Sunday, April 6, 2014

Some Southern Flavor

The more I think about it, the more I think I should be a professional food critic. I could travel the world, eat, and write. To get my theatre in, I'll make sure to be really theatrical when I'm eating, like Bob Murray in What About Bob.

Seriously though, sometimes I think this describes me exactly.

This past weekend, my family and I travelled to North Carolina to check out some colleges. While there, of course I was determined to get a taste of the local flavor.

After dining at University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) for lunch on Friday (which had an overwhelming amount of options...I may or may not have had a minor anxiety attack) we got ice cream from this local shop called Yum Yum. Yum Yum also specializes in hot dogs, which are literally fire engine red. We asked the girl behind the counter why they were red, and by the look on her face, I immediately knew we were the oddballs in the shop. "I've always eaten red hot dogs," she whispered to her fellow employee. (According to The Gazette, all hot dogs used to be red, but after concerns were raised in the 1960s that the dye had risks of causing cancer, many companies stopped using the dye. Many hot dog makers in the South, though, used alternative dyes–like the kind used to color cough syrup and cherry soda–to keep the red color.)

The highlight of the day, though, was barbecue at Stamey's, a local joint recommended by one of the admissions councilors at UNCG. I was determined to get good pulled pork down South, and gosh darn it, I did. Stamey's Old Fashioned Barbecue has been going strong since 1930, and I can understand why: they picked one specialty to focus on, and they made it well. The menu is only one-sided, and you can have your choice of chopped pork, sliced pork, chicken, or hot dogs, prepared in their house-made barbecue sauce. Sides include hushpuppies, french fries, baked beans, chicken tenders, Brunswick stew, Stamey's slaw and rolls. The rolls, mind you, are $0.30 and are literally a hamburger roll. Where can you find anything on a menu for $0.30 anymore?

I got a chopped pork barbecue sandwich, and both my mom and stepdad got a plate of the chicken and barbecue pork combo. That's where this picture comes from...

My friend Connor would be so proud of me. 

And of course, for dessert we had to try both the peach and apple cobbler.

They should serve dessert with soft serve ice cream in the North. It was like frozen whipped cream. 

After all this, it's fair to say I may have needed to loosen my belt after dinner. 

But that was only Day 1. Day 2 started off with a long run, but was shortly followed by a visit to the original Krispy Kreme. 

Dunkin' Donuts can't even compare, especially when the Krispy Kremes are warm. 

The picture above is currently the background of my phone...we'll see how long that lasts.

And this is what I call double-dipping. Seriously. My friend Connor would be so proud.

Maybe my next trip down South, I'll actually work up the courage to try fried chicken and waffles. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Time to Fly

It's been over a week now since my high school's winter musical, "In the Heights," ended, and I'm still listening to the soundtrack, wishing that I could hear the voices of my fellow cast members sing the songs instead. Even after four months of listening to the same music, I'm not sick of it. I'm sick for it. I would give anything to be back in Washington Heights.

"Post-show depression" is not uncommon for myself, or any actor. After spending four months working with a cast, connected with characters, lost in another world, it can be hard to come back to reality. I find love is more natural on the stage. I'm so much more comfortable on the stage. Life is so much easier on the stage.

And then there comes the time to leave it all behind. And suddenly everything I've been working on for four months–the relationships I've worked to developed, the notes I've strived to hit, the accents I've perfected–is gone. As Prospero reflects in Shakespeare's The Tempest, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounding with a sleep." Many people link Prospero with Shakespeare himself in The Tempest (Shakespeare's final play), particularly in this monologue. Shakespeare spent his entire life creating illusions that disappear at the end of the final act. The magic of his plays exists not in the text we hold in our hands but in the life the actors bring to them, and that life is not tangible. At the end of the play, we are left with a few good memories that may eventually fade and some props for keepsakes. How can one not come out feeling depressed?

This show in particular is a hard one to let go of. It's a story about community and home, and being able to share this story with a group who I have found a home with was an incredible experience. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, In the Heights focuses on the Latino community in Washington Heights, New York. The playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda commented that it was one of the first plays where Latinos weren't portrayed as servants or in a gang, but in their relationships with each other. Everyone in the story dreams of getting out of the barrio and making something of themselves. Ultimately, they realize they have been home all along.

