Friday, April 30, 2010

The Capitol Steps - You Probably Had to Be There #1 Monster Mash

I have been a member of the Capitol Steps ( for nearly 7 years.  Even just typing that is astonishing for me.  I have never done anything that consistently (aside from breathing) for that length of time.  It truly is the best job an actor could ask for.  It is steady, well-paying work, great benefits, easy hours, fun people, fun actual work - I mean, what normal person gets to dress up in wacky costumes and make people laugh for a living?? - and always changing to keep the boredom at bay. 

The creators of the group used to all work on Capitol Hill.  For a while, all new members were required to do so, even if it was in a short-term volunteer capacity.  Then the group got too big and the demand for our particular brand of comedy got too haigh and they began to hire ringers like me and my husband - just plain old actors.   

However far from their roots they've been forced to wander, the creators want to preserve the "we just ran down from The Hill to put on this show" vibe about the show.  We have second-hand-looking costumes and goofy wigs, computer-printout signs and "I found this in my basement"-esque props.  This is not an indictment by any means.  This was and continues to be a conscious choice, and our audiences LOVE the idea that we all piled in a van after our last staffer meeting with Senator Bigwig and Congresswoman I'Msoimportant and drove through the night to put on a little skit for the locals in Des Moines.

However, the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants aura surrounding the Capitol Steps is no myth.  We rarely have more than a day or two to rehearse new material and we often switch roles from week to week or night to night, depending upon the cast combination...which means we are often called upon to sing a part we haven't performed in a little while.  Or a long while. 

Or ever.

This brings me to my first story.  This happened sometime late in 2008 - sometime after Halloween and before Christmas I would guess, because we were doing a MONSTER MASH parody about the financial meltdown.  It was after the big election year rush of shows and things had been winding down.  I was in a cast with a number of people I hadn't seen or talked to since perhaps June of that year.  There were two women on the cast (as there usually are) - me and TS.  TS and I sing all the roles in the show, so when we are on a show together, we have to carefully look at the running order to make sure we know which ones we were supposed to be singing.  No auto-pilot here!   

Monster Mash was a song that featured Henry Paulson, George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi and an announcer who was invariably play by the woman who wasn't playing Pelosi.  I was listed as the announcer.  I had learned the Pelosi part, but had never been called upon to sing it.  I just assumed TS had done it a number of times, because it wasn't flagged as something we needed to rehearse before the show.  From the backstage mic, I introduced Paulson - big laugh from the audience (he was dressed as Frankenstein); I introduced Bush (big laugh - dressed as Igor); I introduced Pelosi (dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein, wig and all).  Nothing.  Silence.  I thought, "Huh, weird!  They usually love her", but thought nothing more of it. 
Still silence.  The piano player is vamping.  No one is singing onstage.  Now it is weird.

I go backstage and see that TS (who is supposed to be onstage that very moment) is sitting backstage, not dressed in costume, chatting with the roadie.  I quickly check the running order - I am not crazy, she IS supposed to be onstage.

Me: TS!!!  You're PELOSI!  They're waiting for you!!

TS: No I'm not.

Me: Uh, yes you are!  Look at the running order.  If I am the announcer, who do you suppose it left to play Pelosi??

TS: I've never done it.

Oops.  Onstage, I hear my hubby Kevin (who is playing W that night) and MD singing the first verse and chorus and hoping TS will show up.  The verse and chorus end - Pelosi is supposed to sing now.  Kevin ad libs (he is really good at this).  TS still doesn't show.  The audience is...I'll be kind and say "perplexed".  I shove the wig on her head, hand her the lyrics I have printed out and drag her backstage.

Me: Just read the lyrics!  You don't even have to sing a tune!

TS sort of digs her heels in.  I literally push her out onstage.  She stands there. 

Kevin: Finally!  There's crazy little bitch!

Audience: (...)

MD: fhsdhfdsfjd fdjkdl jsfdk Monster Crash jkdsjfd.  (He's not good at ad libbing...)

