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Viewing Blog: Where is Walter This Week?, Most Recent at Top
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Journey with author, storyteller, librarian, father, and all-around giant person Walter Mayes as he makes his way through a world built to a much smaller scale than he would like.
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1. Coleen's funeral

I put up a bunch of photos in a public album on Facebook. It was an event not to be missed. We sent the old broad off right and proper and had two incredible meals to boot, just the way Coleen would have wanted.

My photo album is here:

Deb Wiles' blog has a lovely account of our adventures here:

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2. OK--I'm back

Maybe I'll post more often, but at least the embargo is ended and I can talk about books or whatever I want again. Speaking of books, I haven't read anything in a couple of weeks, and its been heavenly! I have been concentrating on clawing my way back onto the stage. I auditioned for the 2008 season at Theatreworks, a really good local company, and am planning on several more in the weeks to come.

I am called back for production of Man of La Mancha in Saratoga this weekend. Though I went to their general auditions last summer and put down "The Governor" as my objective, they have called me back for Don Quixote. I want to do theatre because I need the outlet for self-expression, sure, but more than anything to create a sense of community I feel I've been without long enough. Not that I don't want to work in the major companies around the Bay, but I'll do community theatre, if that's what it takes. And if this company wants to consider me for a part I'd never cast myself in, well, I can't turn them down just yet.

Men are at such a premium here, and men who have big voices and know how to use them are so rare at the level of the Saratoga Drama Group (I know...I know...and it looks like Patio Playhouse, too) that they practically fell over themselves rushing up to me after my audition. If they are gonna do La Mancha, they have to have someone sell "The Impossible Dream" to the old ladies. (They are foolishly going to do Ragtime in the fall, in a community where every show has to beat the bushes something fierce to find one black man--who knows, maybe I'll get to play Coalhouse Walker?) Chief among the rushers was a man who, if I get cast, will probably become a friend but who I now refer to as "the big queen." He was adamant that I take the Quixote callback seriously "because then I can play Sancho." Well, the big queen is very involved in the theatre scene here--he is an in-demand accompanist, a costume designer, and EVERYONE knows him.

At the Theatreworks audition today, I was feeling froggy so I jettisoned "If I Love You" (can't get from the "d" of "loved" to the "y" of "you" on a g-flat and piano, to boot--I need voice lessons) and decided to do the last half of "The Impossible Dream." More Brian Stokes Mitchell, less John Raitt. So I did, and I did it well. Leslie asks if I've done the role before and I said "no," and she remarked that she'd heard there was a 6' 8" Quixote at some theatre in the south bay recently. I smiled enigmatically.

Clearly, the big queen has been projecting his desires onto anyone who will listen, as he had been the audition accompanist for Theatreworks earlier in the week. Well, I hope he gets his wish. If I do get cast, I shall be desperate to make my size work for me and not get in the way.

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3. Dog Days and Looking Forward to the Fall

First night of SEUSSICAL auditions, only 13 people showed up. Not enough, but almost everyone who showed up was good. Second night is tonight and I hope another 20 show up. Such is life at Sunnyvale Community Players, who seem to be a day late and a dollar short on everything.

New library shelves are being built by my brother, the contractor, and he is well on his way to meeting my August 1 deadline. Then we move everything!

Anthony has gone tie crazy, a result of having a job at Ritz Camera and liking to look nice every day. He loves his job and sells a bunch of cameras. If anyone needs a camera, let me know.

Will be going to Las Vegas in August to celebrate my 50th with Hollie, and then up to Palomar Mountain to spend the weekend with the Chalet Gang (Leah, Lisa, ThomSean, Kernan, Hollie, Jimmy, and Karen). Anthony will photograph the weekend for us.

Reading lots and lots of first books for teens for the inaugural William Morris Award. Not loving many. I am also on the LA Times Book Award committee this year, along with Jonathan Hunt and Elizabeth Partridge. Anyone read anything this year that just screams "give me a prize?"

