Monday, April 22, 2013

From Martinez to Boston

In December of 1987 on a Friday night during my senior year in high school, I stood out on the track of Knowles Field in Martinez, California, with my arms folded behind my back while staring at the brightly lit football scoreboard to my left.   It would be the last time after seven long years (three with Pop Warner and fours years at Alhambra High School), that I would be a cheerleader out on this field and would be retiring my uniform and hanging up my pom poms for good.  Well,  that is, once basketball season was over that following spring-- then I would really hang them up.  But Martinez wasn't a town known for its basketball team-- it was known for its football program.

Also out on that field that night, playing in his varsity football uniform, was a junior named Alan Hern.  I didn't know Alan very well, but Martinez is a small town and Alhambra a small high school, so you couldn't help but at least know of people even if you didn't know them that well personally--because you couldn't avoid each other.  Most social circles would intersect at one point or another.  And in a town where my three older siblings and I all went to the same high school, if you didn't know me, you probably knew one of my brothers or sister.

I have lived in Oakland for about 15 years now and don't really spend much time in Martinez anymore.  But last week when I turned on the news and heard that "a boy from Martinez named Aaron Hern" was injured in the blast during the Boston Marathon, I just thought "Hern? That's gotta be Alan's kid."   I mean, how many Herns live in Martinez? 

Sure enough as the story unfolded, it was confirmed that it was Alan's son who was injured in the blast that day while waiting for his mom to cross the finish line.  Soon Alan was on the news and being interviewed on the Today Show, and then a picture was taken of Michelle Obama visiting his son in the hospital.

"This is freaking surreal," I just thought.  Martinez isn't a city known for making international news about anything.  It's just a small little town filled with antique shops and it pretty much minds its own business.  I mean sure there is some history there, it being the birth place of Joe Dimaggio and the location of the John Muir Museum, and yes-- there is still an argument to this day as to whether or not the Martini drink was really invented there, (San Francisco also takes credit), but that is pretty much it. 

Soon, the city of Martinez was rallying behind Alan's family and local businesses started fundraising and donating proceeds to cover hospital costs.   Then a bank account in Aaron's name was opened at Wells  Fargo, and a Facebook Page was created to bring the latest news.  You see, one of the things about being from a small town, is that it's somewhat difficult to be invisible-- for better or worse.  And in Alan's case, especially since becoming the current head coach for Alhambra's Varsity Football team within the last few years, I am guessing the Hern family is pretty well known.

The good news is, Aaron is healing well and should be able to come home soon.  To get the latest news on his recovery and how to donate to the cause, you can visit the Aaron Hern Recovery Facebook Page.

His old man in high school.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Opening Night Confessions

"How you all doing? " Our stage manager, Chelsey Little, peaked her head through the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the living room.  It was five minutes before the show was about to start and there we were, six female solo performers, hanging out in someone's living-room-turned-green-room at the Downward Dog, the official home venue of All Terrain Theatre's 2013 production of Women In Solodarity: CAT LADIES.

"Fine,"  Martha, one of the actors replied, "You know, it's just the throwing up part."

Isn't that the truth, I thought as I sat at there, at the dining room table, in my cat nanny costume, waiting not so patiently to open the show that first night.  That's right.  I was opening the opening.

Why do we do this to ourselves, I wondered, are we masochistic?  Why on earth would we continue to pursue this routine of: audition, rejection.  audition, acceptance.  memorize, memorize, memorize, and then throw ourselves at the mercy of a live audience for possibly more perceived rejection? Are we mad?

I gazed around the room.  Some women paced back and forth reciting their lines quietly to themselves while others sat meditatively in their chairs.  Idle chit chat from just a few minutes before have given away to focused silence.  Yes, indeed, we were mad.

I looked out the living room window and saw a man walking his dog along the street.  Quick sir,  I thought, trade lives with me.  I mean, what troubles could he possibly have?  I have to go on in less than five minutes and open the opening of a sold out crowd.  What do YOU have to do sir, huh? Yeah, keep walking that stupid dog. 

"Ready, Theresa?"  Chelsey motioned me to take my spot in the wings, and by wings, I mean the top of a spiral staircase in the kitchen that led down to the lower level of the house.. and the stage....and to my impending death.  Spiral staircase,  I thought, how appropriate

Then I hear it. The applause is my cue.  I make my way down the staircase and find my place on the stage.   I look up at the crowd but not really.  I see people, but not any one particular person.  "Sorry for the mess," I start with.  I ramble on for a few minutes before I start recognize a face or two in the audience.  Don't lose your focus, I tell myself, you're the cat nanny.   More rambling.  Then I see a friend videotaping me in the front row with her camera.  That's fine, I assure myself, keep going--be the cat nanny.  More rambling.  I notice another friend of mine arriving late and scooting her way to some middle seats. Oops,  I forgot to tell her I went on first Focus.  More rambling. Then finally, FINALLY after the longest 11 minutes in the world.... my closing line, "I'm a cat nanny!"

