Sunday, July 15, 2012

To LA and Back Again...A Virtual to Actual and Personal Business Journey...

A close friend of mine once said to me that your friendships are the most important thing you can have while you take your turn on this planet. I really do agree with him and would also add that the adventures you have with your friends are also incredibly valuable. These two things seem to be the common theme that pulls together my experience in LA these past few days.

The adventure started with a conversation I had with my good friend Dava about her attending PopCon in Los Angeles to meet Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan. Some back story is required here so please indulge me. I met Dava and other ladies who became my "virtual friends" last summer when I was unexpectedly laid off from an IT consulting job. I had never experienced something like that before, so needless to say I was in shock. This lucrative assignment was going to fund my big push to get back into professional opera and theater - something I was doing quite a bit of before the crash in 2008. Sitting on the couch in my apartment that early evening in NYC I tried to focus on the positive and realized I had purchased Tron earlier in the week to show my husband that evening when he returned from a singing job. He was such a Matrix fan that it made sense to share with him the inspiration for that trilogy. We both quickly got pulled into the world of the grid and marveled at the timelessness of the movie's special effects and the incredible art that was made in that film. Revisiting the subject matter, acting, animation and music showed us how truly an under-appreciated gem that film was whose time has finally come. (Sometimes being cutting edge can be a painful process.)

Well one thing led to another and I found myself searching the internet and facebook regarding one of my favorite actors - Bruce Boxleitner who I also remembered fondly not only for Tron but for the wonderful spy (excuse me I meant to say intelligence operative..sorry), screwball comedy and romance television series, Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I never missed an episode when it was on. It was in Zuckerberg's realm where I happened upon the "Scarecrow and Mrs. King FB Page". After a few minutes I found my spirits had lifted. Those who were posting there were so loving, supportive and FUN! I quickly found an affinity with many of those ladies and made the leap to actually "friend" people I had never met. I trusted my instincts and they did not backfire. Every single one of those ladies have been wonderful additions to my friendship pool.

We have stayed in touch for the last 11 months via facebook and Twitter. I finally met my partner in crime, Dava, a couple of months ago when visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. There was an instant connection and familiarity between us. (We're still trying to figure that out!) So when the conversation came up to attend PopCon and meet more of these wonderful women I did the math and jumped at the opportunity. I also had wanted to get back to LA and do some auditions and networking, so this was the perfect synthesis of opportunity, work and pleasure.

The adventure began at 5 AM on Friday morning 7.6. The day was perfect for a flight out of La Guardia - sunny and mild with slight overtones of humidity reminding us New Yorkers that summer was finally here. The flight was easy and I soon found myself driving North on the San Diego freeway. Dormant memories from my extended stay there came flooding back. I was right out of Juilliard cast in my first professional role - an ingenue part in Long Beach Opera's highly acclaimed production of Offenbach's operetta Bluebeard. I had felt so alive in the California atmosphere and had such great experiences. I made friendships there that have stood the test of time. That same vibrant energy coursed through me at that moment. The sky, brightened by the nearness of the Pacific ocean, seemed to lighten my being and I once again felt as I had 20 years ago - full of life and a little trepidation toward the experiences that awaited me.

I pulled into the Biltmore Hotel (PopCon's official convention hotel) and felt transformed by her Art Deco era elegance. My room was comfortable and soon eased me into the full evening I had in store visiting with my old college buddy and fellow trouble maker, Brad Keating. Our plans were to have dinner in the UCLA neighborhood and attend a fantastic play at the Geffen Playhouse entitled The Pianist of Willesden Lane, a one woman show where the true story of a young Jewish girl's struggle to become a classical pianist during World War II was told not only by words by also with interjections of virtuosic piano playing featuring the works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Grieg and Rachmaninoff by the artist herself. (If you're in town do go. She let us know that evening at her book signing after the show that they just got extended!) Needless to say Brad and I had a great time together and vowed to meet up one more time before I flew back to NYC.

Saturday's events brought forth for me many uplifting and varied experiences - a successful and affirming audition, meeting up with my friend Dava where reality was finally realized by meeting my virtual girlfriends and an unexpected gathering with the vivacious Cindy Morgan early evening after PopCon had finished for the day. Ms. Morgan is best known for Caddy Shack, Tron and Bring 'Em Back Alive where she portrayed the classy, intelligent and brave U. S. Consul, Gloria Marlowe. "The Ladies of Twitter", as she fondly dubbed us were able to spend the entire day with her. (I was not present because of my obligations beforehand, but lived vicariously through the stories of my friends.) During that time there was much mayhem, fun and kindness exchanged by all who participated. We were all very fortunate to be able to share in something special on that day with Cindy. (I send well wishes for her tremendous success at San Diego Comic Con which is currently happening and at this posting it looks like things have been going fantastic for her!) After our gathering with Cindy we parted ways until the next day and "The Ladies of Twitter" continued on with more bonding and dinner in Studio City. The evening ended with night caps at the Biltmore Bar. I had already lived several days in one. I tumbled to bed and mistress sleep graced me fully renewing me for the next day's adventure.

Sunday. I have sat here for a few moments now wondering how I will be able to accurately chronicle my experience. I am sure I will leave some things out, but life is a series of unique impressions and hopefully you will be able to read others' blogs about this gathering and cobble together just how extraordinary this experience was for all of us. That morning I along with two of Susan's daughters, Laura and Emily, had the opportunity to drive Cindy Morgan to the convention center and help her set up her booth. Cindy unwittingly set the tone for the entire day for me. She was pleasant, warm and genuine and it was our pleasure to help her at PopCon. We quickly met up with the other SMK ladies and Jim - Susan's husband and the only buck amongst the does - poor dear! Eventually Bruce Boxleitner arrived and was soon joined by his supporting cast member Greg Morton who played Jamie King, Amanda King's (Kate Jackson) youngest son. (I will write more about Greg in a moment.)

