Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sayanora, San Diego

Here we are, the end of the month, and the end of our stay in San Diego. It’s been awfully nice, getting up in the morning to walk Butley on the beach. And while we haven’t had as much down time here as we’d have liked, what with tech rehearsals and preview rehearsals and driving time to & from Mission Beach, we’ve managed to pack a lot into our trip here. Sorry for not leaving more frequent updates, but hopefully this will apprise you of our time here.

Tech went well, even if it took a long time. I spent a lot of time reading the paper, playing Scrabble with Kate Fuglei (the understudy for Angie’s role, the Adult Female) and other things I could quickly look up from to peer meaningfully at the stage so that when Michael, the director, would have made a change to something that affects the Adult Male – inevitably in some very small way which I wouldn’t really be able to make useful observation of until I was actually up on stage in rehearsal for myself – I would be able to nod knowingly at his glance to me and say, “Yup – got it.” And I wouldn’t be lying of course, although it would be, nine times out of ten, something that you just don’t synthesize into your understanding of the role until you actually have to do the thing, with lights, with costumes, in context of a full run. But nonetheless, it was Michael’s way of making me, as an understudy, feel included and I appreciated that and wanted to be able to repay it with an acknowledging attentiveness. Then, a couple minutes later, I would return to my efforts in making a seven-letter word out of G-H-J-S-Y-K-E.

So any real writing, reading of fiction, letters or such long-form attention efforts were out. And I find that, as if often the case, that fracturing of my attention span is one of the most tiring efforts of any tech. And as we had a full seven days of tech, it began to wear on all of us, onstage and off. I have to say – people like Kyle Riabko (our Melchior), Blake Bashoff (our Moritz), and Christy Altomare (our Wendla), who spent much of the time standing in the lights, for what must have felt like hours at a time – showed an amazing amount of patience, not to mention Angie and Henry Stram (Adult Male), who spent a lot of time, in full late-nineteenth-century German drag, sitting on stage doing a whole lot of nothing but sweating and making creases in their skin from the tight corset and carpet-thick formal wear they’re dressed in.

One trick we had was the issue of housing/walking Butley while we were in the theater for literally twelve hours a day. Fortunately Jared Stein, our music director and the proud papa of a snaggle-toothed bulldog that he didn’t feel comfortable bringing with him on this leg of the tour found himself sufficiently canine-deprived to glad have our mutt stay in his hotel room during rehearsals, so that we could walk the three blocks back & take Butley out for an hour during the dinner break, instead of having to drive to Mission Beach and back again, fighting traffic and the shortened walk time. The Hotel Sofia, where Angie and I stayed for the first few days, while our Craigslist sublet was still occupied, and where the rest of the company stayed for the entirety of our time here accepts dogs – and Butley became something of a celebrity around the hotel there, befriending valets and hotel receptionists alike.

Finally getting into previews was, predictably a welcome relief, finally having audience members in the seats. The first few audiences were packed with “Guilty Ones,” as fans of our show are known. Like Rent, our show has developed a serious fan base across the country, and the producers have wisely incorporated them into the marketing of the show across the country, fostering relationships with “Guilty Ones” organizations in all the towns we’re playing in that have resulted in very helpful volunteer advertising crews (they each get a certain number of free tickets based on the number of hours they spend canvassing) and a regular first-week audience base. Needless to say, from the first moment of stepping onstage, our cast had the feeling of preachers playing to a long-ago converted congregation. The crowd reactions were, from the very start, enthusiastic to say the least.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

Once previews began, we had a slightly easier time of it, though we still had rehearsals during the day to contend with, and still we kept Butley with us downtown in his daytime abode. One day, a couple days after my birthday, we learned – the hard way – the lesson of thoroughly checking out a space where we keep him for any length of time to make sure there would be no food within reach.