Applause.  Pause. Pause.  Hold your look.  Hold it.   Now turn, grab your props and exit.  Exhale.  There. Done.  I make my way back up the spiral staircase and back safely to home base, that is, the kitchen. 


I sit in the kitchen listening intently to each actor's monologue that follows after mine.   I hear a moment of silence, followed by an erruption of laughter.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  As each actor finishes her piece, one more blazes her way back up to the top of the spiral staircase and into the kitchen while letting out a sigh of relief.  Except for Colleen.  She had two monologues to memorize- so she stays focused until her second piece is finished.

Then finally, intermission.  10 minutes.  10 minutes to go hide back in the living room because the bathroom is now open to the audience and is right next to the kitchen.  I play games on my smart phone as our final actor begins to get focused and warms up and preps her props.  Knock 'em dead Maura.

Intermission is over.  Audience takes their seats again.  I play on my phone in the kitchen and listen one more time as the crowd reacts to the final piece.   More laughter, silence and laughter, silence and laughter.  Then I hear Maura's final words and all the actors take their place in the spiral staircase to get ready for the final curtain call.  Lights off.  Applause.  Lights on.  We all take the stage and give our final bow.  I am still not looking at anyone in particular.

I am exhausted.  I give hugs to friends and say hi to people.  I decline on invitations to go out knowing I have a matinee followed by an evening performance the next day.   Then I remember it's the director's birthday and grab some cupcakes I had purchased earlier in the day.  I light candles on them and bring them back down the spiral staircase.  We sing happy birthday to her.  We give final greetings to friends.  I am relieved, but only for a moment, knowing I have to turn around the next day and do it all over again. 

CRAZY CAT LADIES ARE (in order of appearance)

Theresa Donahoe
Colleen Egan
Ramya Vijayan
Heather Kellogg
Martha Rynberg
Maura Halloran

Friday, April 05, 2013

Now, On With The Show

As I sat, stood, paced back and forth and pantomimed in my studio apartment earlier this week while rehearsing for tonight's sold out opening performance of a show I am currently in, Women In Solodarity: Cat Ladies,  I remembered my favorite acting teacher, the late James Kirkwood’s "Basic Principles of Acting" techniques.  Mr. Kirkwood  had studied with such greats as Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, and as I ran over my lines, I could hear his voice inside my head, challenging me: “What is your motivation? Be more specific. Who is on the other line of the telephone during your conversation? What does he or she look like? Sound like? Are they rich, are they poor? Be more specific.”  It was always about being more specific.

Tonight, April 5th, 2013, marks my return to the theatre after a 17 year hiatus.  A flood of questions enter my mind. Do I still remember how to do this? Do I still know how to act? Or to quote Teri Garr’s character in the movie "Tootsie" about getting her energy up for an audition, “How am I going to get it back?”

Now if you tell me acting on stage is just like riding a bike, I have a story for you to read later. In the meantime, I recall and remember the pans and praises I have received from the Ghosts-of-Drama-Teachers-past:

"You’re doing all these things with your face” –  Cliff Osmond, during my very first "Acting On Camera" class.

“Try taping your eyebrows when you talk then you can feel what you’re doing with your face.”- Another teacher whose name escapes me, during my second "Acting On Camera" class.

"Do you dance?" - Director Harvey Berman,  while perusing the Diablo Valley College Theater green room one day and casting dancers on the spot in for his upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. (Most fun I have ever had in a play- ever)

“You’re 'the friend'”Les Abbott, trying to pen me as a character actor

“You’re funny. You’re eccentric and a bit off-center.” Ed Trujillo, during his Stage Audition Techniques class and confirming the stereotype that I was, indeed, a character actor.

“I don’t know what to say…your energy was full...” - James Kirkwood, during his Advanced Principles of Stage Acting class and confirming the fact, that I was simply… an actor.

For those of you that knew James Kirkwood, for him NOT to say a lot, was a compliment – he always had something to say.

Thank you Mr. Kirkwood, I dedicate this performance to you.  Here's to hoping my energy is "full". 

Now--On with the show!

DVC Drama Days 1996