Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spamalot v2.0

Since I joined the tour, nearly 19 months ago, we've made several small changes to the show here and there.  During our week in West Point, we were set to make some larger changes.  The main thrust of the week was to make the show travel lighter, more easily and in fewer trucks.  (We arrived in West Point in 8 semi-trucks and hoped to leave in 6.)  It also afforded the creative staff a chance to brush-up with the cast and make some small directorial and choreographic changes.

The week began early on Monday.  Since West Point is only 50 miles north of the George Washington Bridge, I elected to spend the week at home.  I booked myself a train ticket on the earliest train from Syracuse back home to NYC.  The train ride was painless.  Watching the Mohawk River and then the Hudson slide by on the right-hand side of the train, I read and just enjoyed the scenery as I got closer and closer to home. 

Another tour sunrise - this one from the window of the Empire Service somewhere East of Syracuse

So much nicer than an airplane!

The autumn colors of the Hudson River outside the train window

Just after lunchtime, I was home in NYC!  Spending the week at home, with my beautiful wife, helped keep the whole project in perspective.  Spamalot v2.0 felt more like a job than a lifestyle when I could get in the car and go home each night.

The drive back and forth to West Point each day was amazing.  Once I crossed the GWB, the majority of the trip was through State Parks.  The fall colors were at their most vivid that first week in October and the drive was beautiful.  The West Point campus is, itself, quite beautiful.  Originally founded as a military base shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, West Point became the United States Military Academy in 1802.  It's one of the largest college campuses in the country (at more than 16,000 acres) and home to 4,000 cadets.  The base sits on a cliff overlooking a bend in the Hudson River. While this commanding view was meant for military purposes, it is no less impressive just for the aesthetic purposes.

The view North up the Hudson from Eisenhower Hall

I stole this photo of Eisenhower Hall from their website...

Spamalot's home during the reworking of the show was Eisenhower Hall.  While the crew loaded-in and worked on stage, the cast rehearsed in the ballroom.  Often, rehearsal studios are windowless places.  That can be great for keeping the focus on the work, but not so good for my human spirit.  The ballroom at Eisenhower hall, however, had two walls of floor to ceiling windows overlooking the river and a balcony we could step out onto during breaks.  I even caught sight of a bald eagle soaring above the river just outside our rehearsal!

Jamie and Jonathan relax near the windows during rehearsal

We didn't have as much work to do in the studio as was initially anticipated.  The whole idea of the re-tech, as I mentioned, was not to re-work the performance, but to make the show travel more easily.  Some of the scenery was redesigned to be lighter or easier to assemble, but very little changed for the actors.  This meant that our Assistant Director and Choreographer could focus more on just tightening and cleaning the performances.

BT (Assistant Director) & Scott (Assistant Choreographer) pow-wow during rehearsal

The boys run through Brightside

Graham (Dance Captain) takes note of the adjustments
(Thanks to Francesca for some of these snaps)

While the cast was in the Ballroom, Ken and the crew worked in the auditorium.  The new set pieces had to be installed and worked into the cuing of the show, while the retiring pieces had to be packed up and sent to storage.  The new lighting package had to be focused and cued.  Our projections designer worked on new cues while the Sound Department reprogramed their equipment.  Everyone worked on cutting down the amount of extra stuff we travel.

The usual chaos of load-in was intensified as room had to be found for new things

Meanwhile, the orchestra had to rehearse as well.  The show's score was re-orchestrated to use fewer musicians.  As with all the other changes, this one was meant to make the show leaner, without sacrificing the original vision.  We'll still travel our five musicians, but will pick up less local players in each city.  The cast rehearsed with the new orchestra (and gave the Sound Department a chance to rehearse mixing the new arrangements) on-stage on Friday. 

On Saturday, we had a dress rehearsal in the afternoon and then our "one night only" performance of Spamalot in the evening.  Immediately after the performance, the crew set to work disassembling it all and loading-out.  The crew really worked hard all week.  They were in at 8AM and worked long days and mostly kept their sense of humor about the whole project.  In the end, I understand that they did get everything packed into just 6 trucks!

The performance went smoothly and the audience sounded like they really enjoyed themselves.  (The audience included both cadets and members of the Hudson Valley community.  Weird to have row upon row of audience members in uniform, though!)  The show still looks and sounds great.  The audiences who will see our show in the the upcoming engagements won't be missing a thing.

