Look Out for Children At Play

Last summer I confronted my mother, “I’m blaming you, Mom. The reason I have no maternal urges is because you never got me a baby doll when I was a kid.” She looked at me and laughed. “Honey, you never had a baby doll because you never wanted one. I’ve known since you were 4 that I wouldn’t be a grandma.” This confession left me so speechless that I neglected to point out a story she’d told me numerous times: as a child, she’d left her baby doll out in the rain over night and its face had peeled off. Any thing fucked up about me, I now blame it on that.

I listen to my friends moon over babies “That baby is SO CUTE I can’t stand it!” I shrug my shoulders. I listen to friends, “OMG I want a baby NOW. I mean, I know it’s not the place I am in life, but ahhh I want one!” Or “When I have a family, I’m totally moving back to San Francisco.” Such talk freaks me out a little. For me it’s not “WHEN I have a baby” it’s “IF I have a baby”. Big difference. Those same friends say, “Oh, it just hasn’t kicked in yet. Some day soon you’ll look a kid and your ovaries will ache.” “Uh..that’s what Midol is for?” I reply.

A baby starts crying on the subway, I switch cars. I suppose I haven’t been around them enough. Being an only child doesn’t help. My only babysitting experience helps even less. (It was a disaster. I was fourteen, I couldn’t get the kid to go to bed, and she peed in an armchair right before her parents got home.) I feel a little awkward around young children, like I don’t really know what I’m doing.

There are hundreds of children at a renaissance faire. Perhaps even more children than drunks (well, not after 5pm). I started out slow, admiring the “unicorns beautious princesses” rode (that would be a little girl- the princess- on the shoulder’s of her dad- the unicorn. Turns out dads get a kick out of being called a “unicorn”.) Then I discovered kids are really fun to play with. My imagination as an improviser must be good, but an 8-year-old kicks my ass, imagination wise. There is nothing better than the look of awe or glee on a kid’s face as a reaction to you.

There was a little girl, probably 8 years old, who came to the faire with her mother. She started off the day in street clothes, a little shy, but with wide eyes that were clearly seeing everything as wonderful and soaking all in. By mid day she had rented a renaissance outfit (yep, that’s something you can do at these fairs) and with her 21st century guise gone, her shyness melted away.    She was so engaged, taking in everything, incorporating it, remembering things you’d said before and asking questions about them, always ready to give me a new idea for how to make Sir Francis notice me or where we could find treasure. She was trying desperately to pick up the 16th century language, she came back the next day and by the end of the weekend had a remarkable handle on it. Her mother told one of the cast members, one of the few parents in the cast actually, that she had been struggling horribly at school. That the kids picked on her, she hadn’t made any friends, and she was miserable. Someone had recommended to her mom that she bring her daughter to our renaissance faire.

The girl and her mom came back 5 times over the summer, we learned they’d traveled several hours from Vermont. You could see how the faire actually changed this little girls life. That she was picked on for being smart and interested in learning and probably for loving imagination games. The she came to the Ren Faire and we actors accepted her into our world and you could just see how amazing that was for her, and the gratitude shone in her mom’s eyes.

I received a Facebook message from a little boy’s dad, thanking me for playing with his son

Thanks a bunch for being such a great Piratess to my son this last weekend (and also, thanks for being so patient). He had a blast and really enjoyed you and the crew. And he’s pretty convinced that he really wants to be the “first mate of the crows nest.” Take care and have a great Faire.

He hunted me down on Facebook just to tell me that. I was really touched.

So after a summer of playing “Let’s pretend” with kids (and adults) I definitely feel like I understand them better. Less awkward, more “Kids are awesome!” There have even been a couple of times where I’ve said “Whoa, that is a CUTE baby.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say the ol’ maternal clock is ticking, but I think the second hand might be quavering. That either means it’s broken or it’s getting warmed up. Only time will tell.

