Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At Liberty

Does anyone realize life as they live it, every, every minute?
--Thornton Wilder, "Our Town"

Week 96: New York, NY

And so, I am back where I started. Next Monday, on my 44th birthday, I can celebrate the two year anniversary of the offer to do "Spamalot," and rejoice that I had such an incredible journey with the show. I wish I had words to express the extraordinary and transformative experience that this has been for me. I guess my blog, which chronicles the whole thing, must speak to that. Our final shows were triumphant, celebratory. The very last show was inspirational. Each and every member of the company gave their all; a full 100% performance. The energy as the company performed the "Camelot" number was so enthusiastic and so high as to take one's breath away. I felt, and feel, so proud to be a member of that wonderful company. At curtain call on our final night, John O'Hurley came out for his bow with his beautiful little boy, Will, in tow. If I wasn't already choked up, that pretty much did me in. I cried and sang "Bright Side" and drank in the applause and energy of the ecstatic audience while the confetti fluttered down upon us all like a benediction. Truly, it was one of the most joyous moments of my career, and I felt such a sense of accomplishment. If we can just engage, fully, in the beautiful moments of our lives, big and small, we can go to our graves saying that we indeed lived.

We had our final party together at a local restaurant in Costa Mesa and a good time was had by all. Richard Chamberlain, that kind and gentle man, drove down from LA to spend our final night with us. People dressed up in all their finery and enjoyed a last drink together. It was a bittersweet occasion, but all of us have shared a moment like that, because all of us are in the theatre and know that our glories are transitory and all good things must end sometime. I can honestly say that with one exceptional circumstance, I finished the tour feeling very proud of all that I had accomplished, and secure in the common respect and appreciation that I had come to share with my coworkers. The exception involved a misunderstanding between me and two of my fellow actors, and I can only say that what seemed like a terribly negative circumstance proved to be a blessing. You see, friends, while we all adopt each other as family, for support and a sense of security as we travel and work together, the truth is that real friendship is not dependent on a shared job or a lucrative and fun-filled tour. True friendship is about acceptance, unconditional love, and forgiveness. To have discovered that none of these qualities ever existed between me and these particular people I mentioned is not a cause for mourning, but rather, it is an opportunity to reaffirm my own values and ideals and a chance to understand the truth of my experience. One sour note in the midst of this celebration of life and creativity did nothing to diminish my pride and gratitude for all that "Spamalot" brought to my life. While Spam may be a cheap substitute for more sophisticated meats, "Spamily" has proven to be, in some ways, a cheap substitute for family. But there are people I will take with me and cherish as friends for years to come.

And so, with rosy memories intact, and rose colored glasses cast off, I face the next chapter of my life and career. "Spamalot" was such a big forward step in my work as an actor that it is somewhat scary to stand here at the precipice and wonder what might be next for me. All I can do is continue to believe in my talent, to strive to be excellent at what I do and to bring joy and happiness with it to as many people as possible; to have faith that the work will come and that my life will continue to deepen and expand. My agent is hard at work sending off my resume for various jobs, and I will strut my stuff at auditions and offer myself up for that next great opportunity. Such is the life of an actor. But on a personal level, I will continue to challenge myself to be more than I am while learning to accept, forgive and embrace all that I am. We can only, finally, do our best. We stumble, we fall, we get back up again; sometimes we rise to great heights and it is in those moments that we are most humbled by the incredible gift we have been given--to do our best, and to share it with others. I thank all of you who have followed my journey on this tour, for your unwavering positivity, support and enthusiasm. They have been a great strength to me, for which I am eternally grateful. No doubt, at some time in the near future, I will continue to write. As soon as I have embarked on my next creative journey. For now, friends, stay in touch, embrace those you love, look for the beauty wherever you go, and always, look on the bright side of life.

Off comes the make up
Off comes the clown's disguise
The curtain's fallin'
The music softly dies.

But I hope you're smilin'
As you're filin' out the door
As they say in this biz
That's all there is... there isn't anymore.

We've shared a moment
And as the moment ends
I've got a funny feelin'
We're parting now as friends.

Your cheers and laughter will linger after
They've torn down these dusty walls
If I had this to do again
And the evening were new again
I would spend it with you again
But now the curtain falls.

Your cheers and laughter will linger after
They've torn down these dusty walls
People say I was made for this
Nothin' else would I trade for this
And just think I get paid for this...

"Goodnight ladies and gentlemen and God love you, thank you."

