Monday, May 11, 2009

Back on Track (on the tracks); Hartford to Philly

Hello friends and family,

It has been a long time since I’ve written, but don’t think I forgot about you! I’ve been thrown out of my usual blogging rhythms recently by various things (among them New York, nice weather, being social, and sickness), but I’m doing my best to get back on track. Sorry for the hiatus, but now as I try to catch up, I’ve got even more to talk about!

Right now we are on the tracks from Hartford, CT to Philadelphia. I am alone this time, as Eric and Book have gone to Boston. It has been such a lovely train run, that until now in the evening, my promises to my self (and readers) to spend the whole trip doing nothing but writing had nearly been forgotten. After a very much-needed long sleep, I woke up this afternoon and looked out the window. We were moving slowly in the woods somewhere, and I decided that while I boiled my tea I would go out to the vestibule and have a look at the scenery. It was sunny and just warm enough to be comfortable without a second layer, and all around me was a shade of green I almost forgot could exist. Nowadays nearly all my time is spent either in a rusty gray train yard, or a linoleum and cement arena, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by the coming of Spring that I’ve been missing out on. It was so beautiful that once I had fetched my tea, I went back out there in my bare feet and ended up standing in that vestibule for three and a half hours! When I was hungry, I brought food out, and when I got cold, I got a jacket; but I could not tear myself away from everything that I saw moving past me. And not only was it beautiful, but so interesting! I’ve never spent that much time watching the world go by before, and of course the more you look, the more you see.

It is often a challenge to find out where we are on a train run, as tracks do not have the abundance of signs that highways and streets do. Instead we use the clues of license plates and business signs, and addresses painted on the sides of tow trucks. This afternoon I had an easy time figuring out we were in New York, and along the way found many town names; Catskill, Lehigh, Nyack. But it wasn’t the New York I am used to at all, indeed it reminded me of the drive up to Greensboro, VT more than anything else! It was so breathtakingly green. We went by woods thick with green trees and bushes, green floors, green moss and vines, and even the little motes that are so often in the gullies along the train tracks were filled with green algae. We went by ponds of lazy drifting lily pads, and swamps filled with cattails, yellow irises, and red-winged blackbirds. I saw a million little white butterflies, often in twos chasing each other in tiny upward spirals. Sometimes the tracks are high, and the ground slopes away from the train to brambles and bogs below, and sometimes the tracks are low in the land, and all the pine and maple saplings seem to grow, sloping, right down to the line along which your toes are traveling. We passed a snaking little brook, and there I saw the first white dogwood of the day, which was so pristine I did a double take. Right along the edge of the tracks, licking the ever-present gravel, were a million ferns, skunk cabbage, wild mint, and violets. We passed grain mills and homemade orchards, tilting silos, and quarries with conveyor belts spilling each different color of crushed rock into its own pile. I saw graveyards with thousands of upright, neat, little white and gray stones, and immense abandoned factory buildings, so forgotten that trees had begun to grow out of their roofs. I was thrilled each time the land fell away suddenly, and we were high over a bridge with rushing water far below, complete with overgrown little islands, waterfalls, fishing boats and coastal houses perched on the edge like birds.

The train always causes heads to turn, and I often see people halfway through an action, stopping to watch it go by. Car drivers on parallel streets go absent mindedly slow, gazing at the train moving beside them instead of the road, bicyclists stop and put their feet down, and pedestrians stand together, talking and smiling with their hands on their hips until they see one of us in the vestibule and wave. There was an impressive number of upholstered living room chairs and couches in the woods, I noticed, left there facing the train tracks in the clearings most suitable for train-viewing.

Sometimes we go around great big curves, and you can see the whole length of the train; beginning with the dark locomotive (which seems very foreign to me, as we rent a new one each week and I’ve never seen it parked), followed by mysteriously off-bound machinery-filled cars and generator thingies for train-crew to maintain the train with, and the indistinct animal cars. Next come the living quarters, peppered here and there with heads looking out, their hair blowing everywhere and cigarette smoke pluming behind. The pie car is in the middle there somewhere, and the private cars are on either end, so that nobody walks through on their way to somewhere else. Finally come the flatbeds, which hold everything; the first one carries the bus that we take to the arena every morning. After that are numerous wagons containing offices, company cars, props, rigging, costumes, lights, and bull tubs; everything from the Wheels of Death to all the trunks from Clown Alley.

My three and a half (maybe even four) hours seemed like just a half hour to me. The land whizzed by and changed so much. Even though the wind whips your hair about, taps your jacket collar against your teeth, zips down your shirt and chills you, crushes your eyelashes back and forces the tears out of your eyes, there’s too much to see to be annoyed. I saw a wild turkey, a dutifully yapping puppy tied to a tree, and a great big strange statue of a whale and a seal in what seemed to be just a regular someone’s driveway. As the area became more heavily populated, we passed more neighborhoods rather than abandoned houses, saw more car dealerships than old junked car lots. We passed the backs of malls and shopping strips, and shot past factories that hovered an arm’s length from the tracks with bearded, helmeted men waving. Often on train runs we go through train yards much like the ones we park in, and then there is nothing but a sea of familiarly foreign and graffiti-ed trains.

I began the journey looking out the left side of the train, and later switched to the right. Sometimes, it is a horrible decision to choose which side of the train to look out of, and sometimes it is quite apparent which has more going on. I was still enjoying the right side of the train, a few hours in, when I glanced back to the left side and changed my mind. There just behind me, sitting quietly as if I would not notice, was the entire unobstructed view of the Hudson River. Within 15 feet of the train the gravel met the water, and there were groups of men fishing, turning around to wave and cheer at us. I saw rusty forgotten cranes being eaten by the vines and trees next to the water, ancient piers turning into rows of wet upright posts in the waves, and giant metal bridges towering ridiculously high above us. There were restaurants, beaches, and yacht clubs, and beautiful houses with porches wrapping around and lilacs and dogwood in the garden. On a quiet part of the river I saw two huge swans curve and dip their necks under the water in unison. I saw so many cormorants dive and swim beneath the surface, and just one slender gray Herron fly a foot above it. Tugboats and barges and sailboats went by smoothly, and the sky was jewel blue with curving wisps of white. There were green mountains all around, and every now and then we plunged into a tunnel that was blasted through one of them. The tunnels were dark and wet, and the only light to see by was the ineffective soft yellow bulbs in each one of the vestibules, which it seems are always on.

We followed the river for a long time, and I stayed out there with it until the sun began to go down, and I was too cold to be outside anymore. Now it is late, and quite dark outside, and when I go out to check if we have arrived yet, all I can see are the closest tips of sumac and maple, the reflective tape near where the train tracks meet roads, and the moon lighting up the clouds around it in the sky.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Jersey Deters Me (Part III)


The people who organized Sugar Fest were so well prepared to feed our entire cast and crew, and so well-stocked with desserts, that when the event was over they had tons of left-overs up for grabs. As would seem likely, the clowns made away with a good portion of the spoils, and enjoyed them in the alley for the rest of Saturday and Sunday.

As interest in this humungous tinfoil tray of cake began to dwindle, creative options for its disposal began to bloom. Finally we arrived on a solution, which was for Book to eat it all in 7 minutes with no hands. It was a lot of cake. We all put a little money down, and added a few finer details (i.e. saying “thank you sir, may I have another?” every minute, and also not vomiting).

