Friday, December 29, 2006

I'd BETTER update!

After a fallow, almost blogless year, I write a few lines to assure all you cyberspace travelers that I am still alive and kicking. There's nothing worse than a blog which hasn't been updated in months.

Besides, I've made a few comments on other people's blogs recently and it just wouldn't *DO* for them to come visit here and see that I haven't updated since our Summer in Canada.

J. and I enjoyed our first holiday season for the first time in NINE years at home, in Bisbee, AZ, which should have its OWN blog; this town is indeed fascinating, and the subject of many a picture online. J. has decorated the outside of our house to the extent that there are pics of it on Flickr and elsewhere on the net.

Here's one (top right in this series of photos):

Our house

But alas, we must take leave of our abode to go back ON THE ROAD tomorrow, rejoining "Phantom of the Opera" in Toledo, Ohio starting on January 3rd. We will be driving, and hope to avoid the interesting weather we've been "enjoying" in the West lately.

It has snowed in Bisbee several times over the past few days, which is infrequent; it usually happens only once or twice each winter. Unlike places further north and east, the snow here in the high desert disappears within twenty-four hours.

It's beautiful. Now it's gone! How perfect is this?

Anyway, I've heard that Toledo is lovely this time of year. "Luuuuv-ly" as in the south Georgia pronounciation and meaning -- thank you, J.!

At least the good money will be rolling in for the next seven weeks. After Toledo, The Masked Man moves on to Des Moines for three weeks, which should also be lovely -- in February.

Then -- unemployment! Back to Bisbee, our beloved home. We shall see if we can make a living.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I AM NOW IN CANADA, until the end of October.

The show is currently in Vancouver for another seventeen days, then on to Edmonton for a month, and then Winnipeg for another month.

J. and I had good visits with family and friends in California on our way up here from Arizona, although it was during that horrible heat-wave a couple of weeks ago. But it was great to see everybody, and reconnect with my considerable past history in the Golden State.

We had stopped in Lafayette (east bay), Sacramento and Nevada City. Then after visiting friends in Truckee, our trip to Canada truly began.

Early on Saturday morning, July 29th, J. and I drove to Reno and caught highway 395 heading towards Mount Shasta.

It was a beautiful sunny day, not at all hot up north, and Mount Shasta glimmered with snow above the rich green pines.

There was a LOT of smoke on the CA-OR border; there must have been serious fires in the area. The sky finally cleared up about halfway up the state.

We stayed at a nice RV park just north of Eugene, then continued on our way early Sunday, July 30th. It really doesn't take much time to get through Washington, and before we knew it, we were getting close to the Canadian border!

We decided to go on through the check-point and arrive at the RV park in Vancouver a day early; we were originally scheduled to arrive on Monday, July 31st.

Unfortunately, the traffic at the border crossing was HORRENDOUS because of the week-end at the height of summer season. We ended up getting in the right lane which was a mistake, because there was an entrance ramp ahead of us on the right where many cars "in the know" cut in line ahead of us. But we finally arrived at the booth an hour-and-a-half later.

Since I am working in Canada for an extended period of time, the border agent waved us to the side after looking at our passports, and we had to get out of the truck and walk to a nearby building to show them and the "introductory letter" from the Phantom company to the agents there. Thankfully, that's all the documents they requested and we were processed quickly.

On to Vancouver! We arrived just after the sun set, and all the skyscrapers twinkled with myriad lights. It's truly the most amazing skyline I've ever seen; many of the buildings actually relate architecturally to one another, creating a unified whole. The hills and water and general ambience remind me very much of nearby Seattle.

Since we had forgotten our detailed map, we had to navigate with a tiny inset map of Vancouver included with the Rand McNally atlas page of BC. We wended our way through the twisting, congested downtown streets with the trailer (!!) and managed to find the RV park across the river in North Vancouver.

This is when the "fun" started.

The RV park turned out to be very unpleasant. It seemed to be run by Native Americans, much like a casino; very high prices, poor service, and a "f___-you-all-we're-just-going-to-take-your-money-and-if-you don't-like-it-you-can-go-somewhere-else" kind of attitude!

So we DID leave, the next day.

Since we had arrived a day early, and the RV park was utterly and completely full, we had to park without any hookups in an "overflow area", and still paid top dollar for the privilege.

We were exhausted and J. certainly didn't feel like cooking, so we walked to a nearby mall and found a pub which had a full dinner menu.

It was a very interesting dining experience.

The pub was very dark and there were quite a few tables and booths set apart from the bar, which had two giant screen TVs blaring out soccer (also TVs in each corner of the room, as well) and music from the '70s/'80s was going nonstop. The place was pretty deserted late on a Sunday night, with the surprising exception of a huge family with a bunch of screaming rug-rats, eating dinner at a corner table at nearly 11 p.m.!

