Exactly a year ago this week, Marie Sproul and I, while on national tour, sat at a table in our shared condo in Miami and drew up the first of budgets for what we knew then would be Ally Theatre Company's debut production. We dreamt big, both knowing scaling back would be a necessity for an organization just laying its foundation, and didn't hold back. We allowed ourselves to fully process all this show - and this company - could be.
Fast forward to tonight when we close The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington and of course, so much has changed and happened in a year. Marie, so instrumental as one of Ally's first thought partners (the other being Roddy, my husband), is now readying for a new chapter in her life - one that will see her off to North Carolina in the coming weeks. I took up the reins not only as the Producer of the show (which was my initial dream) but as the Director. And while at first, I worried about my ability, and let's face it, talent, to help mold and craft this story, retaining the heart and spirit Valerie and I so intensely witnessed at the 2014 Philadelphia Premiere, I am now so grateful for this experience and the opportunity to (as my friend Jenny says) 'get in the mud' with the actors, the design team, and the story. I know without question it is my best work, as a director, to date and were I to walk away and never direct again, I could easily say I was leaving at the high point of my career.
There's the show, and then there's the company.
Ally Theatre Company - the seed of which was planted one autumn morning as I showered (where all the best ideas happen, right?) and heard what is now our tag line, "Voices Unheard, Spaces Unseen" in my head. Suddenly I knew how I could marry my love of storytelling with my belief that theatre can provoke dialogue and conversation that can change behaviors, which can change lives - for the better. As I started to round out these ideas and slowly bring people into the circle - first Roddy, then Marie, then Valerie, then Tai - I begin to witness an incredible thing. BELIEF. Then MOMENTUM.
It's been about 20 months since that shower. And in 20 months, we now find ourselves at the end of the beginning - closing our show tonight and looking forward to a future that is more promising than I even imagined.
My post-mortem thoughts below:
I am not discouraged by what other, better established theatre companies might see as low audience numbers. First, our house can seat up to 150 - that's huge and I knew we'd never sell that out. Second, we never had a house below 20 and twice we got up to the 60s. Over 300 people saw this show - including high ranking local elected leaders and business owners - and some of our best houses were the smaller ones. The people that showed up were engaged, ecstatic that we are making a home not only at Joe's but in Prince George's County and all of them were enthusiastic about the production. My long-term goal for the company is for the community to take ownership of Ally - to feel as though it is theirs. That foundation was laid and made sturdy in this process. I'm really enormously proud of that.
This would never have happened without the outstanding outreach efforts led by Valerie Fenton. From organizing our first postering day to connecting with local businesses and turning out food donations for a beautifully memorable opening night to being an excellent spokesperson who speaks to our mission with eloquence and grace, Valerie is instrumental to our long-term success in the community. I will be grateful to her for the rest of my days.
Valerie exemplifies the secret to our fledgling success - our team at Ally from Tai at the top to our Artistic Allies, four of whom acted in the production, exhibits such a strong belief in our vision and mission that they make bringing audience and community into the fold seem effortless. It's not, but their passion and determination make it so. Every single company member saw the show, some of them twice. Many of them worked behind the scenes to help facilitate its success. Katie coordinated and hosted two talk-backs, Tamieka gracefully stood in for me so I could have a night off, worked the bar and gave the curtain speech, Nick came once and then sent back his wife with three other friends, Matt's tireless dedication is the reason we make a surprise announcement this evening, Jane, Taunya, Reginald, and Tai crafted beautiful performances all the while representing the company to our newcomers and audiences, Laura made room in her busy acting schedule to be present on Opening Night and also kept me on track as the producer for our next two shows, including Clover this fall, Marie texted me throughout the process, checking on me and making sure I was ok, acting again as the wonderful mentor she's been to me over the years, Jon Jon introduced us to Nate (William) and Tanya (Anne) and guarded my phone on opening night, capturing live those moments I was unable to see, and Taylor took time out of her busy life in NY to get on a bus and see the show and be her wonderfully intelligent and cheerful self that's just sorely needed in these days and times. Point is, when people ask me how Ally is already so together, so organized, with such a strong start out of the gate, my answer is always the same: We have a great team.
That team now thankfully includes Brooke Kidd, Executive Director at Joe's Movement Emporium and Neena Narayanan, the 'oh so much more than the' Marketing Coordinator. Alongside these two wonderful women, who believed in and were enthusiastic about our mission at first sight, we have laid a foundation that has all the markings of an entity with staying power. In our first show, Ally is already doing what we set out to do and that would not be if Brooke and Neena did not believe in us. I am really excited for our work in the weeks, months and years to come.
Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we rest, then we continue to do this extraordinary work we are so privileged and able to do.
Thank you all <3
I walked over 10,000 steps today. I passed by the White House four times. I listened to someone with over 30 years experience on The Hill talk about comprehensive tax reform and how that would affect the solar energy market in the years to come. Later, I was moved by a student's presentation on low income communities and why they lack access to solar power. As someone mid-career, the dichotamy was not lost on me.
