Gerritsen Beach Prelude

I got to participate in a very cool event yesterday.

No, not the elementary school choir/band/orchestra concert. While that was very cool and included such excellent moments as modified gansta-rap choreography from suburban 5th graders, plus interpretive intonation and rhythm as can only be delivered by first-year ensemble musicians, that event happened the previous evening.

The very cool event I am referring to is Meredith Corporation’s Day of Service with Rebuilding Together at Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Lisa Mandel at Family Circle invited me to come along, so I put on my work boots and a cubic meter of sunscreen, got on a bus with a bunch of Meredith employees, and headed out to Brooklyn.

I met some truly excellent people and witnessed tremendous heart and talent at work rebuilding this particular community that was so unexpectedly and heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Yeah yeah, I know, they officially dropped the “hurricane” title and qualified it as “superstorm”. Whatever. I didn’t have the harrowing experience of four and a half feet of water rushing into my home like these folks did–we were up all night hoping the trees crashing down all around us wouldn’t hit us, and watching the sky light up as transformer after transformer blew.  I think we agree it doesn’t much matter what the official name is.

gerritsen beach

When you look at the map, it doesn’t seem like Gerritsen beach would have been hard hit by the storm. After all, there are two land masses between there and the ocean, not to mention a major freeway. And that was precisely the problem: by all appearances, this storm didn’t seem like it was going to be too bad for them. They weren’t even supposed to evacuate, so they didn’t.

The ocean apparently didn’t get the memo, and pummeled them with a wall of water that flooded their town. Between four and six feet of flowing water ran in the streets, in backyards, in gardens, in homes.

That’s the kind of damage you don’t recover from quickly. It’s the kind of damage you can’t even tell the full extent of for several months.

Rebuilding Together targeted specific homes and community areas to rebuild in Gerritsen Beach, and yesterday Meredith organized and brought in several hundred employees to help. Lowe’s and Crate & Barrel were among the others on site.

I have a couple of real posts coming up about yesterday’s event, but for the moment, here are some pictures of the accidental improvements we did on a roly poly bug:

bug

and bug

Even though he matches the paint on my Mustang now, he opted not to come home with me. It’s really for the best.

Look for more posts about Gerritsen Beach from me shortly. Meantime, please visit WeRebuild.com because it’s super simple for you to help out. I promise you don’t have to paint any bugs.

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Full-Assed Friday: quite possibly the only television post I’ll ever write that isn’t about the X-Files

Hello and welcome to another edition of Full-Assed Friday, where I write about something that’s awesome, funny, or just plain different- hopefully something that is a little bit outside the normal realm of what you experience every day.

Both of my readers whom I do not work with and am also not related to have suggested that I could do a Full-Assed Friday post about my job. Being that I haven’t put one of these up in like two months I thought, hey, what the hell. Plus we did something kind of cool a few weeks ago.

I do sound for musical theater. The producers of Broadway shows tend to keep a pretty tight rein on publicity and image, with good reason. I don’t go into show-specific details on my blog because I don’t want to violate that. Or get in trouble. These people are paying me, for god’s sake.

I decided that for this post we needed aliases. In the form of photo manipulation. Of course I immediately turned to the blogger with the hottest photoshopping chops I’ve ever seen, Julie of Go Guilty Pleasures.

Okay, so here’s the deal. My musical did an appearance on one of those national early morning news/talk television shows. The kind of TV show that most people have on in the background every morning as they’re getting ready for work or getting the kids off to school.

The kind of show I never, ever watch, because they’re on early; plus, I live under a rock and also my family doesn’t ever let me have the remote.

Consider for a moment how early the people on the shows need to be there for a show that begins broadcasting at 7am. To prep, to get dressed and get into hair and makeup, to review, to rehearse.

It’s early. Damn early, we, the guests, think. But the TV show’s hosts get there earlier than the guests. And guess who gets there before the hosts?

The TV crew usually starts around 2am. I see 2am frequently, but usually I see 2am and think, “Crap, I got sucked into watching heavy metal documentaries and I have to make lunches in five hours. Again. And where the hell was I when Anthrax did that tour with Public Enemy? Dammit!”

I did not have to be in at 2am because in this case, I wasn’t the real crew. I also didn’t have to find my own way in, for the same reason. A car came for me at 4:30am.

Forty-five minutes later (half the time of my normal commute) I was at the studio.

Waiting.

Then the boys got there.

What? Aliases through photo manipulation. I think they look perfectly natural.

The best part about my early call is that I don’t have to sing at that hour. These guys do. They’re singing live (yes, actually singing, no pitch correction, and they can’t suck, because “fix it in the mix” is a lie). They all did a show the night mere hours before, and we have two shows scheduled this day, after the TV appearance. I can’t adequately express how frickin’ good these guys have to be to pull this off the way they do.

