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Archive for October, 2003

Get thee behind me, Mr. Goodbar

Friday, October 31st, 2003

I’ve received e-mails from several imaginary readers asking why I didn’t say anything about getting some exercise, if I’m so concerned about losing weight. The answer is that I won’t have to go out of my way to do that. This first week of rehearsals is basically like choir practice, with the cast sitting in chairs and singing from sheet music. But I know what lies ahead. The schedule says that we’ll start working on the dance steps and blocking next week, and that’s as good an aerobic workout as you can ask for. Don’t worry, I’ll be getting plenty of exercise.
In fact, we took the first step toward that at tonight’s rehearsal. After a half hour or so of choir practice, Jane had us move the chairs back against the walls of the studio and start moving around while we sang. No dance steps yet, just walking in time to the music. But the idea is to get us used to singing while in motion — and to encourage us to put down the sheet music and start singing from memory. By opening night, we’ll have to be able to cope with pitch and tempo and words and dance steps and blocking and facial expressions, all at the same time. It got to be pretty overwhelming at times during last year’s rehearsals, but eventually everything started to fall into place.
This being Halloween, it wasn’t surprising that someone brought a bowl of miniature candy bars to the rehearsal and invited us all to help ourselves. I resisted temptation.

Deja vu all over again

Friday, October 31st, 2003

Cinderella begins with a quartet of rogues coming out on stage and singing a song to the audience. The song is in four-part harmony, so one specimen of each vocal part (SATB) is required. Last year I somehow got picked to be the bass in the quartet, despite being a befuddled newbie who didn’t know the quartet dance steps and was terrified at being the second person the audience would see every night. The only explanation I can think of is that they were really short on basses.
The first week of rehearsals includes an audition for cast members who are interested in being in the quartet. This year’s musical director, Jane, was in the ensemble last year, so she remembers me. (And I’m the only one of last year’s quartet who came back.) On the first day of rehearsals, she asked me privately if I was planning to try out for the quartet again. I said, “Sure, if you need me.” It was fine with me if she picked someone else; after all, I’ve already done it, so I don’t have anything to prove. But the other bass candidates were all new to the play, so I had a distinct advantage over them (as soprano candidate Kerry pointed out when she saw that I was the only one auditioning without sheet music).
I suppose the result was inevitable. At last night’s rehearsal, Jane told me that I was in the quartet again. So this year’s Cinderella experience is shaping up to be exactly like last year’s: I’ll be playing the same part in the same play, singing all the same songs and doing the same dance steps. In fact, as I learned when I went for my costume fitting, we’re even going to be wearing the same costumes. Unfortunately, during last year’s production and the months that followed, I slacked off on my diet and regained about twenty pounds. I’ve held my weight steady since spring, but it hasn’t gone back down.
Well, I’ll have to fit into my old costumes. So I’ve gone back to a super-strict version of my diet and will try to shed ten or twelve of those pounds before the show opens on December 12. My resolve was challenged yesterday, when one of my coworkers brought a box of doughtnuts to a meeting I attended. I gritted my teeth and ignored them. And then, on my way from work to rehearsal, I stopped at the hybrid KFC/Taco Bell across the street — and instead of my usual 7-Layer Burrito and Double-Decker Taco combination, I ordered the KFC buffet and ate two plates of vegetables.
I’ve done this before; I can do it again. That’s my new mantra.

And so it begins

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

The first rehearsal for Cinderella was last night. It was just like I remember from last year. We sat on rows of chairs in the theatre’s dance studio. The artistic director gave an orientation speech, the stage manager reviewed the rules and guidelines for cast members, we all filled out contact information forms and got our scripts (just sheet music for us ensemble members), and then the music director took over and began rehearsing the pieces we’ll be singing in the show.
As I said, it was just like 2002 — but at the same time, it couldn’t be more different. At last year’s first rehearsal, the entire experience was new and strange, and I had no idea what to expect. I had never been in a Raleigh Little Theatre play (or a play at any community theatre) before, while most of the people sitting around me were experienced actors. If we were rehearsing any other play, I could have at least taken comfort in the fact that the play itself was new to virtually everyone, and we would all be learning it together. But RLT has been staging Cinderella for two decades, so many people in the cast had done it before — and some people had been in it a dozen times or more! This show had twenty years of accumulated history and traditions, and I didn’t know any of it. So that first rehearsal was nerve-wracking. I wasn’t the only first-timer, and everyone was really nice and patient about it, but I was still painfully aware of how much I didn’t know.
Now it’s a year later, and this is familiar territory. This time last year I was struggling to learn the music — but now I know the songs already, and people were listening to me to learn them. Many of the cast members are people I already know, either from last year’s Cinderella or from other shows I’ve worked on at RLT. (In fact, one of the actresses and I know each other because she’s in Schoolhouse Rock Live, and the evening before I had been shining a spotlight on her.) I even know a lot of the Cinderella history and tradition, because I spent hundreds of hours with last year’s cast, and I listened eagerly to their war stories.
I’m a Cinderella veteran. It’s a strange feeling. But a good one.

