Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Great Land: An Alaskan Chautauqua - Part One

First thing I did on Chautauqua: figured out what other musical comedy pieces 
I might need to write for the tour of Southeast Alaska.
Last thing I did on Chautauqua: helped clear graves of overgrowth, moss and junk in a beautiful, small cemetery at Icy Strait Point - as part of a community service project in Hoonah.

Tuesday 6/16 LA to Seattle to Bellingham

Green Bird singin' in the dead of night... 
Virgin America #781 to Seattle, a call number I recognize from my many, many Seattle trips while I was one of The Bobs. I smile. Light rail from SeaTac to downtown Seattle with new luggage. I am late to the 4-wheeler party, but what a party! My Uber driver is a french horn player. I smile. It's only $11 to Wallingford, where Stephen O'Bent and company are waiting. I smile. Carey, Scramble, Linnea, Stephen and I buzz QFC for sammiches, then brave I-5 North in the "Green Bird" - the Chautauqua-owned vehicle only a mother could love - to The Quarry, an arts community in the woods of Bellingham, WA. It will be our home base and rehearsal space until we board the Alaska Ferry on Friday.

Band in the Woods!
Hey, I know most of these people!!!!! Last year, I came to my rookie Chautauqua knowing four people. I left knowing all 50. How wonderful to return to this family. Outdoor art projects abound in this unique living space/artists' retreat. The first marching band rehearsal is held in the shady grove uphill called the Saloon because saloon doors border one side. Our first meeting is held at dinner - the super-human force that is the mobile kitchen, headed by Reby and Katie, is already in full swing! We introduce ourselves. What song should we sing to open this year's Chautauqua? Stephen's sister wrote a song about Chautauqua that goofs up the spirit. I start taking silly pictures. And we're off!

Game of Skis?
Once again, I'm not camping - it's the one thing I don't do on these tours. I sleep poorly on the road anyway even in the cushiest circumstances, something I learned in my 14 years on touring. And if I keep not sleeping, my attitude plummets, and there's absolutely no room for that in this dealio. So I stay with locals in every stop - usually Chautauqua sponsors, or people they have found for me. It's a pretty great adventure actually, and some turn out to be incredible folks I stay in touch with when I leave. Here in Bellingham, I'm bunking at NOTC board member and juggler Karl (a.k.a The Great Noodlini)’s place - with its furry kittehs and ubergardens.

Wednesday 6/17 Bellingham

In the morning, Karl brings me to his regular coffee klatch at Avenue Bread. This group of great, grizzled guys discusses the day ahead of them as a beautiful harbor just blocks away glistens. Later, at the morning meeting, assignments are farmed out for the tour - they're called "buckstops." I take on making sure everyone's camping chairs, usually encircled in a general location, are packed and aboard the UHaul when we depart a campsite. 

Carey dishes out lunch for
Skip and Matthew

I sign up for many breakfast cleanup shifts just like last year. I am not a morning person. But the scenic gorgeousness of Chautauqua days, and the immediate feeling that I am part of bigger community doing something amazing never ceases to fill me with positivity when I do this. Here, we don't wake up to face the same frustrations and bigger life questions of our lives. We know what we are here to do and why. I will likely mention every one of the 50+ people here at least once in this blog - we're a tribe. And by the way, I hear cows mooing loudly while I'm washing dishes. Wait - those are bullfrogs! 

Eben and Nancy in the Saloon
More band... and even CHOIR rehearsals. Stephen has a lovely chamber-y arrangement of Beethoven's Ode to Joy for us this year - in German. I'm pondering what more I may need to write for the Alaska-themed show Paul has written. No one has seen the whole script yet - that will happen today at a read-through. My favorite contribution this year is a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan's Modern Major General I wrote for Eben, my longtime pal, and... the bandleader. In this sendup of the imperialist Russian era in Southeast Alaska, he's Alexander Andreyevich Barenough (Baranof), boasting of how beloved he is by the Tlingits despite his horrible actions. I added a section in which Anatevka-like dancing Sitkans sing "Alex, Alex, Alex Andreyevich/Alex, Alex, get out of his way-evich!/Alex, Alex, Russian through and through!/Maybe when you're dead they'll name this island after you. HEY!" 

