Sunday, August 19, 2007

Back to Work, New Theater Season, and Beginning Sailing Lessons

I expect this to be a rather short entry, because I ought to go to bed in an hour. But this past week was so good, it deserves a mention before the moment passes.

First was going back to work after my summer vacation. Of course, I'd rather still be on vacation, but I'm also realistic! But it was great. I timed it so that I would get back a week before everybody has to be back, that way it's an easier slide back in. There were only a few of us there last week (just "us" so to speak), and it was the last week of our summer schedule, so the days were shorter and Friday was off--the last Friday off of the summer. There were a few teachers slipping on in, getting their rooms ready, and it was good to see them (hugs all around). By Wednesday of this coming week, they will all be back. We can still dress very casually, but then a week from Wednesday, classes will start so it is back to long pants, dress shirts, ties, and dress shoes. I don't think I'll buy any "back to school" clothes this time, though.

Friday, which was off, I did what was probably my last sunbathing-on-my-air-mattress-floating-on-the-swimming-pool of the summer. I did "put the air mattress away", but it is easy enough to pull it out again if weather permits. However, I probably will just get into "autumnal" things which the start of the school year lends itself to (regardless of the weather). September in L.A. is usually a "summer" month, but there is a big difference between summer when you are on vacation and summer when you are working full time.

Mostly what I did on Friday was study my sailing textbook. I started sailing lessons this weekend at the California Sailing Academy in Marina del Rey, so I was getting ready for Saturday morning. This was something I had expected to begin during my vacation, but it ends up they get booked up quickly so there weren't any open spots until now.

But meanwhile, I had a play to go to Friday night, the first musical of the season for Reprise, which I think is the best theatrical season ticket in Los Angeles. This will be my fourth season with them. In years past, they offered three musicals a season, but this year they have expanded it to four. Their shows are absolutely amazing in quality and enjoyment. I marvel at there being so much talent expressed in every avenue, but of course, this is Los Angeles, so there is way more fantastic talent than can ever be fully used! But what I see with Reprise blows me away every single time.

This play was a musical I wasn't familiar with, On Your Toes, although it ends up it had two songs I knew, the charming There's A Small Hotel that I only knew as one of my favorite songs played by deceased jazz trumpet great, Chet Baker (so I didn't know it had lyrics), and Glad To Be Unhappy that Barbra Streisand recorded only once, for her television special, Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments. So it was a great to hear where these songs actually came from.

There was something else musically in the play that I was very familiar with, something I had loved ever since I was a child, but always thought it was a separate musical work; I had no idea it was from a Broadway musical: the ballet Slaughter On Tenth Avenue. Wow! As a child, I had always put Richard Rodgers's Slaughter On Tenth Avenue in the same category as George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue--maybe they were presented on the same record album in my parents's collection? Anyway, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is the grand finale of the musical, On Your Toes.

This play was the first time classical dance was performed in a Broadway musical, and also the first time that jazz dance forms were introduced into a ballet. There was one utterly amazing dance number in the show (what the performers referred to as "the dance off") in which American music students are demonstrating their jazz and tap dance talents to a group of dancers from the Russian Ballet, who, in turn, are demonstrating their ballet prowess to these American music students. Seeing these different dance forms move back and forth, entwine, and interact was indescribably beautiful and powerful. And the choreographer for this production did an outstanding job.

Something I hadn't known about this production until I sat down in my seat and looked at the program, was that one of my favorite actresses and one whom I had long considered the most beautiful woman performing in television, film, and theater, Stefanie Powers, had a lead role in this show! And I also hadn't known that she was a singer and dancer, as well. Apparently she refers to that as having been a closely-held secret, but thank goodness, that secret is now out of the bag! And yes, it was certainly wonderful seeing her, she measured up to whatever might have been my greatest expectation, if only I had known beforehand that she was in the cast!

The Reprise series that I buy is one that includes a little party and reception afterwards in the courtyard of the Freud Theater on the UCLA campus, where Reprise presents its shows. This party is attended by members of the cast, as well, so it gives us a chance to meet and speak briefly with the performers. I usually use that opportunity to praise a more beginning performer who might have done a notable job in a smaller role...although at this point, I don't know if it is correct to refer to any performer in Reprise as a "beginner". Even though their name may not be generally known (or not known by me), they are often far from beginning. Anyway, more unknown performers are usually extremely pleased to obtain this recognition and I am always excited to give it. But with this reception, I was eager to see Stefanie Powers, although I figured the likelihood was that a performer of that stature would either skip the reception entirely (as others have done in the past), or else breeze through very quickly. However, most amazingly, Stefanie Powers was one of the first performers to come out through that backstage door! Of course, she was immediately inundated by other reception guests, so I held off on speaking to her and spoke with some other great performers, instead. And on this show, there had been several that I had been eager to talk to, so I got to do that and everybody was extremely gracious and, incidentally, shockingly beautiful in the close-up flesh. That is something, the effect of which, I seem to forget until I face it again and then I get to enjoy it "all over again for the first time". Very talented actors and actresses (and singers and dancers) in Los Angeles are almost god- and goddess-like in their appearance. I guess that's why they are here...this might be what separates them (those who "come to Hollywood") from those who maybe dream of it, but never get that impetus to actually come here and try it. I've never seen this anywhere else, although I am sure it is like this in New York, too. Well, I know it is...for one thing, many of THESE performers are actually New Yorkers.

