First off, before you begin, required listening for this post. OK, good. Now we're all ready.
On tour, we all have cities we're really excited to visit. Shanta's pumped for LA, Tracey's excited to make a return to Denver, Taylor will be home in Chicago and Evelyn was super stoked for Miami.
I was ready for Austin. I knew it was gonna get me. A place I spent a formative summer and visited several times as a tween, I had not returned since grad school auditions in 2002.
This was only my second trip to Texas since my father died 5 years ago. A man born in Texas who always planned to die in Texas, he got his wish, leaving behind unsolved family mysteries and a daughter destined to take up his mantle.
My dad loved to take drives. He lived a good part of his Texas life in Austin and its surrounding hill country, "God's Country," he used to call it.
In my elementary school years, we'd pack up, jump in his black Mustang convertible (such a bachelor) and leave Houston to travel down SH290 toward Austin and beyond. Memories from those road trips are touchstones in times of my heaviest grief and sadness, when the hole he left behind threatens to absorb my heart.
He taught me how to count mileage on those drives - to determine how many miles between towns and how soon we'd arrive based on how fast the car was going. He bought me Judy Blume books that I would devour during night drives. I specifically remember reading Tiger Eyes in 5th grade on a trip that took us from Houston to Austin and up north to Brownwood where Clifford Hallmark, the elder resided. One time he watched me reading and asked if I saw pictures in my head, if I created the world of the book with my imagination. He beamed with pride when I said, yes, in fact, I did. We listened to music - I gave him a Steve Winwood cassette once for his birthday and he'd play it, driving, singing and sometimes dancing, making me giggle, feeling loved and so very happy to be in his company. He'd always stop and pick up hot sausage in Elgin and, in Austin, we'd stay downtown at the Embassy Suites. He'd let me ride up and down the glass elevators for hours fascinated with my fascination.
It was fitting that I began my week in Texas with a long drive. From Houston to Austin, I took the majority of our crew last Sunday night. On Monday, I returned our oversized SUV for a more reasonable rental car and as I hit the entrance ramp to merge on to Texas highway, I'd never so badly missed nor felt closer to my Pops. A wave of grief came mixed with an odd parcel of joy and I was relieved to be by myself. It was a moment, an extremely private one, that I knew would come at some point and in some way. It made perfect sense when it did.
I fell right in place in Austin. I wore my boots and jeans nearly everyday. My tee-shirt collection got a good work out And I spoke to all the locals like I was one of them. I was never nervous about where I was going or anxious about looking lost. I instinctively knew the rhythm and energy of this place - because it is MY rhythm and energy.
I have a lot of homes, but Texas is the one of my blood. It is the place that I know I can come to when I feel lost. I'm always here. Through my father, my mother, and the fathers and mothers before them, I can always find myself in Texas. Once again I did. And I liked what I saw.
Oh dear, Austin - you gateway to God's County* you proverbial blueberry in the tomato soup**, you birthplace of handlebar mustachios for the new millennium.***
*as deemed by Pops C. Hallmark
**as deemed by Rick Perry
***as deemed by me (the 1st dude I saw cross 6th street was sporting the handlebar. I do not lie)
Austin also marked our third week on tour - a third of the way through our tour. Marie left us in Miami last week so this was also the first time we were all together, just the core group, the road warriors. The inside jokes are happening (GROUP TEXT!) and the ribbing has begun as we pick up on one another's catch phrases and distinct personalities. The bonding truly started in Miami but Austin was its cement.
We played a one night only performance at the historic Stateside Theatre - our largest house and most enthusiastic audience yet. It was a terrific experience top to tail. Austin was good to us. What a time we had. I'm already nostalgic.
I did not take enough Xanax for today's flights. No, they were not particularly bumpy but even the slightest patch of rough air felt like insult to injury after the debacle that proceeded it.
Delta Flight 1746 service from MIA to ATL was supposed to depart at 10AM EST. The entire company was through security and chilling at the gate before 9AM. Boarding began at 920. We taxied and I was drifting off into the magical land of Xanax slumber when the captain came over the intercom.