After our first readthrough of the new show, I fear there's way too much of me in it. I emcee with Paul and play a major role in the vaudeville-ized Alaskan history storyline. I'm flattered and amused but also worried, since we don't have a lot of rehearsal time and the show has a lot of moving parts and cues outside of the actual acts written into it. It's funny, but with a huge cast who are not just there to focus on learning and building the show (a ton of other stuff happens on Chautauqua), this can be... challenging.

Our National Anthem:
The Teddy Bears' Picnic
The first parade of the tour is at the Fair Haven farmers market. Once again, I find myself choking up when the giant marching band (with adjacent "twirly people," as I call them) invades a public space. Ty Vennewitz is premiering a new act that follows the parade too - a Cyr wheel - which has to be seen to be believed.

Game of Bones

Matthew at the Market
Rio doing a bangup job

A superhero is born!

That evening, we team up with some Seattle Chautauquans who are, sadly, not doing this tour for a sold-out, jam-packed benefit for it, in the warehouse-y space at the Bellingham Circus Guild. The venue is right across from the Alaska Ferry terminal we'll be at tomorrow. I don't have a great tune of my own prepared, so I borrow a ukelele from Harmonie and croon the great Cynthia Carle's "Jesus and Glenn," from her hysterical Holiday Smackdown show (with Mark Nutter). I sang on the demo back in Los Angeles. This will be a one-off for the tune, because it's not something you can perform everywhere... Alaska's an interesting place when it comes to religion and politics. It kills as usual. Boy, do I wish I had written it! It's great to see Sam Williams (Smerdyakov Karamazov) again. As co-emcee, I joke that this is the first time a Chautauqua show will end before sunset - because it's almost solstice - and then... it doesn't!  A great evening indeed. I really love being a part of this. And the best is yet to come.

Thursday 6/18 Bellingham

Tuba in the Woods
We need to use Stephen's crapass keyboard outside (I brought my own crapass keyboard last year but this year I don't have a car), and Eben has brought batteries!  Which last about 4 hours. Seriously. WHATEVS. We stumble through the show after marching band rehearsals. It's still really long. And just as I used to crack up to the point of tears in the back seat of the Bobs' rental cars with Joe or Dan over the dumbest, silliest stuff, Harry (of the Mud Bay Jugglers, my favorite dude who looks like a ZZ Top refugee) and I lose it completely over one of the stoopidest things ever: Chris, an amazing outdoors dude from Ithaca is given one line as a miner in a gold rush town - "I got an ingot!" When it comes time for the line, he says "I got an ignot!" Whether or not Chris is dyslexic, I turn to Harry in a nano-second and add, "... to buy an ilgoo!" (I told you it was stoopid - and I am still laughing about it.)

The awesome Josh Williams, (son of FKB Sam Williams) is also on Chautauqua, not as a performer but as an all-around great helper guy. Although the Alaska-themed show will not see the light of a theater past one rehearsal for various reasons, Josh does a bit today that I really wish we could have salvaged. As emcee, holding an open umbrella, I do a scripted rhapsody about the rain in Southeast. Josh comes onstage in a slicker and squirts me in the face during the whole speech. When I emphatically reach the part about the sun finally breaking through the clouds, he won't stop - until I pay him. So I (fake) pay him, hand him the umbrella and he exits. I suggest that he exit as the band plays the "Singin' in the Rain" vamp, doing that iconic circle Gene Kelly does with the umbrella (at 2:55). And the mild-mannered, unassuming Josh DOES IT - committing 200%. It's amazing and hysterical. And never happens again. D'oh! Thank you, Josh, for that wonderful, trusting moment!

Karl as the Great Noodlini
Eben and I escape camp for dinner at a local pub and yak about his plans to possibly move to Portland for a spell. But Eben, who will be my Seattle husband?!?! We make it back in time for the skies to open up. We all huddle under EasyUps and some of the kids (Quinton and Vivian) tell punny jokes as Eben, Nancy, Scarlett, Kym and I dutifully crack up. Been lucky so far bugwise, but now I get about 10 mosquito bites on my left hand. GAH! 

