ASTRALLY SWINGING ON A STAR – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Monday: ASTRAL

I started reading the news this morning and it was so depressing, I decided to skip it and go straight to music. Swinging on a start sounds like a good choice, don’t you think? This is the Frank Sinatra version. It was the best reproduction I could find.

It’s a cheerful song. Nothing to do with the news and that’s just fine with me. Less is definitely more!

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In 1987 I saw a play at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York City that stayed with me for over 30 years. It affected me so deeply that when it returned to Broadway this year, I felt compelled to see it again. It was called Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, was written by Terrance McNally and in 1987 it starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham.

Add for the original production I saw in 1987

The current production on Broadway stars Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon and it lived up to my glorified memories. It’s an artfully written character piece involving a waitress, Frankie, on a one-night stand/first date with Johnny, the new short-order cook at her low-end restaurant.

Headshots of the two stars today

Everything about the play is simple and sparse – just two people in Frankie’s small, shabby and depressing apartment in New York City. The costumes are also minimal – a nondescript robe, a plain white shirt.

The play is a study of contrasts. The characters begin the play physically exposed but emotionally unconnected and end the play clothed but emotionally exposed and beginning to connect. The actors are magnificent in their portrayal of these lonely people and their gradual movement toward each other.

Scenes from the play

Frankie starts out closed off and defensive, pathologically afraid of commitment and forcefully pushing Johnny away. Yet McDonald manages to make you understand her and even like her, despite the walls she puts up to protect herself. Johnny is a bull in a china shop, openly expressing his need for closeness, crashing into her emotional barriers in his clumsy but persistent and sincere attempts to break them down.

He wears his neediness on his sleeve and she is all resistance and rejection. He desperately and poignantly wants to connect with her and she is terrified, fighting tooth and nail against opening up to him.

Scene from the play

The piece is beautifully constructed as a will she or won’t she mystery – will she eventually let him in? The first act ends with the audience wondering, along with Frankie, whether or not Johnny is a deranged stalker. By the end of the play, Johnny’s acknowledgment of loneliness and his desire not to be, seem more ‘normal’ than Frankie’s insistence that she’s not lonely and doesn’t need people in her life.

A scene from the play

The emotional dance is accompanied by a well-timed, musical dance of words, often laugh out loud funny. At one point, my husband whispered to me that he didn’t realize that this was a comedy. McNally writes so skillfully that even while the audience is laughing, it is also emotionally engaged. It’s one of the few plays I’ve seen that I also want to read so I can savor the language and the verbal sparring.

Everything about this production meshed beautifully. It was one of the most all-around enjoyable and gratifying experiences I’ve had in the theater in a long time.

TEA AND EMPATHY WITH THE MEN OF SHARON – Garry Armstrong

One of the perks of being a retired TV news reporter are invitations for speaking to various groups, small and large. I enjoy them. It gets me “out” and I meet new and old friends. I must admit these invites do wonders for my ego. As Marilyn frequently says, “Garry never met a mic or camera he didn’t like.”

It’s my wife’s not so sly reminder that I’m a ham.  I plead guilty.

Recently, I was invited to speak to the Mens’ Club of Sharon, Massachusetts. No heavy lifting, I was assured. I like it that way. It means no great expectations and minimal pressure for the speaker.

I didn’t drink tea at the morning gathering. I just wanted to use that phrase, playing off one of my favorite movies, “Tea And Sympathy.” Hey, remind me to tell you my Deborah Kerr story – another time.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the large gathering at the Mens’ Club. Sometimes you puff yourself up for a big audience and only a handful of people show up. It’s happened to many people, including the guy in the Oval Office. I was a little anxious because heavy rain and rush hour traffic made early arrival difficult with the clock ticking.

I surveyed the gathering as I was introduced. For once, I wasn’t the oldest person in the room. Nice. Very nice. Obviously, in a gathering like that, my reputation preceded me. I wore a USMC sweater to give myself more legitimacy in an audience which included many veterans.

I began by pointing out my cochlear implant and talked about dealing with hearing impairment for most of my life. People are always surprised when I say poor hearing has been a bigger obstacle for me than the racism which is the runnerup hurdle in my life. I scanned the audience and saw heads shake in acknowledgment about hearing woes.

