Saturday, December 27, 2008

Doin' What Comes Naturally

After a brief lay-off, the tour resumed in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  (I had a wonderful week at home: I saw a couple of shows, caught up with lots of friends, cooked several dinners in my own kitchen, finished my holiday shopping and enjoyed my wife's company.) Fayetteville is the ancestral home of the Spamalot tour's Lady of the Lake: Esther Stilwell.  When I arrived to check-in at the hotel, Esther had left a gift bag containing a list of some of her favorite places in town and some homemade goodies!  Esther's family also hosted us for an opening night party complete with more homemade fudge, mulled cider and all kinds of holiday goodies in their converted fraternity house at the edge of the University of Arkansas' campus.  I can't imagine a warmer welcome!


Spamalot's home for the week was the Walton Arts Center.  The Arts Center is, of course, named for its prime benefactor: Sam Walton, founder of Walmart.  Much of Northwest Arkansas owes a great deal to the Walton family, their charitable giving supports the arts organization and the company they founded is the cornerstone of the local economy (along with Tyson Foods and the University of Arkansas).  What the Arts Center lacked in charm, it was a pretty institutional place, its audience made up for in enthusiasm.  Our audiences were wild all week - especially for the hometown girl (she even got entrance applause at many performances).

The Walton Arts Center

Downtown Fayetteville is lovely.  Like many University towns, its main street features an assortment of restaurants, bars and funky shops.  Fayetteville also features a quaint square centered on its former post office.  The square is ringed with more shops and restaurants , making for a nice afternoon's stroll.  The local merchant's association is proud of their diversity - their slogan is: "Keep Fayetteville Funky, Support Your Local Merchants."  During our visit, the square was decorated for Christmas.  

Lights on the Square

Like EVERYTHING in Fayetteville, the Lights on the Square featured a Razorback

Did I mention that were lots of restaurants scattered around Fayetteville?  I certainly didn't go hungry while visiting the Natural State - in fact, I was glad it was only a week long visit.  Had we stayed longer, I might have needed a flat bed truck to haul me away...  There were big breakfasts of biscuits and gravy, lunches of pan fried chicken and dinners of delicious barbecue.  (For a town bedecked with "Go Hawgs, Go" at every opportunity, they love to roast a pig...)  I enjoyed soul food, country ham and green beans with with nearly as much pork as green beans.  I love eating in the South!

The University of Arkansas attracted another food lover: Bill Clinton was a professor of law for several years before he moved on to political office.  Bill taught at the U from 1973 to 1976 and Hillary also taught at the Law School for two years.  In 1974, they moved into (and were later married in) a house on California Avenue that has since been converted into a museum.  The Clinton House Museum features a replica of Hillary's wedding dress and a lot of Bill's campaign memorabilia from his various campaigns.  It was in the house on California Ave that Bill campaigned, unsuccessfully, for a congressional seat and, successfully, for Arkansas' Attorney General.  Bill ran his campaigns from a folding table in the dining room!  Visiting the house was a fun peak into the life of the Clintons when they were just folks.

The Clinton House Museum - Hillary reportedly remarked that she liked the house as Bill drove her back to the airport after a brief visit from Chicago.  When she returned, he told her he had bought the house and proposed.

Bill and Hillary were married in the house's living room.  Hillary wore a dress like this one (it was 1975).

In addition to being the one-time home of The Lady of the Lake, the 42nd President and the future Secretary of State, Fayetteville is home to one of my college pals.  Erin Gardner and her husband Brandon graciously offered to host me in their home for the second half of the week.  While the hotel in Fayetteville was wonderful, staying with Erin, Brandon and their houseful of pets was wonderful.  Erin's working on an architecture degree at U of A and she and Brandon gave me an architectural tour of Fayetteville that was fascinating.  Scattered all over town are varied and beautiful structures.  Turns out the architecture school at the University of Arkansas has attracted some top drawer talent over the years, many of whom have built locally.  Erin and Brandon's house is one of these cool structures - it was built in a updated Frank Lloyd Wright style.  Unfortunately, it seems that the newly wealthy Walmart millionaires in Northwest Arkansas prefer McMansions to homes of architectural distinction...