I came back to the room after one evening’s performance, and Butley sat smiling amidst a wasteland of shredded candy wrappers. “Uncle Jared” had some chocolate bars that we had put up on a shelf that we thought was out of Butley’s reach. But at the time, I was in the habit of leaving the Olympics on television for him to watch, and I think it gave him some ideas for high-jumping and pole-vaulting. So, it turns out, Butley had devoured about four full-size bars of very good, very dark, very solid chocolate.

Now, we all know the warning about letting dogs eat chocolate, but Butley had gotten into a box of milk chocolate candies once before, when we first had him, and he was fine. Remarkably so. And while we don’t take the warnings lightly, we took a cue from his generally placid behavior when I picked him up from the room, and we thought he would probably be fine. A stomach ache, maybe. Some diarrhea, maybe. But after all, this was a dog who eats raw chicken, bones and all. He often seems to have an iron-lined stomach. So we took him home and just kept an eye on him.

Well, throughout the evening, he got more & more animated. I figured he probably got into the bars about 9pm. By 11, he was animated and excitable, running and jumping a lot more on his evening walk than usual, and by 1am, he was really starting to look unwell. Glassy eyes, drinking a LOT of water, and pacing around the apartment, unable to calm down. I started doing some internet research on dogs & chocolate, ratios of chocolate to milk, measured against the dog’s weight, and that’s when we started to get really concerned.

We took him to the vet at about 2:30 in the morning. I had found a 24-hour vet hospital within easy driving distance, and we loaded our – by this point – pretty manic pup in the car. When we got to the exam room, the vet complimented us on our dog’s taste in chocolate while also advising us that the amount he’d eaten (I’d saved all the wrappers) was indeed very dangerous for him. This last was increasingly obvious to us when, after giving him some fluids, a sedative, and some activated charcoal, the vet tech brought him back into the exam room for us to consider whether we should take him back home with us or leave him in the hospital overnight for observation, we were presented with a bleary-eyed, incredibly distracted dog whose every bit of bare skin – gums, pads, belly – was bright red. No, we said, let’s keep him here overnight and check in with the doctor in the morning. Frankly, it was pretty scary.

At ten the next morning, the vet called and told us she thought he had rounded the bend and was going to be alright, and that we could come and pick him up anytime. We came back to find a slightly calmer, less red, but still sick dog who was bound to have a few more hours of that before he would probably crash, crash, crash around 2 or 3 that afternoon. Which is exactly what happened. Apparently the chemicals in chocolate that are toxic to dogs stay in their system about 17 hours or so. And so, when we picked him up that afternoon for the dinner break, having left him in a now VERY dog-proofed room, he looked like a drunk sleeping off a bender. Docile, to be sure, but still wet around the eyes, and mopey. He slept a lot that night, after all the toxins and excitement, and we had learned our lesson the hard way.

Zen and the Art of Parking

Another unique element of our stay here has been the element of parking. Having bought a car, we enjoy something which, to many touring actors, is very enviable: mobility. It’s been great to be able to stay away from downtown, on the beach, and in a much larger space with a full kitchen (yes, we’ve managed to do some cooking, though not quite as much as we would have hoped). But with spending hour after hour downtown, parking can really run up the bills.

We had a very well-coordinated routine. Get in a half hour ahead of call, Angie would drop Butley and me off at the hotel to get him settled, and she would drive around looking for a parking lot with a decent day-long rate. Because there’s always something going on in the “new” and very bustling San Diego downtown, parking lots change their rates based on the value of parking that day. Some days it was $4, some it was $10. She’d park, and then come to the theater. At the end of the day, one would get the car while the other would get the dog, and then we’d go back home for the night; and, come the next day, we’d do it all over again.

