Patron Saint of the Humanities

In 1998 I moved to New York City with no plan, and a hodgepodge of a degree from the University of Florida, which basically covered French, Theatre, & Psychology. The key elements for survival under this set of circumstances were…

1. A lack of emotional maturity
2. A fierce and overwhelming naivety and
3. A lack of comprehension of the phrase, risk assessment.

But it was a glorious time, even when it wasn’t.

When I arrived in the city, I started a theatre company. Can you imagine? Depending on your definition of success, there was nothing successful about it. But the work, the collaboration, the thrilling accomplishment of 10 opening nights in 5 years even if the plays were terrible (and to my recollection, they were mostly terrible) made the nights of cocktail waitressing worth it (at least for a year or so). Several factors contributed to my enjoyment of this time and one of them was Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

nyhistoryblog.org

nyhistoryblog.org

When my husband remarked to me last week how he was surprised by my reaction to the death of a man I didn’t know, I realized I too was surprised by my strong feelings. I didn’t know Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but it is true during my early years in New York, he was something akin to the Patron Saint of the Humanities. He was as prominent a fixture in the downtown theatre scene as he was in Hollywood. He made my Liberal Arts degree feel like something of a strong choice. It didn’t matter if no one else wanted to come and see the work we produced, the challenge was simply to do it anyway. Under his reign the overriding philosophy seemed to be:

Push yourself, see how far you can go and tell the truth.  The rest is icing on the cake.

There was no finer example of this to be set than by a man who iced his cake by allowing the world to glimpse his remarkable and very bankable talent in films like Boogie Nights, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. But his work on these higher end collaborations was not more important to him than the work on his lower profile, nitty gritty productions with lesser known New York artists. He showed up with the same enthusiasm for both. His example united everyone who loved the theatre, from audience members to the most brilliant of performers to those of us who always knew we shouldn’t quit our day jobs.

darylrothproductions.com

darylrothproductions.com

In my experience of him which was waaaaaaayyyyy, waaaaaaayyyy out in the outer rings of his giant sequoia tree, I, along with most everyone else around at that time saw him like this:

-A T-shirt clad man who took tickets at the front door of his friend’s show, Jesus Hopped the A Train.

-A fiercely contemplative man in the back row of a 50 seat theatre to watch his friend’s play, Our Lady of 121st St.

-A man whose performance in True West made an entire audience, unbeknownst to itself, hurl itself to its feet in a wild standing ovation. He had somehow rendered us all embarrassingly out of breath and kind of sweaty.

-A man who then held talk backs to rooms of 6 people in a tiny, theatre in Chelsea. A man who sat on the stage for an hour and answered our questions with the same respect he would have used had we been a panel of reporters from the NY Times.

-A man who seriously answered my pseudo-intellectual, super embarrassing in retrospect question:

‘How do you know when you’ve gone too far as an actor or writer or director, when you’re milking something for the sake of milking it and maybe leaving your audience out?’

His honest to God answer (I’m paraphrasing) was:

‘There is a scene in the book, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, where a man, alone after an argument with his wife, cries so hard he starts to laugh. He visualizes what he would look like to someone else if they caught a glimpse of him from across the street. That brief moment of self awareness made him burst out into laughter. That’s how you know. That moment of self awareness is how you know you’ve lost the connection to the truth and you’re no longer serving anyone but yourself, which is boring to watch.’

Kind of like what I’m doing right now !!! That wisdom is applicable in more situations then you’d think.

npr.org

npr.org

But, the thing is, I’m a grown up person now. The majority of my time is occupied by much less existential questions like…do I need life insurance? or is this organic apple really better? or is Verizon really going to charge me this $15 fee AGAIN after I spent 2 hours on hold to verify it would be removed? (The answer to all of these questions is yes, ps.)

So I guess I do have strong feelings about the death of a man who actually took the time to seriously answer young kids’ burning questions about theatre without rolling his eyes and patronizing them with his answers.  It’s more than Verizon’s ever done, I can tell you that.

