Friday, May 29, 2009

And Equality for All

On Tuesday morning the California Supreme Court issued its ruling on the challenge to the infamous Proposition 8.  While I was heartened that the California Supreme Court did not annul the marriages of the more than 18,000 same-sex couples that were legally married in the state before the passage of Proposition 8, they voted 6-1 to uphold the ballot initiative cum constitutional ammendment. The result was not a surprise, but it was a disappointment nonetheless.

There were several demonstrations around San Francisco, but reaction felt remarkably resigned.  That is not to say that people were not angry, just that hopes were not high that the Supreme Court of California would undo this wrong.  I joined several members of the Spamily at the day's biggest protest event on the steps of City Hall before the show Tuesday evening.

We raised our placards, listened to many speakers and raised our voices in chants like: "What do we want? Equality!".  The rally, itself, was a bit unfocused and rambling, but it was heartening.  I was impressed with the number of people wearing slogans like: "Straight but not narrow" or holding signs like "Another heterosexual couple for marriage equality".  It was the people of faith, of all stripes, that gave me the most hope, though. The most stirring speaker of the afternoon was the out, gay pastor of a black baptist church.  

The more I think about this issue, the less I understand the opposition.  My confusion works on two levels: 1) How is it anyone's business who marries who? 2) It frightens me that a slim majority of voters can take away the rights of whatever group they want.

The first issue is the more basic of the two.  I just do not understand anyone who thinks they can stand in judgement of another person's relationship.  We all know people in relationships that we don't agree with, think are bad for those involved or are sure won't last, but we can't stop them - nor should we.  How is it anyone's business who another person chooses to marry?  If your religious beliefs dictate who and how you can marry, fine.  No one is asking any religious group to marry people they don't want to, just for the government to recognize civil marriages. The government does all sorts of things that various religious groups don't approve of, I don't understand how a contract between two people to be legally bound to one another is any different. What we're talking about here are things like property rights and custody rights, not matters usually handled by those in our religious lives.

I have no doubt that, given enough time, this first issue will be resolved.  Public opinion is moving, slowly, towards civil marriage for everyone.  One day, we will look back on this fight and wonder what we were doing. 

It is the second issue that is a bigger problem for me. The voters of California (and several other state as well) have used their constitution to specifically exclude a group from equal protection.  Proposition 8 became "necessary" when the Supreme Court of California ruled that the equal protections of the state's constitution meant that same sex couples must be allowed to marry.  The voters changed the constitution to override the court's decision.  The voters singled out a group and made them less than others in the eyes of their state's constitution.  We have done this before, of course, and we have undone this before; but how many times are we going to make the same mistakes?  ALL PEOPLE ARE EQUAL UNDER THE LAW - we are taught to believe this is the foundation of our country, why can't we mean it & live it?

A dissenter at the rally shouted, "You don't need a piece of paper to love!"  He's right, clearly, you don't need a marriage license to love whomever you choose.  But why should anyone who wants to marry their lover be told they don't have the right? That's what this is all about: denying people their rights. Now, it is time for all of us to live up to our highest aspirations and stop denying any of us their rights.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

San Francisco Has Opened It's Golden Gate!

San Francisco rocks.  I'm so glad that we're staying here for more than a minute and I'll get to keep on exploring this great city, though I managed to see and do quite a bit in my first week in town.

We arrived Monday afternoon after a leisurely flight from Denver.  Rather than the crack of dawn flights that have so often been a part of my touring experience, we left Denver at a more civilized hour and arrived on the West Coast around 2:30.  DVZ, Roy and I piled into a van and headed straight for the house we're sharing.  The house is a beautiful Victorian on a quiet street in the Castro neighborhood.  DVZ and I share the upstairs while Roy has the studio apartment below us.  We share a two level backyard that features a gas fireplace.  All three of us are very, very happy in our home away from home.

Our rental house in the Castro

Monday was all about getting settled and feathering the nest.  We grocery shopped and wandered the neighborhood.  As the sun set, I made dinner for Roy and I, opened a bottle of wine and put my feet up by the fire (in what has come to be a nightly tradition).

Tuesday was the start of work for the Spamily in San Francisco - the crew started our long load-in period first thing in the morning.  Since I didn't have to appear at the theatre until after supper, I went out exploring.  I started with a walk along Market Street - sort of the Broadway of San Francisco.  As I walked, I enjoyed the procession of street cars that run down Market Street.  They date from all eras of the electric street car, come from many cities (including some trolleys from Milan, Italy) and are painted to represent the electric railways in cities across the continent.  While other cities have modernized or phased out their electric streetcars, San Francisco has refurbished them and put them back into service!  It wasn't long before I had bought a pass and hopped on board for a ride.

