Friday, January 25, 2008

Boston

Wednesday, January 30th

Last Friday evening marked my 400th performance with Spamalot. 51 weeks of Python fun. Good heavens that's a lot of "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam..."

Boston was been busy, both personally and professionally. Our arrival in Beantown marked the beginning of a period of intense personnel change for the tour. In the coming weeks we will replace a whole bunch of cast members: 2 ensemble women, King Arthur, Patsy, Sir Bedevere & an ensemble man will all be replaced before the end of Florida. Fran Curry (1/3 of Team Wardrobe) said farewell last week and joined the Avenue Q tour. Our Maestro is taking a three month leave. We will welcome a new keyboard player and a new drummer. Our Prop Master is also taking a leave and will be temporarily replaced. Everybody is also gearing up for the beginning of our long stretch of one week engagements. (Monday was my last real day off for roughly the next six months.)



Fran hosted shot night just before she got out of town.



We began rehearsing Jen Rias (who will take over for the charming Amy Karlein) in Boston. Jen is super-friendly and very quick study - both good qualities in a replacement. Amy will, of course, be missed - but Jen seems like a good fit for the Spamily.

When I wasn't rehearsing, I was hanging out with S.O'C. Let's face it, Shannon is rad. I've loved having a friend in town. We've been hanging out in her apartment, sharing meals and playing a bit of guitar hero (at which I am truly dreadful, but improving, and she is a pro). I enjoy her a lot. Sheila Marie and Andy joined us the first weekend in Boston for more hanging out with Shannon.

I made a quick trip home to NYC on the middle day off. (It now appears it will be my last glimpse of home for the foreseeable future.) Sheila Marie had Monday off, so we were able to hang out all day. After taking care of a few things on the "honey-do" list, I relished the opportunity to cook in my own kitchen.


I did do a bit of sight-seeing upon my return to Boston. I took the T over to Cambridge and wandered around Harvard. It's amazing to think that by the time MSU was founded, they had been handing out degrees at Harvard for more than two hundred years. (Not only is Harvard the oldest University in the US, it is also the oldest corporation.) The Harvard campus is exactly how I imagined the prototypical Northeastern College Campus to be: lots of small buildings grouped around a common yard with a church (sporting the traditional New England soaring spire) near the center. It struck me as funny how much Cambridge was like every other college town, though: ridiculous parking regulations, a student ghetto of barely maintained rental properties and an Urban Outfitters.


The Johnston Gate entrance to Harvard Yard




The statue of John Harvard. Tourists rub his foot for good luck - rumor has it that Harvard Undergrads pee on that same foot at night.




Last weekend, Sheila and Andy returned to Boston with Erin and David. We spent the whole weekend hanging out together. We all enjoyed the hearty delights of Jacob Wirth's German food (some of the best potato pancakes I've ever had) and burgers at 21st Amendment (David's favorite place in Boston - across from the Statehouse), but the highlight of their visit was the meal Shannon prepared for all of us. Between the matinee and evening show on Saturday, we kicked the party off with a whole raft of appetizers. They all digested and played guitar hero while I did a second show. After the evening show, we had a late dinner of roast beef, corn on the cob and goat cheese potato au gratin. Homemade meals are so rare on the road, but this one was extra special.




Shannon, Erin, Sheila Marie and David on the steps of the Massachusetts State House




Erin relaxes on the couch with a cider (naturally)

A toast to the hostess



David and Andy take an after dinner nap


While the show left town Sunday night, I hung around Boston for an extra day. Shannon and I declared Monday: "Shannon and Jovon's Historical Adventure Day." We met up for a late breakfast and hit the Freedom Trail. We began with a tour of the Massachusetts State House and hoofed it all the way out to Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Monument seeing all sorts of colonial heritage along the way. We detoured to the Boston Holocaust Memorial which was a lovely tribute to all those who were murdered in the Nazi death camps. On our way home, we wandered the Little Italy of the North End and had a great dinner and pastries.


"The Redcoats are approaching!" JV & Paul Revere in front of Old North Church



Shannon at the Shipyard


S.O'C and JV in the North End



Bright and early Tuesday morning, I hopped the Acela train bound for Providence and load-in at the Providence PAC. I was glad to have Boston as the last stop before the five months of "one weekers" - a place close enough that I could get home to NYC and where my wife and friends could come for a visit as well as a place where I had such a close friend to hang out with.