--"The Curtain Falls," Sol Weinstein (written for Bobby Darin)

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Show That Ends Like This

Week 95: Costa Mesa, CA

Nothing is forever in the theatre. Whatever it is, it flares up, burns hot, and then it's gone.
--Joe Mankiewicz, "All About Eve"

22 Months.
62 Cities.
676 Performances.

For me, the journey that started with an offer of work, on my birthday, in October 2007, comes almost completely full circle this week. It was a journey of firsts in many respects: my first national tour, my first principal role on a contract of this level, my first time visiting many of the cities on our tour. On a personal level, the journey was transformative. I mourned and moved beyond the breakup of a long term relationship, I overcame many fears, including my fear of driving, and got my first driver's license. I learned about myself by broadening my experience through travel; I met and befriended some wonderful people along the way, some of whom I met simply through this blog and my website. I achieved some long dreamt of goals, buried some demons, and lived some dreams. My journey was as much an internal one as an external; as I moved about North America performing, I found my way into my own heart and mind and deepened my sense of spirituality. I discovered that the work that I love to do is not just for my own fulfillment and joy. What I do enables me to collaborate with other artists, thus helping facilitate their dreams too; it touches the minds and hearts of the people in the audience and can even be a source of inspiration for aspiring young artists who might be out there looking up at the stage and wishing that wish to be a part of it all. There have been dark moments over the past twenty years of my career, moments when I honestly thought of throwing in the towel--too many rejections, too much struggle. Touring with "Spamalot" has renewed my faith--in myself, in the power of dreams, and in the doing of something that brings pleasure and happiness to hundreds of thousands of people. I thank you, dear readers, for not only taking the ride with me, but for constantly touching me with your generosity and encouragement. Many of you have asked me if I will continue blogging beyond this, and I can only say that I would love to continue writing, and just have to decide what the focus of a new blog would be. If you would like to be on my email list to receive updates on anything that I might get up to in the future, please send me an email at james@jamesbeaman.com.

I rented a car for a couple days this week in order to see something of the area, and despite some inclement weather I had a nice drive. I visited Laguna Beach, a longtime seaside resort and artist's enclave, first. Walked on the beach with my Starbucks latte, visited some art galleries and home decor shops. The town had that feeling of a seasonal community off season--a little sleepy, many businesses closed, and a few intrepid visitors braving the overcast skies and drizzle to stroll the quiet streets.
From there I drove to San Juan Capistrano, to visit the mission there. This historic Catholic mission was founded in 1776 by Spanish missionaries who came to convert the Native Americans of the region to Catholicism. The stone church and grounds of the mission were badly damaged by an earthquake in the early 19th century, but the ruins, gardens, the Mission Basilica (a lovely cathedral with a glorious gold altarpiece) and the oldest building in California still in use, the enchanting Father Serra's Chapel, make for a beautiful historic site well worth a visit.
The gardens are fragrant with roses and lush with olive trees, and the old 18th century chapel was a beautiful place for some quiet prayer and contemplation. Of course San Juan Capistrano is most famous for the annual migration of cliff swallows which are fabled to return on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, every year. Those of you who know "Spamalot" know that we spend a bit of time arguing the migratory habits of African versus European swallows in the show! So it was fun to be in a town that is famous for the little birds and even has a Swallow Festival every year. There's even a song made famous by Glenn Miller's orchestra, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano:"

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you bring will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That's the day I pray that you'll come back to me...

Monday night, our hair and makeup department supervisor, Mitchell, threw an early Halloween fete called "The Hell Party." He hosted the soiree with his cohort, one of our gorgeous ensemble ladies, Paula, at their place in Huntington Beach. A nice cross section of the cast and crew rose to the occasion and showed up in some outrageous costumes. We had a group of girls dressed as a hot dog, a ketchup bottle, mustard bottle and a beer; we had Red Riding Hood, a sexy female cop leading a corrupt umpire around in handcuffs, not one but two Middle Eastern suicide bombers, and numerous ghosts, vampires, and other spooky creatures.
As you know, if you ever googled me or read my website, I had a brief career as a female impersonator, but have not appeared in drag (with the exception of a great production of "La Cage Aux Folles" a few years ago) in almost a decade. Mitchell has been after me to get done up, and I figured a Halloween party was a great excuse. So I attended the Hell Party as the legendary tragic Greek heroine, Medea. To me I looked like a Spanish soap star, but the Grecian gown and two dead baby dolls hanging from my belt like a trophy told their own story! It was a really fun and festive evening and a most welcome infusion of jollity and laughs during our last week. That's me with Mitchell, who seems about to take a bite out of Medea!

Since I have introduced you to all of my dressers on this tour, I thought it appropriate during this last week to introduce a special lady without whom I could not have become Robin eight shows a week. Here, with me at the Hell Party, is the lovely Suzanne. Suzanne hails from Tyler, Texas and she has the accent and sassy cowgirl attitude too. She is a very talented hair and makeup pro, who got her start in theatre doing wigs for the LA Opera. Since then she has toured with several Broadway shows including "The Producers" and "Les Miserables." Suzanne has been a good friend to me over these many months, and we have shared confidences and laughs and great times. I will miss her very much--she not only was the only one who made Robin look just right, but she also gave me amazing haircuts! I know Suzanne is looking forward very much to going home to the beautiful country house she built and spending time with her Mom, who lives with her in Texas. I wish her all the best of everything for the future, and I hope we will get to work together again soon.

