Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Story of Jumping Mouse, 1990

Twenty-four years ago today I helped work on a production of The Story of Jumping Mouse produced and performed by Das Puppenspiel Puppet Theatre.

Das Puppenspiel was a well know puppet touring company that closed down in 2010.
The Department had brought them in to perform and they were fairly self-contained so I had little to do except help them set up and then sit back and enjoy the show.

I enjoyed the show but even more I enjoyed the performers as they were all fun and one guy in the company was truly nuts.
After the show I went out with them to eat.
While at the restaurant as I was talking with one of the puppeteers he took out a small finger puppet and put on a show for a little girl at the next table but all the time still talking with me.
Of course the little girl was captivated by the puppet and laughing the whole time.

The 1990-91 season had the normal for plays and four music events but that year we had several extra plays and music events.
Our plays that season were The Day Room by Don DeLillo, a collection of three one-acts by women writers, Roshomon by Fay and Michael Kanin and Dark of the Moon by Richardson and Berney.

Additionally we did an original production of Jacob’s Ladder written by one of our staff and the cast included Taye Diggs and his very talented mother Marsha Berry.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Geoffrey E. Guja, a 9/11 Hero

As we come to the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 I think it is important to take a moment to remember all of the heroes that we lost that day. 

I found out a few years ago that I had once met one of those heroes thirty-eight years ago while I was still in college.

He was the twin brother of one of my friends and I enjoyed a few beers and some laughs with him during a visit to Buffalo.

I recently asked my college freshmen if they remembered 9/11 and they said that they did, but they were only about 5 years old at the time. Soon we will have a generation who does not remember the world before that day.

* * *
Please take a minute to remember him and all of those who we lost on 9/11.

Geoffrey E. Guja

Age: 47

Hometown: Lindenhurst, N.Y., USA

Occupation: Firefighter, New York Fire Department

Location: Ground, World Trade Center

Sunday, August 31, 2014

42nd Street, Summer 1990

42nd Street, Summer 1990

Text to follow soon, really I am going to write something soon!!!.

42nd Street, TD and Lighting Designer, 1990

We're in the Money!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Things Change---The Grapes of Wrath, 1990

My vacation in May of 1990 started out just like the previous eight years.
After the last show of the school year was done and school was over for another year I took a few weeks off and went back to Long Island to visit my family.

As I had done most years before I came home to relax, visit with family and friends and maybe go into the City and see a Broadway show.

That May I saw The Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The Grapes of Wrath with Gary Sinse as Tom Joad.

It was a great play but I was stupid and bought box seats on the side.
I could see backstage and saw how things worked but still I wish I had a seat more to center.
I was not impressed by the stagehands in shorts and a printed t-shirts walking on the stage at intermission.

Also while back on Long Island there were several used book stores that I liked to visit and of course I had to get some Pizza.
I am a bit of pizza snob.
I like New York Style Pizza and although I had some favorite places to go I found that almost anyplace I went on Long Island I would find better Pizza than I could back in Brockport.

This trip was different because my mother was sick.
She had seemed to have a cold or flu that had gone on for months.
My mother was in good spirits but her voice was going and she found it hard to talk.

After two weeks it was time to go back to Brockport and start work on the summer musical 42nd Street.
When I got back to Brockport we got right to work on the play.
It was going to be a big show but we had a good crew and I was happy because I able to hire on a former student who just got out of Graduate school as my assistant.
Things on the show were going well but each time I called home my mother’s voice got worse and after a while see could not talk loud enough to use the phone.

In early June I got a call that my mother was in the hospital for tests but she was doing OK.
At first they said she had Lyme Disease
It seemed to fit some of her symptoms but not all of them.
After a week I got a call, my mother had cancer, but it was the “Good Kind”.
I did not know that there was a “Good Kind”.
It did not sound good so I made plans to go home.
The play could wait.
The Scene Designer and ATD said that they would take care of things while I was gone.
The day before I was leaving for home I got a call, it was too late, my mother had passed away.
She had insisted on starting chemotherapy treatment but it was too late and too much for her.
So now I was driving home for a funeral, not a visit.
Needless to say it was trip that I do not remember making.

