Theatre Thank You

Inscribed Clay bell. This little clay bell was given to me as a theatre gift for performing in “Royal Hunt for the Sun”. As part of the Colorado Concert Ballet (now just the Colorado Ballet), we used to dance/act in various productions at the Bonfils Theater in Denver.

I debuted as an actress in “The Most Happy Fella”, a song about Standing on the Corner, Watching All the Girls Go By. The director chose ME for a little (miniscule) solo: I was to walk alone across the stage, smile at the singer, drop a hanky and flirt. I had never flirted in my real life, how did one do it? On the last night I was persuaded by older cast members that it was tradition to have a little extra fun and I was given a pair of lacy underwear to drop instead of the hanky. End of theatrical innocence…

Then there was “Finian’s Rainbow” for which I was cast as Susan the Silent. Dancing only, but there were scenes when I was on stage with the actors, not dancing, standing still for long minutes. I remember the feeling of my hands swelling up to twice their size as I stood there – I had no idea what to do with them.

My biggest role in the adult shows (children’s theatre being another matter) was as Dressy Tessy Tura, the stripper in “Gypsy,” acting and singing “You’ve got to have a gimmick.” My gimmick was that I danced on pointe as I stripped. No stripping of course; in fact my dancing teacher thought I was too young to wear a two piece bikini on stage, so I was decked out in a full leotard, red and white stripped with fringe under the boobs. For the last show, I brought in my own bikini, sewed the fringe onto it, and strutted my stuff. Boy was I mad when my jazz/modern teacher said, that’s what you should have worn from the beginning.

We got little thank you souvenirs on opening night at most performances, being unpaid and all. I have no idea why I kept this one but now it stands in for some great times. I learned about lesbians in a Bonfils dressing room (just conversation, not deed.) I slept out in the audience on the carpet between shows. And I got my first taste of the theatrical life and learned, oh yes, it was the life for me!

Rhododendrons

Rhodies in my yard. No way I planted these flourishing bushes. They came with the house, lucky for me, along with azaleas and a small stand of yellow iris. I’m not the gardening type, despite a heritage from both my father and grandmother. But I do love flowers.

Rhododendrons don’t grow in Colorado where I grew up. The first tine I ever saw them was in England on my first big trip abroad.

I’m going to take a short detour here and describe our departure in NYC. We are dressed up (! – but doesn’t such a special trip demand special clothes?) Daddy wears a seersucker suit and he’s nervous. When we get to the front of the check-in line, he produces the passports. There are only four; his is missing! I have an image of him frantically patting his pockets then turning to Mother. “You go on with the girls. I’ll follow.” Of course Mother was having none of it and eventually the passport was located in a hidden pocket in his suit.

We flew overnight to Scotland, sleeping only about two hours in our excitement and inbetween meals. In a pinch of bad planning but with the understandable urge to see everything at their own pace, my parents had decided to rent a car. Remember, they drive on the left in the British Isles. Off we went, my sisters and I sleeping in the back seat. After a couple of close calls with horns and squealing brakes, we learned: When we felt the car turn, we’d waken and in chorus call out, “To the left, Daddy, to the left.” Then back to sleep. I know we stopped at Loch Ness – no monster – but the rest of the trip is a green blur.

We arrived at a lovely castle-like hotel, ate dinner and then went walking on the grounds, finally wide awake. And there I saw the glorious bushes in full flower. Because it was still light, we walked and chatted and admired the flowers until suddenly Mother looked at her watch. It was past 10! So ended our first day in Europe.

Laser Angel

Laser cut angel embedded in acrylic. This treasured angel was a gift to me from a young girl whom I met through an NGO and mentored from the eighth grade.

On our first visit we went to the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage. It was not what I would call a great start. First, I got lost on the way there. Twice. Then the building was over airconditioned and we almost froze. But because she was polite even as she shivered, I was hooked.

Things got better after that. We cooked together (a good way to work on fractions) and I taught her to sew. She mended some jeans with appliqued hearts and we even sewed a dress for her prom. There were more successful performances – dance most often, but sometimes a movie or a play. She ate at my house. We had a birthday party for her and her crazy hula-hooping friends. We threw a dinner party for her large family – she planned and cooked the entire meal, even slicing the onions (which her sister refused to believe.) Once the family came for supper and we played dress up with costumes I had. You should see those pictures.

Last week this charming girl, who started out as my mentee and who is now my friend, graduated from college. Lots of people helped her along the way, but she was the one who made herself grow, who learned to study, who got herself to Spain, and who, through all her struggles, kept her happy personality. Now she’s out in the world and on her blog, contemplates what’s in front of her:

I am ready to situate myself among the millions of recent graduates around the world that are searching for that one light bulb. I’m waiting patiently while fumbling through applications, craigslist, Idealist, newspapers all the while playing dress up day in and out. Oh the headaches that will come and the free time that will be wasted…I think the hardest part is the question, what should I do with my life? (Ripping my hair out), It’s so hard to actually think past the next idea. Every moment I have a new interest, something that I would love to explore or try my hand at. When will my thoughts gather themselves in a row so that I can pick and choose from an organized pile?

