The past two weeks were dominated by last weekend’s production of Almost, Maine. Wendy and I were cast before Christmas and the curtain finally rose on four performances April 14-17. The play is a series of nine vignettes that take place in on the same night, at the same time, in the mythical town of Almost, Maine. The scenes are all reflections on love and relationships.
The challenge and opportunity for both Wendy and me were to play multiple characters in the show. I played five characters and Wendy played three. It is not unusual for actors to play multiple roles in a show, but the multiple characters are often bit parts or walk-on roles. It is another thing altogether to develop 3-5 fully developed, differentiated characters in one show. From an acting perspective it is an exciting challenge to walk off stage, change costume in less than 30 seconds and walk on as a completely different character. To pull it off and make it believable for the audience was a really, really fun stretch for both Wendy and me.
The show went well. Attendance was slightly above average for a spring show in our community theatre. For both of us, the fun was all about the experience of being directed by our friend Kevin McQuade who is a brilliant director and who pushed both of us to new heights in our acting experiences. In addition, we loved, loved, loved our fellow cast members who were focused, disciplined, and really fun to work with.
Production weekend was fun, but took a lot out of us. The cast socialized after every show. Opening night we had a party here at Vander Well Pub and the last guests to leave meandered out the door around 1:00 a.m. Friday night the cast and crew stopped at the Cellar Peanut Pub and then enjoyed drinks and eats at Monarch’s. Wendy and I enjoyed a nightcap at McQuade Pub and walked home somewhere around 2:00 a.m. Saturday night the cast and various friends enjoyed after show festivities at Kaldera. The closing performance on Sunday was followed by set strike and a cast party at McQuade Pub.
Oh…and I preached two services on Sunday morning in the auditorium at Third Church.
It was wonderful to have Suzanna, Taylor, my folks, Jody, and Emma join us over the weekend to see the show. It’s always a bittersweet experience having loved ones come to town to see the show, but then not having the time or space to actually spend time with them.
We got home from the final cast party on Sunday evening about 9:00 p.m. and I immediately had to pack for a week-long business trip to Texas. I flew out first thing Monday morning and spent five days in San Antonio and Laredo. It was a long week, for sure, but on Friday I got to meet Tim and Kumi for a late lunch at BJ’s Brewhouse between San Antonio and Austin. It was fun to hear about their recent vacation in Japan to visit Kumi’s sister and to see their photos. I also got to spend a couple of hours at the McNay Art Museum before flying out for home.
This weekend has been blessedly quiet. I mowed a crop of weeds on Saturday and tried desperately to groom our pitiful lawn so that it wouldn’t completely shame the neighborhood. Though, our weed infested lawn is an admittedly nicer sight than the apocalyptic wasteland that was our lot last year. We ended Saturday with a wonderful evening on Matthew and Sarah’s deck.
We headed to the early service this morning and enjoyed the message from Roger DeWaard before making the trek to Principal Park for our first Iowa Cubs game of the season. The I-Cubs sucked wind and got blown out by Oklahoma City, but Wendy and I sat in the sun and got our first sunburn of the season.
It’s a momentous week ahead. My 50th birthday is this coming Saturday. [sigh]
Production week has arrived for Almost, Maine. We open this coming Thursday and will run through Sunday. That means we have been in rehearsals almost every evening. This show has had the longest rehearsal period I’ve ever experienced with a show (it was cast before Christmas). I am ready to be done with the rehearsals and get it in front of an audience!
The long rehearsal period notwithstanding, this show has been wonderful to experience. The cast of seven mature and talented actors have been a joy to work with. People show up on time ready to work. People do what the Director asks. The administration of the show has been professional, well planned, and flawlessly carried out. Our director has challenged, taught, prodded, and pulled out the best in all of us. It’s been a joy. Hope those of you who live in the Iowa area can make it Apr 14-17. Tickets and information can be found online by clicking here.
Our lives the past few weeks have been centered around the show, so I’m afraid there’s not a ton much else to share. We are, of course, excited about the opening of baseball season. It has become a tradition here at Vander Well Manor to don our Cubbies gear, cook up some ball park food, and watch the first game of the season. This year was a bit problematic as the Cubs opened against Anaheim in California and the game started at 9:00 p.m.! We were, however, undaunted. Kevin and Linda walked over from across the street to join us in the celebration. They headed home about 10:30. Wendy and I watched the rest of the game in bed. Well, I watched. Wendy fell asleep. I struggled to stay awake and finish scoring the game at 12:17 a.m. Happy to say Cubs are off to a good start this year. The “W” flag is flying once again at VW Manor!