Back at Karl's, I repack a second bag I'm borrowing just for ferry stuff. 36 hours. No idea what it's really gonna be like in terms of sleeping conditions or temperature or anything. Just that it's gonna be gorgeous. A real adventure. And before I nod off, I resend a dropbox link in my waning hours on the grid for a demi-celeb in New York who's looking at BASTARD JONES, the musical I workshopped last year. Good time to go off the grid and put all earthly concerns behind me...

Friday 6/19 Bellingham and Ferry Departure

Despite taking a bendryl, I wake up with what I call Shannonfinger. Shannon is on her first Chautauqua and has been stung by something - her hand is swollen up. She doesn't seem that concerned, though... My left index finger has ballooned in solidarity from those mosquito bites. GAH! STOOPID!
Wheeeee are off!

The U-Haul is packed to within an inch of its life by our crack packers Daniel and Ty. The kitchen trailer and Bill's mega-truck are ready to roll. And the Green Bird dies promptly as soon as people are loaded in it to go to the ferry dock (a not entirely unexpected omen). Bill diagnoses it as a part we can replace here, and immediately. But in the meantime, locals with vans swoop in to transport the rest of us to the ferry.

As we await them, Eben gives us a word game to play on the ferry called Hink Pink, which geeks like me and Stephen will mos def dip into. Example: What's a hinky pinky (two syllables each) for a Navy sailor's belly button?  A naval navel. A hink pink for an entire section of a donut? A whole hole. Doesn't necessarily have to be a homonym. It can rhyme (or rhyme-ish). So a hinky pinky for a dumb place to make soup? A stupid stew pit. Those of us who are crossword fanatics appreciate this game more, since advanced puzzles often have board-long clues that are "themed" like this. 

At the dock, everyone seems determined to use the last data connection we'll have for days (no wifi or cell service on the boat), including me. We were originally told pretty solidly we couldn't have instruments aboard the ferry. But Anne, one of the NOTC leaders, scores THREE major coups for us while waiting to board. The purser grants these for our 50-person group (lined up earlier than anyone else): 1) the now-closed bar/lounge is reserved for our exclusive use - they'll put a sign up so no one else will be allowed in, 2) we CAN have instruments, and in fact the purser asks us to do at least one concert on board and 3) we can board an hour before everyone else (400 other people), to stake out the best camping spots on the ship - on the camping deck, in the enclosed Solarium, in any of the lounge areas or in that lounge we're being given! 

Bet these folks never imagined a castoff like this. 
The horn sounded right afterwards, and we were asea.

Once aboard, I claim an office - a banquette in the lounge we have commandeered - then I put my sleeping stuff on a me-sized, cushiony sofa in the forward observation lounge. Kym grabs the one next to me and a ferry employee heading home grabs the third one. No one messes with your stuff here. They just don't. It's going to be an amazing journey. Rod (Pavel of the Flying Karamazovs) says to me as the other passengers slowly appear, "Hey - every 9th person on this boat is us!" And we're off... The boat never feels crowded, even with 450 people aboard. 

There's an 8pm meeting in the lounge to go over details for Ketchikan, the first stop. But we're all distracted by the gorgeousness of the view and find ourselves turning around constantly to see it. The scenery changes every 15 minutes. It just gets more and more incredible.

We know this is an important meeting, Paul, but the sun is
about to set, the weather is amazing, and we're on a ferry in the Pacific NW in June
Having escaped the endless meeting to see our first stunning ferry sunset,
Ty, Stevedore, Stephen and Rio bask in the glow over Canadian waters.
The onboard shower is GREAT. The cafeteria is accessible 24/7. I grab a halibut burger. Among the passengers is Francis, snapping pix and interviewing folks for a book about all things "Columbia" in the US, like... this boat, The M/V Columbia. He'll be on its entire journey up and down the Inside Passage, talking to its occupants - and we're perfect fodder. En pajamas, I attend a late night rehearsal of Stephen's a cappella arrangement of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," the accompaniment to Ty's act in a hallway near the vending machines. The next day, Stephen is approached by an elderly passenger who says he'd never heard anything like it and it brought him to tears (for the right reasons). 

