Archive for October, 2012

During the show, I have a lot of time to kill. Most of the time, I knit. There are some days, however, where I’m falling asleep behind the board and I turn to the internets to keep me entertained and awake. I’m not a member of Reddit, but when I run out of blogs to read and Pins to pin, I sometimes turn to the site for cute videos of funny animals.

Today, a particular thread caught my eye. The question was “Lots of people talk about not being part of the ‘popular kids’ in high school. I think it’s time we heard the popular kids’ side of the story. So, if you were popular in school, what was that like and how has that experience affected the rest of your life?” Find the original thread here.

So I thought I’d answer it. Again, not a member of Reddit, so I don’t have posting privileges. But I have this space, and it seemed like an interesting jumping-off point.

I was desperately, painfully unpopular in Elementary and Junior High school. I got picked on mercilessly by the girls in my class from grades K-6, and the boys started to notice and joined in about then and helped through grade 8. In a class of GT (gifted and talented) nerds, I was one of the nerdiest. I got mocked for my second-hand clothes, for my know-it-all-ness, for my glasses and braces and red hair and crooked teeth. I was not pretty, and I was excruciatingly shy. Add to this a tendency always to have my nose in a book, and you have a recipe for Dweeb.

Things began to change in high school. I still wasn’t cool, and I was still too shy, but I managed to make a few friends that shared my interests and taught me some new things. I got involved in clubs and Drama and spent lots of time with people who loved the same things I did and cared as passionately about getting good grades and going to college as I did. I was always aware of being an outsider, but it began to matter less because I’d found somewhere else I could feel “inside.” It was around this time that I started to molt out of my Ugly Duckling phase as well, and I started having boyfriends. That’ll do wonders for a girl’s self-esteem, even if it’s not the healthiest. I began to figure out who I was, and having my own personality made it harder for other people to define me. So I wasn’t one of the “Cool Kids,” but I was popular enough – people liked me and I liked people, and I didn’t have to worry so much anymore about what might make me cool.

How has this affected the rest of my life? I learned not to worry so much about having the right friends, and concentrated on having friends in general. I learned that there is a difference between being liked and being popular, and it mostly has to do with things that don’t matter. And I learned that finding a space I was comfortable in did a lot to eliminate my anxiety over other people’s negative image of me. I was able to make a choice about what I cared about and what I thought was important, and then do my best to live up to those standards. If someone else thought that taking calculus was nerdy, or that it was lame that I didn’t want to skip class and go to the mall, that was fine with me. It was a club I didn’t want to belong to. That’s served me well as I’ve made decisions as an adult. I took a job I wanted to do, even though it was different. I married a man who I love and who loves me, even though he’s not a doctor or a lawyer or a supermodel. I have dear friends who were also not cool kids, and who have tremendous compassion as a result of that experience. And you’ll be glad to know that all that studying paid off – I got into a good college, and from there I did all the things that have evolved into a life I love and am proud of.

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Depression glass and silk flowers.

From Wikipedia: “Depression glass is clear or colored translucent glassware that was distributed free, or at low cost, in the United States and Canada around the time of the Great Depression. The Quaker Oats Company, and other food manufacturers and distributors, put a piece of glassware in boxes of food, as an incentive to purchase. Movie theaters and businesses would hand out a piece simply for coming in the door.”

You know how something always goes wrong at a wedding? Well, we lucked out because our little disaster was very minor and happened a week before the big day. One of my co-workers was building us beautiful centerpieces based on Art Nouveau lamps. Unfortunately, her dog ate one of the molds, and then the other two melted together in her car while she was bringing them into work to show me. Re-making them just wasn’t an option.

Time to scramble! I already had some glass pieces dating from the 1930s-60s, and we were going for an art deco theme, so I ran with it. I spent several afternoons scouring the Cities’  malls and thrift stores, and collected about $700 worth of glass and silver. Three days before the wedding, my college roommate and I sat down in my living room and started throwing pieces together until we had 14 centerpieces and several small decorative pieces.