I will be doing one final blog post next week in order to encapsulate our final weekend of shows, our finale, and my return to New York. So tune in next week for that. All that remains this week is to introduce you to my final dresser on "Spamalot," Julie.
Julie left an exciting career as a paralegal many years ago to do the work of the theatre. Imagine that! She is a seasoned pro and has worked every show that has come through the area. Her confident, no nonsense attitude has been most welcome during these last weeks. With the show coming to an end, I am reminded of my very first dresser, Lyn, who got me through those first weeks of performances in Washington, D.C. back at Christmas time in 2007. It was Lyn's gentleness, thoughtfulness and kindness to me that inspired my tradition of sharing my dressers with you all. I am so grateful to all the lovely ladies who have taken care of me and Sir Robin as we have traveled North America. Best wishes to you all!

It is a surreal thing to watch this production wind itself up. During this week there has been a gradual diaspora as another few performers, including our beloved dance captain Graham and his wife Cara, have left us early. We received signed posters from Eric Idle and John DuPrez as parting gifts, and have come in to work each night to another farewell letter on the callboard from the producers, or general managers, or a former performer or assistant who worked on the tour. The company's personal trunks have been packed and shipped off to their homes. Saddest moment this week was perhaps receiving our final paychecks! That is one thing I will definitely miss! It has been a challenge this week to stay positive and not give in to the feelings of anxiety that come up about being out of work, having to return to the hectic world of auditions and networking back home, and the realization that my life will profoundly change after almost two years of constant performing and traveling. But change is the only constant, as they say. To close this week, I am reminded of a parable that I read recently that I think is very wise on the subject of change (see below). At the time of this posting, we have five more shows to do. One final post next week from New York City, friends.

There once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge. If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives.

All night the wise men meditated on the matter.

In the morning they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy.

The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all.

And the inscription? "This too shall pass."

--Ram Dass, "Journey of Awakening"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The O.C.

Week 94: Costa Mesa, CA

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

Before I launch into this week's blog about our second to last week of performances, I thought I would take some time to just talk a little about my week off in New York. New York is a pressure cooker. The proximity in which human beings coexist with each other makes for an intense energy.
This swirling vortex of energy--much of it frantic, stressed, anxious--can be a challenge to resist getting swept into. This particular layoff was tinged with a different vibe for me, because I was seeing the city through the eyes of an actor about to be (temporarily) out of work, and really feeling the enormity of the adventure I have been on and the distance it has put between me and life in New York. Consequently I had a few days of simply collapsing and hiding out in my apartment. It is easy to become overwhelmed. There is also a pervasive sense of anxiety and tension around the economy and money for people in New York--I know that in these times this is an all-pervasive state of mind, but in the city, it seems to be intensified. I truly believe that our lives show up for us as a result of our predominant patterns of thinking. If your habitual thoughts are angry, or self-pitying, hopeless, fearful, your life reflects that back at you. I believe that our current economic situation in this country is being exacerbated by a collective and dominant pattern of negative and fearful thinking. We can choose to buy into it, dwelling on negative headlines and news reports, complaining about things, talking ourselves out of spending money on things we want or need. Or we can look in a different direction, affirming abundance in our lives by practicing gratitude for what we have, by reaching out and supporting other people in feeling empowered and capable, and by having faith in ourselves that we can have the life we dream of and are committed to creating.

"Spamalot" was only a beginning for me; a wonderful step in the right direction. All creative projects come to an end, and inevitably the process begins of finding a new project, a new source of expression, and a new opportunity.
People talk a lot about luck in my business--they point to successful actors making big salaries and chalk it up to a fluke, to being "in the right place at the right time," to some sort of whimsical wheel of fortune that happened to push that person into the lap of success. I prefer to believe that those who reach what we would call success do so because they have faith in themselves, they don't listen to the negative opinions of others, and they persist. Against all odds, against the evidence of the limitation of the present moment (again, everything is temporary), they KNOW that they will be successful and they focus on giving through their work, and of experiencing the joy which is the most satisfying part of being a performer. I suppose, having returned for a week to New York, and having had the wind sort of knocked out of me by it, I am returning to the place where my beliefs are strongest and my determination the most grounded. I think all of us must find ways to untangle the negative knots we can get into mentally, and reach for that which feels the best, which reminds us of how fortunate we are, and which sustains us through times of uncertainty. And learn to be compassionate and gentle with ourselves so that we may be that way for others. Even in the crazy, unrelenting vortex of Manhattan living.

