October 14, 2012

The Yellow Balloons.

On my way back from a run today, I see four kids of various ages standing on the lawn of one of the neighborhood houses and looking up at the sky.  Naturally, I have the instinct to look up as well, but I pause for a moment to prepare myself.  In any given film, a shot of children looking up at the sky (the smallest one pointing at something no less) is either a sign that something really really great, or really really bad, is about to happen.  There is no middle ground.

As I often compare real life events to something that could possibly happen in a movie, however unhealthy that may be, my first instinct is that I'm either walking into a alien encounter movie (please let it be ET and not a Dalek), or a superhero movie (please let it be Thor with his Mighty Hammer come to save the day and also  to make out with me.)

I can't tell by the children's faces if they are stuck with horror or amazement.  Worthless.  I know that I'll have to steel my courage and look up myself.  Just before I fell upon this scene,  I had gotten peed on by some unknown animal in a tree and then accidentally kicked my own ankle, causing it to bleed.  I am weary of any other misfortunes.  So, I carefully walk onto a place in the sidewalk that is not covered by a tree, plant my feet firmly on the ground, and look up.  

Four yellow balloons are floating unwillingly into the air.  They are in perfect unison, exactly apart from each other, and floating at the same height.  They rise up like a tribute to some unknown thing, unafraid, but clearly longing to still be attached to the child who had released them below.  For what is a balloon without someone to hold it?

I look back down at the children standing on the lawn, who are still looking solemnly up.  The smallest continues to point his hand in the air as if he refuses to release his arm and let the balloon fly away forever.

But there is no turning back.  Those balloons are going nowhere but up.  I now understand that this was no accident, the children had let the balloons fly out of their hands, perhaps out of curiosity.  But it also seems to me that they had no idea what would happen when they did so.  I can see them trying to understand what it means for those balloons to be travelling up and up and up.  They are starting to realize that they will never come back.

I wish Thor was in fact here to fly up and grab those balloons and bring them back to the four astonished children I see before me.  But he's not.  

There's nothing anyone can do but watch.  I notice other neighbors start to come out of their houses and porches to look up.  And as each person realizes what they are looking at they fall into a solemn salute, gazing up at the balloons as they march off into the sky.

I know what we are all thinking.  Or at least what the people who have overactive imaginations like myself are thinking.  Our thoughts have placed within those balloons the people, things, and dreams we have all had to let go, knowing they will never come back.  Things we couldn't hold onto anymore, try as we might.  Things we let go knowing we must.  Things we let slip out of our hands without realizing how much we would regret it.

I think immediately of the one balloon that's been slipping out of my fingers for some time now because I have been afraid to face it.  I immediately tie an extra knot in the string that is connected to the balloon around my wrist.  I sometimes forget it's even there.  I won't let that balloon go, even if someone tries to pry it out of my hands.

As the four yellow balloons become mere specks in the sky, and a plane flies over scattering them out of their uniform movement, the smallest of the children lowers his hand and admits defeat.  The neighbors start to shake themselves out of their reverie toward the sky and return into their homes.  

I now can't see the balloons at all.  Who knows what will become of them.  Maybe some superhero will find them and take them to their superhero children.  Or an alien will find them and laugh at the primitive things humans call amusement and eat them.

I walk home, re-tightening the string around my wrist and looking up hopefully at the balloon that is floating above me, in sight once again.

September 9, 2012

Workplace Etiquette.

THE DOOR

How  long should you wait to hold a door open for someone who is behind you?  How close do they need to be for you to wait for the person to reach the door, and how do you know when the person is so far away that you should just slam it in their face?

THE HALLWAY

There’s only three options for walking down a long hallway in which someone else is walking toward you from the opposite end.  One: avoid eye contact and look somewhere else the entire time until you pass, preferably at the ceiling.  Two: wait until you’re just about to pass each other and then give a glance and a reassuring smile as if to say, "oh i didn't see you there walking toward me for the past five minutes, but now that I do see you, this isn't awkward at all."  Or three: be a woman/man and look them dead in the eye, all the way down the hall, without blinking.

