Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Romeo and Juliet: Show Recap

The show is long over, but it was easily one of my best experiences I've ever had in the theater, and so I wanted to write a little about the experience for posterity.

The Ritz Theater is a semi-professional theater, meaning the caliber of actors attracted to auditions is much higher than in any theater I've previously worked.  Almost every actor in the show has had extensive training in the theater and counts acting as his or her primary profession.  Overall, this was the most professional production I've been a part of in my life.  We had a director, of course, with dozens of shows under his belt over the years.  But we also had a text coach.  A stage manager.  Two trained and certified fight choreographers. 

Honestly, I felt lucky just to have been cast at all.

Like I said in my last post, I had a very small part (I was only on stage for about twenty minutes of the two hour show), but my part required me to learn some pretty intricate and intense fight choreography.  It was incredibly intimidating, but I'd like to think I rose to the occasion and made the fights look as authentic as possible.

But with such intense stage combat comes the chance for injury.  In one our shows, I managed to dislocate Romeo's thumb in a freak accident.  Ever the professional, he finished the show, but we had to modify our fight over the next few nights while his thumb healed.  He waited until after the show was over to get surgery.

Despite taking precautions like warming up before each show, I didn't come away unscathed myself, either.  I was fine the entire run of the show, then on the morning after our final performance, I felt pain in my shoulder.  By the end of the day I could barely raise my arm above shoulder height.  My friend Erik, who is a PA, told me I most likely had tendonitis.  I wore a sling for several days and didn't fully recover for many weeks.

I love Shakespeare and have appeared in a few of his shows over the years, but this was definitely the best one.  To perform such a classic piece of theater in such a historic building with such a talented cast was truly a dream come true.

I even brought Neale to the theater a few times and let him climb Juliet's balcony.  He had a blast exploring the theater and its backstage environs.

If you're in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area and are an actor or just an avid theater-goer, I can't recommend the Ritz Theater enough.  Staffed with wonderful, talented people who offer quality theater experiences, you really can't go wrong.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Romeo and Juliet and Tybalt

First post of 2018.  Let's go...

Pleased to announce I've been cast in my next show: in March I'll be playing the small but pivotal role of Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" with the Ritz Theater Company, housed in an old 1920's vaudeville movie house.  It's a gorgeous old theater that has seating for 336 people and is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.  Considering my last show was in a circle of 20 metal folding chairs in a Philly loft apartment turned church, you could say I'm pretty excited to be a part of this one.

I auditioned all the way back in September at an open call, unified audition for the Ritz's first four shows of the season.  The call back was in December, and I was cast a few days later, though I wasn't able to say anything online until this month when we met for our first rehearsal.

While I only have 37 lines, I get to engage in a few pretty epic sword fights, and this may end up being the most physically demanding role I've ever played.  For this reason, I'm attempting to get back into shape.  I've started running more, and being more conscious of what I eat, and I'm even doing Dry January for the first time of my life (though I'm no stranger to giving up booze for months at a time, usually in the service of marathon training).

Normally when I put this much effort into getting into shape, it's for an upcoming goal race, so it's interesting to be exercising with an entirely different goal in mind this time.  We had our first fight rehearsal last weekend, conducted by two trained and certified fight choreographers.  We started with the basics of sword fighting for the stage, and soon will move into specific choreography.  I'm beyond excited to take the same energy and passion I normally put into a marathon training cycle and apply it to this show. 

We open March 8th, so if you live in the Philadelphia or South Jersey area, come check it out!

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: Year in Review

In preparation for writing this post, I spent some time reading past years' recaps.  Unfortunately this one won't be as cheery as those other posts.  2017 was easily one of the most difficult years I've ever endured, so let me begin this recap by explaining why.

On February 6th of this year, my wife Stevie told me she wanted to end our marriage.  For the record, I did not cheat on her, or abuse her, or lose all of our money gambling, or anything like that.  She simply fell out of love with me, and there was nothing I could say or do to dissuade her from her decision.