Posh Costa Mesa is a luxurious and fitting final stop for the tour. The place absolutely reeks of money and fine living. Immaculately planned, maintained, manicured and gleaming, this suburban Southern California city gives one a glimpse of how the other 1% of the population are living! BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars glide silently along palm lined streets reflected in the mirrored glass of modern buildings.
I am staying at an elegant Wyndham Hotel directly across from the elaborate Orange County Performing Arts Center. This complex is comprised of a gorgeous concert hall designed by Cesar Pelli (with an undulating facade sheathed in a skin of transparent glass), a restaurant, the Tony winning South Coast Repertory Theatre, and our venue this week, Segerstrom Hall. Henry Segerstrom, the $40,000,000 donor and primary patron of the Center, is one of the owners of nearby South Coast Plaza, one of the most expensive and lucrative shopping malls in the US. Among the 322 shops in this marble and brass palace of materialism, every major designer is represented-- from Gucci and Pucci to Versace and Prada. The mall grosses a billion dollars every year, further evidence of the affluence of the Orange County region. It's a bit of a tease for this group of about-to-be-unemployed performers to be nestled amidst so many tempting shops and fine restaurants! We do have access this week to a splendid spa across the street, which has all the amenities and luxuries one could wish for in a health club. So I'm treating these last weeks as a sort of working vacation.

This week we had to say farewell to our fearless leader, Ken Davis. Ken is our production stage manager, overseeing all aspects of our production, both on stage and behind the scenes. He has been with the tour since its inception and throughout the nearly four years "Spamalot" has been on the road. As things sometimes play out in this business, Ken landed another job which happens to conflict with our last weeks here in Costa Mesa, so unfortunately he won't be here to finish what he started. We will definitely miss sharing the final shows with Ken. Over the past 22 months that I have been with the tour, I have come to really appreciate Ken's humor, his support of all members of the company, and in particular, his support for what I have brought to the show. He got choked up at our farewell party for him, as he paid tribute to the real family feeling between all members of the cast, crew and management team. And he's right. It's a special group, and no doubt Ken's leadership contributed to that camaraderie. Happy trails, Ken!

I have been going in to work every night this week with a sense of joy and gratitude. From signing in at the stage door, to
all my back stage rituals of preparing for the show-- greeting the crew, slapping on my makeup, warming up--to savoring each and every moment of performing, I have been reminded over and over how very fortunate I am to have had this dream come true. To be a part of this show, to have the privilege of working as an actor, is something I have never taken for granted. And I still have goosebump moments out there when I look around me on stage, or feel the energy of the thousands of people out front, or am jazzed up by the sound of the orchestra pumping out this delightful score, and I feel like I need to pinch myself. What a blessing. One more week to go, friends. Next week, I plan to drive around the area a bit and see some of the beauty of the SoCal coastline, and we have some company events and parties that I am sure you will find amusing. Until then...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Arid, Extra Dry

Week 92: Tucson, AZ

Within 24 hours of arriving in Tucson, my lips were chapped, my nose bloody, and my skin peeling. The conditions here are so dry, that, in spite of 100 degree temperatures, your sweat evaporates before it has a chance to cool your body. The dryness is also, of course, terrible for a singer's voice, and I have had to drink multiple liters of water a day just to keep things lubricated. Such is the desert climate. However, I admit to a little enjoyment that we spent the first official days of autumn in a place that is eternally summer. It won't be until I return to New York for the layoff next week that I will really get that "back to school" feeling, and the reality that I must take up my life in that city of cities will truly sink in.

I think everyone has come to grips with the reality that our tour will be ending soon, and all eyes are on the horizon. Most of our crew and management team have already lined up work for themselves, many joining existing tours, others launching new ones. Some will return to working in shops and for the locals in their home cities. As for the performers, a fortunate few have jobs lined up already; others are beginning the audition process and the search for the next opportunity. Some have decided to relocate to LA from New York, others are going to take their first stab at living the New York City dream. Still others have bought, or are about to buy, new homes and are happily, if nervously, engaged in the process of becoming first time home owners. Some are just looking forward to a much needed break and are squirreling away their money to cover their monthly expenses while they rest, rejuvenate, and plan to spend the holidays with family. As for me, I plan to return to my apartment in New York and furnish it pretty much from the ground up, finally creating the little haven I have been visualizing while out here on the road. Armed with my new head shots and resumes, and charged with newfound confidence and a clear vision of where I see my career heading in the next few years, I plan to insinuate myself back into Manhattan and start that next adventure.