The rest of the song is a fits and starts.  TS read the lyrics...badly...mispronouncing various words and stumbling over every line.  Kevin is laughing the entire time.  MD is trying his damnedest to regain his usual aplomb, to no avail.  The song ends with:

Kevin: (to Audience) You're probably more confused than we are!

Audience: (Laughter - FINALLY).

I was backstage with the roadie weeping with laughter.  I supposed I could have donned the wig and taken one for the team when I realized TS had no intention of going onstage.

But it was more fun to just stand backstage and laugh.  These are the moments I live for.

West Virginia, Mountain Mama...

I went to school in Elkins, WV.  It is a sort of run down little town in the Tygart Valley with a tiny little liberal arts college nestled in the hills.  I LOVE Elkins.  I LOVE Davis & Elkins College.  I hadn't been back to the town in 3 years, and hadn't set foot on campus in 8 years.  Funny how easy it was to go home again.  Walking along the familiar paths, past the familiar buildings, even seeing familiar faces...the intervening 12 years just melted away as quickly as frost in the sun and I was 21 years old again.  Of course I had my 7-month-old baby strapped to my chest and my husband in tow, so that made it wildly different from 21.

Not everything about being 21 was all that great, actually.  I was diagnosed with cancer than year (I fought it off bravely, and have been cancer-free for 11 years), was a hormonal wreck from the surgery and radiation, drank waaaaaaaaaaay more than strictly necessary, broke up with a long-term boyfriend, got back together with said boyfriend, etc., etc., etc...

But oh, Elkins.  Fresh air, beautiful mountains, good friends, excellent theatre (D&E had an incredible thriving theatre department full of incredibly talented people), challenging roles and awesome scene studies classes.  I still long for the days when all I had to do was rehearse and act and sing sometimes show up for a literature or science class.  College was just plain fun, and all typical early-adult other bullshit aside, I loved every minute of it.  Part of that love was just for the place itself.

Elkins is near the 2 highest points in the state, Spruce Knob and Bickles Knob.  We would drive up to Bickles almost weekly and just watch the hours slipping by over the endless miles of mountain.  By my senior year, the overly-liberal mining and logging policies the state employs were evident in the blown off mountain tops and swathes of clear-cut forest.  While this made me sad, I didn't have the maturity or dedication to be angry or to actually try to do anything about it.  All my passion and dedication was aimed at theatre, and there were few better places to do it than at this little college nestled in the mountains.  It was tiny, but thriving.  I was an integral part of a beautiful little community and I loved it.

I started writing this post a week a ago when I got back from my college theatre reunion.  I am not sure why.  I don't have much to say about college anymore.  I grew, I acted, I sang, I loved, I lost, I moved on.  The college itself hit some seriously bad years.  Enrollment dropped below 500 students for a time.  The Theatre department lost funding and subsequently talent - as evidenced by the seriously low-quality production I witnesses last weekend (This is, sadly for my priorities, almost more tragic than the clear-cut forests and strip mining).  Supposedly, things have started to turn around.  I hope so.  Those were good years at a good school doing excellent theatre.  I hope more aspiring actors have the opportunity to hone their craft in such a beautiful setting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Creaking in my Bones

I am managing to get to yoga once a week now.  Not great, but better than not at all.  I get out of bed in the morning and my feet hurt.  My hips hurt.  I am only 33 years old.  I am not supposed to creak like this!  I know it is a consequence of not practicing as often as I should.  I am terrible at home practice.  I got an iPod Touch app that has 27 different practices that it can lead me through...this is nice, but I have found that it won't drag me out of bed, roll out my mat and force me to turn it on. 

Is there an app for that?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Kinda done...

...with all the screaming in my house.  Seriously.  What does it take to have a peaceful, happy baby that sleeps?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Missing Easter

I grew up in an Episcopal household.  "Catholic Lite" if, you will.  We went to church every Sunday religiously (if you'll excuse the pun).  I literally missed maybe 5 Sunday services during the first 19 years of my life.  I like going to church.  I like the familiarity of the service, the comfort of reciting the same prayers with 200 other people (or 22 other people if you go to  parent's church), the hymns that were the soundtrack for my childhood.