First ferry sunset... suck it, everywhere else!

Saturday 6/20 Somewhere Between the Sea and the Sky

We are in Canadian waters. It's breathtaking all day. Aaand... I have the beginning of a head cold, having gotten no sleep last night and being tired already in general. It's too vibratey, even on that couch I fortuitously claimed. I file this cold under Annoying and swear it will not escape that category. 

Chris opens the morning meeting in Our Lounge with a reading of Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee." (Service is poet laureate of the Yukon).  There are strange things done in the midnight sun... Wes says a woman he met on the boat has a friend in Montana who saw us last year and told her about it, so our presence there is a “blessing.” When we hit open waters, we begin to rock gently, but since it's not bothering me, I give away the Dramamine I brought just in case. The entire day is absolute heaven (see pix/videos below). 

Eben and I joke about the (Colonel) Muster area designated as an emergency meeting point. Erin, Val and Kristin (sewing friendship blankets we will give to local tribal leaders helping to bring the tour to Alaska) set up ship shop there. Kym meets Florence, a Tlingit language teacher from Juneau, who, upon learning who we are and what we are doing, announces, “This is why I was on this ferry - to meet you.” She plans to do a workshop for us in Juneau now. New music rehearsals spring up in the lounge. Paul types away at script revisions in a banquette. Nancy, Cy, Eben, Anne, Harry and I treat ourselves to the dinner buffet in the fouffy real restaurant with a view on the rear deck. Every time we turned around to look outside today, it was spectacular. Mountains and trees as far as the horizon. Whale tails and spoutings. 

moose mural
ummmmm, who?
Chris enlightens fellow passengers about NOTC

Rehearsing in da Lounge

Second Ferry Sunset

Sunday 6/21 Ketchikan Arrival

After pretty much no sleep for two days, I am unamused and mos def sick when we dock at 7am. But we are here in the gorgeousness, and I know it's only gonna get even more gorgeous. 

The group is camping on the grounds of the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, way up a mountain. It's covered, which is great news if it rains. I help unload the U-Haul, and my first host, Maura, picks me up so I can drop my stuff off at her house. We buzz the Safeway, then the Walmart - but it's SUNDAY in a small town, so I can't get ACTUAL sudafed because it's locked up in closed pharmacies (people with colds thank you, meth heads, for this bullshit). WHATEVER.

Back at camp, breakfast is amazing. We make our way to the theatre to tech and cue to cue the show, which is tomorrow night. Once we get to the theatre, I FEEL BETTER. Isn't it funny how that happens? And the show is funny, but so cue-heavy and dialogue-intensive, I just know it's... just... nah gah happa. Still, I power through the day, past the head cold, giving it my all.

At Saxman Village, the gang parades down the street to round up locals for the mini-vaudeville at the beautiful tribal long house. People emerge from yards and houses to join in the fun. As usual, it's Pied Piper magical. After the show, Paul presents the first blanket to the local elder/leader. It's quite moving. But I am feeling pretty crappy at the potluck, so he runs me back to Maura's to try to sleep it off. 

And OMG, it's summer solstice, and Maura's beautiful house faces west on the coast. I join Maura, Joe and their sons for a bite of halibut (the first in a long parade of mouth-watering fish on this trip), snap incredible photos, head into my quiet room, catch up on e-mails, then actually SLEEEEEP. I WILL BEAT THIS COLD!

no words

Monday 6/22 Ketchikan

Beginnings and endings. As she drives me back to camp, Maura reveals that she's actually a Bobs fan (never ceases to amaze me); she saw them in Juneau (before me) many years ago. How cool is that? I'm so proud of my 14 years with The Bobs, even though moving on was the right thing to do. Having just ended a regular gig I've been doing for a year in Los Angeles this morning, I know how life moves. And at the morning meeting, I learn it has indeed been decided for various reasons that we're not doing the Alaska show and will present a straight Vaudeville, hosted by me and Paul instead. It will not be as funny, or interesting, fo sho. But it will be ready, and completely excellent. 