Setting up a table.

Extra pieces to decorate the other tables.

I realize that $700 on decorations isn’t exactly cheap, but these are pieces that I’m glad to keep now that the wedding is over. I’m planning to arrange many of them in the new bookshelves that R and I are planning for the living room, and much of the silver service we will keep and use for holidays and other fancy occasions. The glass is highly collectible, and so if we ever decide we want to get rid of it, we’ll be able to E-Bay it and come close to breaking even.

The world of antique glass is both deep and wide, and it can be a little daunting to get started. For me, I adhered to a few clear rules that helped me limit my palette a little and put together a cohesive look. Here are my tips for creating a stunning visual display with depression glass:

1: Do your research! Spend some time Googling and on E-Bay, Etsy, and other vintage retailers. Knowing what’s out there will help you make some preliminary decisions and give you a good idea of what you can expect things to cost. You’ll learn the proper names of the pieces you like, so you can ask the folks staffing the antique stores for help finding things.

2: Limit your color palette. Depression glass comes in a few common colors: blue, red, green, pale pink, yellow, purple, and clear. There is a lot of variation within these palettes, depending on date, manufacturer, and pattern. For our wedding, I used ruby red, clear, and black/black amethyst. There were a few exceptions – Indiana Cranberry Flash (which comes in a combination of  a magenta accent on clear glass) and a couple of amberine pieces (an ombre fading from yellow to dark red).  I knew ahead of time from my research that I wanted to look for some of these variations, and when I found them I used them separately from the other reds because I knew they wouldn’t match.

3: Add some bling. In this case, I chose silver accessories to reflect and offset the colors of the glass. Buying metal can be a lot of work – both because it tends to be pricy and also because it requires a lot of elbow grease to get it clean and shining again. A little can go a long way, if you’re thoughtful about where you use it.

4: Create levels. For centerpieces, I picked out one large vase or dish per table, and then chose smaller pieces to group around the big ones. You can either use a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns like I did, or if you have the time and patience, you can try to find matching pieces. There’s a lot of this glass on the market, and some things are more common than others.

5: What else is going on here? Think about what you want to have in your dishes. I knew that I didn’t want to have real flowers because I didn’t want to deal with real water. We were making a fast transition from the ceremony to dinner in the venue, and having anything on the table that could spill would. I used silk and dried flowers, again in that narrow color palette, to liven up all the empty vases, glasses, and bowls. I also incorporated a few different vase fillers and table scatters for visual interest. Lastly, I added some lights. Because we got married in a theater, we weren’t allowed to have live flame (also a good idea to avoid fire because of the fake flowers). I bought battery operated tealights to tuck into votive holders and among the flowers.

Centerpiece in action!

Here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re shopping – E-Bay and Etsy have a lot of great stuff, but you’ll pay a mint in shipping. Most sellers won’t ship glass items together because they’re more likely to break, so each piece has to be shipped separately. It’s much better to hit up your local retailers for this kind of material. Go to thrift stores first! You’d be surprised at what there might be. I bought most of the silver trays and two tea sets at Goodwill, for half the price they would have been at an antique mall. At the antique stores, don’t be afraid to ask questions or have the attendants open up the locked cases for you. Ask if they have a table or a spot where you can set all your pieces out and look at the whole group, to make sure that there’s a visual flow amongst all the things you’ve chosen. Don’t be afraid to axe anything that doesn’t work.

In the end, I loved the solution of the vintage glass. It added an elegant feel to the room, shone beautifully in the light, and everyone commented on how pretty they were! They made a unique look for our wedding, and now get to be a valuable souvenir for us of the best day of our lives.

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FART-ing Around

It’s been a busy week here at the FART. We’re playing host to a large software conference for three days this week on top of our regular slate of shows. This makes for 16-hour work days for many of us, and a whole pile of sleepy for me.

