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

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

St. Louis, MO

Lawdy, Lawdy....

If you had told either Angie or me, both veterans of work at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, that we would one day return to stay at the Rep Theater housing, for two weeks, with our spouse, both employed in the same show, a musical no less, on the road for a year, with our dog, a 65lb. pit bull, a car, and having left our apartment which we now own but which I've spent less than two full months in...well, you can imagine our response.

But as we pulled into the parking lot of the Garden Apartments in Webster Groves, MO, a suburb of St. Louis, the home of Webster University, and literally a quarter mile from the university theater where my father worked while he earned his doctorate, the first theater in which this author ever performed (at less than 2 yrs. old, and without an Equity card, let it be noted) and also a quarter mile from the first house to which said author was returned subsequent to his birthing and in which he was reared lo, these 41 years ago, the thought occurred to me with the Weight of Great Profundity and the Recognition of Harmonious Resonance, " The more things change..."

Here's the deal - travelling with our Rather Very Large, or at least, Rather Very Heavy dog, we sometimes can stay in the company hotel options, sometimes not. St. Louis was one time during which we could not. Angie, in her inevitable cleverness, called the company manager at St. Louis Rep. Could we stay there? she queeried. Would they be alright with a dog? she inquired. Could we park there? she requested. And how much would it be? she ultimately asked. Long story short, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Cheeeep. Deal done. Booked it & took it.

So on our drive down to Missouri from Ohio, we checked in with the company manager who explained she'd leave the apartment unlocked & we could settle up in the morning. No rush. Make yourselves at home. And so we did, quite happily. And you know, I'm not quite sure, but I almost think I lived in that very apartment once, during on of the earlier shows I did at the Rep. I'm not sure, and granted all the rooms are much the same (room-by-room renovations notwithstanding). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the VCR in the room was the same. Certainly, the advent of wi-fi internet connectivity was the clearest sign of the times. But other than that, well - close my eyes, and I might well have been doing KING LEAR in October of 2001.

More surprising still was the serendipitous online inquiry into the current St. Louis Rep season, at which point I discovered they were in rehearsal for THE MIRACLE WORKER, and playing the role of Helen Keller's mom was my dear friend Krista Hoeppner (seen here, in the role of Kate, in production photos from the show). Quickly, I shot off an e-mail note to her, presumably unaware of my presence in St. Louis. How funny you're in St. Louis, I wrote; I know those apartments well. Where are you? I asked. As luck would have had it, she was online at the time. Apartment K-1, she wrote back soon after. Now, Angie and I were in Apartment J-1. Literally, precisely, Right Next Door. And so it was, in the morning, I kept one eye out the window and, as I saw her trotting off to rehearsal that day, we casually opened the door and bid one very surprised Krista good morning.

Sometimes, this world is so - very - small.

And visiting Krista at the time was her husband Jay Leahy, entertaining the troops as well as anyone who knows him would assume him to be. And one of Krista's castmates was one John Rensenhouse, late of many St. Louis Rep shows but beknownst to me as Cornwall, in the production of KING LEAR of which I was a part. We shared a dressing room and the daily CryptoQuip during LEAR's tenure, and it was much fun catching up with him.

The Rep housing worked out perfectly. Long walks with Butley along winding, leafy, brick-housed streets - that is when we weren't walking across campus quadrangles & lawns. A university gym we joined which gave us access to a full health club facility within a short walk's distance. A full kitchen. A living room. And - luxury of luxuries - a front door opening up onto a small courtyard, such that morning canine peeing was no more an event than opening the door, waiting for a minute, then recalling the dog, shutting the door, and returning to bed. So THIS was how the Other Half lived.

Now, as the the theater. The Fox Theater, aka the Fabulous Fox, is ... well ... big. Something like 4,500 seats. Our nightly audiences were probably a modest 40% percent, or 1,800. But they were good houses, surprisingly audible for a house of that magnitude. And of all the "ohmygoshthistheaterisfullofhistoryandyoureallyshouldlookaround" theaters that I've played, the Fox is one of those at the top of the list. Gaudy, grand, luxurious, bejeweled, bedecked, and truly amazing. A lobby that feels like a ballroom at the Ottoman emperor's palace. And a first balcony circle along the back of the house offers a full-service dinner menu during the show. Here's how big the theater is: you can't hear a single fork clink or plate clatter from the stage during the performance.

I know - because after six months, I finally got a chance to do the role I've been understudying all this time. Henry Stram took the day off to visit some family in Kansas City, and I covered for him for the first Sunday's matinee and evening performances. It went fine; very fun to finally get up on stage with the rest of the cast, and it's such a talented group of performers that it's a real treat to be able to not only see their work up close but to be able to work with them. Including Angie. Nonetheless, for this tour, I'm really very happy to be backstage, at the keyboard. I mean, I didn't take this job to actually work for a living; I'm sort of like a farmer paid a subsidy to not farm - paid, in other words, not for the work I actually do as instead for the work I'm not able to do, or able to try to get. (Of course, in this economy, that's not such a loss.) But such is the life of a professional, sometimes. And such is my guilty pleasure, this yearlong busman's holiday, which I've enjoyed perhaps shamefully more than I imagined I might.