But back to Tucson. I am fortunate this week that I am in a nice hotel with a lovely outdoor pool and hot tub, just a short walk from the Tucson Music Hall, where we are performing. I am sort of treating this as one of those rest weeks, catching some rays and in general just getting myself slowly organized for the busy week in New York next week.
On Wednesday, I decided to walk into town and do the Presidio Trail, a walking tour throughout the downtown core, marked by a turquoise line painted along the sidewalk. This trail takes you through the historic neighborhoods and past the significant landmarks and historic sites throughout Tucson. I enjoyed strolling through the older barrios, or neighborhoods, in town, distinguished by square adobe buildings, some painted in cheerful shades of lemon, red, turquoise, violet. Some of the places that I found most interesting included El Tiradito ("The Castaway"), a small shrine at the side of the road which has had significance for the Mexican community for generations. Legend has it that a violent love triangle in the 1870's resulted in the murder of a woman's lover by her jealous husband, and when the murdered man was refused burial in consecrated ground this shrine was created to pray for the man's soul. Three historic theatres can be found on the Presidio Trail, among them Teatro Carmen, established in 1915 as a venue for dramatic works in Spanish (now an Elks Lodge); The Temple of Music and Art, a Spanish Colonial Revival building with a charming courtyard, built in 1927 as a concert hall and now home to the Arizona Theatre Company; and the Fox Theatre, one of those great vaudeville and movie palaces from the 1920's. The theatre fell on hard times in the middle of the last century and was closed for 30 years until a recent renovation restored it to its former Art Deco glory. I persuaded a box office worker to give me a little private tour and I greatly enjoyed seeing this old gem of a theatre in such gleaming, beautiful condition. The ceiling boasts an elaborate mural with classic art deco motifs, all done in rich Southwest colors of mustard, terra cotta and turquoise; the seats and seat cushions are exact reproductions of the original designs, and the original frosted glass wall sconces and chandeliers have been preserved. The Fox hosts concert and theatrical events as well as what looks like a fantastic classic movie series. So glad I got to see it. Fortified by some terrific fish tacos from a great little Mom and Pop taqueria , I completed my nearly three mile hike around Tucson in front of the gorgeous St. Augustine Cathedral. Built in 1897, it is a serenely beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture which is currently undergoing a spectacular restoration. Unfortunately I was not able to go inside to view the cathedral due to the work being done there. Tucson is a very interesting mix of cultures--Spanish, Mexican, and Native American. The little pockets of history coexist with the structures and trappings of a 21st century city in an intriguing harmony.

Here's Renee, my Tucson dresser.
Renee has a very interesting story. Originally from Maryland, she spent much of her life in San Francisco where she worked as an environmentalist and animal rights activist. Having grown up in a multi-generational household, Renee was very close to her grandfather, and since he and her parents relocated to Arizona, she followed so that she and her daughter might enjoy the time to be with her beloved grandfather. She has done theatre all along the way and her husband also works back stage, and is on our show as a dresser. Renee has a nice, balanced energy about her which is a welcome compliment to the general feeling of centeredness and calm I am experiencing this week in Tucson. Trick is to carry this feeling into my layoff week in New York! No post next week folks, so I will catch up with you at the end of our first week in Costa Mesa, to share with you the final stretch of this amazing adventure.

Friday, September 18, 2009

All in the Family

Week 91: San Jose, CA

You may recall, from my San Francisco posts, that I have family in San Jose. My brother Alex, who has worked for Apple for many years, and his wife Patricia have raised their family here in the Silicon Valley. They have become a part of a great community of people, many who come from Alex's workplace, others who have become friends through Patricia's work as a doula, assisting births. They have three terrific kids--Ben, 17, a senior in high school and a talented musician and water polo champion; Zoe, 14, a straight-A student and a budding actress; and Isobel, 12, also a precocious performer and creative writer with a firecracker of a personality. Because these relatives live cross country from me, and because we all get caught up in our own busy lives, I have not had much opportunity before now to really get to know them all as a family. This week I made up for lost time by staying with them in their home in San Jose.

It has been such a delight to get better acquainted with these intelligent, articulate, motivated and well behaved kids. But the real joy for me has been in witnessing my brother and his wife perform their roles as parents so wonderfully. They are passionately and devotedly involved in their children's lives; encouraging them, nurturing them, applying pressure where needed, but always with a sense of fairness and with love. Watching my brother come in from a long day at work and sit down immediately to assist Zoe with math homework, or proudly show me video of Ben playing water polo--it's hard to describe the feelings I have knowing that of all of Alex's great achievements, his greatest is as a terrific father. I am very proud of him, and I think he has one hell of a great family. I have also enjoyed being the visiting actor uncle, and had the pleasure of coaching Zoe on her very first Shakespeare monologue--Juliet's balcony speech--and of visiting Isobel's drama class at her middle school. I love speaking to kids, especially young actors.
Even though I grew up in a theatrical family, I still received a great deal of discouragement and negativity from teachers and people in the business when I was coming up as a fledgling artist. And I feel like that kind of talk is cheap. What kids need is encouragement. Sure, they have to know that they are contemplating a highly competitive career, with a great deal of rejection and potential for heartbreak. But more than that, they need to know that if they believe in themselves and they persist, they will have opportunities to do what they love. I warned Isobel's teachers that I love the sound of my own voice and will go on and on and ON, but they let me go, and I filled a 50 minute class with my "words of wisdom." Mostly I told these bright eyed, expectant kids to believe in themselves, to take good care of their bodies (no smoking, no drugs), and to find ways to be well rounded and have a full life--nurturing not only their artistic aspirations, but their relationships with friends and family--and cultivating many interests, developing other talents and abilities. I got a real charge out of being able to be an inspiration to them. It reminded me that when I was 12 or 13, I was just like them--stage struck and hungry to live out my dream. Come to discover, I STILL AM.

