Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Exit to Fire Island

Two nights ago I was sitting by a copper fire pit in a Long Island backyard, making s'mores, trying to look up the French word for 'Asbestos' to help an a guy from Adelaide explain something to a woman from Brittany. The something had to do with how the fire had been started by our host using a can of gasoline in such a way that prompted his one-toothed father in a sleeveless shirt to yell at him from the porch for a good couple minutes. Apparently even though asbestos being inhaled as particles is horribly dangerous for you, putting a sheet of it down on dry grass is a good idea for protecting against fire.

A group of eight couchsurfers, either living in or traveling through New York were camping in the yard so that we would be up and ready to spend the next day, Memorial Day, on Fire Island. It's a 50km long pencil shaving of a barrier island, and averaging about 300 m wide, just a bit east of where I got horrifically sunburned while on set for Men In Black III. We were headed for Atlantique Beach.

The ferry ride was half an hour on a cloudless day that left no doubt about summer's arrival. We sat in the upper deck, in the back, letting the wind do crazy things with our hair and the Aussie's beard (still substantial even after one of the slightly more inebriated locals had snipped off about five inches of it with kitchen scissors the evening before). We docked, paused for the restrooms and hilariously awkward debate with the Hong Kong native about guessing certain clothing sizes of women walking by. Then we walked the five minute walk from the bay side to the ocean side.

I've seen some beaches before, and this had some of the nicest white sand beaches I'd seen in some time. It would have been perfect had the water been warmer than ice. It was still pretty nice just hitting the sand and walking along the shore, pausing to grab a quart of Ben and Jerry's, sitting on a bench near the dock, passing it down a line and making fun of ducks.

In fact, really that was what made the trip: sharing stuff. Whether it was taking a walk with the Armenian interior designer to get coffee, a loaf of bread, and two dozen eggs to augment the bacon our host had out for breakfast, or three of us in a row at the chowder house near sunset, passing down our bowls of seafood bisque, Manhattan clam chowder, and New England clam chowder in a line so everyone could try some to wash down the raw clams and oysters we'd practically inhaled minutes before. The food was only part of it. It was the times and stories we shared to that made the trip. The only one things we all had in common was that we were all travelers registered on couchsurfing.org, we all had a decent grasp of English, and we were all there. And that was all we needed.

It's good to have weekends like these.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Taylor Mali, author of the Poem "What Teachers Make"
I found a two minute monologue that is perfect for me, less than half an hour ago. Ten minutes ago I memorized it. This never happens. Not to me, not to anyone. But it just did.

The monologue isn't even really a monologue. It's a poem, written by the guy pictured to the left, who, one hour ago, I'd never heard of. I was having an instant messenger conversation with a good friend of mine about my tutoring, and she asked me if I would consider being a teacher. I gave my standard answer of no and my explanation, but a second later out of curiosity, I Googled "What do teachers make."

If I had used the more appropriate question "How much do teachers make," I never would have found that poem.

Taylor Mali wrote the poem, anonymously at the time, about exactly what it is teachers make. He's since performed it for a huge variety of venues. I read it once, then again, then watched him do it twice. I loved the words, and there was no doubt his performance was passionate, but a little part of me started thinking "I'd actually read it a little bit more like this..."

I printed it out, made a few cuts, and read it twice. Then I put the paper down, and recited the whole thing, top to bottom, only checking the sheet twice. The second time I did it, I was off book. And it felt good.

This never happens to me. It took me three weeks to memorize a monologue half this long. I must have read it on the subway hundreds of times. But this new piece I have down cold, and it's so good that I want to go to auditions now just to deliver it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Company for Me, New Facilities for You

My school always builds the cool stuff after I leave.

This is the Logan Arts Center. The University of Chicago, my alma mater, has gotten the funds for and now built a state of the art theater, film, and visual art space.

I was in Chicago and on campus these last four days for completely unrelated reasons: friends, family, and the annual world's largest scavenger hunt according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Patricia Marx was in town to write it up for the New Yorker. So instead of explaining it myself (again), I'll probably repost whatever it is that she puts up once it's available. I will just say that balsa wood bridges built to bear human weight are really hard to make (and that people really stink after they fall into Botany Pond), and that getting a mixed drink from a piano that makes a different kind of cocktail depending on what song you play is kind of amazing. I digress.

I took a quick visit of Logan with my oldest niece, who might be applying to the school next year. The facilities are drool inducing. The set shop is massive, the two theaters we saw are gorgeous, and they have catwalk and fly systems. No more running around the outdoor parapet above the windows to get backstage in deep winter, or spotting for people on ladders to hang lights. And that's just the beginning.

It's great to see that the school is starting to really giving the arts some quality facilities to work with. I'm seriously jealous of anyone who is able to participate in University Theater in the future. If nothing else, it will make a degree from the school look that much cooler, once all these serious actors start coming from the program, having benefited from the new state of the art spaces and tech available to them. Who knows, maybe they'll even go ahead and start calling their TAPS major an actual Drama program!

In the meantime, I've just joined the DICE Theater Company, and will be doing some new things with dramatic improv. I'm going to be curious to see how things work out with them-- they're cool people with an interesting concept. More news on all that soon.