Erin and Brandon's extremely inviting front door

Lucy and Fran

My roommate, Juan Pepe

Erin and I enjoyed an afternoon glass of wine on their deck

The Spamily spent the week in the grip of holiday fever.  With Christmas approaching, much of the cast and crew of Spamalot was playing Secret Santa.  We drew names and took gift lists home with us from Sioux City, returning with small gifts in our suitcases.  Each day, the sounds of folks surprised with goodies left on their desks, workboxes or dressing tables could be heard all night and the sly smiles of our "elves" (a select few company members were entrusted with delivering gifts) lit the hallways.  The game carried over into Christmas week in Des Moines.

Brad models his elf gear

One of the gifts I received from my secret santa was this bit of Razorback gear.
When in Hawg country...

Happily, the gift giving wasn't all silly.  The Spamily adopted two needy families in Des Moines.  One family was adopted by the company as a whole and the second was adopted by Team Spama-Management on behalf of the company.  We shopped and wrapped all week, warmed a bit by the feeling of charity.  It was a great knowing we were doing more than entertaining the community in one of our tour stops.  Special thanks to Tim for coordinating the effort as a whole and to Francesca for marshaling Management's efforts.

Francesca packs a trunk with the gifts for one of the Des Moines families

Monday morning came quickly.  I rose early for breakfast with Erin at their local coffee shop.  We said goodbye in the parking lot and promised that it wouldn't be another five years before we saw each other again.  Then I picked up Jason for the trip north to Des Moines.  The two of us tuned in  series of Bing Crosby Christmas Specials on the XM and swapped stories for the duration of the trip.  As we moved farther north, snow started to be more plentiful.  By the time we got to Kansas City for lunch, the landscape was blanketed in white.  

Monday's sunrise

I talked Jason into a stop at a Roadfood favorite for lunch: Stroud's.  Some of you may remember that when the show played Kansas City, Piper and I drove out to Stroud's between weekend shows and brought the company more than $200 worth of fried chicken.  When I looked at the route for the drive to Des Moines, I couldn't resist a return visit.  Jason and I shared a wonderful lunch and I'm happy to report that the chicken is even better served piping hot than from a styrofoam take out container!

Jason and our lunch

Just as we arrived in Des Moines, a light snow began to fall - setting the stage for Christmas!  More about the week in Des Moines soon -


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Week #96 - Sioux City, IA

Before I get to the regular blog post, a word of thanks.  In Boston and Pittsburgh, the company collected donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  Even in these difficult economic times, the audiences in both cities were generous.  The administration and local crew in both places were more than happy to help and the result was the collection of more than $17,000 for this worthy organization that supports people living in all kinds of difficult situations all across the country (BC/EFA has broadened their scope beyond the on-going AIDS crisis and supports all sorts of organizations).  I'm proud of the efforts of the extended Spamily.

Francesca and I were working on the final count and bundling when we paused to snap a photo...  The next day Francesca waited more than an hour while the bank counted up our deposit.


Another op’nin, another show
In Philly, Boston or Baltimo’
A chance for stage folks to say hello
Another op’nin of another show. 

Cole Porter obviously never played Sioux City, Iowa.  Come to think of it, he very well might have – but he never played it with a 6 truck, modern Broadway musical. 

The Orpheum Theater in downtown Sioux City is a lovely theatre.  It opened as part of the famed Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit in 1927.  Like so many other theaters, the Orpheum fell upon hard times and was converted into a movie house.  It’s interiors were subdivided and the decorations deteriorated.  Gilt moldings were replaced with drop ceilings.  Mahogany trim was painted over.  Chandeliers were removed and the building lost its luster.  Fortunately, some residents banded together to restore the building when the last movie concern failed.  The theatre has been lovingly restored and given another life as a legitimate theater. 