As for me, I’m completely at the mercy of the guy in the broadcast booth. He will either be good, or he won’t. He will either care what I have to say, or not. I’ve been on gigs where they won’t let me anywhere near the broadcast booth, and I’ve been on gigs where they actually let me mix the broadcast feed. I’ve dealt with assholes and complete sweethearts. You just never know.

Ahead of time, I make contact. Days before we get there, I let them know what our requirements are: what mics we need, the details of our monitor mixes.

At the studio I make contact with the TV crew face to face. I’ve been here before, maybe five years ago. There’s only one new guy on the whole crew. I try to not be a jerk, but also not a weenie. We set for rehearsal and I tell our guys to let me know how they feel after we run it. I stand back.

The single most important thing is that our guys- the talent, the entire reason that we’re here- are comfortable. If they’re comfortable enough (I say “enough” because it’s not like they’re going to be, you know relaxed, exactly, in a situation like this), odds are they’ll sound good.

What? I know, you can’t really tell where the photo edits are, can you? She’s that good.

At this point everybody else jumps in.

Our production supervisor:

The TV show’s stage manager, the segment producer. Our choreographer. Our wardrobe; the TV show’s hair and makeup.

We run through the numbers. I ask how their monitor mixes are; they ask for changes and I pass them along. The choreographer works them; the stage managers talk about how the shots look and make adjustments to where they stand, where they look. I tell the guy who keeps dancing away from his microphone to get a little closer to it.

Then there’s more waiting.

We are but one small part of a two (three?) hour show. We’re like, I don’t know, six or seven minutes? And that’s a lot, in TV time. But there are a lot of other parts of the show, so there’s a lot of waiting.

There are donuts and fruit in the green room; coffee, tea, and water. And TV’s (tuned to the show, of course). There is no wi-fi.

They let me in the booth. There’s a moment when I’m afraid they won’t, but my persistence pays off and I’m in.

Every time I enter a television broadcast booth I’m blown away by the complete and utter chaos that ensues, and I’m shocked- seriously, totally shocked- by the fact that most live broadcasts come off without massive audio errors (pre-2011 Tony broadcasts excluded).

A biscuit is what we call an intercom speaker. In a TV booth there are at least five or six going- speakers that each carry one voice: director, stage manager, studio guy, monitor guy, and someone in each location they’ll be broadcasting from, whether that is downstairs or in another city entirely.

All these biscuits squawking.

Everybody talking at the same time.

Plus there’s a second guy in the booth, patching these sound and intercom feeds and previewing them. Both guys answer the biscuits, sometimes even ask questions.

Oh, and meanwhile, they are broadcasting the show RIGHT NOW. To millions of televisions across the country. And they’re rehearsing stuff and previewing videos. During the commercials. Many of which also have audio going through this same console. Somehow the sound guy keeps track of what his broadcast feed sounds like. It’s completely insane. I’ve never been in a broadcast booth where the sound guy isn’t sweating.

So I sit there in awe of the flurry of activity going on around me, we do our first number and the guy in the booth is good. Somehow over all the biscuits squawking he listens to me and makes the adjustments I ask for. I would melt down if I tried to do his job. We do another number and the host comes over and does a live interview with the guys and I just think, wow. Actors sometimes get a bad rap about how easy their jobs are, but not a single goddamn thing about this is easy.

To show up after not enough sleep and look good and hit the notes and make the moves and then come off intelligent and charismatic in a spontaneous interview, and then go do two shows- where they also have to look good and hit the notes and make the moves and be charismatic and all of that. Not many people can pull that off. I’m very fortunate to work with so many people who can.

We wrap, and I walk back to the theater because there are two and a half hours before my call time for the matinee, which isn’t enough to go home and back. I will not watch the recordings of the broadcast.

Some of our producers have delivered Christmas popcorn cones with chocolate peppermint drizzle. I’m hungry enough that I eat one and it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever had. Only the fact that I’m too tired to move keeps me from prowling around trying to find extras to swipe. Then I fall asleep in my chair for two hours.

(Yes, that was just about as comfortable as it sounds. And you wonder why I have to do yoga.)

Full-Assed Friday guest post: DIY MFA

Hey. It’s Full-Assed Friday. I have a guest post today- sweet!

I have the incredible good fortune to be in two excellent writers groups. You’re probably wondering how that happened, but all I will say is it may have involved sacrificing a chicken or possibly a goat; beyond that I’m not revealing any secrets.

If you’re a writer- and lots of people hanging out in the blogosphere are- and you don’t have the good fortune to be in an excellent writing group, you’ll want to pay special attention to today’s guest post by Gabriela Pereira. She’s Full-Assed for many reasons: she’s a fantastic writer, she is a lovely human being, she is an excellent teacher, and she launched two gigantic projects simultaneously: her DIY MFA program, and a baby. The baby hasn’t shown up yet, but that’s okay, he’s not supposed to be here for a little while longer.

