Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Banks of the Miami - Dayton, OH

Wednesday, April 30th

Downtown Dayton's Skyline (as see from the Miami River)

TVFMHRW - Looking east from the Doubletree

Let me begin by saying that I really enjoyed being back in the Midwest. It is the land of my people. I know these folks and enjoy them. That said, Dayton is not a great city. It's a rust belt city that's trying to revitalize its downtown, but doesn't have the necessary critical mass yet. They've built a beautiful new performing arts center and a nice ballpark. They have a convention center with associated hotels. There's life on the street during the daytime - there are even food tents on the square at lunch time. There are a smattering of restaurants around, but everyone seems to drive in for the event and drive out after. Lots of the Spamily spent the week complaining about the town, but it didn't seem terrible to me.

The Schuster Center. The building opened in 2003 and is the modern counterpart to the Victoria Theatre (a 1919 opera house) that also hosts the performing arts in downtown Dayton.

The ceiling in the theatre features a view of the night sky as it appeared the night of the Wright Brothers first flight.

I arrived Monday and went straight to the ballpark. Fifth Third field is home to the Dayton Dragons (A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds). The second place dragons (behind the Lansing Lugnuts) faced Midwest League rivals the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the first of a three game set. Fifth Third Field (not be confused with the park of the same name that is home to the Toledo Mudhens just up I-75) opened in 2000 and has hosted 8 consecutive sold-out seasons. Sports Illustrated listed Dragons tickets as one of the top ten hottest tickets in professional sports. The park was full on Monday night with an announced attendance well in excess of the 7,230 fixed seats (there is plenty of lawn seating as well as a party deck). I'm happy to say that many of the fans around me were devoted Dragons enthusiasts who knew about the team as well as the individual players and who were genuinely interested in the game.

Fifth Third Field as seen from the rightfield corner.

That is not to say that there wasn't plenty of between innings fun. Nearly every inning had some sort of game or give away along with antics from the team's two mascots: Heater and Gem (Dayton's nickname, inexplicably, is "The Gem City"). The couple who sat next to me was selected to play the "Fast Food Game". They were each given a giant pair of chopsticks and they had to transport various oversize food items to giant takeout containers. Hilarity ensued. I even caught a soft baseball thrown by a character known as "Roof Man" who scampered along the stadium roof in a cape (I gave it to the boy sitting next to me in full Dragon's gear).


The game itself was fun, if a bit sloppy. The Dragons fell behind early as they allowed a run to score on a wild pitch, but they blew the game open with a couple of big innings late. A lot of the scoring was fueled by wild pitches, errors and other exciting baseball, but it was an enjoyable evening. The home team won 10-3.

There was more rehearsal to be attended to in Dayton. We welcomed the last new cast member for a while: Sarah Lin Johnson. Sarah Lin will replace Piper when Piper leaves us at the end of the week in Milwaukee. Sarah Lin marks the end of the great long line of replacements we've been working on since Providence. Barring disaster, we now have the Spamily we will be living with for a while.

Thursday I took a group south to see the Reds take on the Astros at Great American Ballpark. We met up with Ken's Mom, Barb - who's a big Reds fan, at the game. Great American Ballpark is a cool place to see a game. Situated right on the Ohio River, we could watch the riverboats with their paddlewheels as they plied the river. Our seats in the upperdeck behind homeplate had a great view of the flied and it was a gorgeous day to sit outside. The Reds couldn't get it done, losing 5-3. Ken Griffey, Jr. hit career homerun number 597 the night before, but didn't light up the centerfield power stacks. (A pair of riverboat inspired smoke stacks in centerfield smoke and fire off fireworks with every Reds homerun.) Aside from the Reds losing the game, it was a perfect afternoon at the ballpark.

A sternwheeler on the Ohio past the right-center seats.

Spamily at Great American Ballpark:
Cuz, Angela, Barb, Patrick, Piper, Berg, Brad, JV, Roy, Scott & Jeff

Great American Ballpark. The naming rights are held by the Great American Insurance Group. The side of the park that faces the freeway (the third base line) is inscribed with the sign-off line of the Reds' legendary player and broadcaster, Joe Nuxhall: "rounding third and headed for home..." I'm not a Reds fan and I never heard the man deliver the line, but that really struck the baseball nostalgia chord in me. The Reds did a great job incorporating all kinds of things like that (bits of their old ballparks, a Reds hall of fame and all kinds of Cincinnati-ania) into their new home.

On the way back to Dayton, I talked my carload into stopping for Skyline Chili. Neither Roy nor Patrick had ever tried this southern Ohio specialty. We all enjoyed a plate of the sweet chili over spaghetti.

