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I'm currently in transit. Good-bye to my beloved Austin, hello next adventure. Come along for the ride!

29 September 2016

Growing New Roots

Strawberry plants, in addition to producing yummy berries (when they're in the mood, anyway), produce something else: shoots with new plants on them.

So a few weeks ago, I stuck one of the shoots into a smaller plant pot filled with dirt nearby, without disconnecting it from the mother plant. It worked--kinda. The problem is, I know better. Plants don't work like that.

Plants are interested in their own survival, of course, but they're also super-into the survival of their species. When their lives are threatened, they do their best to reproduce (which is why when you cut a flower, it will look great for days--it's trying to attract pollinators and ensure the next generation of flowers), and if reproduction isn't possible, they'll start growing roots.

How I turned one strawberry plant into three.
How do you get a plant to grow roots, then? Freak it out by threatening its life. When I finally cut the connecting shoot, the new plant finally started to thrive instead of just existing. It produced its own shoot, which I also potted, and now I have three strawberry plants in various stages of growth, all going strong.

Humans don't work like that, either. I've tried. I've tried living in one spot while trying to put roots into another one. It hasn't worked. Maybe I've been unlucky, maybe I've been unimpressive in interviews, or maybe I'm just trying to do something that was never going to work.

So a few weeks back, I shifted my focus. Instead of just looking at jobs, I started looking at temporary places to live. Places I could land for a few weeks while I find something more permanent. Places to be so I can actually be a Cincinnati resident, instead of this in-between I've been doing.

Tomorrow, some of my belongings will roll down the road with me to Cincinnati. I have a room secured. I have jobs that I'm waiting to hear back from. I have Plans B, C, and D if I don't hear back right away. But whatever plan I end up going with for now, it's time to move on instead of sitting still.

I have new roots that are aching to grow.

28 September 2016

Under-Muzzled

If you're not as into the world of live theatre as I am, you may not know about the kerfuffle around Cameron Mackintosh's latest fiat to his cast members in the UK: they're no longer allowed to share the performances when they are planning to be out or, or, in the case of understudies, when they'll be on in place of the principal actor.

Loved, loved, loved Aleks Pevec in
Something Rotten (not a Cam Mac
show). I'd definitely go see him again.
Guess what? He's an understudy.
The management company's concern seems to be that show news shouldn't be coming from the actors, but instead from the company themselves. Fair enough. Why aren't there calendars on the shows' websites with announcements about when principals will be out and understudies will be on? (I'm talking about planned days off, obviously, not surprise illnesses and whatnot.)

Then there's this line in the article linked above: "He conceded that the rapid expansion of social media had 'caught everybody by surprise'." What?? No. That excuse may have worked five-ish years ago, but you've had plenty of time to adjust to this reality. What makes that statement all the more frustrating (and hard to believe!) is that at least two of the affected shows in London-- Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera--are great examples of how a popular show should run its social media. I've gotten ideas from them fairly often in my work as a social media manager.

I'm not completely ignorant of the realities of having an understudy on vs. the principal performer--when I searched tickets for Les Misérables on Broadway last summer, it was obvious there were more unsold seats for Tuesday nights, when John Owen-Jones was out on vocal rest, than on other nights. However, this policy, as many have pointed out, just makes it sound like the company is trying to pull a fast one. Plus, it seems like they have no respect either for their performers or the audience. Another excellent article on The Stage points out that very thing:
Social media is readily conscripted by managements and marketers to promote their shows, but it seems counter-intuitive to try to control their most powerful agents – the actors themselves – in this way. It suggests the actors are not to be trusted with their own information, and that somehow an understudy notice would harm the show.
Some of my fave actors in Les Mis.
(Sorry about the photo quality;
believe me, I'm still cranky about that.)
All amazing, all understudies, all folks
I would buy a ticket to see in a heartbeat.
Clockwise: Jason Forbach, Joe
Spieldenner, Beth Kirkpatrick.
And what I really don't get is how the presence of this "problem" didn't alert the producers that this is instead an opportunity. Why do so many understudies tweet out the dates they'll be on? Because fans ask them to. (That's how this story broke--someone asked one of the ensemble in Les Mis when he'd be on next in the role he understudies.) These often less well-known but certainly no less hardworking actors have earned their social following, they have fans of their own no matter what show they're in, and when they can announce ahead of time they'll be on, fans will come to see them. No last-minute surprises for the audience, great opportunity for the actors and their fans, and the production company doesn't end up looking like colossal jerks. Win-win-win.