Sometime after college (not DURING college, mind you, I attended church regularly throughout my college years) I decided that the Church (the Christian Church in general, nothing specifically about Episcopalianism) was somewhat narrow in its definition of God and salvation.  I began to believe that while Jesus was indeed the Son of God, He came to show us what we had the potential to be.  If we could recognize and tap into our on connection to the Divine in the same way that He had/has/does that we too could be Sons and Daughters of God.  I stopped believing in a God that would send people to hell for not believing or doing the "right" thing.  I mean, do you care what games your children play when they go outside to play?  Does it matter in the least whether they play hide and seek or tag?  So why does it matter to God what His children believe about Him?  Our belief (or disbelief) does nothing to change the truth one way or another. 

Not that I am saying God doesn't care.  I believe we are loved beyond measure by All That Is, The Source, God, Light, Love, The Great Whatever.   But how can we POSSIBLY injure or offend All That Is?  Wouldn't that be God being offended by a part of Himself?  And if God knows all, controls all, sees all and ultimately IS all, how can we do anything that is outside His plan?  How can we BE anything outside His love?  I am sure that there are many people out there with many answers for me in regards to these questions.  But I have thought, and searched, and studied and the answers you would offer do not make sense to me.  God loves perfectly, God is perfect love.  How then can anything - anything AT ALL -  be outside His love?  I also think the Christian Church tends toward intolerance and hatred of those that are different from them (I understand this is a gross simplification and a blanket statement that doesn't apply to all branches of the church).  Jesus was a consumate liberal - associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, feeding the poor, healing the lepers, etc.  I can't stand people who use Jesus as a justification for discrimination.  Jesus didn't hate.  We shouldn't hate.  I try to live my life by His example.  I love my neighbor.  I treat people the way I want to be treated.  I help the less fortunate to the best of my ability.  I pray to be better today than I was yesterday and to share the love I have with those around me.  I am thankful for my blessings.

Let me be clear - I don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  It has passed through too many human hands to be the direct and perfect Word of God.  I don't even necessarily believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus.  I believe SOMETHING happened that day - something very powerful and world-changing.  Otherwise, we certainly wouldn't have Christianity at all.  But I am not sure it was a physical resurrection.  I do believe God sends us messengers from time to time, messengers with powerful, world-changing teachings (and that we as a species tend to kill them).  I do believe that Jesus came to show us the way to everlasting life. 

So anyway, theological debates aside, I love going to church on Easter Sunday.  I woke up yesterday morning and got Lucy dressed in her cute little Easter dress.  I got dressed up.  Then I thought "Now what?".  So I went to the computer and I discovered an Episcopal Church less than 2 miles from my house with Easter services at 10:30.  I loaded Lucy in the car (it was now 10:40) and drove to church.  It was PACKED!  I mean just jammed full of people.  We were squeezed into the back row of the pews reserved for the choir.  I loved this church right off.  There were so many different ethnicities.  There were the old white ladies of my childhood church experience in their white gloves and tailored suits. There were African families with the men in sober suits and women in bright dresses and outrageously festive hats.  There were hispanics and asians and everyone in between.  A beautiful global tapestry, immediately apprarent.  The churches I have attened in the past have been rather uniform in terms of race, so this was a breath of fresh air.  The choir was FANTASTIC.  I am thinking of joining the church just to sing in the choir. 

Regardless of my particular reservations about organized religion, it was so nice to sit among strangers and feel accepted, part of a community.  THIS is what I miss about being a member of a church.  Community.  People cooed at Lucy, smiled at me, shook my hand, shared their hymnals with me.  It was, in a word, nice.  We said the familiar words, sang the familiar songs, recited the familiar prayers, took Communion.  The choir brought me to tears with their music.  I felt my heart lift with joy when we sang together "and I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, and I will raise them up on the last day", with hands raised in celebration.  I felt a swell of love and gratitude when the priest placed his hand on Lucy at communion and said "My the Lord bless you and keep you always".  This is the bright, beautiful side of religion that I love.  So for today, I could forget my reservations and sing a glad song. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Question of the Day

I was just sitting on the porch, enjoying a gorgeous Easter Sunday afternoon.  Done reading my Time Magazine for the moment, I went inside, slid the screen door closed and locked it. 

