Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Unframed" series begins

Wanted to give a quick shout-out regarding a new series at New Stage. On Saturday, September 2, New Stage will kick off the inaugural season of "Unframed" with an Open Mic Coffee House & Art Market from 7:30pm to 10pm in the Hewes Room at the theatre. Coffee will be provided by Hwy 61 Coffeehouse in Vicksburg at a cost of $1 a cup. You can also browse the cool, affordable art that's hanging in the space. (All art priced under $100.) Cover is $3, cash or check only at the door.

“Unframed,” a new performance series, was established to present thought-provoking, affordable, alternative space theatre to fresh audiences in the Jackson area.

Actors who can walk

The choreographer came to rehearsals last night. Now, I will be the first person to tell you I am not a dancer (I classify myself as "an actor who can walk"), and I spent most of the early part of rehearsal wondering how on earth I was going to remember all of the steps and still find time to "perform"! However, after working on it some more last night and this morning, I think it will be fine. Our choreographer was very encouraging, and she came up with some great moves. I'm always so appreciative of people who are trying to teach me how to dance. They've got their work cut out for them.

I'm working on some of my solos now, trying to make the vocal quality what I want it to be and give the director what she wants. There's one ballad that she suggested I attack more as a monologue than a song, analyzing my actions in each line to make sure that I tell the story of the character. (I'm also holding a prop in that song, and I need to figure out what in the heck I'm going to do with that.) Luckily, there is no dancing in that piece, so if I can get the sound and the character right, I'm home free. (Whew!)

The violinist came to rehearsals for the first time last night as well. It's wonderful to have her there, because you begin to get an idea of how the music will actually sound in performance. It's a great punctuation to some of the things we've been doing vocally and hearing on the piano this last week or so. It's hard to believe that we've only been rehearsing about a week and a half. We are pretty much off-book for Act I, and now I'm working to memorize gray areas in my lines and songs in Act II. Because we only have 3 weeks to rehearse this show, we have to work rather quickly.

I think the radio commercial went pretty well. They will edit the audio together to create a :30 spot or so, and I'm really looking forward to hearing it!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So much going on!

I wish I'd been able to write more lately, but between work and rehearsals, I've found myself short of time.

Rehearsals are going well. We are all coming off book, and we've only been rehearsing about a week. Mississippi Public Broadcasting swung by one of our evening rehearsals last week and taped us singing the closing number. We are also supposed to meet at 5 p.m. today to lay down some audio for a radio commercial. Things are moving very quickly!

We are knee-deep in costume fittings now. Because each of us plays some 15-odd characters, there are lots of costume changes. And they are QUICK. Hopefully, we won't have any problems keeping up!

Things I've been thinking in rehearsals - there are so many opportunities to tie business to music in this show. I hope that I will be able to take advantage of most of them. I've been avoiding listening to the tape/CD of the show, because I didn't want to be haunted by what other performers did with the material. To choreograph some of these little gestures/moves, though, I might either need to re-visit the tape or have the music director make a piano recording for me.

We have a great cast. I am continually impressed with them. I just hope that I don't pale in comparison! Yikes!

Monday, August 21, 2006

One foot in front of the other.

So much to relate! Last week, I attended the Storyteller's Ball, a new annual fundraising event for the Greater Jackson Arts Council. The evening had a Casablanca theme, and it was held at Jackson's Old Capitol Inn. It was such fun! They had stands of bamboo set up everywhere, a Morroccan buffet, and a big band playing lots of old standards. Elixir had a martini bar set up outside, by the pool, and they also had a silent auction with lots of beautiful items to bid on. It was a wonderful event, and the place was packed! This will definitely become an annual "must" on my calendar.