Got my seminar cities for my BER seminars. Here is where I'll be

OCT. 27 Syracuse, NY
OCT. 28 Binghamton, NY
OCT. 29 Newburgh, NY
OCT. 30 Albany, NY
OCT. 31 Providence, RI

I'll also be in Massachusetts twice--Martha's Vineyard Oct. 15 - 17, and Salem (to officiate Nancy Werlin's wedding) on Nov. 9. I'll be in San Antonio for NCTE and ALAN the weekend before Thanksgiving and will stay in Texas to make dinner for Sheldon and Jo out at the ranch.

If you'll be in any of these places, let me know!

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4. Allentown?

All Allentown means to me is a Billy Joel song from the 80s, but here I am, about to give a seminar to 35 teachers and librarians. Yesterday, in suburban Philadelphia, went really well--it was the kickoff of my new seminar, incorporating material from 2007 books and talking about my award committee process as much as I am allowed.

Had a lovely dinner with David and Joelle Lubar last night, who live not far from here and are folks I always want to see when I am traveling. Joelle is quite the cook and I was pampered with Knob Creek and wine braised short ribs! Yum.

My sister Mary turns 40 today, and I am having dinner with her and other family members tonight in Maryland, a short three hours away. In the meantime, I have my copy of the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote with me, reading a bit each night as I try to get the mad knight into my head. Playing Cervantes will be somewhat easier, as there is precious little known about him, and of what there is, Dale Wasserman seems to have incorporated it into his script. am antsy fo rehearsals to begin.

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5. Summertime

Well, back in town after a long Anaheim/LA/Yosemite trip, where I turned 50, saw my Printz committee's winners give their speeches, saw most of my librarian and publishing friends, hung out with my friend Susan and had a small gathering for my birthday, and oversaw a three-day wedding extravaganza at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite. Marjorie and Dorian were married without incident (in fact, it came out exactly the way they wanted, thank the lord, me, and an army of their friends and family) and are now on their way to Hawai'i. Hallelujah!

Now I am playing the Jury Duty game, getting ready to cut off the hair for summer, and doing prep work for SEUSSICAL which auditions in two weeks. Somewhere in here I am moving the library at school, but other than that, I am staying put until I head to Las Vegas with Hollie in August.

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6. Theatre & Travel--add food, and you have a deal!

I did not get the role in Carousel. I am not upset. I'll find something else soon. Remember, it's been more than twenty years since I have auditioned for anything...

Called back for Jigger, the villian of the piece, a sailor and a thoroughly unredeemable human being. Has two good solo numbers, two long acting scenes, a few short scenes, and, as I read the script, spends a goodly amount of time skulking in the background. Though I auditioned only for Billy Bigelow, the director reminded me I am too old for the role (I knew that, but I had to try) and asked me to consider taking another part.

My competition was one of the guys who is called back for Billy (a fine singer and actor), and another guy who has the look and feel of the role but seemed unsure in both his acting and singing. We sang, we read, we sang some more, we paced in the back of the theater while waiting to go on, we paced in the wings of the theater while we waited our turn. It was heaven! I got a lot of the director's attention in terms of direction--he was after me to prove to him that I could do the part his way, so I did my best at showing him I can take direction. He didn't cast me for lack of that--it just means that I am not his vision of the role.

I watched the Julies all sing "If I Loved You," then watched them sing it as a duet with all the Billys. There are three Julies: a Felicity Huffman lookalike who is also called back for Nettie; a chunky dark girl; and an "actress" with a superb professional air named Tielle (or T.L.)--all three can really sing the part, and they were put through the wringer. There were four Billys: Asian Billy, Black Billy, White Billy, and Hispanic/Hard to tell Billy. Three have pipes of steel and one has a lovely voice that is lacking in power. All four could act, with White Billy being the kind of actor who is really good at auditioning. When he and Tielle got together, it was magical--they fed off of each other and did lots of little actory audition techniques to build a relationship out of thin air. I loved watching it.

Then the Nettie's sang, and we had to hear "You'll Never Walk Alone" a bunch of times, which reminds everyone what a tear jerker this play is. They were all good, but one woman was perfect. It will be interesting to see the show in July. In the meantime, I need to brush up my directing resume--if I think I miss acting, the audition reminded me just how much I love sitting in the director's chair...