Here is a litte taste of the action, I hope it works, and I hope you enjoy it.


Opening comments - Sean and Randy
Beautiful gagging noises – Lance
Tactful comments about Ethiopian kids – Larry
Disapproving looks - Dustin
Filming – Yours truly
Talent – Book

Bon Appetit!

New Jersey Deters Me (Part II)

East Rutherford:

For some reason, it felt to me as if we were in East Rutherford NJ for two weeks. It may have been because I continued to sleep very poorly, and it also may have been that I found the people there rather difficult to deal with. Either way, I rolled my eyes and dragged my feet a little more than I like from my current perspective. I’m not regretful, because sometimes it is near impossible keep up with the pace here cheerfully, but I really am trying to do my best to stay positive.

I didn’t even truly encounter the audiences in East Rutherford until the third day there, because we started with an evening show, and the next day we had one kiddy show and one unfortunate evening pre-show for me, which did not last long (more on that in a moment). So when I finally went out for pre-show in the evening on our third night, I was taken by surprise! People were pushier and grabbier than ever before, much more persistent in their photo taking and autograph collecting, and so reluctant to leave the floor at the end of pre-show that Larry (the pre-show host) had to come rescue me numerous times with a “quick Joy, they need you backstage!” At one point, stiflingly, I became aware that I was being held by each wing and my tutu by three different people. For all their enthusiasm in approaching us, however, we had a terrible time doing the opposite. In our ring gag, we have never had such difficulty finding an audience participant; though there were plenty average, friendly looking males in the crowd. I guess something in the water in East Rutherford makes the East Rutherfordians extra-susceptible to ‘he-didn’t-do-it-so-I-won’t-either-itis’. We would choose our man, go get him, shake his hand, get the audience clapping, and he would refuse to come into the ring. Then the next guy would refuse too, and the next. The head-shakers and hand-wringers were out in full swing! Our first time out, this happened so many times that we had to give up and end the gag right there! The next day we couldn’t get anyone until Book got frustrated and yelled, “Are any amongst you MEN?” And finally one surrendered. Book has just recently begun doing his tennis racket routine on a platform, and said getting an audience member for that bit was proving just as hard. As one may guess, we exploded back into the alley in a big angry storm cloud each time.

The reason my pre-show on the second evening in East Rutherford was so short-lived was because I majestically bashed my head, and was quite dizzy. Brandon was attending a funeral in Texas for our first two days of the site, so Dustin volunteered to step in for him in the slide table routine with Eric and I. We didn’t bother rehearsing beforehand, and just submitted to the idea of it being an improvised mess. All was going well (even though it really was a mess) until one moment, when I found myself standing on top of the table, with Eric and Dustin on either side. At this point in the regular routine, Brandon and Eric do a double butt slide and I do a pirouette, spun by them sliding past. We all three looked at each other and seemed to understand that that was what would happen next, but for some reason, it did not. Dustin took the mousetrap off of his pants (that is a whole different story) and threw it on the table, before going into his slide. I went to grab it, and only realized that he was diving at the last second, just soon enough to step out of his way. This unfortunately meant that I stepped right into Eric’s way, and he quite literally swept me off my feet. One second I was standing on the table, and the next second the back of my head was hitting the floor and my feet were coming towards my face. It was amazing! The crowd gave a big gasp, and I was a little surprised at myself for being able to stand up. Sean and Ivan were watching, and they ran backstage to meet me and make sure I was ok, which was very nice of them. I was bruised and dizzy, so I got a few icepacks and sat the rest of pre-show out. I felt really lucky not to have pulled or broken anything, especially my neck, and I didn’t even wake up sore the next morning. Thank you, guardian angel! At least everyone said it looked really cool.

On Saturday, we were spoiled rotten by the CFA throwing us a delicious event called a Sugarfest. This, apparently, is a free-role for the whole cast and crew consisting entirely of desserts! After the second show we followed a bunch of arrowed signs upstairs to the event, which was well attended. This took some of us a while, because if you think about it, “This Way to the Sugarfest” is an amusing sign to take down and point at a great number of different things besides the Sugar Fest (such as the women’s showers), and many jokers seemed to have come up with that idea. Everyone ate too much, and began bouncing off the walls just before the third pre-show began. I was feeling rather hyper-active, and got myself scolded for starting a marshmallow fight with a group of older Chinese boys waiting for their cue after the first rotation.

After the last show on Sunday, Dobson came and picked Tweedy, Book, and me up in his car, and drove us to the East Village for dinner. We met Spencer, an old friend from Smirkus, and went to Veselka, which is a really cute restaurant I’ve been to a few times with my New York aunties. While we were eating, Sam Galison (also old friend, also from Smirkus) appeared and sat down at the table! I believe Dobson knew he was coming, but it was a nice surprise to us. Later, when he was done with load-out, we picked up Eric, dropped off Spencer, and drove up to the Bronx. We had a great night together pre-sleep, and a horribly cramped one when it came time to go to bed. The next morning Sam had disappeared (Eric woke up startled, saying, “Guys…I think I ate Sam in my sleep!”), but we got up leisurely, and Dobson and I went out to get all the ingredients to make crepes. While I cranked them out and we all munched, Tweedy regaled us with the details of the European circus world (of which he is quite a big part). This made us Ringlings feel quite ho-hum about our current positions, but very hopeful about the future, and what else there is out there to work towards.

That evening we headed down town to the Crane Theater, and dropped off Tweedy and Book, who were scheduled to perform in the Down Town Clown Monthly Revue that evening. The rest of us visited a delightful little vegetarian restaurant on Dobson’s recommendation, where we met Seb and Josh (Smirkos), and where I got some more Borscht. It was good, but not as good as Orest’s, and it was just plain wonderful to see Seb and Josh; it’s been a while. Then we headed back to the theater to watch the show. It was truly an all-star cast, a treat of a show, and I really, really enjoyed myself. Both Book and Tweedy got great responses. There were a lot of familiar faces, and an abundance of quality comedy. I can’t say much more without over-enthusing, but... it was thirst quenching.

This morning we all got onto the MTA and went our separate ways, which for Eric and I (Book had a PR in NY) meant coming here, to Long Island. Once we got off the train we went to meet Tweedy at a mall and walk back to our train with him, but when we couldn’t find him in the food court, we realized that we were at a different mall. Then we spent another good hour trying to find the correct mall, and finally did. Chelsea Brooklyn showed up (you guessed it… a Smirko), and took Eric to hang out, but I was just too exhausted. I walked back to the train with Brandon and Karen, one of the horse trainers. Now I am in Long Island, and my only concept of it so far is as an ever-stretching strip mall.

And my room is RATHER hot again.

New Jersey Deters Me (Part I)

Hello friends and family,

I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve written, but this past week and a half have been the busiest and worst rested yet, and I did not have the time or focus to be blogging. But here I am now in Uniondale NY, finally breathing at a normal pace, and on the (cyber?) air once again. Since I am so far behind, and since I find it so important to thoroughly catch you up, I’ve done my posting for the night in a few more bite-sized segments.