March 22, 2012

BEAN DOWN UNDER: The Socks

One day, I am walking along the streets of Fremantle and I run into a strange sight.  I am right by the famous hospital (why it is famous I do not know, because it looks like an apartment complex you would see in North Hollywood - also, it's like a ghost town.  No one is around.  Maybe it's not really a hospital but an alien breeding ground like on Doctor Who, my favorite television show of all time.  Maybe if I stand here all day at some point I will see the Doctor hop out of a blue telephone box and save the day and then I can become his companion and travel through space and time forever.  I will fall in love with him, but he won't be able to return that love because of his tormented past.  But I digress.)  Although odd, the empty hospital is not the strange sight that causes me to stop in my tracks.  Instead, the rusted chain link fence in front of the hospital catches my attention.  I stare at it for a long time, taking it in.  For as far as you can see down the road, this chain link fence is adorned with socks.  As in the socks that you put on your feet.  And the oddest thing of all is that there is just ONE of each kind of sock, no matching pairs can be seen.


Scattered in every section of the fence, up high and down low, and in no particular order, there are knee socks and ankle socks and even water socks (aren't those expensive?), patterned ones, one with holes in it, one that looks like a hand puppet version of a snake, one that looks like it was first eaten by a rabid animal and then spat out onto the fence, and even a giant one that looks like it literally belonged to the largest man or woman known to humanity. I mean, I could fit my entire body in this sock and join a potato sack race.  Then I see a tiny tiny infant sock at the very bottom of the fence.  My god.  A tiny baby has crawled on its own and placed its tiny sock on the fence. 

It is a mural of singular, lonely socks.  BUT WHY?  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  Did one random person walk by and say, "I think I'm done with my socks, but just with ONE of them," and then proceed to take off one shoe, and one sock, and place that sock on the fence, merrily putting their bare foot back into their shoe, and then squeaking on down the street, slowly creating a blister on their sockless foot?  This sounds like my nightmare.  One, I'd be afraid of germs if I accidentally lost my balance and my bare foot landed on the sidewalk that most certainly contains alien dander from the "hospital."  That would be the end of me.  Two, one of the worst things in the world is having one sock with nothing to match it with.  Why would you bring this terrible fate upon yourself? Who was this barbarian?  And if that is the case, if this was an act begun by one person, then why would so many people follow this act blindly - an act taken by a person who clearly has no regard for socks or for his or her own dignity?

Or maybe, it WAS an act of dignity.  Maybe there is a problem of rampant sock discrimination in Australia and this was a group effort, an act of defiance, an act that said, everyone has a different sock on their foot!  Everyone should try to walk a mile in someone else's sock before they think that their socks are better than someone else's socks!

But no, none of that seems quite right.  Something else, something important is going on here.  I look at all of the socks for a long time.  And I look up at the hospital and listen to the silence around me.  And then I realize: these socks were not acts of defiance or anger.  These are the socks of all of the missing, the lost, the dead.  Each sock has a story, each sock had an owner.  And I realized why I felt so very alone.  I look at a sock and I see an old woman getting ready for a day in her garden.  And another, I see a teenager getting ready quickly and sneaking out of her window on Halloween.  I see a bunch of socks that were worn by a homeless man who piled 20 different socks on at a time, only on his left foot, to ward off demons.  I see a lucky sock that won a championship and was never washed.  I see a sock that once journeyed across the ocean, by boat.  I see a sock that has never been outside of this city and one that was just about to leave the country for the first time and never got the chance to.  And I see the giant potato sock - it was worn by a real live troll.  All of these socks have a story. 

All of these socks have made a sacrifice, and have been left behind as a memory of the person who once wore them.  For those brave socks, I decide to face my fear.  Without thinking, I take off my right shoe, and my right sock.  I jump up as high as I can on the fence and stuff my little Sponge Bob sock into the wire.  I step back and look at my little sock, mounted proudly among its brothers.  Who knows when I will see my sock again.  Or where it will go without me.  But I left it there because I didn't want the other socks to be so lonely.  In return, those socks made me feel much more brave than I have in a long time.

March 13, 2012

BEAN DOWN UNDER: The Beginning!

It's hard to believe that I left the glorious lands of Australia over a month ago.  I'm still mulling my adventures over in my head wondering if it was all just a dream.  But it indeed wasn't - I was, in fact, all the way across the world, and down under, for two wonderful weeks of braving ridiculous heat (we're talking 110 degrees Fahrenheit morning 'til night yo), moments of great stress (oh my god 60 people that I don't know showed up to my opening night), moments of great glory (OH MY GOD 60 PEOPLE THAT I DON'T KNOW SHOWED UP TO MY OPENING NIGHT!!), and moments of "yup, that's about right" (a jolly and drunk Australian spilling a beer on my one and only set piece, the tiny red Bean chair...but to his credit he wiped it up with my program).  