J. and I sat at a booth with a big window overlooking an outdoor patio. A young guy and gal obviously on their first date sat at a table immediately on the other side of this window, which was very disconcerting to me. It was like they were sitting at the same table as us, separated only by glass.

There was no privacy reminded me of those "reality dating" shows! I saw all sorts of scenes which were straight out of TV. The young gal was obviously very taken with the young man; had her hands all over him all the time, and they paused often between sips of wine and occasional bites of food and drags off his cigarette to cram their tongues down each other's throats. This happened literally three feet away from me!

This "dating show" theme was taken to a new level when the young guy excused himself to go to the washroom, and the gal helped herself to the rest of the guy's dinner (she had already wolfed down her own). I could just see the caption on the screen: "DATING NO-NO #3: EATING LIKE A PIG".

After the guy returned to the table, looking at his bare plate with perplexity, the gal excused herself and went inside. The guy immediately activated his cellphone and I wondered if he was either giving a buddy a progress report or perhaps lining up another date with a more promising prospect?

Anyway, these young people were certainly not doing anything wrong and were having a good time, but I probably should have insisted that we move to another booth. Oh well -- it was entertaining, in a way!

J. and I got up early on Monday morning to see which lot we were going to be situated at, since a huge group of people had just left (the managers couldn't tell us which lot we were going to occupy; not very organized, just greedy).

We finally parked the trailer at lot #8, tightly jammed between two other RVs -- the place was truly packed like sardines! -- and then we spent the next several hours trying to line up internet service in the trailer.

When J. had first made reservations on the phone, he was told that there WAS indeed service at the park, but it turned out to be two casino-like "slot internet machines", one in the front office and the other in the rec centre/laundry room, which cost $1 for only 12 minutes, and were always occupied by young kids. This was totally unacceptable to us!

So J. spent a lot of time on the pay-phone with both the phone and cable companies, surrounded by screaming kids in the rec room (along with yet another young couple sucking face!), trying to line something up....and it turned out that this particular RV park neighborhood was one of the few that didn't have either of these services!

There we were, paying top-dollar to stay at this RV park, not only with no internet access to our site, but they were charging us $2/day to keep our cat, who never leaves the trailer -- later we found out that this was NOT any kind of Canadian ordinance, it was just at the whim of the RV park management.

So we called the other RV park in the Vancouver area, a bit further away from downtown (it's actually in Burnaby, east of Vancouver), who said that there was plenty of space there and that they DID have internet access at each site! So we drove out there to check it out, and it is the cutest RV park imaginable, and cheaper than the first one.

We returned to the bad park to hitch up the trailer and leave, and I received a full refund of my money. I explained to the management why we were not staying, and they were not at all apologetic or sympathetic. The Native American man who seemed to be running things just stood stoically with his arms akimbo in the background, looking like a chief carved in stone, while I firmly but politely told him along with the native receptionists that this is the 21st century and that they need to have internet access at each site like most RV parks do across North America, and that they're charging too-high prices for very little service in general. I also complained about the $2/day pet thing, and the guy said that it was some sort of "law". Later I found out that this was NOT the case, so he was just being greedy. Ugh, and double-ugh!

At the next RV park, the manager was supposed to set aside lot #121 for us; she assured us that it was ours. But when we arrived there a few hours later, we discovered that it had been rented to someone else in the interim. Uh-oh! Not more problems!

However, there was another available site with phone service, although it wasn't as nice as the first, and a bit farther away from the wi-fi tower in the main building. Well, was still much better than the previous park.

We finally got settled in around six o'clock Monday night. I practiced a bit of horn, took showers and then we crashed early.

I forgot to mention that when we checked out the second RV park, we took the SkyTrain system to downtown Vancouver and back to see if I can take public transportation to work. It turned out to be pretty nice, but the trip can take up to 50 minutes each way. If J. shuttles me back and forth, it's an 11-mile, 20-minute drive. Gas works out to be over $4.00 a gallon here, so it's probably best that I take public transportation as often as I can. The stations are pretty near both the RV park and the theatre downtown.

We've been in Canada only a few days, but already see that it appears to be a bit more polite than the States, at least here in the Vancouver area. People don't seem to be quite as much in a rush, and they're very helpful and friendly. They're sort of innocent in a way. Also very serious and earnest. There's a lot of ethnic diversity here, except for a lack of black people. LOTS of Asians and a few Middle Easterners.

A friend who has visited Canada frequently made the observation that she thought that Canadians' behavior is very similar to ours back in the 1950s, and this does ring true for me as I observe these low-key, courteous people.

I was surprised to find that the SkyTrain tickets are on the "honor system"; you buy the tickets at a machine but don't insert them anywhere later; an agent may check for this "proof of purchase" on the train at any time, but chances are, they won't -- so conceivably, one could ride the rails for free.