I film the Ketchikan parade (instead of being in it) and parts of the big teaser show in the gym of the rec center. I'm trying to conserve energy - I'll shoot my big wad tonight in the show. The show in the gym is great, especially Joey's "disillusionist" rotating arm trick - and Ty's Cyr wheel acts leaves everyone in the gym speechless. Paul grabs me for an impromptu interview for KPU-TV outside the building... and I get local theater teacher Elizabeth Nelson to take over my theater games workshop. I am really too under the weather to teach AND do a show today. 

Later at the venue (Ketchikan High School), I run the choreography for my Clara Tweaker number with the suffragettes (Kym, Clara, Allie, Kristin, Val, Erin and Phina), and it looks great. They add so much to that piece. A sasquatch is spotted wandering the halls right before the show. I am scared at first (see left), but then I realize it's in the band. And SO FAR, it's harmless...

The great and very vocal audience, responds lots to the more improv-y sections of my pre-song monologue, and it's just too much fun co-emceeing with Paul, between all the ad libbing and his actual scripted introductions. I do kickit, blowing out what's left of my voice as planned, shifting on the fly to accommodate dropouts. You can do this if you really know your voice - singers know what I'm talking about! Shannon and Isak are doing the Godfrey Daniels act for the first time without Randy, and they knock it out of the park. The Karamazovs are AMAZING as usual. 

Despite wanting to hang around after the show, and the breathtaking sunset (at 10pm), I exit gracefully with Maura and Joe to get some sleep.

Tuesday 6/23 Ketchikan

“You made the front page!” 

My host is very excited to see our parade on the front page of the Ketchikan Daily News. She also posted this video of the parade downtown on YouTube. I repack for tonight's ferry ride in a SMALL bag this time, since 1) it's shorter and 2) I am convinced that attempts at sleep will be fruitless - we leave at 11pm and dock at 5:30am. SERIOUSLY!

A wonderful invitation has been extended to Chautauqua. Joe Williams, Jr., former tribal president of Saxman Village, is going to lead us Where the Eagle Walks (his historic walking tour of Ketchikan). Joe's heartfelt and personal narration includes tales of old Ketchikan, in which natives were not allowed past the short tunnel downtown, north of which "colonizing" whites lived. Joe is a consummate professional storyteller and extremely funny as well. It's a wonderful afternoon with stellar weather. As we pass through the town's famed red light district, Fiona explains to 9-year old Vivian that men being "entertained" by women meant they paid to see pretty girls. Then Chuck, a local helper taking the tour with us, heps me to the phrase, "That blows like a two dollar whore." How did I survive this whole time without that in my lexicon? Annie and I lunch in an indoor mall across from a taxidermist shop (gah), then walk back to the school/camp alongside the creek we saw empty into the harbor - a huge saltwater/freshwater scenario I like to imagine teeming with salmon leaping upwards. (We're here too early in the summer for that.) 

The gang(way)'s all here... at the Ketchikan  dock
Back at camp, I start the chair buckstopping - basically packing up everyone's chairs no matter where the owners or chairs are - they're too busy packing up their campsites. I run into Joey, who tears up telling me about the community show they just did at a senior center in which a specific elderly man raised himself up from his wheelchair to dance with them. An aide took Joey aside afterwards and said the man hadn't smiled in months. This happens during our community shows. It's why we're here. It's Why We're Here.

With several hours before the ferry departure, Eben and I buzz the Best Western near the dock for dinner. Eben says: A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel sticking out of his pants. Bartender says, "Do you know there's a steering wheel sticking out of your pants?" And the pirate says, "Arrggh! It's drivin' me nuts!"

I do believe in ferries.

The ferry to Wrangell is magical, although the aurora, sighted last night by several lucky folks, is a no-show. My search for a place to just close my eyes ends at a crazy, mod lounge with colored lights, in which Scramble, Phina, Sophie and Rio are palling around with a French guy playing the guitar. I plant my stuff, then roam the decks as if in a dream, surrounded by shadowy beauty. From 12-1am, peeps on the Solarium deck doze, and Eben, Stephen, Shine, Rod, Carey, Kym, Josh, Annie and I huddle out on the bow of this "blue canoe" (as the ferries are known to locals), singing songs and laughing and telling dirty jokes. We slowly climb northward under a sky that never really gets totally dark. Surreal and wondrous, and I want it to last forever. 

