Raising them right… a labor story.


You’re nearly thirteen and have gone unattended,
You started so innocently, out of best interest for so many.
You grew without restriction; encouragement is all you knew.
We let someone else raise you and you seemed to be so strong.
Aggrandizement has made you super helpful, because who doesn’t want to be better?Developing bigger, so close to your real potential,
It feels kind of good for us to be together creating a better world, feeling fulfilled.
Let’s have you do this, a little of that, why not that’s what you’re here for… right?

Sorry, right, you deserve better. You can certainly do more, I mean get more.
But don’t worry, we are here for you, now and we are going to lock you away.
If you don’t see the light of day, we can control you and everyone will be happy… right?We’ve got your best interest at heart, what’s your name?
How should we listen, of course that shouldn’t happen. Everyone knows that… right?Who would do this to you, you were created for so much good, time treating you badly.
You should be fine now, I’m confused, what’s your name?


Just recently my union, Actor’s Equity Association (I know, I know what is a stage manager doing in an actor’s union) went on strike against the Broadway League’s use of various developmental projects spurred on by a thirteen year unattended agreement called the LAB agreement. Yes, for thirteen years theatre producers have been using this agreement to develop book, music, choreography & concept. These LAB’s have sometimes grown to be very elaborate, like a six pack and a shove from a full production. From one point of view a producer might say they need to see all of these elements to make sure they are on the right track before they spend 16-20 million dollars to mount a Broadway Musical, I mean that’s a lot of money. Investors and theatre owners may not have the director’s wonderful sense of vision so the producer sort of puts “LAB-vision-glasses” on their faces, fair story! But I return to the “unattended” part, which is the provisions for the AEA members involved in these projects. For thirteen years the union & the League have not re-negotiated the pay or conditions for these LABS and over those thirteen years the membership has grown resentful.

I am a parent, so I tend to look at situations through a parental lens, so keep that in mind as I try to explain. If my son, who is fourteen, had been sent out to live his life and his parameters never changed from the ones I had originally assigned he would grow out of control and follow whoever was willing to pay him attention. So, AEA says we are going to create this LAB contract so all of our dancers who are dancing pre-production for choreographers with no benefits and goodness only knows what kind of money get proper compensation. They loosely outline what these are to be, because remember when it was set up it was to protect a few marginalized performers. In come Producers who say, heck, if we are going to have to pay weekly salaries and benefits to performers and stage managers let’s use the time and money to our advantage. As the shows grew in scale and scope so did the demands on the LAB. Now there are still some LABS that are smaller scale, but the strike is focusing on the big guns. I repeat, as the shows grew in scale and scope so did the demands of the LAB… the producers were demanding more and the LAB contract actually allowed for it. So, like my son the LABS grew to be giant and the AEA membership started demanding of the union. After all, how does a contract go unattended for 13 years? How does our union not bring this up over a 13-year period? Surprise, membership is pissed off. So, 13 years later AEA rolls up their sleeves and after town halls and e-mail blasts to determine what the membership feels is important. The ask to the Broadway League does not go well, an insulting reply to the Unions demands and a lack of willingness to negotiate sets the ball rolling and AEA determines the only solution is a work action, a strike.

So, I am sitting here today not being paid at all while I remain in solidarity with my Union. I cannot help but wonder if this garden had been tended to all along would I be preparing to create a piece of theatre instead of wondering if I can pay my bills.







The journey of a train enthusiast on the spectrum of reality seperate-titus

IMG_0810Cooper is my 13-year-old son who Lindy Hops on the Autism Spectrum. I have written about him as a child and his rabid fascination with NJ Transit, not trains but Transit trains specifically. The one thing that you should know about Cooper’s different-ability is it is wildly specific. It’s not spaghetti its spaghetti with Pomodoro sauce from Daniella Trattoria in NYC (not an ad, but could be an ad, if you are willing to pony up a few plates of pricey pasta for him). Okay, I could spend an entire story catching you up on Cooper but instead I am going to jump to the recent iteration of what we refer to as “Life With Cooper”.

