Saturday, July 18, 2015

Reflections on Opening Night(s)

First of all, I'd like to thank my doctor and modern medicine. This has been the most manageable tech week ever for me, and I opened THREE shows last night.

"Silver: A Noir Ballet" opened at 6:00. We had to hold the house for ten minutes, because there were so many people buying tickets. Fringe necessarily keeps a very tight schedule, but I knew the running time of the show gave us a little wiggle room.

The way Fringe tech works is this: Every company gets exactly three hours in their performance space to get everything technically ironed out. Considering most theatre companies, who don't share a venue with seven other shows running in rep, have at least four or five days, and sometimes even weeks, in the space to make sure everything goes smoothly on opening night, this is virtually no time at all for anyone to create a well-oiled machine.

But that's part of the charm of Fringe. The audience knows it's different than anything else they're likely to experience, and there's a hectic party atmosphere to the entire Festival. It's really as if the audiences are part of the team. Everyone is very supportive, and everyone's ready to have a good time.

I've never done any show EVER that didn't have some hiccups on opening night - or even, every night; it's live theatre, ladies and gentlemen!

The house for "Silver" was packed. I didn't get a house count, but this is my eighth year doing Fringe, and I've never seen an opening night that full. Composer Christian Hankel has poured everything into this show, and I was so happy for him, to have such a large audience on Day One.

After the show, I packed up props as quickly as possible (remember, each company shares the space with several other companies, so there's no leaving things out for tomorrow's show), and ran across the hall to the planetarium for the "Voyage to Voyager" opening at 8:00.

NASA confirmed that Voyager 1 has left the solar system. Voyager 2 is on the cusp.

I was rather scattered at this point, to be honest. Words were hard for me to find, and I felt frantic and awkward before the show. I'm very grateful that the "Voyager" team is extremely capable, and so I could be a blathering idiot without fear of the entire thing falling apart.

And again, I was shocked at the turnout. Audience members were in line before I even got there! I had to ask the audience to move toward the center of the aisles, so the people who hadn't found seats yet could actually sit with the people they came with. What a great problem to have. It was very close to being a sold-out performance. I'm still reeling with gratitude.

Tara Varney's photo.
I celebrated opening night with some fun, sent to me by a secret admirer, who obviously knows me extremely well.
Afterward, I had about 30-45 minutes of downtime, which I chose to spend eating the crackers, cheese, and tomatoes I had packed. And then, I was off to City Stage again - this time to perform in "Badder Auditions" at 10:30pm.

Except for the getting-pretty-for-the-stage-after-hours-of-sweating part, I was pretty relaxed. The show is mostly improv; each actor in the revolving cast (I'm doing all of the performances though) has the barest outline for what might happen during their "audition" onstage. There aren't lines or blocking to memorize, there are no tech cues, you just have to go with the flow. As with all improv, sometimes a joke just doesn't land. Last night, I estimate 90% landed. And that is a pretty darned good percentage. I laughed out loud very many times, and my jaw dropped more than once at the sometimes-R-rated antics onstage. I like to see envelopes genuinely being pushed.

And then, it was over. The night I was so stressed about. History. On to the next.

Today, "Badder Auditions" is at 3:00. Director Kevin King and I have some sort of interview with Channel 41 before that, but I don't know when it'll air or anything. "Silver" is right after, at 4:30. Then I get to actually SEE a show or two before "Voyager" at 9:30.

I don't know. Maybe I'll have dinner too. We'll see.

The Fringe website has all the info you could want, or ever need, about the festivities. This year, there are 116 performing groups presenting over 480 shows at 20 different venues. You WILL find something you like, for sure. Unless you only like naps and bratwurst. I don't think you'll find those there. But you never know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Voyager Mission and the Pale Blue Dot

When I was a kid (I now include teendom in this category), I would look up at the night sky and try to wrap my brain around the knowledge that those points of light are the past. They are so very far away that what I was seeing was literally many years old. (The closest star to us is Alpha Centauri, which is nearly four-and-a-half light-years away. This means, just in case you're unsure of the definition, that the light from Alpha Centauri takes almost 4.5 YEARS to be visible to us.) It was stunning to me. Most of these stars were bigger than our sun, but they're so far away that they're easily obscured by streetlights. How tiny is Earth? How tiny am I?
"When I was a kid." Ha. I still do this, constantly.
Voyager I was launched on September 5, 1977. Its primary mission was to study the gas giants of our solar system. Its secondary mission: send a message of peace and understanding into interstellar space, to be found, hopefully, by intelligent life. The form this greeting took was what became known as the "Golden Record."
When Voyager I passed Saturn in 1980, Carl Sagan, head of the Golden Record committee, asked that the spacecraft be turned around to take one last photo of Earth. He knew that the photo would have no real scientific value, because it was too far away to make out any detail, but he thought it would be an important image for understanding our place in the cosmos.
Most scientists on the Voyager Mission team thought it was far too risky, that taking a picture of Earth, so close to the sun, would irreparably damage the camera. It took ten years for the Voyager team to agree that it would be worthwhile, to recalibrate the instruments, and smooth out other assorted bumps.
On February 14, 1990, Voyager I was 6 billion km/3.7 million miles/40.5 AU from Earth when it took this photograph:
The remarkable "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Yet another gift from Carl Sagan.
See that tiny point of light in the far right sunbeam? That's the Earth.
In his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, Sagan wrote:
"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

I can't possibly add anything to this. Sagan was far more brilliant and eloquent than I'll ever be.

I suppose some people might find this depressing: we're so insignificant. I find it exhilarating: we're so insignificant. That's amazing. That's freeing. That makes all one's worries and disagreements and fears and mistakes even tinier. If you try something big, and you fail, it means nothing, compared to the vastness of the universe. If you confess your love for someone, the risk is infinitesimal. If you embarrass yourself, no one will remember it by the time the light of Alpha Centauri reaches the Earth.

This is us. We have to take care of each other, because this 0.12 pixel is all we have.

Voyage to Voyager, a multi-media play about the creation of the Voyager Golden Record, opens at the Gottlieb Planetarium in Union Station on Fri, July 17.