I don't know that I did anything new today. But these walks, though busy moving from one work event to the next and, in some cases, working on other work in between, gave me the time and space to pause and reflect and think about the lessons of the day.
I've walked my city and some of these sidewalks hundreds of time. I've seen the downtown corridor where I have work for my entire working life in D.C. morph and change but even so, I still feel I know its every crack, every hiding spot. But there are places I see everyday, every week and while familiar with their exterior, I've never taken the time to explore inside. I made a mental note to myself today as I passed by some of these restaurants, dives, and musuems, familiar and unfamiliar to duck in and dig deeper. I'll let you know if I do.
Tomorrow's an early one - up at 5 - and a long one - off to the theatre - so I'm signing out early tonight.
Pic of the day for Allyson who is rock n roll and cherry pie and doesn't see a lot of sunrises
This morning was encased in a micro-depression. I needed a beautiful but sad song to turn the day around.
the beginning of my #40til40 project is perhaps inconveniently timed. it falls straight in the middle of the busiest week i've had at my very, very new (to me) job. tonight was a networking event, tomorrow the start of a two day tax & finance seminar for which i spent a combined total of about 15 hours printing and readying name tags (and will attend to assist with registration and anything else asked of me). friday is our office holiday party.
after a blissful period as a freelancer, a time that went a long way in soothing my badly neglected introvert and fulfilled my need for a varied and self-managed schedule, i have returned to reception and admin office work for a renewable energy association. i like them. i feel ever certain they like me. but there are whispers about me. and i know what they are saying. they use code words like "capable', "impressive", and "self-reliant". my boss slipped up one day and actually said it, "overqualified". it's a word they have a clear distaste for - like they are worried they will insult me somehow by acknowledging what we all know to be true. yes, i am overqualified. i have over a decade of office admin experience, many years at the front desk for a high-profile law firm from which I was promoted and now, most recently, actual management experience. plus, you know, i've bossed some people around in theatre land :)
in my new job, i assist co-workers who are 15 years younger than me. some are just out of college and will probably be managers in a year's time. it's a little weird. but it's not off-putting and i'm embracing it partly because i'm simply so grateful to have a (good!) job after three months of unemployment and partly because i sense how easy it is to move up at this organization. all you have to do is dive in.
so that's what i did today that i really haven't done before. not at my other survival jobs anyway. i always looked at them as just that, jobs for survival. jobs that allowed me to pay my bills, keep the roof over my head and live my creative life in theatre to its fullest. i didn't seek to make them much more than they were. i punched in and punched out and usually didn't look for ways to expand my role or learn too terribly much about the work the company was doing outside of my inner administrative circle. but my time on tour changed this work ethic. because for a precious little while, my full time job was theatre and i dove in. i owned that position and all its inherent responsibilities. i talked to my co-workers as equals. i treated my actors and crew as a colloborative unit. when i made mistakes, i admitted them and immediately looked for a solution. i celebrated all success as "our" success. this made for an especially postive work environment and experience and i knew, even as i started looking for jobs again way back at the end of may, that i wanted to somehow replicate this - at least this feeling of acting as one unit all in service of a singular mission.
i met with a member of my team today. not just because i want to do more than answer the phone and make name badges but because i CAN do more. i offered my services and sought ways to make contributions that go beyond the scope of my job description. because I can. because i am capable. because a survival job has the potential to become a passion project. it's all in how much you want to invest. and today, i chose to invest.
#40til40 pic of the day for my dear friend David. it was a rainy and dreary day, colder by the minute but i found beauty in the rain drops falling against the window of my uber. nature's holiday lights
The Weeknd's Starboy is swiftly crawling up to the top of my "most played" list and is the first song on my #40by40 playlist
Almost 5 months to the date since the end of the tour, it is now time for a new adventure. In 40 days, I turn 40 and I've decided to approach this milestone birthday with positivity, joy and hopefully, some grace. I want to fill the next 40 days with art, observation, music, love and life. I want to create space to reflect on where I have come and where I want to go and savor the lessons of those who've walked this road before me. I want first experiences that perhaps lead to cultivating a new habit (or two). I want to write more (hello, blog!), photograph more, find more moments of stillness and simplicity even with all (and I do mean ALL) that is going on right now. Do I expect some huge change to come on January 14th at 12:01AM? No, of course not. That change is already here. It has been gradual, shaped by my last decade and the experiences, good and bad, that have molded me into the 39.89 year old that I am today.
Approaching 30, I still felt young. I relished that celebration and treasure the memory. And while I haven't been terribly apprehensive about leaving my 30s behind, I feel distinctly, well, not young. And that's ok. I'm comfortable with that. I finally feel good in my skin (a blog about beauty is coming, I'm sure) and wiser and more discerning in not only how I spend my time but who I give it to. It's an ever precious commodity. Saying no and walking away from toxicity or unecessary stressors gets easier and easier.