Newark was a good site, although the last two days there began with 10:30 shows (9:30 pre-show), which was not very nice. I was really tired on Saturday especially, because I had to go on the market run the previous night, which didn’t leave until 11:30, and the pickup was 1:00! We got very surprised looks from the few people working there at that late hour, who certainly were not expecting to have a bus pull up and flood them with about 30 people. We all did our shopping at a very leisurely pace, and strategically (frozen things last), because it was such a long time before the bus got back. As it often happens, the bulk of us got to the check-out at the same time, creating long lines and a sea of carts. There were only two lanes open, and those two employees were thoroughly overwhelmed. In a panic, one of them told the second half of her line that they were all going to have to move over to self-check-out. I looked behind me, and saw that the second half of the line was all Russians. Of course they had no idea what the woman was saying, and didn’t move out of the line, which only furthered her agitation. Luckily I was already at the register, so I explained the situation to her and told them where to go. When she was done ringing me up, I went and helped Roman and Andre, who were looking particularly desperate. I don’t blame them; those machines are difficult in English! It took a long time because they had so much produce, and because Roman kept pulling things off the scale to bag them, and the computer kept scolding us and halting the order. Finally we finished, and were some of the last ones on the bus. They were very grateful; “Spaseeba, Joyka. Sank you.”

Although I was very tired that weekend (the hour lost in the time change before the early show on Sunday didn’t help too much either), we had a really nice alley to relax in, there in Newark. It was the pressroom for that building, and there was a table-shelf all the way around the room, two televisions, and rolling office chairs! How luxurious. We were rather far away from backstage though, which made for a lot of fast dashing to cues. Because of an event in that alley that shall go untold, a new rule has been announced to us. It is that if any of us partake in the act of scuffle, skirmish, fracas, or any other version of hand-to-hand combat, we will be suspended from the show for a week. This, of course, is a serious matter, but us Smirkos couldn’t help but joke that we could just stand in a triangle and punch left, and that would be the perfect arrangement for when we want to come visit Smirkus this summer.

On Sunday night, as soon after the last show as we could, Book and I packed up and headed out to New York, where we caught a Lucky Star bus to Boston. He was going to visit Shifty, and I, joyfully, was going back home to visit my family. And how wonderful it was! I was picked up at Alewife by my mom and my dog, both of whom gave me a lot of kisses. Even though we recently moved into our house, and I am not all that familiar with it, nothing could have seemed more welcoming. I was amazed by the warmth, the flushing toilet, the oven, the second floor, the full-length mirrors, the appliances, the refrigerator, and the number of steps it took to get across a room! I took it all for granted before. On my first morning home I stayed in bed for a while just snuggling with Jasper, which is something I had been missing dreadfully. Later I went to Trader Joe’s to fulfill my non-Walmart shopping needs, and returned home to bake a cake and putter around. In the evening everyone came over, and we had a lovely family dinner, which is also something I had been missing dreadfully. Both of my grandmothers were there, Mom of course, Dad and Sylvia, Annie, Andy, and Kathy and Fred. It was great to see so many family members, and to have the chance to talk at a dinner table instead of hurriedly on the pre-show floor or the phone. I spent Tuesday with Andy, which was great. We took the T into Boston to see the Watchmen movie. It was so strange to be back taking this route that was so familiar and usual to me, when I was beginning to think I would always be in a new and different place. I must admit that when the train broke out above the ground at the bridge at MGH, and I was so suddenly struck with that resplendent view of Boston, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. That’s just how home is, I guess. I really enjoyed the movie, especially because I had been looking forward to it for so long. Watchmen is one of my very favorite books (recommended!), and the one that began my interest in graphic novels, so I would probably have been happy just to see the actors run around in their costumes. For the complexity of the book, and the special attention I think it deserves though, I think the whole thing would have been better as a mini-series, but they did a good job keeping as much of the story as they could. Don’t mind my ranting.

Later that evening we went to M’s house to meet her new puppy! His name is Beacon, and he was very sleepy. I spent a lot more time playing with Steamer than I did getting to know Beacon (because really, how could I ever ignore that dog), but he was a real sweet little cutie pie, and I think he is a great addition to the herd.

The next morning, very very early, mom drove me to South Station. With many a sigh, I caught the 6:30 bus back to New York with Book, and slept all the way. With a minimum of unintentional detours, we made it to the arena in East Rutherford NJ with six minutes to spare before the cast meeting. No five dollar fine for us (amazingly)!

Then began the saga of East Rutherford, which includes such adventures as the nearly broken head, the attack of the crazy crazy audience, the retreat of the shy shy audience, the annoying taxi PR, the Sugarfest, the tiniest vom ever seen, and the possible recurrence of (barf) bloomers. To be continued!

Friday, March 6, 2009

the plague and the pressure

Hello friends and family,

First off, here is the view from our train car this week.

So here we are in Newark. What a feeling it is to be back in the northeast! I can’t really describe it, but it is familiar to me and different from everywhere else I’ve been; and it’s more than just the traffic, the Dunkin Donuts, and the snow. I sure am looking forward to visiting Massachusetts.

It was a surprise to me how close we are to New York City. Only a little commuter train’s ride away! So, just about as soon as we could, the three of us jumped off the train and caught another one into the city to have a short visit with our good friend Mike Dobson. He was busy until the evening, so we walked around the city for a while, taking advantage of its good food and interesting shopping. After the train run, this was quite a welcome liberation: it was a very long run, and we were bored, cranky, and exceptionally un-showered. Halfway through the second day, I was feeling as if we had been trapped for a week (my journal entry for the day reads, “Will we ever get off this train?”). I am going to have to get used to those. By around 8, we made our way up to Dobson’s apartment in the Bronx, and we were all very happy to see him. That was the first time I’ve been somewhere that I recognized in over three months!

Unfortunately, within an hour of getting there, Book conked out on the floor. He had been complaining about his cough all day, but now seemed to be really feeling crappy, and his forehead was very hot. Dobson, Eric, and I ordered pizza, began watching the Big Lebowski, and tried to get Book to stay in the conversation. Nothing worked though, and by the end of the evening, ontop of all his other grievances, he was throwing up too, poor thing. So, we called it a night much earlier than we usually do in such company. In the morning Book was feeling no better, so Eric and I had to leave him there to sleep while we got headed back to Newark for the cast meeting and dress rehearsal. I began to notice, once we got back to site, that there were an awful lot of people sniffling and coughing. Tim looked even more miserable than Book, shuffling around like a zombie. Better cram in that vitamin C!

I know I recently wrote about how light-hearted and inconsequential dress rehearsals can be, but there was none of that today. It being the last two weeks we have to brush the show up before New York (which is when all the important press comes out), suddenly everything needs fixing and tightening. Our director herself made her first appearance since Tampa, which makes everyone nervous. We are all afraid that, given some sloppiness that we may have gained on the road, she might not like our entire Spec number anymore (for example), and maybe we will just have to learn a whole new one! Probably not, but boy did she keep us on our toes in winter quarters, so who knows. Because we have “touch ups” scheduled all day with her tomorrow, the goofing was kept to a minimum today, and we were all religious to the choreography. Then, to top off the pressure, the Felds (owners of the whole company) came to watch our show! They have both been very nice to me when I have met them, but still, it makes me nervous to know when they are here. Both runs went pretty smoothly, despite our challenging task of covering all of Book’s spots.