Which brings me back round to my earlier question--if you appreciate your audience, and you respect and trust your actors, but you simply must be the one to share show news: why not set up a system announcing when the principals are planning to be off and understudies will be on? Put it out with enough time that fans can plan when to attend, understudies can share the news with their fans, and principals can shout out their understudies before taking off (which they presently can't do, according to the news releases, despite what the linked tweet says). This is such an easy fix that wouldn't have the attendant bad press Cameron Mackintosh is currently getting.

The theatre world loves you, Cam Mac. Show us some love back, would you?

27 September 2016

Banned Books Week 2016: Get Out There and Read


By some miracle, I remembered Banned Books Week on time this year. I'm so chuffed with myself. (Some of this is drawn from a previous banned books post, in case it sounds familiar.)

As with most things, my approach to Banned Books Week feels simple but turns out to be more complicated. The easy part is: I'm against banning books. We live in a free society, and one person's offence/dislike of a book should not govern my access to it. 

And then it gets complicated, like the petition to have books removed from Amazon because they read more like rape manuals. There's no part of me that wants those books in the wild, which tests my commitment to a ban-free world. (Although a petition by customers asking a company to remove something is absolutely the right way for a book to be challenged, IMO.) Then there's the question of what books belong in what school libraries, since age-appropriateness is frequently used to challenge a book. Some things are obvious: a primary school library can probably skip shelving The Grapes of Wrath or Beloved and leave them to the higher grades. What's less obvious is when it's appropriate for those books to be available, possibly over the objections of parents, and that's when fights tend to break out.

For what it's worth, I read whatever I wanted to read for my entire childhood, and I think my parents' hands-off approach when I was young and read in a whole bunch of genres was incredibly helpful in letting me shape my own taste and preferences, as well as developing a sense of when I wasn't ready for a particular book. It never occurred to me as a kid that I didn't have blanket permission to read anything I wanted. Is this the right approach for every kid? Of course not--hardly anything is the right approach for all people all the time, but I do hope that most of my friends are embracing the value of saying yes more than they say no when it comes to reading. (BTW, my book recommendations to friends for their kids almost always come with "she should only read this if she's ready for ____" or "you should be prepared to discuss ____".)

And to be quite blunt--if your kids are within a couple years of college age and you still don't trust them to choose their own reading material, you have bigger problems on your hands than whether or not that book has profanity in it. If you don't want to see it or don't want to risk younger kids getting their hands on something, saying "Please don't bring that book into the house," is completely different from "You're not allowed to read that." What's even better? Start the conversation very early on about how what you take in affects who you are, and maybe some things you'd like your kids to consider when choosing what to read. 

Bottom line: Banning books outright has no place in a free society. Whatever someone's reasons may be for not reading a book, that person has no right to force that view upon others. And my West Wing quote-o-matic has the perfect selection for this occasion: 
This is exactly the sort of thing that should be celebrated by First Amendment advocates! ... Why aren't you standing up saying, 'See? It works. You don't need to ban movies like Prince of New York! You just have to choose not to watch them.'
Sam Seaborn has this one absolutely right. You don't want to read a book? Fine. Put it down and move on. You don't want me to read that book? How about instead of a harangue about how bad it is, you just recommend a book that you really enjoy and let me make up my own mind?

Banning books is unnecessary, closed-minded, and potentially damaging to free speech. We already have the right ingredients for looking after ourselves: Free society. Responsible citizens. Discerning minds. We can do this.