With our closing in West Point, the company was sent home on a two week lay-off.  I returned to NYC for the two weeks.  I've been catching up on my honey-do list, entertaining my in-laws, cheering the MSU Spartans to victory over the hated Wolverines, serving my much-delayed jury duty and visiting with my friends as much as possible.  Sheila Marie and I even found time to go on our annual apple picking adventure!  The time has absolutely flown by. 

SME, Donn & Rhoda take a break from picking apples for a family portrait

Next week, the tour reconvenes in Ottawa, Ontario.  I hope that we all remember the changes that were made in West Point!


Tales From the Salt City

Syracuse, it appeared to me, is actually two towns under one name. There's the former Erie Canal and industrial town that's now fallen on leaner times and then there's the town near the University. The two overlap somewhat and the former is helped a great deal by the presence of the latter, but the two are distinct. As it happened, our hotel was poised between the two halves of Syracuse on the border formed by I-81.

TVFMHRW - Syracuse

As Spamalot prepared to leave Toronto, a lot of folks started talking about a quiet week or a hibernation week in Syracuse. They were sure that there wouldn't be much to do or see. Being somewhat of a contrarian, I took up Syracuse's cause. I read about the place on Wikipedia (there's a neighborhood called "Skunk City"!) and then on their convention and visitors web page. I became a bit of a cheerleader for "Dear Old Syracuse" (to borrow a phrase from Rodgers and Hart).

When I arrived on Monday, I took an afternoon walk and was disappointed in what I found. Downtown Syracuse is not a hip, happenin' place. The signs of its former glory are there - there's some old architecture in downtown Syracuse - but it was pretty quiet on a sunny Monday afternoon. There was some action near the main downtown bus transfer, but it wasn't of an encouraging kind and Armory Square (the entertainment district) was mostly shuttered. I was reminded of how the other two once-great industrial giants of Upstate New York I visited on the tour, Buffalo and Rochester, could depress me.

The view from Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse

Things turned around a bit, though, on Monday night. As Ken and I had driven to Syracuse, I kept our rental car for the evening. I scanned my on-line foodie resources and came up with few promising establishments that required a car to get to and invited Chris Gurr to select one from the list. (Central New York had a whole range of restaurants that specialize in preparing the locally-grown and raised foods from their fertile surroundings. They also have all kinds of ethnic restaurants preparing the native foods of the many groups of immigrants that have passed through and settled in the the area. There were many tasty sounding options.) We settled on a long-time local favorite, Scotch 'n Sirloin, and invited along Suzanne and DVZ. The folks at "the Scotch" have been serving up steaks since 1967 and it was easy to see why the place is a local institution. The room was warm and inviting. The waiters looked like men and women who knew their cuts of beef - they were appropriately dressed in black bow ties and long white coats. Perhaps best of all, it was 1/2 price wine night on Monday! We enjoyed ourselves immensely and returned to the hotel full of beef and good company.

VFMHRW - Sunset Monday evening

Spamalot's home for the week was the Crouse Hinds Theatre. The theatre is part of the Oncenter Complex: a three building convention and entertainment complex. The building housing the Crouse Hinds Theatre is the John H. Mulroy Civic Center. Named for the former County Executive who built the convention center, the Civic Center is also an Onondaga County Government office building. In addition to seeing a show in one of the building's three theatres, one might pay the water bill or get a marriage licence there! It's a weird mash-up. As a municipal building, the theatre has a no-frills feeling. The dressing rooms and support spaces are all concrete block and sort of spartan. The auditorium is in need of repairs and sprucing up. The local presenter, Murray Burnthal, is somewhat of a road-show legend. He's a tiny, aging man who has been presenting shows in Syracuse for more than 50 years. Several people on our show had played Syracuse before and looked forward to seeing Murray totter out on stage to give his pre-show talk each night.

The Civic Center Theaters at Oncenter

Ken and two of the tiny, old lady dressers from IATSE Local #9

Syracuse was the city of birthdays for the Spamily with three company members celebrating. Cuz, our Sound Man, went first with a birthday on Tuesday. After our opening night performance, we all gathered at Dinosaur Bar-b-que to wish him well and dig in. I know I've detailed the history of this operation before on the blog, so I'll spare you the back story and just praise the food once again! Next up, Jen Rias celebrated on Friday - she celebrated post-show at Al's Wine and Whiskey in Armory Square. Our King, Jonathan Hadary, also had a birthday in Syracuse. A drink night in his honor was hosted at the hotel's bar. Also on the social calendar in Syracuse was a farewell party for our retiring Assistant Music Director, Adam Souza. Adam's leaving Spamalot to become the Music Director for the upcoming new tour of Wicked. (Adam actually left at the conclusion of the week in West Point, but our Maestro didn't want his party to be lost in the craziness of re-teching and commuting in West Point.)