I’m so very sorry he’ll never be aware of the fact the whole world caught a glimpse of him from across the street this last time around.  It would have been the one time his loss of connection to the truth would have actually served his audience.

The Crisis Continues

Since I’m still 40 we decided (I decided) to make all of January my birthday.  Indulge me while I share some highlights.
The Actual Day
Betsy,

I enjoyed your blog. It’s just possible that crises are supposed to be spontaneous and might be ruined by too much planning.  You seem to have had a perfectly respectable mid-life crisis that will make you the envy of your friends and is much less costly than a convertible though Michael might find a convertible more palatable than a Lego French Restaurant kit.

Love, Uncle Jack

The LEGO Acropolis at Sydney University

Manly Beach

IMG_5503

Dinner at Tetsuya

Sacrilege

During the month of January all the kids are out of school for summer so this is when the Sydney Festival happens.  It’s like a Fringe-ish type of Festival but instead of new plays there seems to be a bigger focus on circus, magic tricks, acrobatics and the like.  There were also a few great art installations, one of which was called Sacrilege.  It was originally designed for the 2012 Olympics in London, but now it’s having a go touring the world.  In brief, it is a life sized inflatable Stone Henge…and you can bounce on it.  !?!  Happy Birthday to me.

The Messy House

I cannot believe I watched 3:17 of Jamie talk about Lego Chez Albert.  Hope your crisis is going well.

Peter

Since we couldn’t figure out a reasonable way to get the LEGO French Restaurant down under, G designed his very own Messy House…

messy castleHe describes it, Jamie style, in this video below, just for you Peter.

A Midlife Crisis

December 29th, 2013

Hi Betsy,
I realize no one seems to be talking about your upcoming birthday. Have you been shopping for a mid-life crisis?
Love, Uncle Jack.

January 1st, 2014

E:  You don’t really like to play with your Lego once it’s built, do you G?
G:  Sometimes I like to play with it (pause), but not most of the time. I like to take it apart and build it again all day long.
E:  Hmmmm.  Your set for 7-12 year olds seems too easy for you.  Is it?
G:  I could do 12 plus.
E:  Oh my. Well, maybe we’ll have to get you a 12+ Lego set then for your 4th birthday.  Let’s do a little Google search.
G:  It’s Jamie!!
E:  Oooooo!  We love Jamie! He’s our best friend.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04gLgWJyEps

E:  Well…a Lego French Restaurant looks pretty good to me. That’s a much better 12+ set than the Castle one.
G:  You know what MaMa?  We could get that for your birthday. Then we could do it together.
E:  What a great idea!

January 2nd, 2014

M:  What do you want to get MaMa for her birthday?
G:  A French Restaurant.
M: What?
G:  A French Restaurant, Papa!!
M:  You mean you want to take her to a French Restaurant?
G:  Nooooo! We want to build a French Restaurant.

the lego acropolis g and i went to visit last week

the lego acropolis g and i went to visit last week

January 3rd, 2014

Hi Jack!
You know one of the things about having kids later in life is there’s just no time to shop for the right mid-life crisis. This leaves me extremely vulnerable to just any old crisis that might come along.
Love, Betsy

January 4th, 2014

M:  Elizabeth, about your birthday…I know we’re going to a fancy dinner and that’s what you chose to celebrate your fortieth…but there’s something I want to get…
E:  Oh…you know, Michael, it’s so crazy. I went online and the Lego French Restaurant is $160 USD…which, come on. That’s a little silly for a toy as it is, but if you get it here, it’s $250 AUD, which is insane. I mean it would be really fun to have, but…welll…maybe I could somehow have my dad get it?  Maybe then he could ship it here at the slowest possible speed and I could pay him back later…Ow!! Why are you squeezing my shoulders so hard?
M:  Look at me.  I want to get you something for your birthday…for your fortieth birthday…for the birthday of a grown woman. Something really nice, I think you’ll really love. It’s not Lego. Do you REALLY want Lego for your fortieth birthday?
E:  Oh my God.  I think I do.
M: Ok…well, you think about it a little more. I’m going to work. Should I call someone to come over and sit with you or are you going to be alright?