And since I was travelling alone, I got a much different experience than I ever have before.  For example, I was forced to speak to strangers, which as we all know, is something you should NEVER do.  And in turn I met people I don't think I would have ever met had I a companion to say to me, "hey, you're going the wrong way on the train."  Or "hey, don't eat that."  Or "hey, maybe not get on the ferry full of children who are trying to tip the boat over by running back and forth from either side of it." (I did.)

No, instead the strangers of the great city of Perth warned me in their own way, and they were my friends.  So I thank you guy on train who saw I was going the wrong way and bought me the correct ticket.  And I thank you security guard that didn't taze me when I walked past you, not knowing I was supposed to show said ticket to you to get out of the train station (instead he called me sweetheart and asked if I was from Canada.)  And I thank you Fringe World backstage security guy for telling me I have "lippy" (lipstick) on my teeth nightly so that I didn't smile a toothy and red smile and frighten the children in the audience.  And thank you wildlife animal expert who told me not to pet koalas near their face or they'll bite my hand and/or face off.  

I'm pretty sure the people of Perth saved my life at least ten times a day.  And not once was anyone rude to me. EVER.  Well, actually there was one time when I was in Fremantle and a swarm of BEES started attacking me - I'm not joking it was like a Stephen King novel freakish amount of bees, just swarming in one place.  And I happened to be staring at the old Fremantle Prison deciding if I wanted to go in and take a tour (my fear of ghosts getting the better of me) when the bees surrounded me.  SIGN.  That's a SIGN.  So I yelled and cried at the same time, sounding like Chubacca, and ran away from the bees, shaking my arms in the air and hopping from one foot to the other (it confuses the bees, you see.)  Anyway, a man happened to see this and looked at me, and said "what is that idiot doing."  EXCUSE ME SIR.  I am being attacked by a thousand killer bees and escaping unscathed, what are YOU doing??  I wanted to glare at him but I was too busy running up the hill, away from the bees.  Then, at the bottom of the hill I heard him encounter the same set of asshole bees and he screamed like a small child.  It was at that moment I heard his accent and realized he was an American.  As I watched him run away holding his crotch (WHY, its not like they are going to dive bomb you there) I felt victory.  He was not Australian, so the people of Australia are still untarnished in my memory.

I've decided to chronicle my journey in Perth, and later in Sydney, in the ol' blog and call it BEAN DOWN UNDER as I previously named ALL of my marketing material for the show because its just so darn catchy!

Look out for more BEAN DOWN UNDER, especially for the glorious moment when I encounter the most wonderful creature in the world, Karen the Koala:



Oh Karen, you changed my life.  And also I'm pretty sure my stuffed koala Kenny (who was with me every step of my journey) is in love with you.

More BEAN DOWN UNDER to come!

January 27, 2012

First Week Down Under! Or, Week of Excuse Me Can You Tell MeWhere I Am?

Bean is up and running in Perth! I opened last night to an audience of about 40 people (really the biggest audience I've probably ever had) and they were just wonderful, despite the fact that it was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the theatre and I was melting on stage. My little red polka dotted dress was melting as well but it was a delightful new addition to my Bean wardrobe. Luckily the Fringe World folks thought up some plastic fans that say "Fringe World Fan" so the audience was able to cool off that way- it became a ripple of fans in the audience throughout the show but it was a lovely site to see. The audience was smiling and laughing and generally I could have hugged them all because I know no one in this city and the fact that these strangers came out to my show and smiled all the way through was very inspiring to me. I had no idea what to expect. The people of Perth really are quite wonderful!