I remember that feeling.  So many things to do in the world.  Travel!  Fall in love!  Dance! I snuck into performances of ballet when money was scarce.  I wasted time, the routine of school gone, on my own. I made booklets full of poems with illustrations and gave them to my lover.  I walked around whatever city I was in.  I joined a circus (not kidding!)  All the possibilities.  So what is my friend going to do?

I’m sending her huge congratulations on graduating!  And, because once a mentor, always a mentor, adding some advice: find your passion and go for it!! I can hardly wait to see what you do…

Portuguese Rooster

Carved Wooden Rooster from Portugal. My mother traveled to Spain and Portugal with her best friends, the next door neighbors. Their son was studying in Barcelona and Mother went along on the trip. This is typical of the kind of bright souvenir that would catch her eye.

Allthough this little bird is just a tchotchke, it reminds me of a rooster story my grandmother told:

“When we lived on the farm, our rooster was a big old mean thing. He liked to chase your mother and aunt, cornering them on the porch against the railing. They weren’t much taller than he was, and once he’d cornered them, he’d hop and peck and crow. It got so they were afraid to go out in the yard. Time for rooster soup!

“While the soup was cooking, the girls played zoo in the front room. Your mother [mine] pretended to be a lion caged under a chair. Roaring, she stuck her head through the rungs. And got wedged in. Her sister began jumping around, yelling, ‘You won’t get any jumping rooster soup.’ Neither soap nor vaseline could unstick her head. We had to take the chair apart.”

How satisfying as a child to know your mother was a scamp!

This being Mother’s Day, I want to add how terribly I miss her. She was a scamp her whole life (perhaps I should post the picture of her sticking out her tongue as proof). But she was also generous, helpful, loving, and smart. How lucky I was to have such a mother.

Wooden Spoon

Hand Carved Wooden Ladle or Spoon which was created for me by my cousin as a thank you.  You may recognize it from my home page. I’m sharing its story at the request of a reader…

We had long been friends – our families vacationed together – and on my first trip to Europe we visited him at his army base (in Weisbaden I think it was). He and I sat together half the night talking. There had been a tragedy in his life and he told me the story. I might add he was handsome; we were both were young and flirtatious; he shared his feelings. A memorable visit.

At home I pondered long on what he had told me and eventually wrote a version of it, fully fiction but containing enough of the truth to be recognizable. I don’t want to put the story here because someday I hope to publish it, but I’ll share the first paragraph.

Crossroads

Like an elephant, I’m good at sorting through the memories stacked inside my head. I’ve heard about people whose memories are wobbly or gone. Not me. Say I have a mind to, I can twirl a wrench or make coffee and think myself back to where I lived until my voice changed and my beard came in. Little town smack in the middle of the country, surrounded by big fields. I once loved that place, but since the accident, 30 years ago though it was, I keep those particular memories hidden at the bottom of the pile. It makes no difference though, I can’t lose them; they are mine to keep forever.

I sent him my version of his story and after a while he sent me this spoon in thanks.  So now I think of him when I ladle soup!  I should add that he also carves batons for well-known conductors, creates copper drawer knobs from scratch, and is a full-on artist who works with his hands. This page is a callout to my cousin, my friend.

Russian Print

Some families love to go out to eat. Some love to ski or cheer their favorite team or go to the movies. Mine loved to travel. Every year there would be a discussion: Should we build a swimming pool or go on a trip? There would be a vote. My sisters and I (young and short-sighted) voted for the pool, my parents for a trip. 3 to 2. Pool! Wait…parents’ votes count double. Trip!

There were many family trips. I’ve already written about moments in Germany, and Sweden.  We also traveled all over the U.S. The painting this week is from a trip my mother took to Russia. If was after Daddy had died and none of us girls were free, so she went alone. In December! If there was ever a place I wouldn’t want to visit in December, it’s Russia. But there was a good tour, so Mother bought what she called a “puffy coat” and off she went.

One of the interesting stories from that trip was her realization at the New Year’s Dinner that the tourists were getting the best food. This was before the fall of the wall and evidently things could be a little desparate. I know Mother and the others on the tour felt guilty and left large tips.

The other good story was that Mother stayed behind to take a picture inside a church – she became a fanatic photographer after Daddy died, although her photos were utterly different – and when she went out the door, the vast square was empty, her tour group vanished. As she said, “I didn’t speak a work of Russian and had no idea of the name of the hotel.” Turned out the tour had gone out another door.

This picture is from that trip; I believe it is a signed print. It looks to me like an imagined Russia, one of the Firebird or Snow Queen fairy tales. Or even of a Chekhov story. The signature of the artist not legible. H Siu? Then again, the label on the back is in Cyrillic alphabet, so perhaps the signature is also. I took it home when we closed down Mother’s house, in honor of her adventurous spirit and because it is beautiful.