Above is my much-loved script, dog-eared and bookmarked and filled with scribbled stage directions and character notes. Even my friend Alex, who never ceases to find amusement in stealing my things, knows that my script is not one to be tampered with by others. I remember sitting at the lunch table the day I got my script, highlighting my lines and music for my dream role: Nina. 

Nina Rosario is the one who makes it out of the barrio. At the start of the play, she is returning from her first year at Stanford University with some surprising news: she dropped out. The girl who always seemed to have it together, who "always made the grade," and who spent her whole life trying to go farther, feels like she failed. And she doesn't know how to tell everyone.

Nina is the most close-to-home character I've played so far. My prior leads–Ms. Wiz in The Wiz and Rizzo in Grease–required me to stretch my acting to become someone almost completely opposite of who I am. Nina is more genuine, and I found the line dividing myself from Nina to be very thin. I understand the pressure to succeed, the pressure to make it look like you have it together, the stubbornness to admit you don't know what you're doing. I felt it nearly every moment with this show. Nina's role is more vocally demanding than the roles I have had in the past. Mandy Gonzalez–who originated the role on Broadway–has a killer belt, and every time I listened to her sing, I felt self-conscious that I could never perform Nina as well. Every show, there is some prop or costume piece that helps me connect with my character. For this show, it was a butterfly.

My first exposure to the butterfly was this journal I purchased a few years ago with the proverb, "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly." I didn't think much about the symbolism behind it, though, until my friend Liv gave me the butterfly Alex & Ani bracelet for my birthday in November.

Like every Alex & Ani bracelet, there was a brief description of the symbolism of the charm. The butterfly symbolism read as following: "A regenerative species, butterflies consistently transition from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly. Giving us faith in change, the butterfly is associated with unwavering grace, soulful insight, and eloquence on our journey. Channel the energy of the butterfly and emerge brilliantly from your own transformation." 

When I saw Mandy Gonzalez wearing a butterfly shirt on Broadway, I knew the butterfly was my symbol for Nina. "It all makes sense!" I thought. "Nina is transitioning to find her place in this world. I'm transitioning to find my place. And I must transition to find my voice through Nina." Thus began my butterfly obsession. After browsing through every store in the mall and thirty different internet sites, I finally commissioned my stepdad, who's an artist, to paint one for me. 

And for Valentine's Day, my mom bought me two pairs of butterfly underwear. (Considering I had four nights of performances, I did a load of laundry every night to make sure I had clean underwear for every performance.)

I cannot remember loving a character more than I loved Nina. I worked tirelessly on her character, trying to find my voice in her songs. I will always remember that Saturday rehearsal when the music director approached me and said, "Something changed. When's the last time you listened to Mandy Gonzalez?" I told him it had been over a month. "You can tell. That was fucking gorgeous." And then I remember the Monday after that when I went to my voice teacher and she ripped apart the song, which I know ultimately made it better. I will always remember that moment on stage when I started crying during one of my songs because I connected with Nina so much, and I felt her pain. 

Every character I have ever played has taught me something new. Ms. Wiz helped me be confident. Rizzo taught me that no matter who I meet, I can always find some way to connect to them. Nina helped me find my voice, and I am so grateful to the casting team for giving me the opportunity to perform this role.

Tomorrow I have auditions for the spring play. It's time for me to take flight from Washington Heights, but I will always wear my butterfly charm as a reminder to let my voice be heard. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"All the world's a stage"

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages," said the famous playwright, William Shakespeare.

I like this quote because it makes the connection between real life and the theatre. The theatre is a place to fabricate reality. It is a place where you can role play situations without consequences. Even within the confinements of the script, there is a remarkable freedom that comes with being someone you're not. Theatre is filled with these strange paradoxes, which fuel the theatre's intense conflicts.

At the end of every school year, our teachers ask us to reflect on our work over the past year, and make goals for the next year. This year, I decided that in addition to improving my own craft–both in writing and acting–I wanted to reach out and share what I love with others.

For those of you who have followed my blog, you may remember some previous posts talking about my volunteer work at an assisted living home. When I visited the assisted living home in previous years, I sat with the residents at dinner and talked, and sometimes visited them in their room. I wanted to be able to give them something, though. I wanted to be able to share with them what has been my ultimate outlet of expression throughout high school: theatre.