It was pain like I've never experienced before, even worse than when my mom passed away unexpectedly 11 years ago.  I won't go into too much more detail other than to say I'm still not over it.  I've spent the past year in a stupor of heartbreak, anger, depression and shame, with no end in sight.  This, coupled with the endless legal wrangling and the general logistics of a divorce, has left me utterly exhausted from the struggle of it all.

I rarely get this personal and downtrodden on my blog, and am only doing so now as a gentle reminder:

I'll try to stay positive and mention some of the good things to have happened in 2017.

I did a surprising amount of traveling, for one.  In February my son Neale and I flew to Minnesota to spend a long weekend with my sister and her kids.  It was a surprisingly warm few days, so we were able to spend a lot of time outside, and Neale got a lot of quality time with his cousins whom he doesn't get to see as often.

Neale with his cousin Matteo in a park near St. Paul, MN

In April I boarded a train headed north to Boston for my second and most likely last Boston Marathon.  I went by myself but still had an amazing weekend nerding out over running with running celebrities and fellow runners.  I met U.S. Olympians Jared Ward and Shalane Flanagan, I quaffed pints at the Cheers Bar, and of course participated in one of the greatest traditions in sports history on Patriots Day.

Moments after finishing the 2017 Boston Marathon

In June, just a few days after school got out, I led a trip to Germany for the third time.  This was my biggest group yet - 14 students and one other chaperone.  We spent time in Berlin and Munich on an itinerary I built myself.  I do believe everyone involved had a good time, and may have even learned a few things along the way.

With some of my students outside of the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin

In July, Neale and I flew west to Minnesota where we stayed with my sister again, then my sister, my sister's 4 kids, my sister's German au pair, Neale and I all piled into a rented, 29 foot RV and headed to Utah.  I love a good road trip, and I love the great outdoors, so seeing so much of this country at the ground level in addition to all of the national parks we visited, well, I was in my element.  I'm not sure how much of this trip Neale will remember, if any of it, but I do hope I have planted the seeds of wanderlust deep in his soul.

At Goblin Valley State Park in Utah

In August, one of my best friends from high school moved from New York City to San Antonio, Texas, and I helped him drive the U-Haul there.  We drove through Hurricane Harvey in Eastern Texas and had to detour around Houston, but made it safely to San Antonio a few days after leaving, and had a few days in San Antonio to tour the city and drink and eat plenty of Tex Mex and Margaritas.

With Paul outside of the Alamo in San Antonio, TX

These two road trips brought me through five new states to bring my total up to 48 on my quest to hit all 50.  The only states I have left now are Hawaii and North Dakota.

On Halloween, another good friend from high school got married in Las Vegas, so I flew out there where she got married at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.  Everyone dressed in Halloween costumes for the ceremony and reception, and it was definitely the most unique wedding I've ever been to.

With Amy on her wedding day

This is, of course, still a running blog, so let's talk a little about the running I did this year.  The streak continues on; I hit my 4th streakiversary in November, and am still going to this day, but I didn't do many races this year.  I only managed six:

  1. Haddonfield Adrenaline 5k
  2. Love Run Half Marathon
  3. Boston Marathon
  4. Broad Street Run
  5. Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k
  6. Haddon Township Turkey Trot 5k

The only one that was new to me was the Love Run, which I thoroughly enjoyed and may sign up for again this spring.

I only ran one PR, which was 1:07:46 at the 10 mile Broad Street Run in May.  I had a great time doing that race and may sign up again this spring as well.

So there you have it, dear reader.  My 2017 in a nutshell.  I'll leave you with the following video, an enchanting version of "Learning to Fly" from the late, great Tom Petty.  After the year I've had, this song has become a bit of a mantra for me.  Here's to a great 2018, and let us all continue learning to fly.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Who's Up 2017 Holiday Party

My dad specifically requested I write about the party the other night, so here goes:

My running group - Who's Up? - meets every Wednesday night at the Haddonfield Running Company.  We run 6.6 miles together, then drink beer in the store afterwards, courtesy of a different club member every week (big thanks to the employees of the HRC for letting us do this).  Every December, we adjourn to a local bar for a holiday get together.  I thought it might be fun to change things up and have a house party this year instead, and since I recently moved into a place .7 miles from the store, I offered up my house for the venue.

