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  • Circle Backs and Other Shows

    I call them "circle backs," because in theatre, everything seems intertwined. You constantly experience situations where past meets present, whether it's the people, the show or the venue.

    Today represents a big circle back for Ben. Five years ago tonight, he made his Broadway debut in "Ragtime." Today, he's performing in Louisville, Ky., with "Newsies," in the same theater where he debuted in "Billy Elliot."

    It's a small, small world...

    Tonight, Nicholas is performing in his final fall concert with Vital Signs at Elon University. Due to conflicts here, I'm not able to attend this one, but can't wait to see him perform again in the spring. Break a leg, son! We are extremely, extremely proud of you and all you have accomplished! 

    And to complete my trio of male performers — Emma and Kate are sitting this weekend out by comparison — we also have to say another "Break a Leg" to our "adopted" child Jeremiah, who is playing the Mouse King and understudying the Nutcracker in MSA's annual production this weekend.

    For someone who hasn't been performing long, Jeremiah has made remarkable strides over the past several months. It's remarkable that when he came down here last year to see the show, he had not given thought to moving at all.

    Congrats... and can't wait to see you (and Emma) in Frosty Follies starting next week! 

  • Transitions, Creation, and Evolution

    As a writer, I pride myself on transitions, leading the reader in the process from one thought to the next. As an editor, there is nothing worse than reading a story where the transitions are the equivalent of shifting from fifth to first without hitting the clutch.

    Transitions are part of life, the chapter breaks in our story. Sometimes they make sense, a natural progression. Others come all too abruptly, with little rhyme or reason.

    For the past month, I have mulled this entry over in my mind, as our family embarks on yet another in a series of never ending transitions. And every time I have sat to write it, the words just don’t seem to come.

    One reason I hesitated in starting this blog was that I didn’t know if I would have enough material to write on a regular basis, knowing full well that the fall of every year brings so much to light that I could chronicle things by the hour without a loss for words.

    There’s something about winter, however, that makes us burrow under. The post-traumatic stress disorder of the holidays is followed by the cold snap — some would say slap — that January and February bring. In our Virginia subdivision, we rarely discover our neighbors until the spring, or so it seems.

    One month ago today, “Ragtime” closed. Instead of pulling up stakes and heading home, we decided to stay with the back-and-forth commute so Ben could finish the school year in New York. It just made sense, although the wear and tear on us has only been exacerbated by work and family demands and a climate shift that has left us buried by record snowfall.

    As I posted to Facebook earlier this week, Mother Nature definitely needs some Depends.

    ••••••

    The little bullets you see above this paragraph are another form of transition. Perhaps I’m taking the easy way out this time, but a random thought crossed my mind that I’ve wanted to write about for some time, so why not do it now?

    Recently I started a blog entry titled “Creation vs. Evolution.” (No, it wasn’t my attempt to wade into that debate, although anyone who knows me — and my politics — would know which side I come down on without giving it too much thought.) But like several entries I’ve started and aborted recently, I just couldn’t get it out.

    “Creation vs. Evolution” was talking about the process of working in an art form. In this case, and this one only, I definitely come down on the creation side. There is something about making something out of nothing that always has fascinated me, whether it’s the process of reporting and writing a story, putting out a magazine, or putting on a show.

    To me, creating is the fun part; I’ve always said that rehearsal is much more fun than performance. Once the paper is put to bed, or the show is up and running, it’s time to move on to the next challenge/project/ thing.

    For the first 13 or 14 years of my career, I never stayed in one job more than 36 months. I went into each new position determined to learn as much as I could, knowing I would give it everything I could. (It’s one reason I call myself a workaholic in a 12-step program.)

    Once I mastered the task or the job, it was on to the next. For me, boredom was (and still is to large degree) the equivalent of a slow death. It represents a life without fun and interesting challenges.

    When I left newspapers in 1996, I changed careers and went into communications. It was time for a change, and the 4½ years I spent in that job definitely set me up for the position I’m in now. 

    I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we moved to Northern Virginia in 2001. I certainly didn’t think I would be at the same company almost nine years later.

    But fate, combined with some fortuitous timing, intervened. And over time, I’ve been lucky enough to move from one position to the next to the next, each one presenting me with enough challenges to keep that dreaded boredom at bay.

    Also, as I’ve gotten older, patience has slowly come to be a word I use without rolling my eyes.  Mature, I know, but I prefer to think of it as appreciating the nuance of evolution. Over time, I’ve learned that if you’re patient enough, you can watch the arc of your personal or professional life extend beyond the immediate gratification we all desire.

    As much as I love theater, I never understood how some actors could go to work and do the same thing day after day after day. It wasn’t until I saw “Ragtime” over a period of months that I realized the actors’ performances were slowly, subtly evolving into something far deeper and more satisfying. It’s a shame that the evolution can’t continue.

    ••••••

    So here we are in a state of transition again, not just for the purposes of this entry but as a family. Sadly, we won’t get to see Nicholas this weekend due to the weather that has buried the Mid-Atlantic region, making the roads treacherous from here to there and points beyond.

    Things do seem to come full circle in our little world, however. Nicholas is trying out for “South Pacific” this weekend at his school; ironically, Ben went to see his good friend in the show here in New York tonight. (See the Musical Obsessions and Circle Backs entry I wrote on this for more instances of irony.)

    And, thanks to a break in New York City’s school schedule, we do get to spend the weekend and all of next week together as a family in Virginia. I have a new employee coming into work next week, and it’s less than a month from now that Ben starts rehearsals on a show at The Kennedy Center. (Another circle back.) Things are evolving amid our transitions.

