Thursday, August 21, 2008

Philly by Way of NYC

The move from Calgary to Philadelphia was another long one that necessitated some welcome extra days off. We opened in Philly on Thursday, giving me a chance to go home to New York! I flew into Newark on Monday afternoon and was home in Washington Heights in time for a late supper with my beautiful wife. I spent most of Tuesday puttering around the kitchen in preparation for a small dinner party Sheila Marie and I hosted for some friends from the neighborhood. Sheila Marie created a great summer menu (green gazpacho, spicy pecan slaw, roasted pork tenderloin with grilled pineapple relish and crumble topped baked peaches) that was big hit with our friends. So nice to spend a day in the kitchen and an evening with good friends that I haven't seen in a long time! Wednesday evening, after a quick bite with Erin and SME, I hopped a train bound for Philly and life on the road again.

WaHi dinner party: Steve & Dana Krashin, Mark & Bess Fifer alongside the Everetts
Thanks to Dana for the picture!

It's been fun to return to Philadelphia. It was one of my early stops on the tour (March and April of 2007) and the first stop where I really felt like I had my stuff under control. (The series of blogs on Philly started with this one.) This time, I walked into the Academy of Music already knowing where everything was, how the show would fit and knowing a large portion of the local crew. It certainly made Thursday night's opening easier.

Loading the big skit into the Academy of Music

Sheila Marie took advantage of Scholastic's "Summer Fridays" plan and has arranged to have the three Fridays that I'm within an easy train ride off. She arrived Friday in time for lunch (it was a late night in NYC celebrating Dave Ruttura's birthday on Thursday) and a stroll around Philly. The weather here has been absolutely gorgeous - August in Philadelphia can be swamp hot, but we've had breezy mid-80's days - and made for a nice day of wandering.
One of the great parts of returning to a familiar city is revisiting favorite haunts. Though I was laid up for much of Philadelphia in 2007, there are still plenty of old favorites. First thing on Saturday morning, Sheila Marie and I headed to Reading Terminal Market and to the Pennsylvania Dutch corner for sticky buns. We're both crazy for these gooey treats made by the good folks from Lancaster County.

SME with the first sticky bun of the visit

We had lunch with Suzanne on Saturday at another Philly favorite: Monk's Cafe. Though I didn't hit this one last time, it was a Spamily favorite. Monk's has a Belgian theme and an impressive beer selection from around the world. The menu is substantial and varied, but their mussels are the star of the show. They come in 6 varieties - steamed in beer or wine and spiced with all manner of aromatics and vegetables. Paired with a Flemish Sour Ale, it was the sort of lunch that doesn't make you want to go back to the theatre for another show...

Suzanne at Monk's
Gurr's away on vacation, so SME and I had her all to ourselves! You can read Gurr's posts from the wilds of Idaho here. (They're making me crazy jealous.)

Sunday, Ken called the second show and Francesca graciously agreed to deck Act II so I could catch an early train back to New York with Sheila Marie. Philadelphia is such a great city, it's almost a shame that I leave it at every opportunity...

A last look at Philadelphia's City Hall as I descended the steps to Suburban Station and the train home

The first week here in Philadelphia was a short one, but I intend to get in more sightseeing in the remaining two than I did last time. I'm looking forward to several more "Weekends with Wife" split between the City of Brotherly Love and the Big Apple. And, of course, I will have to enjoy a proper cheese steak!

TVFMHRW - Philadelphia Round 2
This time I'm staying at the Radisson Plaza - Warwick near Rittenhouse Square; no view of William Penn atop City Hall, but a great city view none the less.


Thursday, August 14, 2008


TVFMHRW - Calgary

Our last stop in Canada, for this section of the tour, was a good one: Calgary. It was just a short bus ride south from Edmonton on Monday through the hay and canola fields. A short digression here about canola - it grows in big yellow fields across the plains of Canada. Initially, I thought the yellow fields might be mustard - the two plants, turns out, are related. The plant is actually known as rapeseed, but is marketed as Canola ("Canadian oil, low acid") since 1978, for obvious reasons.