Why on God's green earth is there any reason to lock a screen door?

Mama Yoga

You may have gleaned this from my previous postings, but Lucy is not a good sleeper.  She has her moments of great sleep, but generally speaking, I have not had a full night's sleep since she was born.  All this was tempered by the fact that she was usually a great daytime sleeper.  She's sleep for 2 hours in the morning and the another 2 in the afternoon and then sometimes 45 minutes in the early evening. 

This stopped recently.  So now she's a mediocre nighttime sleeper and a mediocre daytime sleeper.  She wakes up any where from 2-4 times a night (ouch) and she takes catnaps.  45 minute naps, 35 minute naps, sometimes an hour and 15 minute naps...but she always wakes up fussy and rubbing her eyes, making me think she needs more sleep.

So I started camping out by her crib about 10 minutes before she usually wakes up.  And I wait.  Sometimes she stirs and wiggles her fingers and goes back into a sleep without so much as a whimper.  Sometimes she jumps like someone has shocked her, rubs her eyes and starts wailing.  My goal is to pat her back to sleep before she actually wakes up.  It works like a charm.  If I can catch her before she is fully awake, it only takes a few gentle pats to get her to go back to sleep peacefully.  Usually if she makes it past 45 minutes, she'll sleep for 1.5-2 hours.  But if I miss the stirring and she actually wakes, it's game over, better luck next time.

The tricky part about all of this is not waking her up in my attempt to make sure she doesn't wake up.  A sleep cycle in an infant is 40 minutes long.  Around 30 minutes, they start to come up out of their deep sleep, crest the wake of barely waking around 40 minutes and - if you are lucky - sink slowly down into another deep sleep around 45 minutes.  Some babies can't make the transition from one sleep cycle to another, thus waking up around 40-45 minutes into their nap.  Often, this is Lucy.  So I have to quietly open the door to her room and wait quietly by her crib for her to stir, then quietly pat her down, then quietly leave when she is back asleep. 

Easy right?

WRONG!  The door squeaks.  It has been painted over so many times that it sort of lightly sticks to the frame, so that also makes a noise when you open the door.  The crib will move ever so lightly if you bump it in the wrong place.  The floor boards squeak.  My GOD do the floor boards sqeak!  I have to do a little jig to avoid the squeaky ones on the way to the crib and back out the door after the naptime intervention is done.  I have to put weight on one foot ever so slightly, testing the squeak of the floor before putting my full weight on it.  Then do the same with the other foot.  Then soooooooo slowly lean on the edge of the crib without moving it.  Or I can stand stark still in the middle of her room on the one spot I KNOW has no squeaky boards and do a mad dash to the crib side if she starts to wake up, often bumping the crib in my rush to keep her from waking.

Once I have found a quiet position at the edge of her crib, I have to wait.  I usually wait for 15 minutes, from 30 minutes into her nap to 45 minutes.  After I while I want to move.  My back starts to ache or my elbow hurts or the bottoms of my feet start to get really hot (don't even ask.  I have no idea why this happens).  So I start the cribside boogie.  Arching my back, wiggling my hips, rolling my neck.  I do every stretch I can think of that doesn't actually require me to move my feet or my arms. 