My travels that first day took me to the Ferry Building that sits at the foot of Market Street and, until the Bay Bridge, served as San Francisco's water link to the rest of the Bay Area.  I went on around the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf where I strolled out along Municipal Pier and enjoyed views across the water toward Alcatraz and back toward the city's downtown.  I caught a few glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was almost entirely enshrouded in fog on Tuesday afternoon.

The view from Municipal Pier back across downtown San Francisco

Soon, it was time to head to work.  From the pier, I hopped on a cable car for the ride back to Powell and Market Streets.  I immediately fell in love with the cable car system. That the city still operates three cable car lines with technology invented in the late 19th Century is unbelievably cool.  The cars and the technology are unchanged from when the Clay Street Hill Railroad began operation in September of 1873.  I hopped aboard a car on the Powell-Hyde Line and couldn't stop smiling as I stood on the running board and hung on. I was still grinning ear-to-ear when I arrived at the Golden Gate Theatre for work.

In advance of our San Francisco opening night, we took some extra time to spruce up the show a bit.  Our lighting and projection designers had a bit of time to retool and refine the work that was done in West Point.  For this engagement and the LA engagement, we have added a front truss with a few more lighting instruments and we also added some more lights to the on-stage package.  The orchestra has also been beefed back up to its pre-West Point numbers.  We also added some more sound reinforcement equipment.  All these changes, as well as some maintenance on the set and props, meant that we needed some extra time to load-in and retech the show.  The crew worked all day Tuesday and Wednesday with the actors coming in for a dress rehearsal and notes on Thursday.

At the dress on Thursday, things looked pretty good, so we all got the evening off!  I took advantage of the opportunity to meet up with my friend Kelly Tighe who's in the Bay Area working on a production of Cabaret.  We met up near my house for dinner and were joined by one of Kelly's friends and a mutual-friend, Christopher Lentz.  I've been so lucky to be able to visit with so many good friends on the road, and Thursday night's dinner was just another example of how much fun that can be!

w/ Kelly outside Tangerine on Thursday night

Not only was Friday Spamalot's first preview in San Francisco, it was the night my wife was set to arrive!  Sheila Marie took advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend to make a dash to the West Coast.  It was to be a short visit, but we packed a lot into it.

Saturday we were up and out of the house in time for breakfast and a second visit to Fisherman's Wharf.  As soon as we stepped off the streetcar, we could hear the sea lions barking and growling and followed their sounds to the end of Pier 39.  On floats near the pier, lots and lots of California Sea Lions were lounging, playing, splashing and fighting for position.  The noises they made were amazing.  They are wild, male sea lions that come up onto the floats to relax between hunting trips.  Later in the summer, the guys will go meet their lady friends south of here for mating season.  Until then, though, it's guys only at Pier 39.

Some of the sea lions at Pier 39 - they are huge & loud creatures

w/ SME and the sea lions

Once again, I was at Fisherman's wharf and needed to get back across town to get to work - time for another cable car ride!  As I had been gushing about how cool the cable cars are since before Sheila Marie arrived, I was relieved when Sheila enjoyed the experience as much as I did.  The two of us were both giggling and smiling the whole time.

SME on the running board of a Powell-Hyde cable car with Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz at the foot of Hyde Street

Sheila got this great snap of me "perpendicular hanging off a cable car" with the Transamerica Pyramid in the distance

Saturday night we went for drinks at the famous Tonga Room.  Located in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room is a classic tiki bar.  A large pool dominates the center of the room (in fact, the Tonga Room was constructed in the room that used to house the hotel's swimming pool) and a barge floating in the "lagoon" serves as the stage for the house band.  Every half-hour, a "thunderstorm" of sound, flashing light, and piped-in rain disturbs the lagoon.  The joint was jumping on Saturday night: the band was playing covers of all kinds and eras of dance music and Sheila Marie was even briefly swept away as part of a conga line!  Jeff Dumas joined us at the bar and the three of us had a grand time sipping our industrial strength rum drinks in comedy glassware.