• Honey Bunny: Rabbit Found in the Woods

Growing up the only pets I ever had were parakeets. Not that I didn’t love my parakeets (one in particular whose name was Bob was easily the coolest parakeet ever to be domesticated) but they sorely lacked in the cuddly, sleep-at-the-foot-of-your-bed, department. I longed for a hug-able furry companion, going out of my way to pet kitties, daydreaming about how I’d hide a $4 hamster from my parents, and chasing bunnies in town parks, eternally hopeful some day one would let me pet it instead of hopping away.

Leave it to Bumblefuck to make your childhood dreams come true.

It was a day off and I had done very little other than making breakfast which was rather nice, but at the hour of 2pm I said to myself DO SOMETHING. Not having a car, my options painfully limited, I decided to go for a run. Decked out in running clothes that I’d worn the day before, a little smelly but not enough to deem unwearable, my plan was to run to the lake (maybe jump in it) and back.

Determined though I was, ipod in hand, a spring in my step, this run never happened. It was the only time all summer I set out to run and  failed -yes I’m pretty proud with consistency of my running all summer. There are somethings that make it impossible to achieve a goal. A sprained ankle, an unexpected thunderstorm, or finding a bunny on the side of the road.

He was a tiny little bundle of fluff which I almost didn’t see as I was not wearing my contacts. The only reason he caught my eye was because he made an attempt to run away and completely failed. His back legs flopped awkwardly in back of him making his escape impossible. I stared at the little guy, wondering if he was just too tiny to move on his own yet or is there was something wrong with him. I got closer, put out my hand, and was shocked to be able to touch him. Pet him. Pick him up and put him in the baseball cap I was wearing.  I carried him to the kitchen- if you’re looking for someone in the woods, the best place to find them is the Actors’ Kitchen- hoping to find someone who would have an idea of how to help the little guy.

No one knew. The only lead I got was that a Lady in Waiting was great with animals, but she had gone wine tasting that day. So we put my little bunny in a shoe box, covered the bottom with grass, and tried to get him to drink water. He wasn’t having any of it. Wasn’t eating any grass. Not even chopped up apple, which rabbits are supposed to love (at least according to my friend who has them). Time ticked by, me just hanging out with my tiny bunny, watching him get weaker and weaker.

He was still alive when the Gallant Beggar and Street Urchin (the ones I went to the bank with) showed up. I thought about hiding the box from them, I had already had a bunny experience with the two of them a few weeks before, that involved the running over of a bunny in a fast moving car. The reaction of the driver had been extreme (tears were shed), and I was staring at my weak little bunny worrying his fate would soon be not much different.

I didn’t hide the box from them. The Street Urchin promptly names my bunny Chuckles, I know this will not end well. Before I knew it, phone calls had been made, a near by animal wildlife center found. We jumped in the car, peering closely at Bunny all the while “He’s still breathing! Oh I hope we make it.”

We pull up to the address we were given over the phone. It is an abandoned yard surrounded by a barbed wire fence. It looks sketchy as hell, we wait nervously for our contact to come meet us. After enough time so that I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable, a huge Lincoln comes driving out of no where. “So you’re the guys with the bunny?” Yep. Here he is. “Oh wow. He’s really small for this time of year. Yeah, usually when their like this, you find maggot eggs on their legs. Mother Nature’s way of preparing for carcass clean up.” I stare at her in horror. Maggots are on my bunny? Waiting for the second he dies so they can dig in?  “Ah yep, here they are,”  she says, manhandling my bunny, stretching his legs apart and pointing at tiny white ovals on his legs. Hello, I now feel sick. “Well, thanks for bringing him in.” With that she leaves, taking Chuckles with her.

The three of us look at each other. We all know full well where Chuckles is on his way to. But we didn’t have to see it happen, and so we can pretend. “He’s in good hands  now.” “Yep, he’ll make a miraculous recovery and live a happy life.” “We saved him yay us.” Next time I see a bunny on the side of the road, I’ll let him be. On the plus side, I know my little guy is now in greener pastures.

• Bladder Blasting in Bumblef*ck

Like I’ve said before, there are things you can do in Bumblefuck that you can’t do in NYC. There’s a certain one I miss the most.

