Friday, September 30, 2011

Couple of thoughts...

So I had this keen idea for a fundraiser: Rent a follow spot at a public skate session, and sell one minute in the spotlight for one dollar. Five bucks? Five minutes! A two hour session could make at least $100 bucks. Have a parent donate the rental and it's gravy. I posited this to one of the Synchro Coaches tonight, and she seemed interested.

MsV and I actually had a lot of time to sit and talk last night. She told me how one of the skating families had dropped Coach, and used the excuse of "couldn't get the ice time we wanted" as an excuse. I found this funny, since I'd seen this mom ask about the ice time a full two weeks past the deadline, setting herself up for failure, but I said nothing. We talked about the boys, and how Gordon had loved the music I'd cut and used it for two comps. Apparently there was a comp over the summer I didn't know about.
"Can you do it again?" She asked.

Audacity isn't an Android product, but I put it on Stitch's laptop so I can still swing it. I have some weird vision of Maroon 5 for Stitch this year. We're on a Maroon 5 kick.   We'll see how he feels in January. Coach got us both after the lesson and said that the December comp was out and January was in. This is fine, as Dcember Comp falls right on Home Rink's Ice Show and the boys need some time. I couldn't help but notice that neither of the two comps Coach talked about were ISI. Both were USFS. But again, I'm doing a lot of shutting up lately, just listening and observing.

We went our separate ways, but we're back at the rink this morning of course. The put in lesson was just that, something I could swing but not every time. Saturday mornings are still best for now.

Stitch excited about tomorrow, as am I!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Star Studded Days

<p>Of course we went to the Fashion on Ice show, and we had a great time. I only got lost for a little while, but it was no big deal and we still got a great parking spot by the door. Stitch was singing little songs to himself about how bored he was before the show started, but once things got going he was attentive and quiet.

Ryan Bradley was his usual showman self, Johnny Weir (not my sewing machine) was incredibly flambouyant but a lot of fun, and I kind of felt like our boy Jeremy needed a livelier number in the first half. What he got was kinda moody, but he still skated it well. The second half he skated a much more fun piece. When he took an awkward fall, my neighbor and I expressed some concern that he might be hurt.

"He's skating funny," she elbowed me. "watch."
"I see it. He's shaking it off, looks like it startled him more than it hurt him." Really, I was hoping a medic was right off the ice to be sure.
But he seemed fine, and skated the reskates much better. Yes, you can watch it on NBC in November, as we we told so many times that night.
Maybe you'll see us, we had some pretty good seats!

Stitch liked the idea of reskates to edit out falls. He liked that idea a lot! He waved his banner and cheered, shouting, "You can do it!"
Oh, how I wish he'd say the same thing to himself.

We headed out, Stitch jumping and cavorting in the parking lot. "Watch this jump! Watch this!"

"I see you, but it's late. We need to get home!"

We headed to public skate the following day, and that old frustration set right back in, though. Stitch danced for awhile, but when I told him to practice his actual elements, he got frustrated pretty fast. Stitch was getting mad, when I told him to say "D'oh!" at his errors and not getting tense. "Just pretend you're Homer," I said, and this made Stitch laugh.

Wednesday lesson was great. He reported to Coach sharply, ready to go, and he worked hard. That Change foot spin won't come easy, but he tried again even after Coach dismissed him. I gave him cues from my tablet (the drawing thing is pretty handy for this) and while he argued on the Spirals, I couldn't
Blame him too badly since that bruise from the last spiral fall just now cleared up.

"Did you have fun?" I asked as he came off the ice.

"Yes!" He was bouncy.

"Don't get mad when you make a mistake, it's okay," I reminded him in the car.
"Even Jeremy makes mistakes. They just cut them out for TV, remember!"
"Oh yes!" He was laughing.
"Ready to meet Ryan Bradley next weekend?"

I can't wait, and if I have any wishes for this chance meeting with Ryan, it's that Ryan tell Stitch that it's okay to make mistakes. He won't get anything on the first try, and that's okay!

And a picture. I'd love a picture of two of my favorite boys!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Just a quick shout out...

Before I collapse, thanks to Ryan Bradley, Jeremy Abbott, Alissa, Meryl, Charlie, and all the other great skaters we saw tonight. Stitch had a blast, and was cavorting out into the parking lot. You guys are an inspiration, and when we watch the show again on TV, we will tell all our friends that you totes got the jumps on the first try and no reskates were needed. (Wink, wink.)

How to Gossip; Avoiding Hurt Feelings

In spite of all the crabbing I do here, I really do like people. I talk to just about everyone and I like to make friends. But of course, sometimes you have friends that aren't friends with your other friends, or you talk to clueless people who derive opinions about others from third parties and not on their own. This can sometimes lead to awkward situations.

Some what do you do when friend A runs up and tells you something untrue and/or horrible about your friend B that she heard from friend C? Well, I know that Friend A is relatively clueless, and Friend B and C have their own thing going on that I'm not privy to. Do I think it was wrong of Friend C to diss B to clueless A? Yep, but what's done is done.

In this instance, to avoid drama, politely STFU. Here's why:

Again, A is clueless. Nothing is going to change that, so don't waste time refuting whatever she heard from C. In this case, I stated that I thought differently and offered nothing further. Friend A tried to goad me on, continuing to say awful things, but I restated my position and changed the subject. Friend A tried a few more times, but eventually she gave up and went away.

I'm also not going to go running to B to let her know what was said, because the only thing that can come of that is hurt feelings. I'm not going to march up to C and tell her she's wrong, because she's entitled to her opinions, doing so would only damage our relationship, and someone would get hurt. Further, the conversation between A and C was just that, between A and C. Had C come to me and said B was a psycho, at that point I could have refuted her. But that didn't happen, and I doubt it will, so I'm letting this one go.