Jeff, SME and JV at the Tonga Room

On Sunday morning, we nursed our hang-overs with some comfort food at Chow, a neighborhood favorite before I had to head in for the matinee.  Sheila Marie's Great Aunt June and Uncle Dean live nearby and came up for the matinee performance.  We met up with them between shows and shared a tasty German meal as we got caught up.  I saw Dean and June in Florida, but it had been an awfully long time since Sheila saw them in person, so I, once again, felt fortunate that the tour had brought me close to more great people.

While I did the evening performance, Sheila Marie made a trip to the grocery and laid in some supplies for an evening of entertaining at home.  Karl and Gurr came home with me after the show and we had snacks while we sat around the fireplace in the garden and talked.  It has been lovely to be able to have people over to the house!

Monday morning, Sheila Marie and I hiked over the hill to visit Haight-Ashbury.  San Francisco's hills are no joke.  There's a reason these people invented the cable car to carry them over some of these monsters.  The view from the top of the hill in Buena Vista Park was quite something though...  We wandered down Haight Street and found ourselves at Golden Gate Park; remembering Dean and June's recomendation, we decided to check out the Conservatory of Flowers.  Constructed in 1878, the Conservatory is an elaborate Victorian greenhouse filled with a wide array of beautiful flora from around the globe.  Palm trees and a giant philodendron tower over tiny, jewel-like orchids.  It was a beautiful way to pass the morning!

SME outside the Conservatory of Flowers

The two of us in the "Low-Land Tropics"

After we wandered around Golden Gate Park for a while, we caught the train and headed for a meet-up with some of the Spamily at the ballpark!  The Giants hosted the Braves for a Memorial Day matinee game and also welcomed Spamalot.  Our very own John O'Hurley sang the National Anthem with his son, William, at his side and a dozen of us also led the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the 7th Inning Stretch.  We got some great seats to the game just behind first base and the chance to appear on the Jumbotron!  We all had a great time and Giants easily beat the Braves 8-2.

The Spamily gathered in Centerfield: Karl, Lyn, Nigel, Jen Mathie, Roy, Matt, Angela, Chris, JV, Jeff and Merle.

SME caught the singing on video!
We gathered under the Giant baseball mitt in Centerfield for our broadcast on the Jumbotron
(I've ordered a copy of the footage that appeared on the giant screen which includes Jeff's Harry Caray-esque introduction.)

Christopher and SME got to tag along to the game as well!  Here they are with the Giant mitt in the background.

Outside AT&T Park with #24, the "Say Hey Kid", Willie Mays

After the ballgame, several of us retired back to the 'hood for some AMAZING ice cream at the Bi-Rite Creamery and a relaxed dinner at home.  Unfortunately (or maybe very fortunately) we were a bit TOO relaxed as we were late getting Sheila Marie to the airport and she didn't make the red-eye flight home on Monday night. We were able to rebook her for the next day and I got to spend 15 bonus hours with my beautiful wife!

Tuesday, we did our best to take advantage of the extra time.  After breakfast at a great sidewalk cafe (too bad I can't find anything decent to eat in this town...), we rented a car and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Tuesday was bright and clear, but some of San Francisco's famous fog was racing through the straight, obscuring various parts of the bridge as it passed.  This only made the views more interesting, though:

We continued on up into the Marin Headlands and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.  We stopped to take a brief hike down to the water's edge and discovered a beautiful black sand beach.  Though it was quite chilly up in the wind, the beach was sheltered from the wind and the sand was quite warm.  We each took the opportunity to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean.

As you might be able to tell from my face, the water was FREEZING!

Not far from the beach was the picturesque Bonita Point Light

Not wanting to have Sheila Marie miss her second plane, we had to head back across the bridge and toward the airport as soon as our feet dried off.  We said goodbye outside the airport and my wife was back on her way home to the other side of the continent.  I'm glad for the wonderful visit, but I'm also looking forward to the time when we aren't saying goodbye quite so often.

My first week in California flew by.  I've been having a great time and don't want to let a moment get away.  I'm very happy out here and am excited about all the adventures that still lay in store for me; including a visit from my Mom & Dad as well as a visit with Paul & Jenny!


Friday, May 22, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

Denver is a great town.  I was especially pleased that the itinerary brought us back to the Mile High City, but was a little sad that it was for such a short visit.  The week seemed especially short with the late afternoon flight in on Monday and the day spent hiking on Tuesday.  By the time we loaded the show into the Buell Theatre and opened on Wednesday night, the week was more than half over!

This time around, I rented an apartment with Jeff Dumas in a high-rise just around the corner from the theatre.  The apartment was actually owned by the Performing Arts Center as a home away from home for performers and staff in their resident companies.  Since they weren't using all the apartments, we were offered the chance to rent them!  Some extra income for the Denver Center and some cheap digs for us - a win, win.