I have tickets to Grey Gardens tomorrow night!!!!! And there is still time to snare a matinee before taking the 6 pm train to Providence on Sunday. Life is good!

I'll be in Boston Thursday evening, April 5 and all day Friday, April 6. Anyone want to get together with me and Nancy Werlin?

I get to see Nancy twice on this trip (she's my theatre date for tomorrow); will see Katie and Jerry Davis and their two adorable children, the irrepressible Ruby and the soon to be Bar Mitzvah boy, Benny; will get out to Orient for the first time in a decade to see Greg & Michael; will hopefully see my Aunt Alethia when in New Hampshire; and will see Denise, Patrick, and Brody in Connecticut before ending this 15 day whirlwind trip through the northeast. The only person I can't seem to locate is Hudson.

Hudson, where are you?

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7. Father's Day Musings

Well, here it is, the first free weekend I've had in months, and I have booked reservations at restaurants I've been wanting to try, shaved off the dark Cervantes beard, and am looking forward to spending time with my son on Father's Day and then watching the Tony Awards. I will probably cut off my long Cervantes hair next month, but I can't get an appointment with Daryl until then and he's been doing my hair for so long that I don't let anyone else touch it. Beauty is such hard work and I must remember that I have a responsibility to my fans!

Man of La Mancha was surprising in many ways. I certainly did not expect it to turn out as well as it did, nor that I would be acclaimed for my performance in quite the manner I was. Sold out houses once the word spread (and the San Jose theatre community all came to check out who this new guy was), and roaring standing ovations every performance, even in a somewhat subdued manner at the Sunday matinees where the audience (swear to god) had a median age of 77--they bus them in from a senior center! Now, things have changed significantly in community theatre since my Patio Playhouse days (but the really important stuff was instantly recognizable--there is no taking the "little" out of little theatre), and one of the changes I hate is the mandate that the cast go immediately out into the lobby IN COSTUME and greet the audience--my high school drama teacher Jan Manos would have us shot! At first I refused, but was told that it would come across so badly if I was the only one missing that I really didn't have a choice. So I did it, and was grabbed and hugged and kvelled over by dozens of alter kakers who were so appreciative of my performance, and especially my voice (which has become something great in my prime due to the lack of a destructive lifestyle and voice lessons), prompting ridiculous comments like "I saw Richard Kiley in the original and you were better!" All I could do was as my grandmother trained me to do: smile and say "thank you." I know better than to trust any of it.

But in the face of so much praise from quarters where I could not adequately assess the authority behind the comments (and so little input from the director, who only told me I was terrific or wasn't in the light), I became hungry for the opinions of people I could trust and believe. I knew I was good, but I needed to know if I was doing what I thought I was doing and, most importantly, if I was serving the piece and not just serving myself--"schmacting" we called it at San Diego State. Thank god for my co-worker, Esther (who will be choreographing the production SEUSSICAL I am directing this summer), who saw the preview and was able to confirm what I was worried about: the blocking was middling to poor, some scenes lacked focus, the sound design was oppressive (they mike everything and everyone!), but the performances were strong for the most part, and I was indeed doing what I hoped. Still, she was able to give me some really good pointers that I was able to incorporate immediately and make things better.

Opening weekend was a kind of a dream! I've never worked harder in a play--it is a roller coaster of a ride for the lead, and the kind of demanding role that is second only to King Lear or Sweeney Todd in terms of the range it provides for the actor to play and the exhaustion it creates by the play's end. Now, remember, I've usually been the second banana or comic lead in shows: Bud Frump, Carl Magnus, Nicely-Nicely. I thought it impossible that I would be castable as the lead in a show due to size limitations alone. But as it started to sink in that, hell yes, I can play the lead, visions of all those Richard Kiley/John Raitt/John Cullum/Brian Stokes Mitchell roles began to dance like sugarplums in my head. Emile DeBecque, here I come! I am called back for a production of CHICAGO, not for Amos, but for Billy Flynn! Whodathunkit?