    Now that my writer’s block has ended, I pledge to return to this space more often as well. Creating a blog, I’ve discovered, was fun. The challenge, I’m learning, is how it will evolve over time.

    Stay tuned…

  • March Madness

    In our family, March is one of those months — like December — that makes me shake my head. Somehow, without help from the NCAA Tournament, we have managed to jam a year’s worth of madness into a single 31-day period we revisit every 12 months.

    From birth to marriage to death, our family has it all. And considering that we’re a theatrical bunch, we also have musicals, comedies, and dramas.

    The last week of the month is larded with psychological landmines, none more than March 27, the day of my parents’ wedding anniversary and the day in which my second “dad” died.

    Bill’s death, six years ago, fell on my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It was not completely unexpected, because he had been in poor health for several months. What was unexpected was the chain of loss that would follow, with my father and second “mom” (Bill’s wife, Fran) and Jill’s mother dying in the next three years.

    This year, I was fortunate to be with my mom on March 27, doing something I would not have thought possible in 2004: Driving more than 600 miles in one day to see my son, Nicholas, in a play. (The reason we drove up and back was because she saw Ben in his show the next evening.)

    Although it was a long day, the trip was nice. We didn't focus on the past, but looked more at the present and future. And it's a bright future because my mom, thankfully, is in a good place now. For the first time in her life she is financially comfortable, and traveling as all people who worked for their entire lives should get to do.

    More important, she has rebounded spectacularly from a hellish year that no one should replicate, in which she lost her husband, her best friend of more than 40 years, another close friend, and the woman who raised her — all in a four-month period.

    The circle backs were in full swing on this day. We drove through Reidsville, where I lived when I moved from Texas to North Carolina, got a divorce, met Jill, had three children in a year, and saw the course of my life change forever. We were going to see Nicholas in “South Pacific,” a play I had seen only a few weeks earlier with Ben in New York, and one that tells the stories of servicemen and women similar to my grandfather’s.

    As it tends to do, our conversation meandered from topic to topic. No great revelations, no family ghosts looking for skeletons. The occasional nod to the past.

    Just a nice day.

  • "Joseph": Coming Around Again

    One of our family’s favorite phrases is, “What goes around, comes around.”

    As parents, we try to teach this lesson to our kids, but I was reminded again tonight that it applies to theatre as well. And I’m not just talking about the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that continue to be performed — often badly — year after year.

    In this case, what goes around has come around not once but twice. Nicholas has been cast as the lead in his high school production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the catchy/kitschy Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that is based on the story of Joseph in Genesis.

    This is a huge accomplishment for Nick, who has been involved in theater for his entire four years of high school and plans to major in it in college. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him to develop and showcase his talents in a role he’s wanted to play for a long time.

    It’s also an opportunity to revisit a show that has played a significant role at key points in our lives as a family.

    In 1996, Jill performed in the “Joseph” ensemble for the Community Theatre of Greensboro and I volunteered to work one of the spotlights. Early on, we found out she was pregnant with Katharine, and wondered how we would break the news to our parents. I will never forget how Jill’s mother Betty found out.

    We ate lunch with Betty before the matinee. Exhausted from tech week (and in Jill’s case, the first trimester), my lovely bride turned down an opportunity for a cup of coffee and my mother-in-law knew. She just knew.

    Betty was a deeply spiritual woman who also was, ultimately, a realist. Sitting upstairs at the Carolina Theatre, she merged the two by mixing the word “holy” with her default choice when picking through the profanity dictionary. Little did she know what the next few years would bring.

    Cut to 2007. We are living in Virginia. Kate, Emma, and Ben are dancing at Metropolitan Fine Arts Center, which had formed a new nonprofit company, Metropolitan Performing Arts Theatre. MPAT’s second show was — you guessed it — “Joseph.”

    All three children auditioned — Ben was cast in his first big role (as Benjamin, the youngest of the brothers). The girls were in the ensemble with Jill, who had not performed on stage in several years. I was slated to be the stage manager and do the program. It was, for all of us, an opportunity to participate in something together as a family.

    The opportunity was bittersweet, however, when life intervened again. My dad’s blood disorder had turned into an aggressive form of leukemia. I went to Texas 13 times that year and just five weeks before the show went up, he died on July 29.

    The diversion of doing “Joseph” — the little show with the big themes — was good for all of us, although I missed most of the rehearsals due to the back and forth and we were gone to Texas for a week for Dad’s funeral. Everyone involved — from cast to crew — was extremely understanding.

    On Sept. 8, “Joseph” premiered for the first of its two weekends. It was an aggressive and expensive undertaking for a small theatre company, but overall it was a success and a huge step forward for MPAT.

    Three days later, on Sept. 11 and before the second weekend of shows, my second “mom,” Fran, passed away. We waited until the second weekend was done before returning again to Texas for our second funeral in two months.

    Much of that period, understandably, is a blur. But what I remember most vividly is how wonderful it was to have my family — biological and since extended — together for much of that time.

    Only one of my children did not get to participate in the show: Nicholas. When he was with us in Virginia, he came to the rehearsals. Sponge that he is, he learned all of the colors in order in “Joseph's Coat" — one of the show’s signature songs. He also memorized much of Joseph’s big solo, “Close Every Door.”

    Since he’s been in high school, Nicholas has tirelessly lobbied for “Joseph,” which despite its loving but slightly irreverent look at a religious story is perfect for his Catholic high school to perform. Now, as he starts his senior year and looks ahead to college and beyond, he gets to play the title role.

    As we circle back, we move ahead. And we are reminded again that, at least in theater, thankfully what goes around comes around.

    Break a leg, son.