Rick Karr and September 11th

April 27, 2014

I woke up when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I worked nights then, so it was early in the morning for me. The psychic shhhhhhhhockkkkkk wrenched me out of bed.

I went to Daniel’s because he had CNN. We watched. We watched. People falling. People jumping. People holding hands and jumping. I thought of Anubis, ancient Egyptian god, holding your hand as he leads you through the Underworld after you die. Such a human gesture. “It’s okay. I’m here. You’re not alone.” That’s the message I would want as I stepped out the window.

My sister and I have talked about that, about whether we’d stay in the burning building or jump. She says she would stay because you never know when you might be rescued. I say I would jump because I want to go out under my own power. Maybe that explains why she’s suffocating in a loveless marriage, and why as soon as anything goes wrong my first solution is suicide.

I went to work as normal that day, hoping to make sense of it all. I had left frantic voicemails for my college friend Janet who worked in Manhattan and was settling in to the horrible waiting to find out if she was alive or dead.

I couldn’t stop listening to the news. I soaked it in, sucked it in, voracious appetite, just take it all in and somehow somehow make sense of this day.

And suddenly there’s a voice I haven’t heard in nearly 20 years. Coming from my radio is Rick Karr’s voice.

I’m catapulted to my sophomore year in high school. I am playing Maria in The Sound of Music. My parents’ dream role for me: the chaste nun. Rick Karr is playing Captain von Trapp. Rick is about 12 feet tall and 90 pounds so he’s all angles and bones and he has this large head with a shock of brown hair and he’s a punk rock singer and it’s my job to teach him how to sing Edelweiss.

“{glottal} E-{head bang}del-{head bang}weiss{gasp gasp}{glottal}E-{head bang}del-{head bang}weiss!”

“Okay, Rick, that’s a start, now let’s try it softer, gentler, more legato, sung lyrically.”

“Right, I’ve got it. {glottal} E-{head bang}del-{head bang}weiss{gasp gasp}{glottal}E-{head bang}del-{head bang}weiss!”

We are in the rehearsal where we are going to kiss. I am dating Dave Blake at the time, white, middle class Dave Blake who does not believe in ghosts, no sir, 2+2=4 and hair grows back! it’s a rational world Dave Blake. And I can’t kiss Rick because I feel like I’m betraying Dave Blake. So we go away from the cast into a classroom and Rick is so kind and so gentle and so genuinely good. He is endlessly patient with me. It takes me 45 MINUTES to get up the nerve to do the deed and as I go in I think, “Forgive me, Dave!” And I tilt my head back to receive one of the sweetest, purest kisses I will ever experience in my life. Bliss.

And on this most terrible day Rick Karr is a reporter for NPR in New York City and his job is to go from morgue to morgue to morgue, counting broken, splattered, burned corpses so we will have a body count. So we will know our losses.

“Bless my homeland forever.”


[See Ferrying the Dead for another September 11th story]

SoM closes

January 5, 2010

I’d hoped to have time to blog while the show was running, but I spent my time actually doing the show instead! It’s now over—Sunday afternoon was our closing show—and I find myself sad because of it. While I appreciate the swathes of free time that have opened up in my schedule, I miss the camaraderie of working towards a shared goal.

The run of the show was great fun. We had terrific audiences—very warm and appreciative. Backstage was fun, too, though we always had to be mindful to keep the noise down! Mary, Philippa, Phil, and I made up the “adults’ table” out in the stairwell off stage right during the party scene, swapping stories and trying not to laugh while we waited for our next cue.

I ended up grateful for my nun’s habit because it kept me warm! The weather was frigid and, with two outside entrances/exits, I appreciated the scads of wool! People loved my party dress; the little girls in the cast would tell me so with their eyes shining.

One day/night stands out in particular for me: my birthday. I was standing in the wings before the evening show, talking to my sister who was 200 miles away. It was a bit of a lonely birthday (I turned 42) but I was very glad to have the show to fill the time. I don’t know why that image sticks with me so clearly, but I can practically feel the cell phone in my hand now.

Presents were abundant throughout the run. We had yellow roses and pink carnations on opening night. Lynne Schwartzberg (or “Cookie Lynne,” as Esther called her) kept us stocked up on incredible sugar creations throughout. Philippa gave everyone tiny plastic “flying nuns.” Caroline Dowd-Higgins handmade photo greeting cards for us and gave us them along with cookies from Vienna (she played the baroness from Vienna). Mary gave all the nuns candles as a memento of our pyrotechnics. Nick, who played Friedrich, gave everyone a can of Vienna sausage and a bit of Swiss chocolate along with a clever Von Trapp limerick he invented. Philippa very kindly gave me a cool little handmade dish for a birthday present. Perhaps the cleverest gift was from the ever-gracious Melissa Bohun, who made candies that looked like stained glass window panes. She delivered them in “brown paper packages tied up with string.” What a generous company!