Wednesday 6/24 Ferry to Wrangell

I apparently DID fall back asleep after that 3am Robitussin. I remember coming back to an empty lounge after that magical circle, and stretching out. I remember realizing someone else had entered the room and exchanging a brief hello with the guy, who was from Kansas. You might think that, finding yourself alone with a stranger in a room with exits only on one side, on a loud ship, as everyone is sleeping, would feel unsafe. I can only say that unusual, magical things happen when you are traveling. You just have to go with your gut. I have felt weirder about spending time with people I've met professional situations than fellow travelers/complete strangers.
It is so gorgeous I don't care if I am illin'

Didn't even realize the boat had docked until I heard, “Welcome to Wrangell.” 5:15 am. I shove my stuff into the small bag and head for the stairs. The ramp up to super amazing scenery continues - THREE snow-topped mountains in sight and much more water. My host here, Alice, meets me at camp around 6am. I meet her lovely doggie, Archie, and apologize profusely as I head to her guest room. I need a few more hours. I am not feeling well.

Alice is the go-to accompanist here in Wrangell. And I love that she plays classical piano. I sleep until 11:30, she makes us tea, and we talk music and gigs. She's written, "Welcome, Amy" on her kitchen memo board. I'm honored and flattered, and really happy to be staying with someone so cool. 

I hike down to the market (two blocks) for cheese, meat and electrolyte waters in lovely drizzle. As I eat on the bench outside, locals just approach to say hello. Really! One native woman asks if I am new in town, and completely lights up when I tell her about the Chautauqua and our schedule for the week. A guy in a pickup overhears us, and comes out to ask me if I know the history of the Chautauqua movement. His truck has an electrical plug hanging out of the grill. I call Alex to tell him, fondly recalling a winter night in Fairbanks back in the 90s - the motel had outdoor outlets. That's where we learned about people plugging in trucks here to start them. I run into Karl and Harry in town, in search of lunch. They tell me I missed salmon omelettes Paul made everyone for breakfast at camp - fish given to us in Ketchikan… oh well.  

City Park with Ailing Green Bird 
Later on, I head out for dinner at camp in Alice’s car, which she keeps insisting I take so I can take people into town (a mile or so away) for stuff. I end up staying well into the night because it’s just so gorgeous out at City Park. NOTC was given special permission to camp there - it's usually not allowed. But we are stewards of the land - we'll respect it and even clean it before we go. I have a long talk w/Joey along the beach, and we end up exchanging quotes from the movie "Stripes." The jugglers rehearse against a breathtaking backdrop and the rest of us, well, sigh (video below). 

Before heading back to Alice's, I decide to see what's on the other side of town. As I reach the end of the road, where you must go right or left, someone's kind of tailgating me on the deserted streets. I pull over to let them pass. After checking both ways, I re-enter the road and turn left. Which apparently, you can't do, but the Do Not Enter sign is 10 feet into the turn. So I back out and turn around. And a cop comes out of the ferry parking lot to pull me over. I start to laugh. Having had amusing encounters in the past with small town police departments in Alaska in borrowed vehicles, I'm pretty sure he recognizes the car and thinks something's wrong with Alice. Which is exactly why he says he stopped me. After we clear everything up, "Terry" introduces himself, says he took music lessons from Alice and tells me to say hello. Which of course, I will do, since I'm gonna tell her about this immediately! I ask if he's coming to our show. He says he is extremely bummed that he has to work that night.

Surreality at City Park

Thursday 6/25/15 Wrangell

Resident Chautauqua Fix-it Guy, Bill. At the "How's it going?"
meeting, he said, "Things are breaking and I am happy!"
The morning meeting is opened up for general thoughts on NOTC, why we're all here personally, how it's going so far. I speak of the joy of a palpable effect. As an artist, you put a lot of yourself and your work out there, and sometimes you get absolutely no response. As an American living in a Citizens United world, you sometimes feel unable to make a difference. But here, in these communities, the simple joy of connection, of seeing families smile when the marching band crests a hill, of watching people learn new skills, of hearing people really laugh... it's immediate and life-affirming. 