My mother was a member of the local volunteer ambulance company and they were great in helping with everything.
There were people in uniform standing as an honor guard each day at the funeral home, EMT’s, firemen and police.
Funerals by their nature are not funny but some things do happen that can make you laugh.
I drove my father to the church and the cemetery after the mass.
Instead of a hearse the coffin rode in a box ambulance along with a police escort.
My dad smiled a bit when he saw the motorcycle cops block the entrance to the highway so that the funeral procession could get on.
As we were nearing the cemetery another funeral procession was pulled over to the side of the road so that we could go past.
The other people in the other funeral procession had seen the police with lights on and the ambulance so off course they pulled over to the side to let them by and we just drove right by them all.
This made my father laugh and said something about how my mother would have liked what had happened.

This has been hard for me to write and what makes it more poignant for me is that my mother was just 58, the age I am now.

A few days later I returned to Brockport and got back to work on the summer show.
Everyone was nice and had kind words of support when I got back and although it was hard it nice to have something to take my mind off of what had happened.
It was good to get back to work but of course my mother was still on my mind.
Somehow we all pulled together and got the show done and managed to have some fun doing it.
Unfortunately a few weeks later the mother of one of my student workers was killed in a car accident and everyone was numb for a while again.

After the show was over I went home again in August for a visit.
It goes without saying that it was hard to go home but I wanted to support my dad and sister who also lived there.
Of course this was a major milestone event in my life and these events, both good and bad,  happen on their own schedule and never seem to happen when it is convenient.

Back in college my grandfather died during the blizzard of ’77 and there was no way for me to get home for the funeral.
My one grandmother died when I was a senior in high school and her funeral was the day I was supposed to take the NYS Regents Exam, similar to the SATs, that was used to award scholarships.
After talking with my family it was decided that my grandmother would have wanted me to take the test and take care of my future and somehow I was able to do well and I even got a scholarship.

Working at a college and also in Theatre sometimes I feel a bit insulated from the real world and unfortunately it take something like my mother’s passing  smack me in the face and make me see the real world.
I am sure that everyone’s parent’s passing is hard and affects each person in a different way.
For me getting back to work was just what I needed at the time, but even today 24 years later there are times  that my minds wanders and I think of my mother and have to stop and reflect for a few moments.

 * * *

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Purlie, April 1990

April 1990 


Even with the measles delay Purlie did open and it was worth the wait.
As you can see from the production photos the show had a big set.
There were a lot of moving parts with several rolling platforms and flying wall units that all came a went from a large basic multi-level platform unit.
With all the many parts there was a great deal to figure out and I do know that I made a few mistakes.
One of the rolling platforms units, which was also raked(on an angle), ended up too being short and instead of making all new legs I just scabbed on  about a foot to each of the legs.
It might not have been the best way to do it but it was the fastest.

Purlie calls for a large cast of Black actors and we were fortunate that we had a good number of very talented African-American students at that time.
Being one of the  smaller departments on campus we do not always have the greatest ethic mix and cannot always do plays like Purlie.
One of the actresses did help fill out the cast by bringing in four of her children.
Her oldest son was not in Purlie but would be in 42nd Street that next summer.
More about him and that show coming up soon.

Originally we were scheduled to do the much smaller play version that the musical was based on but the powers that be in the department decided that we could it and I was glad that we did.
Back then I was often not in on the talks when big changes were made and even today 25 years later sometimes things change and sometimes I am the last to know.

That's Show Biz for ya.

Working in theatre, especially with college students I hear about their lives and problems all the time and unless I watch the news I can lose contact with what is going on in the world.
When I was younger I did not mind hanging out with the students but as I got older and over thirty I wanted to be more of part of the adult real world, have conversations and relationships of substance.
What would happen next would shake my world in such a way I that I did not see coming and was not ready for and would change my life forever.


* * *

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Please indulge me as this Blog entry is a re-working of part of one I wrote three years ago.

Back in 1983 and 1984 we still had musicals at the college each summer and I of course worked on them and I have written about them in earlier blog posts.
But during those two summers we took a break early in July when I had the pleasure of helping set off the local fireworks show.

