Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Samantha Downing - A Life Abridged

Monday, August 28, 2006

Matthew Tyler Downing

Happy birthday, Matt.

You would have been 36 today.

And life would have been so very different.

Maybe losing my little brother so early in life was a kind of training for the losses to follow. Despite our short time on the planet together, I've never ceased thinking of you.

Love you, bro.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sia Furler - Numb


I saw you cry today
The pain may fill you
I saw you shy away
The pain will not kill you

You made me smile today
You spoke with many voices
We travelled miles today
Shared expressions voiceless

It has to end

Living in your head
Without anything to numb you
Living on the edge
Without anything to numb you

It has to end to begin

Began an end today
Gave and got given
You made a friend today
Kindred soul cracked spirit

It has to end to begin

Living in your head
Without anything to numb you
Living on the edge
Without anything to numb you

It had to end to begin

Living in your head
Without anything to numb you
Living on the edge
Without anything to numb you
Living in your head
Without anything to numb you
Living on the edge
Without anything to numb you

It has begun

- Sia Furler

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sheryl Crow & Sting - Always On Your Side

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And The Dining Room

The play is now cast. There were some surprises, mostly because the three women I ended up with aren't often put in leading roles (at least that I have seen). So this will be a great opportunity to let them shine in a very small cast in a pretty momentous point in the organization's history.

Caleb & I did our dog-and-pony show for the Twelfth Night board of directors and were happy to hear a lot of encouragement and support for the play. We also scored the dining room furniture we need from an estate sale for $100.

I'm bringing on Alyssa as my stage manager. She worked with Sam previously, and was set to be my assistant director on Duo, so I know I can work with her and trust stuff will get done right. I trained Caleb in stage blocking shorthand today so he can keep track of it when we get into rehearsal.

Went to Gilda's tonight, but didn't get to say much. What I was going to talk about was this feeling of emotional isolation I have been nurturing for the last few months. Like I'm getting too comfortable with the whole not-dating-thing. I dunno. There's just no time for it right now, and I know that "miz kerbam" will (eventually) cross my path when I least expect it. Just like Sam did. But does that mean I'm getting lazy about it? Or does it even matter?

If you're wondering who "miz kerbam" is, just understand it's an inside reference shared by Samantha's mom and myself. The reference being that one day, the woman I'm supposed to find will just show up - kerbam! I threw in the "miz". It's either very cute, or very late at night. Prolly the latter.

The kids are in the last week of their Pacific Science Center day camps. Then we get a week to prep for school. Then, come 9/6, they will return to the hallowed halls of learning.

Auditions for Ordinary Angels are coming up as well. Please fasten your safety belts.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Sundays - Wild Horses

Casting Lures

Well, tonight's show was by far the best yet. The house was packed and the audience was on. The cast was awesome and did the smoothest performance so far. There was one missed entrance, but the scene went on just fine. Another standing ovation for our little group.

I've shot all shows thus far. Tonight I had a live audio feed from the sound board. Tomorrow I will shoot the final show with the second cast and will have all I need to assemble not one but two DVDs (1 for each cast). I know why Mary double-cast this show, but I think she won't be doing it again - really more hassle than it's worth.

After tomorrow's show, Kayleigh and I will make an appearance at the cast party. Ordinarily this is where we award the Spammies. Because the group started out performing Monty Python sketches, the awards consist of various cans of meat product, plus an elf shoe, a boot once worn by a stripper at the Lusty Lady, and the Samantha Downing Memorial Grand SPAM Award. This is the only actual trophy, which is awarded to the individual Mary feels best contributed to the overall production effort. It bears the names of all who have won it. Sam was the first to win, and I won for Bye Bye Birdie (when it actually became a trophy). Last year, it was my pleasure to award it to another member of our troupe (MJ), and this year it went to our lighting designer.

Saturday begins the casting process for The Dining Room. Then Sunday I have a few more to read for the play. Then it's Monday. Wheeee.

* * *

The cabinets and trim-out are happening at the house. It's miraculous how cool this is turning out to be. As soon as I locate my camera's USB cable, I will put up some pics.

