Thursday, January 31, 2013

Witnessing over coffee

They were wearing all white, including white head coverings and blank white tote bags; but I was pretty sure they weren't the Knights Templar. 

They were several young women in a Starbucks near the university, and despite their rather formal garb they seemed quite relaxed, reclining in their chairs like any undergraduate, sipping away at some hot beverage or another, and freely -- eagerly -- striking up conversations with anyone who would listen.  Aha.  Here there be evangelizing!   

"How are you?"  one of them greeted me as I stirred a little bit of sugar into my tea.  A sweet face swathed in white cotton -- she was practically in a burqa.  I had a momentary memory of my son Gabriel just seconds after his birth, swaddled in a tightly wrapped blanket with a tiny crew hat that came down to his eyes -- a sweet face, framed in cotton.  During her polite pause for my response, she must have taken a deep breath.  I said, "Great.  How are you today?"  And she was OFF:

"Well I'm feeling terrific because I'm with Jesus and Jesus is with me and I just can't imagine living life without Him well I did for a while I was using drugs and ignored Jesus but since I let  Him into my life I am feeling great joy and more power than ever because I'm co-creating this beautiful universe with Jesus..."

She must have been practiced at circular breathing because she never stopped for air.  Since this conversation required no participation from me whatsoever -- the young woman would have cheerfully testified to a wooden stool if there were no people in the room --  I looked around and saw a few of her companions, savoring the patience of other customers in the store.  Well, why not, I thought.  I wanted to ask what sort of organization they belonged to, as I don't know of a Christian group or cult or whatever whose followers wear all white.  There was no getting a word in edge-wise, however.  Let's check in and see if she's still talking right now--

" says in John that He is the vine and we are the branches and that means we can't do anything without Him but He is working through us all the time but He is building His kingdom, not ours..."

Yeah, she's still going.  Anyway, back to my story.  She was going on in this vein and I politely stirred my tea.  There was no reason to be rude.  She wasn't even insisting that I answer questions.  As I locked the top of my cup, I noticed something that amused me: I had dressed entirely in black today. 

And the figure in black, turning on one heel towards the exit, said to the enthusiastic Co-Creator-wth-Jesus dressed all in white, "I have to go.  But I rejoice in your happiness." 

"Thank you," she replied.  "Have a wonderful day." 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Once upon a time, when I was in Actors Equity (the stage actors' union) and working in Lort theatres, I had a makeup kit.  Just the very basics: foundation, eye pencil, some rouge, and a dark lipstick I would sometimes dab on my lips depending on how I was lit.  On large stages, at a distance from the audience and under theatrical lighting, theatrical makeup was necessary. 

And for greying my hair, when needed: white shoe polish applied with a tooth brush.  Seriously.  Dab tooth brush in white shoe polish, lift hair, comb from root outward, starting at temples.  Tends to dry the hair out but is quite effective on stage.

For a while, I did not act at all.  I moved across the country, lost the kit somewhere, and didn't work at all.  When I came back into acting, I was a has-been, lucky to work on small stages.  I've been on small stages (under 99 seats) for years.

This has required much less makeup.  I'm usually very close to the audience and the lighting is not so harsh.  Cake foundation, if any; eye pencil; and we're good.  Playing Tybalt outdoors this summer, I even got away with eyeliner only:

This winter, however, I have been cast in the ensemble performing Thornton Wilder's Our Town -- the first play to be performed at NMSU's new performing arts center, which features an impressive full-size theatre.  I mean, take a look at it!

I haven't been on a stage of that size since, oh...  2004.  (My last Equity show, actually.) 

Living in Deming, I had to go online to equip myself with proper stage makeup and applicators.  A lovely box given to me by a cousin years ago holds it all elegantly.  Packing up a new kit has brought on some nostalgia. 

At the same time, though, I also remember how much my skin dislikes makeup.

Gonna need some olive oil and hot cloths. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Similarities between the Station and the Kiss fires

On February 20, it will have been ten years since the Station, a rock venue in West Warwick, Rhode Island, went up in flames.  100 people died, including a young actor and musician with whom I had worked once, a band's career was interrupted, and the club owners were prosecuted.    

So close to that sad anniversary, the major news today is of a bigger, deadlier nightclub fire in Brazil that eerily echoes the fire in Rhode Island.  More died in this incident: over 230 are dead, with many in the hospital.

The list of similarities between the Station fire and the fire at the Kiss club in Santa Maria is striking.

  • Each fire was ignited by pyrotechnic effects lit by the band.