Cooper’s joy the last several months is “working” the trains whenever possible. He spent time thinking he could be satisfied traveling various train lines, some of which include but are not limited to: Trenton, Montclair State University, North Jersey Coast in New Jersey. Oyster Bay & Long Beach on Long Island and countless requests for Amtrak, although to date I think he realizes that this without tickets is prohibitive. Word has it he was permitted a ride on Amtrak from Newark Penn to New York Penn one day, but I think travel outside the tri-state area will have to wait. Now if you are thinking, what irresponsible parenting letting her son ride Transit without supervision, please stop reading and return to your perfect parenting, because mine is an imperfect household filled with the perfect understanding of our shortcomings. So, Cooper “works” for Transit.

Friday night lights, filled with horns and bells
The movement beneath his solid stance feels easy.
4632 to Bay Head making stops at…

Saturday runs to and fro starting with Les and ending with Randy
The rhythm of the tracks the only steady in his brain
7695 to New York City making stops at…

Sunday is reserved for morris/essex maybe multis or commons
The traps and the doors every task he will sharpen his skills
7920 to Dover making stops at…

Cooper and I were on our own a few weeks ago while Doreen and the girls were in South Carolina. We were in a nice routine together and he took time away from his busy work schedules to be with me at the theatre or at home, so the only time he “worked” was when we were riding back and forth on the train to my work. Wednesday night we were on our way home after the show; typically Cooper isn’t on Wednesday night trains because of therapies or school, but this week was special. The rules are always the same when Cooper is with me at theatre in the evenings, he leaves the Palace early so he can find out what track our train will be on and secure the first four-seater at the front of the train, on the top left hand side specifically, for me to sit in with his skateboard and back pack while he works. He loads his pockets with schedules and maps in homage to his heroes, the conductors. A few of these conductors are super friendly to Cooper, they give him old zone maps and let him help with the traps at the train doors, they are okay with him trailing behind as they check tickets or letting him announce the stops throughout the lead train car. Cooper carries my work flashlight at night so he can wave down the platforms to the ticket takers signaling the all clear at station stops, when instructed of course. The night before, Cooper sat with one young conductor having a pretty incredible conversation about engines, equipment, schedules and the recent cancelations. It was a really friendly conversation that made my heart full and proud. I guess you might say it was a parental high to hear your son, who doesn’t always know how to conduct himself in conversation, really engaged. On this particular Wednesday night I was in my seat early so I got to hear his exchanges with familiar people (and some not familiar) as they boarded the train. These were far more typical of Cooper’s interactions; some of the guys would ask, “how many stops to Orange?” and Cooper would quickly rattle off a response which includes what zone that stop is. Somebody got on asking if the train stopped in Newark Penn to which Cooper replied, “No, you need to get off this train and go to track 7 I believe that is where the train to Trenton is. This train doesn’t go there.” A lady across the aisle smiles at me as she hears men board the train with greetings of, “hi ya Coop?”, “how’s it going tonight Cooper?” Cooper will assume a voice of a conductor he spends a lot of time with, “how’s it going? Very good, very good.” Pretty typical stuff. This Wednesday  was a pretty crowded train so I was sharing my four seater suite with a few commoners that didn’t realize that I was train royalty because of my association to Cooper.