I also had the opportunity to meet all my cast mates for the upcoming New Stage production "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." We met to do a mini-rehearsal for the song that we sang at the Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights street fair, put on by the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Association. We sang one song at the festival, three different times throughout the evening. We were lucky enough to have nice-sized groups come to each little performance, so hopefully they got a good preview of what we'll be doing in Setpember! In between singing, I roamed around outside to see what was on offer. There was a young rock band playing; several booths with original photography, glass, and pottery for sale; and various food carts. It was really nice, and you couldn't walk too far without bumping into someone you knew. It was a wonderful event.

Over the weekend, I logged 6 miles with my ladies' running group. It was one of the best runs I've done with them so far - the morning was cool and cloudy, and we seem to have finally found our pace. Although running was really difficult for me when I started out, it's become one of my favorite things to do for exercise. It's oddly meditative, and you don't need (much) special equipment to do it. You just put on your shoes and go!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Media today

I was reading a copy of AlwaysOn, a business-technology pub, this week, and I found myself nodding several times as I read editor Tony Perkins' intro letter. Here's an excerpt:
". . . In 1994 it became clear to me that the Internet was, in the words of Jim Clark, “the real information superhighway!” What wasn’t exactly clear was what the Internet’s distinguishing characteristic would be over the long run. AlwaysOn has seen the light, and the Internet’s true raison d’ĂȘtre can be summed up in two simple statistics. The first one: 62% of the content that the average member of the IM Generation reads online is produced by someone they know. Think about that for a moment (especially with your media-and-entertainment-executive hat on). The second stat: 72 million kids have joined the global MySpace community. The “to see and be seen on the Internet” genie is officially out of the bottle, and there is no turning back. I’ve never had as much fun in the media business as in the almost four years AO has been at this (or in my preceding years at Red Herring). We have truly entered an era of media participation—this is what the kids want, and this is what they’re going to get. Even Rupert Murdoch, king of Big Media, confessed that “young readers don’t want to rely on a godlike figure from above to tell them what is important, and they certainly do not want news presented as gospel. The media world can no longer lecture, it must become a place for conversation . . . ”
Perkins goes on to note that "Ironically, just when we thought that the media business was becoming concentrated in the hands of a few conglomerates, the world is instead exploding into millions of media brands." I remember having discussions in graduate school about how fewer companies were owning more and more media outlets, while the FCC just twiddled its thumbs. We worried about a dearth of unbiased content. But the Internet is serving as such a fail-safe for that, because so many people can instantly become their own publisher, their own brand. While I still have concerns about more outlets being concentrated in fewer hands, I'm also seeing the splintering that Perkins talks about, which shows that, no matter who is producing media, users still want to consume their own self-selected media in their own way.

Read the whole intro here. Interesting stuff.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Recreation in the River Town

I spent some of last weekend playing in Vicksburg, and it made for a relaxing day or so.

I toured the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn, an antebellum home that is not only a bed and breakfast and an historic building, but which also operates a fabulous restaurant on the premises. The home is furnished with many of the same pieces that the original owners, the wealthy Klein family, purchased for their home. The front door still shows damage it sustained during the Civil War, and there is a Union cannon ball still lodged in one of the front parlor walls. The tour I took was self-guided, although the front desk did give me a written tour to guide me through the home. In addition, any guest rooms that are not currently rented are open to tour as well, so the casual visitor gets a real idea of what it might be like to stay there. It looks divine.

I spent the day shopping Washington Street, which has a lovely array of fun little stores. I particularly love The Attic Gallery, which is a funky carefree space chock-a-block full of interesting art pieces; Twigs, a positively magical garden store selling wind chimes, rain chains, fountains, and decorative pots; and a collection of antiques stores that sorely tempted the bargain hunter in me. (I came so close to buying a cool dining table, but then I thought, "Where on Earth will I put this?" But I really wanted it! And it was SO reasonable!)

In the late afternoon/early evening, I headed over to the Vicksburg National Military Park. I hadn't been in years, and I enjoyed it so much. I used my handy pamphlet to guide me through the park, and I pulled over at most of the larger monuments to walk around and take photos. I got some great shots at the park, especially as the sun was going down. There was so much to be re-learned (and in some cases, learned for the first time) about the Civil War. It was just such an interesting and nostalgic experience for me, as I could remember visiting when I was a little girl.