When you’re acting in the woods, all the world’s a stage. When you’re living in the woods, all the world’s a bathroom. Mother Nature calls, you can answer her immediately. No waiting in line to pee behind a tree. We didn’t even call it “peeing”. My pirate captain coined the term “bladder blast” and that’s what we refered to all summer. “Don’t go out back, she’s taking a bladder blast”.

Back in New York, I’ll be walking down the street, get that old familiar feeling, a bladder blast approaching, and I become frustrated that I can’t solve my problem right then and there. That I have to find a Starbucks or some such, feel bad that I’m not buying anything, and wait in a line of a dozen women. Last weekend me and a friend had to pee while picnicking in Sheep’s Meadow. We waited in line for almost an hour. To the point where our non-peeing friends thought we’d been kidnapped. Yes, life in the big city is hard.

Of course, you can bladder blast outside in NYC. We’ve all seen people do it. Last night my roommate and I were walking home and 10 yards from our apartment saw a guy zipping up after relieving himself on the street. Without missing a beat and with no embarrassment he said, “You’re sexy. Both you ladies are sexxxy.” We burst into laughter and walked away, grossed out and amused.

Now, I didn’t spend the entire summer peeing behind trees. We did have privies. Privies that were monitored by Betty the Privy Duck

He (Betty turned out to be a boy after he was named) camped out side the privies all day, waddling around and making me want to use them as much as possible despite the huge pain of peeing in pirate clothes (lots and lots of layers). So, just so I’m clear,  bladder blasting in Bumblefuck is far superior to any kind of urination we’ve got here in the Big Apple.

Friday Night Bytes

Currently it is Friday night and I am at home. I am at home because I have to blog today because of my ten day promise. Because of this goal, my roommate says she won’t let me leave the house until I blog. She’s a good roommate, she supports me in my goals, even taking extreme meassures to help me achieve them. She just gave me a big pep talk You set this goal for a reason. This is for you. It is not for me, I’m not not letting you go for me. This is for you. If you go out with out blogging, you won’t have any fun. All you will be able to think of is your failure. Because if you don’t blog tonight, you don’t achieve your goal. That makes you a failure. DO YOU WANT TO BE A FAILURE?

The thing is, being home on a Friday night, sitting in front of the computer is the very opposite of a New York cliché. Therefore, it goes against everything this blog stands for. And so I’m stopping it right now.

Melon Head: A Tale from a Ren Faire Actor

A Frequently Asked Question about my time in the Renaissance is: “Did they feed you?” Did you eat nothing all summer but turkey legs and fried dough? Perhaps the subtext of this question, which I didn’t realize until now, was “Are you going to come back to New York a blimp? (then you can play the Nurse in R+J!)” The answer is no. No, they did not feed us, no I am not a blimp. But they did give us eating guidelines. We could eat Snickers bars “back stage” but were mandated to eat “period food” any where patrons might see us. Yep, we called it “period food” and that didn’t mean chocolate. “Period food” is food that was eaten in 1585. Like parsnips…though I never saw anyone eat one of those. Think carrots. Bread and Cheese. Melons!

I had it in my head that eating an entire melon (cantaloupe) by myself had grand comedic potential. Just sitting, a half in each hand, shoveling the pulp into my mouth and spitting out seeds- that image looked funny (in my head). I imagined swallowing a seed and having a nervous breakdown about a melon tree growing in my stomach. What I neglected to consider was how time consuming eating a whole melon is. I sat down to eat it and would get interrupted after only a few spoon fulls. This was rather inconvenient- I was without the use of both hands, each occupied with melon rind- but looked pretty funny. A pirate running around with melons in her hands? I don’t know what she’s doing, but it looks ridiculous.

I ran into Sir Francis Drake, my character’s huge unrequited love, whilst in this predicament: both hands full of melon. In his presence my character is usually rendered some what speechless; unable to string sentences together, babbling incoherent confessions of love. A patron took pity on me and tried to help me communicate with the man. She decided the melons were only distracting me and that I needed to get them out of my hands. So, unknowingly, she asked Sir Francis to hold them.

