Next to Normal was Next to Perfect

Next to Normal Sound Setup
My Sound Setup for the show

This past weekend I had the absolute privilege of running sound for The Refuge‘s first show, Next to Normal. When the opportunity was sent to me, I hesitated, it was going to be a real challenge, no lengthy week of tech/dress rehearsals to get sound right, unknown sound equipment in an unknown space, and no orchestra pit meaning the band is on stage which makes controlling the audio levels much more difficult. On top of this, the show was in San Francisco, meaning I’d have a long commute to and from the show each day.

I’m so glad I decided to take the opportunity. The Refuge is an interesting concept of a theater company. Daniel Shaindlin has tried to come up with a way that the best college actors can get an experience to act in a professionally produced show. The group of students that he brought together for this show is absolutely incredible. If these young men and women don’t end up on Broadway or in Hollywood, the arts will have lost out on some real talent.

If you didn’t read that these were college students and just came to the show, you would believe these were old pros who have been belting it out on the Broadway stage for years. Heck, they are better than many of the actors I’ve actually seen on Broadway and other professional productions.

On top of this, to make the show as amazing as possible, our extremely talented Music Director Kevin Surace told Daniel that this show needed professional musicians. This show is an extremely challenging one to play and the timeline to produce it was going to be extremely short. Kevin knew that this group of actors deserved to be backed by an Orchestra that was ready and able to play this music. The musicians they hired for this show have toured, they’ve played concert halls and stages around the world and it shows.

As I said above, when Kevin first emailed me to ask if I was interested in running sound for this show I hesitated.  The challenges were going to be immense, and it would require a ton of energy that I wasn’t sure I had.  When he described the talent of these practically professional actors and these already professional musicians, my self doubt told me I wasn’t up to the level this show deserved.  Finally there was the play itself.

I wasn’t familiar with Next to Normal before this, but looking it up showed that the subject matter was, heavy.  The play covers a family who is in turmoil as the wife/mother battles with Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and delusions.  The main character deals with the grief of losing a child, the crippling grip of mental disorders, attempted suicide, electroconvulsive therapy, memory loss and more.  Simultaneously we see the rest of the family as they try to care for and protect their suffering loved one, and we see the heavy toll it places on all of them and the way it pushes her daughter to abuse drugs.

As some of my friends and family know, I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) myself.  I currently take Bupropion to treat this.  While it helps a lot, I go through bouts of severe depression when it doesn’t work well enough for me.  When I read the synopsis of this play I was worried that if I worked this play, the heavy subject matter might feed my own depression, making it worse.  Part of the reason I love musical theater so much is because it offers me an escape from my depression for a few hours, and this play seemed like it would do the opposite.

All this said, when Kevin contacted me a second time, I decided to see if I could fit it into my schedule.  It was going to be difficult, but I decided that it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.  My life is forever enriched from this experience.  Last night, even though it was the fifth time in 4 days that I had seen this play, the performance moved me to tears it was so incredible.  Everything from the voices, to the music, to the emotion these amazing actors put behind every word.

I clearly wasn’t the only person to think so, last night, a packed house at the historic Victoria Theatre in San Francisco gave this cast a well-deserved standing ovation that lasted several minutes.

Thank you, Kevin Surace, for thinking of me when you needed a sound operator for this show.  Thank you, Daniel Shaindlin, for allowing me to be a part of this.  I will watch The Refuge and eagerly await your next show.  For those of you in the bay area, next time The Refuge puts on a production, be sure to put it on your must-see list, I know I will.

On the claim that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is anti-feminist

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a bit of an unusual entry into the Harry Potter canon.  Not being a novel makes it a completely different reading experience than the core 7 books that we love, being written by multiple people (rather than just J.K. Rowling) makes some of the characters have a slightly different feel, and centering the story on a character other than Harry makes it inherently feel different.

I for one loved reading it and I look forward to the day I can eventually see the play itself to experience it the way it was designed to be experienced, but not everyone agrees with me.  People speak out against the differences in Time Travel between this story and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  People speak out against the differences in the way Ron Weasley is characterized.  I tend to disagree with them, I think Ron seems perfectly normal and the Time Travel is consistent with the warning Hermione gives to Harry in Prisoner of Askaban.

