Hell Month (But Not Really)

May 1-31

In theatre lingo, “hell week” is the week before a new production opens. Quite often, the term is well chosen; intense dress rehearsals are often accompanied by frantic last minute changes in staging, costuming, sets, and sometimes even casting. Our own hell week is usually longer than a week – in fact, the shorter it is, the more frantic it gets. This time, it extended to over a month, and it was pretty intense, but it also had its share of pleasantries.

This extended length was in spite of the fact that we had an excellent facility to work in, which we haven’t always had. In the past, we’ve had to rehearse in parks, or wherever we could find available, and Kimberly had to sew the sets at a campground or a motel room or in some other location that we creatively wrangled. But now Kimberly’s parents live in Reno, where we maintain our storage unit. And they were kind enough to tolerate us setting up shop in their garage for an entire month, with our set, the sewing machine and a whole setup that would make Santa’s elves turn green.

It took longer than usual to get the new production running for several reasons.

It’s probably the most demanding show we’ve done in terms of props, and one of the most demanding in terms of costumes. But the biggest reason is that we are trying out something we’ve never done before: interacting with recorded dialogue.

The staging for two of our stories was proving to be incredibly problematic with only two performers. So the solution we came up with was to draft our son to return to active duty long enough to record the voice of the narrator in “The Little Mermaid” and the title character in “Old Stormalong”. That was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to make use of these recordings. For this we had to invest in a new sound system, since the small one we carried with us was not up to the battle, and the large one we had in storage had already lost the battle.

Our initial concept was to operate the sound by remote control with devices cleverly concealed in our pockets. But with the idiosyncrasies of such contraptions (every time we moved within an arbitrary distance of the speakers at some arbitrary angle, it would squawk like a banshee) and our extremely physical style of performance (we were constantly bumping the pocket gadgets accidentally, triggering sound when we didn’t want it), we didn’t even remotely have control over the sound by remote control. Even with the able assistance of our teenage nephew Joey (a whiz with anything that moves, lights up or buzzes), our show still floundered – an entirely appropriate metaphor for a collection of stories dealing with bodies of water.

In the end, we had to record the tracks on a CD and figure out times when one of us could sneak offstage to turn it on or off without making it appear obvious; and when we both had to be onstage, we’d have to have tracks that would continue to play, with silence added at the end, until one of us could get back there.

This required careful editing and a great deal of practice to get the timing right, lest our son resume his former habit of interrupting us when we were talking.

We finally got it right, although to be honest it required staying over a few days into June as well. But during May, we also managed to have some family outings, including one or two before Zephyr went back home. (We dropped him at the train station to ride to San Francisco, where he flew back to Boston. Yep, it was his first time ever to ride the California Zephyr, after which he was named.) We attended a festival at the riverfront on a chilly Mother’s Day, watching some thrilling kayak races in the whitewater park. We paid our first visit to Scheel’s, the humongous camping/sporting supply emporium that features an indoor Ferris wheel and – heaven knows why – statues of presidents. We also paid our first visit to the National Bowling Stadium to see our friend Dave from Tennessee compete in a tournament. (Dave and his family are fellow RVers, at least part of the time.) And we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a night on the town.

Dennis also managed to work in a visit to a dermatologist to have her examine some sun spots on his face. She froze off four of them and ordered a biopsy of a fifth, which she was particularly concerned about. (It turned out to be benign.)

All in all, not a bad month.

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