Monday, June 10, 2013

A Life In The Theater, redux

After watching the Tony's last night, I decided to look back at my life in the theater. And it has been a LIFETIME. I've been a part of local and regional theater groups for over twenty years, which means I have been a theater geek longer than I haven't been a theater geek.

So the best way to look back at my life is to look back at my writings about or from that time. Thankfully I wrote a small handful of blog posts about my time working in the theater. I decided to take one of my old pieces and add to it with some more current thoughts as well as fix some of the pretentious writing.

I've worked in the theater for over twenty years. And by "worked" I don't mean "get paid to perform duties." I've never gotten paid to do what I've done. At least not in money.

It all started because of a girl. That's the way it always works with me, it seems. A girl I had a crush on asked me to come to Drama Club during my freshman year of high school and from that day on I was hooked. I loved everything about theater. The prop room, the light booth, the backstage area. I also loved the history of it all. I would go to rehearsal early and look at all the old photographs of casts past and wonder if any of them became part of Drama Club because of a girl. I would check out the set pieces from old shows and imagine moving them on and off the stage. Then I would stare at the backstage wall. It was a wall just outside the tech room that had different colored hand prints and painted messages and signatures from everyone who had ever been a part of the theater at my school. It was like an unburied time capsule. By the end of my first show my hand print was up on that wall in dark green with a simple "chaz, 1992." written below it in chicken scratch.

My first job in Drama Club was to help with lights. It was mostly just flipping switches when the vocal cue came. It was an easy job as long as I paid attention. STRIKE THAT. My very first job with the Drama Club was untangling all the light cords. It took my friend and me over eight hours to untangle about thirty miles of dusty, dirty, grimy orange light cords. It was quite a bonding experience. She and I became great friends after that. We're still great friends all due to those damned cords. And to this day, I always wind up any cords I use very neatly so that they don't get tangled.

I worked my way up the ranks in Drama Club. I helped build and paint set pieces. I ran the spot light. I moved set pieces on and off stage. I controlled the flies. This last job was my favorite. The flies are the different banners or set pieces or small curtains that "fly" in and out from above the stage. These are all controlled by a set of ropes off stage.
I (literally) opened and closed the curtain on musicals, plays, one-act plays, pieces of Shakespeare, and so many other theatre pieces.

I didn't just work in my high school theater productions. I also helped out with a summer theater group that was started by my old band director. It was in collaboration with Niagara University, which is a huge theater school here in Western New York. I was sixteen years old and hanging out with college kids (they seemed so old!) who knew so much more than me about building sets and tuning the lights and running the flies. I learned so much about theater and drinking and college life. I hung out with them in their apartments and on campus and it was just such a great time.

Looking back I can't believe these people in their early twenties wanted to hang out with a little kid like me. But I remembered that time. I remembered all the things they taught me and all the beers they snuck me and the times we had. And when I was in my early twenties, I paid it forward. Every chance I got I tried to teach a thing or two to the kids working with me or for me on the stage crews I worked on.

Now I'm in my mid-thirties. I'm still helping out with that summer theater group. (CLICK HERE on more on this strike out) I feel so honored to be a part of that "little" theater group. When I think back on that first production of Lil' Abner, I miss how great it was... And the final performance (Hairspray) was so far from what Lil' Abner was. But at the same time, it we didn't grow so large that we forgot where we came from. We grew so much in the eighteen years we were putting shows on. And I use "we" because I really feel as though I had a lot to do with what was put on in all of the theaters we called home. So many of us literally grew up in the theater.

In the second to last production (RENT), I was mentioned (without my knowledge) in the program as the Assistant Technical Director. I built sets and I had a hand in how things should look and what we should do to make them look that way. I had a few high school kids working under me painting and drilling and cutting wood when needed. I didn't think I would ever get my name in the program for that. I never thought, "oh yeah, this is the year I'll see my name in the program." It honestly never crossed my mind. Working behind the scenes all these years in the theater, you don't ever imagine your name will be mentioned in the program. It's enough to just see your sets built and your lights tuned just perfectly.

The final year I worked as Prop Master. It may not seem like a huge thing to someone who has never worked in the theater, but to me it was. The previous Prop Master didn't do a great job (from the whispers I overheard backstage) so I had to do it well. It's a lot more work and more responsibility. And it's also one step closer to being the director's assistant. In order to do a great job, I did research online and at the library. I was pretty psyched about this gig. I knew I would never be the director with this theater group, but I wanted to learn as much as I could from as many people as I could.