A photo of canola fields - stolen from wikipedia. Pretty, no?

The Spamily crashed out on the bus - even a two and half hour ride turns into nap time.

The closer we got to Calgary, the more rolling the landscape became. As the city came into view, so did the Rocky Mountains. Like Denver, Calgary is situated where the Rockies meet the plains. Though it's not as high as Denver (Denver's at 5,280' to Calgary's 3,438'), it reminded me of Denver in many ways. Both have a distinct Western feel - Calgary is host to the world famous Calgary Stampede (we missed it by just a few weeks) which features chuck wagon racing! They each also have a pretty skyline set against mountains in the distance.

In Calgary's case, the Canadian Rockies are a little more than an hour west of the city. Bright and early on Wednesday morning, David and I headed out to visit said mountains. We entered the vast Banff National Park (more than 2,500 square miles) near Canmore, AB. We wandered along the more scenic route 1A - Route 1 is the Trans-Canada Highway, Canada's only coast-to-coast highway - to Lake Louise. Situated at 5,741', Lake Louise is absolutely beautiful. The water is a brilliant blue/green color from all the minerals it collects on its way down the mountain from the glacier.

w/ Lake Louise

My camera is still non-functional, so I stole this photo from Francesca so you can get a better sense of the color of Lake Louise

A man playing a giant alphorn greeted us at the water's edge. He would occasionally start playing amazing grace for tips - but he was present more for decoration than functionality. David and I rented a canoe and paddled toward Mount Victoria at the far end of Lake Louise. (Mount Victoria is named for Queen Victoria while both the Province of Alberta and Lake Louise are named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Queen Victoria's 4th daughter and the wife of the Governor General of Canada.) A glacier sits on the flanks of Mount Victoria and is the source of most of Lake Louise's water. The water is icy cold and cloudy with all the rock flour. We couldn't see the ends of our paddles as we propelled ourselves across the lake!

DVZ in the canoe

After our adventure on Lake Louise, David and I grabbed a quick bite to eat in the town of Lake Louise and set off toward Johnston Canyon. Along the way, the vista below caught our eye:

We waited for a while hoping a train would come by and complete the view, but alas, the natural beauty alone would have to suffice.

Johnston Canyon has been created over the last 8,000 years by the action of Johnston Creek flowing down from the glaciers. The gorge is hundreds of feet deep in places. The trail often is a catwalk attached to the rock face of the side of the canyon. The main attractions of this heavily trafficked trail are a series of waterfalls. The water in the creek is the same intensely blue/green color and is beautiful as it tumbles over the falls. The upper falls are the most spectacular; cascading more than a hundred feet in two distinct streams

The upper falls - just out of the frame to the right is a wide limestone wall. Spring water seeps out of the rock face near the top and cover the whole wall, slowly widening the canyon.

Just downstream of the largest falls is a smaller set of falls that we hiked right up to and then behind!

The creek has changed course several times over the centuries. This tunnel through the mountainside used to be a creek bed, but now is part of the trail that brought us right to the top of a smaller waterfall.

Our trip to Banff was amazing. We had to hurry back to Calgary after the hike and went right to work exhausted. We barely scratched the surface of the park - I hope to return again. We saw a coyote, lots of birds and some smaller ground and tree dwelling animals, but I have yet to see the much sought after moose.

The theatre in Calgary is the doppelganger of the one in Edmonton. Like its Northern sister, the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium is situated on a college campus. It is, truly, just like the theatre in Edmonton: the auditorium looks just the same, the support spaces are the same, only the furnishings are different. I won't lie, it was a little strange.

The folks at the Southern Jubilee were very safety conscious. Whenever there was anyone working overhead, everyone on stage was required to wear a hardhat. While this is, to some degree, a matter of common sense; it's rare. It meant that I was required to wear a hardhat for most of the focus.