Compiling all I had learned from my directors and the books I had read, I compiled a 12-week theatre workshop subtitled: "All the world's a stage." I chose this quote not only because it is from one of the greatest playwrights of all time, but because it emphasizes the point that everyone is an actor-–we've been acting our entire lives. It puts everyone on equal playing grounds, regardless of their experience on the stage. Every week focuses on a different aspect of theatre, starting with monologue work by exploring the tools we have at our disposal as actors (voice, emotion, movement), working up to dialogue and experimenting how to work with others to perform a scene, and finally concluding in a small performance. My hope is that these sessions become a place where the residents, too, can express themselves.

This week was my second week. It was titled: Voice, Emotion & Characterization. Through a variety of activities, we explored how to use our voice and body language to embody different characters and convey different emotions. We had a grand total of seven people–three more than last week–and everyone stayed the entire time. It went much smoother than the first week. The first week was a lot of talking and about half the people left midway, which was a bit disheartening. I wasn't as prepared the first week. It was a busy weekend, so I didn't have time to review my notes beforehand. I hadn't thought about the fact that some of the residents wouldn't be able to stand up for the activities. I was unsure how to address everyone. I was nervous––I've never done anything like this before.

This week I felt much more prepared. I was able to laugh with the residents. Although I am technically the instructor, I have so much to learn from them. One resident attended a drama school that isn't even around anymore. She plays the accordion and traveled the world singing. Another resident used to sing in a barber shop quartet. He wears these great suspenders with musical notes on them.

There are centuries of actors, playwrights and directors to go to for inspiration. Sometimes I forget that there are people even closer for inspiration: those in my everyday life. I'm so excited to see what these residents bring to the table––or should I say, the stage.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Outside the Heart-Shaped Picture Frame

I believe Valentine's Day is intended for two groups of people: lovers and children under the age of ten. For the lovers, it is an excuse to buy each other chocolate and flowers and write romantic love notes. For children under the age of ten, it is an excuse to eat lots of candy (although apparently now schools don't allow candy valentines for their class parties due to health rules) and perhaps get a valentine from your elementary crush (I still have the Fun-Dip from my third grade sweetheart stapled into my journal). 

For everyone else, it is just another ordinary day, filled with some chocolate and lots of cute couples to be envious of. Maybe envious is too strong of a word. Jealous? 

But when I think of the girls walking around with roses from their admirer, or who have their hair curled for a Valentine's Day date, envy is a word that comes to mind. Because their day fits that heart-shaped picture frame. They have a reason to celebrate Valentine's Day, and it's hard not to feel a little left out. "If only someone would offer me a chocolate or a cookie," I thought at lunch, and then laughed at myself for being melodramatic. I've been spending too much time on the stage. 

I have to remind myself that everything I have ever tried to fit in a picture frame has ended in disappointment. Shouldn't I know by now that the best things are often outside the frame I molded? The best things are often the ones I didn't plan? I'll remember next year (or the year after that). 

Regardless of the fact that I wasn't visited by Cupid on this particular Valentine's Day, I found other reasons to celebrate, and upon reflecting back, it wasn't as bad as I first made it out to be. 

The morning began with a two-hour delay and a Valentine's Day-themed breakfast. Heart-shaped raspberry chocolate chip waffles, whipped cream, and strawberries cut in the shape of a heart. I think we only use these heart-shaped plates once a year, but they're great for that one time.

Also, a blend of french vanilla and strawberry-banana yogurt, topped with a strawberry heart and speckled with chia seeds. 

Then, instead of a hot Valentine's Day date, I babysat for my director. Which in hindsight, ended up being the best way I could have spent my Valentine's Day night. Like I said, Valentine's Day is meant for two groups of people: lovers and children under the age of ten. My director's daughter (she's six) and I had a Valentine's Day-themed dinner: peanut butter and fluff sandwiches cut in the shape of a heart (fluff died pink with Hershey's strawberry syrup); heart-shaped strawberries and kiwi; and strawberry milk. 

Then we made valentines and played charades.

Maybe next year I'll have a valentine, but in the meantime, I'll stick with my heart-shaped waffles, strawberry milk and babysitting. (And by the way, the heart-shaped peanut butter and fluff picture frame was delicious...especially with the toasted bread.) 