I had no idea how I was going continue to work in local and regional theater once this group dissolved. But unbeknownst to me, people actually had heard of me. Maybe these other theater groups talked to my former band director/producer or to the stage managers I worked under looking for someone to fill a position. Or maybe they just knew I was that chaz who worked on so-and-so production. Who knows. Who cares. I was back in the theater! I ran lights on Guys and Dolls. I was assistant Stage Manager/Light Technician on Joesph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. I helped cast Seussical the Musical.

But then life gets in the way. This is always my curse. I have bills to pay. I have to work for a living. GOD I WISH LOCAL THEATER PAID.
If I was smart back when I was graduating from high school, I would have just gone to college for theater, but then again I always did take the long way around to get to where I wanted to go. I am slowly getting back to my roots and back into the theater. This summer and fall I plan on assisting a Stage Manager on a production. And maybe things will open up from there. Maybe I can find some paying gigs. Maybe I could actually do something with all this knowledge and passion I have for the theater?

Monday, June 3, 2013


I think I should start blogging again.

I'm not exactly sure why I stopped in the first place.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Best Man Toast

               Finally I have a sister! I have been waiting for this for over thirty years. For those of you who don’t know, Tim was supposed to be a girl. I was told I was going to have a sister. Corrie Lynn. I was promised. My mom and dad told me he was going to be a girl. And then Mom and Dad came home with… this. Total let-down.

               We hated each other. We fought constantly. I used to get him in trouble all the time. My dad doesn’t like when you draw on the windows when they get fogged up, so when we were little I used to reach over when Tim was asleep and write his name on his window. He would wake up from his nap totally confused about why he was getting yelled at. When we would go on road trips to Pennsylvania, or Florida or Myrtle Beach, my parents used to stack pillows and luggage between us in the backseat to create a barrier. I used to have scratches all over my arms and legs because he used to grow his nails out so he could use them as weapons. If I had a sister, none of these things would have happened.

               But then I went away to school and we didn’t fight any more. Well not physical fights. Instead we would debate politics and religion and whether or not soccer was an actual sport. We’re best friends.

               And as his best friend, I warned him about getting married. Why would he want to get married? Tim was always a ladies man. I told him a wife would crowd him and hang on him and make him care about things he didn’t really want to care about. She’d hurt him too much. She’d sit in his chair. She’d ruin his sleep. She’d need him too much. She’d put him through hell. He’d have to let her in to his inner most secrets. He’d have to spare her feelings. Like it or not, she’d want him to share. Everything. And she’ll probably talk through the Yankees games.

               Most of you know Tim used to play drums on cruise ships. He traveled all over the globe surrounded by beautiful dancers and singers. He’s seen the world. And yet, for some reason, he came back HERE. He went back to school. He literally traveled ALL OVER THE WORLD and found Donna right here. Or maybe she found him. After MANY horrible choices, he eventually met the right girl. A girl who hangs all over him. A girl who sits in his chair. Who ruins his sleep. Who crowds him and who talks his ear off. But she also supports him. She makes him whole.

               SHE’s your best friend now, Tim. She’s not your maid or your cook. She’s your equal. So treat her right. Treat her good.

               And Donna, Tim lived a LONG time with his Mommy, so it may take a while for him to learn that it’s not okay to just leave his dirty clothes on the kitchen floor. Don’t be afraid to just smack him in the back of the head sometimes!

               So let’s toast the nuptial couple. But most importantly, let’s toast the fact that I finally have the sister I was promised 30-some years ago!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Theater Reflection

I should have written this post a week ago when I finished my last production, but life got in the way. The show wrapped on a Sunday and then I had my final week of classes, which included an exam and a take home test. Then I had my first weekend in a while where I had nothing to do, so that's exactly what I did.


So now here I am reflecting on my last theater production. I started the spring thinking I wasn't going to work on a show. I didn't have any plans on doing any theater related work, and I really needed to find a part-time job, so I concentrated on that. A week later I received a string of rejection emails from prospective employers. But in the midst of rejection and depression was a shining light: The producer and president of a local theater group that I have never worked with sent me a message asking if I was available to run the lights on their up-coming show, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." I jumped at the chance.

The production company that I had worked with for almost twenty years put on their final show last summer, and the group I worked with in the fall was on hiatus, so this was exactly what I needed. It was also a welcome distraction from the fact that from all of the applications I sent out for customer service representative, cashier, and teacher, not one felt I was a good fit for their company. But here was a guy who had heard about what I had done on the shows I've worked on and he wanted me to be a part of his team!