We play lots of theatres that have a similar story: the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta, the Canon in Toronto and the Shea’s in Buffalo.  Those theatres all had quirks and inconveniences that made them challenging.  The stage at the Orpheum is quite simply too small for Spamalot.  In many theaters we’ve played, we’ve used all the available space and in some we’ve had to alter the show or cut some scenery to make it to opening night; to fit into the Orpheum for this week’s opening, we had to remove four feet of depth and several more feet of width from our (already reduced) deck.  This also meant that we had to make a whole series of cuts to the drops and other flown scenery just to make a show that fit onto the stage. 

The stage space was so small that there wasn't room for the Stage Managers' Calling Desk to sit on the deck, we called the show from the end of a small hallway off-stage left.  (In this photo, Ken is calling the show while Cuz has wedged himself behind the desk to work on the intercom.)

We knew before we arrived that the load-in was going to be difficult.  Keith and Ken had discussed various ways to make Spamalot fit, but it wasn’t until we got here that the enormity of the task was made clear.  When I arrived at the theatre Wednesday morning, Keith met me at the door ready to discus how to make Stage Left workable.  Ken arrived shortly there after and described his sleepless night spent trying to work out how to make the reduced show run.  The morning was trying.  Every adjustment and cut to the scenery had repercussions on choreography, staging and scene changes.  We do not have time allotted to rehearse major changes with the cast and even if we were to call the cast for a rehearsal, there was no stage time available as the load-in took right up until sound check. 

Everyone in the Spamily was grumpy.  We cursed the theatre, the local presenter and our booking agents.  We grumbled about the lousy hotels, the lack of internet access and the dearth of eateries.  “Why are we in Sioux City in the first place?!?” we all said. 

Then I went out to explore the theatre.  I wandered into the beautiful lobby and found a man with a trolley full of paint buckets.  He was meticulously working his way around the lobby touching up all the tiny nicks in the paint.  I was immediately embarrassed at my own attitude.  We were all busy complaining and grousing about what a dump this theater was, and here was this man who had such pride in the place that he wanted the theatre to look its best for opening night of our show. 

Of course that did not change the challenges that lay ahead for the rest of the day, but it did help me keep the whole thing in perspective.  The rest of the day was challenging indeed: my lighting focus (which I finished in an hour and a half last week) took more than four hours, we weren’t able to find room for all the scenery we had loaded-in and had to cut more as we got closer to opening, Graham and Ken spent an hour modifying the staging and spacing of the dance numbers so they would fit and Mark reworked many of the lighting cues.  When the cast arrived, we scrapped much of the sound check and used the time for a spacing rehearsal. 

I said a prayer to Dionysus at curtain time and then we dove headlong into the adventure of opening night.  Francesca and I played traffic cops, directing everyone to their quick changes and pointing out the presets of props that were not where they usually are.  All things considered, it went quite well.  No one died and the audience absolutely loved the show we gave them.  Things got smoother as the week went on, but doing the show on a stage the size of a postage stamp was a challenge all week.  The audiences in Sioux City were wildly appreciative, but after opening night, we never drew much of a crowd.  We did several shows for audience that numbered in the low hundreds.  (More people saw the show in a single night in Atlanta than in our whole run in Sioux City.) 

OK, enough about that.

Sioux City is certainly the smallest town we've played on the tour thus far.  Sioux City sits in the Northwest corner of Iowa, separated from Nebraska by the Missouri River and from South Dakota by the Big Sioux River.  It is these rivers that gave birth to Sioux City.  The Missouri was once a major highway for goods and people in the American West.  When the railroads made it to Sioux City, the city became a major port.  Goods traveling south on the Missouri could be loaded onto rail cars in Sioux City, shaving hundreds of miles of expensive (and dangerous) river travel off the journey that once used to take them all the way to St. Louis.  The area also became home to a major stockyard.  