JV



P.S. - I have finally joined the digital age. One my way home from visiting Cambridge, I stopped off in Beacon Hill and bought a digital camera. Since then, I've been taking lots more photos. Of course, many are here but I've also created a snapfish album of my visit to Boston.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Notes from Bah-Stun

Tuesday, January 15th

1) The good people of Boston are cracking me up with their accents. Seriously. They really talk like they're in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

2) The stage hands here are stage hands of the old school. I like these guys a lot. If you could some how change their accents from Boston to Long Island (which isn't all that big a change, truth be told), they could be my guys from the Music Hall. I feel right at home.

3) I was walking along the edge of the Commons last night behind a group of guys who were having the following conversation:
"I don't know how anybody can be a Yankee fan. I mean, even if you were born in New York City - the Yankees just suck."
"I know, I mean I have a friend from New York and even he doesn't like the Yankees."
"You're right, the Yankees just clearly suck."

This conversation was completely serious. Spring training doesn't start for another month, the Patriots are making a record setting run for the Superbowl, and these guys are talking about how much the Yankees suck. Come on.

4) The theatre here is lovely. What is now the Opera House, opened in 1928 as the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre. The theatre opened as a vaudeville house but was converted to a movie theatre the following year. In 1991 the Opera House closed after a disasterous flood and didn't reopen until renovations were completed in 2004. The interior of the auditorium was, of course, restored and refurbished to something like it's original appearance while the backstage spaces were enlarged and modernized. The resulting backstage is a mish-mashy maze of new and old architecture with giant, trapezoidal stage house; plenty of room for everything and everyone.



JV

Monday, January 14, 2008

Goodbye Schenectady

Monday, January 14th




Saturday morning, I got up early and took a walking tour of Schenectady's historic Stockade district. The neighborhood's name refers to the stockade wall that surrounded the original settlements on the shores of the Mohawk River. Arendt Van Curler founded Schenectady in 1661 and the tiny town based its economy on fur trading and the transport of goods along the river (a series of falls downstream of Schenectady meant that goods were pulled out of the river here and transported overland to Albany for the trip downstate). The Stockade neighborhood was the center of business and civic life until the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. With the opening of the canal, the business district moved away from the river's edge and left the Stockade a mix of 18th and early 19th century buildings.



Several houses in the district bear signs like this one: "George Washington slept here."


Governor Yates House - Joseph Yates was the first mayor of Schenectady and the 4th Governor of New York. His home dates from 1760.


This statue depicts "Lawrence the Indian" and marks the site of Queen Anne's Fort which was built in 1704 after the French and their Indian allies masacred the residents of early Schenectady and burned the town nearly to the ground. Lawrence was a Mohawk Indian and friend of the early settlers. He lead the tracking party that pursued the retreating French. (The attack was part a series of raids by the French from Canada in retaliation for a series of Iroquois raids on Canada supported by the British.)


The spire of St. George's Episcopal Church founded in 1758.


The churchyard cemetery at St. George's. There are headstones dating from the early 1800's in the churchyard.


I really enjoyed my tour of historic Schenectady, it really helped me understand what the city is doing there. After the opening of the Erie Canal, the city became a major manufacturing center. It was home to General Electric (after Thomas Edison moved his workshops there in 1887) and the American Locomotive Company. One of the first commercial radio stations in the nation is found in Schenectady (WGY-AM) and the world's first television station (W2XB) broadcast on Thursday and Friday afternoons from the GE Plant.



Schenectady's City Hall



Ken, Karl and I had a really nice dinner between shows on Saturday. We walked up Jay Street to Schenectady's "Little Italy". The neighborhood is home to a couple of tasty-looking bakeries and Cornell's Italian Restaurant. Cornell's began serving homemade Italian food in 1943 and is home to a third generation serving Schenectady. The food was delicious. We then headed back toward the theatre and to Rachael Ray's "favorite Italian bakery": Villa Italia. (Rachael Ray is from Glens Falls also in upstate NY.) We loaded up on cappuccino, cannoli and sfogliatelle before our second show.



Sunday, we just had one afternoon show before it was time to hit the road again. This time, the bus was headed east to Boston. We arrived in Beantown around 8:30 Sunday night. After we checked in, I met up with Team Wardrobe for Fran's going away dinner (Fran will leave us at the end of the week to join the Avenue Q tour). Fran, Wayne, Roy and I had a lovely dinner at Legal Sea Foods and drank a heartfelt toast to Fran's success in her new role as puppet wrangler.