The city of Calgary was really nice. When we arrived on Monday, Alberta was celebrating Heritage Day. Canada celebrates a "Civic Holiday" on the first Monday in August; each of the provinces give it a different name, but its purpose is the same: to give everybody a long weekend in August. Calgary was celebrating with an ethnic festival in Prince's Island Park. Various groups were performing in the park's amphitheatre - I watched a presentation of dance from the Pacific Islands - and there were trailers and tents ringing the green offering food from all sorts of ethnicities.

Several tepees were set up in the park with demonstrations of the crafts of some of the Native People of Canada

Calgary had lots more street life than downtown Edmonton. Stevens Avenue turned into a blocks long pedestrian mall every afternoon. Restaurants with patios lined the street as did all manner of shops. Musicians and buskers set up during the busy lunch rush, even a few food carts appeared (and I do love food from carts!). Stevens Ave ended at Olympic Plaza, a relic of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. The plaza was created as a sight for the presentation of the medals, but is now a outdoor gathering place in downtown Calgary. It features an amphitheatre and a shallow pool for wading in the summer and ice skating in the winter. The afternoon I was there, the amphitheatre was presenting a preview of Calgary's Korean Day. A group of Korean young people presented a selection of traditional Korean music and dance!

A traditional Korean fan dance presented on what appears to be the set of an outdoor production of Grease in Olympic Plaza

The pool at Olympic Plaza - awfully inviting on a warm summer day...

I spent the latter part of the same afternoon exploring the Glenbow Museum. In 1966, one of Calgary's leading citizens, Eric Harvie, donated his collection of art and artifacts to the people of Alberta and the Glenbow Museum was created. Mr. Harvie was an oil man of considerable wealth who traveled the world collecting all manner of things. The museum features an extensive display of rocks and minerals as well as big display of armor and other military historical items. I spent most of my visit, though, in the exhibit entitled "Mavericks". It explored the history of Alberta through the lives and experiences of a wide variety of its citizens - everyone from early whiskey traders and fur trappers to oil men and politicians. It was a cool way to tell the story of the Province.

The weekend brought the Taste of Calgary festival to downtown. Restaurants from all over Calgary gathered in the plaza behind our hotel and offered sample menus from tents. Roy and I ate lunch there on Thursday, but I couldn't stay away and wandered over there a couple more times. Every sort of cuisine was an offer: oysters, micro-brewed beers, mangoes with sticky rice and on and on - all of it available for just a few coupons from the stacks in my pocket. Heaven.

The "Taste Mobile"

Roy shows off his frozen mud pie at the Taste of Calgary

I really enjoyed Calgary and would have liked to spend more time there. A week wasn't enough time to explore either the city or the natural beauty that surrounded it. This one definitely goes on the "visit again" list!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Spamalot at 1,000

There are big bags full of celebratory cupcakes sitting on the Company Managers' hampers:

That can only mean one thing - Spamalot is having an anniversary! This afternoon's matinee marks the tour's 1,000th performance. The tour debuted in Boston in the spring of 2006 and has plans to stay on the road for the foreseeable future. Just a few of those hardy souls who opened in Boston are still with us: Ken Davis (PSM), Karl Baudendistel (Company Manager), Ben Whiteley (Maestro), Vera Pizzarelli (Props), Keith Martin (Automation Carpenter), Mitchell Beck (Hair and Make-up), Christopher Gurr (Sir Bedevere), Christopher Sutton (now: Herbert, then: Ensemble), Esther Stilwell (now: Lady of the Lake, then: Stand-by for Lady of the Lake), Paula Wise (Ensemble) & Darryl Semira (Ensemble).

I'm a ways behind the originals - the matinee will be my 614th performance. It's been 18 months since I joined the company in Naples, FL. I was down in the basement of the theatre today getting my trunk ready for the trip back to the US and I took a moment to really look at it:

There's something stuck on there from 49 of the 52 cities I've visited. I'm missing only mementos from Naples, Tulsa and Philadelphia - I'll have a chance to get a sticker from Philly next week. My trunk has really become my massive souvenir. I jokingly told Karl the other day that I'll have to give my notice when there's no more room for stickers on my trunk!