Just like the tour, this journey is open for any who want to follow, though I don't expect it. If you happen to be moved by anything you might read, see or hear in this space, I'd be grateful for and appreciate your thoughts.
My metaphorical bags are packed. Tomorrow I embark.
Til then ...
Current mood: Westworld finale
Current sound: neglected weekend laundry in the dryer
Current sight: christmas cave
people i love and also a bunch of weirdoes
It occurred to me today, as I was out on my deck, trying to avoid zika and taking a break from the soul sucking, mind numbing, exhaustive work of job hunting, that I never returned to my blog to write my tour wrap-up post. It also occurred to me that the heavyness I've felt of late was likely, in some part, due to missing the busyness of tour. Life was easier when I could distract myself with literal mountains to climb.
It is July 13. I have been home for 11 days. The transition back to life and reality was fraught by an emergency surgery (not mine), a new car purchase as our car was totaled while I was away and the immediate, imminent need to find gainful employment. Not to mention the absolute horrors of the real world. Life doesn't mess around. It laughed in the face of my hope that I'd have a nice long week to process, told me to put on my big girl britches and toughen up. I had no choice but to comply.
But it doesn't mean I forget and move on so easily. I returned to the office on Monday, a quick hug and chat with Rachel then I was off and digging through my bag - starting the process of making order out of chaos. I smiled at receipts for the "giggle juice" I drank with Tracey and Taylor in Denver and the 2 for $20 blanket and neck pillow Evelyn and I strategically purchased in the Salt Lake airport, all the while dusting off sand still remaining from the Friday afternoon Joshua, Gisela and me downed a bottle of Sonoma chardonnay and fell into the Pacific Ocean. We made a family, like you do, and I miss them all so much. We are, all of us, really, really weird in wonderfully unique and endearing ways. The further we got from home and the closer we became, the more we felt the freedom to let our weirdo flags fly. That bound us together on this crazy journey.
a pile of nostalgia
It's not lost on me that this was likely a once in a lifetime experience. Transformative and life-affirming have been the words most often acquired when I'm asked how the tour went. Now taking those transformative and life-affirming properties and channeling them into whatever comes next is the challenge at hand. Because my landing wasn't exactly smooth, I've struggled with feeling each mistake or misstep, no matter how small, is a personal failure. My depressive brain wants to tell me that my successes on the road are undermined by my failures in real life, but in week two I'm getting better at silencing that voice.
RR and I have taken to walking through our neighborhood every morning, enjoying the sounds of our local aviary and giggling at the bunnies (so many bunnies!) that seem to inhabit every other yard. It's a good start to the day and has helped as we become reacquainted not just with each other but with our ways and means of living together. I know that I introduce an element of chaos into his quiet home life, my footprint can be large, and I was cognizant of this even before leaving. For his part, he has been incredibly helpful and supportive in my quest for work - keeping my anxiety at bay with near daily encouragement. I know he believes in me. That is priceless medicine as unemployment creeps near.
So, so long for now my new, darling friends. Adios America. It was nice really getting to know you. I feel wiser and much more confident for the experience. And forever grateful to my cherished friend Marie for being the spark that started it all. Thank you Marie. Thank you Advocates. Thank you cast and crew. Thank you Atlanta, Miami, Austin, Denver, L.A., Oakland, Chicago and Cleveland. May we all see each other, in some new, different yet wonderful iteration, in the not so distant future.
Bookending the sandwich of last week's truly weird week for women, I took two of the most challenging yet rewarding hikes of my very short and very limited hiking career. Like seriously, up to this point I've climbed Sugarloaf mountain and had my mother-in-law kick my ass on a "moderate" Shenandoah trail. But there's something about hiking, the sport of it, that responds to my need for constant self-improvement. I'm not a physically gifted person - my parents put me in ballet class when I was young with the hopes that I'd become more graceful but my true klutzy nature endured about one recital's worth of first, second and third position before calling it quits. I was born with misaligned hips, I'm slightly bowlegged and carry a lot of weight in my chest and butt making my center of gravity shift, circle and change from one moment to the next, depending on what activity I'm doing. And I have really short legs - a fact that I am never more aware of than when climbing up and down a rocky ledge.
But hiking appeals because it's a physical challenge I've proven I can do. My only competition is the ugly governor inside my head who likes to pepper me with thoughts - 'you're too weak, too fat, you'll pass out, you're going to throw up, you can't take a step that far down because of your short squatty legs, your back will give out, your knees will give out, you're too old, you should've started this in your 20s, who do you think you are?' It's this voice that keeps me charging forward for there is nothing I love more than getting to the crest, taking in the most fantastic and well earned of views and giving that voice my most graceful and delicate of middle fingers. Proving to myself that I can do this, is proving to myself that I can do anything and in a week when I was triggered by the news of the Stanford rapist and abuse at Profiles Theatre, forced to relive a trauma I've worked really hard to put behind me, my hikes up to Emerald Lake in the Rockies and FortyNinePalms Oasis at Joshua Tree relieved me of the inner sickness I'd been feeling and brought back an amazing sense of empowerment. For a moment, I stood on a rock at Joshua Tree looking out toward Yucca Valley, the sun blazing down and the breeze whipping at my cheeks and took it all back for us ladies. I made silent thanks to all the strong, smart, brilliant women I know and all the good men in my life who are the best of allies. I inhaled the hot and increasingly heated air, let it fill up my lungs and moved forward -- up the next rock, onto the next ridge, headed for the oasis.