06 September 2016

Reading Challenges Update: August

Here's what happened with my reading challenges in August. The short version is: not a lot. I may have to lower my Goodreads Challenge for the year if this keeps up. Which would be sad.


Links are to and images are from Goodreads, where all my reviews are written.


I Love Libraries Challenge (35/36 books so far)


Read It Again, Sam (3/4 books so far)


Woman Challenge CHALLENGE COMPLETED (20 books)
New York Then and Now, Marcia Reiss & Evan Joseph
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan & Seth Solomonow


Mount TBR Challenge (6/20 books so far)


Goodreads Challenge (47/100 books so far)
Paper Towns, John Green
New York Then and Now, Marcia Reiss & Evan Joseph
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan & Seth Solomonow


What are you reading this month?

05 September 2016

Get Your Feet Out of Those Shoes: Wicked


Remember a few months ago when I mentioned that I've never seen Wicked? This weekend, I was finally able to remedy that.

The North American tour is swinging through the Midwest right now, and this is the closest it's getting to me for the next year, so I rounded up one willing sister-in-law (Jennie) and we made the drive to Columbus, Ohio to catch the show before 1) it moves on to a new city this week, and 2) some major cast changes happen, also this week.

After the show ends. From our Saturday night
balcony seats.
It turns out, thanks to all the meme-reading and Pinteresting and cast-album-listening that I do, that I had a pretty good handle on what happens in Act I. Act II was another story. It was a fun adventure of discovery and "oh, that makes sense now" as the show rolled along Saturday evening.

And then we went to stage door, and that's where things got really interesting. We overheard some other folks talking about the lottery, which I hadn't thought much about since we bought our tickets anyway. Jennie, on the other hand, doesn't follow show news quite as closely as I do and so she asked Stuart Zagnit (The Wizard) what he meant by the lottery. He explained how it works, and on the way back to the hotel we decided to go to the theatre on Sunday morning and try our luck.

WE WON THE FINAL PAIR OF TICKETS TO THE WICKED LOTTERY FOR THE SUNDAY MATINEE. And since Stuart Zagnit was the one who told us about it, we basically WENT TO OZ AND THE WIZARD GRANTED OUR WISH. There was a lot of screaming and jumping up and down when they drew my name. I'm still in shock. Our seats on Sunday were much closer to the stage, and I heard (and saw) a whole bunch of things that I had missed on Saturday night. And, of course, fulfilled one of the fundamental truths in my own theatre experience: the closer I am to the stage, the more crying I do. Every time.


Some highlights:

View from my round 2 seat.
Emily Koch (Elphaba): All hail Queen Emily! I didn't know there were people who can talk as fast as I do and still be understood until she spoke her first lines. Wow! She's absolutely spectacular, and exactly what I've always imagined Elphaba to be like. At stage door, the folks ahead of us asked her, "So how much time do I have to save up money?" i.e., for her next project. She said, "Four months," but wasn't allowed to say anything else. I'm pretty sure Jennie put an alert on her phone for four months from now before the ink from Ms. Koch's signature was even dry on her playbill. And one more thing: after the Sunday matinee, she came out to stage door with wig cap and traces of green makeup still on, not because she was leaving the theatre, but just to greet fans--she went straight back in after she'd signed playbills and posed for pics. So generous with her time on her last day with the show.

Amanda Jane Cooper (Glinda): Absolute perfection. As the perky, popular Galinda, she's a delight. Glinda is the character who does the most growing over the course of the show, and by the end is the one who is left all alone to lead Oz (I started to say she's the one who loses the most, but of course that's not true; Elphaba suffers tremendous loss, too). Ms. Cooper takes her from goofy student to serious leader so beautifully. Her "Popular" is absolutely hysterical.

Garett Hawe (Boq): Is actually the understudy for Boq, and he was on Saturday night. Another one who exactly matched the character I've had in my imagination all this time. Holy smokes, he totally blew me away with his range of emotion... right up until he lost his heart, and then the only emotion left was anger. Fantastically well done. (Although the Tin Man has long been my favourite in The Wizard of Oz, and now I kind of hate him. Oops...)