When you're as bad a gossiphound as me, it's important to have a neutral third party you can spill things to. Preferably someone with no knowledge at all of anyone you're talking about. So of course I went right to Friend D and told her everything. She asked me why in the world I hang out with such people and bought me another drink.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Salvaged Practice

The are good days and bad days for Private Lessons. Not every one of them is a Golden "this is great" moment. Some of them feel like a waste of time, really. Either Coach doesn't seem to be feeling it, Kid isn't feeling it, things don't happen, everyone gets frustrated and a half hour seems like an eternity for all parties involved. I really thought last night was going to be one of those nights.

I've been having a rough week at work, I'm irritating the PTA by insisting that all kids at the school need access to the internet at home, and I'm trying a new tack on "Positive Discipline" with Stitch. All in all, a bottle of Red Rooster Merlot is in order. Imagine my disappointment when the skating lesson looked like a tossup in regards to good-bad.

Coach ran late, hijacked by another parent in the lobby, Stitch needed a lot of help in being told what to do, and I was trying to relax and let him own as much as possible. We've been talking about frustration, because the skating is getting really frustrating. The other kids seem to get it so fast, and perfectly, and Stitch sees this as a failure on his part. His way of coping with frustration by quitting has a name, "Assumed Incompetence." He thinks he can't, so why bother trying. The book I'm reading tells me to encourage every effort, no matter how small. That I can do. I also need to relate a similar experience with Stitch. Wow, do I have a shelf of those stories.

The previous night I'd told Stitch about a show I did in High School. Five member cast, among a Thespians pool of a hundred. Getting into this play meant something. I got in, but it was tough. And I had felt wounded that I didn't get the part I wanted, so the minor role I got felt like second place. The timing was tough, the blocking was tough, the flying shards of broken pottery was tough, and I got yelled at a lot. The Director was the gruff drama teacher. He loved to yell. From the back of the house we'd hear "WRONG! DO IT AGAIN!" The costumes were period, so we managed to out those on wrong the first few times out. We couldn't even dress ourselves, it seemed.
"When someone yells at you a lot," I said to Stitch. "It can seem like you can't do anything right."
"I know!"
"But you can, and you will. And Coach Y doesn't yell as much as my Mr D did, trust me."

But today we were working on the frustration. Stitch came back from a round of Salchows, his face tight. "Now what," he asked.
"Stitch, no tantrums on the ice. Look at yourself."
"When you throw a tantrum on the ice, is your body loose or tight?"
"And when your body is tight, what happens?"
"I fall down."
"So, don't tighten up. Loosen up, accept the mistake and try again. It's okay."

Now, tantrum is a relative term. He doesn't fall and pound the ice like a toddler. He will stomp, pull his hair for comic relief and tense, tense, tense up. This is a big problem, because skating doesn't work in a tense body. And the talk seemed to work. He loosened up, his skating improved, (he even tried a backwards spiral with some success) and he cheered up in time for Coach to take him.

Coach had him work some jumps, and then started on a change foot spin. Folks, this looks hard. Real hard. But he watched the bigger student do hers, he patiently let Coach set his feet, and he tried his best. He wasn't anywhere near to getting it, but the important thing today is that he tried and he didn't tantrum in the process.

Coach came off the ice and did a long chat with me about the new skill, assuring me that he did really well, that this particular skill can take a long time to learn. I think I confused her with the response, "I don't care, he did fine. Better than fine. However long it takes is fine."

My next goal with Stitch is to stop seeing mistakes as personal failures, but rather as learning opportunities. Who was it that said, "if you aren't messing up, you aren't doing much of anything." The very act of living entails screwing up. The real challenge is learn from failure. (Admittedly, applying this to Spelling is hard.)

Coach was ready to hijack me into more practice ice, but the time falls right on a skating show in town. Yep, Stitch's man Jeremy Abbott is in town, so I sprung for tickets. Coach thought this was a great idea, but I was surprised to learn she didn't know about the show. Neither did anyone else I mentioned it to. Well, we're going, and Stitch wants to make a banner so Jeremy will see him.

Coach did know about a chance to skate with Ryan Bradley, and Stitch was suddenly terrified. "Of course I want to," he said in the car. "But I'm so shy!"
Shy? The kid who hams at every ice show and comp? Shy, are you kidding?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Did you Hear? Skating moms are getting a show.

I was going to wait on this one, but after being quoted by JoAnn Schneider Farris (I think twice) on this, I have to state my rather virulent opinion.

I love reality TV. I love Hoarders, Intervention, Dance Moms, Obsessed, and a few others. You know why? Because I can watch these shows and think, "Wow, I'm not doing so bad. In fact, I'm the picture of sanity compared to these nuts!" And I'm not the only one who thinks that way. In fact, Tuesdays at the office are a round table of "Holy crow, did you see that kid? What a mess!"

This show specifically asked for "involved mothers" and "coaches with strong personalities." In other words, they're looking for Abby Lee on Ice.

There's a deep mythology surrounding competitive kids and their parents; that we're all obsessed, maniacal weirdos who will do anything, spend anything, and dispose of anyone who stands in the way of our kid's success. This show, "Kids on Ice," isn't going to dispel that mythology. It's going to entrench it. It's not going to show normal folks in secondhand Reidells, with the once a week private lessons and takes third place gracefully at the neighborhood ISI comp. Oh no. It's going to show the moms and kids and coaches spending hours upon hours upon hours at the rink, stitching rhinestones, doing marathon skate fittings,  fretting over every minor detail and if anyone thought that I swear too much, then they haven't heard the censors knock out most of the screaming matches between Abby Lee and her moms. If people think a Coach with a "strong personality" won't give the audience, people like me looking for a reassurance of their sanity, a repeat performance, they're dreaming.