I tried to spot who was wearing hearing aids. I shared a few anecdotes about my uphill battle with hearing. It prompted me to get judges to give me advantageous seating for trials and advise attorneys to speak loudly and clearly. Some counselors didn’t appreciate being told to “speak up and scuttle the show biz asides.” The Sharon men nodded and laughed.

Yes, too much mumbling from high-priced lawyers and doctors.  Everyone could relate to that.

I segued from the courtroom back to my short stint in the Marine Corps. I shared a few stories about life at Parris Island in 1959. I saw more smiles in the audience. Later, there would be shared stories from fellow gyrenes who made it through the rigors of basic training. We laughed about how we provoked the patience of steely-eyed Drill Instructors. I “killed it” when I told about laughing in the face of a “DI” who was trying to scare the bejeezus out of we motley recruits. There would be stories from the other Marines of a certain age. Lots of smiles and laughter.

I backed into my bag of war stories about favorite interviews over the years. My John Wayne story always brings smiles. The recollection works because it’s more about me behaving like a fanboy than getting the Duke’s interview. Almost 50 years later, I’m still elated over meeting Duke Wayne.  Hey, he shook MY hand. My hand!

There were anecdotes about coverage of the volatile school desegregation years in Boston. I could see the concern – then disbelief as I recalled my confrontation with anti-busing activists who threatened my crew and targeted me with racial epithets. It was a surreal moment as I silenced the angry crowd, assuring them, “Hey — hold on!  I’m not a “ni__er — no, I’m a SAMOAN!”

It was a pre-Mel Brooks moment as the crowd dispersed, murmuring, “Wow, He’s a Samoan, he’s not a ni__er.”  Belly laughs from the men of Sharon! I assured them the story was true if hard to believe.

I wrapped my talk with a few anecdotes about the downside of being the famous “blizzard reporter.” People always remember seeing me in lousy weather at dawn’s early light. They smile when I tell them about close calls with nature when I was beckoned for yet another live shot about the weather. They appreciate the kindness of strangers letting me in to use their bathroom and then calling friends to boast that I was sitting in their throne room. Very descriptive, boastful calls.

My voice was turning into a whisper, a clue for me to wrap it up. There was a comment from the audience that Id forgotten over the years, “You always looked bigger on TV..”

It was the “Alan Ladd” syndrome.  For over 3 decades, many people thought I was at least a 6-footer in my TV appearances. In reality, I’m always the shortest man in the room.

The men of Sharon loved it. I enjoyed my time with them. It was good to see people my own age out and about and interested. We move slowly, but we still move!

WELCOME, BIENVENU, WELCOME – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Welcome

When this movie came out, I saw it every day for two weeks. I thought — still think — it’s one of the best movies ever made.

I usually went with a friend. I went twice with my mother,  but sometimes I went alone. We have a copy on DVD and it gives me shivers.

Who knew that more than 40 years later, the movie would feel relevant in my country?

A UNIQUE PRODUCTION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently had a unique, rich and rewarding experience. I wrote and helped put together a multimedia theatrical production about a horrific pogrom in 1919 that wiped out over half of the 1200 inhabitants of a Ukrainian town called Felshtin. We performed it on April 14, 2019, in New York City to a very appreciative audience. Let me describe the long road that led to that wonderful afternoon.

I’ve been working for over a year on this project for my audio theater group, Voicescapes Audio Theater. Usually, Tom and I write a short script, either comedy or drama, and then we edit it, cast it and rehearse it. Recorded sound effects and music are added and in a few months, we have a new piece in our repertoire.

This time we were commissioned to write an hour-long dramatic presentation to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1919 pogrom. A pogrom is an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, usually Jews in eastern Europe and Russia. However, the word massacre is too polite and sanitary to convey the havoc, destruction, brutality, and butchery visited on the towns subjected to pogroms.

Script for the show

The group that hired us, The Felshtin Society, is an American organization made up of descendants of people who lived in Felshtin throughout its history (it disappeared after World War II). Many of these descendants are related to survivors of the 1919 pogrom so this piece would have personal meaning for them.

In 1937, the society got many of the survivors to write personal accounts of their and their family’s experiences in the pogrom. These stories were turned into a book in Yiddish, Russian and other local dialects. This was translated into English painstakingly, over nineteen years.

My script was based on the survivor’s words in this book.