The Missouri River reflecting the setting sun
The river was still pretty fast moving, but the December chill had it full of ice floes

Louis and Clark passed through the area as part of their exploration of the west.  The only member of their party to perish on the journey fell ill and died just south of present day Sioux City. Sergeant Charles Floyd died, probably of a burst appendix,  in August of 1804 as the Corps of Discovery traveled up the Missouri (thus, becoming the first American Soldier to die west of the Mississippi).  A monument marks the spot where his remains are interred (Lewis and Clark buried Floyd on a bluff overlooking the Missouri, but erosion of the bluff washed away the original cedar marker and some of the gravesite - the current monument stands 300 yards from the original site and is Floyd's fourth resting place).  The 100' obelisk was constructed by citizens of Sioux City at the turn of the century and was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1901.  In 1960, the monument was declared a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior (the first site to be so recognized).

w/ the Sergeant Floyd Monument

The Lewis and Clark expedition is the inspiration for a small museum on the shores of the Missouri River.  The Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center was built as part of the Lewis and Clark Trail which allows travelers to retrace the 200 year-old journey.  The museum offered a peak into the daily life of the Corps of Discovery.  This was another opportunity for me to fill out some of the textbook history that I had mostly forgotten.  Yet again, I found myself amazed at what these brave people accomplished in an earlier time.  33 men departed from Hartford, IL in May of 1804 and pushed themselves all the way to the Pacific and back.  The journey took more than two years (they returned to St. Louis in September of 1806) and expanded the available knowledge of flora, fauna, geography and the native peoples exponentially.  The group spent the winter of 1804-5 in a crude "fort" (composed mostly of tents) in present-day North Dakota - a feat which I can not begin to imagine - and a second winter away from home on the Oregon coast.  By the time they returned, most of those left behind assumed they were dead.  Of course, the men were skilled, but they were also very lucky.  The man they picked up along the way to help interpret their communications with the Native Americans was married to Sacagawea who not only translated for them, but carried her infant son along on the journey (the baby's presence helped assure others that the expedition was not war-like) and who's lucky presence assured the expedition the acquisition of necessary horses from Indians at the foot of the Rocky Mountains when her long-lost brother (she was kidnapped by a raiding party as a youngster) turned out to be chief of the tribe they encountered.  Having traveled for nearly two years now, I can not imagine the sort of trip these brave men endured.

This statue (featuring William Clark, Seaman - Lewis' dog - and Meriwether Lewis) stands outside the Interpretive Center

Today, Sioux City is a town of less than 85,000 souls.  Its main industries are all related to the local slaughterhouses.  Several petfood concerns have facilities in town and the city is also home to the world's largest gelatin production facility.  As the largest city for more than a hour in any direction, Sioux City is home to an arena (the Tyson Events Center) and convention center.  While we were in town, we were competing for hotel space with a collegiate volleyball tournament being held at the Events Center.  Otherwise, it's a pretty sleepy place that has seen better days.  Downtown has some beautiful buildings from another era, but much of the action has moved out to the strip malls outside of town.

The main source of entertainment for the Spamily for the week was making fun of the Sioux City Airport.  The Sioux Gateway Airport is a former military base (actually still home to the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard) turned small regional airport.  The airport code is SUX.  We all found this hysterical.  In fact, I purchased several "Fly SUX" souvenirs, including a sticker for my trunk.  (The mayor of Sioux City petitioned the FAA to have the designator changed several times, but decided to stick with SUX when one of the other options presented by the FAA was "GAY".)  The airport is tiny.  There is one gate.  Only Northwest Airlink serves SUX and they only offer flights to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul.

These are ALL the flights offered at SUX.  That's five a day (except on Saturday, when there are only four).

They have a whole series of signs promoting Sioux City in the airport - I couldn't resist snapping some photos:

Wayne is obviously delighted by this sign: "Sioux City - A Great Place"

This was my favorite - all I could think was "Wanna bet?"