I asked Gabriela to put together something that I could post here on my blog about DIY MFA because I think what she’s doing provides a great service for writers who want to get better but, for a bajillion reasons, don’t fit with an MFA program. She’s got a lot of stuff going on at her blog, and next week she’s doing a free Webinar, so check it out.

Here’s Gabriela.

Have you ever wanted to do a Masters Degree (MFA) in Creative Writing but just… couldn’t? There are tons of reasons why MFA programs are out of reach for many writers. Sometimes it’s because they live somewhere far from any writing programs and they can’t exactly up and move their entire family just so they can go back to school. Or maybe the MFA programs are just too darn expensive. And let’s be realistic, here: it’s not like a higher degree in writing guarantees anyone a job when they graduate. Or maybe writers want to write in a genre or category that’s not represented by most MFA programs. After all, the ivory towers love literary fiction, but when it comes to romance or thrillers or YA or anything commercial… not so much.

This was why DIY MFA came about: to bridge the gap between graduate-style study in writing and writers who don’t have access to it. The idea behind DIY MFA is that all forms of writing can be approached in a scholarly manner and that you can get the same benefits you would get from graduate school but without the big price tag and rigid requirements.

Who is DIY MFA for?

DIY MFA does not discriminate against writers based on where they are on their journey or what they have chosen in terms of genre and writing style. We embrace our differences and take pride in the diverse backgrounds and outlooks of our writers. At DIY MFA, being different is not a disability. It’s a strength.

There is only one requirement, one common thread ties all DIY MFA writers together. Every writer participating in DIY MFA is serious about becoming a stronger writer, making writing a priority, and having fun with the creative process.

Why Do-It-Yourself?

The core belief of DIY MFA is that no two writers will share the exact same path, that you can’t shove a writer into a cookie-cutter system and expect them to grow creatively as artists. Rather, with DIY MFA each writer will create a personalized plan that fits his or her needs, which in turn empowers writers to take ownership of their writing journey.

Taking responsibility for our writing can be terrifying, but the do-it-yourself part of DIY MFA is crucial to each writer’s success. When you take ownership of your writing education, not only do you become a more empowered writer, you also create a writing life that’s sustainable for the long term. A prescribed plan is great and might even work for a short while, but over time writers will lose energy, maybe even quit. DIY MFA is about constantly reevaluating and reinventing your writing life so that it works for you for as long as you want to write.

How does DIY MFA work?

Because I did an MFA myself, I spent a lot of time researching and comparing writing programs. What I discovered was that MFA programs–despite being at very different schools, with different philosophies–have certain threads in common. Regardless of the many differences, all MFA programs essentially boil down to one simple formula:

Reading + Writing + Workshop + Community = MFA

The idea behind DIY MFA is to help writers build this equation into their lives without depending on a school structure. All four essential components of the traditional MFA are things that writers can cobble together on their own or collaborating with other writers. You don’t need to go to graduate school to get these benefits. In other words, DIY MFA shows writers how to:

(1) Approach literature like a writer to get the most out of reading,
(2) Explore both craft and creativity through writing,
(3) Give and take critique in a workshop setting,
(4) Build a community of like-minded writers.

How to join:

The easiest way to dive into DIY MFA is to follow the blog: DIYMFA.com Each week, I focus on one topic in DIY MFA, with longer posts on Mondays and Wednesdays and a short prompt on Fridays.

Don’t have time to read blogs during the week? No problem! The DIY MFA weekly newsletter Writer Fuel sends a round-up of the week’s posts (as well as other goodies) straight to your inbox every Friday afternoon. Just in time for your weekend writing sprints. You can join the mailing list, and when you do you’ll not only get Writer Fuel each week, you’ll also get a free workbook download–Jumper Cables–when you sign-up.

And next week, we have an extra-special DIY MFA event happening: I’m offering a FREE Webinar!

7 Ways to Boost Your Writing
Wednesday, Nov. 16
1:00-2:00 pm ET
To Register and for more information, visit the webinar page.

Gabriela Pereira

As for me, I’m Gabriela Pereira, and I’ve spent a lifetime telling stories, writing them down and helping other writers put the pen to paper and express their ideas. Having grown up bilingual, I know how important it is for writers to express themselves in their unique voice and to build a writing life that is all their own. I’ve been many things in my life: a writer, a teacher, even a toy designer. Now with DIYMFA I am the instigator, the one who lights the first match, but it’s up to you to fan the flame. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Connect with me at DIY MFA:

Twitter: @DIYMFA
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DIYMFA
Web: DIYMFA.com

To Those about to write, I salute you. To everyone else, I suggest you stay out of our way.