Friday, November 27, 2009

The Thanksgiving Parade

I think that we can all agree that a necessary component of Thanksgiving is the turkey. Beyond that, many people associate Thanksgiving with a gathering at a certain place or watching football. Or both. For me, Thanksgiving is defined by The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ever since childhood, I have always gotten up early to watch The Parade on television. Throughout the years I have been in any number of places on Thanksgiving. This year I was at the Comfort Inn in Philadelphia in the middle of rehearsals for the national tour of Babes in Toyland. Luckily, rehearsal started later on Thanksgiving so that we could see The Parade.

One year I took things to the next level by actually being in The Parade. To ensure my spot I worked at Macy's Herald Square for two months. Once I was an employee, I could not only sign up to be a Macy's Giant Balloon Handler, I could sponsor others. A friend from Minnesota and his brother joined me on the crew for Harold the Fireman, a little known Macy's character who never gets much television airtime. On Thanksgiving morning, we reported to the New Yorker Hotel at 5am. Imagine a hotel lobby with wall to wall clowns and fully costumed cartoon characters and you have the New Yorker on Thanksgiving morning. We met our very chipper balloon captain, who helped us find our jumpsuits and reviewed the hand signals that she would use to communicate with us while Harold was in the air. On the bus trip up to the parade starting point, we watched a safety video about balloon handling. Upon arrival, we a met the rest of our crew, including a man who thought it was a good idea to wear a turkey hat instead of the stocking cap that matched Harold. Marching bands were lined up in Central Park, balloons were lined up around the museum, and floats were lined up on the street. In an amazing feat of organization and timing, each component of the parade got to the starting line in the right order, just as a booming voice would say, in our case, "Harold the Fireman, please join The Parade!" From there it was miles of waving at people and managing Harold in the crosswind. The man with the turkey hat did not find it important to actually pay attention to Harold, allowing slack in his rope and all kinds of problems for the rest of us. We did our best, but every few blocks there was a side street without spectators so that we could land Harold early if he got out of control. Harold behaved, despite the man in the turkey hat, and we made it down Broadway, right up to the epicenter of The Parade, the NBC platform in front of Macy's. Two blocks before Macy's was a "quiet zone", where we couldn't make any noises that might be picked up by NBC microphones. Once we approached Matt and Meredith, we had to rush along to keep up with the script and the pace of the show. Safely past that zone, we went around the corner and landed Harold. There were only two landing stations so we had to quickly reel him in back to street level, lay into him to force the helium out, and load him into a truck, ready to be stored in New Jersey until next year's Parade.

I was a balloon handler again the next year, but then retired my balloon handling skills, although I keep it on my resume as a "Special Skill".

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Christmas Show

There were many reasons for becoming an Urban Nomad, one of which was that I was spending more time out of New York City than in it as I was performing at regional theaters. I always returned between shows, partly because that is where my friends and connections are, and partly because that is where most of the auditions are. The trick is to have a place to be in New York when you need it without it becoming a liability when you need to be away for months at a time. When I gave up my apartment in August, I had already started auditioning for Christmas shows throughout the United States, fairly certain that I would get one as I did the past two years. That meant that I would only be a nomad in New York City for a couple months before moving to a regional theater. But by mid-October it was obvious that I wouldn't get a Christmas show, at least not on the traditional time line. I reluctantly gave up on the idea of a Christmas show and started to make a plan to stay in New York until January. Just about that time, a friend needed someone to take over a room in her apartment. Her roommate had been cast in the Las Vegas company of the musical Jersey Boys and would be gone for a year. It was a beautiful room and the timing worked out perfectly, so I agreed to move in. The very day I was to move, I got a call for a Christmas show. I was offered the part of Widow Piper in a national tour of Babes in Toyland. Just when I gave up on the idea of a Christmas show and made other plans, I got a Christmas show. All I wanted for Christmas was . . . a Christmas show. That's exactly what I got.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Economics of Diet Coke

I am a fairly healthy eater, but I drink Diet Coke. Almost every day, I stop at a news stand in New York City to buy a 20 ounce bottle of Diet Coke. The owner of the news stand near my old apartment in Union Square considered me one of his best customers. When he told me the price was going up from $1.50 to $1.75 he said that I am such a good customer that I can have the special price of $1.50 for the rest of my life. This could be an amazing deal in, say, 40 years, but no doubt he figured into that pricing structure that if I drink Diet Coke heavily for the rest of my life, my life will be somewhat shorter than if I turn to healthier drinks.

So here I was, thinking $1.50 was a deal, especially since it was already $2.00 in tourist areas such as Times Square. However, over the course of ten weeks as an Urban Nomad, I bought 20 ounce bottles of Diet Coke in Chelsea, Park Slope, Washington Heights, the Upper West Side, Astoria, and Sunnyside. As it turns out, Diet Coke is even cheaper in the outer reaches of the city. Suddenly, $1.50 was not a deal. It's $1.25 in some areas! Before long, I was horrified at the thought of paying $1.50 for a Diet Coke. I was stocking up when I was in Washington Heights and carrying them with me to Midtown. All this over a quarter or two! It's a mini lesson in economics, a story of supply and demand. Sadly, I've become an expert on the cost of Diet Coke but I don't even know the value of my stocks. Better go check on that. But not until after I start on another bottle of Diet Coke.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Creative Inspiration

It has been over a month since I updated the blog. It's not like I didn't have ideas, I just didn't formulate them into a blog entry. I waited for the perfect combination of inspiration, creativity and time to craft the perfect entry. As the weeks went by, that perfect combination became more elusive. Suddenly, a month has passed.

It is time to develop a creative discipline. Twyla Tharpe, one of the greatest living choreographers, wrote an entire book called "The Creative Habit." Her premise is that "The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightening bolt of inspiration, maybe more." This would explain why three of my Facebook friends are participating in something called National Novel Writing Month, in which they set goals of word counts to be written each day, with the intention of having a novel written by the end of the month. At that pace, one cannot wait for the optimal set of circumstances. One must just write. Alot.

So what do I do when I don't think I have that creative spark? How do I fix it? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love", asserts that perhaps it is not for us to fix. ( The ancient Greeks and Romans did not think of an individual person as creative, but rather a person was capturing the creativity of the gods, and was just a vessel to express it. It wasn't until the Renaissance that we began to believe that the individual carried around his or her creativity. Thus, if there is no creativity, it seems to be the "fault" of that person, and something that person must fix. By taking a Greek view instead of a Rennaissance view we take a bit of pressure off of the individual person. All we have to do is show up and do our best, and let the creative genius visit us.

And so I will show up, and do my best, and be creative. Thanks for joining me in that process.
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