After the meeting, Phina picks up her sousaphone but can't find the mouthpiece. Rio asks, “What would that sound like?” "A lot like it does right now," she shoots back.  I get a phone call from a pal in LA. It feels weird to discuss business. My friend suggests a home remedy for my cough - a shot of orange juice mixed with garlic and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. I will TOTALLY try it!

Holy smokes - it's a marching band!
Dancin AND Singin in the rain
I film the parades downtown, held despite the rain, under Easy-ups. Nancy comes back to Alice’s with me to do some NOTC business online (no good wifi downtown). 

We do a show at the tribal hall, where the local Tlingit leader is so touched (photo below), he says the friendship blanket we present to them will hang in the finished building (it's being renovated). 

Presentation of the blanket with NOTC's Logo
Tribal Hall show
Harry, Anne, Shannon, Isak and I head to Petroglyph Beach, a few miles north of town. A large, silly lab/retriever mix literally hounds Isak into throwing a stick for him endlessly. The actual rock carvings look suspiciously like the crop circle drawings in those "Aliens or Farmers?" TV specials. The view of the water is stunning. Harry asks, ”Would you ever live somewhere like this since you love it so much - and give up your life?” To which I reply, ”Would anyone notice?” (see previous post about artistic We laugh uproariously, but... in this business, unless you are lucky to strike a vein of some kind, you always feel like you are starting over. And it gets really tiring. I couldn't do this at this stage in life. So... when could I do something like that? Does everyone in their 40s suddenly think they're running out of time to do what they are here to do? I feel that way every day. 

Petroglyph Beach

There is always time for The Stoopid
(with Stephen and Quinton)
Our community potluck at the SRO Hall is huge - and between the whitefish-like king salmon (caught and expertly cooked by, Arthur one of the local leaders and a major sponsor of our residency), halibut with what tastes like cream cheese, various desserts made of local berries, and the garlic clove I chew on to usher my cold away, I think I'll never eat again. Willy the elder, one of my tablemates, is a sax player who helped build the Matanuska (the ferry we took here!). As Paul and I watch the Chautauquans and Wrangellians (Tlingit and not) mix, a house band of Stephen, Harry, Rio and Somer Joe joys it up in the corner. We speak about the phenomenon of outsiders bonding with each other – displaced people and artists are quite the pairing. It's beautiful. 
Alice and Archie

Back at Alice's, we're yakking and laughing before I give my friend's OJ/cayenne shot a try. Then sweet Archie has a seizure under the kitchen table. Alice is currently figuring out the right medication level for his condition. He leans against my legs the whole time, shaking - although he doesn't seem to be in pain - all I can think of is Temple Grandin's hugging apparatus. Then it passes. He heads calmly to his food dish. 

I am a mess at once. My dear baby tuxedo cat Sitka had massive seizures the day he died... and I was not there. It's so awful to think of Alex watching that and trying to soothe him... It's been over a year now. I don't get the daily grief tornados. But sometimes I miss my baby boo more than I can bear. I came on Chautauqua for the first time last year in order to alleviate my grief. And it did help. But love is a long, long road. I call Alex before heading to bed. 

Friday 6/26 Wrangell

A wonderful thing to wake up to: the SCOTUS decision legalizing marriage equality. Love Wins. I'm especially stoked that the piece I do in this show is about civil rights... and I start adding a line to my pre-song bit that refers to today's landmark ruling. What was I saying yesterday about affecting change?  :)

Our second parade is under beautiful skies, and leads people 2 blocks from downtown to the Nolan Center, where there's a short teaser before the free public workshops. I'm still not doing mine to hoard my energy for the show. One of the workshop is led by a local woodcarver, who shows us how to use an adz. The two crossword/Scrabble geeks in our company - me and Stephen - are more thrilled to finally see what one looks like, having repeatedly used the word and its other spelling (adze) to our evil advantage! 

