Latest News from the Tropics (Home sweet home edition)

Whew. I think now we need t-shirts that say “I survived Tropical Depression” or something. Fringe was very fun this year, especially because I got to be involved much more than last time. I was able to see many more shows (which I will comment on in a future post) and meet nice people.

I have lots of other thoughts to share here: notes and comments from my own production, next steps in the play’s evolution (rewriting can be fun!), and plans for other Fringes and additional productions.

Mostly, I have enjoyed being home and sleeping for 12 hours a night. The unpacking has been brutal, and I fear that it may take weeks to put all my stuff back the way I found it.

The one bit of feedback I got most often (from people who read the play in early stages and also from the OS reviewer) is that the stakes aren’t high enough. I haven’t actually been in a hurricane, nor had to prep for one, so all of my research came from other people. Because I am generally an anxious, worst-case-scenario soul, I was surprised at how laconic many of my interview subjects were about the situation. Much like Doris, the “lady in the check-out line at Publix,” they all said “Eh, it’s just a little weather.” Really?

So I am going to use this year’s hurricane season — conveniently starting right now — to do my own first-hand research and post my thoughts here. It’s all research and development!

Tropical Storm Confessions

I have never actually been in a hurricane.

Aly has been in several, as have Rob and Chris (our sound guy). For the creation of this play, I had to do a lot of research. I read articles, watched a video of Hurricane Charley, and sent around a survey for folks to fill out. I asked everyone I came across to tell me about their experiences.

It was extremely gratifying to hear people in the audience give a knowing chuckle or two as my character went about her preparations. One person came up to me on the Lawn o’ Fabulousness to tell me how glad he was that we acknowledged that wind was the primary focus of a hurricane — not thunder and lightning, which is often used for effect.

I believe this summer’s hurricane predictions come out today or tomorrow. Some forecasters are concerned about the low-pressure system that’s already birthed itself near the Carolinas, a week before hurricane season actually kicks off. Other people are worried about how the oil spill will play in to all of this. If the oil gets into the Loop Current (which it seems like it’s poised to do), we could end up with oil all along the entire Florida coastline, exacerbated by storm winds and coastal flooding. A woman on the radio this morning is doing what she can to control any potential hysteria: “The oil isn’t going to KILL you. But a hurricane is going to be a little more serious. That’s what we need to pay attention to right now.” Straight to the point.

I’m going to feel kind of bad if we have a rough season in Florida this year. Of course, if we do get a hurricane, I’ll also get lots of first-hand knowledge to use for my script revisions.

Latest News from the Tropics (Central FL Edition)

Well, we’re not technically in the tropics anymore — we’re here in Orlando — and we’ve been super-busy. Here are the highlights…

  • Not everyone likes pimiento cheese. I know you’re shocked by this.
  • We had our tech on Tuesday. It was great being in our “home” and with all the props and the lights, it looks like a real play! Fingers crossed that we’ll have no trouble with the sound (had to run some of the cues on my iPod during tech). Still, in no way the most challenging tech I’ve ever had. That would be Fluency at FringeNYC, and that’s a whole other story.
  • I have found the Winter Park Whole Foods. Also, I have had delicious meals at the Pita Pit, Wazzabi, Mimi’s Cafe, and That Deli! (in Lake Mary). Part of hanging out in a new place is having all of their delicious food.
  • Went the gala on the Great Lawn of Fabulousness last night. It was fun! I especially like the Fringe mushrooms. We handed out postcards. Our secret weapon? An adorable 4-year-old in a Tropical Depression t-shirt.
  • Someone congratulated my actress on her performance in Spring Awakening. Woo! Except, she wasn’t in Spring Awakening. We consider this a good omen.
  • Today’s the big day! We open at 7:25 tonight in Blue venue. Get your tickets!
  • All ticket sales for our Sunday, 5/23 11:45pm performance will be donated to the Save the Manatee Club. Stay up late and save a sea cow!
  • The aforementioned 4-year-old sat through a full 50 minute run-thru yesterday (with no props, costumes, etc) and was not only well-behaved, but actually interested in what was happening! This bodes well for the grown-up audiences. And, uh, if not, well, looks like I have a future in children’s theater.
  • Lots more stories and pictures still to come… until then, happy Fringing!