I was glad to have a visit (although short) with Jacob D’Eustachio, who came to see the show this evening. He is a very talented juggler who I met in Smirkus camp, now attending the Quebec circus school. We had a good time talking as usual, and I was tickled to remember that it was he who brought me to see my first Ringling show, sometime back in my teen years. The places life takes you.

I returned home on the 11 o’clock bus, and had to gasp at the site when I checked in on Book and found him sitting straight up in bed with the lights out, bare-chested and pale as he could be. He said he was feeling better now, but it was a good thing he didn’t try to perform this evening, which he had been considering. He has to be at the rehearsals tomorrow, and take part in a rather important PR, so I am hoping he goes back to sleep for the rest of the night and just gets what ever it was out of his system. It was such a weird day without a third of our trio! Orest asked me today, “vhere is the tall?”

I really should have stretched today, but I didn’t have time, so I didn’t. And BOY can I feel it, I have never had a more painful cartwheel than the first one I did today! Yow. So, tomorrow I plan on spending my time between the mid-afternoon finale touch-up and the evening show making peace with my leg muscles. I've got a good two hours. Gotta keep at it!

And now... my room is so warm that I have no hope whatsoever of staying awake anymore. More later, and love to you all!

Monday, March 2, 2009


Hello friends and family,

I am on the train now, going from Huntsville Alabama to Newark New Jersey. Everything is shaking and rumbling, and since the sun is just starting to get lower in the sky, all the trees we pass are making the light flicker into my window. It is a really nice day outside. One of my favorite things about traveling has always been observing the difference in the way the land looks; the types of plants and trees, grass, swamps, hills and mountains, rocks; just details of the geography. I am excited to see my surroundings looking more and more similar to home. I have no idea where we are though, and Book and I have spent the past few minutes in the vestibule spying for business signs or license plates, something to give us a clue about where we are. But it was cold out there, and the wind made it hard to be very persistent.

Huntsville was a pretty good city. We had excellent crowds, often sellouts. Probably the best was on Friday morning, which was a sold-out kiddy show. Kiddy shows are always great because 1) there is no pre-show, and 2) the crowd is almost all kids (very enthusiastic!). Though it was nice for us that the crowds were excited, it was not so great that whoever calls doors was as well. For some reason, a few times, people were coming into the arena BEFORE pre-show had begun! This was horribly nerve-wracking for us clowns, who are the only ones there for the first rotation, and who have come to cherish the last few minutes of getting ready. I, for one, always need that time to run around with my jumpsuit half on, trying to find my other sock, or a makeup table, or anything but a wide-eyed, pigtailed-head looking up at me.

Friday was a split-show day, and after the first show, Trish and I were scheduled for a PR. It was described to us as “reading a book to first graders”, so we volunteered cheerfully enough. We were annoyed to find out later that, in fact, this was a performance and speech onstage for 150 kids, which included reading a book. Trish was more patient about the situation than I, but we stuck our chins out and set about practicing the mannequin gag that she and Brandon do for pre-show. Later I felt dumb for complaining, because it was the best PR yet! When we arrived, we were shown into the auditorium, where the 150 first-graders were seated, facing the stage, ever so attentively. Talk about a no backing down situation! Anyway, we were each given a mic, and we sat on the stage, which was really a very wide and shallow flight of steps. I picked up the microphone, and bonked myself in the forehead with it, and all of a sudden that place was roaring! They were great. I forgot how wonderful kids can be; they are an entirely different breed in school than they are on the pre-show floor. Trish did most of the reading, and I have to hand it to her, because Dr. Seuss’s ‘If I Ran the Circus’ can be quite a mouthful of tongue-twisters at times (by the way, happy birthday Dr. Seuss). I goofed around based on what was happening in the book, and we came up with a few bits, like sliding down the stairs on our butts, which they loved. After the book we did the mannequin gag, and that also got a great response. They paid such close attention, and laughed so hard, it really made me very happy. It was a good reminder of why I do this. And then when we were done, after all that, they gave us each a bag of candy! Oh my GOD. Trish and I agreed that if there is ever another reading PR, we will jump on it.

Recently, us three Smirkos have been staying after work to practice. [Before I move on with what I was going to say, I must give a little back-story: everyone calls us “The Smirkos” as a unit. At first we were a little annoyed by this, because it seemed that the term was being used to alienate us from our current place of work, or maybe to put us down for coming from a youth circus. But, because we really are a trio, and trios need names, and because we are more proud of our Smirkus roots than we are about pretty much anything else, we don the title with pride.] Where was I? We usually stay til the last bus, which is usually at about 11 PM. I stretch, and sometimes pretend to juggle, Book juggles, and Eric does straps (he just received them in the mail). It has been really good for us, because by just performing here we are not getting any better (or even staying good), at any of those things. I am getting flexible for some future clowning plans, which I am really excited about. This is great, and I am happy to be working on something like this, but man, have I been sore the past few days! I know that I have to just push through it, so now I am considering what fun it will be to try and do splits in my tiny little bunk bed.

Maybe it is because we have been spending more time at the building on the floor, instead of in clown alley, but we have been seeing a lot more of the younger Chinese kids. They are all delightful, and I’m glad to finally be getting to know them better. Probably the one I interact with the most (I can’t really say “talk to”, because of the language barrier) is Liao-Shua. He is 10 years old, and the textbook definition of a rascal. When he was telling me his nickname, Shua-Shua, he also insisted that his English name was “Cool”. He is the reason that I haven’t been wearing my antennae for the last site and a half, because he broke them (he was really very sorry about that though). He taught me to count to10 in Chinese, and also some mysterious phrase, which I don’t think was appropriate. When I said it, the little girls said, “No goodah!” and made an X over their mouths with their fingers. They are all a lot of fun.

Sunday was quite an eventful day as far as non-serious injuries go. There were just a billion. In blow-off during the first show, Book was standing on top of one of the chairs, which was on top of Brandon. Brandon tipped the chair over, and Book fell right onto the chair, chest first, and completely knocked the wind out of himself. He had to run offstage and lie down for a few minutes, but we managed to cover. There is one point in Spec where Bibi and I take Sean’s shoes off. For the first time, he forgot to unzip them before going onstage, so there was a lot of scramble and confusion when we got there and couldn’t get them off! He had to take them off himself, and after all that, he slipped and hurt his shoulder on the platform. People often get pyro in their eyes during Spec finale, but this day one of the high wire girls got hit by a piece big enough to actually cut her, and she had to sit the next show out. But what happened in pre-show of the second show really takes the cake. Book, Eric, and I were doing our ring-tossing gag, which is in the beginning of the 4th rotation. When we pull up an audience participant to catch the rings on his head and two hands, Book always throws once so he can’t catch it, just for build-up. Sometimes, because I always tell the guy to hold still, the rings come pretty close to his head, but this time, one hit him right in the forehead! Book comes back over to tell the guy to try to catch the rings, and I could see something was wrong by his face. Eric and I spun around and looked, and the man had blood dripping down his forehead! All three of us were startled, but we had to finish the gag. We were really lucky for two reasons. One, because Eric had taken the man’s hat off, and so he put it right back on to stop the crowd from getting worried. And two, because we just happened to have picked a really nice, friendly guy, who couldn’t have been happier to be an audience participant! We made sure he was alright, and then went running to find our production manager. She sent the general manager out with us to try and find the man again, and somehow we did. When we spotted him across a platform and waved, he pulled off his hat, grinning, and pointed to his forehead. Wow, were we ever fortunate to have chosen such a positive guy. The GM made sure he was alright again, gave him a pin as a souvenir, and we said goodbye. Whew!