We were about 15 minutes into our journey, having just left Secaucus Junction, when I hear the actual conductor talking, he is one of the grumpier fellas, but I cannot make out what he is saying. A few minutes later Cooper appears in front of me, his brow furrowed in distress. “Can you come with me please?” He says in a low sweet voice. Knowing that this is serious I grab all my wares and Cooper’s skateboard and backpack and as I head back to the rear of the car after Cooper I continue to hear the conductor talking to someone. I punch through the door into the train’s vestibule where Cooper is standing on a trap looking out the window with his head low. I said softly, “did you get in trouble buster?” and he turned to me crying, lowered his head on my shoulder and said, “he took my maps, he said they were Transit property and I wasn’t allowed to have them.” I said, “Did you explain that you had been given them Buster?” The tears were coming harder when he said, “I want them back.” I was in a parenting pickle, I wanted to march up to the conductor and give him an ear full, but frankly the way Cooper processes information I didn’t want him seeing me barking at a conductor as a solution. I continued to comfort him and said, “Buster, obviously he doesn’t think you should have them and that they are Transit’s property. Do you want to go ride in the back of the train?” “No, I want to get off at Broad Street and Lyft home.” I hugged him harder and said that wasn’t going to happen, but we could sit in a different car. Suddenly the door opened behind me and it was the conductor he sees me and hands me the maps saying, “I didn’t realize you were on the train,” he recognized me, “here I’m giving these back to you.” He says handing me the maps, “but he shouldn’t have them, so he should put them away.” He went on to say, “I had my bag stolen so I saw those maps and you know it set me off.” I calmly said, “he was given those maps sir, he didn’t steal them.” “Oh, I know” he responds quickly, “it’s just there is another kid who walks around on these trains and he’s really crazy.” Referring to another kid that I see Cooper with who is also clearly on the spectrum. He then says, “come on now, stop crying, big men don’t cry. Stop.” Now I actually want to punch him, not only has he referred to a kid as crazy but he is now shaming my son for being upset. I can tell Cooper is trying to stop, wiping his eyes and nose on my shoulder so instead of letting loose on the conductor I say to Cooper, “Did you hear that Buster, he had his bag stolen and so he got mad when he saw your maps thinking they might have been his.” That ended the exchange and Cooper and I went to sit at the end of the car on benches until we got home. As we left the train a fellow theatre commuter, a musician, asks if Cooper is okay and said to me he tried to reason with the conductor about what a good kid Cooper is and how he loves the trains, but he wouldn’t listen. Cooper was quiet when we got home, he just wanted a bath and an ice pack and went to bed. His spirit was broken. I had no idea if I had done the right thing as a parent, I mean should I have said to the conductor; you know what, fuck you and your big man bull shit, he’s my son and he can cry if he wants to because you were a dick and took away his maps. Furthermore, if you had an aware bone in your fuckin’ body you would know that he is autistic and not “crazy” you douche bag… But I didn’t say any of that, I just didn’t want Cooper to think anger is the way to deal with problems.

This incident had me a little shaken the next day, I further advised Cooper to keep his maps low unless he knew the conductor was a friend. I also reminded him that the conductor from last night wasn’t bad he was just upset about his bag. I considered having Coop take a train break but that’s like suggesting a bull dozer go easy. So Friday that week off Cooper went on a journey while I was at work. Within a few hours he was calling me to report that his conductor buddy Randy had given him an up to date zone map for the Morris Essex line and he was thinking maybe he should give it to the conductor from the other night who had his bag stolen so he could replace his missing maps…

I think that’s my son displaying empathy or ready to show that conductor who was the real “big man”. Maybe, just maybe it was a parenting win after all.

An incomplete thought

I am my mother’s daughter
I am my fathers DNA
they both are fading quickly as I grow stronger
still becoming who I want to be.

I am distracted by the dream that my father could one day be proud
of the seed he planted, but lessons were the nutrients and my repellent.
I don’t know who he is, maybe I never did
he has not been punished as I though would be.
I danced with the belief that his actions would see him pay
in the lonely well of spirit lost but he has been saved by a fog of past lost
He will never reflect on the pain he caused
He will never wonder why I didn’t come around
I guess the joke is on me all these years later as I stare into the eyes
of a man who does not know that he created me.
Tortured me with false attachments.
I will never be you Dad. I will never strive for tidy solutions
problems that just disappear.

I am messy, I am my Mother’s Daughter.
I feel too much, I complicate my own decisions.
My problems help define my days as I try to find solutions that may not exist.
I dream in leagues so deep no ocean can contain.
I love so hard that hurt is inevitable and yet I will love again and again.

I found this draft today, one week after my Dad’s death, one week before his birthday. I am not sure why I didn’t revisit it until today and it is too late to work it into a coherent piece of writing, but for me its perfectly unresolved. My mom, while thankfully still alive and healthy, will never be the person she was, the years of stress have taken their toll. She has been stripped of her short term memory and with that comes no new long term memories. So she will never know what my kids are becoming, what I dream for their future. So it looks like its up to me to flip this narrative, to strike out on my own. I need to no longer look for parental approval, but know instead that I have the heart and soul that my parents gave me, for better or worse, and use it to make sure my children never need to feel regret over opportunity lost on my watch.  Its a pretty big goal… here goes nothing.