Jeremy Woodard (Fiyero): What a gorgeous voice, especially in "As Long As You're Mine." Dang. And I'm really glad that we got to see the show a second time, because I didn't catch much of the scene with the lion cub leading up to "I'm Not That Girl" on Saturday (e.g., I had no idea why Fiyero told Elphaba, "And don't get mad at me!"). I had to see it a second time for my brain to kick in with what was happening. Also, I haven't finished reading the book (still), but why doesn't stage Fiyero have blue tattoos? It's not like this show doesn't already have fancy makeup.

Megan Masako Haley (Nessarose): I usually don't expect even one character on stage to match up to what's in my head, let alone three. Ms. Haley hits the sweetness of Nessa in Act I just as I'd imagined, which made Act II when she goes sour so much more surprising. I had no idea what was coming next with Nessa until it happened, and I was in such shock throughout that scene.

The touring company of Wicked.
The Ensemble, again: I have so much affection for the folks in the ensemble, always. And this ensemble is fantastic.

"Dancing Through Life": After falling in love so hard with "One Day More" the first time I saw Les Misérables, I always keep an open mind for a song that may surprise me when I see a show for the first time. That song in this show is "Dancing Through Life," which I liked before but didn't love until I saw it staged. However, having said that...

"Defying Gravity" & "For Good": I didn't change my mind about my favourite songs from the show. (Aren't these everybody's favourites? So amazing.) I told Amanda Jane Cooper at stage door, "I've cried less at Les Mis than I did during "For Good." She said, "Oh, me too." Nothing not to love about these songs.

There you have it! Two short days in the Emerald City. I can safely say this was a first-- I've seen shows more than once, sometimes pretty close together, but until this weekend I've never seen the same show two days in a row. It seems to have had less of an adverse affect on my brain than the time I saw three different shows in 24 hours.

Have you Wicked? What's your favourite thing?

01 September 2016

Life is Short

I've been planning this post for a while, just went back and re-read the message string that inspired me to begin with, and laughed really hard all over again, which is as good a sign as any that I should share. (The person in question did get fair warning that I would be writing this, although admittedly that was two months ago.)

A long, long time ago, in a Cheeky blog near you, I wrote about a high school classmate who I called "Alex" (not even close to her real name). We're Facebook friends these days, although I have at least seen her in person once since being back in town this summer. 

Alex is a loyal fan of a particular country music superstar (not actually a secret. It's Garth), going to his concerts whenever he's within reasonable driving distance, and occasionally taking a long weekend to see him twice. After her last such long weekend, she posted a fantastic video of Garth seeing her song request sign in the audience and chatting with her for a second, up to and including calling her "Gorgeous" (so at least we know there's nothing wrong with his eyesight) and asking if they'd met before.

So I ooohed and aaahed over the video, as you do, and then a few days later bought my own tickets for an adventure to see that show that I shall not be naming today because I've gushed over it enough for one week. And then I messaged Alex to tell her that I was going to NYC after being inspired by her. She sent back:

Indeed. Sorry about the language; there weren't any G-rated
versions of this image on Google.
And then the conversation went sideways, as conversations that include me are wont to do.
Alex: I hope you have as incredible an experience as I had! And I hope your favorite actor calls you gorgeous and sings your favorite song right to you!
Me: I have a front-row ticket, so maybe he'll wink at me.
Alex: I don't advise bringing a sign with a song request on it. Yes for Garth shows, no for Broadway.
Me:  Okay. Good tip.
Alex: I've never actually seen a Broadway production. I'm just guessing fan-girling with giant neon posterboard is frowned upon.
Me: They'd be like, "We'll get to that one at the end of Act 1 like every other freaking night, lady, now put the sign down!"
And then when I told her this is a great way to get mentioned on my blog again, she offered to sign autographs. So there you have it, everybody who knows who I'm talking about--send autograph requests directly to her Facebook page. (Or just wait until our class reunion in a few weeks.)