This past week we went to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pella Opera House. National Players is the oldest touring company in the United States and this is the second year that they’ve stopped in Pella. They typically do a Shakespeare in the morning for schools and then a different classic in the evening for general audiences. It was a fantastic show. If you ever get a chance to see a National Players tour near you, you should.
Last weekend we helped host a farewell party for our friends Pat and Peg Moriarity. Pat and Peg have been integral parts of our local community theatre and we’ve been involved in countless productions with them. They have retired and are moving to Arkansas to be near grandkids. It was fun to have the theatre community together to wish them well. I put together a photo collage from my photo archives and USP had it printed, matted, and framed for them. It’s sad to see them go, and it’s a great loss for USP.
Madison is settling in down in South Carolina. She’s been avidly putting together her apartment and getting to know the area. She is a training specialist for Laura Geller cosmetics. She travels to different stores to train their reps on the product, so she’s on the road around South Carolina a fair amount. At the same time, she’s loving having a set schedule and not putting in the crazy hours of a flight attendant. Prayers continue for her to find and establish a good community of friends there. She plans to be back in Pella for Tulip Time!
Taylor continues the job search. Applications and resumes continue to spread out across the nation. She applied for a couple of jobs in Portland and would love to be out in Portlandia if anything would open up. She has gotten an interview or two, but it continues to be a long haul for her. In the meantime she’s nannying for young Joel and continuing her life at the Catholic worker in Des Moines. She’s also working on a media project with people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. We can’t to see her this weekend when she comes to town with friends for a wedding and to see Almost, Maine.
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning…. Joshua 9:3 (NRSV)
Last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine, I was in five different costumes over a two hour period, playing five different characters.
Pete is on a very important date and dressed to impress in a fashionable leather coat, along with his hat and gloves to keep him warm as he and his date gaze at the stars and the northern lights.
Steve is an awkward young man who is both simple and cautious. He wears simple jeans and a simple plaid button down. He buttons every button on his shirt out of his need for caution. You’ll have to see the show to understand why.
Lendall is in construction and roofing. He’s dead tired after working hard all day and already in bed. Thus, when his girlfriend of eleven years comes knocking, he’s in his underwear and an old worn, bathrobe.
Randy works for Lendall. He’s a single young man who hasn’t had much luck with the ladies. There’s a reason for that. He’s still wearing his worn and weathered work coat, snow boots he hasn’t taken the time to tie, and a hat that’s not very becoming.
The fifth man, is home watching television in his sweats and zip-up hoodie. He is very different than all the rest. Hate to get all mysterious on you, but you really have to come to the show to learn more about him. [tickets here!]
Five different characters. I exit stage right, take off one set of clothes, put on another, and in seconds I am transformed for the audience into a completely different person. It’s amazing what a costume and a few hand props can do.
In today’s chapter, the people of Gibeon knew the power of perception. They knew that an effective costume and a few hand props could transform them in the eyes of Joshua and the Israelites. It worked. Joshua saw their dirty clothes and dusty sandals. He saw their moldy bread and broken, dry wineskins. Perceiving that these characters were from a distant land, Joshua and the elders made a peace treaty with the shrewd actors, only to find out that the Gibeonites lived right around the corner.
It is said that “perceptions are everything.” We create perceptions with our clothes, our look, our words, our physicality, and our actions. Do I give mind to these things? This morning I’m reminded of two, make that three, things, and asking myself two questions:
When Jesus sent his followers out to do ministry among the people and towns of their region, He was careful to instruct them to go with nothing but the clothes on their back. He wanted them to be perceived as simple, honest men. How does Jesus want me to present myself, and to be perceived?
Jesus once told a fascinating story about a man hired to manage his masters accounts. When faced with impending dismissal, the manager shrewdly prepared for his future by going to his master’s debtors and telling them to reduce the amount they owed his master. In doing so he earned their gratitude and favor. Jesus complimented the manager and his shrewd ability to use what was in his means, not unlike what the Gibeonites did in today’s chapter to ensure their survival. How am I to be wise and shrewd with the means given me?
Shakespeare wrote: “…the play’s the thing.” Indeed.
Happy first day of Spring everyone! Wendy and I came down to the lake on Friday morning. It’s our first trip down together this year and it’s nice to think about warmer days and fun that’s ahead this summer. I’ve enjoyed a little spring break this week from blogging, though a getaway wasn’t really in the cards for us this year.
