it hard for the sound tech to get his mic levels right. The lighting has been particularly problematic - we finally did our lighting cue-to-cue only last night!

I "get" to ride herd on 2 bins full of props, a trunk and 2 milk crates full of props, plus a dozen or more larger bits and pieces (scooters, a trash can, a skateboard, a stool... - it's a very long list!). I have thus taken to calling myself a "prop-herder". The cast does help some, of course, as does Ray when he gets down from the light balcony - otherwise it'd take me an hour to put everything away at the end of the night. I've also gotten better at consolidating how it all gets stored. Our theater tech rep even commented last night that we seem to have a bit more room to get the door closed every night. And that despite the fact that last night we added 3 large boxes of programs to the inventory.

Tonight we do this for real!

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Dropping color" and other lighting terms

The Chief & I reported for duty to the theater last night to help w/ lights. Neither one of us has ever worked lights before. Closest I've come was being one of the bodies told to "stand here" or "now move over there" when the lighting techs have been focussing and setting levels, while the Chief has occasionally helped w/ a set build while the lights were being worked on.

Spare some pity for the lighting tech who was saddled with 2 utter beginners and found herself explaining basic terms & procedures to us while we worked last night. "This is a gel; we generally get 9 to a sheet when we're cutting for leakos (sp???)." She was very patient and not at all condescending as she explained what she was doing and having us do, showed us how to "drop color" (insert framed pieces of colored plastic, aka "gels") into lights, and focus and otherwise adjust said lights.

Last night we learned all kinds of lighting terminology and some basic techniques. It was interesting to see how the lighting designer (or LD) had the gobos (templates which throw a design onto whatever the light is pointed at) positioned. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works on the set.

I now have a pretty good idea I wouldn't make a good LD. Ours had a lot of lights to work with, meaning a lot of decisions to be made about each. Do I want to use all of them? If not, which ones get turned off? What colors do I want where? Do I want to throw any designs on the stage? And which color combinations do I need to use to get the desired effect? An incredible amount of detail involved. I have a new appreciation for lighting design, even if I still don't have a clue how to go about it.