As for voices I trust, old theatre friends Leah, Lisa, Kernan, Susan, and Hollie came the second week, Thom/Sean the third,

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8. The Quest

Even though rehearsals have not started for Man of La Mancha, I have begun work on my part and the promotional machinery has started to kick into gear.

The Girls' Middle School (where I work) is going to buy a matinee performance on May 31st if we get enough interest. I created a video with Esther and made a googlepage where folks can view me singing. Go take a look and let me know if you want to come see the show. We open May 17.


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9. It is Done!

The show closed. We stuck the set (some noble folk worked until 2:30--I did not). We had a party. Life now goes on.

Thom/Sean was here last weekend and Sheldon is leaving this morning, having seen the show two nights ago (and worked mightily at strike), and being the old and true friends they are, they were able to tell me what they saw in the show that was problematic. Neither was kind to the staging of the show. Thom knows the show inside and out and had some interpretation (or lack of) concerns. Sheldon, who does not know the show and dislikes musicals anyway, had some basic blocking and stylistic concerns. Both told me things I knew in my heart but wasn't dealing with because there was precious little I could do about them.

However, what did come out of Thom's comments was a tighter focus on what Cervantes experience in the dungeon was like. As Anthony said, "Dad, there is no threat to you in that dungeon at all," so I brainstormed with Thom about ways to play the scenes even though I was not getting what I needed from the others onstage. Thom pointed out the ways that I could make the lack of directorial focus work for me instead of against me.

Sheldon caught me schmacting a couple of times, and I admit to it in spots. There was so much on my shoulders in this play that I did fall prey to giving the audience what they think they want instead of always serving the piece. Vocally, however, I never gave in--never oversold the songs, never went for the showy high note that would make everyone gasp. Vocally it was the best experience of my life--I have never sung better and rarely worked with singers of such high caliber.

I touched a lot of hearts--the audiences after the show were glowingly complimentary, and the comments I got from the close to 500 people I brought to the Saratoga Drama Group (many for the first time) were lovely. I am so happy to have had the chance to do this show, play this part, work with these people, and do good work. Who knows what future opportunities will be like?

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10. I am I, Don Quixote!

...and so the adventure begins.

I got the part. I was told by the director last night. He also told me who the rest of the cast was (those that were set), and he made the right choices based on what I saw. I think the cast will be very strong. The BQ (whose name is Michael, by the way, and is the costume designer and vocal director for the show) will be playing Sancho. He is almost as tall as me!

Called Thom/Sean immediately to get his take on things. Started reading the Grossman translation of DON QUIXOTE. Have a temperature of 102. (Yeah--the bug that is going around seems to have bit me) I have much to think about before I start rehearsals in April.

I will keep a journal of the process on this blog. But for now, the show opens May 17. Stay tuned.

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11. Facts are the Enemy of Truth!

Callbacks have been moved from between the matinees to 10 AM Saturday. Much better! I made no scene, did not raise my voice, merely voiced my concern (and was not alone), and the producers and director thought better of inconveniencing both a reception and a cast barbecue that day. Plus, I have my masseuse coming to give 15 minute massages to the cast that day!

Thom/Sean comes tomorrow and I am very excited. The GMS benefit matinee on Saturday is close to sold out! It is going to be a wild weekend.

On the family front, Anthony has a job as a salesman at Ritz Camera, so if anyone wants to buy and photographic equipment, let me know! He is thrilled and I am so glad that he can start working in a field he loves.

Have just so many things to do in the next ten days!

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12. Why So Quiet, Chum?

I grow weary of the noise in cyberspace and often have neither the interest in adding to it nor the time. I wish I cared more, but when I do, it begins to reek more of self-aggrandizement than a real need to communicate. Sure, I like to pontificate, but being on the Printz Committee this year has forced me to be silent regarding anything to do with books published in 2007, so I often have a lot to say, but choose not to.

Send me an email if you need to find out what I'm up to. I have jettisoned my old email address. Please update your files and send email to me at either

[email protected] (for personal stuff)


[email protected] (for work and publishing related things)

Maybe I'll have more to say in January, once my term on Printz is up.

BTW, Anthony is going to UC Santa Cruz in the fall. All is well.

