Blog Archives

Personal Blog: Seven years since I last left the North American Continent

November 19 has been a somewhat bittersweet anniversary for the last several years, as this day of the year (in 2007 – now 7 years ago) was the last time I was off the North American continent. This is significant primarily because the preceding 8 years saw a wide range of international travel adventures for me… but nothing since 2007. I’m happy the extended hiatus will be ending next March, and, obviously, to be continuing with domestic travel in the present era.

Nonetheless, the anniversary made me recall blog writing before and after that 2007 international flight, and so I turned to LiveJournal to look at the entries again, and re-post them here. It’s worth noting that my theatregoing on that visit included War Horse, which went on to be an international smash, acclaimed film, and is still playing today in London.

November 19, 2007 – “Country Coda Prior to The Journey Home”

It’s a misty morning here in the suburbs of Surrey. The view from my family friends’ house — of thatched brown roofs, tiny streets, and wide swaths of greenery — is suitably “English” to be visually comforting and a relaxed coda for this trip. I’ll be making the journey over to Heathrow via train and bus in time for a 7pm flight that’s due to return to MA at around 10pm EST.

The last few days in London continued to be jam-packed, between seeing two more plays (War Horse, a family drama, and The Country Wife, a raucous Restoration comedy), going around to other parts of the city I hadn’t visited before, including Speaker’s Corner and the area around Spitafields’ Market, and spending time with friends. It concluded with some souvenir shopping yesterday morning and while it was slightly disconcerting how easy it was to $pend (as is often the case in London…) I’m confident I made good purchases of mostly books. I was struck by a wave of sentimental nostalgia, since I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be back here in England will be. However, as was the case when moving out of London in April, it’s double-sided by the reality here of high costs of living, high taxes, vast difference in standards of living and an increasingly tight-knit government…but overall, it’s intriguing to ponder, and I did devote some research to possible theatre grad schools back here, just to consider.

I’m grateful to have been able to take the time for this trip and, as always, to have made the most of the endless artistic experiences here.

November 20, 2007 – “Home in Massachusetts and Staying for Awhile”

I got back to the States around 10pm last night and had a remarkably easy travel/flight process – the speediest airport check-in I’ve ever had (at Heathrow Airport of all places), a cordial customs greeting, somewhat tasty airplane food, and decent films to watch. Even an hour’s delay in taking off from Heathrow didn’t make the flight late getting to Boston.

Am experiencing the usual slightly surreal feelings of being home again, especially where I was walking around rural England yesterday and am in rural Beverly today. I’m sure the adjustment process will ease over the course of this week…

jp london bridge 2007

An old-school (pre-camera phone) selfie

Advertisements

Theatrical Throwback: The Year Of Magical Thinking

For this now – erratic series, this week I recall a play that attracted attention near the end of the 2000’s, but currently seems like it had its moment and will be “rediscovered” at some point down the road.

I came across Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking book in San Luis Obispo at some point in 2008, and can’t recall exactly what drew me to the story. Perhaps some wry acknowledgement of the New Yorker – Angleno’s observations from coast to coast while I was developing my own. Or an awareness of the then in – development (or recently opened?) stage version starring Vanessa Redgrave. I recall being taken with Didion’s prose and the intense story of losing both her husband (suddenly) and her daughter (gradually) over the course of a year.

I had the chance to see the stage version for myself sooner than I might have expected, at the end of a holiday trip home to Massachusetts in early 2009. A family friend and I met up at Boston’s Lyric Stage Company to catch their version of the production, starring North Shore local actress Nancy E. Carroll.

I don’t recall being especially enthralled by the production, given the downer subject matter, but I do think it was a rare example of monologue – based theatre, and a great opportunity for an actress to dive into sensitive, rich material.

Indeed, Redgrave suffered an unfortunate parallel of losing her daughter Natasha Richardson either while or soon after she was working on the play.

Film Flashback: Hocus Pocus!

As another Halloween proceeds towards a gusty climax here in Detroit, it seems appropriate to look back to a film that has come to define this holiday for many members of my generation.