Handout at the performance

There were the stories of people who hid in attics and basements, pigsties. and haystacks to avoid the clutches of the Russian marauders. Many Felshtiners escaped into the neighboring fields where they huddled together for days, freezing and starving, without shoes or coats. Many were lucky and could bribe the Russian soldiers to let them live. But many more witnessed family members and friends being tortured and sadistically butchered.

Even the survivors were shells of their former selves when this nightmare was over.

In the book, the survivors wrote about the thriving town that existed before 1919, including a synagogue with a treasury of rare books and a rabbi who attracted scholars from all over the region. The survivors then talked about the husk of a town that limped back into a meager existence after the pogrom.

There were organized efforts, locally and in the United States, to raise money, food. and clothing for the bereft, impoverished and frequently homeless inhabitants. Money also went to establishing an orphanage for the more than 50 orphans in the town.

Photo of Felshtin Rabbi projected behind actors rehearsing

The Felshtin Relief Committee was the American organization founded to help the town recover. It was a subcommittee of the Felshtin Society. This committee managed to help numerous survivors emigrate to other countries, especially to America, where relatives welcomed them. This was fortunate because the people left in Felshtin in 1941 were wiped out by the Nazis.

I spent several months reading through these searing and heart-rending accounts. This was difficult and depressing for me. I had to then turn these random stories into a short, theatrical script.

I picked out the most well-written and poignant accounts. I put these segments into an order which would make them roughly chronological.

I divided the script into sections like “Before the Pogrom,” “Accounts of the Pogrom,” and “Aftermath of the Pogrom.” This last section included burying hundreds of bodies, treatment of the wounded, feeding the starving population. and rehabilitating the town and people.

Sande and Robin working on the script with me.

The Pogrom section was further divided into the different types of experiences people had. One group was about those who hid in the fields or town, those who went to local gentiles for help, those who successfully bribed their tormentors, and those who lived through grenades or fires set throughout the town.

To tie everything together, I added narration to the words of the survivors.

My original script was two hours long, but we were limited to one hour. I had to cut the script in half. This was painful. I had grown attached to the people and the stories I’d chosen.

It was heartbreaking to edit them down and in some cases, to cut them entirely. I went through seven edits to finally get a tight, dramatic script. It was important to do these stories justice, to give them the emotional gravitas they deserved.

Tom said when he first read it that it took him days to shake the sense of horror and tragedy.

List of characters whose words we used in the script

Once we had a script, we hired a musician to compose music to accompany parts of the script, a Jewish man who was well versed in the Klezmer music of Ukraine. We hired a young, local violinist to play the music live on stage.

We usually record music for our pieces, but we felt a living musician would add a level of intimacy and intensity to the piece. We also recorded sound effects to use when needed.

Fitting the music into the script with the violinist at Sande’s house in NYC

We collected photos from before and after the Felshtin pogrom. We found photos of memorials to the pogrom and created a power point presentation to be projected on a large screen behind the actors on stage.

The melding of actors, sound effects, violinist and photos created a powerful piece of theater.

It took a lot of time and effort to coördinate these elements into a cohesive whole. We rehearsed each element separately, then together. I was worried that with so many moving parts, we wouldn’t have enough time to seamlessly pull everything together.

I was wrong.

Rehearsal at the venue

I was onstage for the performance, turning the pages of the script for the violinist so he could see when to play and pause. I’m usually in the audience for our performances so this was a new experience for me.

On the other hand, Tom is usually onstage acting for an ordinary Voicescapes show, but this time he was in the audience with the director. He ran the power point presentation as well as being in charge of the many technical aspects of the show. Tom and I switched places and it worked.

It was amazing to feel the positive energy on stage from the actors and the audience. You can actually feel the rapt attention and involvement of the audience.

From the audience perspective, Tom said this was a fantastic experience.

The performance

When we took our bows, I saw people getting up from their seats and assumed they were getting ready to leave. But, no!

They were giving us a standing ovation!

A hundred people were standing up and applauding for our show! It was exhilarating. Tom says the smile that spread across my face was priceless.

After the show, there was a wine and cheese reception which gave us the chance to mingle with the members of the audience. People came up to us and raved about our beautiful production and complimented us on how magnificently it was all put together.

We were told we had to perform this piece in other venues and that it should be seen by a wider audience.