Virtual Reality — > Actual Reality

Today I get to rehearse with my actress for the first time. We open in less than a week.

Ok, I’ll amend that. I get to rehearse with my actress in person for the first time.

Here’s how it all breaks down. Tropical Depression was actually created for a fantastic actress friend of mine who currently lives in NYC. The plan was to have several weekend intensive rehearsals at a retreat in Pennsylvania (aka my father’s house), and then check in a few times a week on Skype, and then meet in Orlando for two weeks for final rehearsals, tech, and performances. Unfortunately, she ended up with firm scheduling conflicts and had to withdraw.

This doesn’t mean that Aly, my current star, is second-choice-chopped-liver. No way! I recently read somewhere that “your Plan B is really your Plan A” and this situation is the perfect example. Because Alyson lives in the Orlando area and is charge of her own work schedule, we didn’t have to worry about pesky things like a boss not approving the time off. It even enables us to make some festival preview appearances!

It did, however, present some logistical challenges regarding rehearsals.

Enter Rob, the super-awesome-life-saving co-director. Rob and Aly were able to meet regularly, in person, and handle table work, blocking, and do actual real rehearsals. We’d meet on Skype once a week, so I could see what they’d been working on.

Video conferencing is awkward. The computer I’d been using had a rambunctious webcam which chose to randomly zoom in on my face for uncomfortably intimate close-ups. The webcam in the rehearsal room had crystal-clear picture, but limited stage right and left sight lines. Sometimes Alyson would disappear mid-sentence.

But now, I get several days of real human interaction and actual rehearsal. I’m trying to think of some 3D-Avatar joke now, but you get the picture.

Tropical Depression Gives Back!

In the last post, I told you how much I need you to give me your hard-earned money to get this play on its feet. Now I’m about to tell you that I am going to give one night of our box office earnings to a charity of my choosing. That night is Sunday, May 23 @ 11:45pm.

See a play on a Sunday at midnight? I don’t even want to — and I HAVE to be there. Staying up late on a school night was fun and subversive when I was 22. Now it sounds like hardship. Maybe it sounds like hardship to you too? Well, I’m coming up with options to make it go down a little easier.

1. All audience members get fun Tropical Depression-themed swag!
2. Anyone who wants to gets to taste real, homemade pimiento cheese!
3. Other free snacks and beverages available after the show!

What? You’re not compelled by the delicious allure of pimiento cheese? Ok, I’m throwing down…

I will give the entire box office from the show to the Save the Manatee Club. Why them? Well, the play is set on Florida’s Gulf coast, an area which may feel the impact of the recent oil spill. According to Save the Manatee’s website:

The disastrous oil spill caused by the recent explosion of the drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana is currently drifting toward the Gulf Coast states. If efforts to stop its progress fail, the consequences could be catastrophic for birds, fish, sea turtles, manatees, and other wildlife found in these areas. This is especially troubling since it comes on the heels of the worst manatee winter die-off ever experienced, with over 500 total manatees dead already this year.

Manatees are widely distributed at this time of the year and can be found along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In addition, manatees are herbivores, feeding on a large variety of marine and freshwater vegetation. Oil can damage seagrass beds and other vegetation that manatees eat. In addition, exposure to oil could potentially cause significant injury or death to manatees and other marine organisms.

Also, I really love manatees.

I felt a little weird, choosing an animal support organization, instead of something that would help human beings struggling to recover from the spill. Or a group that’s not environmentally-related, like the Venice Public Library or a nice arts group. But you know who doesn’t feel bad about my choice? The manatees.