"Sorry folks but looks like we have a mechanical issue and will need to return to the gate." I felt the whole plane groan at once. The woman next to me, who I'd discover later in the ensuing hours of bonding, was particularly hungover. She freaked. Other people giggled and moaned and fell susceptible to the flight attendants' insistence that it was minor, we had 30 minutes of give time and they were certain everyone would make their connection.
I did not share that certainty. Not with 57 minutes in between us and our flight to Austin IF we landed on time. I immediately texted the company who were scattered throughout the plane. I texted my contacts at Advocates, ready to get a contingency plan rolling.
Maintenance workers trudged on board. It got hot, then cool, then really hot. We sat. I nudged hungover lady and with apologies left my seat to take advantage of the restroom. The beleaguered flight crew passed out cookies - the first in a line of peace offerings. We got a message that the issue was a temperature sensor and we could and would not fly if it was not working properly. We were reassured it was not an engine problem. We were told the problem was solved, FAA paperwork was being filled out and we were on our way.
Then the electricity stopped. It got hot again. The plane, in need of a fuel top off, lost the guy on the fuel cart and had to re-summon him. They allowed passengers to disembark into the cooler climes of the terminal with the warning they should not make time for food because we were definitely leaving in 5-10 minutes. I stayed and made my way for the bathroom again. Hungover girl returned 20 minutes later with Subway.
The door closed. Safety instructions were given for the second time. Then another 20 minutes of nothing. The lead flight attendant, a fear of conjuring pitchforks evident in his face, took a risk on the intercom. "Um folks, I'm not even sure how to look you in the eyes at this point but seems we had a passenger disembark and leave his carry-on. This passenger did not come back for the plane so now we have a security issue."
More waiting, more angry voices on phones adding noise pollution to an already full flight. I took to Twitter.
It's because of those few tweets that 7 of us ended up on a 430 flight to Houston. Our 1257 flight to Austin long since missed, we arrived to further chaos and frenzy once we hit the ground in ATL. 2 of our folks got on a flight to Austin. One was on a 10PM Austin bound flight and then back on the earlier flight to Houston. Somehow we all made it to Texas. To literally no one's surprise, our luggage did not.
I boarded the flight to Houston only to find that myself and our assistant director were seated in the last row - the choice seats next to the bathroom, the ones sans window - a claustrophobic's dream! Ever wonder what it feels like to descend in a 747 never knowing when exactly the wheels will touch the ground? Well, now I know.
The 7 of us who made it to Houston were saved by a shiny silver chariot and that certain entitlement to freedom and independence that happens upon touching ground in Texas. Without hesitation, we hit the road in H-town, leaving airspace and airtravel, with no love lost, behind us. With me in the driver's seat of the behemoth, our TD navigating and playing DJ and the majority of the company finally, safely nestled in the back, I found my lost sense of control. In my happy to feel at home euphoria, I attributed this success to Texas and magic but really it was our strength, reliance and willingness to help each other that got us all through today. We ate Delta provided snacks and laughed about the craziness. We stayed patient even as we hit Austin city limits and chuckled when we were instantly waylaid by lane closures and backed up traffic.
A little after 11PM CST, 15+ hours after our day's journey began, I finally had the entire company in Austin. Our luggage may not be here, yet, but the company is - and they are our most precious cargo, besides.
I want to be blogging about Miami - how I finally gave in and accepted being a stranger in a strange land. I'm dying to get out my Explosions in the Sky-Esque feelings on my return to Texas, land of my father and about 15 forefathers before that. But nope, none of that today. Today, I earned my Tour Manager stripes; the Company, Medals of Honor.
Time to descend.
Yesterday was the moment of truth. Because I left for tour a week ahead of the company, yesterday was the first time I had to move our army from one city to the next. It was a daunting task and as I finally settled into my new Miami digs last night around 10;30, I felt it in my bones. More specifically, my back.