We’ve been busy in rehearsals for Almost, Maine. It’s been a really fun show and we’re looking forward to performances in a few weeks (Apr 14-17… seriously, you need to come to this show!). It’s a small cast of really talented folks who have been working hard to make it a stellar production. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that every production has a personality of its own. While its fun to be in the big musical productions with tons of people, there is a certain amount of stress and chaos that grows in measure with the number of people involved. So, it’s nice to experience a show with a smaller cast of focused adults. Wendy and I have been loving this group of people and we’re really excited about the challenges and what we see developing on stage. This will be a great date night at the theatre or the perfect evening out for your small group or social group. Put it on your calendar. Make it happen. You won’t regret it.
One of the scenes in Almost, Maine takes place in the mythical town’s pub, The Moose Paddy, in which there is a party being thrown for one of the ladies in the small town. Our director, Kevin McQuade, wanted to create some ambient sound effects for the scene. It just so happens that a new craft beer pub opened in Pella a few weeks ago, so we ended rehearsal early on the night of the local pub’s grand opening and ventured over. We gathered in a corner of the pub and set up a microphone. Kevin handed out some loosely scripted conversations and we made a recording amidst the din of the festive environment. I can’t wait to hear how it sounds with the scene. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
It’s the season of Lent and our church put together a community service project packaging meals for the hungry through Meals From the Heartland. Wendy’s dad has been involved with the group in recent years and organized some packaging events in the Boone and Ames area. He even traveled to Africa and helped distribute meals a few years ago. Wendy and I put in a shift last weekend. It’s a pretty amazing operation. We worked with a team of nine people. Wendy held a bag into which a vitamin packet was placed. She then put it under a funnel. Three of us, in turn, poured in measured amounts of dried vegetables, soy protein and rice. The bag is then handed to another two team members who weigh the bag and add rice to bring it to the prescribed weight. The bags are then sealed by another team member, laid out and counted by and another, and then packaged in a box and sealed. Another team of volunteers constantly moved around the various packaging teams to replenish our bins of supplies and the church had energetic music cranked which made it a festive environment. Pretty amazing the thousands of meals we were able to package in a short time.
It was St. Patty’s Day this past Thursday, which we celebrated at the previously mention new brew pub in town, The Cellar Peanut Pub. It’s been quite a hit and the place was packed for the annual wearin’ o’ the green celebration. The McQuades picked Wendy and me up and chauffeured us into town. The local theatre community was well represented that night and we ran into a number of friends and neighbors. It was a really enjoyable evening. The pub serves just drinks and peanuts (you throw the shells on the floor), but you can bring in your own food. We ordered pizza from George’s across the street to enjoy with the 50 different craft beers (most of them local Iowa brews) on tap.
Our daughter, Madison, made her move to Columbia, South Carolina a week ago. There’s a lot of transition in her life right now. Just a day or so before moving she bought a new (used) car, had a trailer hitch installed, and then packed up all her possessions for the long cross-country haul. Her boyfriend, Matt, accompanied her on the drive and then flew back to Colorado. They broke up the 24 hour drive by stopping at the lake and spending the night at the Playhouse. Madison has a nice apartment in an old house near the USC campus and has already been busy with her job at Laura Geller cosmetics.
I had a strange event this week when I got a message on Facebook from Dr. Bob Leonard asking me if Taylor was our daughter and if he thought she would be open to an interview for KNIA/KRLS radio. After few more exchanged messages I found out that Bob had wrestled at UNI with the founder of the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines and he reads their newsletter. Taylor had written an article for the newsletter (“I didn’t think anyone actually reads it,” she confessed to me later), and Dr. Bob wanted to interview her about her experiences. I don’t know if it’s actually happened.
Taylor continues her life as nanny, ghost writer, and entrepreneur in Des Moines. Her experiences in the Catholic Worker Community continue to entertain and challenge her. There was a gang shooting in their neighborhood a week or so ago and bullets hit one of the Catholic Worker houses a couple doors down from where Taylor lives. She called and wanted us to know about it before we saw it on the news. It was an isolated incident and she said that she wasn’t too concerned. The police stepped up patrols in the area.
Another transition happened for us in the past few weeks as Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, made the decision to quit school in Cedar Falls and to move back home with her folks in Ankeny. She is working at a book store and trying to decide next steps on her own journey. Wendy’s mom came down to Pella with Suzanna to pack up her things and move them to Ankeny. Suzanna has been with us for two and a half years and it was a bit strange to have her move on, but we’re really proud of how much she has grown. We’re excited to see where life takes her.