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13. My Take on Man of La Mancha

It has been an immensely gratifying week, and I feel loved, appreciated, talented, and am possessed of goodwill to all.

I am tired, having done four shows and entertained many out of town guests this weekend, great friends who made the trek to a community theatre in Saratoga with love for me in their hearts but also wary as to what, exactly, I was about to inflict upon them. I mean, on paper, this could have been awful. We've all sat through shows for the sake of our friends, and, as Esther will tell you, when it is I who has had to endure bad theatre, I never mince words when asked for my opinion, even by the friend who was in the show. Friends who have known me longer know not to ask my opinion unless they are prepared to have me tell them exactly what I think.

The response to La Mancha has been extraordinary! This is a theatre group where the actors are asked to go into the lobby after the performance and thank the audience for attending (tacky, but like the pre-show announcement urging subscriptions for the upcoming season, a fact of life I'll just have to get over), and our overwhelmingly senior citizen audience (median age 75, I'll bet, particularly at the matinees) makes the most of it. One tries to clear the mind of all response save "Thank you for coming" and "I am so glad you enjoyed our show," in face of wave after wave of Shalimar and Evening in Paris-scented old ladies who, god love 'em, think I am the best thing since John Raitt and Pavarotti combined. My favorite line so far, repeated in various ways: "I saw the original with Richard Kiley and you were better!" Well, thank you, my dears, for even though there is no way I can take such praise seriously, what would live theatre be without you in the audience? And what are we to do as you all die off and the next generation seems uninterested in taking your place?

But the seniors are not the only attendees, and the comments from the less-aged members of our audience are no less effusive, though occasionally flabbergasting. "This is the first time I've ever liked this play" is a common one, as is "This is the first time I ever understood this play." One wonders what woebegotten productions they have seen in the past. I am of the opinion that the script for Man of La Mancha is right up there with GYPSY and 1776 as paragons of writing for the musical stage, but I also am aware of the flaws in the play as a whole. Still, I have seen high school productions and it was at least clear what the "message" of the playwright was.

My old theatre friends would not try to sugar coat their responses to me, so the fact that their praise for my performance ranged from impressed to overwhelmed touches me deeply. Thanks to them, I can now allow myself to be confident I am doing the best work of my life and that, my initial thoughts aside, Cervantes/Don Quixote is a role I was born to play. Who'd a thunk it? How I wish my grandmother were alive to see this! Or that I could somehow get my aunt on a plane to see me do this role. My mother, brother and partner, and son will come closing weekend, along with my close friend Sheldon, who is flying in from San Antonio to see it, spend the weekend with me, and help strike the set! And Thom/Sean comes next weekend, flying up for less than 24 hours before he opens a show of his own--now those are friends! I took a hotel room close to the theatre Friday night and had my friend Dave stay with me, and it was such a good idea I will be doing it for the next two weekends with Thom and then Sheldon, particularly next weekend, when I have four shows in 48 hours!

But the friends that came and saw the show offered me invaluable insight. The comments I got from my nearest and dearest really helped me put the whole show into perspective--much of what I feel is problematic about this production they confirmed, in addition to seeing and pointing out a few things I cannot see from onstage.

Leah was able to point out to me that my transitions from Cervantes to Quixote are no

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14. Upcoming Seminars and Travel

I continue to travel and do my seminars on THE BEST YA BOOKS OF THE DECADE, and will be in the following cities:

January 16 Harrisburg, PA
January 17 Cherry Hill, NJ
January 18 Newark, NJ

then I'll be in Seattle from 1/19 - 22, attending the American Library Association Meeting.

More seminars:

February 20 Raleigh, NC
February 21 Richmond, VA
February 22 Northern VA
March 2 Fayetteville, AR (returning to the scene of the accident--apparently BER did not want to reschedule Tulsa...)
March 26 Providence, RI
March 27 Hartford, CT
March 28 Newburgh, NY
March 29 White Plains, NY
March 30 Long Island, NY
April 2 Portland, ME
April 3 Portsmouth, NH
April 4 Manchester, NH
April 5 Boston, MA

For information on attending one of my seminars, go to www.ber.org

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15. It is Good!