Certainly some Americans would take full advantage of this, but it doesn't seem to occur to the Canadians to abuse it -- at least, as far as I can tell at this early stage. Very, very interesting difference here.

A couple of days ago, J. finally had to buy gasoline here in Canada for the first time since we arrived; the tank of our Chevy "hog" truck was nearly empty. Guess how much it cost to fill up?

$138.51! A new record.

Good thing I'm taking the train to and from work. Hopefully we can last on this tank of gas for our remaining time in Vancouver.

Last night on the way in to the show, there were several interesting characters to observe on the train.

A very proper, squat elderly man sat primly across from me, stocky legs squeezed together. He was wearing a black suit with checked shirt and typically British collar, tie, sensible black shoes....and he had some sort of Knights of Columbus or Masons pin affixed to his left lapel. It had that Maltese cross kind of look. He sported a short grey beard and had black bushy eyebrows; the right one was way up his forehead, while the left one scowled just above his eye. His dark eyes popped out of his head in an eternal look of surprise, while his mouth was fixed in a permanent grimace. Perhaps he'd had a stroke.

The young obviously college-age girl sitting next to him was fresh-faced and earnest in that Canadian way, dark pigtails, zip-up grey hooded sweatshirt, jeans and flip-flops. She was studying out of her notebook with all sorts of scientific scrawls and diagrams, while reaching into her knapsack periodically to eat mushrooms! Whole, cleanly white large mushrooms. Yummy!

I got off the first train to make my transfer to the second; waited at the platform along with a few other people. Some weird emanation of energy made me look at the man at my left, and I suddenly realized that he was the SAME crazy guy who'd been on the train over the weekend, yelling at a father with two pre-teen girls, warning them to stay clear of the doors. The father had yelled back at him that he "had the situation handled" and it escalated into a heated arguement until the little family disembarked a few stops later.

Then the crazy guy started talking to everyone in general, insisting that he "meant no disrespect"....."if those little girls want to kill themselves, just go ahead; I don't care anymore!". Later, he asked me what time it was.

He looks to be in his late fifties, possibly a Vietnam vet (didn't seem quite Canadian), maybe an alcoholic or reformed drug user. In any case, it looks like he's lived a hard life. Maybe he's made a career out of riding the trains. What are the chances of encountering the same person twice in such a big city?

It's been raining "frog piss" style for two days now. The air feels very heavy and moist here, which zaps my energy. But at least I'm not broiling in 100-degree-plus temperatures as I did in the States!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Caught Between Two Worlds

mood | sad ]
[ music | none. sound of traffic sporadically driving past our house. ]

J. and I are currently at home in Bisbee, AZ....for only two weeks.

It is becoming increasingly hard to leave home, every time we have to go back on the road after these all-too-short breaks.

But it is very, VERY nice to be home right now -- perhaps the lesson really is, to ENJOY THE MOMENT and not think about anything else.

But this is sometimes more of a challenge than we would like. But it is a worthwhile goal, and we will indeed rise to the occasion!

(Ah, a ray of hope amidst my pensiveness this evening.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

The TOP TEN Questions People Ask the Pit Musicians

I was recently asked the question (paraphrased), "Do people from the audience talk to the musicians in the pit orchestra?".

Yes, they DO!

Some pits are more accessable to the audience seats than others; it depends on the theatre.

The front row of seats can be so close to the edge of the pit that people cannot move freely along it; it is only accessable to the occupants of those particular seats. So interaction between audience members and musicians is reduced.

Other times, the pit-rail is either too thick, covered with stage lights which separate them from the audience, or the pit itself is considerably lower than the seat level of the auditorium. In these cases, conversation between audience members is minimal.

Occasionally, people overcome these obstacles by yelling "Hey YOU!" or "EXCUSE ME!" at the musicians. In those cases when they're particularly rude, we simply ignore them; otherwise, we usually respond.

After nine years and thousands of performances of "Phantom", a definite pattern of recurring questions from audience members has emerged! We in the pit call it "The Top Ten Questions People Ask":


1. Do you travel with the show?
2. How long have you been playing with the show?
3. Where are you from?
4. Where are you staying?
5. Where do you go next? (or, where were you previously?)
6. Don't you LOVE playing this music? (or, do you ever get TIRED of playing this music?)
7. Where's the trumpet? (or organ, trombone, oboe, bassoon, harp etc.)
8. How many musicians are playing?
9. How do you like St. Louis? (or Denver, Buffalo, etc. We've been to most big cities.)
10. Is this all you do?

It is a very interesting process, answering these questions which people have asked us pit musicians so many thousands of times. We are flattered that they show an interest, so we try to answer as politely and completely as possible. On the other hand, it is a challenge to keep from being annoyed at being confronted with the same old questions, over and over again, year after year.