We struck the set Sunday night, carrying big pieces of wood through the freezing wind from one building to the next, taking down lights, and stuffing a piece of pizza in where we could! I feel sorry for the Cardinal staff that has to go through all the costumes and debris to organize everything!

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to perform in this show. I hope to be able to do another Cardinal show in future. The show was good, the experience rewarding, and the people outstanding. I am thankful.

SoM opening night!

December 23, 2009

Woot! Just home from an exhilarating opening night of Sound of Music. While the show was fun, the best part was the audience! We could feel the warmth and appreciation even through the downstage monitor speakers. Everyone was upbeat and happy, givin’ it all back to this loving crowd. Backstage, we kept crying out, “We love this audience!”

Mother Abbess gave all her nuns yellow roses for the opening, and Esther, our indomitable choreographer, left us pink carnations with a wonderful note. Phillippa, our sister nun, gave each of us three teeny plastic flying nuns that look like they have superpowers. Well, let’s face it, if you were both a nun and a being capable of flying, you’d have to be a superhero!

I remain terrified of the runway (the 3′ wide arc that reaches out beyond the stage) but have determined to conquer my terror sometime before the show is over.

This show has given me so many reasons to think of my Aunt Dolores, who died several years ago. She was Sister Dolores Marie McLaughlin and she was an inspiration and a friend.

She would have loved to have known that I was playing a nun again (I played Maria in high school). If only there were some way to make these things happen faster in life, so that so many who have passed beyond the Veil could still take part—in a corporeal way!

I think of my grandparents and certain aunts and uncles, imagining what it would be like to have them in the audience. It would be such a joy.

With family so far away (or so dead!), I rely primarily on friends to fill that emotional need for someone in the audience to connect with. When they are able to come, there’s no easy way to link up with them afterwards—the Bus-Chum has no green room.

I think it’s so important to have a way to link back up with the audience after a show. They are often hungry to close the loop and give back some love with compliments and kudos. And then you shine it right back with thanks, and it all becomes a big love fest!

The theme of this post seems to be all about love and longing, doesn’t it? I believe Four Things In The World, and one of them is that “love is the best thing.” Take it as you will, but I believe, love is the best thing. May you find it and keep it with you and yours.

Speaking of SoM…

November 18, 2009

The world of Sound of Music is sunnier than my last depressed post about it. It’s definitely challenging to be back in a musical theatre environment but that’s a really good thing. Rebecca and I continue to finesse the music. The directors are outstanding. The talent is phenomenal. I can indeed do the Sign of the Cross without bursting into flame. Things are looking up.

What’s cracking me up is I have the Gaudeamus in my head all day, every day. Hey, it’s a 24-hour nun-fest! It’s so dramatic and over the top. I love it. I keep picturing these nuns popping up out of the shrubbery and belting, “Gaudeamus!!” at the most inappropriate moments.

“You are sixteen going on—” “Gaudeamus!!! Gaudeamus!!!”

It cracks me up.


November 5, 2009

Last night was the first rehearsal for Sound of Music. All of us nuns together in a deserted office building, surrounded by torn down wiring and nondescript walls.

I was anxious going in because I had auditioned as a mezzo only because none of the other sopranos would move down. I am not a mezzo. I am a soprano with rusty pipes. Meh.

Our director had us self-select parts first, but there was only one of each of the other parts and the rest of us divas classified ourselves as first sopranos. Then began a meticulous process of determining people’s voices by singing as small groups, pairs, and solos.

Since Mother Abbess is a first soprano (and boy, is she good—she stood next to me in auditions and her voice is tip-top), there were only two other slots. I made it to the final three. The other two women were about 20 years old and clearly in the music school. I am not. On either score. Each of them could sing two or three whole steps above my highest comfortable pitch. There was no way—I was going down.

He asked if I’d hate him if he made me be a second soprano. I made a joke but then told him I’ve never sung second. I’ve been thinking about that ever since and I do believe it’s the absolute truth–I’ve actually sung alto twice and even tenor once, but never soprano II. Regardless, I’ve been trained since age five to listen for the highest line. I don’t know how to hear chords—I’m much more of a “line” person.

Anyway, I said I’d never sung mezzo and he said, “But you auditioned as a mezzo.” Rather than say the more appropriate, “That’s because you asked me,” I just said, “That’s the first time I ever sang it.” So he still thinks it was a totally voluntary decision on my part. I am still kicking myself over that.

Regardless, away we flew. My sister seconds are twenty-something music school types with nice voices. (Anyone reading this should book tickets now for the show—if the nun’s chorus is any indication, there’s going to be some phenomenal talent in the show overall!) And there I sit.