What occurred between Bruce and his fan girls is something that I would categorize as unusual for any fandom. Gifts were exchanged and autographs signed, pictures were taken and light banter definitely ensued. What I was not prepared for was what I believe to be a genuine affection that he had and continues to have for us. He was open, relaxed…and funny! We spent the entire day with him chatting, laughing and enjoying the two panels he participated in: a Western panel with Richard Anderson of Big Valley and The Six Million Dollar Man and The Making of Tron Panel with Cindy Morgan, Harrison Ellenshaw the visual effects supervisor of Tron and William Kallay the author of The Making of Tron. For me, I did not think I would comfortably wear the persona of fan girl. It was just something I had never done and my mind was filled with all kinds of embarrassing stereotypes. These women and Mr. Boxleitner showed me the positive side to that persona and on that day I fully embraced being an "SMK Lady" - as he refers to us.

Meeting Greg Morton and his wife met and exceeded my expectations. Greg is now a successful writer and artist and has published three works with a fourth on the way. He and his wife exude kindness and intelligence. We had some great conversations and I really enjoyed meeting them both. Check out his blog about us here: Hanging Out With Tron and, seriously, check out the rest of his blog and books - period. His topics are always interesting and inspiring. I, for one, need positive in my life everyday and Mr. Morton is one of my cherished sources.

Toward the end of our visit with Bruce, Cindy and Greg, Bruce's co-producer showed up with literature on Lantern City - the new Steampunk show that Bruce is producing and developing. Check it out on Twitter, facebook and at his website here: Lantern City and register to become a citizen. He made an announcement about it at San Diego Comic Con to an enthused audience and I wish him nothing but great success with this interesting and necessary television project. We hugged our new friends goodbye, including Bruce. He reiterated that it wasn't goodbye, just until the next time. This was already a tremendous day and most of us pooled our energy and moved on to the next adventure - a fund raising evening at Claudia Christian's home.

When we arrived we found Claudia working hard in her own kitchen to serve us a delicious repast of healthy food. She was a lovely and warm hostess. Other celebrities present were Denise Crosby of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Jay Acovone from Stargate SG-1. Claudia had a lovely grand piano and those that could play were encouraged to use it. I ended up singing some musical theater and opera and Amy accompanied me beautifully. She also sang and accompanied herself beautifully! Perhaps my ultimate geek moment was when Denise Crosby requested that I sing the soprano obligato to the original theme song from Star Trek. I had the pleasure of being accompanied by a well known LA music director and I was able to oblige Ms. Crosby - that was seriously crazy and to my gratefulness and relief the room applauded healthily. Again graciousness, genuineness and kindness prevailed in the character traits of our hostess and guests. I know I have made new friends from that gathering and that is much more that I had ever dreamed of happening. There was very little sleep that evening - but when I woke the next morning I felt surprisingly refreshed and assuredly inspired.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were kind of a blur. Monday was the last day I could spend with my new SMK pals. We went to Paramount Studios, saw the homes that served as 4247 Maplewood Drive, Amanda King's home in Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and then my part of the trip was spent checking out the Chinese Theatre area. Some of us went back to the hotel for a rest, then felt the call of the ocean so Dava, Amy, Elaine and Anne piled into my compact rental and we zipped to Santa Monica where we enjoyed a nice casual dinner by the sea. It was hard to leave each other, but we found comfort in knowing we would communicate soon through our virtual media.

Tuesday was spent doing a little more business and then reuniting one last time with my dear college brother Brad at Mexicali Cantina in Studio City. (As usual there was side splitting laugher...and great margaritas!)

My final day was spent exploring the roots on my mother's side in Little Tokyo, or J-Town. I visited Buddhist temples, the East West Players (an all Asian theater venue cofounded by many prominent Asian actors including George Takei and James Hong), Fugetso-Do Confectioners - serious peanut butter mochi, a great sushi place called Toshi Sushi and the Japanese American National Museum. I was especially moved by their exhibit regarding the internment of the Japanese American citizens during World War II and learned quite a bit more about that era from a very knowledgeable and kind museum guide who was interned when he was a little boy. Amazingly he was at peace with the entire experience and was very gentle regarding his exchange with me. I left feeling illuminated and very glad to be living in the present day appreciative of the struggles and triumphs of my fellow Japanese Americans. Indeed as Bill and Ted would say: "The best place to be is here, the best time to be is now..."

The red eye flight I took on July 11th was really quite painless. My plane landed Thursday morning and I quickly found myself thrust back into the atmosphere and energy of Her Majesty, New York City. It was indeed quite an adventure - Bilbo Baggins worthy. I will never forget the experiences I have forged on this trip. To the cast members of this moment in time: Brad, Dava, Amy, Elaine, Anne, Megan, Janice, Cheryl, Mary, Karen, Susan, Emily, Laura, Jim, Claudia, Denise, Jay, Greg, Sandra, Cindy and Bruce - you all have reaffirmed my belief in the positive power of adventure and friendship. You have my special thanks and gratitude for the experiences I have shared with you. May each and every one of you be well, be happy and most of all be loved.

(Photo Credits: Yours Truly, Amy, Elaine, Emily and Laura)

(PS...oh and this happened...)