The day started early. We had to be packed up and checked out of our midtown Atlanta housing by 11AM. Considering our flight to Miami would not depart until 5:30PM, there were many bags to consider and the question of what to do with them. The army opted to move in two stages, one led by myself, the other by our Assistant Director, Taylor, whom I deemed Deputy Company Manager for the day. The first wave headed straight for the airport, checking in super early with enough time for lunch and a pedicure - hey Hartsfield-Jackson is big enough to be a small city, they have everything and we were going to Miami. Fresh (and in my case, sparkly) toes were a must. The second wave dropped their luggage off at the theatre (seriously those cats at 7Stages are the best! Highly recommend if you're looking for rental space in Atlanta) and had one last brunch or stroll through town.
I took Marie, her husband Eric (who was flying back to Baltimore) and our combined 10 pieces of luggage, including an inherited pelican case containing our sound system interface and laptop to ATL. Dropping them off at the Delta departure gates, I then rolled over to car rental to return my little red (not) corvette. That was harder than it should have been. I'd grown pretty attached to this car during our two weeks together. RR and I both love renting cars when we travel - it gives us a sense of freedom and ability to see new places in ways you can't on your own two feet. When I arrived at ATL over two weeks ago, little red (not) corvette was my first taste of freedom. She (definitely a she) got me to Memphis, played a part in my magical weekend then drove me across the state of Tennessee where she got a good week of rest at my parents. She was a work horse for me in Atlanta and proved to be necessary as a number of unforeseen errands cropped up. It was a brief but intense affair. We made memories together. I will always think of her fondly.
Only one picture but 1000 memories
Fare thee well LR(n)C
After our teary goodbye (ok, not really) and disposing of one stray banana peel, I reunited with WLS as we marched toward the train and over to the South Terminal at ATL. There I met up with two of our actors, Evelyn and Josh, and we navigated check-in, baggage drop-off and security together. I've been reading about long lines at TSA causing many a missed flight. A company member left behind is on my short list of nightmares so I was happily relieved when we were through security in under 10 minutes. No shoe or laptop removal required - TSA meant business yesterday!
We found Eric and Marie, who were already settled in at a cafe with beer and wine respectively, and lunched. I had enough beer to feel calm and relaxed and with text notifications that Taylor was successfully navigating wave two through check-in, most of my travel tension subsided. The soothing airport pedicure was just icing on my cake (Xpress Spa, Terminal C, near gate 36, for future reference). We were all met at the gate by 4PM, well in advance of our 530 flight.
Though the flight was full (what flight isn't these days?) boarding was smooth and efficient. I was seated in an exit row which meant extra legroom. As many of my friends know, I'm not the world's most relaxed flyer, but this one was only a 1 Xanax ride. The plane gently gliding through the air, I tried to read but was soon sucked into a cat nap sponsored by beer, wrestling with WLS and magic pills. When I awoke we were flying through clouds over the Everglades. A few minutes after that, we began descent, the late evening sun casting pink and yellow shadows over Miami.
We'd successfully moved our company across state lines! But there was one last step and the larger question - would all our bags arrive on time and in one piece - still loomed. Thankfully, I had nothing to fear. We were all met, assembled and the company quickly caught Ubers and checked-in at their AirBnBs before a half's hours time. That left me and Marie, fending for ourselves, 8 pieces of luggage between us. If there was any part of the day that presented challenge, I guess I'm at least grateful it happened to us and not the actors or crew.
Lesson learned: when in Miami and taking Uber from the airport, it is useful to know Spanish. After two tries, two Uber accounts, two drivers, two phone conversations that weren't really conversations, we gave up and got in line for a cab. Zipping down the palm-tree lined interstate and headed for our apartment in the Brickell section of downtown Miami, I felt relief - eager for sleep and grateful this day's battle was fought well. We conquered.
Welcome to Miami.