I ended my day back at Cedar Grove, at the restaurant that the inn operates. I started with a delicious crisp salad with the house dressing, a honey mustard creole. It was delightfully spicy. For my entree, I chose the crab stuffed chicken, accompanied by creamy German potatoes. All was served with yummy warm bread, and a lemon sorbet was brought out in between courses to cleanse the palate. Delicious! On the inn's website, you can download their menu and see for yourself what's on offer. It's a little spendy for a small town, but I can highly recommend the food. The service was also superb.

I had a great time in Vicksburg, and I can't wait to go back again! (Driving there and back wtih the top down on the convertible didn't hurt the experience, either!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New wheels!

Ok, I've done a selfish thing. For about 6 years, I've driven a staid Ford Taurus. Four-door sedan, sensible vehicle, etc., etc. Well, it recently had a problem that would have almost cost more to fix than the worth of the car, so we decided it was time to go car shopping. Now, for many people, car shopping is a nightmare, and I myself concede that the last time I bought a vehicle, I spent the better part of a Saturday in the dealership, hemming and hawing with the salesman. Well, this time, it was totally different.

First of all, we did a ton of research. After our exhaustive foray into the world of car-buying, we determined that two cars were legitimate possibilites:
1.) A new 2006 or 2007 Toyota Corolla
2.) A slightly used Toyota Camry Solara convertible

Why? Both cars have received excellent ratings from Consumer Reports, they tend to hold their value well, and they get decent gas mileage. However, the convertible is about $10,000 more than the Corolla. As well, there aren't many used ones to be found in our market. So, I resigned myself to the Corolla. It was sensible, I told myself. A family car.

THEN I saw an ad in the paper for a 2005 Camry Solara convertible. Silver with a black top. Fingers trembling slightly, I dialed the dealership to find out more. Got the VIN, ran a CarFax check. Clean as a whistle. 26,000 miles or so. Great shape. He said they could be flexible with the price. (Of course he did. They'll say anything to get you out to the lot.)

Then, I did more research on this specific deal. What it was worth with the options and mileage it had. What type of financing I could qualify for. So, we went down to the dealership, drove it around. It was heaven. BUT I wasn't ready to love it. After all, it wasn't mine yet.

After a little negotiation, we came up with a deal we could both walk away happy from. So now, yes, she of the Ford Taurus has a shiny silver convertible! I can hardly believe it! We have already taken it out for several joy rides, and it purrs like a kitten. It's so much fun!

And, geez, I can see why middle aged men buy these cars. Just sitting in it makes you feel younger. Needless to say, I'm very pleased with this purchase. Now, I just need to plan a few road trips . . .

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eating, drinking, and other amusements

I just got back from the Natchez Food and Wine Festival! Our Mixology class on Saturday at Bowie's Tavern was a real treat. I learned a lot about mixing drinks, and the instructor gave us several recipies to try at home. We sampled about five different cocktails (small samples, mind you!), and I think my favorite was the twist on the mojito that he showed us. He served it with crushed raspberries and blueberries in the bottom, which was utterly refreshing and gave the drink a beautiful "sunrise" appearance in the glass. When I can lay hands on the recipe, I'll post it here.

After the class, we walked around (slightly slowly!) to shop in downtown Natchez. There were lots of precious little shops (some of which were closed - on a Saturday afternoon? I don't get it.), and we bought several unique items. I found a little hand-carved wooden bird that looks perfect perched on a high shelf in my den, as well as a gorgeous square wooden platter for serving cheese. I also found the perfect winter coat - red, wool, with a psychedelic print lining, and cut down to my lower thigh. I feel like Mary Tyler Moore in it, AND it has great lines. Antique shopping in Natchez is a dream come true. There are so many unique pieces available for sale, and so many of them are reasonably priced. I dearly wish I'd made a few trips down when we were furnishing our house and still in the market for things like tables, stuffed chairs, and art pieces.