Joshua Tree National Park takes no prisoners
But before my time becoming acquainted with the strange and distant planet that is Joshua Tree National Park, I took a first hike through the Rockies. It was our last day in Colorado so Josh, Sam, Ellen and I made the short trip from Denver up north and west to Boulder thinking we'd hike in and around the city. While stopping to fuel up on hash, eggs and bacon at Foolish Craig's, we researched trails a little further ultimately deciding the 1 hour drive up to Estes National Park would be worth it. There was a trail with four Lakes - Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald - that combined everything we wanted to see and do. We all voted yes for waterfalls and a moderate climb.
The drive from Boulder to Estes was beautiful. The skies bright and the day clear, we curved around the mountains and followed a roaring creek up 7522 feet to downtown Estes. Traffic at the park entrance was predictably backed up - Coloradans making the most of their sunny spring weekend - but we were seen through, entrance fee paid and on our way to the trailhead at Bear Lake in about 20 minutes.
Proof of passage
And there it was -- snow at the trailhead! Oh so novel and adorable at first, it would later prove to be the biggest challenge of this 3 and a half mile round trip journey. Sam and Josh quickly made pace but Ellen stayed behind with me. I worried at first that I was holding her back but she promised she was fine and enjoyed the company. She is a stronger hiker than me and proved to be a great support as we climbed the 650 foot rise from Bear Lake to our final destination.
650 feet doesn't sound like a lot but elevation at Bear Lake and the trailhead was 9475 and I was still adjusting to altitude. Initially, I was taken in by the climb just from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake, stopping to rest and feeling celebratory to make it that far. How little did I know. As we moved on, the trail steepened and narrowed with snow steadily inching its way over the path as we climbed. It wasn't long after we passed Nymph Lake and its roaring waterfall that we encountered the first of many ice sheets -- the entire landscape covered in white, sunbeams gleaming and dancing off the surface.
The waterfall was soon followed by nothing but snow and ice
Ellen and I caught up with Sam and Josh at Dream Lake - they were on their way down. Neither seemed to mind their inevitable wait at the trailhead (in fact, we were later treated to video of Josh, jumping off a rock into the very cold waters of Dream Lake, so we know how they used their time in the interim!) and encouraged us to keep going, the view at the top was worth it. That became the line of the many hikers we would encounter, working their way back down. As they passed Ellen and I, we heard time and again that Emerald Lake was frozen solid, that it wasn't much further, keep pushing, if they could do it we could too. The reward was near. We soldiered on.
Slipping and sliding often, there were times where we had to make finger holes in the snow to catch a grip. We made one temporary wrong turn in search of the mystic frozen lake but soon figured out our folly and got back on track. The trail was hard to find precisely because there was no trail, long erased by snow and ice. If there had not been gobs of people out taking advantage of this sunny June Saturday, I would have been more worried for us. As it was, we were all in this together, passing so many on the way up and down. We weren't lost for long.
We hit Emerald Lake around 4PM. It was, like all of Colorado, spectacular - something from the heavens. Ellen and I rested on rocks, caught our breath and enjoyed the young couples and groups playing around, taking a billion selfies and shared in their pride at having reached the destination.
We wouldn't stay long, however. There was the matter of the sun's rays starting to dip beneath the horizon and the fact that we had about 2.5 miles of ice sheet to traverse before making it back to dry land. And the way down was the way down - time to put that one time only skiing lesson into practice.
"Make a pizza, make a pizza," I kept telling myself as my boots slid along the surface. I fell more than once, my butt an icy uncomfortable mess. At a certain point, we learned from the laughing children in front of us, there was nothing to do but sit on it and slide - one long icy chute taking us down the mountain.
My hip, injured somehow before I left for tour, started to ache, my back following suit. Ellen was patient and kind, always looking behind to make sure I'd made it down our most recent rock, stopping with me so I could stretch, breathe, readjust. She took my frustration in stride. I really could not have gotten down without her.
We found Sam and Josh at the trailhead, compared adventures and marveled at the feat. Then, with Josh driving like he was born to star in car commercials and the new Radiohead album ushering out, we were treated to a herd of elk at the exit. The sun sinking ever lower, transitioning from late afternoon to spring twilight, it was feeding time, and the gang had arrived for supper. Majestic like the mountains around us, they were the perfect ending note to our strenuous climb. I felt rewarded and ever more in love with the state of Colorado.