Cuz's birthday bash at Dinosaur

Jen considers her intermission cake

Jonathan smiles as we all serenade him

As I mentioned before, Syracuse had a surprising number of tasty sounding eateries. I made a second visit to Dinosaur Bar-b-cue later in the week (and a more reasonable hour for stuffing myself with pork) with Katie. (Katie covered the light board while Mark vacationed. Syracuse was her last stop and I'll miss her.) Gurr and I treked over to the west side of Syracuse for Slovakian food at the Welcome Inn - AMAZING! The little old woman in the back produced a feast for us: borscht, home-cured kielbasa, 2 kinds of pyrogies, sauerkraut and a cabbage roll. I also found Syracuse's Little Italy and lunched on antipasto and manicotti. Next door to the hotel was the Strong Hearts Cafe which produced all manner of tasty things from the vegan kitchen. Our load-in lunch was held in a converted church (and former stop on the underground railroad) that is now home to Mexican food! I didn't go hungry in Syracuse.

Gurr considers our feast at the Welcome Inn

After the hearty Slovak feast on Wednesday, I needed a walk and some distraction to keep me from a nap. I stopped in at the Erie Canal Museum. Syracuse initially came into being after the Revolutionary War when salt was discovered in the swamps near Onondage Lake. (The city's name derives from a similarly salty city in Italy.) When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, Syracuse began to boom. In 1850, Syracuse's 5,000 residents (up from 250 only 3o years before) made it the 12th largest city in the Union. As the salt industry declined, manufacturing took its place. Around the time of WWII, Syracuse was a major manufacturing community. Carrier was headquartered there, General Electric had it main television plant in Syracuse, GM and Chrysler built cars and Crouse Hinds centered their electric products manufacturing in Syracuse. (Crouse Hinds is the only one of these operations still active in Syracuse. They make electrical conduit along with switches and signals - including traffic lights.)

I hadn't devoted a great deal of thought to the Erie Canal before visiting the museum. I remember from history class that it was a pretty big deal at the time. I knew, generally, how its locks and towed barges worked. I didn't appreciate, however, what an engineering marvel it was. The canal was constructed in 8 years (between 1817 and 1825) and stretched 360 miles from Albany to Buffalo - connecting New York to the Great Lakes. The canal rises a total of 600 feet as it makes its way across New York (of course, it rises and falls with the topography for a net gain on 600'). The canal cut the cost of transporting goods from NYC to Buffalo by 95% and reduced the travel time from a number of weeks to 6 days. The Erie Canal made westward expansion practical.

The Erie Canal Museum is housed in the last remaining weighlock building. The canal was initial supported by tolls; these were determined by the weight of the cargo a boat carried. This weight was checked by weighing the canal boats at a couple of points along the journey. The weigh lock in Syracuse settled the boat on a scale and drained away the water before refilling the lock and sending the boat on its way. When it was in operation, the weigh lock in Syracuse could process 4 boats an hour, 24 hours a day. The portion of the canal that passed through Syracuse was filled in in 1925 (the canal was re-routed through Onondaga Lake as part of its enlargement) and became Erie Boulevard. Many of the the grand building in Syracuse used to sit right beside the canal!

The Erie Canal Museum
Erie Blvd is in the foreground and the former weigh lock was housed in the extending portion of the building.

The high-light of my week in Syracuse came on Friday: Marijean drove over from Utica to hang out with me! We had a tasty lunch of sushi and Korean while we caught up on each other's lives. Then MJ took me for a drive in the beautiful autumnal country-side to visit Chittenango Falls. Chittenango Creek tumbles 167 feet over the falls as the result of the last glaciation. The falls are beautiful and the beauty was only amplified by the spectacular fall colors. The area is also the only known home of the endangered Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail. Though we didn't see any of the tiny creatures (the area near the base of the falls is off-limits as the snails live under rocks and were being crushed by folks walking on the rocks), it's amazing to me that an animal can exist who only makes their home at a single waterfall in Upstate New York!