Split track… the theatrical reality

There are certain terms for events that happen in the theatre that have no “real world” equivalent that I am aware of. Two of these terms are “cut show” and “split track”. I will attempt to explain these two theatrical inventions and then I would like to discuss the various ways we, as stage managers, work with these realities.

The cut show means you perform the show or a part of the show without the full compliment of cast. In a musicals one hopes with enough swings (offstage performers who can magically jump from one ensemble part to another, they are the superstars of a show but that’s another story) you will have all of the specialty parts (characters with lines, vocal parts or individual choreography) covered, although not even specialties are safe in the kingdom of, “throwing up all night.” When a performer cannot perform, it is non-negotiable. Although I have seen some of these titans go on with the show when the president/CEO of a corporation would be crying uncle.

The split track is slightly more complicated. A “track” is a terrible reference for all of the onstage/offstage activities a performer does throughout the night. I only say terrible because it reduces an individual artist’s work to their base actions during a show. So often we have to split up a track between more than one Actor for a variety of reasons ranging from: ability to perform the actions required, to how a person needs to look, to the director’s & creative team’s desire, or simply to avoid a cut show.  The cut show or split track is often born out of necessity, although there are split tracks built in by the director & choreographer to give the audience the best show they believe is possible without the usual player. An example is if 55 year old Sally from the Ensemble has to go on for a principal role (leading role) we put 30 year old Susan on from the ensemble in Sally’s “specialty” and the the 22 year old swing Stacy will go on for Sally’s other ensemble track but Stacy will also go on for Susan’s ensemble track when Susan is being Sally. Okay, the S thing was a little unfair but honestly this is how they feel inside my brain.

Where the Stage Manager comes into this equation is working with the creatives, music department and dance captains to create and construct this puzzle and communicate it to all of the technical departments effected… which is every department. Our influence on the alternate show really depends on what your creative team construction is. I have been on shows where we are just responsible for getting information to the crew because the resident director/choreographer does all of the performance decisions. I have also done shows where the stage managers effectively create the entire track and then have dance captains & music department cross our T’s and dot our i’s to make sure everything is looked after.  This is more familiar to me than previously mentioned just because of the shows I have been hired on. Then there are also the teams, that I love, where it is super collaborative so everyone’s expertise is expressed… these are kinda few and far between because these decisions are rarely made with advance notice. Cut and split track shows are typically to triage a performance. There are questions to ask: What combination makes the best & safest show for, in the case of Broadway, a high paying audience? What swings are available and where do their strengths lie? You don’t want to cover a  major vocal track with a dancer. Does the director, Choreographer and Music Director have preferences about how things should be covered? This is where your relationship with the show and its creative team becomes extremely important. The answer can never be “I don’t want to ever see Michael on in the Ken track.” Of course we do hear these comments frequently, but the reality in a long running show is the unfathomable often happens, so how do you make the unfathomable palatable? Can you split up the track so Michael doesn’t have to do the part in the show where he has to tap dance with a limp? Can swing Joe do that number as Ken & still do the Bill track that he is on for already? Can wardrobe get him changed. Can sound patch his mic in for that number or should you have Michael sing offstage while able bodied Joe does the number? You must know the people you are working with and what they do. You have to ask questions and be ready to accept the information coming at you. You have to have the relationship with your technical departments where they can let you know if a certain cover is doable or does it put other parts of the show at risk. My personal plan of attack is to learn as much as I can about everyone in the show and what the creative team sees as their strengths. Watch everything right from the beginning. Have spies everywhere, not only your fellow stage managers, but dressers, crew, cast members, anyone who can be honest with you about who is ready for what. An example of this is from Motown the musical, now mind you I learned a lot about cut/split shows from doing Motown but the spy part came in very handy. We had a swing who knew the choreography for the Diana Ross back up singers (Eddie Kendrick’s Singers), now this swing was white and our Eddie Kendrick’s Singers were black but not on this night. I had a spy who told me about this particular swing knowing this choreography and the vocals so I called this swing and begged him to cover us, which he did much to his chagrin.  I discovered his distain for this assignment when he texted me instead of his wife to complain about the evening’s task (again this happens). The point is, I was super protective of the show that our audience was seeing and listened to the boots on the ground who told me this was possible, so I did not have to cut one of the Diana Ross back up singers.