So, Wendy and I are truly empty nesters once again. Work has been keeping us busy. I had a quick business trip to the Twin Cities last week and Wendy joined me. We took the opportunity to see a show at the Guthrie Theater (The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound) this past Sunday afternoon. I then worked on-site with our client on Monday and Tuesday while Wendy worked in the hotel room. We buzzed back home on Tuesday evening. I’ve arranged my travel schedule to be home the next few weeks until Almost, Maine is over. As soon as the show closes I’ll hit the road for a week.
I’ve been asked to step up my role in the auditorium services at Third Church starting in April. For the past couple of years the church has been growing a team of lay teachers and I’ve been helping to train and mentor them. I’ve been preaching every 6-8 weeks or so. Starting in April I’m going to “anchor” the teaching team and will begin giving the Sunday message every fourth week or so. We’re beginning a series going through the Gospel of Mark starting on April 17th. I’ll update my schedule on my Upcoming Performances and Appearances page for anyone interested.
It’s been a nice trip to the lake, even though the weather has not been particularly nice. We went into Osage last night and watched Iowa State beat Little Rock in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament while having a bite at Buffalo Wild Wings. Wendy and I will pack up and head home after breakfast this morning so we can get settled and prepare for the week ahead.
It was one year ago today that Wendy, me and a small army of friends, moved our stuff into our new house. It was a typically chilly February day in Iowa and the snow was falling ere we finished lugging in all the boxes. What a difference a year makes. It was 70 degrees and gorgeous yesterday as Wendy and I walked around the neighborhood. We sat on the glider rocker on our front porch, soaked in the sun. We reminisced about all the ways VW Manor has taken shape over the past twelve months, talked about our queue of things we still need to do, and dreamed of possibilities way out in the future. Bottom line is that we are continuing to feel extremely grateful and blessed.
The weather was warm enough last week for Kevin and I to enjoy the year’s first cigar on the deck at McQuade Pub. I had been given a precious gift of Cuban Cohiba cigars late last year and have been itching to have one. Miss Linda prepared a lovely tray of goodies for Kevin and I to enjoy as we quaffed and puffed away in the bearably chilly evening. The Cuban contraband was awesome (thanks, Matthew!).
The past couple of weeks has been marked by concern for my folks. Dad has had a long struggle with his heart going out of rhythm. Meds haven’t worked to remedy the problem and last week he was scheduled for a heart ablation that was abandoned after it began when his heart abruptly went from atrial flutter to atrial fibrillation. He spent three more days in the hospital as they tried yet another nasty med (when they require hospitalization for the first three days of taking it, you know it’s not aspirin). While Wendy and I were with the folks at home on Thursday afternoon his heart went back out of rhythm again and now there’s a big question mark regarding what’s next. Dad’s string of health issues from cancer to cardiac arrhythmia, coupled with mom’s slow but unstoppable descent into Alzheimer’s, has layered life with a certain worry-tinged melancholy. Nevertheless, we’re so thankful for their supportive and loving community at Woodlands Creek, and we’re looking forward to taking them out for dinner tonight!
One of the things that I’ve learned as the father of young adults is that they will incessantly make a liar out of you. Two weeks ago when I wrote my last installment of The Latest I reported that Madison was staying in Colorado Springs and had made application for an apartment there. A few days later she called to report that she’d decided to make a counter-offer on a job she’d turned down in South Carolina and it was accepted. So, Maddy Kate is making plans for a move to Columbia to work as a territory manager for Laura Geller cosmetics. Well done, MK!
Taylor has continued to make inroads with the Alzheimer’s Association as she passionately pursues her creative calling to tell the stories of those with early onset Alzheimer’s. She continues to apply for positions on both sides of the pond and to do whatever she can to make ends meet and pay the bills. We were so blessed that Taylor was able to (put that CNA training to work) help out with grandpa and grandma this past week.
I made a business trip to Tennessee this week, taking the opportunity to make the drive and make an overnight visit to the lake on both the way there and the way back. It was great to check on the Playhouse and make sure all was well. There was record flooding on the lake back during the holidays and it was fascinating to see the dark line of debris across the yard marking the high water. It was good to be there, even if was only for a few hours. It means summer is coming and we’ll soon be grilling out, taking sunset rides in the boat, and enjoying listening to Pat and Ron calling the Cubs’ game as we sip our drinks on deck and/or dock!