Blue skies above, The Everglades below Sun sets over Miami
Reporting from the house of 7Stages theatre where performance two of Remarkably Normal is taking place in the black box behind me. It's been a pretty long week in Atlanta. Tech week is always hard. Long hours in dark spaces. Fuses short and challenges daily. Tech week during tour, I'm learning, is a bit of a different beast, mostly familiar in its daily operation - stage manager is running the show, designers making constant adjustments, actors doing a lot of hurry up and wait - but with slight tweaks on the expected formula.
The first thing I sweated was the arrival of our road box. It is a beast. 9 feet long, 3 feet high and weighing in at almost 600 pounds. We have two editions - a wise decision on behalf of our set designer - so that one box is always traveling a week ahead of us. They arrive and are picked up by UPS Freight, coming and going in an 18-wheeler that I will have to help negotiate in and out of various loading docks. Thankfully, I have help. Good help!
The beast coming off the truck for the first time in Atlanta. With three of our boss ladies helping the driver :)
Once the beast was safely in the space and contained by our remarkable crew, it was time for me to run errands and outfit the dressing room. I haven't mentioned yet that I have an additional responsibility serving as the wardrobe mistress - it was the combination of this plus my desire to keep the company happy and comfortable that drove me around town picking up supplies to keep our actors feeling healthy and well. They are tackling intense subject matter that requires a ton of openness and vulnerability. I wanted them to feel they were always in a safe space, like the team and I have their back. Because, we do.
The spread - keeping our actors cool, unchapped and well!
(photo by cast member Gisela)
Our Atlanta venue was 7Stages, centrally located in the very artsy, very hipster Little Five Points neighborhood. It was the perfect venue to start the tour. Incredibly diverse with a feminist bookstore, indie record store and a pot shop nearby, we'd brought the show to our base, whether we knew it or not. And, we didn't know it because way back in October when I was booking our venues, I was almost entirely concerned with specs and flexible seating. Centrality was also a plus but I'll admit I knew nothing of the neighborhood where we'd eventually land.
Sights from Little Five Points - small businesses, wall murals everywhere you look
And there continues to be this consistent feeling of flying blind, even now that I'm here and on the road. I have to work two and three venues ahead and barely have time to get used to the venue of the present before we're loaded out and moved on to the next. And each venue has its own set of challenges and rules. I've oft made the comparison that managing this tour is like planning 8 weddings at once. And I'm learning, quickly, that the tour/company manager doesn't really get a day off. Maybe that'll ease up as the tour gets in a rhythm but this week, at least, personal time has come at a premium.
But we're open. And we've done it once. Now we can do it again.
Miami - you're next!
Lovely cast members Evelyn and Gisela, along with rock star Assistant Director Taylor finally get to let their hair down on opening night
office view last week
It was late in the week when I spotted them. I'd been watching the two geese all week long but only with a naked eye. On Friday I decided, finally, to deploy that pair of binoculars I'd so wisely packed away in WLS.
And then I freaked.
GOSLINGS!!! Yellow, fluffy adorable waddlers. To all parts of my parents rented cabin home I cried, "Oh MY GOD!!!" When they didn't respond immediately, I stepped away from the sun room windows and went into the house to find them, insisting that they must come NOW!
Pretty soon my stepfather had commandeered the binoculars and not much longer after that, the three of us were walking (slowly and quietly) toward the lake, sunroom binocular view too distant and unsatisfactory. We were after a close up. As close as we could get.
look at these goose peeping paparazzi - the nerve!
As the week dwindled from a large swath of time into our last few hours together, the goslings remained a point of connection and for me, metaphor. It was Mother's Day weekend, after all, and my first with my Mother in five years. It wasn't my easiest week. ever. Work was tough - the show in pre-production and a week from setting off on the road, it was admittedly hard to be the company manager away from the company. Lots of needs, expected and not, arose. My days were filled with emails and phone calls, my face illuminated by the laptop for hours at a time. I was constantly in a state of wanting to remain present for my parents and needing to deal with the daily urgent matters of this national tour. Through all of that though, I was comforted by being in the presence of my mother. If someone snapped at me over email or was disgruntled on the phone, I could easily fall into the safe haven of my parent's home and temporarily pretend the demands of the world outside were non-existent.