For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about The Sundays. It starts by watching Muriel perform, which makes me think of the awesome music we're putting together for the tribute CD, which makes me think of when Samantha and I were recording, and we'd be compared to The Sundays. Not that I think we sounded like them - I don't think we did. But there are some similarities in song structure. Anyway, we liked The Sundays. Had all three albums. Saw them live at the Moore shortly after we moved up to Seattle and I won tickets from the local college radio station. And when Sam was in labor with Tyler, she had a mix tape for the hospital called Welcome to the World. On it was The Sundays' cover of "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones (the cover, IMHO, puts the original to shame). I'll see if I can dig it up on YouTube and post it here... it's kinda where my head is at.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Toad the Wet Sprocket - All I Want

Honestly, was any twentysomething NOT affected by this song?

Toad The Wet Sprocket

Tonight my past caught up with me, and I sat through what was simultaneously the most beautiful and intensely painful concert I've seen since that Marillion show back in '85.

I'd never seen Toad live before. When they were touring back in the day, Samantha and I were raising kids and working hard. It's really a shame we never saw them, seeing as how they were one of our shared favorite bands of the era. Within six months of showing up in Seattle, Pearl Jam Ten and Toad the Wet Sprocket Fear were on a cassette in our car that tended to stay in the deck and play over and over and over. To this day, I consider Fear their magnum opus, and one of my all time desert island discs. "Walk on the Ocean", "Nightingale Song", "Hold Her Down", "Pray Your Gods", "All I Want" and "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted", all from a single record. Rarely is the alternative music scene treated to such a feast of songwriting and technical prowess.

The concert was held at the Moore theatre in Seattle. We found parking for five bucks. The opener, Matt Nathanson, was one of those really good coffee-house-singer-songwriters-who-play-a-twelve-string-with-a-capo-on-the-third-fret-and-sing-about-relationships-and-sex trying to go from coffee house to a band tour. He was good - very good. He was really funny between songs, and his lyrical content reflected that sense of humor.

With six albums to choose from and almost two decades together, I was surprised that most of the set list consisted of stuff from Dulcinea and Coil. But when they hit any of the Fear material, starting with "All I Want", I found myself weeping. Most of the show was one rockin' single after another, and yet the memories the songs stirred were so powerful I could not help myself. "Nightingale Song" found me singing through a veil of tears and when the first encore consisted of "Walk on the Ocean" and "Fall Down", I thought I could maybe pull myself together.

Then they got called back by a passionate Seattle crowd for a second encore, which consisted of only one song, "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" the final track on Fear and a real tear-jerker for me (for a host of reasons). I managed to dry my face by the time the lights came up.

Although I'd fronted for 8 seats in the mezzanine, somewhere along the line I found myself 2 tickets short. That and one friend who had actually bought one of the tickets ended up not showing. So we had my brother & his wife, my actress friend, and my LMP friend. I guess we ended up with those two extra seats for Sam and my dad. I know they would have enjoyed it. Several times I could almost feel Sam sitting right behind or "around" me, singing along to the music.

Aside from the drunken idiot who thought it would be cool to wear his Microsoft uniform (yellow polo shirt tucked into his beige shorts with his cell holster and a pair of LL Bean sandals, shades hanging from the undone neck of his shirt), sneak his cocktail into the theatre and stand up to do air guitar solos, attempt to incite some bizarre form of cheering by waving the Nixon victory fingers and/or generally make an ass of himself, the evening went without major incident. I dropped my car load of people off in West Seattle and came home to process the emotional flood.
Crazy what some music can do.

I thought I'd posted the lyrics from "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" previously, but it looks like not... so here.