IMG_0493

he wanted to get me this

January 6th, 2014

E:  This day could not have been any better Michael. The breakfast, the cake you two made, that beautiful perfume from Le Labo.  But just watching the two of you together in the pool, so healthy and beautiful made me feel so lucky, so lucky to greet 40 from this vantage point.  Thank you.
M:  You’re welcome kid. Happy Birthday. Are you ok I didn’t get you Lego?
E:  I can’t say for sure.

An English Christmas

Everything I know, I learned from Peppa Pig.

the view from our terrace on Christmas morning

the view from our terrace on Christmas morning

Maybe not everything, but if the talk is about how to have a traditional English Christmas (which we found some inklings of down here in Sydney) then Ms. Pig is my go to source.

The English are very strict about their traditions as we’ve all learned from Downton Abbey, so I can’t believe over the last 4 (gulp) decades I have been alive I have never heard of English traditions like mincemeat pies or Christmas crackers.

Here is how I learned.

This is Peppa Pig.

peppa-pig-1

she likes to jump in muddy puddles

peppa-pig--z

she even jumps in muddy puddles with the Queen—>diamondjubilee.hellomagazine.com

When G wakes up every morning at 7, he gets the special treat of 2 episodes of Peppa Pig on the Australian Broadcasting Company or ABC for kids (analogous to PBS in the US).  ABC imports Sesame Street and other shows from the States, but Peppa Pig is from England. Her episodes are a scant 5 minutes long which makes perfect sense as the English encapsulate everything about the saying ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’

Now if you read this blog it is probably because you know me and if you know me, you know I love to sleep—preferably in the morning. So Peppa could be a nice way for me to catch 10 more z’s except I love her so much I get up instead to watch her.  So, if you have 4 minutes and 31 seconds to spare (I know, why would you—but maybe you’re still in a holidaze I can take advantage of), kick back and watch this little Christmas episode.  The whole family snorts before they speak, they all fall down with laughter at the end of every episode and Grandpa Pig has random maritime themed flashbacks.   It’s just good.

Whether you watch the video or not, allow me to explain the English tradition of puddings and mincemeat pies.  Just before Christmas everyone helps prepare these goodies and when it’s your turn to stir you get to make a wish.  There are sweet versions and savory versions of mincemeat pies, but the sweet ones typically have no meat.  Who knew?  In the 1200s the English brought back some ‘cooking tips’ from their crusades in the Middle East, and while I haven’t researched any more than this, I will venture to guess they also brought back dates, figs, cloves and cinnamon as these are the primary ingredients in mincemeat pies.  I also wonder if they forgot what to do with it all once they returned home and since they didn’t have Food52 back then, they just threw it all into a pie as the English are known to do.  Either way, mince pies have survived as a holiday tradition to this day. It’s quite customary to leave Santa a mince pie and a drink on Christmas Eve, but we didn’t make our pies until Christmas Day.

are you sure we should leave Santa cookies?  that's not what Peppa does.

are you sure we should leave Santa these cookies? that’s not what Peppa does.

We did a couple of other things out of English traditional order as well.  We opened some presents BEFORE Christmas lunch.

a bottle of orange syrup for M's pancakes sent all the way from Paris by Marine

a gift of orange syrup for M’s pancakes sent all the way from Paris by Marine

In fact, we even opened a few before Christmas breakfast.

a favorite recipe from the Times  Magazine—>we used to make it at Deborah’s 

Now the tradition of the Christmas cracker has to be our favorite.  I thought it was a cracker, as in the vessel that aids the delivery of cheese into my tummy.  No.  In England what we refer to as crackers, they call crisps…because they are crispy.  What they call crackers are giant bonbons that when pulled apart make a cracking sound. The Brits are a very literal people (with the exception of meatless mincemeat pie, of course).  Once a Christmas cracker has been cracked, inside you will find paper hats, jokes (mine was-when is a door not a door?) and some other little treat.  Generally they are found next to your plate at Christmas lunch and popped open as a festive treat.  We cracked ours open as soon as we woke up.

note the Christmas Crown—ignore the Lego—that’s a whole other post entirely.