See how happy he looks! And it’s all because you were willing to stay up late.

Oh, and back to the money issue that we opened with. Not to be all negative, but this is not a peak time;  having a full house would be pretty miraculous. In fact, I’d even toyed with canceling that performance. What’s most important to me is having a healthy audience. My team has worked so hard, and I want to make sure they have a good experience. It’s more important to me than the money I could make. Is this a stunt to get butts in seats? Absolutely.

You know who doesn’t care that it’s a stunt? The manatees.

Give us your money!

This production is brought to you by the letters M and E. Me. I’m paying for it. I have a job — not a super-lucrative one and unfortunately one that qualifies me as “underemployed” — and the money that I earn from my job goes directly into the costs of the performance. Things like props, postcards, fliers, t-shirts, program ads, transportation for me back and forth to Orlando (turnpike gas is expensive!).

We’ve been very lucky so far. The plywood for our hurricane shutters was kindly donated by Fushu Daiko (South Florida’s premiere taiko performance group; check them out!). Our furniture was paid for by generous contributions from friends. I’m a good online shopper, and can get a really good price for postcards. The grocery props will hopefully be paid for by our senior executive producer (aka D-A-D). Pimiento cheese ingredients were covered by Cabana Boy.

But we still have outstanding expenses. The t-shirts cost money, but they look a helluva lot better than the iron-on transfer shirts I made a few years back. Also, if I figure in the cost of colored ink in my printer, the real shirts have a much lower price point. I need to have some posters made and get the programs printed out. I’m trying to go green (and thrifty) by keeping the programs as short as possible. You can check out this website for extended bios and photos.

This year, thank goodness, I am being billeted. My biggest regret from my last Orlando Fringe was that I wasn’t more involved: I wasn’t able to spend the entire two weeks in Orlando. I had hotel rooms for my cast (one for the girls, and one for the boys) for the nights surrounding our performances, and otherwise drove us all back and forth and back and forth, sometimes several times in a week. Our transportation and our lodging were the most expensive items in our budget, and believe me, we were not staying in classy places like the Holiday Inn. Let’s just say we were lucky that no one brought home bedbugs. Without a place to stay, I don’t think I’d be able to do this show; I am extremely grateful.

We’re also taking advantage of the interwebs and social networking in a big way. Because we can’t afford to run too many ads, we blog, we tweet, we post on Facebook, we send lots of emails. It helps a lot.

And now… yes, we’ve come to the portion of the post where I blush and stammer and meekly ask if you could spare a buck or two. Want to know how? Buy a ticket! Come to the show! Go to and get your tickets.

Or maybe you don’t live in Florida, or just can’t make it to Orlando on May 21, May 22, May 23, May 25, or May 28. Buy a virtual ticket! Go to PayPal and send $8 (the cost of a ticket) to raketheaterATgmailDOTcom. Better yet, bring a virtual date, and send us $16!

It’s possible that you’re like me — underemployed — or worse. You’ve got no money to spare. Brothers and sisters, I feel your pain. But you can still help! Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances to come to the show. “Like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We’ll keep using these tools even after the production is over, so you’ll be getting a really good ROI.

You know, even during a storm, there are rainbows. If I weren’t underemployed, I wouldn’t have the flexibility and freedom to spend two weeks in Orlando, seeing other shows and supporting my fellow artists. I wouldn’t have been forced to get creative with some of our props and I wouldn’t have the time to write this blog. I wouldn’t be having a really great time working with the rest of my team.

Fun at First Thursday X-Promo

Yeehaw Junction

This is probably not where I should start. I should start at the beginning. Wherein I’m loading my car with ALL of the props, ALL of the furniture, ALL of our newly printed postcards, and SEVERAL of our t-shirts. Plus my little cooler filled with water and snacks.