The view from my apartment's balcony.
The Daniels & Fisher Tower is all that remains of the Daniels & Fisher Department Store.  Built in 1910, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River at 325'.

Just as we did last time (all the way back in September of 2007), Spamalot played the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre. It's a beautiful space and has enormous support spaces backstage.  The crew loaded-in and out of the Buell in record time.  (Denver marked my 33rd and 34th weeks on the tour the first time and my 119th week some 600 performances later.)

The exterior of the Buell  - the theatre opens up onto the covered courtyard of the Denver Performing Arts Center which is home to 10 other performance spaces.

I got to see many old friends in Denver.  On the way back from my hike on Tuesday, I stopped in Boulder and had dinner with Diana Giattino.  Diana was one of my assistants at Gateway Playhouse and I absolutely adore her.  She's finishing up a Master's Degree in Education at the University of Colorado while also teaching.  I'm so glad I got a chance to catch up with her!  It seems like she's really found herself and is doing great.

I also got to catch up with two alumni of the tour: Piper Arpan and Elaine Jarzabski.  Piper (our former swing and Social Director) fell in love with a Denverite while we were there the first time and has since gotten engaged!  She was in town to celebrate her birthday with her beloved and invited the Spamily to come share in the fun at her intended's bar.  I miss Piper a lot - she was my main Roadfood Buddy (in fact, the man she's marrying, Dino, runs a Roadfood-approved joint) and just a fun kid to have around.  Elaine, late of the hair and make-up department, lives in the mountains outside Denver and came down to say hello over the weekend.  I was fortunate to share a between shows meal with Elaine and catch up!

As we had an understudy rehearsal on Thursday afternoon,  Friday was my only in-town touristy day.  I woke up early and took a tour of the Denver Mint.  The Denver Mint is the largest producer of coins in the world.  Their production has slowed a bit, due to the slowdown in the economy as a whole, but they hold the record for the most coins struck in a single day.  They mint circulating coins (pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars and dollar coins) as well as commemorative sets.

Friday afternoon, I met DVZ at the Brown Palace Hotel for afternoon tea.  The Brown Palace opened in 1892 and is a magnificent hotel.  Tea is served in the hotel's atrium 8 stories below a beautiful stained glass window.  Neither David or I had ever been for formal tea, and we both enjoyed it immensely.  Along with our caffeine, we were served a tower of scones, tea sandwiches and pastries.  What a delightful way to pass the afternoon!

Looking down into the Atrium of the Brown Palace Hotel

One lump, or two?

Denver marked the last city of our Wardrobe Supervisor, and my good friend, Wayne Spellman.  Wayne turned over the reigns of the wardrobe department to Linda Lee, who held that position for the Broadway company and returned to the tour of Mama Mia.  To celebrate his tenure and to wish him well, the Wardrobe Department hosted shot night after the shows on Saturday.  The night had a Hawaiian theme, as Wayne's first stop with Mama Mia will be Honolulu.  The room was decorated with palm trees, hula girls and lots of photos of Wayne.  Nearly the whole company turned out to raise a glass.

Angela greeted everyone with a lei

Roy and Wayne

The party continued across the street in the hotel's bar - Carissa, Alexa, Sarah-Lin and Matthew turned up in hula garb!

For Sunday night's show, the whole crew (and many others as well) donned ties in Wayne's honor.  (Wayne ALWAYS wore a tie to work on opening night.)  At intermission, we gathered so Francesca could snap a group photo (even the French cow put on a neck tie).

People come and go, that's the nature of the business, but I'm going to miss Wayne a lot.  Not only was he quite good at his job, he was one of my favorite people to hang out with.  I could always count on him for a hug and a kind word.  The two of us shared an awful lot of road trips and adventures.  I will certainly think of him the next time I'm planning an excursion.  I wish him well and look forward to our paths crossing again.

As the week ended, I could feel the excitement building in the company.  The long-awaited California leg of the tour was, suddenly, upon us.  For months, we'd been talking about the long sit-downs in San Francisco and Los Angeles; on Monday, it was time to go!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cow Creek - Rocky Mountain National Park

It was a long schlep from Spokane to Denver (roughly 1,100 miles).  The long drive meant that the trucks wouldn't make the trip in one day and that Spamalot would not open at the Denver Center until Wednesday.  I headed for the mountains on my unusual Tuesday off.  