But it is just part of our job, and we accept that. We musicians are on the "front lines"; "ambassadors" for the company as it were -- the first ones to interact with the audience members before the performance begins, as well as during intermission.

This is quite different from my previous jobs with symphony orchestras, where there is virtually NO interaction between audience members and musicians; we're tucked away onstage at a considerable distance from the audience seats.

Most folks are polite, but occasionally we'll get a real stinker! In the worst cases, we usually ignore them, which is often possible because of the distance between the edge of the pit and the musicians' chairs; we can always pretend that we didn't hear them, or that we're about to tune, or that we're diligently caring for our instruments, or we're looking over our parts (like we NEED to, after all these years!)

Yes, it is a very interesting job. In a future entry I will document some of the more interesting questions people have asked over the years, that are NOT on the Top Ten list above.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Young Woman Horn Player's Visit to the Pit

Last night, I came back into the pit at the Fox Theatre at the end of intermission and witnessed the tail-end of a conversation between the Principal horn and a young woman from the audience.

She was leaning over the pit rail to look at our music. E. asked her how long she's been playing the horn. She replied, "Since sixth grade, about eight years ago, but I don't play much now that I'm in college".

E. commented that playing the horn for FUN is the "best way"....not to try making a living at it! (I laughed inwardly.)

The young woman asked, "How's the music?" and E. said, "It's fairly difficult, with a lot of high notes and loud playing". She peered at his part again and noticed a high C-flat. "That's not so hard. The music looks only 'medium' to me".

E. held up his horn towards her and said, "Here, would you like to play it?"

"Oh, no", she muttered, and quickly disappeared into the crowd.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Explosion Follow-up

The night following the explosion, my colleague on Principal horn gave me the inside scoop on the gun's "premature emission" last Tuesday night. His girlfriend works in the Wardrobe Department, so he hears about virtually everything which happens in the company.

Apparently, the actor who plays the Marksman got some of the gunpowder in his eye and had to go to the Emergency Room at a nearby hospital. His eye was flushed out successfully and he's all right, thank goodness.

He insists that he did NOT pull the trigger prematurely; that it was a "pyro issue" with a overly-hot mixture of powder. This is what I figured had happened.

It is interesting to note that although the actor is supposedly "okay" now, he has NOT made a return appearance as the Marksman for the remaining shows this week!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A VERY BELATED HAPPY NEW YEAR! -- An Un-YOO-usual Night at the Theatre

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Now that it's half over...

Many apologies for not keeping this blog up-to-date! It would be a daunting task to document everything that has happened since I last wrote in December, and I'm not very good at writing a short, concise "Reader's Digest" version. But I'll do the best I can!

J. and I took possession of our "new" 1976 Airstream travel trailer in February, and we truly enjoy being back in the RV lifestyle after living in gloomy, cold corporate apartments for nine months. I'll try to post a picture of our 23-ft.-long silver baby in a future entry when I can figure out how to do that.

Phantom is in the middle of a four-week run here in St. Louis. We're staying at an RV park right downtown; the only big city in America that we know of that has an RV park in such a central location. (They're usually way out in the 'burbs.) We're only a few blocks from the Fox theatre where the show is playing. My commute is all of seven minutes, which is great.

It's VERY hot and humid here right now; temps are expected to exceed 95 today (with high moisture, being near three big rivers: the Mississippi, Missouri and Merrimac). J. and I are pretty much staying inside our little air-conditioned trailer for the rest of the day.

Last night, something happened at the show which has NEVER happened before.

The marksman, who carries a gun into the pit during Act II accidentally pulled the trigger about thirty seconds early. Or, perhaps there was something wrong with the mixture of powder; sometimes the pyro guys get excited.

No-one -- least of all the conductor, standing right next to him -- was prepared for the unusually LOUD explosion which usually takes place after a series of lines exchanged between the marksman and the actors onstage.

The explosion occured directly next to the conductor's head and stunned him to the point where he sank to his knees on the podium, moaning. The doltish actor didn't know what to do; clearly he was more worried about dropping his lines than anything else. A few seconds of shocked silence followed, then the marksman finally got off the podium while the actors fumbled around for their dialogue, which they eventually locked back onto.

Meanwhile, our conductor stumbled off the podium and croaked out to one of our keyboard players, who's also the assistant conductor to replace him on the podium. None of us knew if the regular conductor was seriously hurt or not.

He sat with his head in his hands for only a few moments, then indicated to the assistant that he was ready to resume conducting, and got back onto the podium.

He seemed okay after that, but everyone in the pit was obviously concerned. After the final chord in the exit music, people asked him how he was, and he said that he was all right.

Whew! Live theatre sure can have its "Special Moments"!