We had a much more light-hearted pre-show the second time around. Brandon decided that he and Eric would do slide table in drag, and Eric complied. This involved Larry’s curly brown wig, and a blonde wig that Brandon got from who knows where. When I am standing up on the table, and Eric slides through my legs, his wig came off. I looked at him, looked down at the wig on the table, and screamed, which got a big laugh. It was a lot of fun, and we had a good crowd for it too, thanks to the over-excited person who called doors to pre-show so early.

That night was very cold. I was glad not to be doing load-out, but I felt bad for everyone who did. Book and I called a taxi with Alex, the Ringmaster (or Zingmaster, in this show). He is often leaving about the time we do, so we’ve gone back to the train with him a few times. He always has a lot of stuff to carry, including his doves, so we helped him with the load, and I carried his boots for him. I was surprised at how hard and stiff they were! It was like they were made out of wood. The taxi never showed up, but the bus did, so we just took that home instead. We drove past a large building where a concert must have just let out, because there were people everywhere. I couldn’t think why the site of so many people was so odd to me, until I realized this was the largest amount of people I had seen in months that weren’t at all interested in seeing me! Weird.

Back at the train we tried to order pizza with no success. When Eric got home, we watched Sideways, and then Animaniacs, and had a wonderful time staying up late and yapping. We have another whole day of train run tomorrow!

Much love to you all,

Friday, February 27, 2009

Oh Borscht!

Hello friends and family,

Today was our first show day here in Huntsville. On the first day at every site we have a full dress rehearsal in the afternoon before the evening show. They do this run-through because each building is very different, and it’s important for us all to know about the new spacing, where the props have to go, and the routes back to our dressing rooms. Why we have to be in full dress, including full makeup… Well that is just a mystery. I used to find this whole dress rehearsal idea entirely preposterous (and I often revert back to that opinion, it’s true), but recently I’ve been having too much fun goofing off during them to mind all that much. This is probably not something our lovely production manager would agree with, but I think that dress rehearsals are the time when you can do whatever you had been thinking of doing onstage, when you can be inappropriately creative. Choreography is slaughtered, jokes are played, and pyramids go up with the loosest definition of “up”. Today’s rehearsal was fruitful though, because the high wire was back in the show for the first time since Winter Quarters! Back in Tampa, during one of the last dress rehearsals, there was a very misfortunate accident that put the act on hold until now. Yohan, the older of the hire wire brothers (who perform in a quartet troupe with their wives), slipped while coming down the incline wire and fell to the cement below. He broke both of his wrists and dislocated an elbow, and the show had to be stopped. As far as wire-walkers’ accidents can go, he is very lucky to still be able to walk, and to look forward to sufficient recovery to perform again in his future. Still, it was a tragic thing to happen, especially to such a lovely group of people. The other three have stuck around to be in production numbers while Yohan heals. Ringling brought over another wire-walker from the Blue unit, and though the act is not what it was before, it is wonderful to have them back in the show.

As I mentioned before, I had a particularly lazy train run, and by yesterday I had gone absolutely stir crazy. I dragged Brandon, Dustin, and Eric to the mall just to get out of the train. We didn’t do much more than eat and talk, but I was really glad that we did. Then we walked to the nearest Walmart, because we all needed groceries, and since there was a run that evening we figured we would just catch the bus back. Well, the bus went to a different Walmart, so we were out of luck. Still, I had an incredibly fruitful visit to the toy section. Because my coveting of Brandon and Eric’s weapons had grown so strong, I felt the need to buy my own cap gun, and what must have been a year’s worth of ammo. Upon opening it in Clown Alley today I was very disappointed at the loudness of the shot: it was no competition for theirs. However, the bubble gun that I also bought did not let me down (I bought a gallon of bubble solution too). This made my pre-show very enjoyable, as I spent my time zooming around shooting bubbles in a big stream; too fast for pictures, too busy to stop. Man, everyone loves bubbles.

For about a week now, my friend Orest has been telling me he is going to make me some Borscht. He is one of the older Russians who live on my car, a base in the Swing act, and really one of the nicest people out there. Well today he came through on his offer, and appeared at my door with a huge hot bowl of absolutely fuchsia Borscht! (“You mast eat now. Vith bretd.”) I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and I couldn’t have been more excited. It was truly delicious (definitely too good to have been made without any animal product, but I didn’t care). I think it’s safe to say that my fears about Borscht from the past have been overcome. Eric and Book, on the other hand, refused to try it. More for me!

We spent the rest of our evening baking cookies, on Book’s whim. It takes a long time to do this, because we can only fit batches of 6 in our toaster ovens at a time. So we baked and baked, and finally Book headed to bed leaving me one last tray in the toaster. He reminded me about it a good three times (“yeah, I know, Book”), but of course I forgot about it until I thought, “Gee, my room isn’t usually this smoky”. At my panicking and flapping, he came running into my room, grabbed the pan, and threw it out of the train. Then he proceded to pick the pan up and bash it against a stone wall until all the black cookies were detached, and finally flung it away again (and my potholder too). I appreciate his effort, but let's just say my pan isn't the same shape as it was before. At least we didn’t set off the fire alarms though, that would have been a catastrophe.

I am feeling well-fed and sleepy; it’s bed time.

Love to you all!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A few extra bullets...

  • Most of the pictures I have been putting up here are either borrowed from other people, or rehashed from Facebook. After missing the opportunity to take a picture with some astonishingly outfitted freakish (but very nice) teenagers this weekend, I have vowed to carry a camera more often. And take more photos for this blog.

  • My Russian pseudo-beau and I are no more. Pish-posh. I am not very upset.

  • Sean Davis is about 5 days clean with no cigarettes! Way to go Sean!

  • Haagen Dazs vanilla bean icecream is an exceptional thing to put in your hot cocoa, I have found.

  • I have made an extra $55 this week from my knitting business, which seems to be picking up with the cold. And my to-knit list is only getting longer!

  • Brandon and Eric both bought cap-guns in Greenville, NC. Since then, there have been a few historic assassinations in the alley, all very loud as you may imagine. I am insanely jealous.

  • I've included once more picture that I think you will enjoy. Personally I love it! Meet the Clown Alley of the 139th Red Unit!

Back in Alabama

After a day and a half of train run, we have just pulled back into Alabama. The stopping, starting, and jerking about portion of parking the train has ended, and we are now spotted in what seems to be a pretty nice train yard. It is a rather big, open area under two highway overpasses, and there is a lot of grass and a few trees; which is a nice change from the usual rock slide and dirt road by an expanse of warehouses. In addition to that, the train is parked in two lines with an abundant space between. This creates a kind of courtyard, and a more social feel. When I looked out the window in the hall this morning, I could see one of the high-wire walkers and his three sons peeking back at me out of a car across from us on the other tracks. It’s nice to have our own space marked off by the train. If it was warmer out, I would be trying to find some people to play Frisbee with me.