Folks, many of you know that I am one of those people who has very strong opinions about things and that in areas of deep concern to me, mine is the only opinion that matters. This is problematic when one is acting, as you cannot see yourself or the show and must rely on the opinions of others to know if what you are doing is working.

I am ready to accept the opinions of others about Man of La Mancha, as the response we got was so overwhelmingly positive. Really, the show is good; the cast is good; I am good. It is worth seeing. It is worth seeing. I would not say this if it weren't true...

Opening Night was terrific. I had about 25 friends in the audience and the house was nearly full. There was a reception afterwards and the praise I got from friends and strangers was wonderful. I went back onstage to fill a couple of needs: the need for community; the need to work collaboratively; and the need to receive the kind of applause that can only come after such a performance.

The community part is the hardest for me--I am such an outsider and a misanthrope that I have always had a hard time breaking into a new group. I mean, they are all nice people, and I enjoy working with them, but there is an insular feeling that presses all kinds of insecurity buttons for me. This isn't Waiting for Guffman or anything (these people are talented), but there is that overwhelming community theatre feeling, with characters straight out of stock and situations that are universal to this kind of small town effort--I will post more fully about this later.

And the world moves in funny ways--the guy I have a huge crush on came up to me at the reception only to ask me about another guy he had seen me talking to, a guy, ironically, who I have been unrequitedly in love with for years!

Now, I'll be honest--there are still things about this production that are not up to my standards, but I am a very harsh critic. I will post later on my take on the show, but believe me--the good far outweighs the things in the show that I would do differently. Thanks to Esther seeing the preview and her insightful comments, I was able to adjust two things that had been bugging me and I believe they are now better.

Next week, some very good friends are attending, and it is then that I will find out how detracting some of the staging is and whether or not I am really doing what I think I am doing. These are people I have known for thirty five or so years; talented folk I have directed and with whom I have acted. They will not be unduly appreciative, as they will catch me if I am "schmacting" instead of acting. I am not worried, though, as I am doing the best work I have ever done and I want them (and you) to see it.

We run three more weeks, through June 7, and there are tickets available for every performance except the matinee on June 1. If you can come to the special benefit performance for the new library at The Girls' Middle School on May 31, all the better. If you need tickets, contact me.

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16. It is a process...

My biggest fears about singing are beginning to be realized. I've been taking voice lessons for the first time in nearly thirty years. When I was young, my voice teachers wanted to develop my big, natural voice and had me work on things like "Soliloquy" from CAROUSEL; lots of breathing technique and learning about opening up all those cavities in the head for maximum resonance.

Well, over the years, I've gotten quite good at big, strong, Broadway style baritone stuff; one of the biological benefits of being a man is a voice that improves into middle age if you don't wreck it. Years of being a professional storyteller have given me a strong command of my instrument and the ability to pull out of it what I want in short, controlled bursts. With proper amplification, I can be as soft or as loud as needed and have learned a bunch of performer's tricks about how to work around almost any obstacle.

But when I am not in the performance moment and am just singing, warming up, or practicing, I have a lot of trouble with softer volumes above an E-flat, even though I can comfortably blast all the way up to an A-flat. I often say, "I have no falsetto."

I chose my new teacher, Katie Guthorn (the voicestudio.org), because she is all about soft control and erasing the barrier between chest voice and head voice. Our sessions are full of nonsense syllables designed to open the vocal chords and keep the larynx down. Hard! And since I haven't had a day without phlegm since early February, very froggy.

Yesterday I had the kind of voice lesson where much of what I knew of myself was stripped away and I became convinced I cannot sing AT ALL. It is fortunate I know about this stage and am not despairing cause it sucks.

If I work hard, I'll be able to sing "Dulcinea" in a sweet, softer mix of chest and head voice. But now (and I have it on disk), it is a horror!

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17. More Progress

Well, things are moving along. Had some orchestra issues these last two nights, such as the guitar player who cannot seem to find his chords (and let's not even discuss the amplifier that makes him sound like a bad stratocaster), and so much of the score is the guitar that we have trouble finding our notes and holding to our rhythm. Still, as Michael (Sancho) is fond of saying, musicians have a much faster learning curve than actors, so it is more than likely that all issues will be solved by opening.