The beautiful venue for the performance

Most moving, descendants of people we quoted told us how meaningful and emotional it was for them to hear their ancestor’s words in this context. This added another level to our experience of the afternoon.

The next day, we got an email from one of the pogrom descendants who was in the audience. What she wrote made us all so proud and happy. She said that in the pogrom, her family had to watch as her great-grandfather was slaughtered. She thanked us for the care, kindness, and talent with which we distilled and recreated what her ancestors had suffered. She said that we captured the hearts of the audience and that  there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She went on to say that bringing the victims’ voices to life was a priceless gift and she thanked us for this gift.

Program for the Felshtin Society event

The 25-year-old violinist said that he was honored to be part of our production. This job was special to him because it hit him in a really deep place. The technician from the Center for Jewish History, where we performed, said he was deeply moved by our show and was thrilled to be even a small part of our production.

All heady stuff! I went home floating on a cloud of praise and gratification. But mixed in with this elation was a sense of sadness and loss.

Felshtin had been part of my life for over a year and I would miss it. The last few months were filled with feverish work, including rehearsals, meetings, and endless phone calls. The camaraderie was invaluable and I will miss being part of such a significant enterprise. Everyday life will seem a bit more ordinary.

It will be a long time before I have something like this in my life again. But for now, thanks for the memories!

STICKBALL SEASON IS COMING – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.

It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallThis got me thinking about stickball.

These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?

We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.

The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.

The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.

The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

THE MIMES ARE COMING, THE MIMES ARE COMING! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Pantomime

The proper definition of pantomime follows, but in my life, what it really is how you try to communicate what you want to say when you’ve forgotten the word for it.

Garry, for some reason, never seems to be able to make sense of my arm waving and occasionally throwing out what I think might be a related word. Usually, before my show is over, I remember the word. Sometimes, I don’t.

For that, there is Google. If Google doesn’t work (but it almost always does), I forget about it. It will then pop up at the most unlikely moment.

I think more people are afraid of mimes than clowns — and that’s saying something.


pan·to·mime
/ˈpan(t)əˌmīm/

noun: pantomime; plural noun: pantomimes

1   –   A dramatic entertainment, originating in Roman mime, in which performers express meaning through gestures accompanied by music.

2   –   British – A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, that involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.


“LES MISERABLE” VERSUS “LESS MISERABLE” — Marilyn Armstrong

“Les Miserables” is coming to Boston. I know this because the advertisement for it is on TV every few minutes. I read the book originally in French, back when I could actually read French and sort of mumble in French if forced.

I never spoke the language well, but I could read surprisingly well. However, I have to admit that “Les Miserables” was very long and frankly, I just didn’t understand why whats-his-face, the detective didn’t just say “screw it” and go back to Paris. Buy a high-quality bottle of red and get bombed.

By the time I was nearing the end of the book I was sick of everybody and even though I don’t drink, I was ready to get bombed too.

Unlike most cop thrillers, no one got shot. No car chases. Okay, no cars, but how about horse and carriage chases? Or even people running fast? Something, please. A little action maybe?

Much less miserable!

So the other day with the advertisement reminding me that I should see the show — I didn’t see the play on Broadway or the movie. The book really did me in. I realized what we needed was an alternative to “Les Miz” titled “Less Miserable.”

It would be a book about thieves who are not all that miserable. They live comfortably in the suburbs of Paris. The real drama (which isn’t in the book, but is occasionally referred to) happens in court. Lawyers duking it out. Meanwhile, everyone adjourns to whatever they call a pub in France. I don’t think they taught us that word.

Much less miserable, don’t you think?

If I could write plays I’d enjoy writing “Less Miserable.” It would be a lot shorter than the original book and the police guy would give up after one long weekend. Why? Because his boss would object to so many overtime hours and tell him to pack it in.

Like real bosses do.

THE CURSED SCRIPT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I wrote a script for our audio theater group a few years ago about a serial killer – and it has nearly killed us. We have had numerous trials related to this script and have yet to finalize it or perform it.

We were supposed to perform it, in its original form, at an Audio Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. However, teenagers were performing there too so we were told that our content had to be ‘family friendly’, which apparently meant no serial killers. Guess what the piece the teenagers wrote and performed was about? You guessed it!

A serial killer!