Then it occurs to me that this is my yoga.  Not just the stretching, but the waiting, the patting, the watching.  I breathe.  I am in my body, exactly where it is.  I stretch a little.  I watch my daughter sleep.  I love the idea that she thinks I watch over her every moment of her slumber.  Of course this is not true, but I love the idea that she might think this.  Whenever she starts to wake and can't go back to sleep, I am there for her with a gentle hand, a gentle pat.  She is so sweet while she sleeps. She smiles randomly, sucks her phantom pacifier, sighs deeply.  I breathe peace to my sleeping baby.  I practice patience as the clocks ticks the minutes off - minutes I could be using for any number of things for myself.  This is Life Yoga and I love it.  This is Karma Yoga (giving of yourself freely to others).  This is Mama Yoga.  What a blessing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Boiled Milk

I am a yoga teacher.  I teach kids yoga to children ages 3-10.  Before I was a yoga teacher, I was just a yogini, utterly addicted to Bikram Yoga .  I once took class 60 days in a row - lost 20 pounds, dropped the depression that stemmed from the crumbling of the 5-year-relationship with my college boyfriend,  got a new job, a new car, a new life.  Yoga really, truly and in all other ways changed my life.  Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a hot room.  A very hot room.  A very hot and sweaty room.  I practiced Bikram Yoga for 6 years, more or less regularly depending on my travel schedule, before getting pregnant. 

When I go pregnant, my husband said "Please don't practice hot yoga...", my doctor said "Please don't practice hot yoga...", when I switched to a midwife, she said "Hmmmm...let me ask the perinatologist we consult with." but I could see behind her eyes "Please don't practice hot yoga...".  I think she would have been okay, having practiced for so long and being used to the heat, but who wants to take that chance?  Besides, the fact that I don't have a thyroid makes my body more susceptible to overheating and dehydration.  So I stopped practicing so as not to cook my unborn baby in the womb. 

I stopped practicing for 15 months.  That is a long LOOOOOOOONG time to be out of the hot room.  I used to worry about going back to class after having not been for a week.  Imagine my dread at returning to class after over a year.  But my friends, Lara and Yasmin - both Bikram teachers, bought me a 10 class pass at my home studio for Christmas.  So now I had to go back.

I went once in January.  Then roughly 3 feet of snow fell and my husband went travelling for work what seemed like every week.  So I didn't make it back again till last week.  It was a surprisingly strong class!  I didn't die, which was really the goal of the whole exercise, honestly, and actually did all the postures, except for one side of Balancing Stick  and one side of Triangle.  I felt GREAT!

I went back again last night.  It was not so great.  It must have been 10,000 degrees in that room, and 175% humidity.  I realize this is impossible, but it was impossibly hot.  I think I actually died three times.  I am not sure what kept me from running out of the room screaming, sweat flying, hair sticking up, crying for my life.  But I stuck it out.  I did almost everything.  Okay, that might be stretching the truth a bit, but I didn't sit out the whole class.  What I did notice was my milk letting down like CRAZY all throughout class.  Heat, apparently, opens the milk ducts and allows it to flow.  I knew this, having often take a hot shower to relieve clogged ducts, but I didn't really put 2 and 2 together as far as the heat in class was concerned.  I could have nursed every orphan in Haiti by the time class was over, and still had enough for a milk shake.

It didn't really bother me too much until we came to Rabbit Pose.  I LOVE Rabbit Pose.  It feels SO good on my back.  I used to try to do it while pregnant, but frankly, the position doesn't leave much room for a baby-laden belly.  I would literally dream about the day I could really do a full forward bend to finally release the tension in my back brought on by lugging a bowling ball around in my belly for so long.  A forward Rabbit Pose.

I am not sure why I didn't notice it the first two classes back.  Maybe I had nursed Lucy more recently before class.  Maybe I didn't go as deeply into the pose.  Who knows.  All I know is that when I got into Rabbit Pose, my shockingly-full, already-enormous, covered-with-sweat, breasts slapped themselves neatly right over my nose and my mouth.  I couldn't have breathed if I wanted to, and certainly not through my nose, as the teacher dictates.  So much for a great forward bend.  The way to pose compresses everything on the front side of your body makes it impossible to even hold your breath for length of the pose.  I was defeated in my favorite my own boobs.

When I got home after class, I pumped before bed like I always do. I usually get about 5-6oz of body-temperature milk.  Last night I got a solid 12oz.  And I swear it was boiling.