I think the best thing about the cracker tradition is it is just one of those weirdo things invented by a guy named Smith in the 1800s who was in the bonbon biz.  Business was slow, one night he heard a log crack in his fireplace and he thought, I’ll invent a bonbon cracker.  The rest is history and he and his family have a memorial water fountain named for them in a park in London.  That story is too good to not wear your Christmas crown with pride.

IMG_4831

Josh & Cam—Special Report

Weird things happen to you when you are a parent.  Am I right?  Normal, everyday things happen, but somehow a few banal events get seared with a laser into your brain.  You see a strawberry and POOF the image of that adorable strawberry knit cap comes to mind.  You see a candy cane and POOF you’re funneled right back into all the rounds and rounds of Candy Land you pretended to lose.  The simplest reminders can conjure up such potent memories you just feel like you might not be able to handle it.

So it is with Josh and Cam.

IMG_0428

Josh and G on a bus ride from Kalamazoo to Cleveland

We had such a wild time in New York before we left on tour for Les Mis with Michael.  G was only two and didn’t really have a chance to spend time with too many other children besides his gorgeous God-sister and cousins.  When we joined Les Mis there were three kids—Josh, Cam and Erin—who took G under their wings even though he was much younger than their wise eight year old selves.  Erin was little Cosette in the show and Josh was Gavroche.  Cam, Josh’s brother came along on the tour with his (awesome) parents for support.  These were the first kids G really knew by name, asked after, and was desperate to see, so much so that whenever I am reminded of them it is with warm and fuzzy, happy and gooey thoughts in my heart.  There were of course more of these fuzzy cuties to come, but these three were the first.

Cam on the bus.  Sometimes we wouldn't see G for hours at a time.  Michael would get jealous.

Cam on the bus. Sometimes we wouldn’t see G on the bus for hours at a time. Michael would get jealous.

Josh left the tour to make his Broadway debut in Disney’s Newsies.  Then Cam wound up in Kinky Boots with Cyndi Lauper and  the two brothers have found themselves on Broadway at the same time.  (!!)  So as if that isn’t enough to make us beam with happiness when we hear Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in the grocery store…

yesterday, THIS happened.  Look at the photos above and then watch this video closely.

You can imagine our GLEE when we watched Will Ferrell pretty much plow right over Josh.  I think my head almost popped off.  G yelled,  ‘It’s Josh and Cam.  It’s Josh and Cam.’

That’s right Mr. Ferrell.  It’s Josh and Cam.

Opening Night

The Lion King is officially open, but before that happened G went to go see a preview with Michael and sat right behind Angelina Jolie and half of her children—Maddox, Vivienne and Knox.

New_DSC_5881[19]

I found this very auspicious as the first friends G made here in Sydney were 2 baby goats named Vivienne and Knox at the Taronga Zoo.

Vivienne & Knox

We asked G several times what he thought of the show, but his most burning question was about Timon.  In the cartoon, Timon is a meerkat who looks like this.

wikipedia.org

wikipedia.org

In the musical Timon is a puppet operated by an actor dressed in green to sort of blend into the background.

neworleans.broadway.com

neworleans.broadway.com

G: Who’s that green guy?

M: That’s the puppeteer who plays Timon.

G: Oh.

(3 second hold)

G: Who’s that green guy?

On the day of opening night we had a holiday vibe run through the house. G and I built a Winter Cottage out of Lego while M got some last minute things done.  Then we got ready to go.

I thought this firming and lifting mask might help me compete with Angelina…

IMG_4187

The show was beautiful.

after the show—we scrubbed up!

The party was harbor side in an old shipping warehouse refurbished into a fancy event space.

Inside the Venue

inside the venue

They passed these little gems out to all the ladies to keep their fancy heels from slipping in between the plank wood floor.

