Monday, October 27, 2014

War Stories: An Anthology of Military Science Fiction

Today I am taking a break from writing about my life in the theater to write about my brother Andrew's life in the writing world. Recently his first book, War Stories, was published. I have been reading through these short stories over the summer. I am a pretty fast reader, but each of these stories required some digestion, and so I finished the last story "War 3.01" today. Although I am fulfilling my sisterly duties by spreading the word about Andy's book, I also was very fascinated and moved by many of the stories here.

I have to start by saying I am a recent fan of short stories. They draw you in and get you invested and excited but never bored, and they're the perfect length to read in one shot and then put the book down for a bit (which is good for me when I'm backstage or reading on breaks, etc). War Stories did not fail to uphold this expectation, which is probably the smallest bit of praise I can give.

The book is divided into several sections: Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force, and Aftermath. Each one includes a few short stories from various points in time, ranging from very near future to deep science fiction. The multi-faceted worlds created in the book alone are enough to read it and be satisfied. I have favorite stories from each section, and I can say I was entertained and drawn in to each story as a military science fiction piece, but the really remarkable thing about War Stories as a whole is that it focuses on the human condition during and after war. I don't think I have ever read a story involving combat and been so thoroughly immersed in the psychology that emerges from those actions and events. Whether it be relatives or friends or lovers of the combatants, a bystander, a tech, or the soldiers themselves, War Stories forces the reader to consider the problems that war creates that we often ignore in today's society.

I found Aftermath to be the most important section of this book for that reason: seeing the trauma that soldiers and civilians alike endure because of war, our society today too often turns a blind eye to our veterans and other victims of war. People don't know what happened, they don't want to know what happened, they couldn't possibly understand, and they give up. Life is easier without thinking about someone else's problems. War Stories takes the reader's enjoyment of the genre and action and walks the line very carefully to draw the reader's mind into these issues.

Through storytelling, we learn. This is one of the oldest and most respected traditions in human history. By looking into stories of the future, we can see our own reflections and the lessons we have yet to learn. Pick up a copy of War Stories today and let yourself learn about each character. Become their friends, their lovers. You won't regret it; here we have the seeds of change starting to grow in our war-obsessed world.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fall 2014

Finding Neverland closed a few weeks ago at the end of September. What a ride! After months of technical rehearsals, previews, and performances, after weeks and weeks of drilling the routine of this show into our heads and getting to know the cast and stage management, we closed the show. It was a long, stressful summer but the response was amazing. Neverland will go to Broadway next spring.

After Neverland's last performance at the Loeb Center, we started strike by wrapping and packing all of the props and furniture for the show. We removed all of the black masking drapes around the set, cleared the deck backstage of the large pieces like the bar and dining room table and fences, and stored our house costume booths, props racks, etc. Next came the surround walls, which made up an almost trapezoidal shape that encased all of the scenes, and the walls embedded that spun to reveal different faces. Those came out easier than we expected: they were, after all, only connected by a central pivoting point. With enough hands, even the largest pieces are easy to move. As we moved on to the many flying pieces onstage, we had people from the scene shop and our crew, assisted by overhire freelancers from the area, also continuing to pack and wrap pieces. Even the walls had delicate pieces on them, so lots of foam and large plastic cling wrap were used to store and ship them safely. 

The last few days of strike involved packing trucks. Although I was there for one of those days, I also had a family member pass away (in fact right near the end of the last week of performances, I was out for a day or so to be at the hospital) and left for a funeral. It seems that September 2014 was destined to be the end of many things. 

When I returned to work, we were starting 2 weeks of badly needed maintenance at the Loeb stage with staff and one or two extra hands. It was originally scheduled for the spring, but with Neverland coming in hot there was no time to clean and organize our tools and hardware and do annual checks on our rigging gear and more. We started with cleaning the stage and inventorying our tools and major hardware, which was a challenge because as we cleaned and other departments (lighting, sound) cleaned up from Neverland as well, tools and such came trickling back. 

We moved on to winch maintenance, which was an interesting learning experience for me and perfect in repetition and muscle memory because we have 29 winches to inspect every year. These winches can hold around 250lbs. They are very, very old, and controlled through a giant board we call the Dinosaur. We use them often to haul tools and equipment up to our 60' grid, and to dead-hang (that is, hang and not move during the show) soft goods like borders, legs, and other masking. We used them during Neverland to fly the dining room table and bar during Intermission for the acts they weren't used in. Maintenance involved greasing some of the shafts that turn when the winch is in motion; checking each aircraft cable (which is about 80' or more) the entire length for dangerous kinks and wear; listening to the motor run; checking all of the attachment points and cable terminations. It was a good experience to start learning more about motors and such, and I'm certainly looking forward to maintenance in the spring where we will inspect our chain motors, which are newer and more heavy-duty. 

Other tasks over the past two weeks have included cleaning out the trap room where the orchestra lived during Neverland, where we stored a lot of gear during the show that wasn't being used. This was particularly good for me and some of the younger overhires, as we were left in charge of that room and did some major organizing, and learned about some of the gear we didn't even know we had. We cleaned our crew/locker room, we cleaned the scary places below the stage elevators. We also worked a little with the HRDC students who have the stage currently for their student shows. All in all, a relaxing yet educational couple of weeks, and a great relief from the hectic run of Neverland, for all of us. 

Next up is OPC, a show by the author of the Vagina Monologues that promises to be witty and interesting for those of us invested in saving the environment. We've heard rumors of the set the scene shop is concocting, it will be an experience for sure. Until then, the stage crew has some time off, during which I'm picking up some freelance gigs (after all, it isn't like I'm not used to piecing that kind of work together) and visiting home in VT for a solid amount of time :) 

Thank you for reading!