November 8, 2019

Huntsville in Winter

Dateline: Huntsville, Alabama

So I was lazy today. I slept in and didn’t do a whole lot this morning and I decided to keep driving to a minimum and return home via Huntsville. The rain and wet have passed and been replaced with an arctic cold front so, while it was a much nicer day to get in a walk in Nashville, it was much too cold to do so other than to the local Starbucks for a hot caramel macchiato. And what is with their asking if it should be iced or hot? Are they completely ignorant of the frigid temperatures behind the bar? I suppose it’s protocol Tawny Stephens could tell me.

Last night, at the behest of Ellise, I did make it to the Nashville Rep’s production of the curious, but ultimately uplifting theater piece ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ – a one man monologue about mental health, maintenance of sanity, coping with mental illness in loved ones, and the making of lists of all of the little things that make life worth living. Kudos to Mark Cabus for lovely performance. He’s an old friend of Ellise‘s which is why she wanted me to go. I was unaware as to the amount of audience participation going into the evening and Mark, not having yet met me, randomly selected me to play his father in a few scenes requiring relatively simple direction. Thank heavens for Jeanmarie Collins and Spolin classes and years and years of Politically Incorrect Cabaret allowing me to think on my feet and I felt I acquitted myself rather well. The people next to me were sure I was a plant. My additions to the list of brilliant things in the lobby as i departed included audience participation theater, public speaking skills, and Viola Spolin’s improv technique.

Today, after the relatively short drive to Huntsville, I spent an hour or so walking through downtown, the Twickenham district and the park near the Von Braun Center. It was still quite cold so that was plenty of outdoor activity and I retreated late afternoon to the hotel for a nice hot shower, central heating, bad television and a session with my lines for Dear Brutus. This is not going to be an easy script to learn due to the rather flowery Edwardian language. Fortunately, almost everything I have is two person dialogue and that does make the task a bit easier.

The last time I was in downtown Huntsville around the courthouse square, Tommy and I had come up for one of Susanna Phillips Huntington‘s classical music programs for her home town crowd. Central Huntsville looks about the same, but the city seems to be spreading into more and more suburbs and exurbs. Most of my experience with the town has been with the Politically Incorrect Cabaret. We’ve brought the show to Huntsville four times over the years, each time in a new and even more interesting venue. Our first trip was with the original show back in 2004 (and a lunch stop at the Waffle House on our way up led to the birth of the Waffle House Lady character who continues to live on). We played the Flying Monkey Arts Collective which at that time was in a metal Butler Building. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was June in Alabama and there was no air conditioning and we were all suffering from heat exhaustion by the end of the performance. Tommy had had back surgery only a few weeks before and my cousin Jenny, whom I talked about yesterday, came down for a few weeks to help while he recovered and was here for this show. While hanging out, she made a few of the costumes that still exist including my finale Lederhosen and Ellise’s finale dirndl – the number being ‘Springtime for Homeland Security’ to the tune of Springtime for Hitler from the Producers.

Flying Monkey in its current incarnation

A year later, we were back at the Flying Monkey, which, in the interim, had moved to an old boot factory. A cavernous brick building full of dirt and decay and with no heat. This also would have been fine, but it was February and down around freezing and it was a show in which a couple of my costumes were next to non-existent including the infamous emperor’s new clothes outfit that consisted mainly of body paint and a strategically placed bunch of grapes. Fortunately, I don’t believe any photos survive. I was a good deal younger and in better shape. I wouldn’t want to pull that one off these days. The third trip was a few years later where we were actually in a sort of theater space built into an old house. Little exciting happened that time. Our last trip was back to the Flying Monkey, which has finally moved into a space in a sort of alternative arts mall and which comes with climate control and working plumbing. That show is most famous for my completely going up on my lyrics in the opening number. (The tech people hadn’t turned up for the tech rehearsal so the first time we had lights and sound was the performance. They hit a light cue, I was unexpectedly blinded by lights that I hadn’t known were there, and every lyric flew out of my brain.) As I approach sixty, it’s just getting harder and harder to learn roles. I suppose it’s good brain work and practice but it is torturous. I can already wait to age to the point where I have an earpiece and stage management can feed me all my lines.

Tomorrow, I am meeting some friends here in Huntsville for lunch before returning home. The rest of the weekend shall be devoted to housework and more line learning. Now it’s time to settle in to The King and I on PBS with Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara. Tommy and I saw the production in New York a few years ago and enjoyed it.

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