  • At each club, there was a lack of alternative exits, leading the crowd to surge at the main exit and causing a crush.  At the Station, one exit was chained shut to prevent people from sneaking in without paying the cover.  At Kiss, there appeared to be only one exit, back out the main entrance.  At both locations, firefighters arrived to find a stack of bodies blocking the entrance.

  • Each fire moved very fast.  In a 20-minute, mostly unedited video of the Station fire, the fire's progress can be viewed in real time: the building went up in just a few minutes.  It was the same at Kiss, spreading so rapidly little could be done.  The place filled with smoke and victims became disoriented.  Fifty of the dead were found in a bathroom. 

  • In each incident, one of the musicians perished.  Great White guitarist Ty Longley died in Rhode Island.  In Santa Maria, accordionist Danilo Jacques of the band Gurizada Fandangueira never made it out of the club.  

  • In both incidents, security staff interfered with people's escape.  At the Station, the band (minus its guitarist) fled through an exit near the stage.  When patrons attempted to follow them, a bouncer stopped them because that exit was supposed to be for the band only.  At Kiss, security staff also initially blocked people from fleeing because they had not yet paid their tab; one wants to believe they stopped this when they saw the place going up in flames.  

  • Both clubs were full beyond capacity, in addition to having insufficient or blocked fire exits.

So close to the tenth anniversary of this painful event in Rhode Island, the tragedy has repeated itself with even more casualties, and so many young people dead. 

[Image: where the Station once stood, there is now a permanent memorial to the victims of that 2003 fire.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here there be werewolves

Deming is a city that feels like a small town.  The visitor would be forgiven for thinking there isn't much excitement around here.  Indeed, the high rates of DUI arrests and teen pregnancy in our county (which are matters of fact and nothing to joke about) might well be attributed to the simple fact that there isn't much to do around here aside from drinking and fucking. Or you can play Bingo, as a matter of civic duty, since around here bingo provides funding for necessary social services at the senior center.  (Read about it here.) 

But you know what they say, bored people find excitement.  Or, depending on what you believe, excitement comes to them.

Just today, I was walking down Spruce Street towards the library -- which is where I go when I need to concentrate, as working in my home is simply impossible.  The owner of the Readers Cove bookstore, a photographer by the name of Dan, was standing on the corner and said, "Come in and talk to me!  I need normal conversation!"

He then told me about his procession of customers and odd requests, the latest being the man who came in because he had woken up this morning and found a pentagram on his hand, and took himself straight to the bookstore to find books on lycanthrope

I thought of proceeding a little further down the street to check in at the tattoo parlor, see if maybe a drunk cowboy had come in and gotten a pentagram tattooed on his hand last night.

Or maybe I should keep the cat in tonight.

Next question is, how would a werewolf do against the stray pits and mastiffs and rotts that roam the city?

Perhaps this is why Deming has all these dogs: to keep out the werewolves of the Mimbres Valley. 

Come to think of it, was that wolfsbane I saw at the farmer's market?

Are there silver bullets in stock at that gun store on Pine?

What's in that locked room at the Deming-Luna museum?

What about those tunnels underneath downtown?

Yeah, okay.  It is kind of boring around here.

[Image:  a Deming street, taken in February 2012.]

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Second-night slump is nonsense

The show opened Friday night with a sold-out show and excitement in the air.  Rehearsals are over and the ensemble now gathers together an hour or so before the performance to warm up, change into costumes and apply makeup, and take our places when the stage manager tells us it is time. 

Actors share close quarters -- usually a small dressing room -- and nervous energy is infectious.  Superstitions breed backstage as easily as viruses in an elementary school.  So do negative energy, gossip, and imaginary curses.  It's so infectious, in fact, that I tend to keep some distance between myself and other performers before a show.  The intention is not unfriendly; it is simply better for my own preparation not to be hanging around a lot of actor-chatter before a show. 

One of the most popular notions that gets passed around among theatre people is this idea of a "second night slump."  It is so insidious.  Here is how it works.  As people are getting ready, someone -- maybe the stage manager or even the director, if not another actor -- warns everybody about the "second night slump."  The idea is that the first performance following the excitement of opening night will not be up to standard; there may be more mistakes or the energy may "slump" in general.  At more than one theatre, I've even heard the audience blamed for this, along the lines of, "Second-night audiences are never as good."  As if the audience were shirking some imagined responsibility to please us actors!

Anyway, someone brings up the "second night slump" and it is like telling someone not to think of a purple elephant.  Some actors believe it, some reject it; but either way, it becomes an object in people's minds.  We are now interacting with the idea of the "second night slump." 