Hocus Pocus also stands out in my personal cinematic history in that it was the first film I ever observed shooting, thus becoming my unofficial first extra-ing gig.

As an impressionable eight year old, it was very exciting to see bright Hollywood set lights on a familiar street not far from my family’s home in downtown Salem. The production had come into the area for a couple weeks of location shooting, turning a community center off Salem Common into a school, a house not far down that road into a main character’s residence, the Common itself into a brief visible character, and various areas around the city into backdrops for several short exterior sequences. They may have also traveled into nearby Marblehead for a few shots – I don’t recall for sure.

The film’s visit in October 1992 also happened to take place in the 300th anniversary year of the notorious Salem Witch Trials, so there was an extra – large level of pomp and circumstance around the town. The annual (and seemingly endless if you are a resident) Haunted Happenings festival was well underway.

I do clearly recall standing in front of the Old Town Hall with a modest crowd as the cameras rolled on an early evening crowd scene. The director asked us to make a lot of noise as he did a couple of panning shots, and so we willingly obliged. It was fascinating and surprising (again, eight year old point of view) to see the large construction lights illuminating a familiar area that didn’t usually get that much attention.

I also remember observing the film crew in residence around town for a week or two before and after the town hall scene, with much curiosity directed towards the film trucks around Salem Common and the presence of extra cars and crew members around other familiar locations. At the time, Massachusetts did not enjoy its current status as a regular destination for Hollywood filming, and so it was A Big Deal for anyone in the area to observe the production activities.

A handy Boston.Com guide to the local filming of the movie — amusingly claiming that “it’s a little known fact that some scenes of the film were really shot in Salem” — reveals that the filming I recall was the scene leading into the film’s Halloween party sequence. The filming locations are also referenced in another article, and I’m sure there are others.

Fans of the movie might not know or recall that the finished film arrived in theaters in the summer of 1993, just a few days before my 9th birthday, and was not a box office hit. Why Disney chose to bring an obvious fall – themed film into theaters at that time of year is inexplicable. The film eventually found its longevity in the home media market, first through a video release and then through a regular seasonal presence on cable channels.

A bit of film nostalgia and history on the now 21 year old movie:

  • Its IMDB trivia page says that star Bette Midler considers this movie to be her favorite film project.
  • Co-star Sarah Jessica Parker was just five years away from starting her most iconic and well – known role in Sex and the City, but was also an industry veteran by this point in time.
  • Third trio member Kathy Najimy performed a role originally intended for Rosie O’Donnell and led the cast representation at a 20th anniversary screening last year.

hocus-pocus illustration

The fall of the dollar house, and those that still support it

Yesterday I was pleased to discover the CInemark 16 on the border of Oakland and Macomb counties, and its selection of second – run movies that may or may not have arrived on DVD, but in this case, were still showing on the big screen.

I find this style of moviegoing to be a lost art. Not so in the Midwest, but very much so in my New England home turf, and on the other coast as well. 

It’s unfortunate, because I remember 15 – 20 years ago, second run movieplexes were still very widespread in New England. If I missed something at Danvers 6, it would show up later on at the Warwick Cinema, and maybe after that at the Cabot Street Cinema, and the same thing could be seen within a range of different small towns around Boston. 

Nowadays, a kid growing up on the North Shore will go to the Liberty Tree Mall 20, which I’m sure is showing its 15 years of age, and the Gloucester Cinema is still hanging in there. Other spots have either changed (the Warwick Cinema was re-born as a classy cinema restaurant within the past year) or closed down, with the Cabot Street Cinema sadly for sale.

And so it’s been refreshing to know that tradition of seeing movies past their initial expiration date continues here in the Midwest, as I initially saw in Dayton, Ohio, several years ago and now see to be true around Detroit. Although I bought a ticket for a movie yesterday, I didn’t actually go in (!) but will consider the $1.50 as a donation to the complex. I’ll look forward to finding the right time to go back.

Personal Blog: Life in a Self Sustaining Place

Having just passed my one year anniversary of arrival in Ann Arbor, I’ve been reflecting on how life in this city is only the second time I have ever experienced living in a “self-sustaining” place – I’ll say more about what that means in a moment – and the longest time I have ever experienced such a setup in my life.