Tight schedule

Sunday, October 26th, 2003

Here’s what I did today:
5:30 a.m. – Alarm clock goes off. (Note: today is Sunday.) I get up, eat breakfast, shower, etc. I dress in khaki slacks, a colored polo shirt, and brown belt and shoes. I also pack a bag with an all-black outfit (including black belt and shoes).
7:15 – I leave the house and drive to Cary.
7:45 – Arrival at Christ the King Lutheran Church , where I’m a member of the choir. Today is Reformation Sunday, and the choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is joining us to celebrate. I put on my choir robe.
8:30 – After some last-minute rehearsal, the service begins. We start out singing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” (in the original German) up in the balcony and then process down. We sing two other pieces in the course of the service, one of which involves a trumpet and handbells.
9:30 – The service ends. I remove my choir robe and stuff it (along with my hymnal and music folder) into my bag and drive to Holy Trinity in Raleigh. (The rest of the CTK choir is doing likewise.)
10:00 – On arrival at HT, I put my choir robe back on. We rehearse some more with the HT choir.
11:00 – The HT service begins. We sing the same three pieces there, but everything else in the service is different, including the setting (tunes for the liturgy) that they’re using. This service also involves confirmation of five teenagers and communion.
12:30 p.m. – The service ends. I take my robe off again and shove it, the hymal, and my music folder back in the bag. I pick up lunch at a nearby Subway, then drive to Raleigh Little Theatre (which fortunately is only a couple of blocks away).
1:00 – I arrive at the theatre in time to meet Marie there. We are scheduled to usher for the matinee performance of Schoolhouse Rock Live.
1:30 – It’s time to open the house and start admitting audience members, but the house manager scheduled to work this show has not shown up. Marie has house manager experience (she house-managed for the first time the night before), so she fills in.
2:00 – The show begins. I’ve seen it half a dozen times already while operating a spotlight, but as an usher I get to sit with the audience. When you’re running a spot you tend to focus your attention exclusively on whomever the light is following, so you miss other stuff. It’s actually nice to just watch the show for once.
2:45 – Intermission. I spend it working with Marie and another volunteer at the concession counter, selling canned drinks, bottled water, candy bars, Moon Pies, and Mentos to audience members.
3:30 – The show ends. There’s a salad and baked potato supper at 4:00 for the cast, since they have another performance at 7:30 and don’t really have time to go out for food. Crew members are invited to join them, and Marie and I do so.
4:30 – Marie leaves to pick up Ruth and Ben from their high school, where they have been working at the final performance and strike of The Female Odd Couple (Ruth was stage manager, Ben was on the running crew). I have a whole two hours free, so I decide to make a mad dash for the State Fair, which I have not had a chance to visit yet and which ends tonight. I really need to go because the vendor who sells the shower attachments we use in our house (the only ones I’ve found that work well at Holly Springs’s low water pressure) is at the Fair every year, and I need to buy a replacement for a cracked plastic part. (They don’t have a Web site or an e-mail address, and my attempts to contact them by phone during the last year have failed.) If I don’t find them now, I’ll have to wait another year. I drive to the free parking area at the RBC Center (the nearby sports arena) and take a shuttle bus to the Fairgrounds entrance.
5:00 – I arrive at the Fairgrounds and, walking at my fastest pace, find the buildings housing the vendors, search for the specific vendor I want, find him, buy the part I need, and retrace my steps to leave the fairgrounds and get back to the bus stop. I take the shuttle back to the parking lot, find my car, and drive back to RLT.
6:00 – I arrive at the theatre half an hour before my scheduled call time for the evening performance. Ruth is already there, having been dropped off by Marie while I was gone. (Ruth’s doing props, I’m running a spotlight.) I change into my all-black outfit, then check both of the spotlights to make sure they’re working.
7:00 – The house opens for the evening show. I run through my usual pre-show routine: test my headset, then review the cue sheet to make sure none of the spot cues have changed since the last show I worked.
7:30 – The show begins. This is my last performance of Schoolhouse Rock Live even though the show has another week to run, because I planned my follow spot schedule so it didn’t conflict with Cinderella rehearsals, just in case I got cast.
9:00 – The show ends. I help Ruth put away props, then drive us home.
10:00 – I arrive home for the first time since leaving for church this morning.
10:30 – I write an e-mail to the CTK choir director, informing her that I have to drop out of the choir until after the holidays due to my Cinderella rehearsal schedule. I was going to tell her in person today, but I never got a chance. I also didn’t have time to return my music folder, hymnal, and choir robe. Marie will have to take those back to the church for me — probably on Wednesday, her normal day off.
In the course of this day, I attended two church services (singing six anthems and I don’t know how many hymns and litanies), worked at two RLT shows, and changed clothes five times (if you count donning and removing choir robes). If I can get through a day like today, I guess I can survive working a full-time job and being in Cinderella. But I’m going to have to make a point of getting as much sleep as I can manage. In fact, I need to go do that right now. My alarm clock will go off again in five and a half hours.