So the following week I drove out to Stella Niagara and he walked me around the theater. It was an old theater in an even older Catholic school built on the lower Niagara River. It had character. It had history. It had bats. Lucky for me the bats were hiding or hibernating, so I could just concentrate on working on the show. And other than a few new-show hiccups, everything went well. It was strange for me to be up in the light booth instead of back stage.

I have always been back stage during the shows I worked on since I usually was moving or flying set pieces in and out, or I was assisting the Stage Manager or making sure the props were where they needed to be and in the hands of who needed them. But this time I was up in the balcony lighting the stage. This time I didn't have a direct connection to the cast. This time I felt more like part of the production team. And that was nice. Although I love hanging out with the actors, it made more sense for me to be with the crew. After each show, I was invited to go for food and drinks with the producer and some of the board members. One night the director of the next show, "Seussical the Musical," was there and started picking my brain about the shows I've worked on and if I knew so-and-so and by the end of the night I had agreed to Stage Manage his show in September. He liked the fact that I have worked on so many shows with many of the actors that will probably audition for his show.

My first duty as Stage Manager was to let him know which actors were difficult to work with. "I can't deal with divas, chaz. You have to let me know who's easy to work with and who's a pain in the arse."

Most of these late-night get togethers were attended only by board members and crew, except for Dominic. Dominic had been doing theater since he was old enough to walk and talk but was still too young to hang out with the rest of the cast, yet too old to go straight home after the shows. So he hung out with us. He reminds me a lot of a younger version of me. When I first started working in theater, I was a freshman in high school, but the group I worked with had a lot of college kids from Niagara University. I used to hang out with them after the shows or on the weekends building sets, painting backdrops, and just having fun. I didn't like hanging out with kids my age. I liked the older kids. And Dominic is the same way.

When the show finally ended, we had to strike the set almost immediately. I have never seen so many cast members take part in strike! It was pretty awesome. It made breaking the set down and wrapping up the lights and what-not so much easier. I guess the cast feels just as invested in breaking the stage down as they do in putting on the show, and that's great. Like I said, I've never seen anything like it. I'm sure it also helps their chances of getting in the next show if people remember that they also participate in strike after closing.

So now I have another theater gig under my belt. It feels good to work on shows and be a part of something like that. I'm looking forward to working on my next show. Stage Managing a large show like "Seussical" should be a lot of work. And interesting. And fun.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Just A Little Freak

As I was parking my car in my work parking lot this morning, my phone started ringing. My phone never rings. People don't usually call me. Not unless someone died or there's an emergency. And even then, why would anyone call me if they had an emergency? I'm no one's first call. Call 9-1-1, or your mom. What am I going to do in the case of an emergency?

Probably blog about it, chaz.

This is true.

So I answer my phone because I see it is my cousin, Jan. She's one of my closest cousins. She, like most mothers of three, usually has her hands full but never complains about it. She's an awesome mom, unlike some of my other cousins who just let their children do whatever they want, even if it means playing in traffic or committing a crime. Jan asks if I'm busy, if I have time to talk, etc. Then she hits me with the lead-in:

"You were basically a freak when you were a teenager, right?"

"Um... yeah? What do you mean?"

"You died your hair crazy colors and painted your nails and did other, um... untraditional things, right?"

"Oh yeah. Of course. Why do you ask?"

So she goes into the fact that her oldest child, a freshman in high school, wants to paint his fingernails black. He's deep into Anime and metal music and comic books. He doesn't try very hard in school. His hair is in his eyes. Basically, he's a typical teenager. He's not a jock. The only running around he does is in the video games he plays. The friends he's gotten close with since getting to high school are very similar to him: Artistic, emotional, ghosts. The only time anyone notices his friends and him is when they're doing something wrong. They keep to themselves.

And Jan is fine with that. She tells her son to invite his friends over to the house. She makes them dinner. She stays out of their way, but still keeps an eye on them. She knows his friends have had a rough life. She knows her son has had a rough life. But that's no reason to not have a decent meal or to hang out some where other than under the overpass. Her son reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age. Which is probably the reason she called me.

She had a huge fight with him last night about the black nail polish. She refused it. He threw stuff (probably). Or he shut down (more likely). He ignored her the rest of the day. He didn't talk to her the next morning. He went to school without saying one word to anyone in his house. So she called her mom, who really wasn't any help because she spoils her grandkids. Then she called me.

"What should I do?"

I was hesitant to give her advice for a couple reasons: (a) I feel for this kid. I understand where he is in life. (b) I am not a parent and I don't know what it feels like to have children. But she asked for my advice, so I gave it.