Let me tell you, the spatially-challenged should not be in charge of loading cars. But I managed, and nothing broke or became a projectile aimed at my head. Also, I thought it wise not to take photos of myself, sweating and swearing, to post on the internet.

The halfway point of my trip is the Fort Drum rest area.  I had a potty break, plugged in the GPS, sent several text messages (don’t text and drive!), fiddled with the iPod, and took that picture of the turnpike sign. Really, I like stopping at Fort Drum because it’s near the exit for Yeehaw Junction, and I get to whoop loudly “YEEEEEE-HAWWW!” upon seeing it. If getting up and walking around at Fort Drum doesn’t wake me up, a cowboy yell certainly will.

Hey, non-Floridians, did you know that the Florida turnpike is also called the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway?

The rest of the trip up was pretty uneventful, until I hit I-4. Actually, being on I-4 was uneventful too, if you consider an event to be moving smoothly and rapidly through traffic. Fortunately, I’ve memorized the digits of Orlando’s NPR station, so Robert Siegel kept me calm. Yes, I am a giant geek.

Because of traffic, I didn’t have as much time to spend with my actress before heading over to OMA. We unloaded my car, she changed into her costume, and we hit the road. And ran right into some Tropical Depression-inspired weather. The nice thing about a heavy downpour is that it scrubs the smashed bugs from your windshield. Luckily it stopped just as we were getting to the museum.

Obviously, a person who writes a play with the tagline “Be Prepared” is going to be (or, she is a master of irony). Out came my rainboots and umbrellas for everyone. We checked in, scoped out the place, strategically placed some postcards, and went outside to take some photos and to wait for Rob.

Aly is very photogenic! In this look, you can see her rockin’ her shark tooth pendant — “Did you know that Venice is the shark tooth capital of the world?” — and looking extremely stylish.

She was concerned that her outfit didn’t scream “I’m in costume” and instead shouted “I am dressed inappropriately for a cultural event!” I told her to just wear her Fringe Artist pass with pride. We saw Recession-Proof Boy, and I pointed him out: “Look, he’s in costume too!” But it didn’t make her feel better.  Next time, I will be sure to dress Jenny in a codpiece and fluffy hat. That would also keep her warmer. Poor thing was freezing her tuchus off.

We headed backstage to get ready. . . right . . . we were here to perform, not to look at nice art and socialize. Because Rob and I stayed in the dressing room to keep Alyson company, we didn’t get to see the other acts. A few of them I remembered from Fringe Preview, but the others were new to me.

Rob and I hustled up to the auditorium just as Aly was looking around backstage for a chair. The closest thing she could find was a stool. But she rolled with it, and did a great job. I’m glad she had a chance to get her feet wet before the festival begins; it’s a completely new play and this will be its first production, so last night was the first time those words were uttered before strangers. I know she’s also looking forward to settling in to the Blue Venue, which is a more intimate space, and to being surrounded by her familiar furniture from rehearsals.

Afterwards, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to give her some notes; I’m sure I’ll be watching the video we took, marking it up like a page from a football playbook. But then it was hit-the-road time: it was 8:15, and if I hurried, I could be home before midnight!

This time, I-4 was free and clear. I stopped at the Canoe Creek rest area, hoping for a little chop-chop action from Chicken Kitchen (a South Florida specialty), but they had closed. I made do with a surprisingly not disgusting egg white flatbread sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, and a really large iced coffee. I listened to Orlando NPR for as long as I was able, and watched the dwindling flicker of a lightning bug crushed against my windshield. Then more Tropical Depression weather: lightning and rain for miles. The constant squeal of my wiper blades kept me alert.

Finally, I was back in my own county. At the transition from turnpike to I-95, the GPS battery died. Gone was my bossy female companion. Next, in the middle of a conversation with Cabana Boy, my cell phone battery died. Just south of Okeechobee Boulevard, the “Empty Gas Tank” light blinked on. I held my breath for the next 10 miles, but made it home, all power sources drained, including my own.