San Jose, the tenth largest city in the U.S., and the capital of high tech Silicon Valley, is really a very attractive and rapidly developing fine city. The downtown area is attractive and modern, with beautifully designed pedestrian malls, a plethora of restaurants, a state of the art light rail system, and sleek office buildings and upscale hotels. In addition to our venue this week, the San Jose Performing Arts Center, there are other performance venues, including the San Jose Rep, where I had the pleasure of auditioning this week. I also stopped in for a visit to the San Jose Museum of Art. The "historic wing" of the museum is a beautiful Romanesque revival building from the late 19th century, an historic landmark which once served as the San Jose post office and then a library; the "new wing," a slick modern space, was added to the museum in 1991 and the contrast of the two architectural statements is striking. Interestingly, the current main exhibit of contemporary art focused mostly on artist's statements about our abuse of the environment, of the dehumanizing effect of the proliferation of technology, and on corruption in our political institutions. A thought provoking collection of art for a city that owes its existence to the success of high tech corporations. In addition, there was a nice exhibit of Alexander Calder, encompassing his paintings, his jewelry and his famous mobiles; and again, there was our old friend Ansel Adams--this time in a small but striking exhibition of his very early work as a landscape photographer.

Since we were so close to San Francisco this week, I stole a day and drove up there to get a last shot in the arm of that great city's energy and beauty, before I return in a few weeks to the east coast. I got to meet a couple of my new friends and catch up, and then drive around the city again, from Twin Peaks through the Castro and Golden Gate Park, to Lincoln Park, where I stopped at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This is one of the great museums of San Francisco that I didn't get to visit during our engagement there, and I am so glad I had the chance to see it this week. The museum is perhaps best known for its splendid collection of Rodin bronzes, marbles and plaster sculptures; indeed, one of his most famous pieces, The Thinker, greets you as you enter the building. The collection is exquisite, and beautifully laid out so one may pass with ease from gallery to gallery representing all periods of European Art, with representative works from many of the finest old masters, from Rembrandt to Rubens, and the great Impressionists, from Monet to Degas.
My favorite pieces were perhaps the most theatrical ones (surprise, surprise). These included Thalia, Muse of Comedy, , by the 18th century court artist Jean-Marc Nattier, a playful female nude draped in satin and paying winking homage to the theatre with the mask she bears; and an extraordinary canvas by Spanish artist Jose Jimenez Y Aranda from 1879, Holy Week in Seville. This gorgeous, almost photographic depiction of an 18th century public square full of interesting characters is a fascinating slice of life, brilliantly rendered. I had such a nice visit to San Francisco, all too brief, but it was great to see the fog drift across the Golden Gate Bridge and reconnect with the recent memories of the wonderful time I spent there this year.

I connected with another San Francisco friend when I found out that Lorraine, my dresser from the Golden Gate Theatre, was to be working with me for the week here in San Jose.
Several of our wardrobe workers from that engagement have joined us here and they are all such terrific people. It really was nice to see Lorraine again and of course, a great bonus for me to have a seasoned pro who knows my show assisting me. Thanks, Lorraine! And so it is with regret that I leave Alex, Patricia, Ben, Zoe and Isobel, not knowing when we will next see each other, but confident that we now share a closer connection. It's a great gift to have such people in my family and in my life. Three more performance weeks of "Spamalot" to go, folks, hard as that may be to believe. Tucson, AZ is next for us before a week of layoff and the final push in Costa Mesa, CA. More from Tucson next week. Meanwhile, if you have a brother or sister you haven't called in a while, pick up the phone. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

Week 90: San Diego, CA

After our lengthy "sit-downs" in San Francisco and LA, I had become unaccustomed to our typical way of life on the road, i.e., one week in every city. So when we arrived in San Diego and I checked into another hotel and unpacked my bag for my week's stay, it was something of a shock to the system. However, this city and it's many splendors helped ease the way. San Diego has been rated one of the top five wealthiest cities in the U.S., and one of its most livable. The weather is perfect--sort of an unusually warm spring day every day--and the city abounds with cultural life, tourist attractions, natural wonders, and successful businesses. On my first afternoon here, Labor Day, I wandered around the downtown area, marveling at the eclectic mix of architecture--from historic 19th century structures in the bustling Gas Lamp District, to Spanish inspired buildings of stucco and terra cotta tile, to vintage art deco wonders like the Balboa Theatre, to ultra modern high rises--and eventually found myself at San Diego Bay. Seaport Village, which adjoins the imposing Convention Center, is an eccentric hodgepodge of touristy shops and restaurants clustered around the edges of a beautiful park and waterfront walk. On this holiday afternoon, the place was hopping with activity--families enjoying the sunshine, street musicians playing. A nice introduction to this fine city.