We ate dinner that night in the Biscuits and Blues Cafe - what a delight! First of all, the biscuits are divine, served with a delicious, sweet, softened butter. Then we enjoyed dinner salads and an appetizer of crawfish beignets draped in a creamy sauce. For my entree, I ordered a chicken pasta - a grilled chicked breast over angel hair with a rich, slightly spicy sauce. YUM. Biscuits and Blues Cafe is one of the only live music establishments I've ever been to that got the volume right. You could definitely hear the music, but you could also hear well enough to converse with your dining companions. It's so rare that I thought it worth mentioning. We loved the vibe of this place.

That night, we bedded down at Linden Bed and Breakfast. It is a lovely home off Melrose Avenue, a mere hop and a skip from downtown Natchez. The bed in our room was an antique canopy marvel with a sunburst fabric pattern. The next morning, we enjoyed a full breakfast in the elegant dining room, which was furnished with a variety of antiques and conversation pieces. We ate, and ate, and ATE. Breakfast casserole, grits, hot coffee, biscuits, juice, fruit, the list goes on. After breakfast, we were given a tour of the house, which has been occupied by the same family for many generations. Our guide, who also owns and operates the bed and breakfast, imparted lots of little tidbits to us, both personal and historical.

After a brief retreat into the room to freshen up, we made our way to Longwood Plantation, one of the largest octagonal homes in the world. (I wish they had an official website, but they don't. Check out the impression Longwood made on another visitor by clicking here.) This is a stunning attraction in Natchez, and I highly recommend that you do not miss it if you are in town. Haller Nutt, an obscenely wealthy plantation owner, began construction of this 6-floor, mammoth octagonal home shortly before the Civil War. In the space of 18 months, a collection of craftsmen and slaves had completed the basic structure/facade of the home. However, when the war broke out, many of the craftsmen, who had traveled to Natchez from Philadelphia, left the job to go serve the North. They left their tools and supplies right where they dropped them. Most of them thought that the war would be a short one, and that they'd return to finish work on the house once the war was over.

However, Nutt lost his entire fortune during the Civil War, and he was left with an unfinished house. Using local labor, he finished the basement of the home, where he and his family lived until their deaths. It stayed in the family until 1970, when it was donated to the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club, which now maintains it and offers tours. The tour takes visitors through the basement of the house, which still contains all of the Nutts' original furnishings and art pieces. Then, visitors are allowed into the second floor, which is unfinished and offers a view up into the dramatic Oriental dome that tops the building. It is very stirring to see the abandoned tools and supplies, the old crate that the downstairs piano arrived in, etc.

The tour offers much food for thought as well. Haller Nutt died in his 40's, still a relatively young man. One wonders what his final years must have been like, living in the basement while his failed dream literally hung over his head. Longwood is a stark reminder of how war changes the economy, how it interrupts plans. The house was designed to be a fabulous, excessive show of wealth, and its incompletion seems somehow fitting. As it was being planned, the world that might allow such vanity was being pushed aside. The time would no longer support such extravagance. I've toured several historic homes in Natchez, but I don't think any have given me as much food for thought as Longwood. It is a complex, conflicting look at the antebellum way of life and the Civil War.

Natchez has made a name for itself in the tourism industry by peddling history, and it is the past that is much with the Natchez visitor. What came before is everywhere in this tiny town, almost tangible. While great food and surprisingly good shopping are certainly part of the Natchez experience, it is the story of time here that is most notable, running through Natchez as relentlessly as the river.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Winged feet

I'm thinking of buying new running shoes soon, so I did a little research about what shoes to buy at the Runner's World web site. They have some great resources there to help you figure out which shoes would be good matches for you. Check out Shoes 101 for background info about what you should be looking for, then use their Shoe Finder to search for shoes with specific parameters. It's great! I've narrowed my choices down to about 3 different "models." Once I hit 5 miles (running non-stop), I'll reward myself!