This show won't encourage kids to skate. It's going to scare off potential skating families who will believe that all other skating people are hyper-competitive, that they have to spend a fortune to be involved to any degree, and it will take an incredible time commitment if they do it at all. Like it or not, that's the common perception of Figure Skating. There are people right now who believe Stitch is up at 5:30 every morning to practice.  (Cue laugh track.)

Worse, what about the kids? I always do feel kinda bad about mocking Dance Moms, because those girls really do give it their all. It's not their fault that they're tied up with Abby Lee, who sorts them into a "pyramid" a cording to their arbitrary value each week. I do feel there is a good deal of exploitation going on with that show.

So. Will we be auditoning for Kids on Ice? Heck no. Will I watch it? Absolutely.

But here's a question no one has answered for me; How does USFS feel about this? Would a truly "serious" skater need to get their permission to do it, and would USFSA say yes? That might be the only safety net for such a show, as USFSA seems terribly image conscious. In that case, we'd have the polar opposite problem: folks who only get the rose colored glasses view without the tough realities.

I honestly don't think any good can come of a skating reality show. Sorry.

You're going the wrong way.

Stitch is a Lefty, which apparently he should know since his Coach told him once about a year ago and never mentioned again. She just knows and that's how she teaches him. But let's establish that Stitch often doesn't know what day it is, forgets his lunchbag at school just about three times a week (not to mention random fruit moldies left in it), loses jackets, mismatches shoes, and will get distracted from simple directives by shiny toys and kittens. He's a normal 8 year old boy with other things to think about, that's all.

But at flowpowermoves yesterday I watched as Stitch kept trying to go the wrong way for waltz jumps. He could just about do it, which was pretty deceptive. I know he can almost spin both ways. Stronger going left, of course, but he can make it to the right about three times. But no coach asked the question. Well, okay. But Stitch was getting really frustrated. During formal lessons, though, I watched as the Group Coach and Stitch visibly argued for about five minutes. I have to hand it to the kid for holding his ground that something was amiss.

I waited patiently, wondering how long it was going to take this guy to figure it out.

Finally, the Coach skated over and looked up at me in my perch. "Is he a lefty?"

"He's a lefty."

Finally, with all other class kids going right, Stitch was finally allowed his own jump pattern. And as the only kid going to opposite way, he did much better.

When class finally ended, Stitch ran off the rink with cold feet. "You did good," I said, taking off his skates.
"No. I couldn't get it right."
"That's because you're a lefty. Remember that. Tell Coaches who don't know."
"When the Coach left the ice, I was sure he was going to get an aspirin."
"I told him he looked like Severous Snape."
"You didn't."
"But he does! He told me to remember how mean Snape was! He's stricter than Coach Y!"

Well, while Stitch is just now getting into the Harry Potter series (we're picking up the first book today, and he loves the movie) if I remember right, Snape turns out to be one of the good guys. But I won't tell Stitch that just yet.

In the meantime, I'll be busting out my shrinky dinks and making Stitch a new pin for his jacket; "I go to the LEFT."

Friday, September 16, 2011

OT: Time to Plan for the Holidays!

It's Fall, and the Holiday Show orders from the Professional Theatre Companies are starting to roll in. Yes, the pro's are getting their ordering in now! So where are you in planning your Holiday Ice Show?

If you're like my Rink, the Holiday Show is the Rep show. The Sets and Costumes are typically used from year to year, and not much changes in terms of Lighting, Script and Direction. The only big changes are the faces. Hey, I get this. It's relatively inexpensive, everyone knows the routine, and it's comfortable.

Just don't get so comfortable that you wait until the last minute to do anything. The first few weeks of December are always a rash of disappointed callers trying to reserve followspots and effects equipment that was booked months ago.

So, start planning! I'm going to go Off Topic and step you guys through some of the common inquiries and questions we get here at The Shop around Holiday time, as Betsy Ballet (again, used affectionately) puts on her yearly Holiday Bash.

The single most important thing to consider is this: You can do anything you want, if you can afford it. If you can't, a good Lighting/Staging/Supply house will help you find a cheaper alternative, but don't expect to look like Julie Taymore on $350.00. (True story!) Also, don't forget the Service Triad of Cheap, Fast and Good: You only get two out of the three.

"What kind of lighting do I need?"
Loaded question. Honestly, I don't know. There's so many factors to consider here, so this is where you need some Professional Help. Talk to your Lighting Rental company, and here's what they'll want to know:

1. What's your budget?
We don't ask this so we can "take all your money." We ask so we know where to start looking, and when to stop. I've had folks price out very expensive color projections, be disappointed that it was prohibitively expensive, and then I tell them there's a much cheaper alternative. All they had to do was tell me they were on a shoestring to being with. It's okay!

2. How much power do you have available?
You can learn this from your Building Manager. He or She can tell you, in Amps, how much of your facility's power can be devoted to the show lighting.

3. How can we access this power? Where does it come from?
Again, the Building Manager will know which Electrical Panels can be used. What will happen is that the Lighting People will come in, open the panel, and risk life and limb attaching their scary Feeder Tails ("tie into") to draw from that source. The Tails power the dimmers, which power the lights. The number of lights you can use is limited to the amount of power you have available. (For the record, I once did tie into a panel illegally. The Power Company themselves removed my tails. Building management had told me that it was an available panel, but not before I inadvertently stole a few hundred watts!)