The week in Sioux City came to a happy end with my pre-dawn flight to MSP.  The plane was more than half Spamalot and we overwhelmed the staff at SUX.  Unfortunately, the plane was over-sold and poor Terry got bumped from the flight and had to kill 6 more hours before a flight had room for him (the 10AM was also booked full of Spamalot).  Everything went well for me, though, and I was back in NYC a half an hour ahead of schedule!  By one o'clock, SUX was a distant memory as I dropped my bags off in my very own bedroom!  Week #97 of the tour is another lay-off.  (We were booked to play Iowa City, but this summer's flooding ruined the theater.)  I'll be home enjoying the company of my wife, seeing a few shows, catching up with friends and working on my holiday shopping until it's time to hit the road again and fly off to Fayetteville, AR. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Steeltown, USA

I really dug my week in Pittsburgh.  I had no idea what to expect from the Steel City and really enjoyed the whole vibe.  Much like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh feels very comfortable and has an energy all its own.  The 'burgh has plenty of culture - their "Theatre Square" really does have a large enough collection of busy theatres to warrant the moniker - but the overall feeling of the city is very working class.  The steel industry that gave rise to the city is ever present, but this city really does seem to have found a new way to be relevant now that Andrew Carnegie and the other steel barons have, for the most part, moved on.

Pittsburgh's downtown "Golden Triangle" where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers come together to form the Ohio River.  It's easy to see why the city is also known as "The City of Bridges".

As soon as I arrived in town on Monday evening, Sheila's cousin David picked me up from the hotel and took me out to dinner with his family.  David recently finished his MBA at Carnegie Mellon and has landed a job in Pittsburgh's significant medical industry.  (Though the city's economy once produced half of America's steel, it is now based on healthcare, technology & financial services.  The area's economy has actually grown in recent quarters, bucking the national trend.)  Familiar (and familial) faces are such a treat on the road!  I had a great time with David, Susan and their three adorable daughters catching up and stuffing myself at the Cheesecake Factory.

When I arrived at the Benedum Center on Tuesday morning I realized that I had been in this historic theatre before.  Several years ago, I came to Pittsburgh with the Radio City Rockettes to do a promotional event announcing the start of ticket sales for the Pittsburgh leg of one of the Christmas Spectacular Tours.  It was at the Benedum that I helped stuff Santa Claus out a tiny window so he could make an announcement from atop the theatre's marquee.  The Benedum is the reincarnation of Pittsburgh's Stanley Theatre.  The former movie palace that also featured live entertainment (much like Radio City) opened in 1928 and was overhauled to accomodate the larger musicals touring in the 1980's.  The auditorium was beautifully restored and an enormous stage house was added.

I can still see Santa and the Rox up on top of this marquee

In the renovation, this old marquee was left on the side of the building in remembrance of the historic Stanley Theater

With Thanksgiving in the middle of the week, my schedule got booked up pretty quickly.  Tuesday was eaten up, as always, with load-in, sound check and the opening night performance.  BT McNichol, our Assistant Director, flew into town on Wednesday to work with the company in the wake of or note session with Mike Nichols in Boston.  Between BT's rehearsal and work on stage with Alexa, our newest company member, all three Stage Managers worked on Wednesday as well.  BT gave more notes following the show and then we all gathered to fete our departing company members Justin Klynsma and Jen Rias.  Justin is headed off to be the Head Carpenter on the newest Wicked tour while Jen is headed home to be with her new husband (they were married on my birthday back in August).  Both will be missed a great deal.  Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving (more about that later) and we held Alexa Glover's put-in on Friday.

Jen (Rias) shares a going away drink with Jason at the hotel bar

Justin and Jen (Mathie) at the Thanksgiving meal

To celebrate Thanksgiving, the company hosted a very nice meal at the Omni William Penn Hotel (where I was staying).  The Spamily gathered in the Lawrence Welk Room (it was at the William Penn that the term "Champagne Music" was coined - during one of Welk's engagements in the ballroom, a patron commented that the music was as "light and bubbly as champagne") for an abbreviated cocktail hour before our Thanksgiving feast got underway.  We all enjoyed a Thanksgiving with the trimmings and retired to take naps before our evening show.