Congratulations to the entire touring Spamily on the anniversary.


Friday, August 8, 2008


The Spamalot tour of state capitals continues! This time, we visited the provincial capital of Alberta: Edmonton. Edmonton is the northern-most city in North America with a population of more than a million people. Its as far north as I've ever been and the latitude is noticeable in the amount of daylight we were getting: official sunrise was around 6 AM with sunset well after 9:15 PM meaning there was light in the sky shortly after 5 AM and until we were walking out the stage door after 10 each night.

The Alberta Legislature Building

Recently, Alberta has become quite a prosperous place. With the spike in energy prices, Alberta's vast deposits of oil and natural gas have propelled the economy skyward. Including the oil trapped in the oil sands deposits north of Edmonton, Canada has oil reserves second in size only to Saudi Arabia! With all this oil money flowing in, I expected Edmonton to feel wealthier than it did. Granted, I spent my whole week downtown, but I never saw the sort of flash that Houston's oil money generates. In fact, the whole town was rather low key.

We flew from Vancouver directly to Edmonton. Upon arrival at Vancouver International, I learned that air travel is equally frustrating North of the border. The line-up at the WestJest counter was insane. The line snaked around the terminal and doubled back on itself. A roving gate agent only served as a place for frustrated people to vent. Fortunately, once we got through the initial line, events at security went more smoothly and we all made the flight with time to spare.

Confusion at the WestJet Counter

When we arrived in Edmonton we were greeted with this sign at baggage claim:

The capital of Alberta and one of Canada's most well-to-do cities welcomes visitors with pictures of wilderness, a combine harvesting wheat and an oil derrick. It was the perfect set-up for Edmonton.

I had done next to no research on what to see, do and eat in Edmonton, so I was glad when Christopher Gurr invited me to dinner. Gurr scouted out a pub with an outdoor patio and Guinness on tap. Several of us gathered for a relaxed evening under the still bright evening sun. Surprisingly, several crew members showed up at Sherlock Holmes while we were there. An accident in a mountain pass along the highway from Vancouver to Edmonton closed the road entirely. Only two of our eight trucks made it through the pass before the road was closed. The remaining six trucks were stuck in British Columbia. This meant an abbreviated load-in on Monday (things had already been pushed back to accommodate the long drive) and an uber-early call of 5 AM on Tuesday to get Spamalot into the theatre and ready for an opening on Tuesday night.

Chris Gurr and Michael Gribbin bend an elbow at Sherlock Holmes Pub.

Spamalot's home for the week was the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Situated on the campus of the University of Alberta (home of the Golden Bears -men's' athletics teams - and Fighting Pandas - women's' athletic teams, I'm not kidding) the theatre was one of two built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alberta becoming a province. The two theatres are twins, with exactly the same layout. Both are administered by the government of the province and are equally endowed. Our set, once it was finally loaded in, looked great in the auditorium. The auditorium is decorated in dark wood and framed our set beautifully. The crew did a great job getting us in the door and ready to go in time for a smooth opening night.

The Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium

The view from the stage into the auditorium.
You can take a virtual tour of the building here.

It rained most of the day on Wednesday, so I took the opportunity to sleep in, read and generally laze about my hotel room. (You didn't think all the stops on the tour would have 18 mile bike rides and steep mountain hikes, did you?)

TVFMHRW - Edmonton
This part of Alberta is known as part of the "Prairie Provinces" - it's as flat as Kansas - affording me a seemingly endless view from the 26th floor. The building with the peaked green roof was a small casino which was right across the street. I came out $10 ahead for the week!