4. How much area do you need to cover?
Just measure the rink, but you already knew those measurements, right?

5. How many color washes do you want?
Four or five is a good number, and don't just consider the Rock and Roll deep color washes. You want some soft warm and cool tones as well. Just remember, the more color washes you want, the more lights you need, unless you want to jump to Intelligent Lights which can change color, which we'll talk about later.

6. How many specials do you want?
Specials are lights that are meant to do one given thing, be that a pattern that shines center ice or hit one particular place. Again, the more specials you want, the more lights you need. Our rink foregoes Specials in favor of the Followspot, and this is a perfectly acceptable strategy.

7. Where will you hang the lights? What is the weight limit on your roof?
Important questions for two reasons. One is that if the lighting positions are hard to get to (as in, over bleachers or an ice surface, which probably describes your whole rink) that impacts your labor budget. Someone's gotta get this stuff up there. Lifts and ladders take time. Two, you don't want to hang more weight on your roof trussing than it's designed to handle, for obvious reasons. In most cases like this, it's not a huge issue, but it's still something to bear in mind.

8. Do you want any special effects?
There's tons on the market, and the more expensive ones don't necessarily give the best effects. A well wielded cheap effects machine can render a better result than the highest priced intelligent light in the hands of a chimp. (If my rink would just ask me, I'd make that rink a polar wonderland for not much more than $150.00 and 1200 watts.)

"Do I need a Lighting Designer?"
Just as Coaches can put together a basic skating program, anyone who does Lighting can rough up a serviceable lighting design for you. (Well, almost anyone...) Just take the time to sit with your Lighting Company and Person, and let them know what you've got in mind. Work with them during the focus and tech process, and together you should be able to get a good result.

"I need a followspot. What do the Broadway shows use?"
Well, you probably don't need what they use. A typical "Professional" ice show gets a Strong 2.5K Gladiator. It's two thousand watts of "bright as the m'fing sun" Xenon source light. It also comes with a professional, fully trained operator who may or may not have a donut in his or her hand. This operator will have the same spotlight for every show, and will be given precise cueing instructions by the Stage Manager. In one of the books I read on Pro Skating shows, one spot is typically assigned to lead a jump rather than follow, literally lighting the way for the skater. Nice, but this takes a lot of work and time.

A Lycian Midget is what's typically rented to Ice Shows, and it's one of my personal favorite followspots. It can be 1000 watts of tungsten, or 575 watts of an arc source. (Remember; don't equate wattage with brightness. Your source matters, and an arc source is brighter than tungsten.) This guy is usually operated by volunteer labor, which is whoever you can find on that particular night. This person may or may not have operated a followspot before, but most people will pick it up pretty quickly. The only real hazards for newbies are finding the controls for iris, dowser and color quickly. When "training" your spot operators, put some chick on the ice and have them actually follow her. (Someone's gotta warm up anyway.) Scratch spins and high jumps have tight corners that they won't be expecting, so let them get a feel for how the skating actually flows. Better, it allows the volunteer to feel for how their spot works; if it's slow, loose, hinky or badly balanced. If at all possible, put the same operator on the same spot every night.

"Is there an automatic followspot system?"
The short answer is, "yes, there is." The long version is, "but no one really uses it because it's too expensive, unreliable, and forgets that live entertainment screws up sometimes." Let's imagine that Jessica Dube had her terrible run-in with her partner's skate blade while under the watch of an automatic followspot system. The automated system isn't smart enough to register that most people don't want to see a bloody mess on the ice, and Jessica needed her privacy in that moment. The Lighting Guy would have needed to be awake to shut the system down, which may not have happened fast enough. A trained operator would have seen the tragedy and doused out faster. Worse than that, it costs about $12,000.00, which doesn't include the four guys who have to show up and set it up for you, nor the moving lights needed to actually be followspots. As if that wasn't enough, the person being spotted has to wear a beltpack. Call me kooky, but I don't want a failed double lutz ruining my $650 belt pack, to say nothing of what it does to a skater's line.

"What color gels do I need?"
Well, take a look at your scenery and costumes. Get colors that will accentuate that. If you've got a group number where everyone's in deep red, the absolute last thing you want to do is wash them in deep red light. They will disappear, and no number of sequins will change that. The best course of action is to stick with the basics: Give yourself a wash of warm amber, cool blue, and a soft pink. This will be a good assortment no matter what color someone's wearing or what ethnicity they are. Color is subjective, so experiment. Ask your lighting company, they should be glad to help.

"We'd like some moving lights!"
Awesome! Moving lights are a great way to add flash to your show. Here's the caveat: They need a better lighting control board and someone familiar with their use to set up and program them. "Intelligent" lighting is a misnomer, the lights themselves are really dumb. They have to be told precisely what to do, and for that you need a lighting programmer and a lot of programming time. Whatever time you think you may need, double it.

Having said that, a well utilized moving light rig can eliminate a lot of your traditional Parcan wash lights, (and their accompanying dimmers) give you a staggering array of color wash choices, infinite specials, and beautiful stage textures and patterns. Remember, you're not a rock concert, so don't pretend to be. Most of the pro theatrical productions are using moving lights, they just make them look like "normal" stage lights! The trick to good use of moving lights is don't cheap out. Get a good Control Console, a good Programmer/Operator, and a Lighting Company that will help you.