Thing is though, it's not my parent's home. Not even close. It's a rented cabin by a lake in Briar Branch, Tennessee, a tiny tiny community about 35 minutes north of Chattanooga. They are there now after nearly 40 years in Baton Rouge because way back in the late 90s, they went searching for mountaintop property and landed here. With my stepdad retiring two years ago, plans were quickly put into motion to design a new home and make the move.
The transition's been difficult. The move itself was rough. And while this little slice of Tennessee country is beautiful and serene, it is also extremely isolated. You have two people who, for the past 15 years at least, were five minutes away from everything, including my sister. And prior to that, only about a 20 minute drive from "the big city." Their new home, which will be lovely, won't be done until Thanksgiving at the latest so they are in stasis for the next seven months, most of their things in storage, their creature comforts tucked away until it's time to settle into their permanent digs. And, of course, they have to find everything anew - hair stylist, doctors, a church, the closest quality grocery store.
I wanted, no, I needed to see them in this new space. I needed to offer my companionship, my cooking, my comfort, my familiarity - as much for me as for them. We took long walks around the property - I met almost all the neighbors, two of whom showed up on horseback for a visit Sunday night - I cooked several meals, and we explored Chattanooga a bit. I even met their interior designer and helped them pick their new colors, tile, doors, even their brick!
My last day with them was Mother's Day. We took Mom to brunch at a Georgia winery and then spent one last sleepy afternoon spying on the goslings and making Christmastime plans. I felt fortified and ready for my challenging week ahead. They, especially mom, seemed happier, more comfortable and acclimated. We helped and nurtured each other this week and the results were evident by Sunday. We were all sad the visit was over but ready to conquer the work in front of us.
Chattanooga is a lovely big "small" town, full of art everywhere you look and undergoing an intense revitalization. I'm excited to explore it more on future visits.
Sights from a week of long walks through the country
Before I left on Sunday, I ordered them a pair of the same binoculars, a late Mother's Day, early Father's Day gift and a way for them to continue and keep up with the goslings. The joy and entertainment the little fuzz buckets bring is worth 20,000 pair of binoculars and it gives me some comfort to know that perhaps they help my parents feel a little less lonely.
Not a picture I took - are you kidding??!! Mama Goose won't let you anywhere near them! - but a similar scene.
I was checking out #remarkablynormal on Twitter today when I saw it first.
Many thoughts and feelings flooded frontward but the biggest impression was that of surprise. Was I surprised we have haters? No, of course not. I was surprised it took them this long. I've been to the rallies and protests, I've witnessed the anti-choice in action. They are small but they are mobilized. So, when they finally get word of our play, and its wonderful title, I'm only left wondering why they are so late to the party.
I have been asked if I'm worried or scared about the protestors who will inevitably show up to our performances. The answer is honestly, no - not even in these violent times and this turbulent political climate. And that's not naïveté. Or an over-confidence. I just simply don't plan on interacting with them. There are back door entrances, extra security on the premises to stand between them and us and most of all, I'm not a known entity. They aren't looking for me.
I've also been asked, quite starkly, where I personally stand on the issue but truthfully my feelings and opinions are not part of my job as the Company and Tour Manager. If you know me, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've got a pretty good idea where I stand. And, obviously, I wouldn't be here if I was part of the 19%, but to answer the specific question of where does life begin well, like our play so deftly explores, it's complicated. And different for everyone.
"There are no good abortion or bad abortions, there are just abortions. And people need them," so says one of the characters in our play. And she's right. The issue will never exist in the black and white, right or wrong, heaven and hell. I wish the anti-choicers would deal in the gray, like our play does. Maybe then we could have a conversation.
It was sometime around 1AM, happy, tipsy, and high on love that I realized I was coming to the end of my own Duplass brothers movie. We - Monty, Linds, Liz, Wes and me - were drunk walking the streets of Memphis in a giddy attempt to help Liz find her guest house. It turned out to be right across the street and around the corner from Monty's the whole time. This was the falling action. The night was quieter but the mood still humming, the energy still crackling. The party, mere hours before, was packed with people. SRO, as they say. But here, as it dwindled and friends began to peel off one by one, I became truly aware of its beating heart, palpitations drumming loudly in the aftermath of so much joy.