The Chittenango Falls

MJ on the bridge near the base of Chittenango Falls

After our visit to the country-side, Marijean and I visited the campus of Syracuse University. Founded in 1870 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Syracuse has grown to include 13 schools and colleges with nearly 20,000 students. (The University identified itself as non-sectarian in 1920, though it remains a private institution.) The campus sits on University Hill overlooking downtown Syracuse. It's an appropriate mix of collegiate ivy covered halls and new buildings (most notably the space-ship of the Carrier Dome, home to both the Orange's football and basketball teams). At the edges of campus is the second of the two Syracuses: the University Town. It features pita places, bagel places, drugstores and a number of student bars. I suppose it's comparable to the down towns to Lansing and East Lansing, but in this case: they're both Syracuse.

Crouse College Building - home to SU's College Visual and Performing Arts

MJ brought a couple of her drama students to see the show in Syracuse on Friday night. After the show, I brought them backstage and showed them around a bit. One of her students is pursuing a career in hair and make-up, so I introduced him to the good people in our hair and make-up department. Suzanne and Jason were both kind enough to take a minute from their post-show work to speak to him. Then, MJ took us all out for a drink so we could talk a bit.

The weekend flew by, as it always does. I did find time to sneak over and visit the Niagara Mohawk building. I first saw the building at night on the walk to Cuz's birthday celebration when it was lit from the inside in green and orange and later caught sight of its gleaming chrome accents on the walk to lunch with Gurr. Turns out is a textbook example of the Art Deco style built by the Niagara Mohawk Power Company as their headquarters in 1932, the building is as much a definition of the style as the Chrysler Building. The building's 7 storeys are clad in grey brick, stone, stainless steel, aluminum and black glass. Above the main entrance is a 28' high male figure with outstretched arms named "Spirit of Light". Silver rays of light emanate outward across the facade from him. It's a striking building.

The Niagara Mohawk Building as seen from across the street

The Spirit of Light

Syracuse Fun Fact: Basketball's 24 second shot clock was invented in Syracuse! The owner of the Syracuse Nationals was looking for a way to move the game along and spur more fan interest when he heard of Coach Howard Hobson's innovation. Hobson was coaching at the University of Oregon and devised the shot clock to end the stalling practices common in basketball at the time. The team that was leading would kill clock and force the trailing team to commit fouls to get the ball back. This resulted in low-scoring games with lots of fouls. The Nationals first used the 24 second clock in scrimmages, found it made the game more exciting and the NBA adopted the clock for the 1954-55 season. The Nationals went on to win the league title in 1955! The clock worked: in the 53-54 season the average score was 79 points per team - in 54-55 it was 93. The Shot Clock Monument stands in Armory Square!

The Shot Clock Monument dedicated to Danny Biasone the owner of the Syracuse Nationals

Despite my initial misgivings on Monday in Syracuse, I ended up having quite a nice week there. I may not have come around to Rodgers and Hart's point of view that:

"You can keep your Athens,
You can keep your Rome,
I'm a hometown fellow
And I pine for home,
I wanna go back, go back
To dear old Syracuse."

I did, however, enjoy many wonderful meals and some beautiful autumn afternoons wandering around and exploring. (The Boys from Syracuse, of course, is not about men from Syracuse, NY but Syracuse, Italy - it's a musical retelling of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. ) Syracuse marked the last week of Spamalot as I've known it for the last year and a half - we spent the following week in West Point retooling the show into what I've come to think of as Spamalot v2.0!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Algonquin Exertions

For our "long weekend" in Toronto, I took a trip north from Toronto to visit Algonquin Provincial Park. The park was created as the first provincial park in Canada in 1893. It's 3,000 square miles contain 2,400 lakes and 745 miles of river and streams. It is an absolutely beautiful place. It also happens to be home to lots of moose. Ever since the possibility of seeing a moose first arose in Salt Lake City, I've been a bit obsessed with seeing one in the wild. I couldn't pass up this chance. I've also been thinking a lot about camping since Chris Gurr went on his camping vacation to Idaho and Washington State in August. Having the opportunity to do both things only 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto was perfect.

I set out after the show on Sunday afternoon and drove to Huntsville, Ontario which is near the southwest corner of the park. (I finally found a use for all those hotel points I've been racking up since joining the tour and booked myself a free night in a Holiday Inn Express.) As I drove, I listened to the pre-game ceremonies from the final game at Yankee Stadium. I'm glad I could share in that historic moment even while I drove across Canada...
Monday morning I was up and out of the hotel before sunrise. I was just entering the park at first light.