"What's that stuff around the rink/stage perimeter? Can I get that?"
That's LED Ropelight, and it's been around awhile as Stage Edging. It's on most shows, actually, with the side towards the audience blacked out. If you've ever had stage lights in your eyes, you know you get blinded. It's just the nature of the beast. (The iconic image of a celebrity in sunglasses actually originated from the horrific Klieglights of the 20's which really did do permanent damage to the retinas of the actors. This does not happen today, no matter what any performer says.) Anyway, the ropelight on the edge of the ice can be seen, so this gives the skaters some idea of where they are on the ice and no one pulls a Midori Ito during a show. You can get this from National Specialty Lighting. Expect to pay roughly $5 per foot, it's cuttable every 3', and plugs into the wall with the hardware you specify.

"What about those drops that make pictures?"
That's an LED array. Have a lot of bake sales before considering this. If your local lighting company can't provide this themselves, they will know who can. This will come with an operator or two that you'll have to pay for, house and feed.

"Can I get a Star Drop?"
You can rent those from Rose Brand ( in New York. They also make some pretty neat kits where you can make your own using something akin to Christmas tree lights. I've never tried this, but it looks fairly simple to do.

"We'd like a fog effect."
Great! I love fog, and I'll bet the image you have in your head is of that pretty low-lying fog, the rolling clouds on the floor, right? Here's how you get that: You can use Dry Ice, which is pretty self explanatory, or you can use a Fog Chiller which will last longer.

Dry Ice is something just about every Haunted House is familiar with. You buy dry ice from a local source the day of the show, keep it in a cooler, and when you're ready, dump it in some warm water and push the resulting fog into place with a few fans. It's a pain because it's messy, someone's got to fetch the dry ice every so often, and the effect has to be babysat. But it's cheap and effective, and since it's just CO2, there's no worry about causing problems with the Asthma crowd. There's also Dry Ice "machines" which simplify the process; Aquafog and the Pea Souper.

A Fog Chiller is a different beast, and requires a touch of cryogenic know-how. Talk to your Rental company and ask for help. They should step you through the process. You'll need to rent the two parts; the fogger itself and the chiller. You will need to secure the third part from your same Dry Ice source, the CO2 dewar. This Dewer goes either in or alongside the Chiller, pumping super-cold CO2 into it. The fogger ducts to the chiller, where the fog is run over and with the cold CO2, cooling it down so it lies low. As the fog heats up it will rise and dissipate.

If you don't do the chilled fog and just use plain old fog like my rink does, just be aware of Rink Temperature issues. Fog, when it comes out of a fog machine, is warm. Warm air rises. The air next to the ice is, (I know) cold, so the fog will settle into some mid range above the ice, literally shelving itself above that cold air. The problem here is that it's invariably at some skater's eye level. I chronically worry about blinding when this happens.

"What's in that fog? I think my skater is allergic to it."
This is well possible. Most fog products are simply aerosolized food-grade mineral oil. All fog and haze undergoes extensive testing and must be approved for use by Actor's Equity and SAG. The documentation of all this is online at PLASA, the professional organization of peforming arts folks. ( However, known asthmatics will have issues with fogs. No matter how safe it's supposed to be, it's still particulate matter in the air. If your skater is an asthmatic and the rink is thinking of using fog in their number, speak up. (See why involving parents in the planning is important?)

"Can I color the fog?"
No. Don't add dye to fog fluid, the machine doesn't work that way. Worse, the dye acts as a particulate inside the tight machinery of the fogger, which will clog it. The only truly effective way to color fog is to toss a colored light on it.

"I need a Snow Machine!"
There are a few kinds of Snow Machines; one is the baler that sits over a stage and gently shakes out either paper bits or foam, the other is the machine that makes a loud whirring sound and blows a glycerin, soap and water mixture through a sock, creating a foam that drifts down. My bet is you've gotten and used the latter.

They're okay. I'm not a huge fan of the Snow Machine. They're loud, they don't cover a lot of territory, they're expensive, and they make a mess of whatever they're "snowing." You can get a cleaner and more expansive snow effect using lighting. The GAM Film FX ( makes a terrific snow effect for less than what you'd spend on a snow machine rental and purchase of snow fluid, and it won't leave foamy bits in a skater's hair. Again, ask your Rental company how this works.

"What about a Bubble Machine?"
I think this would be a bad idea on an ice surface. Bubble fluids are just a mixture of water, soap and glycerine. The resulting film on normal floors is slippery as all get out, I can't even begin to fathom how treacherous this would make an ice rink. If you need some round things moving around, I'd go for a simple mirrorball, really.

"Can I get a Blacklight?"
Sure you can. Like most things, a well used blacklight can give you some fun effects. Blacklights come in a few flavors, and the only one you really want to avoid is the one that looks like a fluorescent light fixture. They just don't emit enough UV to be effective. Also make sure that whatever you shine it on is UV Reactive. UV Paints come in a few varieties, the best ones being Rosco Vivid FX ( and Wildfire. ( Wildfire also makes a stunning variety of UV Reactive materials, including makeup, fabric, water dye, and confetti. You can also get "Clear Color" paint, which is white or clear under "normal" lighting but will fluoresce under UV. This stuff isn't cheap, but a Sample Kit with one of every color will cost around $75.00 and should be enough to add some jazz to costumes and scenery. Also be aware that good UV Lights will take awhile to "heat up" to full brightness, and will need to be turned on a few minutes prior to when they'll actually be used. Don't leave the UV on too long, as the human eye can't take too much of this stuff and your audience (and skaters) will come away with a headache if they get too much exposure to it.

