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.