He's a kid. Let him be a kid. This phase will wear off after a while and he'll want to do something else. Hopefully it's something equally harmless. She doesn't like it. She's afraid kids are going to make fun of him or tease him more than they possibly already do. She's afraid he's "going down the wrong path." She's afraid she's losing him. But she's not losing him. At least he's still under her roof. He hasn't tried to run away or anything. Deep down he's a great kid, but he's 14 years old. He's all messed up inside. He doesn't know who he is. He's not a kid anymore, but he's not an adult yet either. He thinks the entire world is against him. He thinks everything is about him. He thinks everyone is looking at him and talking about him.

In other words, he's a typical teenager.

Her compromise was that he could paint his nails on the weekends. But he had to buy his own nail polish and his own cotton balls and his own polish remover. The only restrictions were that he couldn't wear it to school or to a family function. I know she's afraid her son will embarrass her. Some people see someone with nail polish on and they assume they are either a girl or want to be a girl. Especially my close-minded family. They'd start asking her when her son turned into a "fag." I'm sure my mom had to deal with equally bigoted and short-sighted comments about me. But if Jan tells her son that the black fingernails would embarrass her, it'll just add fuel to the fire.

I told her to tell him if he wanted to paint his nails he had to wear a suit and tie instead his usual clothes. That was a joke, but really, if he's committed to the black fingernails, a suit and tie shouldn't get in his way. But then maybe he and his buddies would all start wearing suits and black nail polish and they'd look like Green Day.

And no one wants that.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Every time I think I'm doing better, I get kicked back down.

I went to bed miserable and I woke up in a worse mood. It just seems like nothing is going my way. I feel like I'm in a hole I can't get out.

I hate using this blog as a place to vent and complain, but if I can't do it here, where can I do it? No one wants to listen to my problems. No one wants to hear me whine and complain. So I just write it down, hoping it will help me a bit. But it doesn't. Not really. Because no matter how much I type and complain and vent, my problems are still there. I am still poor. I am still at a job with no support from my supervisors. Whatsoever. My students and coworkers take advantage of my kindness.

I. Am. Miserable.

And everything I see makes me think about the fact that I am somewhere I don't want to be. I want to be saving money. I want to be taking paid vacations. I want to have a job where people give a crap about what I do and how I do it. I want to be valued. I want to be happy. I want to be happy.

I'd also love to live on or near a beach, but I know that is asking a bit much.

Actually just the saving money bit would be great.

Do I apply for jobs that I don't want to do but need to do? Jobs that will pay the bills but aren't teaching gigs? Do I work on the line or in an office? Would I be happier if I was making and saving money but working at a job I disliked?

Following my dreams doesn't pay the bills.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I Hate Andie MacDowell

I want to throw a brick at my television every time I see Andie MacDowell's face. I hate her. But I love my TV, so I keep my bricks for when I finally get a chance to see her in real life.

Why do you have Ms. MacDowell so much, chaz? She's never done anything to you!

No she hasn't, but that doesn't mean I don't have reasons to hate her. Just writing about her makes me want to punch something. She's so friggin' annoying. And she's a terrible actor. Have you seen her in "Hudson Hawk" or "Groundhog Day" or "Michael"? OH. MY. GOD. It's like she's searching for the right emotion the entire time or talking to a little child. Why would anyone cast her in a speaking role? And "Green Card"? UGH. Put her together with GĂ©rard Depardieu and that's just recipe for disaster. But the true reason I hate Andie MacDowell is because of the role she played in "St. Elmo's Fire."


And for that I will never forgive her. Ever.

Emilio's character, Kirby, is in love with her character Dale. He is infatuated by her. She is his everything. She agrees to go to dinner with him and he even gets to the restaurant early to make sure everything is perfect for the date. But she gets called away to the hospital she works at. Sure she was. I bet that was just an excuse. A few days later he follows her IN THE RAIN to a party and professes his love to her. She could have easily shot him down at that point, but she doesn't. Or she doesn't do a very good job of it. She just makes him believe that if he makes more money she'll go out with him. Kirby throws a party at his new boss's house to impress Dale but she vanishes almost as soon as she gets there. When he finally tracks her down her boyfriend answers the door. HER BOYFRIEND. She had a boyfriend this whole time?? And she didn't feel the need to mention this to poor ol' Kirby? What. A. Bitch.

So you can understand my frustration now, right? She's evil. Just look at her:

My skin just crawls looking at her. Eww.