Sunday, March 30, 2008

Battle of the Beards

Sunday, March 30th

This Sunday, Sunday, Sunday - at the Bob Carr PAC in Orlando, Florida:
Spamalot's Battle of the Beards!

Terry Thomas, our sub-prop man, is an inspiring guy. As soon as Ken met Terry, he began proposing the Battle of the Beards. I think this photo of Terry will help you understand why:

Terry's beard is awesome.

Today was meant to be the last day that the backstage men of Spamalot shaved. The Battle of the Beards is ON. We're meant to be growing our whiskers for the next 4 weeks (through Birmingham, Greenville, Raleigh and Dayton). We'll see how many of us actually have something to show at the end of the month; but here is a rouge's gallery of the pre-growth photos:

Karl: Company Manager
Karl claims to only be able to grow a "neck beard" and is reticent to participate, but we're hoping to shame him into it.

David: Associate Company Manager
Also reluctant to participate.

Justin: Head Carpenter

Tony: Sound

Mike: Deck Electrician
Mike "forgot" to shave this morning (I think the actual quote was: "I could shave or I could get laid.") but has been heard telling everyone else to "MAN UP" and join the battle.

Nate: Flyman
Nate is too pretty to battle.

Ryan: Deck Carpenter
Ryan is all in. He shaved off his signature goatee to do battle.

Keith: Automation Carpenter

Roy: Wardrobe

Mitchell: Head of Hair Department

Jason: Hair Jason didn't shave, but he's my bet for fiercest beard battler.

Wayne: Head of Wardrobe Department
Wayne is adamently not participating.

Cuz: Audio
A beard AND a kilt - a fearsome combination.

Scott: Head of Props

Jeff: Frontlights

Mark: Head Electrician
Mark is taking off some time next week to go SCUBA diving and won't be able to start on his beard until next weekend. I think he'll be able to catch up, no problem.

Graham: Dance Captain Graham can only do battle as long as he doesn't have to go on for any of our ensemble boys. Stay healthy guys!

Ken: Production Stage Manager

JV: Stage Manager
Sheila Marie helped me shave off my goatee this morning (It's been seven years since I've been babyfaced!)

So, these are everybody's "before" pictures. I'll add updates as we progress. Hopefully, we can get some super fun facial hair by the time we roll into Dayton.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

At Long Last, YANKEES!!!

Tuesday, March 25th

One-weeker #8 (of 22): Ruth Eckerd Hall - Clearwater, Florida.

Ruth Eckerd Hall is a weird theatre. The building was designed in a "Frank Lloyd Wright style" - the Guggenheim style, not the Falling Waters style - making it sort of odd-looking (in my estimation). The auditorium is also odd: like the Civic Center in Des Moines, Ruth Eckerd Hall looks like an indoor amphitheatre. There is no balcony and its 2,180 seats are arranged in the continental style (with no aisles). The result is an ocean of teal green seats arrayed before the stage. It does seem, though, that this arrangement results in a better audience reaction: both in Des Moines and in Clearwater, the audience reaction was enormous.

The exterior of Ruth Eckerd Hall

View from the back of the house

We welcomed another new cast member in Clearwater - Bree Branker will replace the retiring Julie Barnes. In addition, we welcomed our new drummer: Paul Hannah took the sticks from Lee Appleman. This period of intense personnel change will continue for a while; the next week without a new person scheduled to rehearse is in Appleton, WI - the second week in MAY. Of course, new people mean rehearsal, but I was lucky enough to draw rehearsal duty on only one afternoon!

Monday and Tuesday were, per usual, taken up with load-in and opening night. Our traditional load-in lunch was a welcome distraction, though. Team Spamamanagement all eats together during the lunch break on Tuesday. This week, we retired to Ken's hotel for lunch: the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. As Spring Break-y as other parts of Florida are at this time of year, Safety Harbor was not. It's a cute little town on Tampa Bay. The Resort sits on the site of four natural springs that were once reported to have healing powers. The springs were "discovered" by Hernando de Soto and named "Espiritu Santo Springs" in 1539 (of course the native Indians had been around the springs for centuries). Since then, the springs have been capped and bottled and the lure of Aveda products is as strong as that of the healing waters. We enjoyed a tour of the place and a nice alfresco meal with Ken's boyfriend Geoff.