One thing that has been hitting the media lately is a statement by a few people that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lets down women and betrays Hermione’s legacy” (Mashable) or “How Hermione Granger Is Portrayed in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child is Offensive To The Fans & The Character.” (Bustle).

As with the other claims, I disagree with this assessment and wrote an Essay for the Harry Potter Lexicon to dispute it.  Please give it a read and see if you agree with me or not.

Extra Extra – Read all about it!

Waiting to be let into the theater wearing my Newsies hatLast Saturday, my 6 month wait came to an end as Barbara and I got to see Newsies on Broadway during our trip to New York City.

Newsies is a relatively new (hit Broadway in March, 2012) Broadway Play by Disney based on the 1992 live-action Disney movie musical of the same name, which in turn was based on the historical Newsboys Strike of 1899. It is currently playing at the Nederlander Theatre on 42nd Street in the Broadway theatre district of Manhattan.

The play was everything I hoped it would be. Barbara and I really enjoyed it, and given the chance I would definitely see it again. If you visit (or live in New York) and get a chance to see it, I highly recommend the play to everyone, especially those who enjoyed the original movie, as it is every bit as good as the original (better even in many ways).

The story centers on fictional strike leader Jack Kelly, a newsie in his late teens who, along with his fellow Newsies, rebel against a price hike imposed on them by newspaper tycoons Joseph Pulitzer and William-Randolph Hearst (Random note: Barbara, Mike and I visited Hearst Castle, the Massive home of William-Randolph Hearst in 2006).

Jack is a budding artist who aspires to leave New York saying “You keep your small life in a big city, give me a big life, in a small town.” at the intro to the prologue song Santa Fe.

As the Newsboys get ready and started with their morning routes (Carrying the Banner), Pulitzer schemes with his staff on how to get more circulation in a time when headlines aren’t the greatest. They decide that if they raise the wholesale cost to the newsies from 50 cents per hundred papers, to 60 cents per hundred, newsies would have to sell 10 more papers in order to make the same amount of money (The Bottom Line).

While hiding from the warden of a local juvenile hall called “The Refuge,” in a Vaudville theatre with his new friends Davey and Les (Thats Rich), Jack meets a young female reporter named Katherine (I Never Planned on You) who grabs his attention.

After learning about the price hike, Jack and (reluctantly) Davey decide to organize the Newsies in a strike against “Mighty Bill and Joe” (The World Will Know). Katherine overhears about the strike and figures this story might be her chance at a big break to become a full reporter instead of just a Vaudville reviewer. She sets out to write about the plight of the Newsies (Watch What Happens).

When their first attempts at raising support from other groups of Newsies of New York fails, the rag-tag band of misfits feels dejected. It falls on Davey to bolster their spirits with an inspirational Dance number (Seize the Day). This particular number is the climax of act one, and includes some impressive acrobatics and choreography that uses the papers themselves.

At one point in the song, the newsies crumple up sheets of newspaper and throw them out into the audience. Being so close, Barbara and I were actually able to catch 2 sheets of the paper, and I was impressed in that they do actually appear to be pages from a Thursday, July 20, 1989 issue of The New York World.

July 20, 1899 Issue of The New York World - Page 1 of 4July 20, 1899 Issue of The New York World - Page 2 of 4July 20, 1899 Issue of The New York World - Page 3 of 4July 20, 1899 Issue of The New York World - Page 4 of 4

Unfortunately in the chaos from the riot that was inspired by Seize the Day, Snider, the Warden of the Refuge captures and beats the crippled Newsie “Crutchy” and carts him off to the Refuge. Jack, who blames himself for Crutchy getting hurt, decides to run off and forget about the strike (Santa Fe (Reprise)). Meanwhile the rest of the Newsies (and Katherine) celebrate with a tap dancing number because they have become famous as Katherine’s article has made the front page of The New York Sun (King of New York).