Sir. Francis. Drake. Holding. My. Melons. SirFrancisDrakeholdingmymelons!! Oh Lord did my character freak out. And how funny a thing is it to say “SIR FRANCIS DRAKE TOUCHED MY MELONS”? I ran around for quite some time telling EVERYONE. In earnest. Not in a “haha I realize the double entendre I’m pulling here”. No. In “Look at these slices of melon, MY melons, and look where HE touched them!” complete sincerity.

At some point it clicked in my head that I could take it to an extreme level. When such a realization happens, an improv performer can’t say no. I took my head scarf, and begged “Mistress Geraldine, the best hat maker in 12 towns” to make me a hat. A hat out of the melon (which I had carefully scraped clean of pulp for the purpose). Hesitant though she was, I got the melon rind tied onto my head. Babbling about the touch of Sir Francis Drake seeping through the melon, through my head, and through my entire being, I wandered around for the rest of the day with a melon on my head garnering stares, double-takes, bewildered looks, and guffaws. My favorite reactions.

This may have been my most brilliant performance moment of the summer.

Showmance Sh-no-wmance

I am not exactly the young engenue,  leading lady type. I am more the quirky⁄weird⁄flat-out crazy type. Those are the roles I find most fun, no question. But, probably because I am not fat (which I am convinced is the only reason I was not cast as the nurse in my college production of Romeo and Juliet-three years later, still not over it), I occasionally do get cast as the Romantic Lead.

My very first semester of college I was cast as Catherine, the love interest, in Pippin. I was super excited, my first semester of college, my first lead in a musical. In my high school freshmen never got big parts, so to me this was a Big Deal. The (cute) guy that was supposed to play Pippin dropped out (hello college theatre) and it took the director (“director” I should say, he was the poorest excuse for a director I’ve ever worked with) a while to find a replacement. I waited in anticipation. Would this new guy be my love interest on and off stage? That’s the sort of thing that happens in college, right? As this was musical theatre, I figured if not a boyfriend, at the least I would get a gay boyfriend. I was in need of both after all. I vividly remember Pippin walking in the door. Slightly overweight, bad skin, and poorly dressed. Not My Type. Not Gay. Fuck. Ten minutes after introducing myself to him I added “boring” to the list. The next day after rehearsal, I added “mediocre singer, abysmal actor, AND he smells funny” to the list. (Knowing my luck, he probably reads my blog…)

Hey, I was a bitchy, judgemental, disappointed, sullenly single, freshman (I’ve grown up since, I swear). Could I make it more clear he was not a love interest off stage? And yet, every one thought otherwise. Rumors flew around the cast I had a huge crush on him, friends came to see the show and raised eyebrows. You act like you’re in love with someone on stage, people watching that don’t understand it’s acting. Freshman year I was upset, offended- “You think I like him!? GROSS.” By the end of the run of Pippin, I learned to take it in stride. Now it’s as a huge complement if I’m accused of being interested in my onstage love interest, if his girlfriend gives me a mega Stink Eye after seeing the show. Clearly I’m producing a convincing, believable performance. What more could I want?

So did I have a crush on the guy who played Sir Francis Drake this summer? No I did not. But thanks for asking.

I still haven’t gotten to melons…more on melons to come.

Pangs of the Pirate Hearted

I’m running around the forest searching, hoping to see a flash of red, a glint of gold brocade, the blue-green iridescence of a peacock feather. It is the proper time of day (I just sneakily peaked at the 20th century watch hidden in my pouch), he should be free, should be in the area, and should be hoping for someone to play with. Through the sea of T-shirts, sundresses, and flip-flops, he does stand out. Most hands clutch turkey legs or plastic beer cups, his is more likely clutching the well crafted sword attached to his belt. His jerky and abrupt movements are made to look like (unto) an action hero and as such he’s pretty impossible to overlook This very point is proven as he comes charging up the hill, the angles of legs and arms so specific it’s comical.