First light while I was on the road to Algonquin

All along the road were moose crossing signs - I was getting excited! My first stop for the day was the Mizzy Lake Trail. According to the guide book, the Mizzy Lake Trail was the best day trail on which to see wildlife. (Much of the interior of the park is only accessible by overnight camping and hiking or by canoe. Only one road crosses the park - highway sixty cuts through the southern end of Algonquin.) The Mizzy Lake trail is an 11km loop that took me past 9 lakes and ponds and through the two distinct types of forest ecosystems in the park (northern conifer and southern hardwood forests). I took along an afternoon snack, my binoculars and the camera I had borrowed from DVZ.

As I got started on my hike, the morning mists were still rising from the lakes.

All along my hike, there was evidence of beavers. I would be standing next to a good sized pond and wondering why no pond appeared on the trail map - then I would spot the beaver dam and realize that this wasn't a natural lake, but a beaver pond! Their dams are amazing. A couple of times along my route I could stand just below or right next to one of their damns and marvel at them. How a creature the size of a small dog can build these large and sturdy structures was amazing to ponder. Several of the dams were as tall as I am. After several years of maintenance and additions, these dams become part of their surroundings. Grass and small trees start to grow out of them - the dams often long outlast the beavers who built them!

One of the beaver dams I encountered. This one was easily four feet tall!

The beavers build these dams as means of protection from predators as well as to assure themselves of a food source. They build their lodges in the center of their ponds and live there all winter long safe from land based predators. Beavers eat bark and twigs as well as the roots of water plants.

Beaver ponds are important habitats for all kinds of other animals as well. Herbivores (like the moose) eat the plants that grow along the edges of the ponds or wade into their shallows. Fish and water insects thrive on the submerged plants. Woodpeckers especially like the insects that take up residence in the drowned trees. Beaver ponds and dams are also an important means of flood control.

Another beaver pond along the Mizzy Lake Trail

September is moose mating season. The male moose's antlers are full grown around this time of year and are a sign of his virility. If two males come upon the same female, it is the one with the larger antlers who will win her. When a female is in heat, she makes a sound similar to a domestic cow's moo. A male answers with a loud sound described as "gawunk". When they're near one another, the male digs a shallow hole (or rut pit) and pees into it. He then wallows in the pee-mud and approaches his intended. The rest is the stuff of Mutual of Omaha films. My trail guide described the scene: "It is a frosty September morning..." IT WAS A FROSTY SEPTEMBER MORNING!!! As I walked, I kept scanning the water's edge hoping to glimpse a grazing giant.

The colors in the forest were just starting to turn. The mix of green pine trees with the bright colors of the maples were spectacular. Just past halfway along the trail I sat down for my afternoon snack overlooking one of the lakes. I could hear the loons calling to one another and the woodpeckers drilling for bugs. I even caught a glimpse of a beaver gliding along the far shoreline.

The trail guide was full of interesting tidbits about the many creatures that call the park home. I learned about the marten and the fisher (two small carnivorous mammals) as well as the complex interaction between moose and deer. Moose and deer populations overlap very little - the deer carry parasites that are harmful to the moose. As man decimated the wolves that preyed upon the deer, the deer spread farther north into moose territory pushing them even farther to the north. As we have allowed wolf populations to stabilize a bit, the moose have returned to their old habitats (including far upstate New York!).

I reached the end of the Mizzy Lake Trail without a moose sighting. I saw all kinds of birds (including a heron), several small rodents (red squirrels and chipmunks) and evidence of deer. The scenery was beautiful and the walk in the woods was wonderful.

I had quite a drive between the hiking trail and my campground. I didn't plan this part of my trip very well. I picked the campground before I knew much about the park. The Mizzy Lake Trail was in the southwestern part of the park and the campground was in the northeastern corner. As I mentioned before, there are no roads through the central part of the park, so my only option was to drive back the way I had come and all the way around. It was a three hour trip up to the park entrance. Once I arrived, I called Sheila Marie and checked in for the last time on Monday. (Cell service was limited in the southern parts of the park and non-existent farther north. Sheila Marie wasn't really down with the whole hiking/camping/being out of reach all by myself thing, but she gamely put up with the idea.)