The Spamily lines up for turkey

The hotel, itself, might be the nicest of the tour thus far.  The William Penn is an grand old hotel that has maintained its opulence through the years (the hotel opened in 1916).  It's been through several owners and is currently part of the Omni hotel chain.  We stayed in a very nice Omni in Indianapolis, but in the interim I forgot just how much I enjoy the chain.  While all the hotel brands have loyalty programs good, in theory, for free nights - the Omni offers some other perks as well.  The free internet for club members was nice, but it was the free morning beverage that made my stay.  Each morning, I hung a tag on my door selecting a hot and a cold morning beverage (hot cocoa, tea, V8, apple juice, etc.), which newspaper I wanted and a time for them to be delivered.  The hotel fairies would collect the tags and leave my beverage outside at the appointed time.  I absolutely loved this free service!

TVFMHRW - The building across the street was the gothic-inspired creation of Frederick J Osterling.  The Union Arcade was built for Henry Clay Frick in 1915-16 on the former site of St. Paul's Cathedral.  When Frick purchased the land, the diocese included in the sale the provision that whatever building was constructed must remind people that a cathedral once stood there.  Today the building is owned by the Melon Financial Corporation and is known as the Union Trust Building.

The View from the Hotel Lobby Bar - the William Penn's lobby was magnificent.  In preparation for the holidays, the lobby was festooned with garland and a giant tree; the crystal chandeliers were also polished in anticipation.

In addition to the company sponsored gathering, Angelina and Nigel hosted a second Thanksgiving feast in their apartment after the show on Thursday night.  Angelina whipped up a full on Thanksgiving with turkey and stuffing in addition to a huge pot of sausage and spicy meatballs.  Her timing was brilliant - most everyone was hungry again by the end of the show and we packed their apartment for a second go 'round.  I have no idea how Angelina produced all that food from their tiny galley kitchen, but it was much appreciated.

I didn't go hungry in Pittsburgh.  If two Thanksgiving meals weren't enough, there were many great dining options.  The local must-have meal comes from humble origins: legend says that local steelworkers needed a mid-shift meal that would sustain them through the rest of their day, but had neither the time or inclination for a sit-down meal.  The answer?  A Primanti Brothers sandwich: grilled meat, cheese, coleslaw, french fries and often an egg between two thick slices of Italian bread.  Genius!  The original Primanti Brothers location is in the Strip District (it was once Pittsburgh's produce and warehouse neighborhood; now it maintains some industry but is also the nightclub center) where it took up residence in 1934 and continues to churn out mini-heart attacks 24 hours a day.

My first Primanti Brothers meal (in a feat of amazing self-control, I only ate there twice!)

Christopher Gurr and I ventured down to the Strip District on Friday morning for a progressive breakfast.  We knew we were in the right place when we had to wait in line outside Deluca's in a fast-moving line for a table.  Deluca's was a roadfood recommendation and has been voted Pittsburgh's best breakfast a number of times.  I worked my way through a huge pile known as the "mixed grill" (eggs and sausage on top of hash browns, onions, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini) before I surrendered in deference to our next stop.  Just around the corner is Deluca's main competition for the "best breakfast" title: Pamela's P&G Diner.  Gurr and I were there for our dessert: Pamela's crepe-style pancakes.  These thin hot cakes are clearly grilled on a buttery skillet because the edges are crispy and sweet.  We ordered the blueberry version which comes rolled around sour cream, blueberries and brown sugar.  I was glad for the walk back to the theatre before rehearsal!

Gurr's photo of part two of our progressive breakfast - I believe he captioned it something like "We are such pigs!"

