February 12, 2023

I feel like things are moving a bit and I’m coming out of the funk and torpor of the last week. It’s not my doing. It’s just what seems to be happening to and around me. All three careers are heating up a bit and making me have to move forward on commitments and goals. My usual coping mechanism is to keep myself so busy that I don’t have time to wallow. It works pretty well until I get to the point where I look at the calendar trying to find a weekend for a get away for self care purposes and find I’m having to look into July. As the old saying goes, I’ll rest when I’m dead. It’s a side effect of having been born into a generation of gay men who watched their peers and mentors die, lives cut short by societal indifference to HIV in the 1980s. You know there won’t ever be enough time.

I’ve been asked to be in the pulpit in early April at church and to talk again about my writing and books. I’ve come up with a title – Unfinished Stories – and some vague concepts about how that relates to my writing, my life and society at large. I haven’t started to write the sermon yet. It will have to wait until Dearly Departed becomes a finished story as of the 26th of February. I don’t have another theatrical project on the horizon, just a symphony concert or two so that should give me the time to get that done and to break the back on editing of Volume III of the Accidental Plague Diaries. I got a nice mention in the local on line press this week. Hopefully that will translate into a few sales and the Northern Alabama bookstores displaying it more prominently on their local authors tables. We no longer have a daily paper in Birmingham, just on line. As a geriatrician, I find this problematic as so many of my patients have developed lives free from the chains of modern technology and now they’re being forced into the cesspool of television news if they want to keep up with the world. And I’ll have to chase after them with amlodipine and lisinopril trying to keep up with their blood pressure.

On Tuesday, I received an email from regional VA headquarters inviting me to be their keynote speaker at their annual convention for senior care next month. I was flattered but a little mystified as it was very short notice and I had no idea why they would single me out. I learned long ago that the best way to cope with a large federal agency was to keep your head down and just do your job and stay off the radar. It turned out that someone at regional headquarters had been given the book (Volume I I assume) and actually read it, loved it and then figured out that I work for them. So, off to Augusta I go in mid March to speak on the book and the pandemic and the long term effects of the pandemic on elder care programs. That gig should be good for some sales. I wonder if I can get the VA to order and sell a few cases in the vendor’s area?

Technical rehearsals for Dearly Departed begin tomorrow. I’m not worried about my actors but it remains to be seen if lights and sound effects and set changes will all come together as envisioned. I guess I’ll find out. Someone at church asked me what does a director do when it comes to putting a piece on stage? My first thought was what doesn’t a director do, but that struck me as an impolite answer. I basically said that a director is responsible for everything the audience experiences from the moment the doors open until the moment the audience files out. The producer or production company finds the resources for a show, human and material and manages the nuts and bolts of the theater as a space and place of business. The director creates the world of the show using performers and collaborations with the design departments (set, costume, light, sound etc.) to take the words on the page and turn them into something more than any individual could achieve. If theater is a team sport, they’re the head coach.

My favorite thing about directing is watching all of the half formed ideas in your head take shape and appear in front of you. Sometimes they are exactly what you envisioned. Sometimes an actor finds a different nuance that takes a scene in an unexpected direction and then it becomes my job to make sure what they are doing supports the whole and to shape and change things so that they become cohesive and part of a unified vision. An actor cannot see their own performance. It’s up to the director to watch it and help them adjust, to help them identify the conflicts, to make sure they work together with other performances rather than against them. And then there’s the technical departments. I’ve worked in most of them over the years but my knowledge base is limited. It’s not really my world and I trust in a design team to bring it. For this show, I knew, for instance, what I wanted for the set conceptually and the genius set/costume/technical director guy I’m working with took his knowledge base and kicked it up a couple of notches.

There are some things I tend to do differently when I direct. For instance, I hate curtain speeches. Having someone who is not part of the show come out and give the announcements bothers me and takes me right out of the suspension of disbelief I’ve been working to create from the time I sat down. I know that information has to be there, so I always try to put it in as a voice over and to somehow have that fit in with the style of the show and the preshow soundscape. That was relatively easy to do with this one. I also try to make sure that shows flow and that scene shifts are as quick and minimal as possible. We’re still having to work on that one with Dearly Departed. When I first started directing, nearly 45 years ago, I took almost all negative notes. What was bad and needed fixing. I now try to take a balance of negative and positive. What I’ve learned from working with teams in health care has carried over into theater and vice versa. Positive reinforcement is a good thing.

The directors job during tech is to sit out in the house and take copious notes about how to encourage, fix, adjust, and make the show better. I’ll do my best to get everything right by Thursday night…

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