I was up early on Tuesday morning, got myself a big breakfast of huevos rancheros, and was in the car headed northwest shortly after 8AM.  I was headed for the Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, CO.  Traffic frustrated me a bit, slowing my progress to the mountains, but as I was arriving the at trailhead a herd of elk stopped me in my tracks.  Just off the dirt road, a whole bunch of elk were grazing in a meadow, completely unconcerned about my presence.  

Elk Herd #1 for the day.
These are HUGE animals - it's hard to really tell how big they are in a picture - the size of horses with the body shape of deer.

Around 10:30, I set off on the Cow Creek Trail.  The trail began at the former McGraw Dude Ranch, now a National Park Service ranger and research station, and closely followed the course of Cow Creek.  Near the trailhead, Cow Creek is pretty lazy - a series of beaver dams slow the creek and create splashing spillways.  As I progressed up the trail, however, the creek grew more wild.  Fueled by the melting mountain snow, Cow Creek is crystal clear and freezing cold.  The creek traces a path through a valley climbing slowly as I moved upstream.  The trailhead is at 7,800 feet in a wide meadow lined with aspens and pines.

Sheep Rock was a constant companion on the first part of the hike - above the meadow to the right of the trail.

Cow Creek
The creek was never very wide, but moved at a good pace as it tumbled down the valley.

The trail was a gentle climb over the first two miles.  Pretty quickly, I noticed that I was getting short of breath.  I've been doing enough hiking lately to wonder what was different here.  It didn't take long for me to remember that I started the hike nearly a mile and half above sea level.  As a life-long "flat-lander" the thin air was kicking my butt!

The last 1/2 mile, or so, of the trail grew steeper as the wide valley became more of a gorge. Cow Creek got wilder and louder as it tumbled past boulders and made some short falls.  The sound of falling water grew louder and the rock walls on either side of the trail got steeper as I neared Bridal Veil Falls.  I was paying careful attention to my footing, so the falls appearance was a surprise:

Bridal Veil Falls

When I arrived at the falls, there was a group of other hikers there and another pair that I had overtaken on the trail arrived behind me.  We all said hello and set about staying out of each other's pictures.  But, not long after I arrived, it suddenly clouded over and began to rain.  The other hikers fled back down the trail while I tucked myself under a rock outcropping and had a snack.  About ten minutes after the rain started, the dark cloud passed, the sun shine returned and I had the falls to myself!

Cow Creek tumbles more than 20 feet over a small cliff to form Bridal Veil Falls.  In the summer it's possible to cross the creek and climb to the top of the falls, but the spring melt made the creek too wide to do so easily on the day I visited.  While I scrambled around, taking pictures and looking for a route to the top, I let my pack rest under the outcropping where I weathered the brief rain.  A fat chipmunk was exploring my belongings while I explored the falls!

I returned to see this little bugger hopping out of my backpack!  He was clearly used to life at a tourist destination and was ready to help himself to some people-food.

When I heard some more people climbing up to the falls, I took one last look:

and was on my way.  Unsurprisingly, the trip back down the trail was much easier than the trip up.  I gained more than 1,000 feet of elevation on my hike and was happy to give it back.  The trip down was no faster, however, as going downhill on rocky trails can be just as slow as going up.

As the valley opened up again, I spotted some movement at the edge of the meadow:

3 mule deer were foraging near the trees!  These deer are a good bit bigger than the white-tailed deer I grew up with in Michigan.  Males stand four feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh in at above 300 pounds.  The deer were very alert to my presence and kept their distance.

Shortly after my encounter with the deer, I reached a confluence of trails.

It was just after 1PM, my legs felt good, and it was a beautiful day (even at this altitude, the temperatures were in the 70's with a warm breeze), so I decided to take a side trip to Balanced Rock.  The Balanced Rock Trail dropped down past the Rabbit Ears backcountry campsite and crossed Cow Creek.  The first part of the trail was lush and the deepest green I encountered all day.  Though there's plenty of green in this part of the Rocky Mountains, it's nothing like the colors I encountered in Eugene; vegetation is much more sparse here and everything feels more delicate.  Much of the trail was gravel crushed by boots and hooves from the Rocky Mountain's own rocks.  The topsoil is thin and delicate.  This is not to say there wasn't plenty of plant life, just that it was a beautiful contrast to what I was experiencing in the preceding days and weeks.  (That's been one of my favorite aspects of life on tour - things change so quickly and frequently.)