At this point it is Jack who needs some inspiration in order to stay with the cause and continue to fight for the plight of the Newsies. (Watch What Happens (Reprise)). And upon getting the inspiration he needs, agrees to speak at a Rally to increase the membership in their Newsboys Union. He also decides to visit Pulitzer and issue the demands of the Newsies, as well as invite Pulitzer to speak at the Rally. While in Pulitzer’s office however, he is demoralized by the tycoon who heavily threatens to harm Jack, and more importantly Davey’s family, if Jack doesn’t agree to speak against the strike at the Rally (The Bottom Line (Reprise)). Even more demoralizing to Jack, Pulitzer reveals that Katherine is actually Katherine Pulitzer (his daughter), which leaves Jack feeling like he has been played as a sucker.

All the Newspaper Boys of New York (including the much Lauded Brooklyn led by Spot Conlon) assemble in the Vaudeville theatre for the Rally (Brooklyn’s Here) but Jack, who doesn’t want Davey and his family to be harmed, and is demoralized to find out that the woman he has fallen for is the daughter of his enemy, speaks for the dissolving of the Union and ending of the strike.

Katherine visits Jack on his rooftop home and convinces him that she does truly care for him (Something to Believe in), and pitches an idea of a way to actually win against her father. Her idea is to spread the strike further, not just among the Newsies, but all of the working kids of New York.

They decide to publish a paper of their own and use it to organize an even bigger Rally. They break into The World and publish their paper on an old cast aside printing press stored in the cellar, and the Newsies distribute The Newsies Banner to every working kid in New York (Once and For All).

With a visit from Governor Teddy Roosevelt, and all the bad publicity of the strike, Pulitzer finally discusses a “A compromise we can all live with” with Jack. He will split the difference on the price hike (bringing it down to 55 cents per hundred) but will also agree to buy back any papers the Newsies can’t sell. Roosevelt shuts down the Refuge and imprisons Warden Snider for his horrid running of the establishment after seeing an illustration by Jack on the conditions that were there, and Pulitzer offers Jack a job as a Political Cartoonist after seeing how influential the drawing was.

Jack decides to start a new dream and stay in New York with his friends and the woman he loves instead of pursuing his dream of moving to New Mexico (Finale).

I first heard about Newsies back on April 4, 2012 and have been very much hoping to see it ever since.

See when I was a kid, the 1992 movie was one of my favorites.  Somewhere (I’ll have to find them, they aren’t digital) I have some pictures of me dressed up as a Newsie at age 13 and handing out vintage newspapers at an event in Leesburg, VA.

I’ve been adamantly following the progress of the play leading up to getting to see it.  I happily tweeted when the soundtrack came out.

And retweeted D23 when it won 2 Tony awards

I was especially excited when the run of the show was extended, and I started getting hope that I might actually be able to get to see it:

Saturday, the day had finally arrived.

I got a very pleasant surprise when I went to pick up my tickets from StubHub, which were supposed to be in Row J (10th row) but turned out to be Row C (3rd row), center of the Orchestra section, fabulous seats. I tweeted another song lyric while waiting in line to enter the theater.

The Tale as old as Time, is new again (twice)

Back in January, my wife and I went to see Beauty and the Beast in 3D, part of a trend of older movies getting the 3D treatment we’ve been treated to this year.  While I enjoyed the experience, I think I mostly just enjoyed seeing Beauty and the Beast in theaters again, the 3D was just so-so.  It reminded me a lot of pop up books, each layer was flat and it was just a bunch of layers stacked on top of each other to give the 3D effect.

Beauty and the BeastThe Saturday before last however, I went to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts to see the travelling company of the Broadway Beauty and the Beast Play.  The play was good overall.  I like what they did to explain the characters appearing more “human.”  In order to excuse the fact that the characters are played by humans instead of animated candlesticks and teapots, is changed the story slightly so that the change from human to inanimate object is a gradual one.  A short time into the play the winder appeared on the back of Cogsworth, where previously he didn’t have it.

Not only did this excuse the human appearances, but it also had the advantage of increasing the urgency of the situation in the story.  The implication is that eventually they will be completely inanimate, unable to move or speak, making the breaking of the spell that much more important to the characters.