So - Hmmm, taking in St. Louis. Well, not a lot of that really happened. We did dine at Favazza's the first night. St. Louis is known for good restaurants, and good steak & Italian, in particular, and Favazza's was not a disappointment. I opted for the best and truest test of an Italian restaurant: the spaghetti & meatballs. Now no, it wasn't as good as my grandmother's recipe (which then became my mother's and then my sister's), but yeah - it was good. We also had lunch one day at Sqwires in Lafayette Square. Built in an old industrial & manufacturing complex, Sqwires effects the task of urban revitalization very well: take an old, rundown, brick industrial plant, clean it, add swanky fixtures straight from the pages of a chic design magazine, serve really good food, and do little else. 'S all you really need. We only had lunch there, but it pointed promisingly to great dinner & music.

We did spend a lot of time over at Washington University, helping out Angie's friends who both teach there. One is a writer, Carter Lewis, who asked us to serve as actors for his undergraduate playwriting class, and is one a director, Andrea Urice, who asked us to talk to her class of actors, to whom we tried to give a reasonably accurate description of our professional experiences while not frightening them so much that they changed majors. Angie had been directed by Andrea in Carter's play Ordinary Nation at Rep. Theater of St. Louis while I was on tour with the first year of Twelve Angry Men.

The talking to the actors was a simple, straightforward affair - two hours or so. And they had great questions & were extremely interested & prepared. The rehearsal & performing for the writers was more intensive, but it was fantastic, actually. Very good, short one-acts - six of them - which were written with two late thirties, early forties actors in mind, one male, one female (part of the class assignment being to actually write for your actors). I was very impressed, by the breadth of styles, by Carter's skill at nurturing their work without imposing his own style onto it, and at the level at which the students had been able to provide actors enough material with which to work, without providing so much as to dictate the performance, or trying to direct from the keyboard. And it was a nice change of pace from the routine of the show...

Other than that, not really so much to say. No, we didn't get any Ted Drewes ice cream. No, we didn't go up in the St. Louis Gateway Arch, opened to the public the summer of my birth which, I've always suspected, was the arch's real cause for commemoration. Such things would have made more sense, had this been our first time in the Gateway City. But this time, yours truly had a fair amount of rehearsal, and we also had other goals in mind, not the least of which was The Big Swap.


OK. So this would really be a crazy story, were it not something happening to us while on this tour, crazy stories apparently being the norm. Let me point out the preceding events & details, and perhaps you can guess the end result:

• We own a 65 lb. pit bull.
• There is a province-wide ban on all 'bully breeds' in Ontario.
• Knowing we were going to be playing Toronto, we had investigated all the various possibilities, including a Cleveland - NYC - Toronto drive, during which we'd leave Butley with his walker for 5 weeks.
• Butley was recently certified as a therapy dog in Des Moines.
• The therapy dog evaluators we met are also training an 8 mo. old golden lab puppy to be a mobility service dog.
• Said puppy, "Tag," is at the point in his training where he knows a series of commands and needs most of all to be exposed to a wide range of experiences. Such experiences as one might accrue while on national tour with a Broadway musical.
• St. Louis is about 5 hours away from Des Moines, and said evaluators are willing to take a vacation in June to Louisville, after law school is done.
• Said evaluators love Butley.
• Said evaluators are very generous.
• Said evaluators are a little nuts.
• Said evaluators made the offer all on on their own.

So yeah. We traded dogs for three months.

O. M. G.

To that end, I introduce to you the official dog-swap blog: http://dog-swap.blogspot.com/. This is run by both said evaluators and yours truly as a way we can both keep each other apprised of our respective dogs' status, share video, training tips, etc.

K-9 laden as this online report has been already, I'll spare you, gentle readers, from merely repeating what can already be found on the other blog. But let it suffice to be known that:

• Yes, we miss Butley.
• Yes, we're glad to have Tag.
• Yes, we're glad we don't have to worry about the ban.
• Yes, we know it sounds kinda crazy, but it really works out well for everyone.

Butley's getting to live & work with a professional dog trainer for three months. We get a dog we can take into any hotel, any restaurant, any grocery store, any theater (remember: he's a legitimate service dog).

And so, at the end of our stay in St. Louis, we traded dogs. Followers of the Rude Awakening blog, I introduce Tag:

Tag, meanwhile, is missed not only by his trainers but by the family who also helped raise him. To give them a little video hello, and to show everyone how much Tag's life is about to change, I present to you the official Tag Swap video:

So, while Butley's in farm country with his two new canine housemates, Cadence & Roggen, and his two new human handlers, Nicole & Eric Shumate, Tag has assumed the mantle of world traveller. And you, dear reader, have now TWO blogs to follow, if you so choose. For all you time wasters, forget Facebook. Let our blogs be the cause of your diminished productivity.

And yes - that's the ACTUAL house that modeled for Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic". The picture was taken on Butley's ride back to Des Moines from St. Louis, to begin his Iowa "residency."

And so, in light of the odd circumstances, the impossible coincidences, the remarkable arrangements, and all the surprises that seem to constitute our regular existence, we close as we opened, with the bowed-head-shaking, knee-softly-slapping, tongue-gently-clacking exclamation....

Lawdy, lawdy, LAWDY...

1 comment:

Ashley said...

"I'm sort of like a farmer paid a subsidy to not farm "

That made me LAUGH OUT LOUD!!!