Geoff, Ken, Karl and Francesca enjoy their after-lunch ice cream

Ken points out that Tampa is just across the bay!

Wednesday I resumed my Spring Training Tour with a trip to St. Petersburg. Progress Energy Park is home to Al Lang Field and the Tampa Bay Rays (nei D-Rays and Devil Rays). Fun-fact: the Rays are the only team to train in their home town. Scott, Cuz, Vera, Roy, Angela and I all made the short trip to see the Rays take on the Phillies. Al Lang Field has hosted spring training baseball since the Philadelphia Nationals took the field in 1916. 2008 marks the last year for this venerable park, the Rays plan to knock down the current field and replace it with a new home for the perpetually cellar-dwelling team (the Rays have finished in last place in the AL East in all but one season of their existence). The place was full of both Rays and Phillies (who train in Clearwater) fans making for a fun afternoon. The Rays were 3-1 winners in a game where the wind kept pop-ups interesting, but kept everything inside the park.

Progress Energy Park with Tampa Bay in the distance

Inside Progress Energy Park

Cuz, Vera, Angela, Roy, Scott & JV at the Rays game

Raymond - the Rays mascot. His official team bio claims that he is a "sea dog" and he works in exchange for a lifetime supply of hot dogs.

Wednesday night was Spamily poker night. The game was a big one this week with a dozen of us gathered around tables in a hotel room (sitting on chairs, end tables and the bed!). Bless Graham for continually organizing these games - we've been talking about a regular game nearly as long as I've been on the tour, and Graham's making it happen. The games also continue to get more fun. Everyone's a good sport and the competive spirit seems to be at about the right level for a friendly game. Though I finished just out of the money in our little tournament, I did draw an amazing hand:

My royal flush!!! Too little, too late; I was out of the tournament a few hands later...

Crammed into a room at the Candlewood (& loving it!)

Thursday was originally scheduled to have a full company rehearsal. Spamalot's choreographer, Casey Nicholaw was meant to come see us in Clearwater and brush-up the show and our host of new performers, but a spring-time cold kept him in New York and freed me up to see another spring training game! Thursday I drove a few miles north to see the Toronto Blue Jays in their spring training facility, Knology Park, play host to the twenty-six time world champion New York Yankees. Knology park is a great little ballpark (when the Jays and their Florida league team are out of town, the Dunedin High School team plays at the park). Of course, the Yankee fans and the Jays fans don't share a lot of lost love and the crowd was about evenly split (the Yanks train across the bridge in Tampa). Only about half of the boys in pinstripes made the trip, meaning I didn't get to see Posada, Jeter or A-Rod, but I did get to imitate Godzilla crushing Tokyo and see Damon make an amazing throw in from left. Joba Chamberlin threw a ten pitch, three strike out inning late, but the story of the game was really Ian Kennedy's awesome starting pitching. The Yanks beat-up on the Blue Birds 7-2. (The much hated Vernon Wells didn't play the field, but took one at bat; which was just the opportunity I needed to remind him that, in the words of Mike Gugliotti: "Vernon, you SUCK!!!")

Knology Park - Spring Training Home of the Toronto Blue Jays

The most entertaining Beer Man in the world! He lead the crowd in the 7th inning stretch and cheers. My favorite was: "If you can't catch a ball - catch a buzz!"