Rehearsals for Almost, Maine continue. We’re just over six weeks from opening night and are off-book. Wendy and I continue to relish the opportunity of working with our friend and director, Kevin McQuade. Our fellow cast members have been focused, hard working, and a joy to work with. It is going to be an amazing show! Do yourself a favor right now and mark your calendar for a date night on April 14, 15, 16, or 17. Make a trip to Pella for dinner and a really inexpensive evening of really good live theatre. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of dinner and live theatre, Wendy and I enjoyed a night out with the VLs on Friday night and last night we had a date night ourselves with dinner and a performance of Theatre Central’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Pella Opera House. We then enjoyed drinks and conversation after the show with the McQuades and a few of Central’s profs.
January was an unusually busy month for me. Along with two business trips there was a lot of extra-curricular activity that filled our evenings and weekends.
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer rehearse Almost, Maine
Director Kevin McQuade with Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer.
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer with Director Kevin McQuade in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Rehearsals continue for Almost, Maine. Wendy and I have really been enjoying the 3-4 rehearsals each week. The fellow cast members are awesome to work with and we’ve loved the ensemble. Our friend, Kevin McQuade, is a blast to work with as a director. Wendy and I play three scenes together as three different couples. We’re loving the challenge of developing completely different characters and quickly moving from one to another. On Thursday night Kevin called an early halt to rehearsal and took the cast to Kaledra for drinks. He knows how to keep his cast happy! Almost, Maine will be performed here in Pella April 14-17.
Taylor will be moving out next weekend. She’s decided to move to Des Moines and live in the Catholic Worker community full-time. She’s working on a couple of different creative projects and has taken up gaining a more in-depth understanding of photography. She and I took a couple of hours this week to play around with light and lenses in my office studio.
My friend Matthew Burch and I have been doing a four-week series of Sunday morning messages in the Third Church auditorium on the subject of shame (audio here). The messages were a microcosm of our men’s workshop, More Than Conquerors which we then presented at Westview this past Friday evening and Saturday. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines on Friday. While Kevin Roose and I were at the workshop, she and Becky enjoyed some girl time and Wendy helped Becky organize their basement storage room.
The More Than Conquerors workshop uses Shakespeare’s trilogy about King Henry V as a backdrop to discussing issues of shame. We loved our time with the 24 guys who attended. It was a great journey. How did it go? I think the answer to that question is in the picture (above) I snapped of Matthew sitting at a table of guys who stayed well after the conference was over to ask more questions and continue learning. When men give up their weekend, sit for almost 12 hours listening to you, and then want to stay for more…I’ll take that as a good sign.
Wendy and I are looking forward to a quiet day today. Here comes February.
It happened last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine. It surprised me. It’s early in the rehearsal process and, while it’s not unheard of at this point in that process, it’s relatively rare in my experience.
The Latin term “sui generis” means “one of a kind,” and there is an experience that occasionally, mysteriously happens on stage that I find to be sui generis in life. It is an experience I have found unique to the art of acting, and actors who experience it once usually long to experience it ever after. It is a moment on stage that is other worldly, when actors cross over into another dimension, into the reality of the scene they are playing. It doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t predict it and there is no formula for conjuring it. But, when it happens you never forget it.
When this moment happens, when you cross over, you feel the emotions your character feels and think the thoughts that are flying through your character’s brain. You are at once in both dimensions: being two actors on the community center stage in Pella Iowa, and being two characters in a living room at 9:00 p.m. on a dark winter’s night in northern Maine.
It is an indescribable experience. It is sui generis.
Wendy and I were rehearsing our scene Getting it Back last night. We haven’t rehearsed it many times. Our lines are not memorized, we don’t have all our props, and we’re still struggling to remember our blocking. Yet, as our characters began to argue and things escalated between Gayle and Lendall, it happened. We crossed over. It was incredible. When it happens, I can sometimes also feel those watching being ushered into the moment with us. That happened last night, too.
Wendy and I often comment that we love the rehearsal process almost more than performances. Last night was an example of why. It is in the rehearsal process that you do the work of excavation and exploration. It is in rehearsal that you seek out the doorway to that sui generis moment. Like the portals into Narnia the portals to those moments can mysteriously appear and disappear. The same entrance can sometimes usher you to that moment multiple times. Then, suddenly, the way is shut and you pick up the quest once more.
The quest for that sui generis moment is part of the mystery and magic of acting. It is what draws me back again and again. And when the moment surprises you, like it did at rehearsal last night, it is a one of a kind experience of Life.