Edmonton's minor league team, the Cracker Cats (the name comes from the process of "cracking" larger crude oil molecules into smaller gasoline molecules), was out of town so I thought this would be another baseball-less week on tour. Turns out, the Cracker Cats were away so their home field could be used for an international baseball tournament! The International Baseball Federation 2008 World Junior AAA Championships were played in and around Edmonton over two weeks. The payers were 17 and 18 year-olds representing 12 different countries. On Friday, several of us caught a double header. In the first game South Korea defeated Chinese Taipei in a close game and in the second we cheered for the USA as they crushed Puerto Rico in a rout. It turns out that we saw both the gold and silver medal winning teams: South Korea defeated the USA in the title game.

The USA takes on Puerto Rico

Neither of the games we saw drew a very big crowd, but there were obvious partisans. The Taiwanese brought drums and horns while the Koreans sang songs and danced in support of their team!

Patrick rejoined us mid-week fresh from his guest stint on Gossip Girl. As glad as we were to see him, it also meant that we had to say goodbye, again, to Brian O'Brien. As he did in Greenville, Brian hosted a game of flip cup in the green room as his farewell to the Spamily.

Jen Mathie says goodbye to Brian.
(My camera won't be repaired until we're back in the States, so thanks to Francesca for this photo!)

The theatre was a ways from our downtown hotels, so we all rode Edmonton's light rail train to and from work. Getting to work felt almost New York-like. Getting home, however, was strange. We all were on the train together every night. It was a little too much togetherness.

The Edmonton LRT in one of its above-ground stations. For much of its length, though, the LRT ran underground only emerging at either end and to cross high above the river.

This sign on the train made me laugh every time.

The Spamily enjoys some extra together time (and Nigel enjoys a left-over beer from the flip cup game).

The week in Edmonton rushed by - the uninterrupted month in Vancouver almost made me forget how quickly the time goes on a one weeker. I didn't get out and see much of town, but I did take advantage of one sunny afternoon to walk to work and see the Legislature up close and to take in a bit of the park that lines both banks of the North Saskatchewan River. The river is beautiful and has carved a bit of a canyon through town. The whole length of the river is lined by parks that make up the largest connected system of parks in North America (22 times larger than Central Park). The North Saskatchewan River Valley Parks System came into being as a flood control measure (the river carries snow melt from the Rockies and occasionally becomes quite violent) but is now an amazingly varied green space with amenities ranging from tennis courts to primitive camping right in the heart of the city.

The North Saskatchewan River

Sunday night we packed up the show for the short hop over to Calgary and the twin sister of the theatre we had just left. We'll be traveling southward for the next couple of moves, bringing us back to the US and giving me a brief opportunity to visit home and my wife in NYC!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Americans Abroad

It is safe to say that I am happy to be an American. An article I read a few minutes ago does not, however, make me proud to be one. The article appeared in today's Winnipeg Free Press.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket the funeral of Tim McLean this weekend. Apparently, they were here in Canada staging some other protests when they heard the news of Mr. McLean's murder on a Greyhound bus. Shirley Phelps-Roper was told of the grizzly news and reportedly said: "Lo and behold, we were going to Canada and God offered us a gift. The curse of God was put upon you (Canada) when that young man's head was cut off." I hate to lend credence to their position by repeating it, but they maintain that the people of Canada are being punished for their tolerance of homosexuals.

Several US states have passed laws to keep members of this group from disrupting funerals - their favorite platform. The group gained media attention first for their demonstrations at the funeral of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Since then, they have moved on to picketing and demonstrating at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq (God is also punishing America for its increasing acceptance of homosexuality - they claim to believe) as well as the funerals of the miners in Sago, West Virginia and the funeral of Coretta Scott King. Closer to my heart, members of the sect regularly picket Broadway shows in Topeka, Kansas (their hometown) and harass cast and crew members at the stage door.

While I am an absolute believer in the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble, I am truly sorry that these people feel the need to attract media attention to their idiotic cause by harassing people in their time of grief. I wish they would go back home to Kansas and leave the family of Mr. McLean alone. They have suffered enough without wing-nut Americans showing up at their loved-one's funeral. Clearly, the vast majority of Americans disagree with these people and mourn the senseless death of Mr. McLean.