Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I'm gonna try an experiment in October: I'm going to give up alcohol for the entire month.

Why would I do such a silly thing, you ask? Well, in exactly one year I will be walking down not just any aisle, but the aisle, and I need to start getting my body wedding-ready. I have a whole list of plans that may or may not come to fruition because they include things like "30 days unlimited hot yoga challenge" and "how to eat cauliflower for breakfast lunch and dinner," but my first step in looking Halter Top Hot is to do a bit of a detox. I figure that if this goes well and produces the results I'm expecting, I'll give up the drink again in January or February of next year, and then again right before the wedding.

I realize that there are about 58 flaws to my plan. First flaw: I really enjoy going out for drinks with friends, and I have the will power of a garden gnome. Second flaw: detoxing for a month probably won't get me any noticeable, physical results. Third flaw: It's entirely possible I'll just replace my glass of wine with a scoop of ice cream, which would directly counteract all the health benefits of giving up alcohol. Fourth flaw: I'm going to a wedding on October 3 and since I've already decided that I want to drink at both the rehearsal dinner and the actual wedding, I'm giving myself a dispensation for those days and instead starting the detox on September 29, thereby failing my experiment BEFORE IT EVEN BEGINS.

But hey, I'm not doing much else this month. Outside of the aforementioned wedding I have no other social plans, and any holiday parties won't start until November. So while I'll be missing the height of all the pumpkin-spiced beers, I'll be just in time for Leine's Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, which (let's be honest), is really the reason for the season.

But in the meantime, anyone got any good juice recipes?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Driving the Dingle Peninsula

Our third stop in Ireland was a tiny town on the west coast called Dingle. Our second stop in Ireland was a tiny town in the middle of the country called Kilkenny, but other than a castle, a church, and the most amazing outdoor pool I've ever been in (and one I couldn't get pictures of), there wasn't much to this town. A worthwhile stop, mind you, because it broke up the drive from Dublin to Dingle and allowed us to see the interior of the country, but not worth it's own post. 

Dingle, on the other hand, is worth it's own post, postcard, calendar, magazine, and full-size coffee table book. When you say "Ireland" and everyone else says "oh it's so pretty there!", they're talking about the Dingle Peninsula. Soaring vistas over ragged rocks. Rugged hilltops that lead to even more breathtaking views. Winding roads with more than glimpses of the sea. Bright blue skies above and crashing waves below. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

We made the bold and correct decision to rent a car for our time outside of Dublin. It was not without it's hassles - insurance was not covered through any of our credit cards and therefore an extra expense, we opted to not get the 35€/day GPS but instead spent part of one morning getting a much cheaper SIM card to use in the iPad, and then there was the whole driving on the left thing - but with a deep and focused concentration (and one small fight), J and I managed to drive ourselves all over Ireland and back. He drove, I screamed instructions navigated from the iPad, and we did it all while suffering only a few minor heart attacks and one cow-induced, Irish traffic jam.

Driving in from the East, we followed the suggestion of someone at our previous hotel and rode the Conor Pass into Dingle. The roads were a bit steep and narrow (read: I thought we were going to fall into the ocean when we had to back up 20 yards to let a truck pass us), but it was worth the anxiety. We fortuitously had the clearest and brightest days during our entire time in Dingle, and the views on Connor's Pass provided a wonderful welcome to the city. 

There isn't a whole lot to do in Dingle itself, but that by no means should deter you from visiting this delightful little city. There are some excursions you can take (boat trips out to the Blasket Islands, speed boats around the harbor, and there was something about a dolphin that we never quite figured out), but we chose to slow ourselves way down and simply stroll the town and get to know Dingle via it's food and drink. That led to more chowders, my new favorite cider, and quiet nights outside our B&B simply staring at the sky and wondering how I could get New York to dim it's lights for just 10 minutes one clear night so that we could see what the heck is up there.

We stayed in Dingle for two nights, which was just the right amount of time for us, for it gave us one full day where we didn't have to make our way to a new city. Instead, got up relatively early (for us) in an attempt to beat the tour busses and Drove The Dingle Peninsula, an activity worthy of the hyperbolic capitalization I just assigned.