Tom and me in 2016

The next snafu with this script came when we tried to record it, as we do with all our pieces. We take the actors’ track and add music and sound effects as necessary and put the finished recording up on our website.

The recording also gives the actors a chance to hear a fully produced version as the audience hears it. We usually all get together in our basement studio and read through the piece exactly as it will be performed.

Barbara Rosenblat recording in our studio

However, with this script, there were scheduling problems with the actors so we had to record it piecemeal – with one or two actors recording their individual parts with someone just feeding them cues. This is how they record voices for animated movies but not how we work.

The piece never fully came together as a dramatic play because the actors weren’t acting with each other as they would be on stage. Acting ‘against’ each other adds dimension and depth to each actor’s performance and to the scene as a whole.

Sande Sherr performing at our house

It also made it exponentially harder for Tom to edit together a cohesive piece from everyone’s multiple, solo takes. It took Tom six months to pull the individual performances together into a finished, albeit inferior, product.

Tom recording in our basement studio

A year later, the group finally revisited the audio version of the piece and decided that it needed to be shortened and rewritten in parts. At this point, Tom and I were pretty much ‘over’ this script and couldn’t see how to improve it.

But we mulled it over and suddenly a light bulb went off. We cut out a few scenes at the start, shortened a very long scene at the end, and toned down an over-the-top main character. Once we tweak some of the dialogue and create an interesting montage for the beginning of the play, we’ll be ready to present it to the group. Again.

First page of the cursed script

We have no idea whether we will ever perform this piece or whether we will just shelve it along with other not ready for prime time scripts we’ve written over the years.

Tom and I are so jaundiced about this script that we won’t be too upset if we end up scrapping it. After all, we’ve been through with this one, I think our attitude would be R.I.P. Some things are just not meant to be. But you never know.

AND, THE OSCAR GOES TO … BUT, DO YOU CARE? – Garry Armstrong

I’m part of the new “lost generation”.  I grew up loving movies when there were more stars in Hollywood than in heaven.

I plead guilty to reading fan mags about stars like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper (Mom named me after “Coop”, her favorite star), Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and many other Tinsel town legends.

I remember “Photoplay” pic layouts of Alan and Sue Carroll Ladd at home. Ladd, with his million-dollar smile, was mowing the lawn, playing with his dogs and hugging the kids, Alan “Laddie” Junior, Alana and David. It was so cool – “Shane” really had a home and family in swanky Beverly Hills.

There was the “Movietone” photo platter with William Holden — home at his ranch with horses and neighbors – smiling and eating hot dogs at their backyard barbecue. It looked so real. A day in the life of Hollywood superstars. I believed it all.

It was the naiveté of a pre-teen movie fan. Yes, I wanted to be a movie star when I grew up. I used to see  – every week –3 double features, cartoons and coming attractions at the local and first-run movie houses near my Jamaica, Queens home in the ’40s and early ’50s.

The Academy Awards were bigger than the World Series even though I was a  true Dodger Blue fan of  Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer.

I started watching the Oscars in black and white with Bob Hope hosting and still in his prime – complaining about being shut out from acting awards by Ronald Coleman, Cary Grant, and James Cagney. It was standard Hollywood humor we all knew, understood, and loved.

During those early 50’s telecasts of the Oscars, it was terrific when the cameras panned the audience to show Greer Garson, Gloria Swanson, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy and all the other luminous stars from the golden age of the silver screen.

Previous Oscar-winning movies

Fans used to mull, for weeks, who’d win the major awards. Would Cary Grant finally win after being overlooked for decades? Would newcomers like Paul Newman, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Steve McQueen get more attention than the “old guard.” Who was more exciting? Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas or Clark Gable (Gable had passed away in ’61 but was still hugely popular).

There were the larger than life heroes like John Wayne who’d never received an Oscar despite half a century of stardom. How about Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck?  Were they still TOP stars?  There was the fascination with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Kim Novak, Mamie Van Doren, and Diana Dors. What would they be wearing on Oscar night?  How much would they “reveal?” How much jewelry would Liz Taylor wear?  Could Burton stay sober?

One of my favorite Oscar moments came in the ’60s when Sidney Poitier became the first Black actor to win the coveted “Best Actor” award. Poitier opened the door for Denzel, Wil Smith and so many other minority performers previously relegated to grossly stereotypical roles.