Official tour photographer Skip Adeedoodah pulls me aside later that evening. "I saw this terrible thing happen earlier. I got pictures of it, and I have to show you." This was the last photo of the terrifying incident. I guess the sasquatch was not harmless after all. Poor Matthew!

The show, in a packed gymnasium at the Nolan Center, is oversold. Kids down in front are beyond excited. They have to turn 30 people away. And holy cow, what a backstage. I have to cross around the building from the dressing rooms to enter on stage left, several times (see video, below). 

Joey Pipia, my favorite "disillisionist"

The Wrangell show was a great snapshot of what we do. Three local musicians (corralled by Alice) joined the band – 2 french horns and a flute. Afterwards, their friends and students rushed the stage. A local woman stopped me outside the theater to gush that her painfully shy grandson leapt right up to dance with during "Down by the Riverside," our big finale. Alice tells me she saw a recently widowed woman who is deep in grief beaming tonight, for the first time in many months. I am so thrilled to have played a small role in that.

Best backstage ever

Saturday 6/27 Wrangell/ Ferry to Petersburg

Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. (Thanks for pointing that out, Billy Joel.) Right after breakfast, I spot Scramble being comforted by Joey. He just got a terrible phone call - his pet gecko died back at home in Port Townsend. We stay there, next to beach, just hugging him. When you travel a lot... as I was just saying... long distance heartbreak is just going to be a part of the equation. We can all sympathize deeply. 

Thank YOU. Wrangell!
All day long, locals come to City Park to thank us. A fisherman gives us 30 pounds of salmon (our mobile kitchen has two huge refrigerators). And a lady who crashes our morning meeting warns of a woman we are likely to encounter at the senior center, who's particularly... friendly with men's asses. Phina and Sophie Pipia, a.k.a. the Double Sousaphone Sister Act (or, as I garble in one show, the double sisterphone sousa act) reveal a dream to me - they want to costume the sousaphones as snails somehow and do some kind of act with them. OKAY, THEN! I AM HERE TO MAKE YOUR DREAM HAPPEN!

At the community market, I purchase some soaps for Alice, do an ice run with Chef Reby and buy doubly strong OTC crap for coughs only, for my horrible nightly spells. At at the tribe's rummage sale, I find the perfect fabric for the Pipia sisters' snail plans, and a music book from 1899. 

Some of the gang does a community service project, clearing the grave of Tlingit Chief George Shakes. Earlier in our visit, we were invited to attend a special demonstration of Tlingit dance at the Shakes Island Long House. It was truly inspiring to see children, teens and adults take such an active role in the preservation of their culture. No pictures were allowed. 

Other Chautauquans do a senior center show - the one we were hepped to... and that woman was SO right! "C'mere, Joey!" becomes an ongoing joke for us... but Paul and even Godfrey Daniels are also "harassed!" Nancy points out that the 4 p.m. activity on the board at the senior center is called "Truth or Crap?" which we hope is a verbal game... 

Karl and I drive the camp's recycling into town and get back just in time for the group photo on the beach right before the U-Haul heads for the ferry dock.

 A Wrangell Wrapup

Godfrey: Hold my calls
Back in the disco lounge - this time oddly sans lights and with lots of NOTC company, I actually sleep through what Alice called "Pinball Alley." Apparently this section of the ferry ride north is so narrow and involves many turns, it's lit with lots of guidelights and markers. Ah well. At 2:05am, I nudge Stevedore and Katie, still nuzzled in a sleeping bag n the floor. We dock at 2:15. Stevedore is our transportation coordinator - he made a big announcement about people being responsible for waking up and getting off the boat at this very moment, else ending up in Juneau. It would be ironic indeed if he and Katie ended up in Juneau! I find myself standing in the foyer making jokes and singing ridiculous songs with Eben and Paul at 2:10am before we snag the elevator on Deck 5. If I have to be awake at this time, ever, I want it to be in this beautiful place with these crazy, wonderful people.

To see Singing Suffragette Clara Tweaker (me) rally the troops in the NEW OLD TIME CHAUTAUQUA'S VAUDEVILLE SHOW, GO HERE!


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