Many actors have a pernicious habit of judging the quality of the show while it is taking place.  This isn't helpful on any night.  Just do it.   When actors worry about things going smoothly, they tend to trip up, forget lines, miss notes, and make other errors.  Or the timing is just slightly off and doesn't feel right. 

The second night slump is not a force of nature, and it is not a jinx.  It is something actors do to themselves.  We are also free not to do it. 

What if nobody brought it up in the first place?  What if we just warmed up and got ourselves ready like it was opening night again?  Understandably, it's hard to feel opening night excitement after several weeks, but on the second night?  Come now. 

This is one reason I tend to vanish before a show. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Update from Too Busy

When you tend to have a lot of projects, you have months where several deadlines arrive in close succession.  Or all at once.  This month has been like that. 

Among the Dust of Thieves premiered in Mesilla, and has had such a good run at the Cineport 10 that I hear they are extending the run for another few days. Meanwhile, over at the No Strings Theatre (which has sort of become my artistic home), we are about to open a show that has been a bumpy process to say the least. 

Around the same time, I delivered the first installment of a monthly column for the Deming Headlight.   The Headlight also splashed my mug on the front page for a profile about me and the movie

The Fantasticks opens tomorrow night in Las Cruces.  The show began rehearsal in October.  I did not audition for the show initially, but was asked to come in after an actor they were hoping to cast declined.  An actor injured his foot and had to drop out.  The music director quit. Musicians were busy and scarce.  There were long breaks in rehearsal due to holidays.  We have also had a pretty tough flu season and there have been many illnesses in the cast.  (A norovirus got me in December and made me useless for three days.)  My wife intially agreed to help coach our singing, but ultimately became one of two accompanists for the shows as well.  This has added a long commute (with our young boys) to her schedule.  It's been exhausting.  Moreover, despite working on this show since October, we are barely ready to open.  Getting there, certainly; but still working out some kinks in the music.

A new semester begins today at New Mexico State University, where I am a visiting professor this year.  Tomorrow morning, I resume my acting classes for non-theatre majors (mostly film students), this time in the brand new performing arts center on the corner of University and Espina.  Part of my job is running a children's theatre workshop, and I am working on a script for their public show this spring.  At the same time, I am considering options for employment after May, when my assignment here ends. 

And then there's the performing arts camp in Deming this summer.

And possibly directing a show in Las Cruces. 

And we haven't even mentioned Deming Zen Center yet.  Retreats, classes, weekly practice.  Painting the walls. 

It's a lot, it's all important, and usually it's okay. 

It just gets tricky when everything happens at once. 

On that note, I'm supposed to be somewhere right now...

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Night in Mesilla

Right off the historic plaza in Old Mesilla, at the oldest standing theatre in the state of New Mexico, Among the Dust of Thieves had its premiere screening last night. 

There were three showings, actually, to accommodate the large number of descendants of the film's subject, Colonel Albert Fountain.  His great, great-great-, and great-great-great grandchildren packed the small theatre.  There were also a couple of state officials, former governor Garrey Carruthers, and several people from the Las Cruces film and theatre scene.  An interesting mix-up of personalities.

The theatre bears Fountain's name, built in 1905 by one of his sons on the site of an old Confederate barracks.  (Mesilla was briefly the the capital of Confederate Arizona during the Civil War.) 

It was a night of history and storytelling.  The film itself dramatizes the last few days of Colonel Albert Fountain's life in 1896, when he disappeared in a case that remains unsolved today; and the days immediately following his apparent murder, as an unsuccessful investigation begins.  The film strongly implies that the culprit was rancher and politician Oliver Lee, someone Fountain had prosecuted during the local range wars when there was land fraud and cattle rustling going on.  It seemed to be the prevailing theory among our audience last night.  When Chris Norden, the actor who portrayed Lee in the film, was called to the stage along with the rest of the cast, the audience hissed and booed him.  (Norden, who usually gets cast as nice guys, seemed to enjoy that.) 

The film turned out very well.  It was a very proud evening for the filmmakers and those of us who got to perform in it.  Photography took place in the fall and winter of 2011 with some additional filming and sound work in 2012.  (In an earlier post, available here, we shared some stories from the filming up in Santa Fe county.)  

Running about 45 minutes, it will play several times a day at the Mesilla Valley Mall's cinema for a week (today through the 17th), and it is available on DVD.  (Order yours here!)

A lovely evening.  Today, back to work: a new semester at NMSU is getting underway while the theatre department moves into its new building, and The Fantasticks opens next week at the Black Box Theatre in downtown Las Cruces.  