There was precisely one roadfood establishment in Dayton. I couldn't let that one get away. Friday, after understudy rehearsal, Graham drove Karl, David and I out to the Pine Club. The Pine Club is an old school Midwestern supper club. The interior transported us back to about 1957. The specialty of the house is steak. We all ordered various cuts of beef that made us grunt happily as we dug in. We also had great salads, veggies and a creation known as Lyonnaise Potatoes: a hash brown cake with sauteed onions inside - delightful. I think we all would have rather napped than gone back to work, but we powered through!

Flyover by David Evans Black. This sculpture sits in the middle of Main Street and tracks the flight of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight on the 17th of December, 1903. It's 120' long and arches ten feet from end to end.

As always, the weekend went by in a flash; four shows and a load-out. Wayne and Ben hosted shot night in Dayton. We all enjoyed soju, a Korean vodka (Ben's wife, Annie, is Korean). The soju came with various condiments: cucumber, strawberries, etc. and took on the flavor of whichever condiment you put in it. I tried the soju with cucumber - it was tasty but VERY strong. Shot night went international!

I left Dayton on Sunday night on a baseball inspired road trip. I drove as far as Lebanon, IN on Sunday night and awoke under sunny skies on Monday morning. Shortly after I passed Lafayette, IN the sky began to darken and before I reached I-90 rain began to come down in sheets. I reached US Cellular Field on the southside of Chicago around 11:30 hoping for a break in the weather so I could see the White Sox take on the Baltimore Orioles. It was clear, though, that they day was going to be cold, wet and miserable so I pressed on toward Wisconsin. As I passed the Loop, it was raining so hard that I could barely make out downtown Chicago and the top of the Sears Tower was enshrouded.

US Cellular Field through my rainy windshield. They ended up playing 11 innings of the game, after a rain delay of more than 2 hours, before the field became absolutely unplayable and the game had to be suspended (to pick up with the top of the 12th inning in August).

The trip wasn't a total washout - just over the Illinois/Wisconsin border I made a stop at Mars' Cheese Castle! I enjoyed a lunch of summer sausage, swiss and mustard on rye along with a ginger ale and piece of homemade apple pie with cheddar cheese melted on top. It was the perfect meal for a cold and rainy day. I also picked up some cheese curds for Francesca to try. I finished the drive across the Nation's Dairyland and was ensconced in my room at the Milwaukee Hyatt by three in the afternoon (the White Sox game had just gotten underway in the rain and snow - I'm glad I skipped it).

JV outside the Cheese Castle

I enjoyed my week in Dayton. I found plenty to do there - I wish I'd gotten out to see some of the Wright Brothers sights - and would be interested to check back in five years or so and see how their downtown is coming along.

An album of photos can be found here.


And the Winner Is...

Wednesday, April 30th

The Spamily voted and chose a victor in the Battle of the Beards.
And the winner is: Tony Pittsley!

Congratulations, my friend. Your fabulous prize will arrive shortly.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Battle of the Beards - Judgement Day

Sunday, April 27th

7 men remain in the Battle. Their photos have been placed on the call board and ballots made available to the company. It's judgement day.

Mike Berg:


Ryan DeQuaine:

Keith Martin:

Tony Pittsley:


Mark Vlahos:

There they are. Form your own opinion. The victor will be announced this evening.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Exciting Realization!

Saturday, April 26th

It occurs to me that in my journey from Dayton to Milwaukee I will be passing right by the world famous Mars' Cheese Castle! (Anyone who might want to read more about this temple to all things Wisconsin and cultured dairy could look here .)

I am now accepting orders.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Raleigh - Performance #500

April 25th

The week in Raleigh was a relatively quiet one. We put-in our newest ensemble member, Richard Costa, so there was a fair amount of rehearsal to be attended to.

Karl and I drove from Greenville to Raleigh on Monday morning. The 270 mile trip took us past the "Gaffney Peach":

The peach is a one million gallon water tower built by the city of Gaffney, SC. Gaffney is home to the South Carolina Peach Festival each year and wants to remind all the motorists along I-85 that South Carolina produces more peaches than Georgia. Fun facts: the "stem" of the peach is 12 feet tall and the "leaf" is 60' long and weighs more than 7 tons.

I picked out a roadfood destination for our afternoon meal. We stopped at the A&M Grill in Mebane, NC for some Carolina Barbecue. We both ordered chopped barbecue plates and were very happy with the tangy vinegar barbecue. Roadfood scored again!