Since we followed the Rick Steves' Dingle Driving Tour (his caps) to a T, I won't bore you with the step-by-step. That being said, if you do ever find yourself in Dingle, I highly recommend getting a copy of Rick Steves Ireland (or just borrowing it from the library, as my unemployed self did). It's full of more interesting information than you could ever process, and shockingly detailed. His driving tours (which include Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, and a handful of others) are measured quite literally by the kilometer and allow you to have a much more informed day of sightseeing. Please note that I am in no way affiliated with Rick Steves, I'm just a giant fangirl and could talk for hours about his guide books ;)

Anyway, back to the Dingle Peninsula. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the entire thing took about five hours (we stopped at nearly all the points of interest and grabbed a snack along the way as well), which left us ample time for a quick nap at the B&B before enjoying our last big, potato-filled dinner in Dingle. It's true what they say about the Irish and their love of potatoes - almost every dish I ordered came with a side of chips, and on that last night in Dingle I ordered a Seafood Pie which was basically seafood chowder over a bed of mashed potatoes that was topped with a puff pastry - and a basket of chips on the side. Not that I was mad about any of it. I just made it a priority to do a little carb-detox the second I got back to the states.

If you go: Renting a car will allow you the most freedom in following your own schedule and interests, rather than those of a tour group. Be aware that Ireland drives on the left side of the road and that the majority of available car rentals are manual - be prepared to pay a premium if you require an automatic. / We stayed at the delightful Tower View B&B, which is located an easy 10-minute walk from the center of Dingle. There is a working farm on the property and Mary, the owner of the B&B, allows kids and kids-at-heart to help feed the animals after breakfast. / You'd be hard pressed to find a bad meal in Dingle, but some of our favorites are Dick Mack's Pub and Waterside Bistro and Cafe. / I was neither sponsored nor compensated for any of my travels in Europe, all opinions are my own and given simply because I had a great time and think that you can too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

This is a story of a pair of pants

This is the story of a pair of pants.

But first, I have to back up to a time before the pants:

Twelve years ago, I got my first professional (read: paid) stage management gig working for my college’s theater program. I was 19, a complete theater geek, and wanted to be a director – but when my crotchety old theater professor ambled down the hall one afternoon and asked if I wanted to stage manage the fall production of A Servant of Two Masters, I figured that getting paid to do anything in the theater would be better than another year of serving burgers and beer to Packers fans at the Abbey Bar. So I lied and said that I totally knew how to call a show and sure I’ll take the job.

That show led to larger student productions that led to even larger summer stock musicals and before I knew it I was being offered a post-graduate internship at a well-known regional theater. Nine months of rehearsals, paperwork, set moves, and the occasional backstage dance party. All of it unpaid, all of it the hardest I’ve ever worked, all of it the best crash course in stage management anyone has ever received.

I remained at that lovely theater in Louisville for another two years before my boss opened the door and told me to fly free. I’d reached the limit of what I could do there – another year, and my career would start to stagnate. So I scoured the Internet and began the horrible process of cold-submitting myself to jobs and gigs across the country. After a phone interview in which I was asked what I like to put on my pizza (answer: mushrooms), I landed a job as a production assistant at a theater in New England. I later found out that my pizza-loving boss hired me because he liked the sound of my last name and figured he’d enjoy screaming it across a busy rehearsal hall.

I should pause at this juncture to point out a few key things. I won’t bore you with technicalities, but there are many facets of the job collectively known as “stage management.” At the bare minimum for most theatrical productions, there are actually two different stage managers working the same show – a production stage manager who sits in the booth and “calls” the show (dictates when the sets move, when the actors enter, and when the lights go on and off) and an assistant stage manager who remains backstage with the actors and crew and helps orchestrate the flow of everyone and everything that exists behind the scenes. While I’ve held both positions over the years, it is that of the assistant stage manager I find most pleasurable. My skills shine, my personality fits perfectly, and the rush I get from a well-executed scene is my drug.

And while we're on the informational portion of this essay, please allow me to add one more pertinent detail: when one is working backstage, unless he or she is an actor in costume, he (or she) must be as invisible as possible to the audience. And forgive me if I’m stating the obvious here, but the best way to remain hidden while running a show is to wear black clothing. This is also the best way to validate the stereotype of the techie wearing head-to-toe black, but other than an all-stereotype version of Godspell I once directed (when I still thought I was going to be a director), I am not one to comment on stereotypes.