On Tuesday I hopped on the bus and made the short trip to Balboa Park, one of the great features of San Diego. This massive park encompasses the world famous San Diego Zoo, ten fascinating museums, numerous gardens, a fabulous botanical building, and the Tony-winning Old Globe Theatre.
The look and feel of today's Balboa Park is owed to the architectural genius of Bertram Goodhue, who designed the arcaded walks and ornate Spanish Revival buildings for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. It's an incredible treasure, this park, and is one of the premier attractions of San Diego. Before you ask, no, I didn't go to the zoo. I find zoos very sad. I know they are educational and I know they are an opportunity for children and adults alike to see animals they'd otherwise never see up close. But giraffes and zebras should be running through the sierras of Africa, not roaming about a pen. Just my personal feeling. Besides, there is just so much one can do with one day in Balboa Park, and being an art nut, I made a beeline for the San Diego Museum of Art. It's a concise jewel of a collection, with an emphasis on Renaissance art, much of which was endowed by Amy and Anne R. Putnam. There are wonderful devotional works by Renaissance masters like Giotto and Fra Angelico. There are also great pieces of Spanish art, a focus of the museum due to the region's rich Spanish heritage. These include masterpieces by El Greco, Goya, and the haunting Penitent Magdalen by Murillo.
On the Italian Baroque side, I was most struck by the David with the Head of Goliath by Massimo Stanzione, a Neopolitan artist who was strongly influenced by Caravaggio and others of his school including Artemisia Gentileschi, but who studied the work of classicists like Guido Reni. In this sense, his work combines the realism and chiaroscuro of Caravaggio and a mannerist lyricism of the style that came after him. Perhaps my favorite piece in the museum was Blue Eyed Boy by Modigliani, an absolutely classic example of this artist's elongated, whimsical style.

Across the way from the SDMA is the Timkin Museum, housing a very small but delightful collection of European works, including a Rembrandt, a Rubens, and a glorious crucifixion by Veronese. The museum was also hosting a special exhibit of Russian religious icons. From there I wandered over to the Old Globe. For a classical actor like me, there are a handful of Shakespearean theatres that represent the finest in classical English speaking theatre; among these are Shakespeare's Globe in London, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Stratford Festival in Canada.
The Old Globe is among these hallowed theatres, and not only produces classic plays, but has originated many successful musicals which have had Broadway success, inlcuding "Avenue Q" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Standing in front of the beautiful buildings--a replica of Shakespeare's Elizabethan playhouse and two other great spaces,--I felt that frisson of excitement and longing I always feel in such places. I still have a strong ambition to play the great roles and to play them at the finest classical theatres. I hope someday to work at Old Globe, but on Tuesday, they were loading in a show so I couldn't even get a peep at the stage! Ah well. From there, I went to the Museum of Photographic Arts, which was hosting a retrospective of the work of legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Here again were those silvery, majestic images that celebrate the natural wonders of America. Alongside this exhibit was one dedicated to the work of Jo Whaley, "Theatre of Insects." Whaley was a scenic artist who turned to art photography, and she has a fascination with insects--beetles, butterflies. She takes these colorful creatures and places them in miniature theatrical settings, producing richly detailed and highly evocative tableaux. I was a real fan of this show.

On Wednesday, I had an audition for a director who runs a theatre in one of the coastal towns north of San Diego, so I drove out there and back, enjoying the gorgeous scenery along coastal route 101, and the interesting, affluent communities that dot the shoreline. Del Mar seems to have chosen Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon as the model for it's community's look--strange, faux Tudor buildings and squares occupied by blonde surfer types. Odd. La Jolla is a very wealthy enclave which encompasses UC San Diego, and another fine regional theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse.

Thursday, I kept my rental car so I could hit the beach. This is an incredible area of the country, and the beaches are some of the best. I took myself out to Torrey Pines, and the Torrey Pines State Beach, a portion of which is known as Black's Beach. This glorious, unspoiled, vast expanse of beach lies at the foot of dizzyingly steep cliffs. To reach the sand, one has to make one's way along a winding, crumbling, terrifying trail down the cliffside (and then scale its exhausting length on the way back up!)--however, the trek is worth it. The beach is incredible, the water the perfect temperature, the atmosphere serene. My only regret is that I didn't bring my camera to capture some of the beauty of the place--however, Black's is a nude beach and I am quite sure my picture taking would not be taken to kindly!