Of course, after the show ended, I posted a follow-up on Alex's wall (from inside the Shake Shack where I was re-fueling after an emotionally exhausting evening, natch): "They don't take requests on Broadway, the jerks, but one of my favourite actors remembered my name at stage door so I'm kind of floating around a few feet off the ground." And she agreed that was pretty awesome.

My niece and I rave a lot about fandom friends being fabulous friends, but friends who get what it's like to be a fan, even if it's not of the same thing, are equally to be treasured. 

31 August 2016

A Flame that Never Dies

Last one, y'all. It really is. (See what it's like being on the front row here, and many of my favourite things about the show here.) But before I lay this to rest, here's a little thing I did after seeing Les Misérables:

(That was supposed to be "as awkward," but I was in a post-show, met-people-I-usually-only-admire-from-afar, walking-three-feet-off-the-ground fog, and also was headed for Shake Shack, so I didn't proofread very carefully before tweeting.)

Here's how it all went down. Chadwick and I saw Les Misérables on stage twice, once on either side of the 25th anniversary re-orchestrating & other changes to the show (i.e., we saw it once with the turntable, once without). That first viewing was when I realised how great of a character Enjolras is, and how I'd been wasting way too much of my fan-ness on Marius when there were Barricade Boys to be excited about. And just for sake of comparison to how he's staged now: Grantaire in that first show we saw was more or less just comic relief, and I mainly remember him because he sat at a table drinking all through the battle scene, didn't bother fighting, and was finally shot mid-drink.

Fast forward to the most recent national tour--I was excited to see it again on stage, and Chadwick had already sworn that he was not going to Les Mis ever again. This was going to be our last time seeing it together, he insisted. And of course it was, but for the worst possible reason.

Who's my favourite Enjolras? This one. ❤️
From that time I convinced him we should cosplay my OTP,
Enjolras+Eponine. That's a tiny red flag he's holding.
We were both blown away, me by how different Grantaire was from what we'd seen before, and Chadwick by a phenomenal Enjolras. On the way home, all he wanted to talk about was how amazing Enjolras was--my usual thing, just not this day--and I kept trying to break in with "but did you see when Grantaire...?" Never, ever, in all our theatregoing years, did Chadwick ever want to talk about an actor all the way home as much as he did that day.

Last summer, after I saw Les Mis on Broadway and met Jason Forbach at stage door and got his autograph but was really more excited to meet the next person in line, my favourite Grantaire, I went back home and finally read the playbill days later with a little more care, and nearly fell over.

Jason Forbach was Chadwick's favourite Enjolras, and he was standing there right in front of me, and I didn't know it because I didn't bother reading the playbill in the theatre.

So I waited a year to finally get to tell Mr. Forbach how much my non-Les-Mis-loving husband loved his Enjolras, and how Chadwick's final time seeing Les Mis was made much more spectacular as a result, and how much I cherish that. By some miracle, I got it all out without getting even a little bit teary. And for all I had a long list of reasons for wanting to see Les Misérables again on Broadway before it closed, this was a big one--I wanted to thank Mr. Forbach in person.

So, that was the first one, and fortunately I had a few minutes to collect all the emotions again before John Owen-Jones came round. Chadwick was a huge JOJ fan, even more so than me--he may be the one celebrity that Chadwick tweeted to with any kind of regularity (he even got an answer from time to time, making me a bit jealous). So what I had to tell Mr. Owen-Jones, after explaining that my deceased husband was a big fan, was "Somewhere in the afterlife, he is sick with jealousy right now that I'm here and he's not." And we both laughed--no tears required.

Chadwick would have enjoyed seeing Les Misérables on Broadway, if I had been able to convince him to let go of the "never again" and go have fun with me. He probably would have been hoping to meet Adam Monley, the actor playing his own favourite character (the Bishop of Digne), at stage door. But since we couldn't share this, I could at least a little bit see and hear and speak for him. And I imagine that as I heard the people sing, he could hear the distant drums.

Post title is from the finale of Les Mis; the line is, "For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise."

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