I also offered to be "up" and provided all of the beer; I went with mostly Christmas beers and naturally wrote out a menu for everyone.

I live right next door to my dad and step mom now, so my dad stopped by.  My dad is an avid runner and has run seven marathons in his day, and loves beer and talking shop with other runners, so he was in his element.

In addition to the beer, we had pizza from down the street, and a whole table of food that people brought.  I also got to use my fire place for the first time.  Between the Christmas tree, the fire, the candles, and the Christmas music playing, it was pretty damn cozy, if I do say so myself.

Two guys brought bottles of bourbon, and pretty soon we were breaking into that.  Because chasing an 11% beer with three fingers of whiskey is always a good idea...

All together we had about 30 or 40 people in my house.  Before too many people left it finally occured to us to get a picture.

By 11:30 the last people had left, and I was finally in bed by midnight.  At 6am the next day, I was up getting ready for work.

This was one of the best nights I've had in a long time, and hopefully this will become a new Who's Up tradition.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Emi's Road to Recovery

When you belong to a running group, it's not always about the running.  More often than not, it's about the people in that group; how we bond and support each other in running as well as life.

Last summer, one of our own was involved in a life-altering accident, injuring her spinal cord and vertebra, and has been in a wheelchair ever since.  Before her accident, she was an incredibly  talented runner, having run cross country and track in college, and a 3:11 debut marathon shortly after graduating.  Just last April, she ran the Boston Marathon with me.

Since her accident, she spent time in the hospital and later at a rehab facility in Philadelphia, and is currently undergoing intensive outpatient physical therapy to regain mobility of her legs.  Her medical bills have become substantial, and we wanted to help offset those costs in any way we could.  A few in our group took the reigns, booking a venue, contacting local businesses to donate prizes for raffles, and selling tickets, and together we all raised over $7,500 for her.

This past Sunday afternoon, we all gathered at the Taproom in Haddon Township, NJ for an incredible night of friendship and fellowship, and one our club won't soon forget.

Emi with the organizers of the event.

DJ Ron hard at work.

Hanging on the wall above the bar at the Taproom.

29 gift baskets for the raffle, all donated from various businesses.

Grace uses her elementary P.E. teacher skills to call out the winners.

Just a few of the many Who's Up members to attend the fundraiser.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017 Haddon Township Turkey Trot 5k: Race Report

Another year, and another Haddon Township Turkey Trot in the books.  I love this race because it's in the town where I teach, so I get to race a lot of my students.  A lot of people from Who's Up run it too, so there are always a lot of familiar and friendly faces.  The race course is almost pancake flat, and the post-race donuts and breakfast sandwiches are included in the race fee.  What's not to love?

Some race reports from previous years:


This was technically my second race since Broad Street last May, but I was sick during my last race and didn't run very hard.  So it had been awhile since I'd really pushed myself in a race.

I seriously didn't know if I would break twenty minutes, which is usually my benchmark time for the 5k.  I know I say that a lot, and I always manage to come in under, but all the signs pointed to me straying north of this benchmark in this race: not having raced in so long, not having trained at all for the 5k distance, and probably having gained some weight since last spring when I was in decent shape for Boston.

I got to the Pour House at 7:30am, early enough to snag a good parking spot.  Met my dad shortly afterwards and then hung out for the next hour and a half talking to my dad, saying hi to students and friends, and doing a brief warm up run.

At 9am, a thousand South Jersey runners walked two blocks down the street from the Pour House to the starting line.  At the start, we charged back down Haddon Avenue, made a left onto Cuthbert, and another quick left onto Park. 

The start.
Photo by Patrick Rodio

At mile two, I caught up with one of my students.  I joked that if he couldn't beat me, then he was in trouble.  He hung with me for awhile, and we both began to reel in another one of my students.