Piper, JV, Patrick and Nigel at the game

Thursday night the company threw a farewell party for Lee Appleman. Lee has been the Spamalot Tour drummer since the days of the rehearsal studio. He's been an integral part of the Spamily since long before I joined this traveling circus. Even though most of us rarely see Lee (the vageries of backstage layouts and the nature of musicians being in a pit) his energy is keenly felt each and every show. The party was held at a bar cleverly named "O'Boobigan's". It can best be described as and Irish bar and a Hooters mashed up. The waitresses wore tight tank tops and short shorts while they poured Guinness and whiskey. In the days leading up to the party, all one had to do was say the word "O'Boobigan's" to get the company laughing (the word may have even made it into the show on Thursday night...) and the party itself lived up to the hype. We toasted Lee (with Irish Car Bombs, of course) and many people had their picture taken with Crawdaddy (the crazy keyboard player who also played the show in Fort Myers). We also cleaned out the bar's stock of t-shirts...

Vera models the O'Boobigan's tank top

Crawdaddy, Lee and the assorted crustaceans

On Friday, I could no longer avoid rehearsal. I took the opportunity to, finally, finish up my West Palm blog and to share a meal with the Wardrobe crew. They were all in for an afternoon work call and fitting session, so our dinner breaks aligned. On the way to our load-in lunch on Tuesday, I noticed a barbecue joint tucked back on one of the side streets in Safety Harbor. Brady's Backyard BBQ is obviously a labor of love. The staff is all family members of the owners and the restaurant came from friends urging the owners to take their backyard barbecues pro. All the meat comes from the smoker and all the seating is at picnic tables. Of course, I enjoyed it. I ordered a half-slab of meaty baby back ribs along with some corn pudding and greens - delicious. Oh yeah, the company was pretty nice too. Team wardrobe had me laughing and smiling throughout the meal.

Friday night I sat outside the Candlewood with a bunch of the crew boys and drank a few beers while they grilled (I couldn't face anymore ribs) and I waited for my laundry to cycle through the washing machines. Hooray, for the free laundry at the Candlewood hotels. It's no small amenity when you're traveling all the time to be able to wash your clothes at midnight.

The rest of the weekend flew by (as it so often does) and now I find myself in the shadow of the Mouse in Orlando awaiting the arrival of my wife!

The customary album of photos can be found here with a special album of O'Boobigan's photos here.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Cottage Under the Banyan Tree

Tuesday, March 18th
The Kravis Center

The week in West Palm Beach was another busy one. It felt like every day was booked up. I did, however, have some really great housing for the week. I rented myself the "Coconut Palms Cottage". Francesca actually found the cottage on and passed the listing on to me. It was a tiny oasis of calm. I loved staying in my little yellow cottage under the banyan tree.

The Coconut Palms Cottage - view across the patio

As you approach the cottage from the garden path

I drove up from Miami on Monday to be at the load-in. The Kravis Center was surprisingly roomy and things went very well. Tuesday, as usual, was eaten up with more load-in and opening night. We did two shows on Wednesday. By Wednesday night, we had all had enough Spamalot. Julie Barnes arranged an impromptu trip to Sloane's ice cream (in the neighboring City Place shopping/dining/residential development). Much of the Spamily turned up for some post-show sweets.

The Spamily invades Sloan's

Jonathan and his giant ice cream cone

In addition to ice cream and candy, Sloan's offered all sorts of novelties...

Thursday afternoon was my only opening for Grapefruit League Baseball. Jupiter (15 minutes north of West Palm Beach) is the Spring Training home of the Florida Marlins and the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Matt Allen, one of our ensemble men, is a St. Louis native and big fan of the Cards so picking a game for the week was a no-brainer. Roger Dean Stadium was a nice facility (both the Cards and Marlins have minor league teams that play their seasons there), but not all that big - a little more than 7,000 seats. The Cards hosted the Mets and the game was quite the draw; the only tickets available were standing room. Fortunately, there was plenty of room and good places to stand. It was another perfect day for baseball and we had a great time. The Red Birds took the game to a tenth inning before defeating the ratty Mets.

Matt outside the ballpark in full Cardinals regalia

Jeff, JV, Piper, Patrick, Brad and Cuz along the right field line

Roger Dean Stadium

After the show on Thursday night, I invited several of the guys to the Coconut Palms Cottage to sit on the porch and enjoy some cigars. Right outside my front door was a patio as big as the cottage itself - it cried out for a party. Graham, Tony, Berg, Karl and Scott all came over for a drink and a cigar. It was a great evening of just relaxing and hanging out with the boys.