I checked in with the park ranger at the head of the forestry road and picked up my permits. The ranger suggested that he could move me to a nicer campsite: "Would you like something on the water?" Ummm, yes! Once I left the ranger station, it was still a 40 kilometer drive to the campground. The first half of the trek was on an active logging road - the park's boundary was 20 km from the ranger station. A couple of tractor trailers loaded with logs came roaring down the road and frightened me before I reached park's edge.

Once I reached the campground, I had a hard time finding my campsite. I drove around and around before I finally backtracked to the campstore and outfitter to ask. The proprietor directed me down a track away from the rest of the campground and along the shore of Cedar Lake. Campsite number 26 was set off in a group of only 3 sites along with a retired ranger cabin. It was prime waterfront real estate and very secluded. Just what I had hoped for!

Standing in the middle of my campsite & looking toward Cedar Lake - the main portion of the Brent Campground was across the bay in the lake, I could only see the beach!

Just beyond my picnic table and fire pit, this trail lead down to Cedar Lake's edge

I arrived around 5:30, so I had plenty of daylight left to set up my campsite. To outfit myself for my trip, I relied on the generosity of some of my tourmates. Erik Hayden loaned me both his tent and sleeping bag. Christopher Gurr armed me all sorts of hiking and camping sundries including an emergency whistle, sleeping bag liner and camp pot. Between the two of them, all I really had to buy for myself was a sleep mat!

Erik's tent rocks! I set it up in about 10 minutes.

After I got settled, I took a walk about to check out my immediate surroundings. A family was staying in the ranger cabin, but the forest was so thick that I couldn't hear the kids playing until I was practically on top of them. A pair of fishermen were ensconced at one of the other two sites. I could see their small trailer only from the water's edge of my site. I discovered a back country campsite marked out nearby as well - there are lots of these in the interior campsites throughout the park for those who are backpacking or canoeing.

My campsite as seen from across the bay in Cedar Lake

As the daylight started to fade, I settled on a rock beside Cedar Lake to enjoy the sunset. As the sun got lower and lower it started to get very quiet. The bird calls quieted down and I was left with just the sounds of the small waves lapping on the shore & crickets singing. I found it very relaxing just to sit and take it all in. By 9, it was entirely dark.

The sun sets behind the trees on Cedar Lake

The depth of the darkness was surprising to me. Aside from my campfire and lantern there was absolutely no light around. Through the trees, in my little slice of sky, were thousands of stars of all shades and variations. I could easily see why the stars were so important to people of an earlier time. I warmed my dinner over the campfire and was climbing into the sleeping bag before 11.

Honestly, I was a bit concerned about the whole sleeping outside thing. I was worried I would be cold (the temperature was predicted to drop to near freezing). I was worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep on the ground or that I wouldn't be able to get back up once I had slept on the ground. I was worried that I would be too nervous to sleep in the tent. Turns out I needn't have been concerned. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up the next morning much later than I had anticipated. I imagined that I would wake up with first light - instead, I slept in until past eight. I got up, ate some breakfast and packed up my campsite. Shortly after nine I was back on the forestry road dodging lumber trucks.

The sun, well up in the sky, greeted me as I opened the tent flap on Tuesday morning

At the northern edge of the park, I made one last stop. I climbed the observation tower to check out the Brent Crater. The crater was formed 400 million years ago when a meteorite hit the earth. The crater is about 2 miles across and currently 1,400' deep. Scientists estimate that the impact of the meteorite hit released the energy equivalent to 250 megatons of TNT (the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 18 kilotons). The crater was not recognized until 1951 when ariel photographs made the circular depression clear. While that sounds odd, until I was above the crater looking down I couldn't see it either. The region is hilly and while the sides of the crater are quite steep, the crater just seemed like another hill.

Looking across Brent Crater. The mists in the middle distance are rising from two lakes on the floor of the crater. This photo makes the scale of the crater plain - the hills ridge on the far side of the crater is 2 miles away.

I climbed back down from the observation tower and back into the car for the nearly five and a half hour drive back to downtown Toronto. I kept my eyes peeled the whole way back hoping to catch a glimpse of the a moose, but I arrived back in town still moose-sighting-less. The trip was great fun, though. I enjoyed my hike and my night alone in the campground. It was a welcome change from the hustle, bustle and constant interaction of the tour and all the cities I've visited. I quite liked the camping experience and would like to do it again!