When I say “self-sustaining” town, I mean a place that fends for itself in that residents don’t have to go to a neighboring town for groceries, entertainment, school, cultural offerings, outdoor excursions, and so on and so forth. The only other time I experienced such an arrangement was with eight months living in Santa Maria, California in 2008, a place that’s even more of an outpost town in that Santa Barbara, the next major city to the south, is 75 miles southeast, while San Luis Obispo, its largest northern neighbor, is 30 miles north. And in that part of California, you can’t go any farther west, and east is an even greater distance to the next major city; for the record it is Bakersfield at 138 miles east. Admittedly there are towns in between, but those are the major landmarks.

Most of the towns I’ve lived in over the years, most notably in the North Shore region of Massachusetts along with Marin County in California, are nestled into a patchwork of towns that depend on one another in symbiotic ways. You might live in one town but work in another (or the nearest largest city) or depend on a nearby town for specific elements of your daily life, but it’s rare that you’ll stay within your own town or city limits on a daily basis.

I mention this because I notice that it is still hard for me to adjust to life in a town that fends for itself and could be fine without any interruptions to other locations (Detroit, Royal Oak, Flint, Toledo, Pontiac…) for various activities. I’ve gotten so used to depending on having offerings in other towns, and moving between said locations, that it feels weird to not be doing so. For example, yesterday – and it seems like this happens every week to 10 days – I was feeling the fishbowl bubble of life in Ann Arbor, and randomly decided to drive east to Canton and Novi for what amounted to little more than visual amusement, a good meal and some sightseeing on a fair spring day. And even though that excursion was just three hours, I came back to Ann Arbor feeling considerably more refreshed and with none of the exasperated feeling that had plagued me as I set out.

I don’t have to go to Windsor for fun, to Detroit for a show, to Royal Oak or Birmingham for a film, to the west side of the state for sightseeing, into Canadian locations for further sightseeing and cultural events… I do all this because I want to, and it is admittedly enriching.

But I might be interested to hear the opposite perspective of this setup, where someone who is accustomed to and quite content with living in a self-sustaining town goes out into the world and has to move around on a larger scale.

Sassy tuneful nostalgia

I’m offering some short hot off the press impressions of an appearance this evening from singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler at the Ann Arbor Ark, which also functioned as a very belated first visit for me to the acclaimed local music venue.

Wheeler, who has long been a familiar presence on my family’s playlist, continues to shine in the live setting, treating the audience like old friends. However, this isn’t to say that she loses focus on the music — it seemed to be quite the opposite, as she worked very specifically from a (presumed) outline of songs from her catalog. She was quite generous in offering a range of personal anecdotes that mostly focused on East and West Coast experiences, whether walking with her wife and animals at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts or driving the long haul from Seattle to California destinations (Petaluma and Santa Monica both got specific shootouts) and writing a song or two along the way. She expertly segued her narrative so that the last quarter or so of her concert focused solely on the music, after plenty of laughs and chat in the earlier part of the evening.

I’m pleased that Wheeler included “Driving Home” – one of my favorites of her recordings – and a few other of her older songs. She offered a subdued interpretation of “Aces”, another older tune, earlier in the evening, leading me to think she was choosing not to use her higher register, but later selections showed that range to still be in place and in excellent form.

Of course I also appreciated the strong New England feel of the concert. She even included her song “When Fall Comes to New England”, which was a frequent sight on my iPod playlist for a time, most notably during a series of driving commutes in Western Massachusetts in the summer and fall of 2007.

She got the most reaction out of the (nearly sold out) crowd before her final song, which she humorously prefaced with a “fake final” song of her fan favorite “Potato” (yes, that’s the song name) – explaining that she doesn’t like the forced tradition of the singer leaving and then being called back to the stage for “…just one more.” And so she proceeded with the most heartfelt tune of the evening (wish I knew the name) written in honor of her father’s 75th birthday.

Although some might say that Wheeler flies under the radar in her music career, she seems just fine with that and willingly capable of doing whatever she wants with her music, with a loyal and appreciative fan base that is right there cheering her on.