A view from the top
My next hike would come almost a week later, at Joshua Tree National Park, and this one I would take solo. Venturing out by myself wasn't my first choice but no one on the team was available or interested in the excursion. The prospect of a solitary journey did not deter me for there was NO WAY I was missing this. Back when I first started planning the tour and knew we would stop in L.A., a hike in JTNP was one of the very first things I'd decided was a must do. Up to this point, I'd never seen the desert. I had to go. It was imperative.
I arrived around 11AM and by the time I'd stopped at the visitor center for water, a bathroom break and my passport stamp, it was nearly noon. Not the most reasonable time to start hiking - I had to decide quickly where I would go and what I would do. I'd entered at the Western Entrance Station, then turned around and drove back out when I realized there was no water or food available in the park - two things I had to have before subjecting myself to the elements. Once I made it through the visitor's center - where water is stocked aplenty - I rechecked my map and made note of the different hikes that were appealing. I'd read up a little prior to my trip and recalled the FortyNinePalms Oasis hike was "only" 3 miles long and seemed doable for me. Plus, there was an oasis and, really, what's a trip to the desert without laying eyes on this mythical entity?
Driving east on highway 62, skirting the northern edge of the park, I turned down Canyon Road and soon found the parking lot and at last, the trailhead. I was greeted by signage and warnings that people JUST LIKE ME have died in the park. It was around 12:15 and the sun was beating down. The temperature in the parking lot clocking in at 97 degrees. My level of trepidation probably wasn't quite high enough because without too much thought I slapped on sunscreen, loaded my backpack with three water bottles and secured my large brimmed hat to my head. The ascent began almost immediately.
It was cute at first. I made sure to stop every 50 feet or so, chug some water and take in the view. I was mindful that once I was halfway through the water, it was time to turn back. That meant I had a bottle and a half to get me to the oasis. I savored the isolation. Just me, the desert and a nice breeze that kept me pushing forward. I thought about my life, about my people, about my career, about the tour, about what was to come, about who I want to be, about turning 40, about my family, probably about you, dear reader. It wasn't until I was over the third ridge, or so, that I realized the voice in my head had become my voice out loud. My brain was already fried - despite the hat, despite the water, despite the sunscreen. I was in a weird kind of drunken state. Almost giddy - part of me knowing what was happening, the other part already in surrender. I may have recorded some of these heat drunk thoughts into my phone. Listening to them now, nearly three weeks removed, I can quickly determine they are not meant for public consumption!
Two ladies passed me on the way down. They were encouraging, telling me I was through the roughest parts. They offered me some of their water, but I had enough - the pack was already heavy - so I turned them down. We talked for a minute more and I watched them, almost enviously, as they made their way back to the lot below. It was nice to see fellow women and I felt revived by their kindness. Onward I went.
For the next few, yet eternal, minutes, I was out of sight of both the parking lot and the oasis. Tucked in between a series of ridges, I could not even see out into the valley. I'm not sure I've ever felt more alone in my life. This was more than a test of my physical strength and stamina, this was a mental feat - gymnastics of sorts as I balanced on the edge of sanity and pondered the view from the other side.
Finally, I turned a corner and there it was - the promised land of shade. 49 of the tallest and loveliest palm trees I'd ever seen in my life beckoning with their guarantee of rest, comfort and cool air. The palm is admittedly not my favorite of trees but this day, these 49 beauties would become my best friends. I rushed toward them with a speed I did not know I possessed.
Dear Bono, I found what I was looking for
I sat there for nearly an hour, knowing the way back would be long and hard. The oasis even provided a healthy 4G signal and I was able to reach the outside world in this moment of isolation. I checked Facebook, admired the view and tried to ignore the squawking bird of prey circling above me. I was not dead. Not yet.
It drew time. I had an evening engagement back in Los Angeles and the day would soon come to a close. Very reluctantly, I packed up, said goodbye to my new best friends and started the trek back. Maybe it was because I was already so beat up or maybe because the way back started with a climb or maybe because my expectations had been mismanaged by the kind ladies who told me I was done with the hard part, but I was only about 20 yards into my trek when I felt more worried than ever. It was hard, very hard. I had to stop every 10 steps, rest, breathe, drink water. My energy was depleted, sun sickness setting in. My stomach churning, my breathing labored, my head spinning with thoughts of collapse, knowing I still had so much further to go, I considered turning back around to the oasis and waiting it out til the sun started to set. But I was afraid of running out of water, worried I'd pass out and wake up after dark, my phone signal long dead, so on I pushed. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
I was saved about a half mile from the end by what I will forever know as Shade Rock. That's the name I bestowed on this beautiful boulder perched on the left side of the trail, providing one human body's worth of shade. It was the only shade available between the oasis and parking lot. And it was not there before - the sun had shifted just enough while I convalesced that Shade Rock's magical powers had been activated. I sat for 20 minutes, resting and not dying, knowing the trail head was within reach. I managed a signal on my phone again and connected laughing at the irony that while on this hike where I almost died, I received one of the biggest emails of my life; an agreement, a contract, a new beginning, affirmed. One more step to making a dream come true. Shade Rock was truly a magical place.