In Raleigh, I stayed at the Candlewood Suites. I love the Candlewood chain. All the rooms are like efficiency apartments - they come equipped with a full size fridge, microwave and a two burner stove. The Candlewood chain also provides a grill in the outdoor gazebo. The chance to cook for myself comes all too rarely, so I like to Candlewood very much. There are other little things that I dig about the chain: each room has a cork board where I can tack up pictures, postcards and the weekly schedule, the "Candlewood Cupboard" is a tiny convenience store in the lobby that's open 24 hours, and there's always a comfy easy chair and DVD player in each room. It's also true that the chain is a chain and every Candlewood looks exactly like every other Candlewood and the hotels are often far from the city center, but it's a safe bet that if there's a Candlewood on offer, I'm going to stay in it. Staying in a Candlewood also often means a quieter week for me: there's no hotel bar (the socializing happens around the grill and in the outdoor gazebo) and the drive home after the show often means that I just go home.

TVFMHRW - Raleigh
This one's not very glamorous...

After the long day at the theatre, loading in and teaching the show on opening night, I decided to get out and enjoy the outdoors on the beautiful day that was Wednesday. We've been following the outbreak of spring northward since we left Florida. Everything was still brilliant spring green in North Carolina and the early flowers were still around. The daffodils were fading, but the tulips were still in bloom and the flowering trees were beautiful. I went for a walk in Umstead State Park. Located near the Raleigh Durham Airport, the park is a 5,500 acres oasis of calm. The sounds of I-40 and US-70, which border the park, fade away among the lakes, streams and woodlands. I hiked for 2 1/2 hours mostly following a stream that connected Big Lake to Sycamore Lake. The dogwoods were in bloom throughout the woods, their big white blossoms were beautiful. There were fish of all sizes in the stream and a few turtles as well, while butterflies floated along overhead.

Wild Dogwoods

The stream I hiked along goes over this tiny waterfall. It was so peaceful, I wanted to lay down for a nap beside the stream.

Thursday morning Roy, Gurr, Suzanne and I made another roadfood pilgrimage. We drove a half an hour over toward Chapel Hill to the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. It's a little drive through joint that serves nothing but its namesake biscuits. Plain, with gravy, with honey or made into sandwiches, these biscuits were delightful. I ordered one with a pork chop and one with country ham, cheese and an egg. I was not disappointed. The four of us sat on the curb next to our cars and raved about these biscuits. We walked back up to the window to get some more to take home with us. I wish I had remembered my camera...

This photo of the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen is stolen from A steady stream of cars kept passing through the drive through while we sat in the parking lot.

There was some more good dining in Raleigh. Our traditional load-in lunch convened at the Mecca Restaurant: a 1930's classic that served a great meat 'n three. Karl and I had a big country breakfast at Big Ed's in the City Market, the former site of Raleigh's farmers' market has be repurposed as home to galleries, restaurants and shopping. Erik recommended the pulled pork sandwich at Cookout, another drive through, and I made a dash for this piece of Carolina-style barbecue with Roy between shows on Sunday. The locals all recommended Cooper's BBQ; Wayne and I stopped in before a show and while the pork was tender and tasty, Cooper's serves their pulled pork without sauce and I missed the tang. Roy, Angela and I shared a meal at Yancy's where I finally got to taste Shrimp and Grits - I finally know what all the fuss is about! The local Fire Marshall took Berg I out to the Mayflower Seafood restaurant between shows on Saturday where we ordered up 20 oysters for $9.99!

I didn't get to explore too much of Raleigh. I spent Thursday and Friday in rehearsal and then the two show days ate up the weekend. I did like the theatre, though. The Raleigh Memorial Auditorium has a great deal of character. While it wasn't the easiest venue to play, I much prefer the theatres that have some history to the newer, more cookie cutter, venues. The Memorial Auditorium opened in 1932. The facade of the building was constructed in the Greek Revival style with enormous columns. The current facade is actually a duplicate of the older one. When the building was renovated in 1990, what was the front of the building was enclosed in glass to create a large, airy lobby and a copy of the facade was added on outside the glass. A concert hall, smaller opera theatre and black-box space were added on and the whole complex was renamed The Progress Energy Center for the Arts. The interior of the Auditorium was left alone, and it might be the most striking feature of the building. The seats are arranged in the very old fashioned auditorium style. A great bank of seats faces the stage without a balcony. The first third has small slope, the second third a more dramatic angle and the final third has a steep rake. On either side are a section of seats that face the center of the auditorium. I suspect that the first two sections of seats were originally removable so the room could play host to banquets and dancing. It reminded me very much of MSU's Auditorium. Looking out at the room from the stage was a little startling as a good portion of the 2,200 seats (all of which were sold) weren't facing you!