So there I was in a dusty rehearsal room in Connecticut, playing Stage Left Rehearsal Tree #2 (the real trees would ultimately fly in, but we needed something, or someone, to help remind the actresses not to twirl into a set piece and I was cheaper than a mock-up of a tree. Both glamor and dignity have always been a very large component of stage management). The dancers eventually learned to twirl right and not left, and we soon moved into the theater for the hellacious process known as tech. I REALLY won’t bore you with the arduous details of what a tech rehearsal is like, but know that during such rehearsals, both the assistant stage manager and the production assistant are running around taking notes, trouble shooting traffic jams, putting band-aids on cut fingers, blowing up balloons, blowing up puffy chairs, brushing down furry chairs, refilling prop wine, cooking prop food, finding lost actors, finding lost costumes, finding lost props, finding lost set pieces, and any other entirely bizarre yet utterly necessary task that really needed to have been done five minutes ago if we have any hopes of making it to the end of the show before final dress.

A stage manager’s best tool is preparedness. A stage manager’s second best tool is the one in her hand, whether it be a pen, notebook, flashlight, roll of spike tape, Gerber, safety pin, tape measure, clear-com pack, line of glow tape, extra piece of tie line, clipboard full of paperwork, Sharpie, or that aforementioned band-aid. (A stage manager’s third best tool is a bottle of bourbon, but that’s a lesson for another day.) The problem with needing so many tools at once, though, is that there is never a good place to put said tools – space backstage is usually very limited, and an assistant stage manager is lucky to carve out a small square of a prop table to use as a makeshift base station. So as a result, many, if not all of those tools, are carried on her person. Or specifically, in the pockets of her pants.

Up until this point in my career, I inexplicably managed to survive my backstage life wearing nothing more than a comfy pair of yoga pants and an oversized hoodie. My thought was that if I had to be on my feet and running around for hours a day, why not be as comfortable as possible? And it worked, sort of. I learned to stash various pens and tapes in multiple nooks and corners of whichever theater I was working in at the time, but looking back I now realize that I was not practicing professionalism. Not to mention the fact that my headset’s com pack was so heavy that it continually pulled down at the elastic waistband of my pants, thus revealing whatever underwear I had chosen that day. Oh, to be young and stupid!

As soon as I made it through the first hour of my first tech in Connecticut, I realized I was going to need to change my ways immediately. While I had been spoiled with backstages the size of football fields in the past, this new theater had only an offstage left and an offstage right area. The upstage wall of the stage was the upstage wall of the building itself. And offstage right, where I was stationed, was all of five feet wide. And we were doing a 22-person musical. Space was at an all-time premium.

So after losing my pen to a moving set piece one time too many, I used my dinner break to run to the nearest store and remedy the situation. Since I was in the middle of nowhere Connecticut, the nearest store just happened to be a Wal-Mart – not my first choice for retail, but desperate times called for desperate measure. I grabbed the first pair of cheap black jeans I saw, made sure they fit, and ran back to the theater. Being the snob that I am, I figured that a pair of pants from Wal-Mart wouldn’t last long and that I’d have to invest in a more well-made pair sooner rather than later, but that they’d do for the time being. I just hoped they made it through the rest of that tech process.

That was six years ago. A lot happened after that – I moved to New York, started working at off-off-off-Broadway theaters, slowly began removing those “off’s” one at a time, and eventually worked my way uptown to the Great White Way.

And inexplicably, that pair of black jeans that I purchased in a rush 6 years ago from a Connecticut Wal-Mart is the one thing that has remained constant through my New York life. I wore those pants while wrangling original Jim Henson puppets, while resetting 64 tiny cardboard houses 112 times, while sweating my butt off at the height of summer heat waves in theaters that didn’t have air conditioning, while freezing my ass off during polar vortexes in theaters that didn’t have heat, while moving hundreds of chairs, music stands, and tables mere centimeters back and forth while the director settled on the “perfect” location, and while serving up spanakopita and Hurley Burgers at the two different restaurants I worked at during those leaner, off-off years. Those pants have been spilled on, crawled in, written on, cried in, stretched out, washed, rewashed, and tossed in the dryer and re-shrunk hundreds of times – and at the end of this past summer, they finally fell apart. The hems that had always been just an inch too long became frayed beyond an acceptable amount, and the hole in the crotch that had been slowly threatening to expose more and more of me finally grew so large that I had to wear leggings underneath just to remain decent.