"Can we get a strobe?"
Sure. Strobes are fun! But if you use one, just be aware that strobes can cause epileptic reactions in some people, so post a notice in the program and in the lobby. "THIS SHOW USES STROBE EFFECTS." And of course, make sure it's okay with the skater who will be performing while it's on. Rehearse with it a couple times to be sure.

"What about makeup?"
In the skating world, the girls think they have this covered. Reality is, your Walgreen's Cover Girl or Wet & Wild is fine for Competitions, which happen under relatively normal lights. Under Stage Lighting, though, you got washed out a lot. Ben Nye ( makes a beautiful line of Stage Makeup called Belle Visage. It's soft and natural looking, yet looks great under hot light. Glitter and other effects are fun, just be sure what you're doing is in line with your program, and don't make yourself look like a harlot. Ideally, the boys needed a touch of makeup as well. (Sorry, Dad.) Their features got washed out, which is what stage lighting does. Just some foundation, some liner to bring out their eyes, shadow under the chin, and a little color on their cheeks. Nothing major.

"Do I need to flame proof my sets?"
Probably yes, but call your local Fire Marshall and ask. If he says yes, don't panic. There's a wide variety of flame proofing materials available for whatever you're using, so just tell your theatrical supply source what you're up to, and they'll get you the right goods. Most flame proofing things can be applied quickly and easily. (

"But I've already painted them! Now I have to flame proof them!"
Again, don't panic. Get yourself some Rosco PA Paint Additive and a few gallons of Rosco Flat Premire Clear. (Figure 300 Square Feet per gallon.) Go over your set pieces with that and you're set to go! Have a painting party, it's an excellent excuse to get dirty, eat pizza and go out for beer afterwards while it dries.

I'm of a mind that no question is a stupid question. But these questions are a bit silly:

"Can we get Pyro?"
Stop. Check with your local fire marshall before you go any farther with that question. Inquire about your local regulations. I don't know about where you live, but I can tell you that no one in our area supplies pyro due to the stringent laws and liability factors. You need a specifically trained and licensed operator who won't be cheap, and see how your insurance agent reacts when you tell him what you want to do. And, really?

"But we just want a little pyro, just flash paper or cotton."
Still causes bad burns in the wrong hands. Sorry.

"How about lasers?" (Yes, this gets asked.)
See above. Lasers also have their own set of tough rules governing their use. As in, people are licensed to do those cool laser effects safely. You can cause permanent damage to eyes in a minute or two if you don't know what you're doing. Yes, you can pick up a cheap laser effect at Spencer's or Guitar Center, but you'll get what you pay for. Frankly, in most cases like this, they are completely uneccessary, to say nothing of being tacky.

"Tell me about Confetti Cannons."
I don't see this happening a lot with skating shows, but here's a ProTip: Stick with the streamers, as kids will grab them off the floor for souvenirs, doing most of your cleanup for you.

And finally, when you just need some release;

"Ugh, I'm so frustrated with this show, I could hit the Director with a Pipe Wrench!"
You can do that. It will cost you $50.00, minus shipping.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New Wednesday Night Lights

We arrived at the rink with Stitch in good spirits. Sure enough, as the days progress and we settle into a routine, he is arguing less and cheering up. I left a coupon in the booth and went to help Stitch jump the stairs. I hold his hand, as he's still unsteady on one foot. (Who wouldn't be?)

He's getting better. His leg strength is improving, and I'm proud of the effort he's showing, even if he does whine. And it shows on the ice. His jumps are higher, but right now there's a tradeoff; you either get height or line, but you don't get both.

We stepped out into the lobby to get skates on, and Coach Xan handed me an Ice Halo to try. Stitch loved it. He put it on and started butting his now Halo'd head against anything he could find. I sent him out with it, and honestly it looked like he had an ear warmer on. "I'm going to try and fall on my head!" he said confidently.
"Please don't," I replied helplessly.

But Coach would have none of it. She took it off of him and handed it back to me. I expected it. The fight for safe headgear will be a long crusade through the swamp of skating culture where line and cute trumps safe and secure. More on this later. I see both sides and this won't be easy.

Coaches, in case you noticed the parents grouped around the vom entrance to the rink, that's where we can get a weak wifi signal. So I watched casually while looking up stuff for work and Facebooking, and was very pleased with what I saw.

Stitch was working hard, doing as he was told, trying his best, and showing a side of himself I hadn't seen in awhile. He would miss an element, tug his hair and growl in frustration, but he'd try again quickly. He and Gordon worked through waltz jumps, started on Sit Spins, Salchows and Flips. And while Gordon may have the Stupid Duck better than Stitch does, Stitch can spin. I discreetly recorded some of it for posterity.

But all Golden Moments are just that, moments. Coach had the boys race the rink, which indicates that she's done. Ms V came over to me and began asking me how I get Stitch to do his homework. "I don't understand, I'm ready to cry some nights. It just takes forever. Last night it took three hours! What do you do?"
She didn't like my answer of "Steel yourself and slog through it. Sit on him if you have to."
"But, what if I let him fail once or twice, just to embarass him? Will that make him learn?"
"I tried that a few times, and I emailed the teacher to let her know I was doing it. But again, nothing happens overnight. Stitch is just now showing some improvement in motivating himself. You're in for a long fight."
"But I can't take it! This is so obvious! I don't have time to do this every day!"
"You make time," I looked at her. I felt her pain. There were nights I was ready to throw things at Stitch, nights I had to literally walk away to collect myself before returning to push his obstinate little nose to the homework grindstone. "Be tough. Be consistent. It will happen, but it's going to take time."

Coach came off the ice and went right for Ms V. "He did very well," she spoke of Gordon. "He learned a jump from Freestyle 3," she touted that to Ms V, and Ms V was suitably impressed.