I've had some crazy and fun adventures here (like the time I was almost late to my radio interview and had to accost a stranger to use their mobile to call the station and let them know I was locked out.) My first train ride in Perth was an adventure as well as I accidentally went the wrong way. I rode a ferry across the Swan River, swam in the Indian Ocean at 7am, saw fireworks on Australia day, roamed the streets in the heat, figured out the bus system after I decided roaming the streets any further would result in delirium, and of course wandered through all of the Fringe venues that just opened last night. There is the Spielgetent, a circus like tent where there is cabaret and burlesque, the Comedy Central, and the Treasury Building, where my venue is located. The Treasury Building hasn't been used for 30 years and is clearly haunted and unmistakably awesome. It's an old building with twists and turns at every corner. The dressing room is shared by all the performers (they made 6 theatres in this old 8 story building) and there are so many different shows from every corner of the world, in true Fringe Form. Each stage is a room in the building - there is a giant ballroom they use for circus or trapeze and my room is called the Treasury Mess Hall and has a portable stage and black curtains hanging from the walls, and a little desk in the back with the sound and light board. Plus 100 bright orange seats. The perfect place for a little Bean! The people running the venue and my stage manager and technical team are just awesome and friendly and supportive- and real pros. They must have been working tirelessly to turn the Treasury into working theatres (as well as getting ready for the public so that people don't wander into haunted rooms. I myself wandered into a theatre that used to be some other room and saw a coffin and spiderwebs and ran the other way) - and in this heat that is more work than I can imagine.

The coolest part of the venue is the bar outside next to the building. It is Treasure themed of course and there are wooden planks and palm trees, giant lights that say "FRINGE WORLd" and, of course, a tank full of mermaids and mermen. That's right- a tank with people in mermaid fins swimming around. I mean- are you kidding? I literally pumped my fists in the air when I saw that- most brilliant thing I have ever seen in a bar, outdoors, or anywhere really.

I hung out in the bar and chatted with people who had seen the show- the truly wonderful thing was a lot of people talked to me about their grandparents (which is a focus of my show) and I know somewhere out there my grandparents are very happy about that! It's so wonderful to find someone from across the world who can relate to your own story- and that's what this is all about! That's the glory of Fringe.

I then saw a show called This Is What We Do For A Living in the large circus area of the Treasury and it blew my mind. I can't even describe it because I'd never seen anything like it, but the two performers were breathtaking and hilarious and amazing!!! They did some ridiculous things from way up high and they told a beautiful story.

So it's been a week of exploration and going with the flow and sweating profusely outside with a huge smile on my face. As I sat in the metro (called the train here) waiting for the next train last night in my little red Bean chair after leaving the mermaid bar, I thanked my lucky stars that I journeyed to this place.

Below are some pictures:
The Mermaid tank and bar
Me at 92.1 FM after making it to my radio interview, sweating
The Indian Ocean
Fireworks on Australia Day
Sitting in my Bean chair waiting for the train after opening night
The Bean stage
Fringe World sign- I was the very first show to perform in the Treasury!

More adventures and more detailed Bean excursions to come!

January 18, 2012

Australia Bound!

Less than a year ago I raised my hand in a crowded room and said that I had a solo show I wanted to present at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. My theatre company had open time slots for the festival and the coordinator asked if anyone wanted to use the space. I quickly walked forward and nonchalantly signed up for my performance time slots, then left the meeting and got into my car. I stared at the steering wheel of my VW (Betty the Jetta), wondering what I had just done. I was going to do a solo show. But…I hadn’t written it yet. Nor did I even know what it would be called or what it would be about. I drove home and got into bed immediately, clutching a stuffed animal (Kenny the Koala) that had long been collecting dust in my closet and staring at the ceiling with wide eyes like I used to do as a kid when I would imagine exciting adventures and lands far away before drifting off to sleep. Just as my mind was beginning to be filled with dreamlike visions and my wide eyes were starting to close, it hit me. I sat bolt upright in bed and glanced at Kenny. He looked at me knowingly, the whole world in his little koala eyes. I jumped out of bed and pompously opened my computer screen and titled my show “BEAN”. I had it! With a smirk I changed the font. And changed the font again, and then re-sized it. Then I stared at the cursor. Apparently naming the show my longtime childhood nickname hadn’t done anything. I still didn’t know what it was about. I stared at that cursor for two whole months.

The first time I ever saw her was in the movie version of Annie when I was only a few years old. The movie was on television and my mom taped it for me so I could watch it over and over again. And watch it over and over again I did. Despite giving my entire family a slight aversion to the song “Tomorrow” and the phrase “Yes, Ms. Hannigan”, I knew in that moment I had found something special. Carol Burnett! Carol, who played Ms. Hannigan, the kooky and sinister, yet ultimately loveable owner of the orphanage where Annie lives, was everything I wanted to be. She was so funny and sharp and powerful! I giggled every time she made a face or dropped her voice down low only to bring it back up to a high note. I felt her joy all the way through the television screen. I wanted to do what she did so badly. I will never forget that feeling of possibility and excitement as I pictured myself in full Ms. Hannigan garb, slinking around on a stage like Carol, making people fall off their seats with laughter.