One part of me just wants to tell you everything
One part just needs the quiet
And if I'm lonely here, I'm lonely here
And on the telephone
You offer reassurance
I will not take these things for granted

How can I hold the part of me that only you can carry
It needs a strength I haven't found
But if it's frightening, I'll bear the cold
And on the telephone
You offer warm asylum

I'm listening
Flowers in the garden
Laughter in the hall
Children in the park
I will not take these things for granted

To crawl inside the wire and feel something near me
To feel this accepting
That it is lonely here, but not alone
And on the telephone
You offer visions dancing

I'm listening
Music in the bedroom
Laughter in the hall
Dive into the ocean
Singing by the fire
Running through the forest
And standing in the wind
In rolling canyons
I will not take these things for granted

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mattress Opens

The past week has been a blur of activity, mostly show-related. Got the program finished and off to the printer (they look good), got Kayleigh to and from dress rehearsals, and monitored the sanding, priming and texturing of the walls in my house (the painters have done all the ceilings and are now putting color on the walls). I also arranged for a security system to be installed in the house. We're getting ever closer. All the millwork arrived and the trim will start going up next week.

Anyway, the show opened last night and was a rousing success. Despite a couple technical and dramatic gaffes onstage, the cast recovered and put on a great show. All things audio (voices, stage mics, orchestra) are the best they've been in years. The costumes are terrific. I think Fiddler had more interesting lighting, but this is a wholly different show.

I designed the Jesters' makeup. Since the part of the jester is being split among four actors, I decided to give them each a clown-white mask and paint a playing card suit on the left eye, the result being one of each suit represented onstage. It was down to the wire with the Jester makeup, and then I had to run up to the top of the house and run the video camera. Fortunately Caleb showed up to help set up, but it was a long, stressful night for my legs.

Like I said, the show was good and got a standing ovation. We have 2 shows today, a matinee tomorrow, and then four days off until Thursday's show - and plenty to do during that time.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quick Check-In

Had a great day hanging out with my kids yesterday. We had lunch at Red Robin, then walked around at Southcenter, used our Borders gift cards (I really hate Borders, but hey - they were gift cards). Kayleigh found some Nancy Drew mysteries. Tyler was feeling a bit woozy after overstuffing himself at RR (the good news is, he's eating), but we found him some Calvin & Hobbes anthologies. I made a very personal score: my very favorite pirate movie ever, The Black Swan (starring Tyrone Power & Maureen O'Hara) on DVD. Best cinematography 1942, btw. My old VHS copy perished in the fire, and all the online stuff I read had the film coming on DVD next year. Maybe it is next year and I just spaced it. Anyway, I now have my favorite pirate movie on DVD, and it sits on a bookshelf alongside Catpain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and The Crimson Pirate (which is really a Burt Lancaster goofy adventure comedy, but it's good fun).

We sort of fudged dinner, what with each of us "great with child" from lunch. Had our first family meeting post-Sam. It went very well, and the kids are feeling empowered (man, I hate that word) to communicate and negotiate openly. Both kids were all hugs and cuddles. It was one of our few "days off".

Awoke to a phone call from a neighbor. Apparently, she'd been walking down 24th early this morning when Wiley started walking aloing with her. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how he got out of the house, but he'd evidently found a way. It was only after I went outside and found the side window screen in the driveway that I knew we'd have to close those windows at night from now on. He sees a squirrel or racoon and he's off like a half-shepherd/half-African hunting dog. Go figure.

The very nice neighbor lady brought him back and he's on double-secret probation for the rest of the day.

I'm headed off for my Sunday morning coffee with Obi Ron. Kayleigh's first rehearsal on the actual set is tonight. Can't wait to see what they've done with the space.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rebels and Hard Drives and Children, Oh My!

The data recovery service now has custody of my twin 500GB hard drives and will try to grab what they can of my work materials. Dell promptly sent out a replacement for the defective drive, but that doesn't really help me right now, as I have to wait for the good drive to come back from data recovery with the bad drive. The hazard of a RAID 0 stripe array is that, while it's fast, if one of the drives should become corrupted or damaged, the data is split between both drives. When I get them back, I will configure the system for RAID 1 mirrored, which will create a second backup copy of my data automatically. Should one drive fail, I will still have the data on the second drive as a failsafe.

The tape & mud has started on the house.

Tyler is being really excellent. Today he woke up and offered to cook everyone breakfast. He made scrambled eggs, which were quite tasty! Kayleigh is having some nighttime issues. Now that Tyler is sleeping on the sofa in the living room, she's feeling a bit lonely. We're working on it. For pizza/movie night tonight, we watched Men in Black 2, and a couple episodes of "Futurama". Kayleigh spent some quiet time doing problems in a math workbook she keeps in her bedside drawer. I just tucked her in, and Wiley is asleep by her bed.