When I awoke this morning, Boston was blanketed in snow. A nor'easter blew through last night leaving behind several inches of the white stuff. By the time I went out this afternoon in search of some chowder, the streets were a sloppy mess but the Commons were beautiful:


Snowy Commons





The Massachusetts State House across the Commons




Samuel Adams and Faneuil Hall





Quincy Market - All that tasty food hidden behind a mountain of snow.




Load-in at the Opera House


JV

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Schenectady - Tour Week #49

Thursday, January 10th


On Monday morning, the "People Professionals" pulled up outside the Carlyle Suites to take us away from Washington.



The trip from D.C. to upstate New York was actually quite nice. There were only about a dozen of us on the bus and Karl provided some great refreshments: we had pastries, coffee, a sausage frittata (homemade by Karl with the last of his D.C. groceries) and even mimosas! It was a longish trip (7 hours, or so) and we had to pass within sight of NYC ("Hello, home! Goodbye, home...), but an enjoyable travel day - infinitely more civilized than any of our plane trips.

Schenectady didn't appear all that welcoming as we arrived in the dark. The Holiday Inn, however, was most welcoming. My hotel points afforded me an upgrade to the top floor and an invitation to their nightly social hour! Karl and I had some nosh and a glass of wine (membership has its privileges) before we went across the street for dinner. We ate at a Mom & Pop Italian/Greek restaurant with much of the music department and Christopher Gurr. It was quite enjoyable.

Tuesday was it's usual long load-in day self, but the theatre is really nice. Proctors Theatre is a former vaudeville palace (opened in 1926) that was recently restored and remodeled as part of a downtown redevelopment plan. The auditorium maintains its old school splendor, but the backstage has been enlarged and made modern. As you pass under the theatre's marquis, you enter Proctors Arcade - the lobby of the theatre is a shopping arcade! It's lined with small, cute shops including a coffee shop and the lobby restaurant of the adjoining hotel.



Proctors Arcade (the stage door is all the way at the end).

I have to admit that it's fun to come to work every night under a light up "vaudeville" sign.

(Historical fun fact: On May 22, 1930 Proctors Theatre was the site of the first public demonstration of television. An orchestra seated on the stage was conducted by the image of a maestro being filmed at the General Electric laboratories more than a mile away.)



The theatre threw us a nice opening night party. Across the arcade they have a newly constructed black box theatre that they converted to a party room for us. They had a wide array of desserts and even some hosts costumed in medieval garb.


The desserts.


Above our heads they were showing The Holy Grail film.


Wednesday Wayne and I took another of our road trips. We headed 60 miles west to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The drive over was pretty, especially the portion of the trip along the shores of Lake Otsego. As you can imagine, I really, really enjoyed the Hall of Fame.


The exterior of National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lou Gehrig's locker (transplanted from Yankee Stadium) and some artifacts from the Yankee's famed 1927 "Murderers Row".


The "Roar of '84"


Game balls from every no-hitter thrown since the opening of the Hall of Fame. (7 of these balls were hurled by Nolan Ryan!)



On the third floor, there's an entire display devoted to the various baseball parks (past and present) and their different traditions. This is Bob Shepard's PA announcer microphone!!!



The original 5 inductees to the Hall of Fame.
Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were inducted in 1936. The Hall of Fame opened in 1939 on the 100th anniversary of the alleged invention of baseball by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown.

(Baseball Hall of Fame fun fact: 33 former Yankees are in the Hall of Fame - 17 wear a Yankee cap on their plaque. "Goose" Gossage's induction will bring the totals to 34 and 18; further cementing the Yankee's absolute dominance in the Hall of Fame.)


Today we had two shows (meaning we'll load-out after a matinee on Sunday, hooray!). I hope to get out and see more of Schenectady itself tomorrow afternoon, if the weather cooperates. Since my first impression, Schenectady has looked more and more inviting. Their downtown revitalization seems to be taking root. There's a whole arts district growing around the theatre and many restaurants in the neighborhood. Directly across State Street from Proctors, Jay Street has been made into a pedestrian mall and is home to several interesting shops and cafes. There are also a couple of historic neighborhoods and districts in town that I'd like to visit. Thus far, Schenectady is certainly making a good impression!
JV

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Goodbye, D.C.

Tuesday, January 8th

My four weeks in Washington ended with a flurry of sight-seeing and a four show weekend. Sheila Marie and her folks headed off in opposite directions on Wednesday the second (Sheila headed north back to NYC while Donn and Rhoda headed south to Florida.)