This email got me moving. I had work to do and that work occupied my mind most of the way back - keeping me motivated. About 20 seconds after I muttered out loud, "where is the damn parking lot??" I came over the final ridge and saw it. Even more exciting than the oasis, there was the car whose air conditioner I would blast at top level while coming down from this crazy, sanity-risking adventure through one of nature's most inhospitable lands. The thermostat in the car read 107 degrees. But I was safe. And alive. With things to do and plans to make. I had done the thing. I texted RR. I was proud. I had temporarily conquered the ugly governor and proven I was capable and strong.
The trepidation I had before embarking on this tour seems small and silly in retrospect. As I sit here in Cleveland, wrapping up and marking my final days on the road, I can look back on these two hikes with a strong sense of achievement. They will become touchstones in the days, weeks and months ahead - days that will present many challenges of a different sort. When the going gets rough - and it will - I will think back to the ice sheets of the Rockies and the scorching sun of Joshua Tree and find that I can, I must and I should believe in myself. I may be small, stout and a little physically challenged but I can do it - I can do the thing.
"We should just get the Vader slip-ons and call it a day." These words actually came out of my mouth as I stood, around 530PM Central time, in a Chicago DSW with Taylor, looking over a rack of men's shoes. We were searching for Josh, madly seeking replacement boots.* It was 530 on a Monday, our load-in day. By this point on Mondays, we're long done, load-in down to a science. So why, why had we just spent an hour at a Marshall's followed by this trip downstairs for shoes??? If you guessed UPS had something to do with this little excursion, you'd be spot on.
It occurred to me at some point on Saturday, while still recovering from Friday fun day in Sonoma County, that I had not received my weekly Friday call from my good pals at UPS Freight. While strange and a little annoying that I'd have to wait til Monday to figure out why they had not checked in to let me know the road box was in Chicago, I did not think too terribly of it. My mind was on getting us to the airport by 430AM the next morning to catch our 6AM flight to Salt Lake City and then Chicago.
I arrived in Chicago with broken luggage, having briefly thought I'd left my wallet on the plane and severely sleep deprived from a night of drunk sleep (that Sonoma County wine is goooooood y'all) followed by a night of no sleep. I checked into my AirBnB (after dealing with yet another housing relocation situation! another time, another story) ordered some food, talked to my mom, watched Game 7 (sorry Oakland!) and then promptly passed out. I was still pretty groggy and in between two sets of dreams when I woke this morning. My first call was to UPS. It was Monday, I needed to know where the damn road box was. I found out soon enough.
The road box is still in L.A.. Still sitting on the loading dock of Barnsdall Gallery Theatre where Sam, Taylor and I left it 10 DAYS AGO. Apparently, when UPS Freight comes to pick it up and sees they do not have enough room in their truck - even when you have given them the dimensions - they turn around and shuffle home and DO NOT CONTACT ANYONE ABOUT IT. Never mind that they had my number, the number for the venue manager at Barnsdall and a number for Advocates, the account holder, apparently they saw no reason to tell anyone that their expected freight would not arrive as expected.
Another day on tour, another hilarious set of text messages between me, Tracey and Taylor
I might have screamed into my pillow for a second but then quickly composed myself and did what I do - started emailing, texting and calling as many people as I could.
And thank the theatre gods that be, the team was on fire today. Everyone dove into action. Rachel, back in D.C. at Advocates, got on the phone with the UPS rep, Sam met us at the theatre and started hanging lights and working sound because those are two things we COULD DO without the road box and Ellen, Taylor and I went across the street, had some bagels and hashed out 3 contingency plans and solutions. Recreating the costume plot won out over sending Ellen and Taylor on a crazy overnight trip to L.A. to rescue the wardrobe (at least) and THAT is how the three of us ended up, punch drunk and giddy, at Chicago's finest discount stores this afternoon. Ellen may have purchased a crazy hat and I might have acquired a new pair of sunglasses.
As we were standing in line to check out, we got word from Rachel that UPS would pick up the box tomorrow in L.A., expedite it and have it in Chicago by noon on Wednesday, the day of our show. Having absolutely no faith in UPS at this point, we proceeded with our purchase. Fittings are scheduled tomorrow and the actors already know how to do the show with no set because, for different reasons, we staged sans walls in Denver to great success. We're doing this show on Wednesday. And it will look and sound and feel great because we're unstoppable.
After the show, we get to dump the road box, if it comes. Advocates has concluded that this version of the show will not continue beyond the tour and so, Road Box Number One - the one that moved from Joe's Emporium in D.C. to 7Stages in Atlanta to Stateside Theatre in Austin to Barnsdall Gallery in L.A. and now, hopefully, maybe to Theater Wit in Chicago will be destroyed. Its contents sold and donated, its wood chopped and thrown away. Part of me wants to put it on a pyre and let it float out in Lake Michigan but that's giving it too much reverence. At the very least, I hope I get a moment with the SAWZALL.