Gordon is in Freestyle 2, which kind of surprised me since he was in FS2 over the summer while Stitch was gone.

I'd had a good day and was feeling my oats, so I just interjected myself into this happy little back patting session (which I typically get left out of.) "Hey, how about those jumps? Getting higher, I'd say!"
Coach agreed.
"I've been having him jump the stairs and jump at home. I think it's working."
"It is..."
Ms V, not to be outdone, marveled at how difficult the skating was getting. "I don't think I could do anything they're doing."
"No kidding, I'm learning crossovers and it's tough," I was definately in a good mood.
Coach gave me a look, which I couldn't tell was pleased or surprised.
I just blathered on. "I mean, I'm trying to get an outside edge better, and that sh*t is f*cking terrifying." It just fell out of my mouth.

Ms V looked at me in horror, and Coach had a laugh. "I think we're done."

The boys ate the candy Coach had given them and got skates off. Ms V told me how much she liked having the boys do lessons together.
"I do, too," I agreed.
"You do? You don't mind?"
"No, I never mind. Nothing makes me happier than having them together."
She looked at me strangely. "Really? You mean that?"
I looked at her straight. "I really mean that. The boys need to stick together. I will do anything I can to have them together. They learn better together."
"But Stitch is so much better..."
"No, they're about the same. Gordon's good at stuff Stitch isn't, and vice versa. They feed off each other. It's perfect."
"Oh. Well, I'll try to make this happen more often, but it's a long day," she sighed.
Lady, I've been up since 5:30am. Coffee is your best friend.

The Ice Halo was never mentioned, but I like it. Stitch liked it. I don't know if it may have lessened or prevented his one head injury (run in with the boards, ouch) but it's at least one line of defense. And it beats a bike helmet. Again, I'm still thinking about this one, but I will say that change of this sort never happens fast. Skating culture is really deep, and we're in for a long slog, just like Stitch and his homework. More on this later. Much more.

The boys rode their Zucas out of the rink, Ms V was exasperated and I was laughing. As ridiculous as it is, it is kinda funny. Once around the corner and in the safety of the dark, I grabbed Stitch and hugged him. "You did great today. Thank you for doing your best."
"Uh, okay," Stitch rolled his eyes. As he gets older, he has less and less patience for visible displays of maternal affection. (But he still likes his back rubbed during bedtime stories. Don't be fooled.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pardon my Nosiness

As a former Stage Manager, sometimes it's hard for me to switch it off when it comes to Stitch. Yes, he's my kid, but when he's skating, in my mind he's a Performer. And for a few years it was my business to know Performer's Business. I noted blocking, gave lines, arranged props, took notes, scheduled dry cleaning, fetched coffee, cleaned vomit, lent an ear and held houses for bathroom breaks. Performers need these things, and I freely gave them.

So when Stitch was practicing his program one afternoon in the spring, and I looked down and lamented that he left out the little footwork sequence, I got a "That Mom" comment from FabSkater's mom. "You shouldn't know that much about his program," she chided.
"I don't, I just know he left out a chunk of it."
"You still shouldn't know."

That may be true, but it's just something I do. A Stage Manager notates what's happening on stage, remembers it for future rehearsals. After doing a few shows at a place where there were as many entrances and exits as there were butts in the seats, it's relatively simple for me to remember a 90 second skating program. (If I watch other kids enough, I start to remember their programs, too. I notice that they also miss things.) What's more, I didn't know the exact order of the step sequence, I just knew it was there, and he'd missed it. The few times he missed an element and I was rinkside, he'd look at me and comically slap his head. "Darn it!" he'd rail.

"It's okay. That's why this is practice. Just try again."
"I'll just forget something else!"
"It's still practice. It's okay. Try again."

Every time I come to the rink and see girls doing off-ice jumps and warmups, I think it very normal compared to when I watched a thirty some year old man in a woman's slip pounding the stage, back and forth, yelling "SUSHI CHEF" as a part of his vocal warmup. I would provide feedback for him as he ran his harder lines and I mixed my personal recipe for Staged Birth Effluvia. I wasn't the Director, so I never told him to emote more or turn his body in any given way, but I told him what sounded clear to me and what he wasn't pronouncing well enough.

So, it's not that I'm directing anything when I'm rinkside. I'm not giving pointers on jumps or spins, not throwing out my arms or telling him to pull in for spins. I'm not telling him that his efforts look terrible (even when they do.) When he skates over and asks me, "What's next?" I feel oblidged to say something like "Power three's" or "A lap of lunges." All I ask is that he try.

He's a kid performer, and he happens to be mine. That's all.


Just for fun, here's the recipe:

Two parts clear dish detergent
One part white hand lotion
Three drops Red Food Coloring
One Drop Blue Food Coloring (Give or take, just darken the red. Don't make it too purple)

Add two drop reds and one drop blue to the white hand lotion. Mix well. Add one drop red to the clear dish detergent, mix well. Gently fold the detergent and hand lotion together, not mixing completely but leaving lots of thin streaks of detergent. Smear on the doll and place in plastic bin. Pour excess around doll for the actor to smear on hands. Be sure someone puts a red light somewhere on the birth scene so the lotion appears more red than purple.