Friday, I had a mission. I got up early and caught a water taxi over to Coronado Island, which lies across San Diego Bay. This charming community was built in the late 19th century by rich industrialists as an elite resort town. It is not much more than a mile across from bayside to oceanside, and is a lovely, small town America sort of place (with palm trees). The jewel in the crown of Coronado is the historic Hotel Del Coronado, affectionately known here as "The Del."
This great old beach hotel from 1888 was my destination because of it's famous appearance as the location of the "Florida" sequences in the classic Billy Wilder comedy, "Some Like It Hot," one of my all time favorites. And while the hotel has seen an expansion over the years, to include a spa, multiple pools, retail shops, restaurants, and some rather ugly additional guest bungalows, it still retains its familiar silhouette. More frissons of recognition and excitement as I stood on the beach where Marilyn, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon romped 50 years ago this year. In fact, next weekend Tony Curtis will be the guest of honor at a special weekend celebration at the hotel commemorating the film. I played the Jack Lemmon part of 'Jerry' several years ago in the musical version, "Sugar," and it is a role I very much hope to play again. I strolled down Orange Avenue from The Del back toward the bayside area and ferry dock and stopped on the way at the Coronado Historical Association to enjoy a charming exhibit of the work and life of L. Frank Baum, author of the "Oz" books. Baum was a guest for many years at the Hotel Del Coronado and also owned a vacation home on Coronado Island which he shared with his family. The exhibit had some terrific old photos and artifacts, and some pristine first editions of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and other of Baum's classic children's works. It was a nice added treat to an all around lovely day. Next time you find yourself in San Diego, don't miss the chance to visit nearby Coronado.

Phew! What a week! And while I must admit I am looking forward to going back to New York and being again home and in one place, I was reminded this week in this wonderful city of how fortunate I have been to be able to explore our great country. San Diego and environs is a terrific place and I am so glad I got a nice taste of it's many splendors.
Now to introduce you to Judy, my San Diego dresser. Judy got into the costume and wardrobe business through the design and construction end of things, and she is still a costume designer for both theatre, and interestingly, the circus! She and I had a great chat about San Francisco, a city she lived in for a long time and has great affection for--something we have in common. She has done a great job this week, so, many thanks Judy! Monday we return to the bay area, for a week in San Jose. For me it will be a family visit, as I will be staying with my brother, his wife and kids, whom you have all met before on this blog. More from there next weekend, folks!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Say Goodbye To Hollywood

Week 89: Los Angeles, CA

It's somehow symbolic of Hollywood that Tara was just a facade, with no rooms inside.
--David O. Selznick

We had two celebrity visitations last weekend, from two ends of the show biz spectrum. On Saturday night, Miss June Lockhart, who you may remember as the mom on "Lost in Space," came back stage. In her eighties and still lovely, Miss Lockhart was so gracious and so enthusiastic about the show. She won all our hearts. On Sunday afternoon, Placido Domingo came by and saw the first half of our matinee. He came back stage at intermission to congratulate us, and was warm and charming (especially to the show girls!). Mr. Domingo is the director of the LA Opera and is of course, one of the greatest tenors who has ever lived. Wonderful to meet him.

Our LA run is winding down, but the houses have been consistently full, and the audiences rapturous. It is a rather odd time to be here, as the wildfires continue to blaze in the surrounding area, with no sign of abatement. It is rather like being in Pompeii and waiting for the lava to ooze into town. Nevertheless, everyone gets on with business as usual in Hollywood, even if the air is sooty and the heat unbearable. I have truly enjoyed my personal routine here: my gorgeous condo sublet, my little rental car, my gym and amazing yoga teacher (who I will dearly miss). I've accomplished so much here, from becoming a competent driver, to gaining valuable exposure to the business through my performances in the show, and some few positive meetings, to getting my new and wonderful head shots (see image above). Things are starting to buzz in New York, with some interesting projects to audition for and new ground to gain after the tour ends. Despite my enjoyment of LA, I am excited to be returning to New York in a few weeks' time.

Those of you who follow my blog and also are fans of the tour and touring cast might be interested in a copy of a terrific book of photographs put together by our stage manager, Francesca Russell. It's called "Travels on the Bright Side" and is a chronicle of Francesca's journey with the "Spamalot" tour. She's got a great eye and there are terrific back stage candids and wonderful scenic shots from the various cities we visited. For more information or to order the book visit: http://tiny.cc/6sLm6 .

It's time to introduce you to Loretta, my wonderful LA dresser.
Boy, Jeff Dumas and I lucked out, when Loretta was assigned to us. Not only is she a consummate pro and absolutely fantastic at her job, but she is a genuinely fun person to be around. Loretta has dressed some great actors (including our beloved Richard Chamberlain) and has toured with shows as well. She is an enthusiastic crossword puzzle solver, a delightful conversationalist and has given me great tips of things to do and see and eat in the area. In short, we love Loretta, and will miss her!

A friend from college who I had not seen in over twenty years came to the show. We reconnected at the stage door and talked a little about LA. She said to me, "Do not move here. It is a hellpit and will devour your soul." Obviously she has her own story to tell about life in Hollywood, and no one who lives in a major show business town walks away unscathed. I told her, don't worry, there are many things I like about LA. The weather. The beaches. The less stressful interpersonal environment. But I hate the drivers. And the traffic. And the drivers. And the parking fees. And oh, did I mention the drivers? USE YOUR @#&%!! DIRECTIONAL SIGNAL, @#&%!! MORON! Ultimately, give me Manhattan. She is a harsh mistress but at least I understand her now. Another of the blessings of travel. You learn to appreciate HOME. Next week, San Diego.