Category Archives: General

General subjects of interest.

Mortification

The dictionary has three definitions for mortify. Interestingly, the first and most common is ‘to cause to experience shame, humiliation, or wounded pride.’ The second harkens back to the aesthetes and stoics who mortified their appetites through denial and austerity. Thirdly, and perhaps most tellingly, ‘to cause (a bodily part) to die, as by gangrene’.

Obviously, shame is more widely recognized than self-denial. But both definitions derive from the idea of ‘the little death’.

Well, I am seriously mortified, in every sense of the word at the moment.

Because I seem to always overbook myself in March and April, I invariably sit down to  the arduous task of sifting through statements, receipts, checkbooks, etc. in August and September to prepare my taxes. My accountant will take the worksheets I give him up until three weeks before the deadline. This year, I managed to push that off until the very last minute. A slight embarrassment. So I decided to be disciplined and closet myself in the guest bedroom and push through the task this last weekend. I skipped meals, but got almost all of it done. Unfortunately, I became so focused I forgot an important appointment, for an audition. Not me auditioning, but one I was holding for a replacement for one of the roles in Miss Bennett.

My cast members, the auditionees, and the Artistic Director showed up–but not me. People tried to call, but I was ignoring phones, whether deliberately or not. So Becky Udden, ever resourceful woman that she is, taped the auditions rather than waste everyone else’s time.

She finally reached me by text later when I had a late dinner cooking and I sat down to check my class email. The cell phone was charging beside my computer, and so I saw it light up and was mystified when she asked, “Are you okay?”

Bless her heart, she was probably passed annoyed and angry and had arrived at considering sending the police to my house to check on me. So I’m sure my blithe response, “Sure, why?” was not the right note to hit. Nevertheless, she seemed genuinely relieved to find me alive. She may have reconsidered that later.

Once I realized the enormity of my faux pas, I could only respond. “I am mortified.” It seems appropriate in retrospect, as one of the more archaic meanings is to self-flagelate, or quite literally to beat yourself up.

My most sincere apologies to all those involved in my missed appointment. My only excuse is seven straight hours of peering at numbers will shrivel anyone’s brain. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!

I will review the tapes with Becky and try to come to a timely decision without further inconveniencing anyone.

Time Flies

I know it’s a cliche, but the truth of the saying ‘time flies’ seems never more evident than right now.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m trying to impose some order in preparation for the fall semester, which starts tomorrow. I only turned in my grades for summer school last Tuesday! I spent every spare moment this week rebuilding my classes, because the beginning of school completely caught me by surprise. No, seriously. I thought it started Wednesday after Labor Day. Imagine my astonishment. But both versions of the online classes are updated and in place for a new semester.

In the past, I’ve spent the week before school organizing paperwork and closets so I could feel we were starting with a clean slate. I’m doing my best, but the boxes from the farmhouse, small pieces of furniture from various rooms, and the paperwork from my 2016 taxes are still cluttering the living room. I will just have to continue cleaning around them until some things get back to normal.

Why 2016 taxes, you ask? I always seem to be busy in April and file an extension. Then I do my tax worksheets in the heated torpor of August-September and get them to my accountant in October.

The left-over paperwork from last year is still spread out on my dining table because I haven’t been able to get to the table over the furniture and boxes from two ongoing remediation projects in my life.

Today is almost exactly the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked havoc and mayhem in all our lives. It doesn’t seem possible that it was a year ago. But there it is. And while the damage to my house was relatively minor, my adventures with contractors were hugely intimidating. The furniture is finally back in my master bedroom and the guest room, and my bathroom is completely overhauled. But the confusion and disorganization wrought by the storm lingers in the corners of most every room of the house, and the chaos imposed on my psyche sometimes resembles PTSD.

Complicating matters, Harvey hit just as I had begun tearing down part of the Lexington farmhouse where I grew up, in order to save the rest of it. That was interrupted by my Houston repairs. The farmhouse still has a huge gaping wound plugged with plywood on one side of the structure, tarps on the roof, and piles of rubble all around. I’ve made some headway in cleaning and stacking the antique brick from the chimney. The house has been leveled, and repairs made to the damaged wood on the west side of the house, where a new set of French doors are now covered with weather sheeting until I can address new siding. Boxes of my parents accumulated treasures are part of the ongoing clutter in my living room. The house and its contents haunt my dreams and drain my bank account and still there seems to be little progress.