Like every good story, there were three distinct acts to my weekend in Memphis. I arrived early Friday evening white knuckled from outracing tornadoes in Mississippi and appropriately enough, behind a FedEx truck. Quickly off loading my things at my friend’s East Memphis guesthouse, I joined Lindsey, Matt and Wes in Midtown for the first of what would be many reunions that weekend.
ACT THE FIRST
Conversation was easy, quick and funny. Around beer three, we took a moment to admire how far we’d come and how well we’d turned out. Everyone in some capacity was a successful human - none of us perfect, still, but all of us evolved from the troubles of our mid-20s. My pre-formed question to everyone was, “How have you changed since last I saw you?” Answers ranged from, “I’m myself now, not hiding who I am anymore” to “I’m not tied down to a job and free to travel the world” and “I care a lot less about what people think of me.”
Our attempts at settling into a bierhaus thwarted by wet outdoor seating and a noise polluted interior (we are, all of us, pushing 40), we did what any classy folks do and stopped by the Circle K for cold Stellas and smokes. And when you don’t know where the afterparty is in Memphis, there is only one possible answer - the porch. Any porch will do but in this case, we commandeered Monty’s porch continuing our catch-up session until he arrived home from California.
My old friend was worth the wait. When he arrived, the reunion felt complete. The nerves of a few hours prior were completely worn off, old routines, habits and personalities all rushing to the surface like time had stopped and 10 years were erased. I lingered just long enough to make it all palpable and then sauntered back to the guest house to finally rest my “up since 4AM” eyes.
Memphis is wild and weird and wonderful and full of art, everywhere you look
ACT THE SECOND
It was Milton who woke me up. A text about brunch. I was nervous, again, but this time it wasn’t about reunions but the logistics of that afternoon’s rehearsal for Cookie’s show. I hadn’t planned on brunch. I had planned on … something … no, nothing really and sitting around being nervous about driving to campus for the first time was just silliness. Besides, there was a Huey Burger waiting and to deny myself would be Memphis sacrilege.
Huey's looked exactly the same - divey with maybe a few less toothpicks in the ceiling, liked they'd recently done a sweep. It was still packed at lunch time and it was still delicious and fattening and everything a college kid wants on a hungover Sunday. Milton and I were joined by Monty, Jeremy and their friends and neighbors Brad and Anna Marie. We talked of Cookie, whom Brad and Anna Marie knew only by reputation, her lessons imparted and the shows we'd worked on together at Rhodes. Of course, we had to speak of our antebellum Corinth, Mississippi (or was it Athens, Georgia?) based Medea. An infamous show (not directed by Cookie, mind you) that left us in tears at the time but produce howls of laughter 20 years removed.
I dashed from Huey's (ok, I was full of burger so 'dashed' is a bit of exaggeration) to Rhodes
for the rehearsal - and that's when the tears started flowing fresh. My favorite Mississippi firecracker, Miss Laura Canon, former set design professor and long time technical director at the McCoy was the first to swoop me up in a fantastic hug. I told her she looked exactly the same to which she responded, "Well, I got a lot more of this" referring to her fabulous silver mane. "Miss Laura," I said, "we all got a little bit more of something." The McCoy was immediately a safe space. Full of joy and lacking judgment. I was home.
Miss Laura, Wes and Teresa Morrow Brown put together an incredible show for Cookie. Through multiple vodka infused playwriting sessions, they managed to incorporate 40+ former students, 35 seasons of plays and musicals and countless Cookie-isms, stories and wisdoms. The rehearsal, ran brilliantly by Teresa and Wes, went without a hitch. I think everyone left jazzed, excited and ready to deliver this gift to Cookie. We all wanted to make her proud one last time.
Milton and Me surrounded by food - it was our mission to eat our way through Memphis this weekend.