The National Tour of My Fair Lady was also in town (and also, it turns out, staying at the Carlyle). As several of us had friends on the tour, their Company Manager arranged some seats to their Thursday matinee for us. The Kennedy Center is an impressive building. It contains eight different performance spaces - it felt to me like all of Lincoln Center combined into one building. The foyers and entrance halls were massive and very formal feeling spaces. My Fair Lady performed in the Opera House. The theatre is all red damask with crystal chandeliers (again, very reminiscent of The Met at Lincoln Center).

The Hall of Nations - one of the lobbies at the Kennedy Center

Kennedy's Memorial Bust

The entrance to the Opera House


The Watergate Complex is across the street from the Kennedy Center


I finally went out to see some of the governmental highlights on Friday. My first stop was the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, though established in the Constitution, was essentially homeless until the 1930's. The Justices held court in various conference and committee rooms in the Capitol - scheduling themselves around the workings of Congress. The court's current home at 1 First Street NE (across the street from the Capitol) while impressive, isn't all that large. It's a four story building with enormous columns and statues on either side of the marble stairs: Justice the Guardian of Liberty and Equal Justice Under the Law.

The exterior of the Supreme Court

Equal Justice Under the Law

I got to visit the Supreme Courtroom and heard a brief lecture on the history, traditions and operation of the court. The Courtroom only seats about 250 people in the gallery. There are reserved seats for guests of the Justices, Clerks, the media (who are only allowed paper and a pencil) and sketch artists. The public is admitted to hear arguments before the court (which take place only on Mondays beginning in October and lasting until as late as April) on a first come first served basis - the line usually begins to form around 6 AM for a 10 AM case. Each side is given a strictly enforced half an hour to present their case and answer questions from the Justices. The Justices hear two cases every other Monday. The cases are selected from about 8,000 that are submitted to the Court each year (generally, less 100 are selected for argument). I enjoyed my visit very much. The court seemed appropriately meditative and deliberate.

From the Court, I went to visit the National Archive and to see the "Charters of Freedom". On display in the rotunda of the building are the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. While I imagined that seeing these important documents in person would be sort of like seeing great art in person: a much more powerful experience than seeing them in a textbook. While it was cool, it wasn't transformative. I was quite surprised at how accessible the documents were. The Declaration of Independence is so faded as to be almost unreadable, but the other two were quite legible. Standing in front of them did make me think about the courage of the founders and really respect their careful forethought even in a time of crisis. It also made me wonder who would make such decisions today should it be necessary. Lastly I was reminded that these great documents are only pieces of paper. It is the ideas they represent that are so powerful and important.


On the way to work, I walked around the Capitol


The Washington Monument at sunset

On Sunday, I made a grand circle of the National Mall and saw many of the monuments and memorials we've built there. I must tell you, that I found the monuments much more impressive and inspiring than I had imagined that I would. Several of them were quite powerful and moving. I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. I especially enjoyed the FDR Memorial; it takes the shape of four outdoor "rooms" that represent each of FDR's four Presidential terms.

The fountain in the fourth "room" at the FDR monument.
(Even though it was quite a warm morning, the fountain had all these cool ice formations.)


A quote from the FDR memorial


The Jefferson Memorial as seen across the Tidal Basin


The Washington Monument reflected in the Tidal Basin


video

Looking across the Tidal Basin.


By the time I arrived back at the National Theatre, the trucks had arrived for the load-out and the crew was at work on the box call.



It was time to pack up...


Ken cleaning out his trunk

Before I left town, though, there was time for one last meal with an old friend. Hannah called me and we had dinner together between shows on Sunday. She caught me up on the news from Michigan: she was able to attend the MSU Theatre Department reunion while she was home for the holidays and caught me up on all the husbands, wives and children I have yet to meet. Every time I'm reunited with the wonderful people from my past, it only reminds why they are so dear to me. People like Hannah knew me when I was really becoming the person I am today. It has been one of the great blessings of this tour to be able to see so many people that I might not have otherwise had occasion to visit and spend some face time in their home environment. It has meant a lot to me that so many folks have made time to spend with me.

Monday morning I climbed aboard the cast bus and bid farewell to Washington. I could have spent much more time in Washington and was sad to go, but Schenectady was calling...

JV

**** Author's note: our film camera died a sad death in D.C. All these photos were taken with my cell phone. While this will drag me into the 21st century (the one containing digital cameras) and may, in all likelihood, result in many more great photos for the blog; it also means we'll have to make do with cell phone and stolen photos for a short while...