Casting call

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

Ruth and I both got contacted today. She has been cast as Ophelia in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, and I am in the Cinderella ensemble. Ben has also confirmed that he wants to work on the running crew for Cinderella again, as he did last year. As I mentioned in my last entry, Marie will be Mouse Wrangler, and Ruth will help her when she’s not busy with R&G.
I’m happy and excited about being in the show again, but I’m also kind of nervous. I hope I’m up to this. I was nervous last year too, but that was because I hadn’t been in a play for a quarter century and hadn’t been in an RLT show at all. Everything about the experience was new, and it was rather overwhelming for a while.
This year should be easier, because I’ve done Cinderella before. I know the songs and dances (or at least it won’t take me long to relearn them), I’m familiar with the script and staging, the costumes and sets and props, all that stuff. But when I did this last year, I was unemployed. I was able to focus all my energies on the play. This year I’m going to be working a full day at IBM, then driving directly to the theatre for evening rehearsals. It’s going to be tough.
But I knew that when I auditioned. Now that the die is cast, I’m bouncing between opposite emotions. Woohoo!! I’m doing Cinderella again! Aaaauuuggghhhh!! I must be out of my mind! Marie is going through something similar, realizing that she just effectively adopted seven young children for the duration of the show. We keep looking at each other dazedly and saying things like, “We’re going to be insane by Christmas.”
It’s going to be a lot of fun. But it’s also going to be a very intense, exhausting experience. I keep reminding myself that the other cast members have day jobs, too. If they can get through this, so can I. In my saner moments, I know that it’s going to be all right. But still . . . Woohoo!! Aaaaauuuuggghhh!!
The first rehearsal is Monday night.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Friday, October 24th, 2003

So I can’t give blood anymore. But a new donor has stepped forward to replace me. Ruth donated blood for the first time today. That means that while my personal contribution to the blood supply has ceased, our family’s remains unchanged. Thus is the balance of the universe maintained. Needless to say, I am very proud of her. I didn’t begin donating until I was two years older than Ruth is, and I gave infrequently for the first decade or so. As a result, it took me almost a quarter century to reach the five-gallon mark. I’m sure Ruth will beat that record.
She and I have something else in common; we’re both waiting to find out the result of our auditions at Raleigh Little Theatre this week. Ruth’s audition was for StoryTellers, an intensive workshop performance class for ages 13-18 that will perform Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. She won’t know until Sunday which role she’ll be playing, but we already know that her initial audition (a monologue from The Never-Ending Story — the book, not the movie) got her into the class. So she’s definitely in the cast. I’m proud of her for that, too.
My audition was for Cinderella , which is gearing up for its twentieth season. Tryouts were held on Monday and Tuesday. I sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma on Tuesday, and it seemed to go well. I’ll find out on Monday whether I’m in the ensemble again. (I’m not in the running for any of the major roles, which is fine with me. I’m quite familiar with them from last year, and I know that I wouldn’t be a good fit for any of them even if I were considerably more experienced.) Either outcome is okay with me; if I’m not cast, I’ll volunteer for the running crew. That will still let me be a part of the show, but I won’t have to spend my evenings and weekends at the theatre for the next two months — the technical crews don’t have to do anything until the last week of rehearsals, and they don’t have to work at every show. So not being cast would be a relief in that sense. But we’ll see.
Marie will also probably be working on Cinderella. The six children playing the mice who become ponies, and the boy who plays the Young Prince in one scene, have to be supervised when they are not on stage. The traditional job title for this is Mouse Nanny (although I think Mouse Wrangler would be more accurate). The woman who has been the Mouse Nanny for the last several years is not available this time around, and Marie has offered to do it. (She and Ruth actually served as substitute nannies last year on a couple of occasions when the regular nanny couldn’t make it, so she knows what to expect.)
I’ll post updates here when the cast lists are announced.