It's the first good-bye. The beginning of the end. So long Road Box Number One - you made for some good stories but I'm not sad AT ALL about leaving you behind.
*no Josh, we did not buy you the Vader slip-ons
"In two weeks, you'll never have to say the words 'ROAD BOX' again" - tour BFF Taylor
It's a good week to be in Oakland. With the Golden State Warriors currently ahead 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the city is popping with a fresh coat of pride. And despite Game 6 taking place in Cleveland tonight, I'm currently lobby side once more as this evening's performance of Remarkably Normal is sold out.
I've enjoyed being here -- a feeling that surprised me as I honestly thought I'd be yearning for San Francisco all week, jonesing to get to the other, more familiar side of the Bay, But I've found Oakland charming, the people friendly and cool in that appealing California way and the weather, as expected, has been magnificent - I'll take October in June any day, thank you very much Alex.
As tomorrow I'll be in wine country and Saturday out with Ellen exploring SF, today has been my last full day in Oakland and I find I'm a little sad to say goodbye. In a mere 4 days, I've developed a routine. It's been comforting after the chaos and rush of LA. I will miss it.
I live close enough to walk to "the office" each day - this has not been the case in every city - and I relish throwing on my extra layers, putting in my earbuds and stepping out into the crisp, blue morning for my 20 minute mini hike.
Our venue, The Flight Deck, is located on Broadway, about a block from City Hall and in the heart of Oakland's business corridor. Our venue manager, the amazingly named Champagne, quickly shot to the top of my "favorite people I've met on this tour" list. We said goodbye tonight and I secretly wished I had another week working with her so we could cement our budding friendship.
We've simply had a good experience here. It's the 6th week of the tour, we're getting tired and ready to be at home. Oakland stayed simple. Nothing about it was complicated. It's been a moment to rest and restore before our move back East and a final push in Chicago and Cleveland.
Thank you Oakland - keep on keeping on and hope to see you again, soon.
LA, you have not been particularly kind. At present, I'm lying in bed, relieved of my company manager duties for the day as I recover from a bout of what is surely food poisoning. I blame some probably not so fresh tahini and my already sensitive stomach's response to chickpeas. Feeling betrayed by my body AND the state of California (seriously, what did I do?), I think it's time to look backward on my transformative week in Colorado.
Upfront confession - I kinda fell madly, passionately in love. Like most crushes, it started slowly but creeped up on me mid-week and by the time I was welling up with each corner turned at Garden of the Gods, I knew I was done. I've been struggling to blog about the experience because Rocky Mountain High is definitely a thing - with or without the potent elixirs hawked on every corner in Denver - and I definitely had thoughts like, "I'm no longer afraid of death" once or twice last week. It was a religious and spiritual experience to be sure and I struggle with the words to capture it all at its most personal. Colorado tapped into all my vulnerabilities, forced an openness where I am usually reserved and got up close and intimate like we were meant to be this way all along. I could not fight it. Surrender Dorothy, I did.
Funny thing is, this was not my first Denver/Colorado rodeo, oh no. In fact, way back in early 2002, a younger, shorter-haired, thinner version of me went on a pilgrimage from Gainesville, FL to Denver in search of a shiny certificate that would (I hoped!) ensure a new career path. "Be Paid to Travel!" was the slogan of the International Guide Academy and a 3 week course culminating in an International Tour Manager certification was just the thing that 23 year old Ty thought she needed. When you are young, poor and possess a BA in Theatre Arts, you tend to get creative and I was tired of banging my head against closed stage doors. A life on the road, being paid to travel (!) and leading groups of septuagenarians around Europe seemed a good blend of my public speaking and logistical coordination skills.
I did well in this course. And despite being the youngest person in the class - by many years, these are jobs trés populaire for the retired set - returned to Florida with the praise of my instructors and high hopes for a new life in the travel industry.
It was short lived. Because, you see, to become a Tour Manager with one of the many outfitters across the country, you need to have quite a bit of life and work experience managing logistics, personalities and places. At that point, I had exactly two jobs to my post-college resume and no one was going to entrust 50PAX to a kid. I settled for a sales job with NETC (now WorldStrides, apparently) in Boston, hawking educational tours to teachers and parents.
But this was 2003, 9/11 still burned bright and fresh in collective memory and let's face it, an excellent cold caller I was not. I found myself leaving Boston a mere 9 months after arriving, packing up and shipping back South toward RR and our shared destiny in DC. I have certainly kept the skills acquired at IGA practiced and polished in my work as a DC tour guide but, it wasn't until July of last year that I finally used this resume credential to talk my way into an ACTUAL TOUR MANAGER position. And thank god, I did.
Because now, here I am. Back in Denver, back where this whole love affair started with no expectations other than getting through a solid week of work and maybe enjoying some Rocky Mountain views on the side.