The six-pack was just as exhausting as I thought it would be. Of course it wasn’t any help that I didn’t get enough sleep either night preceding the two big days. I managed to get myself in a “just keep swimming” kind of mind-set though, and kept at a pretty steady level of energy the whole way through. On the morning of the first day of the six-pack, Book, Eric, and I retreated to Clown Alley after our ring toss gag to take a breather. Eric and Book found a very large cardboard box, which we all three found quite amusing. Maybe it was the fact that almost any activity is more appealing when it is an option besides going back to the pre-show floor, or maybe it was just because big cardboard boxes are interesting all on their own. Anyway, Book got inside of it, and at our cue began jumping out at performers who were heading backstage. We caused a satisfactory number of heart attacks before deciding that this would be a very good pre-show activity. That really eased the tension of the six-pack, because, for me at least, pre-show can be the most exhausting part of a day (I’ll give you a more detailed description of that whole calamity in a later episode). For once I found myself really looking forward to the next pre-show, and was excited when it rolled around. When it was finally time again, Eric and I hoisted the box up between us as if it was very heavy, and Book directed us through the traffic of audience members. This drew just the right amount of attention. That is to say, we looked too busy to ask for pictures, and just busy enough to stop and watch. We put the box down and crammed Book inside. Everyone in the immediate vicinity was very interested, so I shushed them all while Eric tiptoed off to find our first victim, a large black woman, and tell her about the delivery that had just arrived for her. And when Book popped out with a “Whoa!” she couldn’t have had a more desirable reaction! Needless to say, we kept at that bit happily for most of the rest of the six-pack.

We were lucky to have only a few mishaps, despite everyone’s exhaustion. One was during chari vari, our mini-tramp and soap gag in the beginning of Act II. I don’t recall if it was Dustin or Sean who was the guilty pommel-horse tipper, but one of them bounced off the tramp and really knocked the horse, hard enough to send Tweedy flying off of it. He majestically became completely airborne, and completely inverted before landing right on his head at my feet! I think a few of us were surprised to see him get back up after that fall, and he was complaining about the pain a bit afterwards, but seemed generally to be alright. Good thing! Also for our last show before load-out, there were alarms going off all throughout the second half. This caused a little panic for everybody, especially the clowns, but interestingly enough it wasn’t over whether we should evacuate the building or not; it was if we were going to have to cover the next act or not (if the tigers get spooked, the tiger act is shorter, which means the wheel act is on sooner, which means the elephants aren’t ready for finale, etc). The show must burn on! It all turned out to have something to do with one of the rice-cookers the Chinese troupe had left on upstairs.

After my load-out duties (which are really quite minimal, because I don’t have a load-out job) I went against my anti-social nature and got out to get some food with a few of the band members at the invitation of Tim, the saxophone player. Tim and I have recently become friends over a bloodthirsty marshmallow-throwing feud, which continues on three-show days. Because of the (non) accuracy of my throws, this vendetta looks like it will come to include the rest of the band against me. Better watch my back! We are friendly off the battlefield though, and Book came along, and we had a nice time. It was really a freezing cold walk though! When we got back to the train, it wasn’t soon before I was out like a light. Book was up late packing, and left sometime in the very early morning before the train pulled out. We have more days in between shows than usual, because of the longer run, so he flew to Minnesota to visit Aerial.

While I’m thinking of it, I’d like to send a HUGE congratulations to Aerial and Sebastian! For those of you who don’t know them, they are two of our very, very dear friends from Smirkus. Both of them auditioned at ENC this past week, and both made it through the four strenuous days of cuts there. Now we are all waiting with bated breath to hear if they got in! Good luck guys! They are both exceptionally talented and wonderful people, and I am very proud of them, as are Eric and Book.

So, it was just Eric and I this train-run. We slept very late yesterday, and decided to watch Uncle Buck in the afternoon. That movie is never a bad choice, even though it’s the second time I’ve seen it in a month and a half! It didn’t take up as much of the day as we’d hoped though, so we walked to car 42 to visit Guillermo, one of the Wheel of Death guys, who we all like a lot. We watched Zack and Miri there, delightful, and finished with no time to spare before we headed to our long awaited Crepe party! We hurried back to 33 to gather our cooking supplies, and then made the very long journey to 56, where Dustin and Brandon live. Twenty-three cars is no joke in a rocking 2-foot-wide hallway (punctuated by heavy doors), especially if you are carrying a double-burner hotplate! We had a wonderful time making the Crepes though, and coming up with all sorts of different toppings (something Brandon was much too excited about). Then we watched the new Indiana Jones movie, and by that time I had finished knitting one hat and was halfway through another! We watched a bunch of clown gags too, and talked late into the morning before we finally took our leave. We stopped at Guillermo’s room again to say hi on the way back. The jury is still out on whether he was “drinky” or not (his word), but he did propose to me about seven times. Finally we got back to 33 at an unmentionable hour, and went to bed.

Today I am feeling too lazy to do much of anything, but writing this for you has been very enjoyable. I also spent some time catching up on Steve’s blog, which no doubt inspired me to try and pick up the slack on mine.

Lastly, on a heavy note, I must include the sad news that one of my teachers has passed away. Robin Wood was the head of the theater department at CSW for a large number of years, and she touched a great many lives in a very intense way. Nearly all the school, including myself, was rather afraid of her intense (and perhaps a bit unforgiving) personality, but it was with that quality that she pushed her students to do their very best work. Although I was not a frequent theater student, she was incredibly supportive of my interest in clowning, and made my head grow a few sizes bigger with the theater schools she suggested I attend. I felt very proud when she came to see me perform in Smirkus. I had a wonderful time in her Mask and Mime class, and learned more things there that have come up in my life since, than in any other class. She was among the people in this world who I wanted most to impress. My heart goes out to her family and the CSW community, and I wish I could come home to give my love and support.

Much love and thanks to everyone reading this,
I miss you all at home.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Richmond, Russian, and the end of a Pop-Tart Era

Hello friends and family,

I am in Richmond, VA. I am pretty exhausted today, but I will be very busy the next two days, and it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me! The reason I will be so busy (and so very, very exhausted) is that this weekend is our first six-pack. For those of you who don’t know, a six-pack is two three-show days back to back. Not only that, but we also have load-out on Sunday, which means it will be quite a marathon. [look at all those hyphens!]

I was hoping that today I would be able to share a video with you about Eric’s negative encounter with one of the train bathrooms from a while back. But unfortunately, I can’t seem to figure out how to work this chip-converter device that I’ve been after for so long. Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying at it, because this one is too good to give up on. More later!

Anyway, Virginia. The building here is much bigger than the other ones, and the town seemed more populous, so I thought the crowds would be good. I don’t mean to say that they aren’t, but… wake up, Richmond! There’s a circus in front of you! With that said, I met a charming group of girl scouts today at a PR, and the soap gag did get a good response. I guess I can’t complain, pre-show has been much calmer! Apparently with the large size of the building comes a small amount of space outside. Many of the animals are being kept backstage for the first time, which makes for a more interesting walk from cue to cue. On the way in I pass the horses and donkeys, and then tiptoe past the zebras. I have mentioned this to many of you before, but zebras are crazy! They spook very easily, and Book, Eric, and I have been particularly cautious after some of the stories we’ve heard. The ponies are nice and docile though, and we were enjoying a nice velvety nose-pat with them until one of the charming animal crew told us it was not a petting zoo. Oh well. If you look through one of the side doors, closer to end-track, you’ll find an elephant looking back at you.