Okay, now it was time for Stefanie Powers. She still had a circle of people around her, so I maneuvered into the outer edge of it and listened to her as she talked about an upcoming one-woman show she is going to be in. This was something I was interested in, so it gave me an opportunity to ask, "And it's going to be at the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, right?" This brought Stefanie's, and the circle's, attention to me. Stefanie confirmed that was its location and I said that I would be sure to go see that. She said the tickets were going to go on sale in a couple of weeks. Then a man in the circle said, "We're members of a Stefanie Powers fan club, would you like to join it?" I said, "Absolutely, I feel like I am a charter member of it," and I said, to Stephanie, "I have loved you for such a long time and you are the most beautiful woman performing in all of show business." Everyone (including Stefanie) really liked that, and Stephanie smiled broadly and offered me her hand. Then one of the women in the circle asked me if I would like Stefanie to give me her autograph. That wasn't something I ordinarily would ask for, but since this woman made the suggestion, it seemed like it would be okay, so I said "Yes, please," and offered Stefanie the appropriate page in my program. One of the women dug out a pen, which Stefanie used to give me her autograph (after asking me my name), so I came home with that, certainly something I had never expected when that evening began! But it was exciting and I left there floating on a huge emotional high. I actually would have liked to have leapt across the UCLA campus to the tune of Slaughter On Tenth Avenue which radiated throughout my head, but I kept my (jaunty) pace as normal as possible.

The next day, I got up early and drove to Marina del Rey for my first sailing lesson. This was the beginning course (I signed up for the series of the first four) and this particular format was a weekend intensive. Emphasis on intensive. This was not a private lesson, but a group class, but the group classes are very small; they put no more than four students in a class. As it turned out, one of the four who had signed up never showed up, so we were only three, which gave each of us a greater amount of time in performing the various sailing tasks, such as serving as the helmsman, or trimming the mainsail, or sharing in trimming the jib. So we got more for our money, so to speak.

It was a varied bunch. There was me, the oldest one there. Then there was a woman, a nurse, who was probably somewhere in her thirties. She had taken the same course at another sailing school seven years ago, and now wanted a refresher. She asked everyone to treat her as a beginner. The third student was a seventeen-year-old boy from Oregon, but who lives with his mother in L.A. during the summers. It was actually his mother's boyfriend who had signed up for the lesson, but it ended up his workload didn't permit him to take the time for it, so he gave his lesson to his girlfriend's son. He was a quiet but smart boy and I enjoyed having him in the class.

There was also another guy there who had signed up for a private lesson, but the school had him join us for all the lecture portions. For the boat portions, he was with his private instructor. We more or less considered him part of our class even though he wasn't on our boat (but we'd see each other working out there in the marina channel and wave and shout back and forth, "looking good!"). And today, Sunday, I had lunch with him and he certainly was an interesting person to talk to. He was British.

There is an amazingly large amount to learn (and this class was only the beginning!) and it felt for all the world like working to get a pilot's license (as in flying airplanes). Sailing is working with an "airfoil" (the sail, whose curvature you have to learn how to shape and manipulate) that is vertical rather than horizontal, and you get a log book in which you log your sailing hours and into which rating stickers are placed after you pass certain tests. There are many levels, certificates, ratings, or standards: Basic Sailing, Basic Coastal Cruising, Bareboat Chartering, Coastal Navigation, Advanced Coastal Crusing, Celestial Navigation, and Offshore. It's also very serious business, as ultimately you will be able to skipper a sailboat across any ocean in any condition to any destination in the world, by yourself or with other people on board.

I enjoyed it very much, but it also fries your brain and all four of us (including the man getting the private lesson) would reach "check out" time in which we just could not process it any more. Still, I think everybody did really well, and, in this course, anyway, the growth curve was nearly as vertical as the sail. Just this weekend, we four have finished the 16-hours of course work for the Basic Sailing Standard, and once we pass the certified test (which each one can schedule to take at his or her convenience), we will be able to rent the school's sailboats and sail them by ourselves during the daytime, not far beyond the marina or away from the shore, in light to moderate wind and sea conditions. Do I feel comfortable doing that? Hum...I think so. But there are times that get scary.

Today we got to go out into Santa Monica Bay beyond the marina breakwater and it is a different animal out there compared with the relative calm of the protected marina waters and channel. I don't know, THAT is going to take some getting used to! The water was choppy and there were waves and a lot of the time you have no control of the rudder, because it is up out of the water. The boat doesn't sail smoothly, but jumps all around. If you are at the helm, it doesn't really feel very secure. I found it hard today to imagine even sailing the boat out to Catalina (a six-hour journey for a sailboat), let alone to Tahiti! But like everything else, it is something where your knowledge, ability, and feeling of competence and security continue to increase.

I'll tell you this, there are sure some pretty amazing and beautiful boats out there! Million dollar yachts in some cases. Just being out there among them and among ALL the other kinds of boats--everything from kayaks, Zodiac boats, and jet skiis through to every kind of powerboat, including yachts so big they seemed liked small ocean liners, to every kind of sailboat from little dingies with sails up to boats with more than one mast, this put me into a world I had seen from shore, but never before had been out in the middle of. Well, today we WERE out in the middle of it, and we were performing with a certain level of competence and I could be proud of that.

Well, oops it's now an HOUR past the time I wanted to go to bed and, well, I am pretty darn tired and it is a working day tomorrow. Everybody in the sailing class told me they conked out early last night (the seventeen-year-old boy didn't even have supper), so I know TONIGHT when my head hits that pillow....

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