IMG_4514

???

lionesses!

lionesses!

outside the venue (my new friend...wife of one of the actors...their 4 year old will go to preschool with G)

outside the venue (my new friend…wife of one of the actors…their 4 year old will go to preschool with G)

Here’s a little parlor game G and I play together.  Below is a photo of all the leads in full costume and makeup.

New_DSC_5893[26]

(there’s ms jolie again)

 Below are a few photos of them scrubbed up for the party.  Can you tell who plays who?

Have a FABULOUS holiday season.  See you next year.

Who Am I?

I wrote this post back in November just after the LAX shooting…

…and then I deleted it.

I thought, who am I?  Jean Valjean?  (sorry, that’s some really geeky musical theatre humor that just happened right there, please don’t stop reading because of it.)

But then I saw this video and I thought who am I not to post it?

———————————————————————————————————————————–

November 1st, 2013

veganaiseWhile I sit at my desk in Sydney I pine for things from the United States I just can’t seem to find here, like Veganaise for example, or black beans in a can or a few SNL sketches (you can’t just go on HuLu people, copy write laws keep US entertainment in the US). I LOVE me some USA. I always feel incredibly blessed to have been born and raised in a great country that shouts at me to work hard, pull myself together and make my own way.

But when I sat down at my laptop today and began to read about the random shooting at LAX, I thought, you know…Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states you have to feel secure before you can prosper and while I did feel secure in the US, even after the PTSD of 9/11, the year before we left for Sydney I began to have a new underlying psychological security breach.

Follow my train of thought just for a minute.

-We lived in Aurora, Colorado when I was a child, a town now infamous due to a mass shooting of horrific proportions.

-We also lived in Toronto when I was ten (not part of the US, but it may as well be) and visited Eaton Center several times. It was beyond disturbing to learn one of the victims of the Aurora shooting had narrowly escaped a mass shooting at Eaton Center already. Bless her heart, may she rest in peace.

-Our drive from G’s Godparent’s house in Connecticut to Michael’s show in New Haven took us right through the sleepy village of Sandy Hook.

-We were just at LAX 3 weeks ago.

I could add we were in Boston 5 days before the bombs went off in the marathon, or up the road on 9/11 or in Times Square just as a bomb attack was thwarted, but those instances are different from the ones listed above. The ones above are due to a collective choice as a nation.

It has taken a move under the planet to remove the subconscious fear that my family could fall pray to a mass shooting.   Why?  There are no mass shootings in Australia. You can’t carry a gun here. That’s it. That’s the end of the story.  In fact, just after we arrived some broken soul lost his mind in a mall, but he was wielding a machete.  Yes.  You could kill a person in a mall with a machete and it would be a terrible tragedy, but unless you are a super cartoon ninja, you cannot take down 26 innocent bystanders in 30 seconds with multiple rounds of refillable machete cartridges.

664054-bananas-in-pyjamas

Australia used to be full of guns and then they were made illegal.  Gun crime got worse at first and then it just disappeared.  True story!  In the US people say if you make guns illegal criminals will get them anyway, but here in Australia, a nation built by criminals, they resort to machetes.  Why?  Because if you are unfortunate enough to be so broken that your life and the life of others and their children is of no value to you, you cannot get your hands on a gun.   !!  So yes, the TV here is terrible, there’s this children’s show about two banana brothers that is simply stunning in its lack of clarity, but there are no mass shootings.

So, while I make my own Vegenaise I’ll come to terms with the fact that guns in the US have become the new automobiles, a commodity placed in society with the full understanding of the toll they can take on human life.  Somehow as a nation we have decided the business of semi-automatic weapons is worth the occasional cost of life.  It’s a reality we as Americans are going to have to come to terms with, to just hope it happens to someone else, somewhere else, which is what I always hope when I’m in a car and the person next to me is texting a tome. I will enjoy my subconscious peace in Sydney now, as I fear by the time I return home to enjoy my black bean burritos, we as a nation will have added at least two dozen more of these shootings to our history.

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