Once you and the theatrical posse have created this alternate show the stage manager’s need to then communicate this to ALL departments in the clearest most timely fashion possible. Its the beauty of the job really, working with fellow professionals to do the best show possible. There are multiple times where as a stage manager you would just like to tell people the best way, in your opinion, to do something and depending on your status with the company people may just go along with your solution. This solution may make your life super simple because the effort is minimal, but you will miss out on one of the key elements in the theatre, collaboration. We, as stage managers, are not creating the show in the traditional sense (Director, choreographer, music supervisor, designer, actor…) but we are in the unique position to practice the art of collaboration. Collaboration is the art form that must continue as long as the show is being played and it is up to you as the stage manager to give that room to grow within the company.


The Reluctant Vegan

Image result for vegan images

Here I am 50 years old and finally committing to a Vegan diet. For those who have known me over the years you known I have made the dance with food for years. At the age of twenty-one I stopped eating meat, I had made a trip to KFC that put me under. Sadly never lost the 10 pounds that comes with being a vegetarian because I balanced my diet out with Cheetos & Budweiser. In my late 20’s I added seafood into my diet, sort of. My girlfriend Lisa, who was also a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian  loved seafood (I’m certain that has yet another name to tag onto the ovo) so I did my best to include it in my diet, even making Lisa a celebratory fresh lobster dinner for one of her birthdays. It took a lot to kill those little suckers but I did it. But as with most things I could take seafood, especially fish, or leave it. The beer and Cheetos persisted, my mainstay. Fast forward to another girlfriend (can you see a pattern developing)… who was a foodie. I managed to go to restaurant after restaurant and stick to my multi-named vegetarian ways… although I did jam down a piece of turkey, one Thanksgiving, with plenty of sides to mask the meat. My friend Matt was a witness to this & a fellow turkey choker at that particular Thanksgiving of ’97. When I went through my “I’m single again” rennisance in my late 20’s I finally lost that 10 pounds, plus another 15 for good measure, but it was a brief victory as my bad habits still persisted. Fast forward to my early 30’s and my current girlfriend… now wife Doreen, who is a real bonafide meat eater, and was pregnant. I decided to try to embrace some meat as long as I either made it at home or masked it in toppings, refer back to the Turkey choke of 97, for details. I mean I didn’t want to be a vegetarian while everyone else in my family was eating meat. This started the next phase of my relationship to food which was all about weight loss. No matter how much I justified my way around it I was always diving into new habits to slim down. I did weight watchers with such investment I could have been a group leader, I did challenge after challenge, whole 30 this, no-carb that, the list went on and on and on for the next 13 years. A vegan diet danced into my adult conscience while doing Motown, The Musical when finding out that the big boss, Mr Gordy, was a late in life Vegan inspired me. I of course knew plenty of vegans (I am a lesbian after all) but there seemed to be a vegan renaissance at Motown that wasn’t co-op and Birkenstock based. Many members of the Gordy camp, as well as our director, were self proclaimed vegans. Since it seemed so prominent I started pulling away from meat again and making the odd vegan meal here and there. No matter how many food dance parties I attended I always ended up sleeping with my old friend Budweiser and Cheetos (I’m being metaphorical here, I mixed it up and would have blue moon and salt and vinegar chips as well…). Between my bright orange lover and my justifying “oh, this left over food from the kids is already here” my diet was on a rapid decline, except for my manic bursts of cooking in between junk food. Last summer while I was out of town in Chicago doing the magical show, The SpongeBob Musical, I started experiencing intense foot pain. I kept popping ibuprofen and moving forward. I went to see a podiatrist well after I returned from Chicago, which proved useless, I stood bare foot in her office, was given a hands off exam, and was told, “plantar fasciitis & flat feet giving you some tendonitis in your ankle”, “Ice, stretch & pain killers.”  More western medicine bullshit, if you don’t need surgery you don’t really rate. I grabbed a Physical Therapy appointment at An American In Paris (the company provided PT for the cast) and those wonderful PT’s definitely felt something else was going on but since they are trained to refer everything to doctors first they just gave me some other stretches. Finally, after over a year of hobbling around, I started doing my own research and soul searching and everything pointed to inflammation and that inflammation pointed to diet… not the kind of “loose 20 pounds” diet I came to know so well but a different diet, a life choice diet; a Forks Over Knives realization diet. A plant based, whole food diet. So here I am, proclaiming that after years of having “an odd relationship with meat/food” I am going to follow a Vegan diet. I am going to take control of my own destiny. Ironically as soon as I threw this fact down & Doreen watched Forks Over Knives she decided to join me in my pursuits to feel better, although the ovo draw might be a little to powerful for her to avoid ultimately. I’m not expecting a magic bullet with my foot but the changes are starting to come and I couldn’t be more excited about the next 50 years of my food life.