2019 lead Oscar actresses

The Oscar show was must-see viewing for the stars as much as the films and performers vying for the industry’s top awards.  Hollywood pioneers like Cecil B. Demille, Adolph Zukor, Jack Warner, and Darryl Zanuck could still be seen and heard. I especially loved seeing legends from the silent film days like Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton and others who were there when the curtains first raised on “moving pictures”.

There were wonderful impromptu moments like David Niven almost being upstaged by a streaker. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas delighting us with a nifty song and dance number.

Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland — staples from their youth — were still vital and enjoyable to watch and hear.

Where have all the stars gone today (insert “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” melody here). I don’t know most of the folks who are stars unless I’ve seen them on “Facebook” ‘news’ items.

I don’t much about most of the movies up for awards. I know some are about superheroes, trendsetters in new diversity movies and a rash of “coming of age” flicks that draw blanks at this address.

I know about the industry controversies including Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement. Diversity for all those excluded since the first Oscars — nine decades ago during the prelude to the great depression. I know this year’s Oscar show will be minus a host.

Maybe that’ll be a plus?

The magic is gone — along with the stars who made the magic. The show is far too long with winners taking too long to thank everyone including their dog walker.

All that said, we’ll still watch. Until we doze off.

Why? It’s the stuff dreams are made of …

WHITER THAN THE WHITEWASH ON THE WALL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Whitewash

From “Oh! What a Lovely War” made and released in 1969, these are songs soldiers sang in the field.

Despite the awfulness of our current political days, the endless years of World War 1 were at least — in their own way — as bad or worse. They probably didn’t “feel” as bad because they weren’t coming from “better times” to worse ones, which Americans (at least) are doing. But it was a filthy war that killed off an entire generation of European men. It took until World War 2 for there to be enough men to fight again — a statement that should make you shiver.

The war was hideous and rather than being “the war to end all wars” became the war that started all other wars, many of which we are still fighting.

It was the first movie David Attenborough directed and it’s brilliant. If you can get your hands on it, watch it. Then watch it again and maybe do a little reading.

The horrors of the past are just lurking around the next corner of the road.

This is “Whiter than the Whitewash on the Wall”

And finally, the ending sequence that to this day brings tears to my eyes.

This is what we seem to be trying to repeat, but from our next war, we might not have a world from which to emerge.

Also, click here for the Roger Ebert review of the movie, “OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR” from 1969, which was just the day before yesterday, wasn’t it?

INSTRUMENTAL AND PERFORMANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instrumental

I started learning the piano when I was four. I was so tiny, I couldn’t reach the pedals. They had to add blocks — like on an old-fashioned bicycle — so I could use them.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I played pretty well. Not as well as I was supposed to play, but well enough to play complicated music, which, as it turns out, could be heard all over the neighborhood. It was amusing listening to all the neighbors humming whatever I was practicing.

The house I lived in was on top of a hill and the sound of the grand piano wafted with the breeze.

By the time I was 16 and starting college (I skipped 7th grade), I decided to be a music major. Not because I was a brilliant pianist. I wasn’t. But I really liked my piano teacher. Coming as I did from a dysfunctional family, she was the nicest adult person I knew and I adored her.

The problem was not that I didn’t play well. I played almost well enough to be a professional. In the music business, the difference between playing “almost well enough” and “well enough” is a gap the size of an ocean. It sounds like a minor thing, but in music, it isn’t small. It’s huge.

I remained a music major despite all hints to the contrary that said: “You aren’t going to make it.”

Piano lessons

These hints included having very small hands, which meant a lot of “large” music was impossible for me. It included a number of teachers pointing out to me that doing well on exams wasn’t going to “do it” for me as a musician. I was okay, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be a music teacher and I wasn’t a composer.

I didn’t see myself as a conductor either — and piano was the wrong instrument for me. Unfortunately, it was the only one I knew — other than a little bit of messing with a guitar or a ukulele. And even worse, I had a case of stage fright so severe I couldn’t play for my teacher, much less an audience. I should add that I never overcame it.

I was one credit away from finishing my music major when I realized there was no future for me in professional music. I switched to speech & drama (a combined major) which was the degree I eventually got.