My makeup issues are almost all solved--we are doing the transformation to Quixote without the usual latex pieces, opting to color my own hair. As with every production that has come before me, I make broad strokes for the big transformation, then adjust every time I walk offstage. I don't know what I would do without Michael--he is fulfilling the role of servant onstage and off, and we have an effortless communication. Suffice it to say, I have never done a show where I did not obsessively check my props before each performance, but in this case, it would be a redundancy, as Michael is way more obsessive than I am and every prop I use comes from the trunk we bring onstage.

But, let me tell ya, I know these community theatres have to cast for voice over acting ability, but I can confidently say that our leads are acting the hell out of this play. Molly (Aldonza) and I keep finding new moments and more depth every time we do the play. Now all I need is some honest feedback about my performance.

Here are some pictures taken at our last dress rehearsal.

There is also a video clip up on Youtube:

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18. The internets are a series of tubes...

People keep finding me! I heard from Roxanna Lewis (nee Praterelli), my former next door neighbor last week, and from David Ritchie, a former paramour the week before. And though this blog administrator seems to have completely broken down--nothing seems to work except the posting aspect of the blog function: I can't attach pictures, add links, broadcast updates, and no one responds to requests for customer service. Oh well, if I can figure out how to move it all to another blog service, I will. In the meantime, I'll keep posting here.

Finished a terrific week on the road for BER and my new seminars were very well received in PA, MD, and VA. I spent the night with friends Valli & Spike in VA and am heading up to the sisters in Maryland today for a big family to-do. I'll fly home tomorrow morning and will get to have dinner with Denise Donato, who will be in town on business. But it's the Oscars tonight! Well, that's why there's Tivo!

Back to work Monday here I have to whip the Drama classes and my Drama Club into shape for some sort of performances next month.

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19. They Call it Hell Week

Tech Week is often referred to as "hell week" in theatre circles, but our show is not going to have one. Yes, our musical director has been called out of town by a family emergency, but an able substitute has arisen. She is laboring mightily to learn the score in less than a week and the orchestra seems to know the score so well that they play correctly even if given the wrong cue.

The lights are glorious. The set, though not yet with every detail in place, is lovely, dark, and has plenty of room (except for that damn table that, for reasons that defy my comprehension, never gets moved out of the way and has given all the blocking a lopsided feel to it). The costumes are drab, dark, with a very sedate feel--exactly right for this show.

It continues to get better. I may be blind to those aspects that aren't good, so busy am I at focusing on my own performance, but everyone I interact with gets better with each run thru. last night I got some real emotion from prisoners in the Cervantes scenes.

I can't wait for people to see it and tell me what they think!

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20. sick

have been in a haze these past five days. fever, weirdness, coughing. felt somewhat better yesterday, better this morning, so I went to work. gonna go home. can't lie down too much at one time, though--it hurts. Plus, I have these strange Quixote half-dreams. I'm already rehearsing the show in my head and the songs are playing constantly in the background.

I found a book by Dale Wasserman, author of Man of La Mancha, called THE IMPOSSIBLE MUSICAL. Full of interesting tidbits and insight in between doses of Wasserman's incredible ego.

Watched Peter O'Toole in the film version. Listened to Keith Michell in the London Original Cast recording, replete with dialogue. I'll take what I can use and then not consult them again. Talked to Thom/Sean and got a few pointers from his point of view--makeup will be tricky. Many questions....and I don't start rehearsals for two months yet!

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21. 12 Days

Yesterday I sang as featured soloist at a church to promote the show, stood around for six hours so the lighting designer could set the lights (something I do gladly, reminding me of Edward G. Robinson's quote "I act for free. It's the waiting they pay me for."), and then did a complete run-thru with my first full attempt at costume, props, and make up. It was disastrous, but it pointed out what needed to be worked on or fixed, and though I awoke at 5 this morning having a nightmare about the makeup (I do a complete character transformation on stage), I am feeling confident that it will come together.