On Monday, the day we arrived in Richmond, Book, Eric, and I went out to dinner with Brandon and Dustin. We went to a Japanese Hibachi grill, something I’ve never done before! We all sat around a big grill and had our food cooked right in front of us. They make a great show of flipping the spatulas about, and tossing food, and making flaming onion volcanoes, etc. Our chef was a little awkward about the number of times he dropped his utensils (and once flipped a lemon RIGHT into Brandon’s sauce, *splash*), and blamed it on last night’s tequila. We had a wonderful time nonetheless. Impulsively, Eric said, “Y’know what? It’s on ME.” So thanks to him! He said he just wanted to see what that felt like.

As I’ve mentioned (happily) to many of you before, I’ve been learning Russian! I had been wanting to work on a new language before I got here, and there could be no better opportunity than this. I’ve been asking the Russian friends I've made for new vocabulary every day (they are all very enthusiastic teachers), writing it down, and memorizing it phonetically. Then I learned the Cyrillic alphabet from a book. It is quite a challenge, not so much because of the letters that we don’t have in English, but because of the ones we do have that mean different things! Such as H which means N, P which means R, and backwards R that means YAH. Huh? One of the sound guys was kind enough to make me a copy of his Rosetta Stone disc the other day. I am very excited about this because the program is supposed to be excellent, and from what I’ve done with it so far, I think that review is accurate. I made a mild fool of myself yesterday when I told my friend Roman; “elbow jumps”. I meant to say “horse”, but the words are very similar… Practice, practice.

[If you’re curious, horse = loshuts, and elbow = locuts]

In other news, Book and Eric have both quit PopTarts. They did this simultaneously and independently of one another, which I think is very funny. They were pretty much eating them two meals a day for a while there, and both report feeling much better all the time.

Well, it is late and I am sleepy.

Miss and love you all!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

crazy Carolinas

Hello friends and family,

I am now in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is a nice place for us travelers, because there is lots to do in walking distance, and you can even walk to the arena from the train! The weather is nice too.

Previous to this, we were in Greenville, South Carolina. It would have been a fairly normal site was it not for the cold I caught, one which has been pretty popular among the performers. Everyone is coughing and sniffling! It gave me such a bad cough that for three days I couldn't get more than about 3 hours of sleep a night. Needless to say, the lack of sleep did not help my immune system (downward spiral), and also needless to say, I was somewhat of a zombie for most of Greenville.

It was an interesting site though, despite it all being a sleepy blur to me. For one thing, it was freezing cold! I walked out one morning very early (much earlier than I needed to be up, and that is a whole different tragedy of a story), and realized that my hair had frozen and become crunchy. The cold caught everyone off guard, and surely contributed to the coughs and sniffles. It affected the show in an interesting way too. Usually, for the first several minutes of preshow, the clowns mill around the floor until the more dedicated audience members begin to trickle in. But since nobody wanted to be waiting outside in that cold, they had all crowded onto the concourse. The music started, the doors opened, and suddenly there were people descending the arena, three-abreast in every aisle! It was a surprise to say the least.

Luckily I only had one PR this site, and though I was cranky about having to do it, it ended up being a nice one. Eric, Julio, Larry, and I went to a children's hospital and put on a mini show, mostly improvised. Afterwards we taught everyone how to balance peacock feathers, and went around saying hi. Because of my cold I couldn't go visit kids in their rooms, so I stayed in the performance area and took pictures. I've included my favorite one. Cutie pie!

On one of the first days in Greenville, us clowns were invited to a freerole by the Greenville Clown Alley. They held it in a lovely little bed and breakfast, which apparently they borrow every year to hold this event. How nice! There were some impressive balloon artists (not a phrase I have ever used before), who decorated the dining room. We had a nice meal and met some interesting people, and I believe our entire alley attended the event, which was great. After we ate, a few of the Greenville clowns showed their acts to us. I was taken aback when I realized that these performances were not clowning at all, but were really a few jokes tying together some very blunt religious preaching. As a non-religious person I was a little bothered by this being forced on me, but as the senior clowns reminded, it's something to expect in the 'bible belt'. To each his own; it was a nice event regardless.

Our three-show Saturday was CRAZY, although that is hardly a surprising detail about a day in which you perform three shows. I had only slept about 3 hours the night before, as I mentioned, and so became nearly hyperactively crazed with exhaustion. It makes for some interesting clowning I suppose. I broke my second to last pair of deelybobber antennae (or diddlyboppers, as Tweedy says). My Russian friend, Stas, landed a flip wrong and got himself a big black eye in the first show, which is now an incredibly impressive eggplant color. And Randy was sweating his makeup off so fast that he gave up and resorted to using a Sharpie on his face! It was Bibi's birthday too, so he was pied a good number of times, and after that long day I still felt obligated to join everyone at his birthday party. That was the first latino dance club (or club period) I've ever been to, and if they're all like that, it just might be the last. I went home as early as I could, and would have fallen asleep like a rock if it weren't for my coughing. What a day!

Now that I've had time to catch up on my sleep, I am feeling a lot healthier. It is very nice outside, and we are parked with a road on one side of us instead of the usual expanse of trainyard. Yesterday when I woke up (rather late), I went outside to have a look at where we were. To my left were a few of the younger Chinese kids practicing their handstands, and to the right were some Russians (a little tipsy perhaps) having a ball with Julio's bicycle. The sun had just set, and it was lovely, despite the factory buildings and rusty trains.

Book and I had the whole day off today because we don't have load-in jobs, and because Brandon does animal walk (which happens right after the train is spotted), he did too. The three of us got a cab to the movie theater, and saw 'He's Just Not That Into You'. Book won't like me telling you this, but it was his idea. No shame in that though, because it was surprisingly good, and we talked about it all the way to the mall. Then we walked around and made a few purchases, my most exciting one being an SD card reader. That means I can now get the things from my camera onto the computer, and actually show them to you! Hooray! Then we went back to the movie theater and watched 'Taken', Brandon's choice. We decided to walk back to the train, and immediately encountered poor Eric, who had just walked all the way over there to find us. We hadn't been home for 20 minutes before Book and Eric hatched a plan to go BACK to the movie theater and see 'Slumdog Millionaire'. Though I've heard that is a great movie, I decided to sit that one out in favor of couscous, cocoa, and thou.
Love and miss you all.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Goodbye Alabama

Hello friends and family,

I am in South Carolina now, cooking in my room. I don't mean that I'm cooking food, I mean that I'm being cooked! It has been so cold outside recently that I guess someone got carried away with the heat on our car.