But with no hesitation or doubt, Colorado took me in and claimed me as one of her own. I clicked instantly with the people - everyone was chill, cool and friendly. It was easy to fall in step. The weather - OH, the weather - had me from day one. I'd never experienced dry heat (my first time in CO was in February) and after two weeks of brutality in Texas and Florida, I could breathe again. The sun, so high and yet so close, kissed my forehead each morning and wrapped me up like the warmest of blankets. Clouds would move in for a moment, say hello and then dash out again. The air smelled sweet of lilac and honeysuckle adding calm to this level of peace and inner quiet I was already experiencing.
And that's what really got me. The whole week, I wasn't anxious; my brain not spouting off in 8000 directions ad nauseam. I could relax, despite knowing I was eight weeks away from unemployment. My mind stayed focused and still, even when the road box was late and the schedule needed to be adjusted. I was cool when we got the less than 24 hour notification that an interpreter would be in our very small, very intimate house for our one very oversold performance. I was supremely satisfied all week, floating in a sea of contentment. It's no wonder I did not want to leave.
My last three days in Colorado were some of the most perfect of my life. Even RR's particularly felt absence was mitigated by his understanding of what I was experiencing and the knowledge that we will, soon, return together. On Thursday, I took a solitary stroll around the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens. Friday, was the day my life changed during my (again, solo) trip to Garden of the Gods and Saturday, with the help of super awesome hike buddy Ellen, I climbed the Rockies in search of a frozen lake. These stories are worthy of their own posts so I will sign off with one of my favorite photographs from one of my favorite days ever - the day I really laid eyes on the glory and grandeur of the American West. There's no coming back down. Rocky Mountain High is forever.
And just like that, we're here. A month ago we were loading into Atlanta. A month from now, we'll all be back home. It's appropriate that Denver, our true halfway point, was, for me, a transformative experience. I don't feel the same - in a good way - and it's a feeling I'm still trying to process. There will be a blog post about all of that later - probably many blog posts - but first, here's some fun things I've learned in the last 4 weeks on this national tour.
1) Uber service varies widely from city to city. And sometimes, like in Austin, there is no Uber at all! In Miami, it's really good to know Spanish if you're calling an Uber - especially at the airport. And I think Denverites are still getting used to it - their drivers anyway. See Exhibit A below ...
No, Teresa, you're not arriving now. You're not even on a road!
2) The road box - its arrival, delay, ability to turn up in one piece - and all the logistics that go into receiving it, will always be the first challenge of the week. In Miami and Denver, it was late. In Austin, it showed up before we had a place to store it. In LA, it was mostly on time but arrived looking like this ...
Ellen's face tells you everything you need to know.
3) Hahaha to changing ANY of your habits or getting a lot of personal work done. Yes, I've brought clothes to work out in - and I even lived with a gym in my building for a week. Have I gotten into the daily exercise routine I just knew I would on this life altering, body transformative national tour?? Hells no. My tennis shoes clad feet haven't seen the first elliptical or treadmill. But they have hiked all over downtown Austin, swum in South Beach ocean waters, climbed a Rocky Mountain and this week, transportation willing, they'll make their first EVER footprints in the desert. There may be no formal time at the gym but there is a helluva lot of moving.
These feet have earned their keep
4) All that moving will be counteracted by all the eating. But EAT. EAT THE FOOD!!! Have the shrimp and grits in Atlanta, cuban ANYTHING in Miami, tacos in Texas and rattlesnake in Denver (ok, so I didn't but Evelyn did!) And don't worry about it. Your husband still thinks you're cute and you can detox when you get back to DC. #greensmoothielife #hereIcome
EAT ALL THE THINGS!!! YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER GET TO DO THIS AGAIN!!!
Shrimp and Grits in Atlanta, Pressed Cuban Sandwich in Miami, Torchy's Tacos in Austin, Mexican bakery in San Antonio, Tacos authentica in Denver and a BLAT (Bacon Lettuce Avocado Tomato in Denver
5) I am not particularly patriotic or nationalistic, but America really is something else. I've had moments when I'm so busy, it's easy to drown out election and all other national news that usually keeps me riled up and on simmer, at the least. Luckily these busy moments, typically coincide with high local interaction. Every city has its story and if you listen with intention, the people will tell it. It's a broad story and varies from place to place. It's diverse in philosophy and form but American in its essence; from our really lovely server at that first breakfast in Atlanta, the one who was willing to speak frankly about abortion to me and Marie to Steve at Su Teatro whose flexibility and easygoing temperament helped facilitate our most successful show in Denver and Debbie at Barnsdall in LA who greeted us today with hugs. I've had AirBnB hosts who gave me great touring tips and an Uber driver who shared with me his playwriting process. No matter where we've gone, the ratio of lovely people to assholes has remained high in favor of the former. And that gives me hope.
America, you're wild, weird and kind of wonderful. Here's to four more weeks.