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

The view out into the auditorium. Many in the cast likened it to the mega-churches you sometimes see televangelists preaching in.

Sunday marked my 500th performance of Spamalot. That's 63 weeks on tour and 40 cities. I've lost count of the number of planes, trains and automobiles I've employed along the journey. Lately I'm involved in the rehearsing and putting-in of people taking over for people that I helped rehearse and put-in. We bid farewell to Jonathan Brody in Raleigh. He was one of the first ensemble members I helped put-in (in Atlanta). His replacement, Richard Costa, came to us from the Vegas company (which just posted their closing notice for June - meaning the tour can finally book dates in California and Arizona, though I'd have to hold on until late 2009 or 2010 before those dates are likely to appear on the itinerary), so his put-in was quite painless.

The weekend was a bit dramatic. There was an on-stage mishap resulting from an actor's mistake on Saturday afternoon. Though no one was injured and the show was not noticeably affected, there were some heated words exchanged backstage and things were quite tense for the rest of the day. On Sunday, our automation fouled during the Find Your Grail number leaving the mountain and the grail lift stuck on stage. In the effort to get the heavy pieces (the grail lift alone weighs more than a ton) off-stage, Justin (our head carpenter) injured his ankle. As we struggled to get the equipment repaired during the intermission, it became clear that Justin was too badly hurt to continue working on the deck during the second act and we had to finish the show down a man. Of course, load-out immediately follows the Sunday evening show and Justin's injury also meant that he couldn't head-up the load-out as usual. He took the early bus to Dayton (a ten hour ride) in an effort to rest his ankle and be ready to load-in on the other end. It was a stressful weekend and I was glad to put it behind me.

We did find time for some Spamily socializing amidst the weekend's excitement. Terry hosted shot night with a concoction called a "Duck Fart". Consisting of Kaluha, Bailey's and Crown Royal, it's a tasty shot that packs an unexpected punch. As always, we were all glad for the chance to hoist a shot and be reminded that we enjoy one another's company.

TJT prepares "Duck Farts" on the loading dock.

While the crew rode sleeper busses to Dayton, I opted to fly with the cast. Monday morning I was up early to return my rental car and board the first of two flights that would finally carry me away from the land of country ham, biscuits and barbecue and back into the land of my people. For the next several weeks I'll be reporting from the Midwest! I may even see a Meijer again. There's some baseball on the horizon, too...


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Battle of the Beards - End of Week #3 Update

Tuesday, April 22nd

We're in the home stretch now - one week left in the Battle of the Beards! Only the truly serious combattants remain:

Battle Master Terry

Some have accused Jason of doping as he comes to look more and more like Captain Cave Man








Next week, the battle comes to its exciting conclusion. Who will be crowned the victor?


Friday, April 18, 2008


Friday, April 18th

There is a guy on the rail called "Fruit Cup".
The Stage Left Local Propman is "Cheddar".

I couldn't make those up.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Southern Charm-ing

Wednesday, April 16th

Greenville was great. In fact, I had only one complaint during my stay in Greenville (and it was a small one), so let's get that out the way first thing:

TVFMHRW - Greenville. Atrium view; nice if you want to see who's eating what at the breakfast buffet or who's still at the lobby bar, but not so good for sunlight or determining how to dress in the morning.

That's it, everything else I have to say about last week is positive. Greenville is certainly my favorite of the recent cities and makes the list of best tour stops. The Peace Center (named for the the Peace family who donated the seed money) is a nice facility. It was built on the banks of the Reedy River on the former site of several milling operations. In fact, the dressing rooms and executive offices are located in the shell of a former textile mill. While that did make for some weird dressing rooms, it did mean that our corner office had lots of windows with views of the river!

The Peace Center

TVFOOW - The Reedy River

Sunset on the Reedy as seen from our office window

The cherry trees behind the theatre were in full bloom!

Behind the theatre, the Reedy River encounters a series of waterfalls (hence the development of all manner of mills). Just downstream from the Peace Center is the largest of the falls, home to Falls Park on the Reedy. The park sits on both banks of the river and contains an amphitheatre, terraced gardens, gliders, lawns and a striking suspension bridge. Liberty Bridge is a 300' single suspension span that curves around the dramatic falls. It's towers are tilted away from the falls and the single suspension cable runs along the side opposite the falls, leaving the view unobstructed. It's a really cool structure and centerpiece to the beautiful park. Spring was in full swing last week with all kinds of trees in bloom along with the pansies and tulips in the garden. The lawns were bright green and inviting. People were everywhere in the park; picnicking, wading in the river and just relaxing in the gliders and swings.