Coincidently, the end of the pants coincided with the end of something larger. Or as I like to see it, the end of the pants poetically signaled the end of something larger. For a while now, I’ve been feeling like backstage is no longer the place for me. It takes a certain level of energy and tenacity to sustain the life of a freelance stage manager, and I’m not entirely sure I possess those levels any more. I’m tired of not knowing my next gig, I’m tired of not being able to purchase plane tickets for fear a job will come up that I truly have to take, and I’m tired of working a schedule opposite my partner’s and seeing him for a total of four hours each week when I’m running a show. I’m starting to resent the time that I’m at work, and that is one of the worst places for a stage manager to mentally reside. So I’ve decided it’s time for a career change.

I know what you’re thinking: “here’s the part of this incredibly long story where she finally reveals her awesome new business venture!”

Sadly, that’s not where this story is going. Instead, this is the part where I tell you that I have no idea what I’m going to do next. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and what I need to do next is figure that out. One of the frustrating things about working in theater is that each job is so encompassing that it doesn’t give you a lot of time to think about anything else, let along other careers. I’m only at the point where I realize I need to do some serious soul-searching – not basking in the afterglow of said soul-searching and brightly looking forward to my new great lifestyle.

Truthfully, I’m terrified. I really have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s entirely possible that I’m throwing away a perfectly good career, one that I worked tirelessly to get established in, only to pivot into something completely different. I might be on the brink of a big time failure (or at the very least, a very large regret), but insert one of the dozens of inspirational quotes about failures and successes here, and help me to remind myself that I just have to trust myself and those around me who are unconditionally supporting my search.

Do not fear though, those who are still reading by this point! I’m by no means cutting theater out of my life completely, whether professionally or personally. I have a few small projects lined up over the coming months that will help me stay in the financial black, and going to see other productions will remain a constant joy in my life. Theater was my first love – no other art form has ever hit me with that strange cocktail of beauty and pain, familiarity and possibility, vulnerability and harmony. But it’s time to step away for a while and see what else is out there. I may come crying back to theater, vowing to never again leave it’s avant-garde grasp, or I may find happiness in something entirely different. But I will know that I worked hard at the career I so passionately embraced – and if anybody asks for proof, I’ll just show them my pants.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wedding 101: Questions to ask during your venue search

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we finally picked a venue for our wedding next year. It's such a huge relief to have such a big piece of the puzzle all figured out! The search to get to said venue, however, was a bit on the lengthy side. We ended up viewing twelve venues in two different cities over the course of the summer, and wading through the sheer amount of options was one of our biggest challenges. One of the best ways to do this and keep track of the pros and cons offered by each of the locations, however, was to ask the same set of questions at each place. Even though nearly all the venues provided us with an information packet detailing the specifics of their wedding packages, I found that creating my own list ahead of time allowed us to stay on task during each site visit, easily compare and contrast all of the options, and temper the analysis paralysis that was threatening to take over my brain.

The internet is teaming with lists of questions to ask your wedding venue, but below are the questions that helped me in my venue search. I organized them in what seemed to me to be the most natural progression of information, and not to toot my own horn, but it is an incredibly comprehensive list. It's also long - three pages and nearly 100 questions - but my philosophy is that preparedness is next to godliness (or something like that). Download the PDF here to print it out as is, or view it below to use it as a basis for your own list of questions - and good luck in your venue search!

 * Questions to ask when looking for a Wedding Venue *

·       What dates are available during the month(s) I’m interested in?
·       How many weddings will be booked that day?
·       Is the venue available for exclusive use? If so, is there a minimum amount of guests that have to book accommodation for exclusivity?
·       Are there different rates for different days, times, or months? (peak vs. off-peak)
·       How flexible are your packages?
·       Are there any changes planned to the building before the wedding (renovations, painting, etc.)?
·       Is there an outdoor space where my guests can smoke or mingle? Is this space heated/covered if necessary?
·       Is there a coat check area?
·       How many toilets are there?
·       Is there somewhere secure to store wedding gifts?
·       Does the venue have public liability insurance?
·       What security services do you offer? Do I need to hire my own security guards, or does the site hire them or have them on staff?
·       Do you have a recycling policy?

·       Who will be our point person before the event?
·       Who will be our point person on the day?
·       Can we meet that person now?
·       Is that person the facility director? If not, who is this person?
·       Does the venue provide assistance getting gifts/décor back to a designated car/room/etc. after the event has concluded?