The productions of the songs from the movie were excellent in the play, especially “Be our Guest,” “Gaston,” and the title song “Beauty and the Beast.”  The song added to the play that was cut from the original movie (“Human Again”) was likewise excellent, however they also added many additional songs, presumably to lengthen the play, and not a single one of the additional songs was any good (in my not humble opinion).  They were dull, and a times made me so bored I found myself wondering if the song would ever end so we could get back to the dialog (not what you are supposed to be wondering when watching a musical).

Overall I really enjoyed seeing Beauty and the Beast the musical, and I’m looking forward to catching Mary Poppins when it comes to town in late May.

Memories of Spelling Bees gone by.

So tonight was fun.. Amazing how things can bring back both such fond and such painful memories at the same time. I went to a play tonight, “25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee” and they were looking for volunteer spellers and I was chosen.

Fond memories of being on stage again, little bit of improv involved as I had to play along with the actors.

As for the painful memories, just like the last spelling bee I got out on my first word. It was such a hard word I don’t even remember what it was, the other 3 volunteers had easy words their first rounds (one of them had Cow, another Fandango) but me not so much.

Entertaining though, when the volunteer asked them to use “Fandango” in a sentence, the sentence was:

“I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango.”

Gotta love a Queen reference.


Hours away from Vacation

I’m mere hours away from taking a little vacation to Las Vegas along with my wife, and my roommate. Tomorrow morning I will board a Virgin America flight (I’m much looking forward to trying them out), for Las Vegas.

I’ve got a lot of fun planned, including one last trip to the Star Trek Experience in the Las Vegas Hilton. In fact making a final voyage to the Experience was my primary reason for visiting Vegas this month. This will be my fourth Voyage there (blogged about before on my blog, I’ll edit this post with links to my old posts later), and I’m sad it will be my last, but unfortunately the Experience will be Closing on September 1st permanently, so I had to make one last trip. This will be Mike’s first trip to the future, and he’s eager to see what he has only heard about.

But this trip won’t be all Star Trek, on Thursday Night, Barbara and I will be seeing Mamma Mia. We’ve seen the movie and are both looking forward to seeing the play as well. On Friday Night we will be going Medievil, and enjoying the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur, another great treat.

In addition to all that planned fun, we are also going to get to see my parents, who are in Vegas right now, and our vacation plans are thankfully overlapping enough that we can see each other.

I’m looking forward to a very enjoyable trip.

It’s the Simple Things

I’m constantly being told I’m far too negative, that I focus too much on all the bad things in my life and not enough on the pleasures in life.

It’s 5:35 in the morning and I haven’t slept. In 4 hours I’m going to have to be at school ready to perform my first graded scene in Acting I class, then I will have to perform my first speech (Historical) in Public Speaking Class, then I will have to go straight to rehearsal where I’m expected to be off book, and then I will have 2 grueling classes of non-stop notetaking that will take me until 9 p.m., and of course, this is coming off of 2 weeks of some of the biggest pains in my entire life, passing a kidney stone, my favorite TV show being cancelled without any possible replacement for the first time in 18 years, and of course having my laptop being stolen. Yet in spite of all of this, I’m in a surprisingly good mood right now.

Continue reading “It’s the Simple Things”

Don’t be such a Drama King

Ok so that was one of my favorite lines from Shrek 2, but it is the first thing that popped into my mind as a title for this article. This past Wednesday evening I went over to my school to have some fun by trying out for a part in the upcoming play The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.

Continue reading “Don’t be such a Drama King”

Jobs and Odd Tasks to do

(This is a retroactive post, this post is written from the perspective of the day it occurred, Saturday, but was not posted until Sunday)

Well today was filled with job opportunities, Depression, and surprising requests. Continue reading “Jobs and Odd Tasks to do”

“The Great Depression”, No not mine

(This is a retroactive post, this post is written from the perspective of the day it occurred, Saturday, but was not posted until Sunday)

This is a story about depression, but unlike previous posts about depression, this depression has absolutely nothing to do with me. I’m talking about the Great Depression of the 1930s. I say I’m talking about it, I should be saying the play my brother was just in was talking about it. Continue reading ““The Great Depression”, No not mine”