The party that followed the show was off the chain - it wasn't the most raucous party, no bass heavy beats leading people to a dance floor (though there was a very good student blues band in for the night), no liquor bottles aflame, no super models or celebrities. No, it was just a room full of people who love Rhodes, theatre and Cookie - all the right ingredients to make for a massive pulse of energy and good vibes. Oh, and there were little asparagus canapés that we all agreed were stupidly delicious. We had countless hugs, pictures (SO MANY PICTURES), laughs and tears. For a while, we stood outside the McCoy by the fountain looking back into the lobby, bright and aglow, and took it all in. Denouement coming, it wasn't long before we began to say our goodbyes to Cookie and break off into smaller groups, headed to more intimate afterparties. I pledged to Cookie that I would be in touch, that as usual I was ripe with ideas, my mind on overdrive, percolating, always. With that we parted and I made my way with Monty and Linds to our next engagement.
How much do I love Wesley - there would have been no show without him
ACT THE THIRD
It wasn't even 15 minutes into the afterparty - at the immaculately designed home of Brad and Anna Marie (giving some credence to my theory that everyone who owns a Memphis midtown bungalow went to design school) - that the keyboard piano was moved out into the living room. This is Memphis. This is a house full of theatre and music people. There was NO WAY there was not going to be singing. Broadway, rockabilly, a Prince shout-out and a private blues concert that made us all swoon.
Like you do in Memphis, the room got steamy and folks sought the fresh air of the porch. So there we were gathered again, talking drug laws and hipster beards, when Liz went looking for her guest house. She was going to call an Uber to take her back when Monty checked her GPS and realized she was down the street, no Uber needed. For some reason, this was hilarious to all of us as it meant she'd been across the street the entire weekend but we'd just seen her tonight at Cookie's party. No one was letting her walk all the way across the street by herself, so off we went on the shortest of field trips, giggling and love-drunk on the night. I would have walked many more miles on this Memphis eve - it was too short a stroll. We grasped Liz in a frenzy, with promises to see her again soon and possibly even collaborate in the future. A sad and happy goodbye, sweet Liz disappeared into the shadows and we made our way back to Monty's house.
Walking in Memphis looks hazy and warm, like my memories
And then there were three. Monty, Linds and Me. Late into the night we shared the pains, joys, heartbreaks and celebrations that colored our years apart from one another. To tell my dearest friends of recent disappointments and discouragement was freeing and cathartic. The juxtaposition of my life in the professional theatre world and the warm nest of my first theatre home was not lost on me this weekend. I crashed on Monty's couch around 3 still zipped into and bonded by my dress feeling safe, feeling loved, feeling like me.
Drunk sleep wore off at 5:40AM. A quick walk of shame to my car and I was off to the guest house, driving in the direction of the rising sun. I passed Rhodes one final time whispering, "see you later" - my sleep deprived brain already making reason and narrative of the hazy night before.
The party dress fell to the floor like a poem's last stanza. Noting the time, I made a final tweet - "My reunion was better than your reunion (she says as she crawls into bed at 6AM)"
It was true.
Goodbye Memphis - thank you for the food, the laughter, the friends, the reunion. Most of all, thank you for the perspective. As I embark on the biggest and most challenging project of my professional theatre career, a fresh look at where I've come from versus where I'm going was badly needed. Thank you for giving me what I did not even know I wanted - for that, and so much else, I'll love you forever. See you later.
2000 zero zero party over oops out of time
I don't go to reunions. There's Facebook, right? And it's always an issue of money and time, or so I say.
The real reason I don't go to reunions - I'm not always comfy with my past self colliding with my present and potentially future selves. In other words, like most people, I have some regrets in life. Looking back, I tend to see mistakes I made, ways I spent and mismanaged my time, bad judgment in relationships, etc. Reunions - the thought of them anyway - remind me of all that. So, I avoid them. Don't get excited about them - kind of forget they happen.
