January 10, 2023

I’m two rehearsals in on Dearly Departed and it feels like the process is going well. The cast seem to be enjoying working together. I feel like I’m adequately prepped for rehearsal and we’ve been able to get two of the four big scenes up on their feet with minimal fuss. I was worried about directing as it’s been quite a while since I’ve done it and it’s been a number of decades since I’ve directed a non-musical. In some ways it’s easier, in others it’s harder as you have less bells and whistles to hide behind and you can’t turn things over to the music director or choreographer when you’ve hit a sticky spot.

It’s always been my practice to block on paper prior to rehearsal and to have the basic shape of the scene in my head before ever putting the actors on stage. I have a reasonable visual imagination for stage picture so I generally do OK but then, when I have the actors walk it, I notice all the things I hadn’t thought of before and the things I wish I had done differently and then I start second guessing myself and I have remind myself in my head that I know what I’m doing.

I’ve never taken a class in directing. I’ve learned by observing, doing, emulating, taking things from other skill sets, and avoiding things that other directors have done in the rehearsal room which I, as a performer, have found unhelpful. I have no idea if I’m any good at it or not. The shows I have directed in recent years have turned out OK but I don’t know how much of that has been me and how much has been talented casts and creative teams. And then there’s Tommy. The only other two shows I’ve directed in the Birmingham phase of my life were collaborations with Tommy, me as director and he as producer. Tommy was a demanding colleague, especially of me. He knew what I was capable of and would not let me rest until I had it done. I would sit at the dining room table with a set floor plan and my bunches of colored pom poms representing various characters, maneuvering them in and out of doors and up and down levels and he would make sure those ideas were formalized and legible on paper before bed. I don’t have him here on this project to keep me focused. I worry about that. Will I be able to do the same thing without his energy?

I just hope we keep moving forward at a proper pace and we don’t have anything that knocks the production for a loop such as a Covid outbreak in the cast. Covid numbers locally appear to be relatively stable. I hear about new cases routinely, but my patients or acquaintances that are falling ill aren’t getting terribly sick and are pretty much back on their feet within a day or two. The current recommendations remain five days quarantine and five days masking after a positive test even if you’re feeling fine. The local ERs are melting down with excess patients again but the issue doesn’t appear to be Covid. There are some cases of course, but the numbers of inpatients aren’t appreciably higher than they were this past fall. It seems instead to be the cumulative effect of pandemic changes on the emergency medical system that are leading to an inability of the system to function as designed. The departure of clinical folk to safer, less stressful jobs has led to short staffing. The wholesale retirement of senior clinicians means those most able to work quickly through the complexities of patient care on missing. Certain specialists are in such short supply that the ability to get the testing and care necessary in a timely fashion has ground to a halt. The receiving institutions for the ill such as rehabilitation centers and nursing homes are so short staffed that they can’t admit, leaving those ready for discharge, but not for independence at home, languishing in inpatient beds, blocking them from being used by new admissions, leaving them hanging out in the emergency department or some hallway as there is nowhere else for them to go.

The acute phase of the pandemic may be over and my Accidental Plague Diaries may be morphing into something new and different, but the effects of the coronavirus are going to continue to tear at our society for years. Today, I heard of a friends child who may have permanent speech issues as their impaired hearing could not be treated during the pandemic as no pediatric ENT would see them in person during a crucial year for speech development. I heard about an acquaintance with newly diagnosed colon cancer who was at risk and whom had had their colonoscopy postponed for three years. I had to deal with a patient on a house call who had had nothing to eat or drink for a day or so as he was unable to get himself out of bed and there were no staff in his senior facility available to assist him. None of these are especially noteworthy on an international level, but they mean the world to the families involved. There’s also the butterfly effect. We cannot begin to know the outward ripples from each of these small issues that the pandemic has brought to bear.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 03: The House of Representatives votes on Speaker of the House between Rep. Kevin McCarhty (R-CA) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Washington, DC. Today members of the 118th Congress will be sworn in and the House of Representatives will hold votes on a new Speaker of the House. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The new congressional term is beginning. Per usual, the lunatics are running the asylum; perhaps a bit more than in the past. I can’t help but wonder what the pandemic and the political battles over public health are going to do to shape governance for the next few years. How will all of this determine what rises to the top in terms of new legislation? Will the needs of the diva egos of certain congresspeople trump common sense? What happens if a new mutation makes our vaccines and relative immunity useless? The currently spreading omicron variant in the Northeast, xbb 1.5, is spreading so quickly and appears to be so much more contagious than the previous variants, it’s been nicknamed The Kraken. It’s gone from about 2% to 40% of cases in the area over roughly three weeks. It’s not here in the Deep South yet but it’s coming. It doesn’t appear to be more virulent, but monoclonal antibodies are ineffective against it. (Paxlovid still works). Vaccines and natural immunity appear to be holding the line. If you still haven’t gotten a vaccine, be prepared to fall ill due to its R0 which seems to be somewhere between 5-10.

With my luck it’ll get to Birmingham and the set of Dearly Departed round about tech week.

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