Time seems to trickle away in every direction. While I stayed busy with school and theatre projects this year, my two cats have increasingly begun to show their age. They sleep a great deal, but I’ve noticed that it is harder for them to jump onto the furniture recently. When Christabel started throwing up and peeing everywhere, I took her in for tests. Hundreds of dollars later, she is being treated for a urinary tract infection and I have medication to sooth her stomach. But the evidence is overwhelming that her kidneys are progressively failing and sometime soon, I will have to face the fact that the quality of her life is slipping away as well. My vet has chosen this time to retire, but assures me that when the time comes, he will come into the office to be with me and Christabel.

And through all this whirlwind, I’ve found blessed little time to write anything new. I cranked out a number of short stories the beginning of this year, and I’ve reworked two on my novels yet again, but I have yet to finish the third novel which I started for NaNoWriMo in 2016.

Increasingly, I want the freedom of retirement. But I don’t see how I can afford to quit my full-time job, even though I could work from anywhere. I have directing assignments coming up, and the short film I did in January is premiering in Austin in September. But it’s been four years since I’ve been onstage as an actor.

Moving back to Lexington to be close to my sister and brother and their families sounds increasingly more appealing. But updating the farmhouse is going to require me to sell my Houston house and put the proceeds into renovations. Where will I live and how can I continue to work remotely in the interim? These are all questions I know I must face soon. And maybe it is for the best that Christabel will not be subjected to that upheaval.

Meanwhile, I drift from project to project, semester to semester, production to production, and time disappears without my noticing or adequately preparing for it. When will moving and rebuilding become too much for me to physically face? Will I wait too long? While I hesitate, time continues to evaporate. I’m reminded of John Lennon’s lyric, “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.”

 

Theater 2018

This past twelve months has been very exciting, theater-wise. Last fall I directed the Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. It was a great success with Main Street Theater audiences, selling out the original run and the extension.

I directed several readings, including a play by Arthur Smiley, The Lady Demands Satisfaction, for Wordsmyth and Christopher Hampton’s translation of Florian Zeller’s The Father for Luciole International Theatre. Clara Ploux is pursuing the rights for a full production in the 2018-2019 season.

For eight months I worked intermittently with Gwen Flager and Queensbury Theatre on her award winning play Girls Who Sing in the Choir, which became Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo. We began with a public reading where Gwen and I worked with a professional cast of my choosing to give voice to the characters. The feedback she received from me, the cast, and the audience was valuable in her rewrite process. Then in February of this year, we rehearsed for a week to put the play on its feet and did a ‘staged reading’ of the play with scripts in hand. We began to discover the rhythm and movement of the play. Our public reading was sold out, with people being turned away. That experience helped Gwen to hone the shape of the play and rewrite the ending. In June we went into full rehearsal and opened in July to several sold out houses. While the overall attendance did not warrant an extension, it was generally considered a great success by everyone who participated.

My involvement with Wordsmyth led me to volunteer to usher and help support the Texas Playwright’s Festival of readings by Wordsmyth at Stages. Three plays get a public reading, a brief chance for rewrites and a second reading over the course of a weekend.

Later this year, I go into rehearsal at MST for the remounting of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The majority of my original cast have again signed on for that lovely holiday play. We get to play together once again!

Until then, I’m open to suggestions.

Claire HP

No More Shakin’ Goin’ On

Well, as is the way with all good things, the production of Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo is at an end. It was an exciting and rewarding journey. We had some sold out houses and some modest houses. While not necessarily a financial boon to Queensbury Theatre, it was a noble and groundbreaking endeavor. I think it drew audience members that would not normally have ventured outside the loop for their theater fare.

I attended the last performance and stayed after for pictures with the cast. (The one above is courtesy of Jan Johnson, our production photographer.)