These delicate little lavender flowers are American Pasque Flowers - one of the first flowers of spring in the Rocky Mountain alpine region.  Their stems are fuzzy to help keep the frost off as they're the earliest bloomers in places with variable weather.

As I left Cow Creek behind, I began a long climb to the top of an unnamed peak in the Lumpy Ridge.  As I climbed, the plant life thinned and changed.  More and more fallen trees lined the path.  At first, this seemed like a terrible tragedy for the hillside, but then it occurred to me: this is how the mountain gains topsoil - trees grow, are blown over, decompose, turn into dirt and slowly thicken the topsoil.  On the topic of natural processes; the trail was full of animal droppings of all shapes and sizes and twice I came across bones (I'll spare you the photos).  There was no question I was in a wild place.

The climb was unrelenting.  Though I only gained around a 1,000 feet on the trail, it was a much tougher ascent than the Cow Creek trail.  About halfway up, I stopped for lunch.

All along the route were these random outcroppings of rock.  This one was 12', or so, tall and featured a few pine trees growing in the gaps and fissures.  All of these outcroppings looked as if a giant child had stacked up the boulders in artsy compositions, many looked like they could collapse at any time.  I ate lunch in the shadow of the biggest boulder on the smaller rock in the lower-left of the picture.  Unlike the Cow Creek Trail, I saw no one on the Balanced Rock Trail - my lunch companion was a loudly chattering squirrel.

I pushed onward and upward to the top of my personal mountain.  I came to the crest and then crossed over it, opening up the vista to the snowcapped, higher peaks that form the continental divide.  

I gave up some of the altitude I had gained and circled around to the far side of the mountain.  Just as I was beginning to wonder if Balanced Rock had lost its balance and fallen, it came into view.  I literally, stopped in my tracks and gasped at its improbability.

The balancing rock is quite large and the rock it's balanced on is no bigger than me.  How this came to be, I haven't the slightest idea. As soon as I saw it, the 2 and a half mile climb was worth it.

I smiled the whole way back down the mountain.  As the research station came back into view, I did some quick math and calculated that I had hiked just over 11.5 miles.  My feet were heavy, but I was, otherwise, feeling quite good.  I rounded the rangers cabin and stopped in my tracks yet again.  A herd of 18 elk (the same herd that was nearby in the morning?) was grazing on the other side of Cow Creek.

I dropped my backpack off in the car and slowly approached the herd, sat down on a rock and watched them for 15 minutes.  As I moved closer, they kept a careful eye on me, but relaxed as I settled in to watch them.  There were 18 of them working their way across the hillside.  I was close enough to hear them munching on their grass!  Eventually, I had to get in the car and head back into town...

En route back to Denver, I saw 3 more herds of elk!  One great big herd before I reached Estes Park, another wandering the golf course in Estes Park and a third on a hillside as I wound through the mountains between Estes Park and Boulder.  Each time, I marveled at them.

Some younger members of Herd #3 - they were cavorting in an open field and would, occasionally, stand up on their hind legs and kick at each other with their front limbs.

As I turned off the little dirt road that lead to the trailhead, there was one, last, spectacular view that capped off the whole day:


It's Official

From a post on

National Tour Of Monty Python's SPAMALOT Set To Close In Costa Mesa CA 10/18

The record breaking National Tour of Monty Python's SPAMALOT, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, will close in Costa Mesa CA on October 18th. The musical's tour will have played 1408 performances over 101 separate engagements throughout North America, to an audience estimated at nearly 3.6 million people. The National Tour began in Boston in March 2006 and recouped in less than nine months on the road. In all its global productions (Broadway, West End, Australia, National Tour, Las Vegas), SPAMALOT will have been seen by approximately 6.9 million people when the tour closes.

With a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle and direction by Mike Nichols, Monty Python's SPAMALOT is based on the screenplay of Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Monty Python creators Graham ChapmanJohn CleeseTerry Gilliam,Eric IdleTerry Jones and Michael Palin.

The SPAMALOT phenomenon began on March 17, 2005 when the show opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway to rave reviews, enthusiastic audiences, and, shortly after, Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Director for Mike Nichols, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Sara Ramirez). The musical set house records for weekly grosses, and joined an exclusive club of shows that have grossed more than $1 million weekly on Broadway. Playing 1575 performances, the Broadway engagement of Monty Python's SPAMALOT recouped its entire investment in less than a year and grossed approximately $168 million. The National Tour is expected to have grossed more than $167 million at the time of closing.