My then colleague Michael Voss was trained in pyrotechnics and fireworks and was in charge of the show with several of our student workers and myself helping him.
I think back now and cringe a bit to think that all of the fireworks were stored in several boxes in what is now my office and Mike would label and organize all of the shells.

In the afternoon of the day of the show we would go over to the field and dig holes for the pipes that would be used as the mortars that would launch the shells.
We would also set up the single-use cardboard tubes for the shells that were used as part of the Grand Finale.
It was July and of course it was very hot but we still had to wear long sleeves and hats to stop the falling burning embers from the firework shells.
It is hard to describe the experience without saying it was a BLAST!

During the show I was assigned two mortars to load with the firework shells that were stored 50 feet away in a covered box.
I would run back and forth between the mortars and boxes, stopping to clean out the mortar between shots, careful not to look in or have your head over the end on the pipe.
One of the years we did have a shell that went up and came back in the same field near us, the firemen quickly put it out and we had no other problems.
During the show I was so busy I did not get to watch and enjoy much of it as I was so focused on the job at end.
At the end of the half hour show I was drenched with sweat, exhausted but very pumped up and went out with the crew for some celebratory beers.
The second year was just as much fun but I remember to wear ear plugs.

I still love watching fireworks, but each 4th of July I think back to how much fun I had those two summers.

* * *

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

USITT Milwaukee, 1990

In 1985 I went to my first USITT conference in New York City.
While there I saw four Broadway plays in three days, toured two theatres under construction and spent a lot of time on the expo floor but went to only a few of the formal conference sessions.
I flew down to New York City with the lighting designer, shared a hotel room with him and did most things together.

In 1990 the department chair found money to help pay for me to go in to the USITT conference in Milwaukee.
It was five years later and I went alone and felt a bit different as I went.
I was then 34, both the department Technical Director and Lighting Designer and had been tenured the year before.
I wanted to get the most out of the conference as I could.
Many years the conference runs during our spring break at the college but that year it was only a week before our spring musical production.
As you will see in the photos for Purlie, which I will write about in my next post, that set was large and had many platforms and both rolling and flying wall units.
Planning ahead and getting much of the work done before I left I was able to go off to Milwaukee the week before the play was to open.
We had great student workers and our scene designer Drew Francis worked with them to finish the set while I was away.

I signed up to take a pre-conference workshop on lighting plays for videotaping and so I arrived in Milwaukee a few days before the start of the regular conference.
I have enjoyed every one of the conferences that I have been able to attend but this one was very memorable and made me want to go every year.

Theatre people, especially techies, have  a way of finding each other in a crowd.
While waiting for my luggage at the airport I struck up a conversation with a guy who was  a vendor coming in to set up his booth at the trade expo at the conference.
We got our luggage about the same time and moved to the rental car and taxi area.
As I was looking for a taxi or town car to take me to my hotel the guy offered to take me in his rental car and save me a few bucks.
He dropped me at my hotel and then went on to his own hotel.
I took this as a sign that I might have a good time at the conference.
Theatre tech people are great.

After checking into my room I went back down to the bar for a nightcap.
Sitting at the bar I ran into another vendor or salesman who was working at the conference and he paid for my drinks.
He said that his boss would not think he was doing his job if he did not have a big enough bar bill.
Theatre tech people are great.

The next day I walked down to Marquette University for the video workshop.
I learned a good deal and took lots of notes of things that I would never really use.
The video information is now long outdated but it did help me in some ways I am sure and I met some good people there.
During the lunch break I did have time to walk through the University Art Museum and enjoyed it very much.

After the workshop was over I ended back at my hotel for diner and then back to the bar for a few more drinks.
That night in the bar I ran into the man whose job I took over when I came to Brockport eight years before.
He was now working for some theatre supply company that had a booth at the stage expo.
We talked about what he was now doing, what was happening back at Brockport and because he was a vendor with a entertainment budget he paid for the drinks.
Theatre tech people are great.

The formal conference began the next day and because the trade show would not open until the day after so the whole first day was spent in conference sessions.
There was a great many things to see and do at the conference and I tried to do them all.
I had signed up to take part in a round table discussion for lighting design teachers to talk about the state of education and what changed were ahead.
At another session I saw a demonstration of one of the earliest 3D CAD programs.
The images were was just wireframe images of the sets but they were able to move them so you could see the set from different angles.
What took them lots of time and powerful computers to do can now easily be done with Google SketchUp.