We seem to be booking more and more of these outside gigs. I’m glad that the theater’s making money somewhere, because frankly the shows are struggling right now. I have my own opinions about some of the season choices that management made this year, but in the interest of keeping my job, I’ll keep them to myself. Times are still tough in the arts industry, and I’m not sure they’re ever going to recover completely. There’s been a sea change in how our audience thinks about their entertainment dollar, and I think that cultural institutions have to figure out what that is and adapt to it, or die.

It’s hard for me to think about what theater I would want to attend, since I’m so deeply wedged into the community that it’s difficult for me to discern between stuff I want to see and people I want to see. I feel like I can apply this thought to something that I love but attend much less frequently – the visual arts.

We have several large art museums in the Twin Cities, and quite a few smaller galleries and studio communities. Being a very busy person, I don’t go out to see much art anymore. To me, that time feels like a luxury that I don’t often have, so I treat art like an indulgence. It’s a treat that I save for birthdays, or when it’s the dead of winter and I need a pick-me-up. Because it’s seldom, when I go I want a sure bet most of the time – something that I know I’m going to like. This tends to be a big name touring show – I hit up a Rembrandt exhibit for my birthday, or the Frieda Kahlo I saw with my folks when they were visiting. These kinds of exhibits sell tickets and cost money to get into – maybe $10-$15 each. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s definitely a consideration for why I don’t go more often.

That’s the kind of art-going that I do most frequently – to something with a lot of heavy promotion, something that generates a lot of buzz and everyone has heard of. My art choices are the Christmas Carol and Hamlet of the art world. But sometimes, I’m looking for a little adventure. This is usually a less-planned, more spontaneous type of art-going. I’ll hear about a show from a friend, or I’ll know one of the artists having an opening somewhere. Maybe I’ll see a postcard at the coffee shop or something in the local Alt Weekly will catch my eye and look interesting. I’m pickier about these offerings – it’s either gotta look REALLY cool, or it’s gotta be free. I’m usually willing to take a risk with my time or my money, but not both. These sorts of shows are usually the smaller ones, and I can visit them in an hour or two, rather than giving up a huge chunk of my day.
So what does this teach me about the kind of theater that people want to see? I’m guessing that since I’m not an “art world insider,” my art consumption habits are pretty similar to the average theater-goer’s. I’m mostly looking for something I know I’m going to like, or something I think I should see because it’s Important. My Warhol and Rodin are someone else’s Shakespeare and Shaw. If I’m looking for something a little out of the ordinary, then I’m willing to risk a little, but not a lot. I’ll be looking for a gallery that I feel like I can trust because they’ve shown work that’s consistently appealed to me before. I may jump on a show because the subject or the medium appeals to me. Or maybe I’ll go because I heard a story on the radio or read it in the paper, and I learned about something new and want to see it for myself. Or my favorite – I’ll go to a festival or fair. Maybe 90% of it’ll be blah, but those one or two awesome gems will make it feel worth it.

So what do we learn from this?

1: Some shows will sell themselves. Well-known (but not overdone) pieces will draw an audience from name recognition. An a-list star will do the same. For those shows, all you have to do is make sure that people know about them, set the ticket price, and get the hell out of the way. The only corollary to this point is that if your show is bad, word will get out fast.

2: If you have something less well known or a little weird, education and word of mouth are key. Sometimes that means that the fact that your playwright won an Oscar should get top billing, even if you feel like a whore doing it. Sometimes that means getting the news media interested in the story of your show, or in some aspect of the production. Theaters set their seasons months ahead of time, and they can use that time to educate their audience and raise some excitement. There are lots of ways to do this. Some are obvious and everyone does them – fliers, mailings, emails with info about the production. Some require time and money, but could have a huge payoff. Stage a reading a year ahead of time, to get people interested in the script. Host a lecture on the topic. Run a book club or a meet-up to discuss shows before they start. Use social media to present facts, or detail the rehearsal process, or make a trailer like a movie.