With choreography by Casey Nicholaw, Monty Python's SPAMALOT features sets and costumes by Tony Award-winner Tim Hatley, lighting design is by Hugh Vanstone and sound design is by Acme Sound Partners. Others on the creative and production teams includeDavid BrIan Brown (Hair & Wig Design), Gregory Meeh (Special Effects Design), Elaine McCarthy (Projection Design), Joseph A. Campayno (Make-Up Design), Larry Hochman(Orchestrations), Glen Kelly (Music Arrangements), Todd Ellison (Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements), Peter Lawrence (Associate Director), Tara Rubin (Casting), and Gene O'Donovan (Production Manager).
Monty Python's SPAMALOT is produced by Boyett Ostar ProductionsThe Shubert OrganizationArielle TepperStephanie McClelland/Lawrence Horowitz, Elan V. McAllister/Allan S. GordonIndependent Presenters NetworkRoy FurmanGRS Associates,Jam TheatricalsConcert Productions International and Broadway Across America.

In addition to the numerous legitimate awards Monty Python's SPAMALOT has received, the authors also won the Grammy Award for Best Cast Recording in 2006.

Some facts about the National Tour of Monty Python's SPAMALOT:

· John O'Hurley is the current King Arthur, and starred as Arthur in the Las Vegas production as well. 
· The other touring "Arthurs" were Michael SiberryGary BeachJonathan Hadary andRichard Chamberlain.
· Christopher Gurr (Sir Bedevere) is the only principal to have played his role since opening night. 
· Christopher Sutton (Prince Herbert) has also been with the tour from its beginning; starting in the chorus and eventually taking over the role of Herbert.
· Jeff Dumas, the tour's original Patsy, won Washington DC's Helen Hayes Award for the role, and recently returned to the show. 

The tour is noteworthy for many reasons:

· 3000 pounds of confetti has been shot at The Audience
· 2000 coconuts have been used in a feeble attempt to mimic the sound of horses' hooves.
· Not a single rabbit was harmed in the touring of the show. Though we tried.
· Monty Python's SPAMALOT was one of the first Broadway tours to "go green" in the responsible methods used to haul the show around the country.

Now - or at least on October 18 - run away.

Jeff Wilson, one of our General Managers, was in Denver for our opening night and broke the news to the assembled company last night after sound check.  I don't think anyone gathered on stage was terribly surprised, but it is never fun news.  Jeff emphasized how proud of the tour everyone is and mentioned some of the milestones we will have reached by October 18th (101 separate engagements and more than 3.5 million audience members).  Jeff also took the company out for a drink after the show - the first of a string of parties planned for the week in Denver.

There are still six more months to go on this adventure, and six cities that I've never been to, but it's a little weird to know, for sure, when it's coming to and end.  I've set dates, for myself, for when I would leave the tour; but, obviously, none of them have stuck.  I really enjoy this gig and the people I'm traveling with & I hope it stays great all the way to Costa Mesa.  On the other hand, I would love to live with my wife again & I miss my apartment, my friends, my cats & NYC.

Now that it's official, if anybody out there has a job they'd like to offer me...


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Near Nature, Near Perfect

The title of this post is borrowed from the city of Spokane's motto.  I have to agree with the sentiment - Spokane was a fun city.  Spokane calls itself the Inland Northwest - they're on the east side of the mountains, but it felt much like the cities of the Pacific Northwest that I've enjoyed so much.  There were mountains on the horizon, a crashing river ran through town and the smell of evergreens was everywhere.

While much of the company traveled from Eugene to Spokane by bus (a 10 hour proposition) I opted to fly.  It was a two segment trip & for the first half (Eugene to Seattle) we traveled on what came to be known, affectionately, as the "clown bus in the sky".  The clown bus was painted to celebrate Horizon Air's 25th anniversary and made quite an impression.  It was also one of the most pleasant flights I've been on in a long time.  The flight attendants were pleasant, the plane had two doors for entrance and egress and they served Vernor's in-flight.  Heaven in the sky!

DVZ, Ken & Roy pose in front of the "clown bus in the sky"

Spokane sits astride the eponymous Spokane River at the site of big series of waterfalls.  It was the host-city of the Expo '74 ("Celebrating Tomorrow's Fresh New Environment") resulting in many of the structures (including the INB Performing Arts Center that played host to Spamalot) that make up Riverfront Park.  The riverfront was a beautiful place to be: it featured a carousel, skyride over the falls, IMAX movie theatre, several food vendors, some cool public art and miles of walking trails.