Then one day, I learned a little trick which sounds incredibly banal to recount but of which I was particularly proud, even though it made for some slightly more complicated machinations. I would drop Angie and Butley off at the hotel to get him settled, and then I would go park the car in the parking garage for the Horton Plaza, the downtown shopping mall of which our theater, the Balboa, is a part and which charges $2 for every 15 minutes of parking except that it offers parking validation for three hours, without having to buy anything or do anything except walk to one of the several validation machines in the mall and have your ticket stamped. It’s a ploy to get you to walk through the mall a bit on the off chance that you’ll stop at one of the stores and buy something, but there’s no purchase required just to get the validation. So the routine went like this:

- park the car
- get the validation
- go for 2 3/4 hours of rehearsal
- go back & take the car out of the garage
- drive approximately 80 feet from the exit of the garage around to the entrance
- get another ticket
- get the ticket validated
- return to rehearsal for another 2 3/4 hours.
- ….you get the idea…

So, while that sounds tedious, I had all of very little to do during rehearsals and, with no green room in which for the stage managers to brew the usual coffee for the actors & crew, the very acceptable excuse for me, as an underused understudy, to go ‘get coffee’ at the Starbucks around the corner – during which time I would be performing my Parsimonious Parking Maneuver, which took approximately 15 minutes.

So – it sounds like a lot of work, but I found we could park all day, every day, for free. Hey, as the song says, sometimes “it’s not so much ‘do what you like,’ as it is ‘like what you do’.”

Veni, Vidi, Semi-Vici

Anyway, so we’ve seen a few folks here from days of yore. Angie and I had lunch one day with Linda Vickerman, our voice teacher from UCSD. And, along with Christy Altomare, we went to the arts magnet high school where our fellow grad-school alum Michael Schwartz is now teaching, and we talked to his students about the wide, wonderful world of professional theatre. We visited the UCSD campus and saw the AMAZING renovations to the theater arts department. It’s all but unrecognizable. In addition to the two theaters that were there, there’s a third, a downstairs black-box theater, a passel of new classrooms and studios, and … drum roll, please … a Wolfgang Puck restaurant right in the middle of the three theaters, which have now been dubbed and officially given the signage of “The Theater District”! Gone, gone, gone are the days of La Jolla Playhouse employees working in semi-permanent trailers, of students taking scene-study classes in ratty basement rooms with musty, broken living furniture to haul around as set pieces, of movement classes in a room with an antique wood floor dented with the Suzuki stomps of generations of students before us, and of heel-splinters from the unfortunate direct stomping in said dents ourselves. Oh, how the winds of change do dizzy the head of we elders…

And there has been much we’d have liked to do that we just couldn’t get around to. Walk around Hillcrest, my old stomping grounds. Spend more time in Del Mar, Angie’s old terrain. See Coronado Island – my most favoritest of beaches. Go wave-riding in the man-made surf-instruction park, Wave House. We did get to go see “Man On Wire” – an incredible documentary about Philippe Petit’s wire-walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. We were able to donate Butley’s airline crate to the San Diego Humane Society (we don’t expect to need it for the rest of the trip, and having to cart it around everywhere we go would be a huge hassle, so we opted for the tax deduction instead), and we visited their beautiful facility, complete with furnished and decorated holding rooms for all the dogs & cats there, and the amazing training facility & off-leash area. We had night-time margaritas at cabana-style boardwalk restaurants and played in phosphorous-laced surf.

Meanwhile, tonight’s our last night in San Diego. We’ll finish packing tonight, and after tomorrow’s matinee, we’ll drive back to the apartment, load up the car, and head North. We’ve got until Wednesday afternoon, when we have our first 5:30p call in San Francisco. So our plan is to get past Los Angeles Sunday evening, turn West and follow US-1 on Monday & Tuesday, and arrive in San Francisco Tuesday night. It’s an 8-10 hour drive, but we’ll spread it out with a little sightseeing along the way. The car’s in great shape – I’ll check the fluids & tire pressure before we go, naturally, but we should be good to go. We’ve got a roof-rack for the bikes (which are still in their suitcases right now), a cooler for perishables, a fully-charged iPod, a fresh videotape, and a seatbelt for Butley. So I think all the necessaries are covered.

Looking forward to San Francisco & a bit sad to be leaving San Diego without having had the full vacation here we’d have liked, but the Sandy Eggo will always be here. Summer on the West Coast sometime again? With our lifestyle, it’s always a possibility…

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