[Image: Me, Chris Norden, and my wife at the premiere party last night]

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Glyphs from the desert

One of the first things I did after we unpacked our U-Haul truck here in Deming, back in 2008, was buy a copy of the local newspaper, the Deming Headlight.

In these subsequent years, I've contributed occasional letters, op-eds, and photographs.  As a reader, I have particularly enjoyed the weekly column by Win Mott, the Anglican bishop for our area, entitled "Desert Sage."  Win writes about social and political matters in a humanitarian spirit, sometimes making reference to Christian scripture, sometimes not.  As I was introducing a zen center to this community, Win was a welcoming neighbor, allowing us to hold our early retreats at his church. 

On New Year's Day, Win called me from his home in Columbus, asking me to be a pinch-hitter once a month.  In other words, I will now be sharing the "Desert Sage" column with him, contributing a column for the second Thursday of each month.  This begins next week.

It is a new benchmark in my long career of writing for no pay.  It will be a good exercise, however.  The Headlight's readership is a very different audience than the one for this blog.  The material will be original although inevitably I will address similar topics and themes.

[Image: Spring Canyon on Christmas day]

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Mystery of the Fountain Murders

The Las Cruces Sun News has a story in today's edition about the film, and the real-life mystery behind the disappearance of Colonel Albert Fountain in 1896. 

The film premieres on January 10, and will play at the Cineport 10 at the Mesilla Valley mall in Las Cruces until January 17.  See here for showtimes.  

Black Ice

Snow arrived in our area of New Mexico this week, creating very bad road conditions.  By mid-day on Thursday, more than twenty collisions had been logged on the east side of Las Cruces, and the road closures began.  My rehearsal was canceled and I decided to head home.

For most of the sixty-mile drive back to Deming, the I-10 wasn't bad.  Most of us motorists were hanging back on the speed and the lane changes.  The car had traction.  Visibility wasn't bad.  One or two eighteen-wheelers were perhaps a bit overconfident.  Otherwise, it felt fairly safe.

Until it wasn't.  Suddenly, chaos.

About 15 miles east of Deming, I saw the flashing lights of a rescue vehicle, and noticed police cars on the right side of the freeway; and then, immediately, I lost control of the car.

My car was floating.  Having been in skids before (growing up driving in New England winters), I left the brake alone and attempted to steer into the skid lightly.  But I was already overbalanced and there was no grip at all.  The car began to spin.  180 degrees -- hello drivers behind me!  -- and kept going.  275 degrees, facing north, and sliding sliding sliding sliding backwards and sideways off the freeway.

Time elongated, as it does, and I considered the immediate dangers.  Nobody was close enough to me to collide with me, so now the question was whether the car would roll.  Probably not, I figured; not going fast enough.  Snow flew around the car, glowing in the headlights, and pretty quickly the car came to a stop and stalled out, dashboard lit up with distressed warning lights.

Cool.  Next danger: another car sliding off and barreling into me.  I looked up in anticipation of a 3,000 pound S.U.V. skidding towards me.  Nothing quite that dire, but I looked around and beheld a situation that was completely out of control.  Easily half a dozen cars and pickups wiped out on the westbound side alone, even more eastbound.  There were tow trucks and police cruisers and ambulances, but even as these people were working the accident scene, more motorists were arriving at the black ice and skidding out, so people were pretty much ducking more vehicles spinning and skidding out.  Complete madness in the dark.  The closest thing I've ever witnessed to a war zone.


Stay put or go?  Didn't really have a safe option.  Would the car even move?  The engine started back up.  Had some trouble getting traction, almost gave up.  Usually, the safest thing in this situation would be to sit inside the car with the flashers on and wait for rescue.  But with vehicles wiping out everywhere I looked, um, no. At the very least, I wanted to pull off to the right of the freeway.  Another vehicle plunged into the snow nearby.  Nah, I didn't like it here.

The car found traction, there was a large gap in traffic, and I was able to cautiously get back on and move safely to the right hand lane, traveling in low gear, hazard lights on, and that's how I crawled the rest of the way to Deming.  In the rear view I saw a dark pickup truck that had gone off the right side of the freeway get back on and immediately spin out again, this time going off on the left hand side in a spray of snow. 

All things considered, it was a good night to be indoors with hot chocolate. But how safe and predictable is that situation, even?  We can manage risk and navigate life as best we can but that black ice can come on without warning.  Be careful. 

[Image: My car on Friday morning, resting after our latest adventure. This car has been through a lot in ten years.]