Now that I know he’s here, I immediately change direction and act like I don’t. Coy Consequence Wailes (my character) is not, but completely oblivious? Oh yar. In faith, the pirate in me is madly in love with this man. So much so that sometimes she can’t even say his name. After all, he is Sir Francis Drake, and if there was any celebrity “bad boy” in 1585, this “hero of England” was It with a capital I.

My entire day is unscripted. My entire day is me roaming around “the shire”, thirty acres if Bumble Fuck. There are 30 other actors roaming these parts. That’s one actor for every acre (coincidence? I think so.) We are all running around hoping to bump into one another because that makes for a scene. We know our relationships with each other, how our characters feel about each other, maybe even how they interact together. We aren’t floundering. There’s an outline. Anything can’t happen. But also anything can. In all our minds percolate ideas for adventures and comedic scenes that we can play out for the patrons of the faire. Not only that, this is interactive theatre, ultimate success is when the audience gets in and actually plays with us.

When Consequence meets Sir Francis, it’s often my favorite part of the day. She’s a 12-year-old girl and he is Justin Bieber (or Justin Timberlake or John Lennon if you need generational translation). She’s a pirate and he’s a knight. It’s 1585. No cameras, no security, no twitter, no Seventeen.  It’s theater, plays are written about the most extraordinary days of people’s lives.  So I aim to make every performance day the most exciting day a pirate could ever have, which means she meets Sir Francis Drake and some days he even invites her to join his crew.

Now that I, the actor, have spotted my scene partner and know her search will be successful, my pirate can start looking for Sir Francis. Hopefully I can get a patron to help me.  John Cadwell! The renowned look-out, Is it even so? Oh Master Cadwell, I have heard of tell that you are the greatest look out that ever sailed the seas. That you can spot land from a greater distance than birds can fly. Word has it your eyesight is unparalleled! As a fellow sea dog, Master Cadwell, I Consequence Wailes, were hoping to beg a boon of thee.

I’ve just turned an audience member into  John Cadwell, master look-out, the very person I need to help Conny spot Sir Francis Drake. After an entirely unhelpful description He be the most beautious knight in all the world! His golden locks to shine like Apollo himself! His face does wear the many adventures of his life and he do look so fearsome and braverious! Teehee!– I’ll mention he’s wearing red and has black gloves and my John Cadwell will hopefully take the cue to say, “You talking about the guy right there? Which cues my freak out because O-M-G (“God’s my life” in 1585) I am totes not ready to actually meet him! Do I look ok? I haven’t washed my vestments in over a month and I think there’s blood on them from the guy I killed last week! But maybe that’s good? I look brave? Worthy of his crew? Squee!! How do I approach him!?

Usually I’m told to “Just go talk to him! Say ‘Hi.'” If my John Cadwell has had a couple of beers and is “in his cups” (drunk) I might get “Shove your tits in his face!” Some patrons get really into it, “Well, you both work at sea- you have that in common- talk about shared interests.” One even went so far as to make up background for his character, “Oh, yeah, we were on the same ship once, I know him. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

This all leads to the inevitable dramatic climax. Consequence meets her hero. Often meeting him causes her to lose control of her sentences and spew ecstatic, incoherent, babbling that some one must translate. She’s even fainted a couple times (I’ve gotten great at staged falls)- the ferocious piratess who has slain hundreds of men without batting an eye, defenseless in the presence of the one she loves.

On the very first day of the faire, I had no idea what to expect. We’d rehearsed for a full month, I knew my character, knew those of my fellow actors, but no amount of rehearsal could prepare me for exactly what it would be like interacting with actual patrons. Hoping “John Cadwell” says “Haha, okay sure, that’s me!” and not, “No, my name is Mark. I’m an accountant.” and if you do get shut down like that you can play it off well.

I started the day nervous as hell, clammy hands and heart pounding in my chest- the works. I ended the day wearing a melon rind on my head. Like unto a hat. This got me cred with the veterans of the cast. “The best thing I saw on opening was Consequence Wailes with a melon strapped on her head. You are fearless and you crack my shit up.” A complement like that’ll help ease my nerves any day.

So how did I end up wearing a melon as a hat? We’ll get to that tomorrow.