There was the usual melancholy task of retrieving all the costume pieces and props that I personally  provided to the effort; then the hugs, kisses, and general thanks to each member of the cast and crew who made this a special time. And of course, adieu to our playwright Gwen Flager and her partner Ruth Ann.  But I suspect from our conversation there will be more projects in the future.

Now we each go on to the next project, closer friends, but no longer to see each other on an almost daily basis. As is the way with theater friends, we will share email announcements of current projects, see each other on Facebook and on the ‘boards’, and for a few moments after a performance, but probably not spend significant time with each other for months or even years. At some point, I will work with many of these women again and we will pick up our friendships where we left them—still dear and with the measure of trust we have earned.

Sold Out Opening Night

It’s great to be able to report that Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo was sold out for Friday’s opening night performance. Granted it was somewhat packed with friends and fans of playwright Gwen Flager, but it was gratifying.

There was a small ‘do’ at Brio before the show, where I met dozens of Gwen’s friends who had traveled from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and as far away as Delaware and Alaska for the event.

The performance itself was high-energy and fed off the love and laughter generated from the audience. This was a great house, and they not only got all the jokes, they probably knew the origin of some of them. A number of people were folks who have followed the development of this play from its first reading several years ago. Many spoke to me after the performance who were gratified at how far the play had come and how wonderful it was for Gwen to see the play be fully realized. Gwen herself was glowing.

After a small gathering with the cast after, fueled by more good will and a happy staff, I went home and collapsed into bed. It’s been a gratifying and exciting process. But the play belongs to the cast now. Hope it is a wonderful ride.

Reservations for the rest of the weekend are filling up, with Saturday virtually sold out, Sunday matinee is your best bet for this weekend. But there is next weekend. Get your tickets ASAP. Go to:

https://www.queensburytheatre.org/shakintheblueflamingo

Let me know how you liked it.

Claire HP

Turning a Corner: Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo

Sunday was our extended tech rehearsal for Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo. As we incorporate technical aspects and refine acting objectives, there is always one very long day where it all has to start coming together. Sunday we rehearsed from 1 pm to 10 pm with a break for dinner.  We completed two full runs and choreographed the prop crew’s efforts during the scene breaks. I always like to make the changeover look like part of the show if possible, so our prop crew is dressed as if they are employees of Edna’s diner.

The musical segues and interludes are a play list of all the great torchy female vocalists of the 70s and 80s. The mature members of our audience will have a great time trying to remember names of all the singers and the years the songs came out.

Adding costumes and sound can be distracting to some actors, especially when fast changes are involved, so I was pleased to see that this did not derail us. Although, we are still tweaking and accessorizing, the physical personae of each character became clearer. Some actors find that adding the clothes of their characters can give them that last nudge into realizing them as three-dimensional people. And so it seemed to be yesterday.

My lead actress has been struggling for clarity in her character, as she felt the text sent her back and forth in opposing directions concerning what she really wanted. Talking through this in notes, I suggested that she needed to decide what ‘she’ wants to do to the other person and try her best to do that. The emotional baggage of what she secretly wants as opposed to what she is doing is what weakens her resolve occasionally and becomes an obstacle to overcome. She wants to protect herself from being hurt by the person she has been in love with for years. So every time Mac pushes Rosie away, her love pushes right back and opens the possibility of hope. That hope is what undermines her resolve and what she struggles against. She cannot hope and barricade her heart at the same time. She has to choose when to open herself up, and that choice is the crux of the play.

When we came back for the second run-thru, everyone was more energized, pushing the envelope and working their objectives. And suddenly, it seemed like we might be on the brink of having the play I’ve envisioned in my head; the one Gwen Flager wrote and rewrote.

As Geoffrey Rush says in “Shakespeare in Love” when he is asked how something fine can come out of the chaos of rehearsal, “I dunno, it’s the magic of theatre.”