Another session I attended was given by a former student Jim Knapp who was just finishing up getting his MFA in technical direction from the University of Wisconsin.
The session was a review of his work with the engineering department to study the strength of stress skin platforms.
Like too many other things I still have the handout from the session someplace in my office.
Jim was one on many local  students who was born in  Brockport that we have had at the college over the years.
Finding out that he had no immediate plans after graduation except for moving home, I offered him a job to be my assistant technical director for the upcoming summer musical.
It was a good decision as I will talk about in upcoming posts.

There was a luncheon on the first day of the conference and I ended up sitting with a Ruth A. Brown, a costume designer with whom I attended graduate school with and was teaching a Cal State Northridge.
While in Grad school I drove back from New York City back to Ann Arbor after Christmas break with Ruth.
I forget all the details but over Christmas she was going to visit a friend in the city and had asked around the department if anyone available after the break  to help with the long drive back to school.
It sounded like fun so I got a one-way plane ticket home at Christmas and after the break I took a train into NYC from Long Island and met up with her at her friend's apartment to begin a rather uneventful trip back to school.

There was one fun moment on the drive during a dinner break at a truck stop in Ohio.
Hanging on the walls of the restaurant  were very large black velvet paintings of 18 wheel trucks, with added motion lines painted on, but the best part that all of the many lights on the trucks all lit up.
Beautiful! ! ! ! !
I do not how I stopped myself from buying one.

Also at the luncheon table with Ruth and I was her colleague Willard F. Bellman the author a several theatre design text books, one of which I know I used for a while.
The USITT conferences are always great place to run into old friends, make new ones and meet some of the big names in technical theatre.

In addition to conference sessions  and stage expo I took a walking tour of the 4 or 5 theatres near the convention center.
My favorite was the Papst Theatre which was built in 1895 and is one of the oldest working Theatres in America.
I did not have time to tour any of the large Milwaukee breweries but found a nice microbrewery in which to enjoy a beer or two.

Making it back to my hotel after another long day I ended up in the bar again and in addition to the vendors and salesmen I found many of my classmates and a few teachers from Michigan there.
While having a drink or two and catching up with my classmates, I noticed a couple in nearby dark corner having a good time “making out”.
When they finally came up for air it turned out that they were another former student and teacher from Michigan.
Theatre tech people are great.

Having drinks with old and new friends at the end of the day is an important part of the experience of the conferences.
Now it may sound that we did a lot of drinking but at the end of long days it is usually just a drink or two and then off the bed.
When I was working with the Light Lab Committee at several future conferences we would used the late night trips to the bar as time for quick meetings about what was going to be done and who was going to do what the next day.
At one of the Toronto conference I do remember that the smoking of Cuban cigars was added by some to the late night drinks.
Theatre tech people are great.

The stage expo is always a popular part of the conference as everyone wants to see the newest lights, dimmers and other tech equipment that is for sale.
This was the first time I remember seeing color scrollars; they were a bit larger and noisier than the ones we use today.
There was also a great display of some 100 year old scenic pieces from someone's collection.

Away from the conference and bars I did find a great big used bookstore and spent some time there.

I have enjoyed all of the USITT conferences that I have attended but this one really stood out.
In Milwaukee I ran into old friends, made new ones, went to great sessions and felt pumped up and ready to get back to Brockport and work on the next play.
I do not remember why but I did not leave my car at the airport but Drew the scene designer came in and picked me up when I returned.
On the ride home I asked him how things were going on the show.
He said that everyone had worked hard and that the set was done but the show was canceled.


What the Fuck!

I asked what had happened and what was up.


A measles outbreak had occurred at the college and everything was shut down.
Before the school would reopen everyone born after 1957 had to get immunized.
Lucky for me I was born in 1956 and already had the measles as a kid.

It ended up that we would lose the first week of the show and when things had cleared up and school reopened we added an extra performance to what should have been the normal second weekend of the play and did four shows instead of six.
More about Purlie next time.

* * *