383 miles, 7 hours of driving, $34 in gas, for a >7 minute performance. This picture made the whole thing worth it.

Latest News from the Tropics

What’s new in the tropics? Rehearsals are well underway, and the output is fantastic. We’ve received a few generous donations, and tickets are now on sale.

Tomorrow, we’ll be performing at the Orlando Fringe/Orlando Museum of Art First Thursday cross-promotion. It’s a wonderful way to get a little exposure — which is fantastic, since I’m not local — and to give our star a little time in front of an audience. If you’re reading this, and you’ll be there tomorrow, stop by and say hi!

Went to Bass Pro Shop yesterday in search of waders. Guess what? Waders are REALLY expensive. Like, “more than the entire budget for props” expensive. I think we’re going to improvise. I love going to Bass Pro Shop, so it wasn’t a wasted trip.

In other news, press releases have gone out. You know what’s scarier than putting on one of your plays? Telling people about it. And not just telling the people who have seen you naked, or your parents (when the play contains swearing and drunken sex — but this is not that play! All audiences welcome!), but telling people who get paid to judge you. Sky diving seems blase in comparison.

Finally, been experimenting with the construction of some of our giveaways/prizes, for people who come to the Sunday, 11:45pm performance. I’m not ready to tell you what they are just yet, but they’re made of Sculpy. Watch this space for an amusing story involving Sculpy and national security. Until then, know that baking Sculpy makes your kitchen smell like a melting car engine.


Harold and Fringezilla are making their schedule, trying to figure out what Fringe shows they want to see this year. Tropical Depression is at the top of their list. They know that tickets go on sale May 1, so they want to be prepared.

Go to the Orlando Fringe website to buy tickets: You can either search for a show, or go directly to your favorite show’s page, like this.

Choose the date and buy your tickets! If you come to the Sunday, 11:45pm performance of Tropical Depression, you’ll win prizes and enjoy extra-special surprises!

One note about Fringe ticketing. Not only do you need to have a ticket, but you also need to have a Fringe badge, like the one Harold is wearing. He’s got his already, because he doesn’t want to wait in any lines. You must buy these in person at the festival. The badge costs $8, but you only need to buy one once. So if you amortize the cost of the badge over the entire two weeks and you see a whole bunch of shows, that’s like getting it for free!

The total cost for your night of entertainment is the $8 badge + the show ticket. Each show sets its own ticket price; the price for Tropical Depression is $8. Thus, your total is $16. It would cost you the same to see a new 3-D Imax movie, and we promise not to give you motion sickness.

Say Cheese

So pimiento cheese — a key element in the play — is definitely a conversation starter. When I mentioned that I made a batch, reactions were varied: “That’s something you can make?” or “What in the world goes in there?”

Recipes can and do vary. Mine was simple: cheddar cheese, monterey jack, mayo, dill pickles, garlic, and, of course, pimientos.

Photo by RastaChango on Flickr

And then, that’s where more questions start: “What’s a pimiento?”

A pimiento, also spelled pimento, is a sweet red pepper. It’s the same thing that’s stuffed inside an olive. Learn more about them at Wikipedia, the world’s tutor.

Many people confuse pimiento cheese with pimiento loaf, which, in my experience, is a processed cold cut (like bologna) studded with olives. Eww.

I’ve also found that many people are afraid of pimiento cheese. Admittedly, it is an unusual color — it comes from the orange cheddar saturated with bits of red pepper. Another reason to be afraid of it, also a valid concern, is the ridiculous amount of fat and calories in the dish. But really, have you ever heard of a Southern comfort food that is NOT dripping with artery-clogging goodness? Just go with it.

Besides, it’s a spread, meant to be schmeared on; I don’t recommend eating it out of the bowl with a spoon. Well, you might want to, because it’s really tasty, but maybe you don’t want to admit to anyone that you do that. Especially not to the blogosphere.