Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Bureaucrazy Reading

Well.  It happened.

I hopped on a plane from our wee little local airport...

(Hello, wee little airport!  This is it.  This is the entire airport.  There's a gate behind me and a gate behind that wall aaaaaand... that's it.  Isn't it cute?)

I jetted down the west coast.  From the stormy, rainy days of the PNW, it was tough not to just "forget" to hop back on the plane when we landed in San Francisco.  This is February, people!  Look at those clear skies!  

I had to keep reminding myself it is NOT okay to buy souvenirs to remember an airport layover.  But they had a snowglobe with silver glitter fog and oh so many wonderful mugs... I love mugs... 
And bread...

And a whole market filled with all the See's and Ghirardelli in one place...

Don't judge me.

Outpacing the sunset, I sped east, making sure to wave to Chicago as I sped by.  Hello, Chicago!  Hello!  You are very pretty up close, but also from 30,000 feet!

 Finally, I touched down in NYC.  After a quick cab ride, I checked into my first hotel.

It had a robot for your bags.

("Store your luggage with YoBot")

Thing about being on West Coast time was that though it was midnight in the Big Apple, my body was like, "Hey!  It's 9:00!"  So, I decided to take a stroll down to Times Square and stumbled upon an art installation.  Every night at 11:57 PM, a graphic artist takes over all the billboards to present something profound for three minutes.

And then I grabbed some halal food from a cart, because it is some of the tastiest and most affordable food you'll find in the city.  Go for the chicken and rice.  $7.  You're welcome.

And then I headed to bed.  The next days were Dramatists Guild meetings at a Broadway theatre and strolling along the west river at night with a fellow rep and eating at 10:00 PM at a little restaurant that had an autographed picture of Fred Astaire just hanging on the wall, and tea at the Russian Tea Room.

FYI - My traveling coffee system was a game changer.  (NYC has something against in-room coffee makers now, so you're faced with having to shower and dress before that morning cuppa.  Cruel.)

Collapsible tea kettle, pour over coffee maker, and a travel mug.  CHECK!  CHECK!  CHECK! 

So, that's all the exposition.  I was there for business, but in looking at my life went, "Self?  Remember those dreams you had?  Maybe you should look at them again."  So, I decided to do something to make a dream come true.

And that dream is providing roles for the really funny women I know.  Women who SLAY, but are constantly shuffled off to the b-storyline in romantic comedies, paired up with the awkward dude as some sort of prize, or bit character roles where they come in and KILL IT with a line or two, and then we have to sit through another 90-minutes of some hapless young man trying to figure out what he's doing with his life.


So, I decided to put together a reading of my office, female-led farce, Bureaucrazy.  

I hauled out funny ladies I knew from all corners of the globe.  People like Sarah Jones Brinkworth, who now lives in Massachusetts, whom I met in Los Angeles nineteen years ago at a TOTAL "casting director workshop" scam where we paid something ridiculous like $1200 for a week of "auditioning" before the assistant to the assistant of a "casting director actively seeking out clients."  It was so ridiculous.  I began calling it a summer camp and in protest, started wearing macaroni necklaces and paper bag vests I made during evening "craft time" bitch sessions (it's so weird I never succeeded in Hollywood).  But Sarah admired my skillz with the penne pasta and we became best friends.  

And Diana Costa (who you may know from Pushing Daisies or the best Jack in the Box commercial to ever be made, and was a part of a weekly "Power Group" I belonged to, and we would get together to figure out our strategic goals over omelettes and coffee) 

(Yes, that is Walt Willey of All My Children fame.  We did an improv show where the star got to star in a movie he/she/they always wanted to do, and we did Jaws.  It was the most fun ever.)

And Beth Leckbee (who is one of the greatest musical improvisers you'll ever hear).  

(Beth was fearless.  I, personally, made a tactical decision to play as many dead bodies as I could in improv.)

I worked with those ladies for... gosh... five years?  Six years? doing improv and sketch at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Hollywood (pour one out for the Acme, my friends...)   Two to six nights a week I was there at the theatre with these ladies.

And now, four years after I left LA, they were joining me in Time Square.

I called in Katie Thompson, whom I met in 2002 when we were working at a terrible office job and both struggling in LA.  She once hauled a piano up two flights of stairs to do a random show at a free theatre I had tracked down.  And now she's in NYC and just made her Broadway debut.

(2002, in that random free theatre off La Brea)

My friend Brian Olsen got roped in... erm... agreed to direct.  We met in the basement of a random theatre off Christopher Street in the West Village back in 1997.  

(circa 2002, sporting our matching vintage bowling shirts from Aardvarks on Melrose)

He's now doing comedy at UCB on the Maude Team "Afterschool Snack" and brought along his fellow UCB pal David McCall to play all the mens (who KILLED it and I will forever adore not just for his masterful ability to sexy spacework carrying heavy objects, but for being so method he actually carried all of the real heavy objects for me).  

And then recently a dear friend and producer and one of the guys responsible for my entire legit stage acting career in Los Angeles, Charles Johanson, passed away.  

Not to get all deep, but Charles was family friends with Kitty Carlisle, and took me out to dinner with her after a show once.  She asked me how my career was going, to which I could only shrug, and she oh so gently shared that she used to call 5:00 "The Suicide Hour" because that was the time the agents had gone home, and she knew she had not gotten the part.  It was a kindness of spirit that will always stay with me.  Charles and I spoke of it often.  And Charles gave me moments like that all the time.  He was so young and it made me realize how precious this time is.  And it made me realize I have a duty to prevent "Suicide Hour" whenever I can.  I have a duty to create the opportunities like Charles created for me.  Knowing someone with that spirit who gave so much to you means you need to the same for someone else.