Friday we had a photo/video shoot that ate up the whole afternoon. Saturday, as usual, was a two show day. Graham and Cara hosted shot night Saturday evening. In honor of the approach of St. Patrick's Day they poured bright green "Key Lime Pie Shots". The shots were super-strong even with a topping of whipped cream and crushed graham crackers. Irish music and dancing (lead by Brian O'Brien) accompanied the drinks.

Cara and Brian dancing at shot night

Ken made a kilt from one of our Equity cots

Brian leads an Irish Dance Lesson

Sunday morning I got up early, did laundry and drove over to Palm Beach to glimpse the ocean. While West Palm Beach, where the theatre and the cottage were, was nice - Palm Beach is uber-nice. It reminded me very much of East Hampton. The streets are lined with designer boutiques in rows that, very consciously, try to maintain a small town feel. The residential streets are lined with tall hedges and you're just as likely to see a Bentley as a Volvo. I stopped at the municipal beach to dip my toes in the ocean once again. The beach was beautiful white sand dotted with all kinds of shells.
Palm Beach is one of the Atlantic nesting grounds for Loggerhead Sea Turtles. March is still a little early for the turtles to crawl ashore to dig their nests, but the town has already begun enforcing it's lights out on the beach rule. (Once they hatch, the baby turtles dig out of the nest and follow the light of the moon toward the ocean. Street lights, security lights and other man-made lights confuse the babies and lead them in-land where they often die. The mother turtles are reluctant to dig nests, wisely, on beaches with bright lights nearby. Once they hatch, the babies swim for up to a week, without stopping, to reach seaweed fields at sea!)

Piper hosted a Sunday morning brunch at her apartment near the theatre. She made an entire feast: 3 kinds of quiche, 2 varieties of stuffed french toast, 3 kinds of sausage and on and on. About a dozen of us showed up to partake al fresco. Another fun way to hang out with the Spamily outside of the theatre or the bar. Thanks, Piper for hosting.

Piper: the hostess who made the mostess

Sunday brunch under the palms

With just a Sunday matinee (the pay-off from the hateful Wednesday matinee) those of us who weren't loading out had Sunday evening free. I cast about during the early part of the week looking for something cool to do with my unusual evening off. I settled on a trip back down the shore to Fort Lauderdale and the Mai Kai. The Mai Kai opened in 1956 and has been serving up an "authentic" South Seas experience ever since. Karl, Erik and I made the 45 minute trip to enjoy tropical beverages in the Molokai Bar and it was worth the trip. The bar is decorated to resemble the interior of a sailing ship: with lanterns, rigging and sails. Many of the windows have water streaming down over them with island scenes outside that feature tiki idols, torches and giant seashells. Despite the obvious kitsch possibilities, the Mai Kai took itself very seriously. We enjoyed our pupu platter and assorted rum drinks (Karl got one served in a hollowed out pineapple) immensely. After we had our fill of rum, we made a return visit to Primanti Brothers for some french fry and cole slaw laden sandwiches to soak up the drinks.

Karl with his pineapple drink - the Pina Passion

Karl, JV and Erik: this photo was taken by one of the "lovely sarong-clad maidens" who tend the Molokai Bar (though they don't mix any drinks - that happens in a secret back room.)

Outside the Mai Kai

Erik at Primanti Bros.

Monday I drove from Florida's Atlantic Coast, across the cattle and citrus ranches that populate the dry areas in central Florida, to the Gulf Coast and the next stop on the tour: Clearwater. I passed right by Legends Field (spring training home of the 26 time World Champion New York Yankees) just as the Bronx Bombers were preparing to lay waste to the BoSox. It broke my heart not to stop, but there was yet another load-in to attend to...

The Spamalot Tour celebrated its official two year anniversary on Saturday.
The producers gave us all fleece jackets to celebrate.
Here's Suzanne modeling our gift!

The customary album of photos from the week is here.