 The largest of the Spokane Falls as seen from downstream

Some smaller falls just upstream around Canada Island (once home to the Canadian pavilions, it has since been renamed in honor of our neighbor to the north)

This giant red wagon sits in Riverfront Park near the theatre.  Entitled "The Childhood Express" and created by Ken Spiering, this artwork was created in honor of Washington's centenary in 1989 and is interactive: the wagon's handle is a slide!

The INB Performing Arts Center (formerly known as the Opera House) was built as part of the Expo '74.  The backstage space was large and accommodating, the crew was top notch, but, once again, the theatre was short on dressing room space.  Since things went well at load-in, the big event of the day on Tuesday was watching the building across the street get torn down.  When we came to work, there was a 3 story building there, by dinner time, only the facade remained.  The workers used a crane, a backhoe and a bobcat to do most of the work while we all watched (and speculated on their next moves) from across the street.

Mark, Ken and David enjoy the demolition

The INB PAC on the Spokane River - the windows wrap around 3 sides of the building making it feel a part of its surroundings.

Of course, Spokane is home to Gonzaga University.  Perhaps Gonzaga's most famous alum (though he holds only an honorary degree - he dropped out in his final year) is the immortal Bing Crosby.  Bong was a big supporter of the university and donated the funds to build Gonzaga's library.  The library has since been outgrown and converted to a student center, but still bears his name and is home to the "Crosbyana Room" which displays all manner of things Crosby-related (including the Oscar he received for Going My Way. I visited the campus and the room with the biggest Crosby fan I know, Ben Whitely.  Ben is a card-carrying member of the Bing Crosby fan club!

Ben with the statue of Bing outside the Crosby Student Center - Bing's signature pipe is often stolen as a prank by Gonzaga students

The Student Center showed a sense of humor about its namesake...

Thursday night, a large contingent of the Spamily turned out to shoot at one another.  Lenny set up a very successful laser tag outing after the show.  Roughly 30 of us scampered about a retrofitted warehouse firing our laser rifles, ducking, dodging and laughing.  We were recounting our stories of bravery and foolishness all the way home.

Between rounds of tag, our host lead us in a wild game of pass the hula-hoop - it was more fun to watch and laugh than play!

On Friday, Karl and I went on a fly fishing expedition.  Karl's been talking about learning to fly fish for a while, so when I read that there was an outfitter nearby, we went for it.  We trekked a half an hour east to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for our adventure on the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River.  Our guide provided all the equipment and the taught us the basics.  We had a nice time, but didn't get many bites (the river was running high, fast and quite cold from the snow melt in the mountains).  I caught the only fish of the trip: a 7" Cutthroat Trout who wiggled away before we could snap a photo.  (You'll just have to trust that this isn't a "one that got away" tale...)  In any event, the scenery and the experience were something special.

Karl casting - he looks just like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It doesn't he?

A patented "arm out photo" on the Coeur d'Alene River

I had a couple of great meals at a restaurant called "Mizuna" near the river in Spokane.  They featured Northwest ingredients in unique combinations.  On Monday evening I dined with DVZ and enjoyed it so much that I returned for an after-show Sunday meal with Ben Davis, Gurr and John O'Hurley.  On both occasions, the meal was delightful and varied.

I crossed off two more roadfood joints during the week to bring my total to an even 50: Frank's Diner and Hudson's Hamburgers.  Frank's is in a converted 1906 railroad observation car.  They serve up the usual, tasty diner fare in special surroundings.  At Hudson's (in Coeur d'Alene) the surroundings are decidedly downscale, it's the hamburgers that are the attraction - they had best be, since there's almost nothing else on the menu (not even french fries).   Hudson's has been pounding out patties and grilling them up for very satisfied customers for more than a century and it was easy to taste why there's often a line out the door.  

I shared the best sort of meal (a meal with friends) between shows on Saturday at Anthony's at Spokane Falls.  Anne (subbing in hair for the vacationing Mitchell), Roy, Suzanne, Lenny, Jason & I ate outdoors overlooking the beautiful falls.

A few more photos from the natural beauty department - both of them under the heading VFMHRW:

There were amazing clouds all week in Spokane.  Whether it was sunny or stormy, the clouds were always doing interesting things.

I awoke early on Friday to get ready for the fly fishing trip & this was the sky that greeted me.

The more time I spend in the Northwestern part of our country, the more I dig it.  Spokane was a charming city with a great downtown.  I look forward to the next time I find myself in that part of the world.