After I discovered Carol, I was a goner. The theatre was the place for me. I remember my parents taking me to musicals in New York and San Francisco even at 5 years old. I was very serious about my job as a theatre patron and always sat perfectly straight in my seat, my hands folded, wide eyes staring at the stage, taking mental notes and wishing beyond anything that one day I could be one of those tall people who looked so much like they belonged on the stage.

That exact moment, that feeling of wide eyed wonder and excitement, is what I needed to remember in order to create BEAN.

Two weeks before I open at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and I’m still staring at that cursor. I start to cry, then I start to laugh, then I start to laugh as I cry. I eat sunflower seeds like an untamed beast and practically drink an entire bottle of salsa. Willing words to come out. I think of my childhood, my dreams, the wide eyed wonder and fearlessness I used to have that I so desperately wanted back in this moment. I thought of Carol. And I thought of my grandparents, long gone to this world. I remember my Grandpa Lema saying to me during a baseball game “Sis, you stare too long at the sun and you’ll miss the ball flying right at your face!” And then suddenly, I know what BEAN is about. It WAS right in my face. It was Carol and it was my grandparents and it was my imagination and dreams. I wrote the show in two days. It wouldn’t be perfect for opening, but it would be mine.

I realized I hadn’t been blundering along like I had thought – my story was always there, waiting to come out. Maybe my signing up to perform a solo show I hadn’t written yet wasn’t by happenstance afterall.

I barely had time to memorize the show and in fact on my opening night I sat in front of the audience for what seemed like ten minutes after I completely forgot my line. I stared at the people in front of me in silence, bless them, the light blazing into my eyes and thought, “well, my worst fear as an actor has happened so I guess I can move on now.” I remembered the lines eventually and forged through the rest of the play. I also had a bad case of dry mouth and was reminded of when I used to wear head gear in the 4th grade and had an incomprehensible lisp. I literally had to walk off the stage to get water, and I did my best to make it a bit and fit it into the story. Oh, how the fear in my body never left during the entire first performance. Why was I putting myself through this? I am ALONE on STAGE for an HOUR doing a show I wrote. If no one likes it, there is no one to blame but me. Then the show finished, the lights went out, and I bowed, walked straight back to the dressing room clutching my one and only prop (a tiny flashlight my grandma gave me to ward off things I was afraid of) and sat in a dingy chair that looked like it had been in the theatre since 1954. I felt something but I wasn’t sure what it was. I hadn’t felt it in a long time. But it was something like the feeling I got when I saw Carol Burnett perform for the first time. I smiled. Then I realized I had to do the same thing again the next night and was immediately paralyzed with fear again. I went home to go over my lines.

That experience at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and my first go at BEAN was something like jumping off a cliff with a parachute I hadn’t tested and hoping I would reach the ground safely, or at least land in a grassy knoll or a pond filled entirely with salsa.

But it was a beginning. I re-wrote and re-staged and re-imagined BEAN and everything I wanted it to be over and over again. It’s still not perfect, but of course it will never be. And that’s the best part. So, I decided to keep finding cliffs to jump off from with my trusty parachute.

And looming ahead without warning came the FRINGE WORLD Festival in Perth, Western Australia. I got an email from someone at the festival, I read up on it, and within a month I was signed up, had my venue, and my flights, as well as a place to stay. Not unlike how I signed up for the Hollywood Fringe. I was going to Australia, and I was going to perform BEAN. Kenny the Koala is coming too of course. Finally he’ll be able to see his homeland. This all came together a little less than a month ago. In fact, it’s still all coming together and I leave very soon. At least at this point I know my lines. I am still bewildered as I realize I’m about to take BEAN on an international debut in a country I’ve always desperately wanted to visit. And just a year ago I was raising my hand claiming I wanted to perform a solo show I hadn’t yet written. 

So, here’s to FRINGE WORLD in Perth. I’m so grateful they are allowing me to perform BEAN in their wonderful festival. Every night I lay in bed, looking up at the ceiling with Kenny, wide eyed and dreaming of the adventures I will have in Australia.