But there was no avoiding this weekend - and I didn't want to. Whatever feelings I had about returning to Memphis, to Rhodes College, to McCoy Theatre, were disregarded the second Cookie Ewing announced her retirement. If there was any time to go back to college, it was now. It was for her.
So who is Cookie? Well, first of all, she's magic. She creates powerful "reasons to live" moments simply by being the most present and emotionally open being in the room. She is spellbinding. She listens with intent and purpose and when she speaks, no word is wasted. For four ridiculously privileged years, she was my professor. Then, after I got over being scared of her, she became my mentor. She continues to be my touchstone. Anyone who has worked with me in a creative capacity has been touched by Cookie. While I have a 10th of her passion, artistry, dedication and wisdom, her lessons - spoken and unspoken - have become an essential part of my craft. They dictate how I approach process, they govern my methods in every area of the art, they are the reason I insist on collaboration, communication and humility in the rehearsal room. If there is joy in my work, it is because she taught me to find it. Moreso, she taught that joy was essential to the work.
Second, and she would never say this but we all know it, she's an icon in Memphis theatre. She's an icon in Memphis period. She's had an impact on THOUSANDS of lives - a mere 300 of whom made their way to the McCoy Theatre Saturday night for a suprise party to celebrate her work, her spirit and the lessons she imparted.
She was supposed to arrive at 6:15, the party officially starting at 6PM. Under the guise of celebrating 35 years at the McCoy, alumni, friends and family descended upon campus for the night. By 6:30, the room was packed. By the time the show kicked off at 6:45, it was standing room only.
In rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, we were warned that Cookie posed a flight risk. While we know her heart is great, her capacity to love pushing earth's boundaries, she is also shy and private. She did not want or need this commotion. But selfishly, we had to give it to her. She could not leave without fully witnessing her remarkable accomplishments - all of us, whether theatre professionals, children's librarians, real estate photograhers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, bear her mark upon us. Gather us together in a room and the talent, potential, empathy, love and compassion is palpable. It makes your heart race. So yes, it made absolute sense that Cookie was assigned a seat at the back of the room - she'd have the best view in the house but could also make a run for it if it got too intense.
And it got intense. First there was a fake fight, then creative blending of all the shows Cookie directed and/or acted in during her tenure at Rhodes. After that, a movement piece calling out to Cookie's love of physical theatre and the means to use the body as a storytelling apparatus. Then singing original music from Hamlet, breathing and meditation soundscape and finally we were called to write in and read from our journals - a daily practice every one of Cookie's students were required to do.
I stood centerstage, read my lines without breaking - a miracle because what a view from my position, the room simply packed, overflowing - and then it happened. As all voices joined into the chorus of "Morning Glow" from Pippin (one of three musicals she directed and one of two times she directed her own mother), there was movement in the back. Cookie was up. Was she fleeing?? She moved to the left but quickly was blocked by banquet tables and chairs; she changed tactics and moved to the right. Then I realized, she's not fleeing. She's TRYING TO GET TO THE STAGE. The room stopped and started all at the same time. I leapt down to get her, fully aware this was a moment and I was living in it - this gesture was big. It was unscripted, organic, perfect and exactly what should have happened. She grabbed my hand, tight, as if to steady herself. Voices still rang out in song, guiding her to the stage. Dry eyes weren't optional. She made it, stood in the light and then grabbed us fiercely. Overwhelmed, emotional, beautiful.
But we weren't done!! There was still the matter of presenting Cookie with a bronzed robin's nest - one she and her students watched for a whole semester. From building to egg laying, to baby birds hatching to leaving the nest, they witnessed the whole cycle of nuture then flight.
Finally, as all of us who have worked with her know, Cookie frequently signed off, literally, in ASL - I love you, thank you. Before we really got the party started, we all signed it back to her. A wordless parting that somehow manages to encapsulate all that Cookie is and everything she means to us. It'll be a long time before I experience so much joy in one night. For that and for everything, thank you Cookie. I love you. Thank you.
Ugly cry face the second!!! But what a moment! #thankyoucookie
Part Two coming - We haven't even touched Memphis and the amazing afterparty!!