Before I left town on Tuesday morning (to accommodate the long distance trucking, Spamalot took a whole day off in Pittsburgh before moving to Sioux City, IA), I fit in one more gustatory adventure.  On the recommendation of our King Arthur, Jonathan Hadary, several of us had dinner at Lidia's Pittsburgh.  Lidia's is the PA outpost of the restaurant empire of Lidia Bastianich the PBS cooking show magnate.  The four course dinner was amazing.  The specialty of the house is a pasta tasting menu with three different pastas on offer each night.  I enjoyed gnocchi with squash and chestnuts, pappardelle with pork ragu, and a tasty rigatoni with fresh herbs.  Once again, I was glad for the walk home...

I was thankful for the extra day in Pittsburgh, as rehearsal and the holiday had precluded much sight-seeing.  I took full advantage of the day with a trip across the Monongahela to visit the Duquesne Incline.  The incline train climbs the side of Mount Washington, rising nearly 400 feet from the riverbank along an 800 foot track.  The train is a funicular (what a great word!), meaning that its two cars share one operating cable and travel in opposite directions on parallel tracks (so as to counterbalance one another).  The Duquesne Incline opened in 1877 and operates today as designed and built back then.  The red train cars have been restored and are operated by a non-profit caretaker corporation, but are still very much part of the daily life of the neighborhood atop the hill. 

 Riding up the incline as the opposing train comes down.
(The track is a 30% grade and the trains travel at about 6 MPH.)

After I wandered back across the river into downtown, I was taken by the Christmas Spirit that is everywhere all of the sudden and decided to go ice skating beneath the giant Christmas tree in PPG Place.  PPG Place dominates the Pittsburgh skyline with it's neo-gothic towers of smoked glass.  The complex is headquarters to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and was completed by architect Philip Johnston in 1984 as a counterpoint to the nearby Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.  Each year the giant obelisk that sits in the center of the plaza is redecorated as a Christmas tree and surrounded by the Rink at PPG Place.  I had an nice time skating in circles (after remembering how to ice skate) with the families and the after-school crowd.  Afterwords, I took in the holiday train and gingerbread house show at PPG Place, the Macy's Christmas windows and the giant creche on Mellon Square.

The Rink at PPG Place and one of the shorter towers

One of the rink's monitors took this (slightly blurry) photo of me in my rental skates

I have never been anywhere that has as much pride in their professional sports team as the entirety of Pittsburgh seems to have for the Steelers.  (Though it turns out that I was mistaken in my earlier post about Steely McBeam - the vast majority of Steelers fans think a more appropriate name for this Johnny Come-lately mascot would be Steely McStupid.)  Everywhere I went, Pittsburgh was bedecked in Steelers gold and black.  The cab that carried me to the airport had Steelers seatcovers, a pennant fixed to the window and a medallion autographed by a player.  Everyone wore Steelers hats, gloves, coats and scarves.  The Steelers are the unifying religion in Pittsburgh.  Before our show on Sunday we could hear people shouting out the score of the Steelers/Pats game and a great cheer went up at the beginning of intermission as fans checked the score on their cell phones; the Steelers won 33-10.  The Knight of Ni got a huge cheer each time he whipped out his "Terrible Towel" and swung it around.

The Steelers' Home, Heinz Field, sits on prime real estate directly across the Allegheny River from downtown.  The House Manager assured me that we were lucky there was no home game while we were in town as a game can delay the start of a Sunday performance by up to 1/2 an hour!

It is not an exaggeration when I say that the WHOLE LOCAL CREW came to work on Sunday in black and gold - of course, most of them favored more black than Bob (a local sound man) pictured here with Keith (who has returned as our new Head Carpenter).  Bob didn't even blink when I asked him where to get Steelers colored camo-pants.  Doesn't everyone have an outfit like this?

Even Graham's birthday cake was Steelers themed!

On the topic of Graham's birthday, a bunch of us celebrated with a "guys night out" at the aptly named "Pittsburgh Cigar Bar"

Pittsburgh was a great place to spend a week!  The extra day was much appreciated and, as I say so often in this blog, I could have spent much longer in this great American city.