Immediately dunk all costumes and linens in cool water to soak before laundering. This still may not remove all stains, so plan for a new things just in case. This is just my recipe, I know others may have their own!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You're Doing the French Mistake

First flow and moves class, I was in the stands alternating between laughing at poor Stitch's attempts at grace and being angry at his inability to pay attention to the coach. Leg me qualify this by saying that there is nothing graceful about a normal eight year old boy. That Nathan Chen kid is some kind of Cyborg. Stitch was trying, but he got confused easily, his ballet jumps needed height (what else is new) and he ended the class doing some weird mohawk-step behind-back crossover nonsense that was, no doubt, a difficult maneuver. It just was miles off from the flowing moves the rest of the class was doing.

He came to the door. "Stitch, keep your eyes on the coach. Don't hang by the boards, don't spin, don't play with ice don't drift off. Eyes on the coach."
"I can't do this."
"you can. It's your first try. You're doing fine." I didn't have the heart to tell him he was the smallest kid there.

The power class was easier. Well, not easier, but the concept of "skate fast" registered better. By the time the actual lesson rolled around I was cold beyond measure (forgot my jacket) and I was in the lobby. I chatted with some Coaches, got my fill of gossip for the week, and managed to run into Nutso.

She asked me which class was Pre-Frestyle, so I took my best guess and pointed. She got excited that there were only two kids in it.
"What level is Stitch in now?" She asked the inevitable.
"Coach said freestyle three would be best for him, but we'll see. He may repeat it, which is fine."
"Wooooow, that's amaaaaaaazing," she smiled at me.
I managed to find somewhere else to be.

Stitch came off the ice, two hours from when he started, tired but smiling.
"You did it!" I was congratulatory about his marathon session.
"I don't doubt it. Let's get those skates off. Did you have fun?"

I really was proud of him, despite all the trouble he had keeping up. It will come to him, the kid who I call "short legs" when he falls behind me when we're walking.

Tonight I watched the high level boy practice in anticipation of a "big" comp tomorrow. Rink Pal commented that Big Kid has come a long way in just the last year with his posture and arm position. "It just takes awhile longer with boys, to get them to do as they're told."
"Oh, I know." In fact, I can go on for days about all the trouble I have getting Stitch to do anything sometimes.

But instead of doing that, I tried some stroking using the "if it doesn't hurt, it's wrong" theory I picked up from the morning. I think I did better. I nearly tripped myself trying to glide with crossed feet, cramped my foot repeatedly going backwards at a decent clip, and generally appeared foolish for a few hours. Stitch practiced his salchows and waltz jumps for awhile, getting higher, and harassed guards. A good night.

Stitch is now passed out on the couch. Bad movie night was "Wasp Woman." Yep. I think it was a good day, and a good first day of the New Marathon Saturday.  On a parting note, I will say this; it pays to be on a first name basis with the office staff, as you know whose credit cards get declined. All five of them. Beautiful.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's the Jumping, Stupid

From day one, jumping has flummoxed Stitch. His two foot hops barely made it off the ice. They make it about three inches off the ice now. He just has some issue jumping.

Tonight we stepped out into the cool evening and he ran laps, did stretching, and, yes, jumped. Not very high. "Stitch, is that as high as you can jump?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure!"

I had him try on the stairs, but it wasn't much better.

"Stitch, is all this complaining because you're having trouble jumping?"

Well, I don't think that's the entire issue, but I think this is a big factor. With the sudden heavy emphasis on jumping, he's likely feeling a little inferior. I can get that.

"well, let's work on jumping then. You can do this."

Okay then. It's all the more reason to enforce the "jumping up the stairs" bit that Coach wants. Build up his little leg strength. I can do that.

(PS; Typing on a touch screen really aggravates Carpal Tunnel. I had to break out the ice pack for the first time in months.)

Yes, we're still around!

Sorry for the terribly long absence here, I've been adapting to my new tablet, researching the wealth of antiquities at the old theatre, (which we continue to find three months into the process) and doing day-to-day life. And skating.

Much to Stitch's current agony.

The skating suddenly got hard, and with the six weeks off he lost momentum. He's more irritable and crabby than I've seen him, and he says it's because he can't get it right. "I don't do it right," he says. "I can't get it perfect."

I keep reminding him that skating is hard and he likely won't ever get anything right on the first try. Like the Salchow.

But because it's hard and he can't get things perfect, he's lapsing back into his thinking of, "If I can't do it, I won't try." He won't accept that failure is an inevitable part of trying new things, and of life in general.

Well, this way of thinking runs counter to his enjoyment of being in shows and performing. So, we're at an impasse. While lessons are hard and trying and he ends up literally pulling his hair in frustration, he has to pull through them to get his chance at a spotlight. And I'm doing my best to help him through this rough spot. I'm cheery and upbeat and I ignore his protests, reminding him that if he wants that spotlight, he's got to work for it.
"But you're aiming it," he pointed out to me. "Just aim it at me."
"That's not the point."

School has, again, become a battleground. I shove him through reading and math drills, I sit on him for well-done homework, and I want nothing more than for Spongebob to be wiped from the face of the earth. I'm weary of always countering the negative. I had suspected that since Stitch had been such an easy baby, that I was probably in for a wild ride later on down the road, and I was right. He says he doesn't want to do "anything." He tells me he wants time to "relax" and "be himself," yet when I give him this time, within five minutes he's moping around complaining of boredom. So I provide things to do, and then he's whining that he's too busy. I can't win.

He's a good kid, don't get me wrong. He's just working out some kinks at the moment and it's making me insane. Because, you know, I can't say to him, "Why can't you be a normal kid, for pity's sake?"

Sorry for the ranting. His moodiness is really wearing on me.

Coach still wants him in Freestyle Three. I don't know what to think. She says he's a bit rusty on the elements at the moment, but it will come back as we get back into a regular schedule. I certainly hope so, and I hope he picks himself out of whatever hole he's in right now.