PLEASE NOTE: If I do live to be 102 years old… I will then go down with Budweiser and Cheetos! Make no mistake this midwestern girl is not going to end it with a Kombucha & kale chips!

Millennials of Management

Ambition is a crafty enemy that can leave who you truly are behind.
Creating a craft doesn’t align with her values, she wants results.
Time to grow is lost in her web of beliefs with their twisted urgency.
Why take the train across the country, by the time you arrive I will be done

You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man

I often write about Stage Managing from the point of view I know best, which not surprisingly is my own. A stage manager of a certain age who has been raised in a variety of theatrical environments. I would like to take a departure from the familiar and try to see life from a very different point of view, the point of view of a generation that is “the new frontier”, the Millennials of management. A talented group of driven managers who definitely threaten we heirs to the throne. With there facile minds and often tone bodies the “say no to drugs” generation is taking broadway by storm.  They are brought to broadway direct from Stage Management programs everywhere. These lads and lassies have some pretty powerful traits; they are young, bright and super ambitious.

“Here I am, ready to go. Last year I was the teacher’s pet and my teacher knows this person who can get me in with a person who I think will put me in touch with this other person they met having drinks with another friend of hers and now I have an interview to be a PA for a new Broadway Musical. Here I am working with this broadway stage manager wowing him with my hard work and powers of excel. This is amazing and the director totally values my contributions & the choreographer said I was “the best”. Here I am in tech, the PA on headset. I have done so much paperwork on this show the ASM’s “couldn’t have done it without me.” To the cast I am part of the team, they told me so at drinks the other night. Previews & Opening Night of my show. There I am in the program, my show. I was so good as the PA, “my PSM” recommended me for another PA job… I start in two weeks, just enough time to fly home and see my folks. Day one of rehearsal for my new Broadway show. The other PA has done some Off Broadway & Regional work but this is her first Broadway show… I guess I’m the voice of experience and I am the script PA so the Bookwriter has been coming directly to me. I’m actually “invaluable to this process.” The other PA’s can run for lunch because I have to be in the scene work rehearsal with the PSM and the director. To the writers I am a part of the team. Previews & Openiong NIght, my show. Two broadway shows on my resume and I have been trained as a sub. Another PA interview in two weeks, just enough time to go to Fire Island with some of the folks from my last show and do the Broadway Cares benefit in the Pines, 1K likes on my last Instagram post, yes. While I was on Fire Island I found out that this new show may be adding an ASM and I am the only one of the PA’s with… broadway experience…

Are we doing a disservice to these powerhouse individuals by promoting their youth and myoptic experience? Or is this actually the future of our business on Broadway? They have cut their teeth on the grizzle of Broadway politics. They are not intimidated by Producers, General Managers & many are friendly with directors & choreographers since they are not bound by the convention of showing deference. It’s a new generation of folks who are proud members of Actor’s Equity Association, they completely missed the generation of stage managers who thought we should be part of the IATSE. Maybe this pride and vibrato is a thing that should be embraced. They are paying their dues as Production Assistants, maybe they don’t need to know how it works in Summer Stock or Tour, Regionally or Off Broadway. I remain true to my upbringing in the business as it has shaped me into the manager and human I am at work, but I will try to keep this new generations legitimacy in mind while I am interviewing to assist them in the future.