Liberty Bridge at Falls Park as seen from below near the river's edge

JV and the falls

I ate in a different restaurant for every meal in Greenville and still left a large part of the selection untried! We had sushi for our load-in lunch. I ate ribs with Team Wardrobe and Indian with our Company Managers. I also enjoyed a fancy dinner with Karl and David at the restaurant in the Wyndham as well as a "new Southern" brunch at Soby's. I never made it into the Thai place or either of the Mexican restaurants and it says something that I didn't sample the wares of the "Hot Dog King" catty corner from the theatre! My stomach enjoyed Greenville very much!

After our opening night performance, Casbah (a local restaurant) hosted an opening night party for us. On my way home from the party, I stopped in to hang out with the crew boys as they thew darts and unwound from the load-in. We had a good time playing shuffleboard and hanging out at Barley's Taproom (more than 70 beers on tap). I was headed back up Main Street for the hotel when a bunch of the Spamily ambushed me from inside City Tavern and lured me inside for another night cap. The signature drink of City Tavern is an alcoholic slushie (forever known to me as hang-over-in-a-cup). Hilarity ensued.

Piper & Berg's belly

Paddy, JV & Bree

Greenville marked the final week of performances for another of our ensemble members: Brian O'Brien. We can't just let someone leave quietly around here, so Piper (our self-proclaimed "Cruise Director" - I wonder who will arrange her going away party in Milwaukee?) arranged a pub crawl to bi Brian farewell. It was a five stop affair with about a half an hour scheduled in each establishment. The five bars covered all the bases: Irish bar (his name is O'Brien after all), dive bar (complete with beer pong), brew pub, tap house and alcoholic slushies. I, of course, took photos:

Brian traveling between stops. Someone tied this "Happy 21st Birthday" baloon to his belt loop...

Piper lines up her Beer Pong shot

Just as the show came down on Friday night, the heavens opened in a massive spring time thunder storm. It was pouring buckets outside with plenty of thunder and lightening. Rather than make the trek up main street in the deluge, teams Company & Stage Management decided to watch the storm and hope it slowed down. Karl got a bottle of wine out of his roadbox, Brian O'Brien found a string of Christmas lights to string up and we turned off the office lights and watched it storm. About the time we all finished our glass of wine, the storm slowed down and we were able to get back to the hotel.

Brian in front of our rain-streaked office window

As his own farewell to the company, Brian hosted shot night. He didn't just make shots, however. He hosted a full on party in the rehearsal studio. Brian made pomegranate margaritas in an empty five gallon water jug, he sliced limes for Coronas, had music playing and set up a flip cup table in the center of the room! We played several rounds of flip cup and introduced the game to a bunch of new players.

Ken pours himself a margarita

Angelina had a hard time downing her shot of beer

Ryan anchors his team to a win, while Graham feels the agony of defeat

After shot night, many of us progressed up the street to the Marble Slab Creamery for an ice cream social.

Tim brought along a "to go cup" to the ice cream social

Tera-Lee and her sundae

Greenville has been working on revitalizing their downtown since the 60's (when they narrowed Main Street and landscaped it). The effort has taken many forms, but one of the most fun is the "Mice on Main" installation. A local high school senior came up with the idea and raised the necessary funds to install 9 small bronze mice along the length of Main Street. The idea is based on the children's book Goodnight, Moon. There are clues as to where to find the mice and it becomes a fun hunt to find all nine!

Mice on Main - this is Mouse #1 with a bronze copy of Goodnight, Moon

The revitalization has spread to the other side of the Reedy River as well. The West End - another former warehouse and milling district - is continuing the Main Street shopping, dining and strolling. The anchor for this part of the development is Fluor Field at the West End, home of the Greenville Drive. The Drive are the single A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and their new home is a mini-Fenway. West End Stadium has the same dimensions of the storied Boston ballpark complete with "Pesky's Pole" along the rightfield line and a 30' "green monster" in left field with a hand operated scoreboard in the wall. Though the drive were out of town all week, I took a walk to the park and peered through the fence. It looks like quite a place to see a game. I'm told that the Drive sell quite well despite the fact that they sing Sweet Caroline - which is oddly more appropriate in South Carolina than Massachusetts...

It was a fun week in Greenville, I was sad to leave this great town. On Monday, Karl and I split a rental car for the 4 hour drive to Raleigh, NC. The Spamalot tour of state capitols continues!

The week in photos can be found here.