At his memorial, I met one of his best friends, Amy Griffin, and was struck by her spirit and spunk and decided to call her in for this.  Charles' ability to connect people lives on and we were talking after the show about how he was so present in all of this.  

All this is to say, during this whole process, I was in awe of all the amazing people involved in, and how a lifetime of friendships and random decisions could gather us all in the Mary Rogers Room at the Dramatists Guild.

We started off at Alchemical Studios off 14th Street (lovely space and staff, brutal six-story walkup with no elevator.  Welcome to NYC) for a breakneck rehearsal process.

 (Note: Everyone is skinnier than they appear.  I had my phone on panorama, so they're all squished out like a flattened wad of silly putty.  But this is the only picture I thought to snap so we're going for historical importance here.)

A few of us wandered up out for a healthy dinner at Westville before settling in for an evening of practicing lines and stuffing goodie bags.

Okay, so maybe a few of us decided to walk to our hotels and stopped at Macy's on the way and rode the historic wooden escalators to the top floor.

(If any of you have listened to David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries, this is where he worked!  Not quite as flashy in the off-season, but Santa is busy in the North Pole making toys right now.)

The next morning, I was pulling my laptop down from a shelf in my hotel room and felt something hit my ankle.  This being NYC, you better believe I looked down.

It was a penny.

When my grandmother died, she began... saying hello (for a lack of a better way to describe it) by dropping pennies from heaven.  When I shared this with my mom, she said "OMG!  I found a penny on the counter this morning!"  And when I shared it with David as we gathered at call time, he said, "OMG!  I'm so tall, I usually don't notice things below my knees, but I was sitting on the subway and there was a penny!"  So hey, Grandma!  Glad you were here to shine on our adventure!
I walked down the street and across Times Square to the Dramatists Guild in the Paramount Building.

And went up to the...

(Pictures of all the current council members.  And I found out just the day before that I had joined their ranks.)

The cast filtered in and I thought to grab a couple pictures (something I forgot when I did the Building Madness reading and always regretted.)

And Beth grabbed some great pictures, too, to which I have unabashedly stolen from her Facebook page.

The reading went great and we had a hoot.  I couldn't have been prouder of this crazy cast!

(you can't really see it, but there is a blob in the far left corner that is a piano that belonged to Richard Rodgers)

It was a joy to watch these kids play.

Some of the loveliest things that happened, though, were happening in the audience.  Back in 2016, I took off for six months to take every single CTI class I could to learn commercial producing.  Those six months were revolutionary and I learned things I didn't even know I didn't know.  In those classes, I struck up a conversation with Sue Cohen, who become a dear friend.  Do you know what she did?  She hopped on a train from out of state, gathered up some of her dearest friends, women like Amy Gewirtz, Jarlath Jacobs, Masako Tomita, Eri Nakano and Merrie Davis, and brought them along (check out all the shows they have going and buy top tier tickets for me, okay?  They are, seriously, some of the most fabulous human beings and anything they are involved in is going to be great).  My wonderful friend Danielle DeCrette showed up.  We spent a week at the (sadly now defunct) Kenyon Playwriting Conference in Gambier, Ohio, living in houses built by the Amish and doing plays in a barn.  We were assigned a cohort (Group C) and we all still madly adore one another after all these years (shout out to Brett Brewer who tried to make it, but came a month early, and was wondering why all the doors were locked).  I took an online class with Roland Tec in self-producing, and two of the people in the class, people I had never met in real life but knew over a computer screen came - Sam Affoumado and Pat Carroll and his wife (who came in from out of state!)  All this talk about self-producing and here we all were!  And then Evelyn Sullivan, whom I did undergrad with at Towson University and I hadn't seen in YEARS, showed up.  It was like homecoming week.  And all this magic was happening in a little room in Times Square.

Afterwards, Merrie had arranged for us ladies to go to lunch and we merrily walked around the corner.  I had no idea where we were headed, but then suddenly my breath caught in my throat.  We were going into Sardi's.

There are moments in a career that feel like an out of body experience.  Or maybe it's grace.  Or a glimpse into the infinite.  But that's what happened in my head.  To come from a reading in Times Square, to turn a corner and find yourself having a theatre lunch with other professional theatre women... at SARDIS.

It was like an alternate dream world.  I can't even begin to describe how wonderful that lunch was.  To be surrounded by whipsmart women who were passionate about this theatre thing and understood that way it fills your heart.  To have conversations about what thrilled us, about what was exciting, what was new, what steps to take next.  It just... Theatre people are my people and I have missed them. 

Needless to say, I bought the mug at the coat check.

The second show went even better than the first.  And I'm so excited to say that the wheels are in motion to bring this reading back to NYC in the next month or so.  Please come!  Come see all of the magic that is happening here.  And if you're not on the east coast, come to StagesOC in June to catch a full production there.  You can stay abreast of the awesomeness at bureaucrazyplay.com or by signing up for my newsletter.

I am so grateful for this gorgeous crew of unicorns.  Thanks to all of you who got us here and showered us with your support!  It means the world!

And here's to exciting things on the horizon.