With our return to the US, we've left moose habitat for quite a while. I'll have to put my quest for a moose-sighting on hold. The next time Spamalot is far enough north to see one of the giant brown creatures will be when we play Anchorage, Alaska - we'll see...


Sunday, October 12, 2008


Now that I'm safely back in the states, I have a moment to reflect on my month in Toronto. I had a good time in Canada's largest city and can easily see myself living there. Toronto itself is home to 2.5 million people and greater Toronto boasts 8 million residents. The diversity of those 8 million people was obvious whenever I walked down the street (Toronto is second only to Miami in terms of foreign born residents). I lived in the city's downtown core, but found many of its neighborhoods an easy walk or streetcar ride away. I dug Toronto.

Toronto has an extensive network of streetcars in addition to their subway system. While the trolleys were quite crowded at rush hour, at the times that I needed them I found them quite pleasant.

I made myself right at home in my rental apartment in Toronto. I shared the two bedroom apartment with Roy from team wardrobe and the two of us got along famously. There were some other company members in our building as well, so there was always someone to walk home with or hangout with - it was a great arrangement.

The first two weeks went by quite quickly. I mostly laid low and enjoyed being all the way unpacked again. Having a few items in the kitchen cupboards was also a welcome treat! I made dinner for a couple of friends on the first day off. Toronto's St. Lawrence Market and the cooler autumn weather inspired me to stuff some pork chops and make up a pot of corn chowder. Home cooked meals are so rare on the road, I'm glad I could share a few with friends in Toronto! With so many of us in apartments, Toronto had all kinds of opportunities for barbecues, cocktail parties and quieter dinners.

Christopher Gurr hosted a couple of after show soirees - this one welcomed our new Sir Lancelot, Matthew Greer, to the company

Spamalot's home in Toronto was the Canon Theatre. The Canon opened in 1920 as the Pantages Theatre, a vaudeville and movie house. It was a part of the Pantages circuit until the sudden and scandalous end of the Pantages empire in 1930 (when Alexander Pantages was accused of raping an underage chorus girl - he was later exonerated). The theatre was then renamed the Imperial and became a movie house for most of the next 60 years. In the 70's and 80's the building was divided into 6 movie theatres (1 theatre was built on the stage and another was constructed in the trap room). A property dispute allowed Garth Drabinsky (later of Livent infamy) to buy half of the building. This sparked an ownership fight that resulted in Drabinsky gaining control over the whole building and reopening it in 1989 as the Pantages and home to The Phantom of the Opera for more than a decade. When Livent went bankrupt, the theatre was bought by Clear Channel and then by Mirvish (sort of the Schuberts of Toronto - they seem to own every theatre). The Canon Company of Canada bought the naming rights to the theatre in 2001.

Like many older theatres, space at the Canon was tight. Fortunately, Spamalot has played the theatre for more than two months in the early days of the tour and much of the paperwork for condensing things was still in the computer. Francesca spent a good deal of her load-in working through the problems realted to the lack of space. The company quickly adapted to crossing from one side of the stage to the other through the basement and we settled in for our month-long run.

The Canon has two "front doors" - this one is on the busy Yonge Street. Patrons enter this door and cross over the alley on a raised bridge to reach the theatre's lobby.

The Canon's building actually fronts on Victoria Street

Sound check on the stage at the Canon

Until recently, the Canon was home to We Will Rock You, The Queen Musical - they left these signs behind all over the theatre. I can only imagine...

As I said, the first two weeks were pretty quiet, I didn't do a lot of sight-seeing. I spent much of the second week planning a little Monday get-away. For our second week in Toronto, we played a Wednesday matinee but no Sunday evening show - this meant an extra long weekend! We all walked out of the stage door at 4:30, while the sun was still in the sky, and didn't have to be back until show time on Tuesday. I took a trip "up north" to Algonquin Provincial Park. I had a great time and I'll detail that side trip in another post.

In our third week, Spamalot welcomed several new cast members. Candy Olsen, Carissa Lopez and Matthew Greer all joined the company and began rehearsal in Toronto. Their rehearsals took up several afternoons both onstage and in a rehearsal studio. After 20 months with the show, it has become second nature to me now - but watching new people learn it for the first time and give it their spin and energy is good for me. While rehearsals can be sort of a drag, they can also help keep the show fresh.

Roy helps Matthew with his maiden voyage in the Ni Knight costume and stilts

Shortly after she joined the company, Candy celebrated a birthday!