Previous to this site, we were in Birmingham Alabama. I have to say that I don't think I liked Birmingham all that much, though of course I had quite a limited view of it. There wasn't much around the building besides a Subway (we are all very, very tired of Subway), but a few blocks away there was an incredibly redeeming little bookstore. It was called Reed's Books, and I highly recommend it to anyone passing through. The owner was very nice and knew his stock of antiques very well. I got a pile of comics, a circus book or two (he had a circus section), and a mini English-Russian dictionary. Also, out of nostalgia, I bought a sweet children's book called The Circus Baby, which I remember from some point in my childhood, I just can't say when. It is about an elephant mother trying to teach her baby elephant how to live like humans do, and eat at a table with a knife and fork.

The best thing about Alabama was that I had a wonderful group of visitors! On the 30th I was joined by the Quillian-Stubbs family (minus George), and M. Luckily it was a split show day, which means we have one show at about 10 in the morning, and the next at 7:30 PM, and a good 5 hours in between of free time! They all arrived in the afternoon, so we had lots of time to get a lovely quesadilla lunch, and to have a leisurely visit. Then we navigated back to the train so I could show off my living space. What fun! Everyone had to take turns filing through the hall to have a look, but somehow we all squished in. My room was cleaner than usual, too! After that we had to go back to the arena so I could get in makeup for the next show, but I was glad to have so much time with them. Alabama's preshows were completely packed every day we were there, so I hardly saw M and the QSs until after the show. Then they got to see us clean the soap mat (yippee!), and had a visit to clown alley, complete with Randy chucking a powder sock into the side of my head. I must say, appreciatively, that however exhausted and cranky my co-workers are at the end of the day, they never seem to be too tired to goof around for our guests' amusement.

Well, it is far past my bed time, as I have to get up at 6:00 again tomorrow. An early show means an early preshow, and an early preshow means early makeup and hair, which in turn means catching an early bus, which means waking up early. Yawn!

Mainly what I wanted to say was how happy I was to have a visit from my wonderful family. It was great to see you guys, and I loved showing you around. Now everybody else, come on down here and visit me too!

I have more to write, so hopefully I will get a chance to do so very soon!

Love to you all~

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

pouring tea on a moving train

[I wrote this yesterday... but there was no reliable internet reception. So here it is today.]

Hello friends and family,

Right now I am in transit from Jacksonville FL to Birmingham AL, somewhere in the midst of Georgia. This is the longest train run we have had so far – we started out very late last night, and won’t be arriving until some time tomorrow morning. The country is interesting and beautiful, and as someone who can be happy puttering around their room for a very long time, I am enjoying it. However, being on the go for longer than a full day is quite different from the half-day or mid-night runs we had before. You can’t just wait to do things until after the train pulls in (as you could on a shorter run); you must go ahead and cook your breakfast, and flip your egg with one hand while you hold the counter for balance. As per the title of this entry, pouring my tea this morning took an awful lot of nerve. And I woke up with quite a startle this morning; I heard a clack when the train jolted, and opened my eyes to see that my broom had tipped over and landed resting on the bed, the end of the handle a mere inch above my nose. Yikes! Lastly (in the department of the more unpleasant things you should know), the showers are locked before we get home from the last performance and load out. So I still have the sweat of two shows on me, and so does everyone. Nevertheless, I can’t complain, because I have a window that has something new for me to look at every second, and a whole day to relax and enjoy it.

Although Jacksonville had nice responsive crowds, we are not so sorry to be leaving it behind. Besides the lack of things to do in that city, which I mentioned before, we had a good deal of bad luck. Most of it surrounded the Russian swings, which are precarious to begin with. The troupe has had frequent injuries in the past few weeks, but this time it was their equipment that went awry. The Russian act starts out the second half, and because of the high possibility of it having problems, the clowns’ chari vari is on right after. We are supposed to be there the whole time in the vom, waiting in case anything happens, so that we can cover. I have already seen two fingers broken, a smash to the face, and a serious leg injury right before my eyes! It is not a pleasant thought, but I will have to sit there and watch all the injuries that happen this year. Anyway, this opening night the act began, and one of the cables holding their rig just snapped! The whole thing began to sway in a most unpleasant way. Since they were only about three tricks into the act, there were just four of us clowns ready in the vom, and on we went. Being nervous and confused, Julio and I didn’t get the wall lined up correctly for Ivan, and the first jump of our act was a big splat as well! It was chaos. The next night they had reset the Russians’ rig with two swings instead of four. At the end of intermission the clowns were told to cover as long as we could while they ironed out a few more issues. So we said “OK!” because that’s what you say, and we went out onto the floor for at least 10 minutes and did whatever we could think of to entertain. It was quite a learning experience. After all the effort, they decided not to do the Russian act, and we were on. And then…. One of the finale bungies caught on fire, lord knows how.

We were lucky to have quite a few visitors though, which was really nice. On Thursday, Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs came to visit in the alley. They both used to work on the Blue show, and Ryan got his start in Smirkus. Now the two of them are off to work in Kelly Miller. The alley really enjoyed their visit, because we all admire them and they were fun to have around. That evening we packed eleven (yes, eleven) of us into their little car to go out to dinner. Eric and I were part of a television PR the next day that we had to be awake for at 3 AM, and since we got home from dinner so late, we decided to just not go to bed at all. That made Friday quite an exhausting blur, but nevertheless we were overjoyed to have a visit that evening from David, Tobin, and John Stork (all former Smirkos and good friends). We hung out with them between shows, and then they joined us in the very nice free-roll that the Gator Clown Alley of Florida threw for us. It was at an IHOP, and you can only guess the competitions that ensued after the discovery of ‘all you can eat pancakes’ on the menu. I’ll spare you the details. We returned home and fell asleep like rocks, or in some cases (mine perhaps), were asleep long before we got back to the train. Friday night felt like a mere nap, as it was followed by the three show Saturday. Finally rested by Sunday, we had an enjoyable two shows with a very brief visit from Christine, our former Smirkus counselor. Load out went pretty well, and it was on to Alabama, or as Julio has been singing in excitement all week, “Sweet dreams Alabama”.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

sorry it has taken so long...

Hello friends and family.....

Yes it's true, I have FINALLY started this thing! I do apologize for the wait. But literally, it's a circus, and I have been very busy.

Today I find myself in Jacksonville FL. If you have ever been here, then you may know that I am NOT busy today. It is a day off, as we start shows here tomorrow, and there is just nothing to do! No market run, no movie run, nothing in walking distance,... and the distance is not a particularly favorable one to walk alone, even if you aren't a little girl. So blog it is!

In a way I regret not starting this earlier, because so much has happened and I wish I could have kept you all more consistently updated. However, if I had been in touch from the beginning you would have had to hear an awful lot of complaining. Winter Quarters (the period of time we spent working on and putting together the show in Tampa), was very hard for everyone. For a while I couldn't believe how much my life had changed, and kept wondering why on earth had I left my lovely home to come do this? We were exhausted, cranky, and discouraged at the end of each day, and had very little time to recover and be ready for the next.

But now things really are looking up. We are out on the road and performing. I have begun to make many friends and learn a lot about different people. We are used to the zebras and elephants, the workload, life on the train, and the unavoidable attitudes. We have had two train runs so far, and performed 16 shows in 3 different cities. After all the hard times, it is actually feeling like home! I am growing more attached to this circus, and now I look forward to the year ahead with excitement.

Well I will wrap this first little message up for tonight, but look out for more updates, and some stories from what you've missed in the past few months.
I love and miss you all,