Molly, my Lady Dulcinea, continues to sharpen her portrayal, and last night she started to really dig in during her "Aldonza" number. I had been thinking that I needed to respond to what she was doing with more reaction yet I didn't want to pull focus, and as if we were of the same mind, she and I went into a deeper, more painful place during the song that, I believe, will make it powerful.

Michael, my Sancho, is also the Costumer and the Vocal Director, and so he is being pulled in many directions at once. He and I have developed a wonderful non verbal communication style, and he seems to be able to read my mind. This is of great comfort to me as I frantically try to assess (while onstage and singing) where my sword is, why my belt is falling off, and what the hell I am supposed to do next. Right now it is all about what goes where when. Two more run thrus, then the orchestra comes in, then starting next Sunday we have dress rehearsals and previews, leading up to our May 17 opening.

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22. Audition: Day 1

I had night 1 of callbacks for Man of La Mancha last night. 5 Aldonzas, 5 Sanchos, only 2 Quixotes--me and an older guy. Everybody knew everybody else except me. We were put through the wringer, with me and the other guy having to work twice as much as the others, reading and singing with everybody. It is the lead, after all, so no one begruded the amount of work we were doing. Still, since one of the scenes with Aldonza involved kneeling (the scene right before The Impossible Dream), I was up and down so much that I said offhandedly "I've never had to get on my knees so much in order to get a part in a play." Uproarious laughter from the all-gay male production staff.

Both I and my competitor have legitimate claims to the role, with the other guy looking considerably older and having a resume of grandfather parts but a voice like thunder. I was sharper, more responsive to the other auditioners, and kept giving different possible interpretations of the scenes--it seemed the thing to do rather than do a scene the same way five times. I'd cast me. Really. I'm over the "I'm too tall for the role" fears I originally had. But I got no feedback, no direction, not much from the director, producer, musical director, vocal director (also auditioning for Sancho), or anyone else. It was hard work and a great deal of fun, but I have no idea what kind of a director I'm facing. Or if I am what they want.

There were three strong choices for Sancho and all five Aldonzas could do it--there is no doubt in my mind that this show will have a solid group of leads.

Tomorrow I go back, as I am also called back for The Governor. I hope I don't get it.

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23. No Child Left Behind??! You're KIdding, Right?

Here's a link to an op-ed piece Jordan Sonnenblick wrote about No Child Left Behind,
which runs in the May issue of School Library Journal:


A genius is someone who agrees with me but says it better and more prominently. Jordan is a genius. His anger and disappointment is appropriate and shared by many of us.

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24. Massively Plausible

Yes, I am the "massively plauible" Hagrid mentioned in Christopher Hitchens' review in the NYT Book Review! Though Keplers, the bookstore he mentioned, is in Menlo Park, not Stanford.

In addition, I have an online piece about the whole Harry craze in the book section of the NYTBR website.


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25. Nitty Gritty

Last night's rehearsal was just me, Sancho, and Aldonza, and we worked through all of our scenes with the director, just getting the flow and working out relationship stuff. It is now when the real acting begins, and I get to do all that wonderful collaborative stuff I haven't been doing as a solo performer. I have utmost confidence in my Aldonza and my Sancho. She affects a hardness that makes her transformation from whore to the reality of Don Quixote's vision heartbreaking to me; and he is playing Sancho as less of a fool and more of a weary boon companion, so he is finding humor in a variety of spots as well as creating a really deep portrait of his character.

Me? Well, everyone treats me like I am doing great, and my director is nothing but effusive in his compliments and listens respectfully when I offer a suggestion or a take on a scene. I think I am well on my way to nailing the character, but I am having to rely on performance instincts developed over years of storytelling while simultaneously checking myself to be sure I am not being narcissistic but rather serving the whole piece.

We have a run-thru of everything without music tonight (we used to call these "stumble-thrus") and a lot more will fall into place. We worked the dickens out of the combat scene the other night, in a huge room with a concrete floor. I tripped over an actor's foot and fell once, so my left wrist is a bit sore and I have taken to wearing a skating wrist protector to keep it safe. The combat isn't as funny as it has been done in the past, so I am trying to wrap my head around the concept the choreographer gave us. But it is very well staged and it moves!

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