I went for a walk one of the afternoons I wasn't in rehearsal hoping to see the Ontario Legislature Building (there's a photo in my Toronto Cityscape Blog) and ended up at the Royal Ontario Museum. I didn't really know anything about the place, but decided to check it out. Turns out, the place has a huge collection (more than 6 million items in 40 galleries) and is the 5th largest museum in North America. I had no idea. I spent 3 or 4 hours there, just wandering around. During my brief visit I saw exhibits on dinosaurs, Canadian First Nations, Canadian Colonial History, ancient Egypt, dynastic China and Korean history. I left at the end of my visit with 2/3 of the museum unexplored!

No matter how many times I see them, mummies are endlessly interesting

The museum had a big collection of dinosaurs on display - including this stegosaur

On our last Monday off in Toronto, Patrick hosted a barbecue as a farewell gift to the company. Our building had a fantastic roof deck with grills, lounge chairs, a hot tub and a great indoor room - all of which we took full advantage of. Patrick provided the meat for grilling and the libations. I put together an big dish of my Mom's potato salad and headed up to the roof for the afternoon. A large portion of the Spamily as well as some alumni (Jamie Karen is now on the Jersey Boys tour that was also playing Toronto) and guests joined us for fun in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Sarah Lin, Paula and Darryl with the CN Tower in the background (my apartment building was two blocks from the base of the tower). This is just one of a raft of great photos Francesca took at the party...

Patrick doing a keg stand
(I lifted this photo from Nate's facebook page)

As the time in Toronto drew to a close, it started to be embarrassing that I hadn't visited Toronto's signature landmark: the CN Tower. It was doubly embarrassing since, as I mentioned, the tower was 2 blocks from my front door! The weather when we arrived was crystal clear, but nearer then end of our stay it got more unsettled and it seemed foolish to go up in the tower if I couldn't enjoy the view... I awoke the final Thursday to find the skies nearly cloudless, so I called downstairs, woke up DVZ and convinced him that the time had come to ascend the tower. Soon we were riding in the glass elevator up to the 1,100' observation level. I'm glad we went - the view was lovely. The sky was clear enough that we could see the mists rising from Niagara Falls 80 miles away and the outlines of Rochester all the way across Lake Ontario in New York State!

At the base of the 1,800' CN Tower

The shadow of the tower fell across my apartment
(My camera finally returned from being repaired after it's Vancouver kayaking dunk in the ocean!)

The observation deck includes a section with a glass floor - that's more than a thousand feet straight down below my feet! It's difficult to convince your brain that this is a good idea...

Heading into our last weekend in Toronto, we noticed strange works being set up all over Toronto. Scaffolding was being in installed at the end of the alley behind the theatre - a tower was built in the square nearby - lights in the windows of City Hall flashed and chased as we walked home each night. Ken did some research and found that it was all part of Nuit Blanche, an overnight art exhibition sponsored by Scotia Bank and the City of Toronto. From sundown on Saturday night to sunrise on Sunday morning Toronto was transformed into a giant art party. Nuit Blanche translates to "white night" or "all-nighter" from french. The idea began in Paris and has spread all over the globe. This year's Toronto version had more than a million people on the streets over the course of the night - the streets were flooded with people looking at art! Ken and I checked out some of the installations and projects on our way home. They were set up everywhere - banks opened their lobbies, alleys and parking lots became home to performance art, even the mall hosted!

This piece hung in the Eaton Centre Mall. It was a series of giant inflatable rings stacked on top of one another, lit from above and slowly rotating. The effect was mesmerizing.

An artist covered this alley with a drop ceiling and fluorescent lighting to bring the outdoors in and then artistically arranged "garbage".

On Sunday, Spamalot said goodbye not only to Toronto, but to 3 company members as well. Patrick Heusinger (Sir Lancelot), Bree Branker (Ensemble) and Tara-Lee Polin (Assistant Dance Captain) all headed for greener pastures with our closing in TO. Patrick's Mom emailed me and asked me to take some snaps of his final performance. I called the last show, but I did bring my camera along while I ran the deck at the matinee and managed to get a few really good photos during the show. An album of all of them is on snapfish, but I'll wrap up this post with some of my favorites:

Patrick during Camelot

Tera-Lee and Matt in the Wedding/Finale

Patrick says goodbye to Chris Sutton as seen from upstage

Bree waits to make her entrance during All for One

Bree steadies the pram as Cara kicks her way onto the stage in Camelot