·       Is there a payment schedule?
·       What kind of deposits are required?
·       Are there hidden costs – service charges, gratuity, cleaning fees, overtime charges?
·       What’s the cancellation policy?
·       What costs are incurred if the numbers on the day differ to the final numbers?
·       What’s the last possible date that we can make changes?

·       What time will my guests have to leave the venue?
·       Will a shuttle to/from the ceremony and reception be provided?
·       Transportation to/from the airport?
·       Is the bridal suite included in the price? Are rooms provided for the parents?
·       What accommodation does the venue offer, and is there a discounted rate for guests at the wedding?
·       Are these rates dependent on a certain number of guests booking accommodation?
·       Can the bridal party get ready at the venue?
·       Is the venue child friendly? What facilities are available for entertaining children? Is there an age cutoff?

·       Which rooms are licensed for ceremonies?
·       Is the ceremony to take place in the same room as the reception?
·       What is the changeover plan for converting to reception?
·       How much time is allocated for the rehearsal?
·       What is the sound system for the ceremony site?

Food and Drink
·       Is there an in-house caterer?
·       Do we have to use that caterer? If not, is there a limitation on which outside caterers we can use?
·       If I hire my own caterer, are kitchen facilities available for them? If so, is there an extra charge?
·       Can I brink in a cake from an outside cake maker or must I use a cake maker on the premises?
·       Is there a cake-cutting fee? If I use a cake made on site is the fee waived? Do you provide special cake-cutting utensils?
·       Do you have a liquor license?
·       What is your pricing for alcohol? Is it a hosted bar, cash bar, or combo of the two?
·       Is there a bar minimum?
·       What is the average bar tab for the number of people attending my event?
·       Are there any consequences for not fulfilling the food and beverage minimum?
·       What time does the bar close? Is there a charge for a bar extension?
·       How much wine is included per person?
·       What are the wine choices and upgrade costs?
·       Is there a complimentary champagne toast?
·       Will you allow us to bring our own liquor?
·       If so, is there a corkage fee?
·       Is there a service charge on top of the bill? If so, how much? What about additional charges for bar/wait staff?
·       What time is the meal?
·       Do you cater for special dietary requirements?
·       Is a complimentary menu and wine tasting included? How many people can attend?

The Reception – Décor & Styling
·       Must I use vendors of your choosing?
·       When can my vendors arrive for setup?
·       Who is responsible for setting up and tearing down the décor, and when will it be completed?
·       Are there any decoration limitations? Can we use candles?
·       What crockery/linen/cutlery is provided as part of the package?
·       What types of tables do you have? Are there options?
·       Is any décor/stationary provided (menus, centerpieces, flowers, cake stand, etc.)? Are there alternatives available?
·       Can I move things around and decorate to suit my purposes or do I have to leave everything as is?

The Reception – Logistics
·       Does the venue own sound equipment and speakers, or will that equipment need to be rented?
·       Do you have microphones in the venue for the speeches?
·       Can I hook an iPod/laptop up to your sound system?
·       Where does the DJ/band set up?
·       Where are the room’s outlets in relation to the tables/windows/layout of the room?
·       Where is the dance floor/how big is it/does anything have to be moved to make the dance floor?
·       Will the band be able to set up beforehand or does it have to be during changeover?
·       Will the band have to go through the reception to set up or is there a separate entrance?
·       Are there restrictions for the photographer in terms of flash usage?

Caterer/Food Specifics
             ·      What services are included? Table-side water service, wine pouring, coffee service, etc.?
             ·      What services are NOT included?
             ·      Where do you source your ingredients?
             ·      What is the server-to-guest ratio?
·                    Have you ever catered an event at my venue?
·       How will the food be prepped – cooked at your kitchen and warmed at the venue, or prepped at your kitchen and cooked on-site just before serving?
·       Who is handling rentals? Tables, chairs, linens, tableware, barware, heaters, etc.?
·       How many weddings have you catered before?
·       How many events will you cater on my wedding day?
·       Re: menu – what are you making that you are excited about? What do you suggest?

·       Re: tasting – is this what the portion size will be? Is this what the dish will look like? Will you be preparing this dish any differently on the day of my wedding? Are you open to changing X,Y.Z?