We open on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Hope you have us on your schedule. Currently, the run is only two weeks, and it is in the Black Box theatre. So don’t wait til the last minute to buy your tickets.  Our staged reading turned people away. For schedule and information go to:

https://www.queensburytheatre.org/shakintheblueflamingo

Check out my interview about the show:

Check out my interview about Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo on the Queensbury Theatre facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/QueensburyTheatre/videos/1957135634330687/

Thanks,

Claire Hart-Palumbo

RIP Blackie

Some eight or nine years ago, a long lean overgrown kitten insinuated himself into the lives of my neighborhood. Coal black, big sage green eyes, he had a princely air of privilege and ownership that belied his status as a stray. He plopped himself on my patio and began talking to my girls through the French doors. Christabel and Cindy Crawford were a bit flustered, being older divas and not used to young male admirers. But they seemed to tolerate him and almost look forward to his visits. They would slip around him at the door as he munched a handful of dry food, and soon all would be lounging around the patio, pleasantly absorbing the sun.

A natural charmer, Blackie became a regular visitor to houses for a three or four block radius. He developed a route through the subdivision. One morning, when I was leaving unusually early, my garage door went up and I saw him come to attention four houses away and race toward my house. He got his treat.

Generally good mannered, I had to take him to task a couple of times for walking in and taking a tour of my house. After that, he realized he would only be fed on the patio and was satisfied to wait for me there. Often when I let my cats out, he was already lying on the seat of my patio chair under the oak tree.

He came to know which yards were safe and who offered refuge. Another morning, I pulled out of my garage later than usual and discovered two bruisers of dogs trying to pin him down. He raced to the grill of my front entrance, but the mailman had pushed it inward and so the dogs were able to corner him. I came flying out of my car screaming, which distracted them long enough for Blackie to scoot past and along the back of my front hedge. But they quickly pinned him down at the gate between my house and my neighbor Maria’s. They would have snapped him in two in another minute. Perhaps foolishly, I rushed to his aid and was promptly knocked down in the skirmish. My strident yelling sent one dog running, as Blackie disappeared over my fence. The other Rottweiler-mix trotted a few steps, then turned to assess whether I was worth attacking, but finally raced away.

Shaken and upset, I left the car idling and hurried through the house to the backyard. Blackie cowered in a cleft between my tree and the back fence, covered in slobber but without visible wounds. While I went for a treat and a towel, he disappeared into Maria’s yard.

Returning that evening, I found the small pile of food I’d left untouched. I called to Blackie and heard a faint mew from over the fence. Knowing my neighbor was out of town and fearing the worst, I invaded her yard and discovered him huddled in the rafters of her tool shed, where he’d been all day. Coaxing him down and through the gap in my fence, he returned to the safety of my yard, where he stayed for a few days, until he recovered his bravado enough to resume his neighborhood rounds.

My neighbor Bonnie and I took Blackie to the vet to be fixed, and annually to get his shots. He didn’t hold it against us.

Then four years ago, a new couple moved in a few doors down. Blackie walked in the door to welcome them and decided to stay. Anna and Hector adopted and loved him. He became an indoor cat who occasionally went out to  greet his old friends, human and feline. He would still come and wind around my feet if I happened to be working in the yard.

A few months ago, Anna noticed that Blackie returned from his prowl limping. She thought he might have injured himself. On inspection she discovered a lump in the joint of his leg. After a lot of tests and general angst among his friends, Blackie went through surgery to remove his right front leg. He came back looking like a peg-leg pirate.

Miraculously, he seemed to recover his balance and his sense of humor and fun. He still managed to climb and loved sunning himself, but Anna kept him close to home. Then recently they discovered lumps over his kidneys. He became lethargic and Anna discovered blood in his urine, then his gums bled.

He was loved and cared for until it seemed his pain was inexcusable. I visited with him yesterday. petting his almost limp and emaciated body and sharing stories with Anna. A low rumble of a purr and a steady flick of the tail were his only response. His glazed eyes, once green were dark with a slim corona of blue, but seemed to focus briefly and I think he remembered me and enjoyed the slow and steady stroke of my hand. But the time came to leave, and later last night, Anna and Hector welcomed the pet Hospice people who came to end his pain and put him gently and quietly to sleep.

His sweet presence will be missed by many in the neighborhood, but most acutely by Anna and Hector. Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.