It was even less useful than music. By the time I completed college, I realized what I really wanted to do, but I would need an extra year of school to make up for some of the basic courses I’d missed — like “economics,” and “political science,” et al. Somehow, without realizing it, I had actually finished my major as well as the required number of credits for graduation.

No matter how hard I begged — and my professors begged with me — they would not let me stay an extra year and complete a second B.A. These days, it would be no problem, but back then, schools were a lot more rigid than they are these days.

I didn’t have the basics for an M.A. in anything in which I was interested, so I said “screw it” and went off into the world where I did what I always wanted to do anyway: write.

Until a few years ago, though, I could still play. The only thing that stopped me was pain from arthritis in my hands. Unlike arthritis in the rest of my body, “hand” arthritis is the result of years of playing the piano. Almost every serious pianist retires by the time they hit their 60s because their hands no longer work. It’s the price you pay for pounding on the keyboard from age four.

My piano teacher had trouble playing for more than a few minutes and her older sister, who played brilliantly, could barely perform at all.

Everything comes with a price tag. The funny thing is I knew this, even when I was quite young. But “60” was a million years in my future … and now it’s a pretty long way in my past.

I finally sold my piano. I couldn’t play anymore and it killed me to see it waiting there and not be able to use it. I still have a ukulele, though. Just in case.

TIME FOR THE SHOW! – Marilyn Armstrong

Time for a Show: Square Day in the Theater District

We’ve eaten the big meal. Opened all our gifts. We are stuffed with goodies and wondering if there’s enough room for cheesecake or even a cookie.

Maybe it’s time to do something different.

How about taking in a show? The theater district waits for us and the lights are shining!

Boston’s Theater District at night

ROAD TRIP! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I are members of an audio theater company, VoiceScapes Audio Theater. We write most of the scripts for our live and recorded performances. We usually do our live performances in our area – within an hour or so from New York City, where most of the group members live (Tom and I live in CT).

Voicescapes performing live

But this weekend we did something different and special. A road trip! Or more accurately, an air trip. Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, invited us to perform a ninety-minute show for them in a beautiful theater that they rented for us.

They would pay all the travel expenses for all eight members of our group. On top of that, they would pay us a fee that was more than we’d ever been paid before. So accepting this gig was a no-brainer!

Members of the group at the airport

The planning of the trip turned out to be mind-boggling. Sande, our President, took care of the logistics. She said that it took 62 emails back and forth between our members, the university and the theater, just to come up with a date for the show! Kudos to Sande for her perseverance and stamina!

We’ve all been very excited about this trip. A week before we left, we had a rehearsal at our home studio of the pieces we would be performing. We felt good about our show. Now we just had to get to Ohio.

Hanging out at the airport

We met at our gate at La Guardia airport for our 5:15 flight on Friday, November 2, 2018. There was lots of schmoozing and chatting before we boarded the plane. The flight itself was quite choppy but otherwise uneventful.

Sunset from the plane

We landed, rented our two vehicles, piled in and headed to the hotel. By the time we met for dinner, it was late. But we were stoked that we had started our thespian adventure. So dinner at the hotel restaurant was loud and lots of fun. And also quite good. I had beef bone stock Vietnamese Pho soup for the first time and loved it. We shared a Banana Custard Pie with a pistachio nut crust for dessert and it was truly delicious. It was close to midnight when we got back to our rooms.

Tom and me (on the right) with others at dinner

We were supposed to get into the theater at 9:00 AM on Saturday so we would have all day to set up and rehearse. At the last minute, there was a scheduling problem and we couldn’t get into the theater until noon.

After that, it took three hours for the technical set-up. That’s because our show involves lots of microphones, wires, sound mixers, computers as well as live and recorded sound effects.

We usually have to do this set-up ourselves, meaning Tom has to do most of it on his own. But in Youngstown, Tom had a union crew of three professionals to help him. Tom was in pig heaven! The guys were nice, accommodating — extremely competent and knowledgeable.

Empty Stage

Tom with part of his crew

I particularly enjoyed watching the sound effects guy, Tony (a friend who drove six hours from Indiana to perform with us) set up his live sound effects table. He is awesome! One of our scripts calls for a gun to cock. So Tony brought several guns to choose from because they all make different sounds.

Tony doing live gun sound effects

We didn’t start to rehearse till 3:30 and kept going until 7:30. We still had time to repeat pieces or parts of pieces that required extra work or choreography.