I finished reading Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez' book. You know, the guy who made the Mexico trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), the Spy Kids movies, and most recently Sin City. It's pretty much his production journal of making El Mariachi and the craziness that followed. This dude became a human guinea pig for a pharma lab in Texas to raise money for shooting a feature he hoped to sell to Mexican home video. With a borrowed 16mm camera and $7,000 he went to a little town in northern Mexico and shot a really inventive and compelling action film. When he took it to LA to sell to the Mexican video distributors, he ended up with an agent, and then a bidding war erupted, landing him at Columbia. It's inspiring stuff, especially given Rodriguez and I are the same age.

The book made me think back to what I was doing in 1991. Newly married, Samantha and I had made the decision to move north to Seattle. I was writing 14 hours a day. Short stories, novels (I finished three), screenplays... always feeling the urge to get back behind a camera. It had been 3 years since we'd shot Sam's directorial project for her San Francisco State film course. She'd been shifting back toward stage, and I'd gone to DeAnza College in Cupertino to take advantage of some of their film production curriculum. Made several shorts. I was also at Mission College in Santa Clara doing a 2-year animation stint. Made several shorts there too. But in '91, we heeded the call of the north and ended up in an apartment in Renton and then a shared 1913 craftsman above a nail salon on the main drag in West Seattle.

I think Rodriguez and I had very similar backgrounds, creatively speaking. Where we diverged was while he was actively pursuing a very clear goal, I was trying to do too much. I had intellectual properties bursting out of my skull, and I wrote like mad to try to get everything down on paper. Affordable pro-level video was still a few years off; I kept the rust away by writing and directing a sci-fi comedy pilot for TCI cable in '94, using late '70s era 3/4" U-Matic gear. Then I got sidetracked by the videogame industry and made good bank while my soul was prison-raped for the better part of a decade. Kinda took a detour to have a career (I was still doing art, even if it was pushing pixels for the Man), raise a family (not one second of which I regret), that kind of thing. At least publishing RPGs was something creative Sam & I could do together, but that industry has its own set of crosses to bear.

I went back to the drawing board - literally. In 2000 and 2001, I brought back my old comic strip, Zingo, as a weekly 6-panel full color webcomic. It ran on the late, great Big Bad Hammer site. That was fun, but ultimately unsatisfying. I needed to be doing something else entirely.

Before Samantha died, she really tried to push me back to doing film. That was always my first love - creating something visually alive and engaging and entertaining. I had a bunch of stories in my back catalogue, many already in screenplay format. We chose DUO, a romantic comedy based loosely on two of my close buddies from the comic book industry. It was a feature, but we'd done 2 features before (1 of them was actually finished and broadcast on TV), so I knew we could handle it. I got two producers who were each great in a different area. Samantha used her casting prowess and cast the film with a talented group of Seattle actors. We went into rehearsals. We got set to shoot. The weekend of our first scheduled shoot - Samantha crashed. She'd be dead a couple weeks later. There's no way I can make DUO on a shoestring. Not now. Not without Sam. When I make it, it will be with a proper budget and everything in place. And hopefully I can call up Sam's cast and get the majority of them to do it.

So now I feel like I'm getting all these clues and bits of inspiration. The Angels script just kind of wrote itself, I happened to fall in with a group of Seattle indie film people whose work I respect, and the story is attracting a bunch of professionals who want to work on it. It's also under 30mins, so it's not quite the headache of a feature. It seemed like before, I would constantly be leaping over the hurdles strewn in our way. Now, it seems like everything is falling into place on its own. Maybe it's just my change in perception since Sam's death. Maybe I'm going about things differently now. Maybe I'm just older and wiser. Or maybe it's just time to do what I was put here to do.

I'd love to meet Robert Rodriguez someday. I've already met Ray Harryhausen and worked for Richard Edlund. Why not a film icon my own age, who does things the way I do?