3: The flip side of educating your standard audience on a new topic – find people who love the topic and tell them about the show. Offer amenities (beyond group ticket prices) for hobby clubs. Doing a show about the civil war? Contact re-enactment groups and history departments. Is your main character Galileo? Reach out to astronomy societies and advertise at the local planetarium. If you can get THEM excited about the show, they will help you sell it to others.

4: This is the one that always hurts the worst – be willing to be flexible about ticket prices. If your ticket costs $60, you have to work really hard to make your potential audience $60 worth of enthusiastic. Now, for some shows that will be easy – see point #1. But #2 and 3 will be a harder sell. A non-traditional audience will look at that and balk. They might be more amenable to $40. There’s a tricky cost-benefit analysis to do here, and it’ll take a little bit of strict experimentation to get a good feeling for what the market will bear. This is complicated by two things. The first is that if 15 people are willing to pay $60 in the first week and love the show, they may go out and convince 30 others to go. But if twenty people see it for $40, they could convince 40, 50, or 60 others who wouldn’t consider it at $60 but can do $40. The second is the demoralizing effect that empty seats have on both the actors and the audience. People don’t like to see plays in empty houses, and the actors perform better with big, responsive audiences. It’s a better show for everyone once a certain percentage of the house is filled.

I guess this advice is mostly for the large theaters like the FART. Most of the little companies I deal with already do many of these things. There are so many of them, and they have to work hard to get the butts in the seats and the bills paid. The big theaters are accustomed to a subscription model that guarantees them an audience, and I think that our generation of theater-goers is moving away from making that kind of expensive and long-term commitment. As an institution we have to make them trust us to do good work consistently, and if we can’t deliver on that promise they lose faith, and start being picky about what they’re going to see. It’s time to woo them back – with the quality of the work, the integrity of the theater, thorough and creative educational support, and competitive  pricing. It’s the only way we will survive.

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The Big Day

Ok, yeah, I know. I’ve been gone a long time. A REALLY long time. Like, 6 months long.

In my defense, I did throw a wedding. A really lovely wedding. And I worked 60 hours a week all summer long, right up until a week before said wedding. And then we went on a really well-deserved vacation.

And then I came back home and teched another show. I’m just now beginning to resurface.


There’s been so much happening this year that it’s been hard to have time to do it and write about it. I realize that not writing will never make me a Famous Blogger, and it’s not going to get me invited to fancy parties or to give motivational speeches. I’m hoping to get my groove back in the coming weeks. The husband (still getting used to that!) is a great inspiration – he’s now running a blog of his own. It’s a cool project based on a box of postcards we found in an antique shop in New Orleans – Postcards to Joe. R spends a lot of time wandering down the “Wikipedia hole,” exploring all kinds of topics and getting to know this Joe guy in the process.

Mostly what I’ve been doing is feeling completely overwhelmed. The house is a mess, the Halloween costumes are barely begun, I’m staring at another 60 hour week this coming week, my car needs work, and the repetitive motion injury in my hand has been acting up lately, leaving me in various amounts of pain. I dream of having a week off just to stay home and try to get my head around it all. I don’t know how people with kids do it – I can barely keep up with the messes my cats make.  (This morning, it was discovering that the wee gray one had knocked over a water glass and ruined an entire stack of knitting magazines. There is mold growing on my desk. Ugh.)

I spend more time than is strictly good for me surfing Pinterest during shows, and it seems like all the pictures link back to “Happy Housewife” blogs, where pretty women with very white teeth explain how you can clean your oven for three cents using baking soda and a toothbrush, all while home-schooling your five kids and cooking wholesome organic meals from the veggies you grew and canned yourself. Whilst I realized that this is a form of masochistic torture, I can’t look away. It’s captivating. It’s all Martha Stewart-y. Thank God for the Yarn Harlot, who adds a little much-needed perspective. It’s nice to know that there are other women on the internet who accidentally wear their underwear inside out and consider the dining room clean if at least one person can eat at the table. Of course, she’s a jet-setting Famous Blogger, but a girl can dream, can’t she?


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