The choreography comes in when actors have to switch mikes, handoff telephones, or cross behind another actor. We also realized that we had never rehearsed taking bows – which requires coordination and timing.

rehearsal

Dinner Saturday night was at a recommended Barbecue place that looked like a real dive. The front room had two pool tables and old arcade video games.

The back room had a tacky bar, wood tables, and generic chairs. But the barbecue pit master is an award-winner from Austin, Texas. The food, which you bought by the pound, was terrific. So was the beer. I usually don’t like beer, but I ordered my own beer and drank most of it!

Saturday Barbeque dinner

Sunday, the day of the show, we met for breakfast at the hotel and headed over to the theater at noon, the earliest we were allowed in. The performance was at 2:00 so we didn’t have much time. All we could do was a quick run through of the beginnings and ends of the pieces and the transitions to the next piece.

Sunday run through

We had to put carpets down on the stage to minimize feedback. One of the stagehands got out a vacuum cleaner and actually vacuumed the oriental carpet for us. Now that’s service!

Stagehand vacuuming our carpets!

The cast went back to the Green Room (the waiting area for actors backstage) to wait for their cue to go on stage.

We got a wonderful introduction from the Dean of the College of Creative Arts and Communications. And it was SHOWTIME!

We sailed through the show with our usual enthusiasm, skill, and professionalism. The audience laughed at all the right places and seemed to love us. The applause was prolonged and gratifying.

After the show, we had time for a quick toast before we had to head to the airport for our flight home.

Toasting ourselves after the show

Overall, it was a smooth and successful weekend. It was good to spread our wings professionally. We traveled together to a gig for the first time and we performed a ninety minute show for the first time in a while (our shows have generally been one hour). It was also a unique opportunity to hang out and socialize as a group over a two day period. And everyone had lots of fun.

So, here’s to the next Voicescapes road trip!

THE NARRATION – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me.

After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I suggest you blame it on the narrator.

It’s all his fault.

“Narrator?” you ask. Before you decide I’m schizophrenic, a lot of writers have one or more narrators. I understand the narrator is my voice. He has just one story to tell. Mine.

My job is to live. His is to tell the tale. His is the eye that sees all but isn’t involved. He witnesses — but causes nothing, changes nothing, makes no suggestions except to correct grammar. I wish he were a better proofreader.

My narrator does not instruct, chastise, or judge. He records events, remembers the background, and fills in the story. I’m in charge except I can’t get him to shut up. He gives me a third person perspective on my life. I’m so used to hearing the running commentary, I don’t know how else I could see the world. I’ve grown fond of him. And yes, it is always a male narrator. No idea why.

There are narrators and then, there are narrators. You can get into serious trouble if you forget the narrator is you, not an “other” entity. Should you find yourself listening to a narrator who is telling you to blow things up or kill someone, you might want to drop by a doctor’s office for a little chat. Just saying.

Of course, if you know it’s God talking to you, who am I to interfere?

Through the years, the narrator has filled the holes in my life story, adding “He said, she said,” describing action and scenery, “novelizing” my reality. I have grown fond of my narrator and wish he could type. It would save me so much work.

A couple of years ago, the narrator left for a while. It was a particularly turbulent period, so maybe the noise in my head was too loud and I couldn’t hear him. Eventually, he came back. There a correlation between when I’m writing and the voice of the narrator. If he’s gone, so is my creativity.

The narrator can be distracting. I have had to learn to not let him derail me. He does not respect the moment. A running commentary in one’s head during sex makes it difficult to focus. Men take this personally and trying to explain always makes it worse. They then think you are not merely disinterested, but also nuts.

A narrator can also take the fun out of parties. You have to make an effort to participate, not just observe. With the narrator describing the surroundings and each individual you meet, while occasionally arguing with other narrators (sometimes I have more than one), it’s tricky to connect with people. When narrators argue, I have to step in, settle the dispute, tell all but one to shut up.

Problem is, there’s more than one way to see stuff and when a lot of points of view clamor for attention, it gets noisy in the brain-space. It can keep you up at night. It can keep your partner awake too

What light through yonder window breaks?

I’ve learned a lot from my narrator. I’ve learned to see life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, weird incidental characters, tragedy, romance, hope, and despair.

My job is to live it, not forget to write it down — and fix the typos.