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cappuccino Dunes

We run along cappuccino dunes, steam rising from their foamed milk tops. The wind blows the sand in cinnamon swirls. It's appetizing. It makes me crave the whistle of the tea kettle back home. I can almost feel the hot mug in my hands, feel the coffee slide down my throat and into my stomach, smell it on my breathe as I puff, puff, puff in this frigid air.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gas Station Chronicles

Who knew you could find an entire life in gas station merchandise? (*Note that "you" is ambiguous in the story.) 

"I love how gas stations arrange their merchandise," my friend Lee said. "In just one aisle you can find cards, condoms and painkillers."

I laughed. "It kind of tells a story. You spark some magic with the cards. That's why you need the condoms."

"Then your girlfriend breaks up with you. That's why you need the painkillers," my friend Ella chimed in.

"And here you have birthday candles. That's what you get for buying shitty gas station condoms," Lee said.

We turned down the next aisle: pet food. I held up a bag of Kibbles & Bits and Meow Mix. "Now that you have the kid, the next step is the pet."

"Or maybe you can no longer afford real food," Ella proposed.

I sighed. "So now your life is really going downhill. Looks like you better stock up on trash bags. You're homeless."

"BUT then you get a job as a mechanic," she said, holding up a bottle of WD-40.

"Phew. So now your life is turning back around."

"And that brings us to the snack aisle," Lee said. "Just in time to host a football game with your friends."

Too bad the Patriots lost to the Broncos.

Next time you're bored, stop by a gas station. Just a tip: Cumberland Farms sells any size beverage for just 99¢, 24/7. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Defying Winter

The winter is one of my favorite times to visit the Cape. Especially in our neighborhood, which is filled with lots of seasonal families, the roads are so quiet. Driving down the roads at 5pm, there is only the rare front porch light illuminating the street. I think that is why the stars are best in the winter.

People ask what we do when we're at the Cape, and the truth is, we do what we do during the summer. We swim, we run, we cook, my mom and I consignment shop, just with some slight adjustments.

Yesterday and today, we defied the cold front and continued on with our summer routine. Mom and I tried shopping for costume pieces for my winter musical, In the Heights. Unfortunately, the musical takes place in July in New York City, and as much as I love sweaters, that is the last thing anyone would want to wear in July. We came away with a bra, appropriate for any season. 

We cooked from our new summer cook book, "The Black Dog Summer on the Vineyard Cook Book." 

Last night we cooked seared tuna on a watercress salad. We didn't intend on having a theme, but somehow everything on this dinner plate ended up being Asian. The soup had a ginger thai broth. The tuna was seared with sesame seeds and Trader Joe's Sesame Asian dressing. The rice was Asian rice. We got it because it was colorful when it was didn't cook up quite as colorful. 

For breakfast this morning, we made Eggs Over Grass--a  clever name for an eggs benedict dish. My brother Owen's friend Hayden was kind enough to let me photograph his plate, even though they had been waiting for breakfast for about an hour and a half. I will definitely plan out the order in which I prepare this dish next time.

(Do you know they actually pay people to take photographs of food? Maybe if my theatre career doesn't work out...)

  I had never made or tasted eggs benedict before. I also had never poached an egg. You just boil water in a pot, crack the egg in the water, add about an 1/8 of a teaspoon of white vinegar per egg (you can poach multiple eggs at once), reduce heat and let the egg simmer for 3-5 minutes (depending on how runny you like your yolk).

The hollandaise sauce was good too. That was also pretty easy to make. 

And finally, for dinner tonight, a salad topped with basically everything we had leftover in the fridge: kale, watercress, scallions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, tuna, grated cheese, asparagus and Sesame Asian dressing. Artificial lighting just doesn't do the food justice on my amateur phone camera. 

Our final winter defiance of the day was our New Year's plunge into the ocean. It was great to see people walking the beach as we ran to warm ourselves up before the plunge. Sometimes I feel like people forget the beach is open. They were a great audience as we stripped down to our bathing suits and dove into the waves. Some took pictures and some clapped. We ran back to our car with a quivering, "Happy New Year!" 

Yesterday we breathed in the new year. Today, we dove right in.