Test results

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003

I donated blood again on September 19. On the 30th, the Red Cross office in Charlotte sent me a letter that said, “When we tested your blood, we obtained some inconclusive results. These results indicate that you may be infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. In almost all cases, individuals with these inconclusive results are found later to not have the infection at all, but rarely individuals are found to be in the early stages of infection.” The letter went on to urge me to see my physician about this and have further testing done.
Me, infected with HIV? It didn’t seem possible. I’ve never engaged in any risky sexual activity, never used intravenous drugs, never received a blood transfusion. I’ve had no contact with other people’s blood or accidental needle sticks. What other methods of infection are there? I couldn’t think of any. It had to be a mistake.
I won’t keep you in suspense. I visited my doctor on October 7 to have blood drawn for HIV testing, and I got the results today. All the tests were negative. I’m not infected. Which is what I was expecting, but this is not the sort of thing about which you want to have any doubt.
So I can breathe a sigh of relief and forget all about this, right? Yes, except for one thing. The Red Cross’s letter included this statement: “For the safety of blood recipients, the American Red Cross cannot accept blood from donors who have inconclusive test results for any infectious disease. This means that you are no longer eligible to donate blood.” The Red Cross has no choice about this. They are bound by the FDA’s policies concerning the blood supply, which are very clear: “Although the need for donors is great, it is in the best interests of the recipients of such donations to err on the side of safety. Unfortunately, once an indeterminate or inconclusive result is obtained, the donor should be indefinitely deferred.”
I’ve been through this before. In 1993, one of my blood donations showed elevated levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT). This liver enzyme is an indicator for possible hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. At the time it was the best test available to the Red Cross for screening out HCV-infected blood, so they sent me a letter informing me of the test results and telling me that I couldn’t donate anymore.
But elevated ALT levels can be caused by a number of things other than HCV, including obesity (which was a plausible explanation in my case, back in 1993). This led the Red Cross to indefinitely defer a lot of donors who didn’t have HCV, which made chronic blood shortages even worse. As more accurate screening methods became available, the ALT test’s value declined. In January 1995, the National Institutes of Health recommended that the use of ALT for HCV screening be abandoned. In August, the FDA concurred. The Red Cross revised its donor policies, and I received letter telling me that I was welcome to resume donating.
So “indefinitely” doesn’t necessarily mean forever. In a couple of years, I may get another letter from the Red Cross begging me to come back. If not, I suppose that after 24 years and over five gallons donated, I’m entitled to retire. But I’ll miss the free cookies and Diet Coke.

Brush with death

Friday, October 10th, 2003

Earlier this year, I walked into a Wal-Mart store in Texas and bought a pair of shoes. I had no idea that I was risking my life.

BROWNWOOD, Texas (AP) — Police say a man was bitten by a rattlesnake while shopping for shoes in a Wal-Mart store in Texas.
Douglas Hatchett of Brownwood was examining shoes on a rack when a rattlesnake concealed behind a shoebox bit him yesterday. The snake fell to the floor, where Hatchett stomped it to death.
Police, fire and emergency medical crews were called to the scene.
The 31-year-old shopper and the dead snake were hustled to Brownwood Regional Medical Center. There, the snake was confirmed as a rattler, and Hatchett was treated and released.
Wal-Mart officials say the matter’s being investigated and they have no comment.
Brownwood is about 120 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

UPDATE: Perhaps my shopping trip wasn’t insanely reckless after all:

Brown County Attorney Shane Britton has opened an investigation that could result in criminal charges against a Bangs man who claimed a snake bit him inside Brownwood’s Wal-Mart.
Douglas Hatchett, 31, claimed a small rattlesnake bit him on the hand Monday as he shopped in the store’s shoe department. Hatchett was taken to Brownwood Regional Medical Center and released about nine hours later.
Britton said he has been in contact with officials from Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and officials at the retailer’s district office in Midland. Britton has also subpoenaed medical records from BRMC. He said he expects to have his findings compiled next week.
“If it turns out this incident was fabricated, I would assume that Wal-Mart and Brownwood Regional would be interested in filing charges,” the prosecutor said.

He’s alive!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

Checking the GNO blogs this morning, I was astonished to see that Miles has begun posting to his blog again. This spurred me to do a little maintenance work on the Smooth Report site, something I haven’t done for months. I’ve improved the format of the archive list and added permalinks to individual posts. Unfortunately, archive links are still not working properly. I’m not sure why.
UPDATE: Archive links are fixed. The solution was to stop trying to keep the archive files in a subdirectory, and let Blogger put them in the same directory as the main page. Keeping them in a subdirectory is supported, if you believe the instructions on the Archiving tab of the Settings page — but I have never been able to make it work.