Rebecca, my voice coach, had actually worked with me on the pieces that afternoon and we’d done the SII line just in case. Even with all that prep, the SII’s were the weakest link in the chain last night. We made the most mistakes and needed the most assists. Almost everyone else in the room can sight-sing. I certainly can’t, and definitely felt the lack of it.

Augh, I am sinking into a pit of humiliation as I write this.

What complicates things is that I know the soprano lines on most of the songs. So I’m constantly pulled to SI because I know it and have sung it for 25 years! Augh!

What’s killing my voice is that the range of the pitches on the SII line goes right back and forth over my passaggio and it’s killing me. It hurts my voice. Rebecca says to keep it breathy and only practice the songs ten minutes at a time before giving my voice lots of rest.

I have no idea how I’m going to get through a whole show.

Oh GODS I’m depressed. What’s killing me is that I feel that I won’t be able to give the performance I’m capable of. I won’t sound as good as I know I can. I might even jeopardize any future chance of working with Cardinal because I’m so bloody stupid and I sound like crap. My fear walking in last night was that I’d be the weak link, and it looks like I was right. I don’t sight-sing—I don’t even sight read—so it takes forever to get a part down if it’s difficult. And as easy as these songs are, the lines are really difficult for me for all the blathering reasons listed above.

I can’t help but feel like a failure. Being consigned to mezzo-land means I couldn’t cut it as a first soprano. For the first time in my life, I’m not the star. Hear my ego get pummeled. Ow ow ow.

I’m so thankful for Rebecca, who’s making extra time to do an additional lesson with me next week. Plus she gave me two big pep talks today. I just need time to get through this and get used to the humiliation of screwing up every rehearsal. Because this really is all about me. The production itself is outstanding.

I can only hope that, when it comes to staging, I’ll be brilliant at things like gliding across the stage.

Oh Gods I pray I’m good enough. Let me be good enough.


July 12, 2009

…so anxious I wait.”

That was the opening line from a bad poem I wrote in high school but it describes where I am now. Got a message from Lee Williams this week saying he may let me know as early as next week whether Kaia will be invited to sing at Lotus. We’ve been waiting for The Werd for almost a year, focusing all our rehearsals around the possibility, and it’s finally coming down to the wire.

I worked some more on the recording of Redbird and sent it off to Kevin for his approval. As soon as I get it, I’ll post it here for free. I’m anxious to get the recording complete and to be able to share it!

Tension is also the watchword (though to a lesser degree) for my pending callback audition for Cardinal Stage Company‘s production of The Sound of Music. I’ve been working with Janiece to prep and did some “research” last week by watching the movie and noting all the things I would do differently. 🙂 But really, there’s no substitute for Julie Andrews, is there? The most daunting challenge facing anyone playing the role is that most people have never seen or heard a different Maria. There is only “one way” to play the role and that is the way owned by Andrews. Sheesh. No pressure.

Hopefully next week will see some of this tense waiting resolved. I feel like I’m ready to explode out of the starting blocks but I’d settle for just knowing one way or the other.

All in a day’s slack

May 8, 2009

What a day! It started with the good news that Kaia’s CD Get Down, Rise Up! is featured live & in person at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Not only is Wandering Turtle run by one of Bloomington’s coolest people (Jaime Sweany), it features fantastic art and great greeting cards. It’s a wonderful place to browse for a creative boost and, of course, a great place to buy things!

Next came an email from the Bloomington Playwrights Project saying that Kindred, a mini-play I co-wrote with Lori Garraghty, has been selected for the 2009-2010 BloomingPlays Festival! While I’ve published poetry, fiction, screenplays, and non-fiction over the years, this is the first piece I’ve written for the stage. 

There were 77 entries, I believe, and only a handful of Bloomington playwrights (5? 7?) were selected, so it’s an even bigger honor to me to be selected. My other entry, a mini-play entitled A Day In The Life, did not make the cut. I wasn’t sure if it was just self-involved rubbish but thought I’d throw it into the pot. I think I was right! 🙂 

Tonight I went to go see Cardinal’s production of Doubt and Randy stopped me to say they’ll be calling me back to audition for The Sound of Music! I felt bad that I couldn’t focus entirely on the excellent production in front of me because my brain was busily imagining possible audition sequences and flashing back to my high school appearance as Maria. (Diane Kondrat was a non-stop revelation in Doubt; go see it if you can!)

I ran into the fabulous Janiece Jaffe after the show and talked a little about taking voice lessons with her. I’ve thought about it for a while. My current voice coach has been brilliant to work with in the past but he seems to have a serious block about teaching now. He’s suggested I find a woman who understands the voice of a woman over 40: voilá! I’m sure I would learn a lot from Janiece but I need to set with it a little bit longer before I decide. I want to be sure Jeduthun is truly uninterested in working together.

It’s been a wonderful day for affirmation of my artistic self. I only hope I can live up to it all! My brain is in a tremendous whirl. Time for milk and some popcorn to calm me down!