When we made the final left turn back onto Haddon Avenue, the first student of mine had fallen behind, and I was now running with the second student.  I ran neck and neck with him to the finish, but he outkicked me in the last hundred yards and beat me by two seconds.  It was a thrilling finish.

Trying to catch up to my student (in red) in the homestretch.
Photo by Patrick Rodio

So it looks like there was enough muscle memory in my legs, as I finished the race with a chip time of 19:31.

Given this race's size, I've never placed in my age group, let alone won, but that's exactly what happened this time.  I even got a plaque for my efforts:

I also posed with my dad under the Pour House sign, which has become a tradition for us.

Then I posed with friends from Who's Up:

Mental note: finish chewing before posing for a picture in the future.

Another year down and new memories added.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 Run the Bridge 10k: Race Report

I haven't done a race since Broad Street last May.  I had grand plans to sign up for all of my usual fall races this year, but one by one they came and went without me ever having pulled the trigger.  It would seem I have lost my running mojo.

I finally signed up for a race I did for the first time last year: The Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k in Camden, NJ.  I ran it last year in just over 41 minutes, which still stands as my 10k PR.  It was a thrilling race that ended in a photo finish with a fellow runner from Who's Up on a perfect fall day, so I have good memories from this race and was keen to relive them.

Unfortunately I was just getting over being sick and I wasn't able to run to my potential.  I considered dropping out completely, but I couldn't bear the thought of a DNS, or wasting the $50 entry fee, so I managed to pull myself out of bed on Sunday morning and head over to Camden.  I told myself to just start the race and if I needed to I could always stop at the halfway point which is very close to the finish area.  But then I couldn't bear the thought of a DNF either, so I finished the whole thing.

Philly running friend Willa and I got to the starting line on the NJ side of the Ben Franklin Bridge just as the race was about to begin.

We placed ourselves into the sea of people as best as possible because there weren't any signs for paces or corrals (or at least that we could see).  At 8:30 the race began.  I set off at about a 9 minute pace, and Willa quickly pushed ahead of me.

I never run with a phone, but since I knew I would be running slowly, I decided to bring it with me so I could take pictures on the bridge. 

The first half of the race is an out and back on the bridge, the only time foot traffic is allowed on the main area of the bridge (except when the Pope is in town).  When I got back to the Camden side and crossed the halfway mark, I was still going pretty slowly but decided I felt good enough to finish the race, so I continued to slowly plod through the streets of Camden.

Around mile 4, I saw this guy:

At mile 5, employees from the Haddonfield Running Company were manning the water stop, so I got a selfie with Shawn:

And finally, after 52 minutes of running, I entered the outfield of the stadium, and shortly thereafter crossed the finish line.

I was just happy that I finished after all and I didn't start a major coughing fit en route, though my deepest apologies go to my fellow runners who had to witness my snot rockets, both their frequency and the sheer volume of snot expelled. 

The winner finished in 31 minutes.  Everyone from Who's Up finished well ahead of me as well.  Willa finished in 47:17.

There was a beer garden at home plate pouring Yards Brawler and Pale Ale, and I got myself a Brawler and hung out for a bit with Willa and Erik.

I love this race and hope to continue to do it for years to come.  I was feeling lousy both from being sick and from the prospect of getting out of bed so early on a Sunday morning, but it's true that you never regret a run once it's over.

It was definitely a novelty to stop so often during a race to take pictures and not worry about a time or pushing myself hard at all.  I can see why people like to do it, but for me, the true appeal of signing up for and running a race will always be pushing myself as hard as I can.  I really missed that this time around.

My next race will be later this month - the Haddon Township Turkey Trot, which I do every year.  After that, who knows?  Hopefully 2018 will bring a renewed vigor to my running.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer 2017 Road Rules: Toddler Edition

When my sister first proposed an RV trip out west with all of our kids, I was a bit skeptical.  Neither of us had ever set foot in an RV.  Could either of us even drive one?  Would my son, at just shy of three years old, be too young for it?  Would it be at all enjoyable with five kids all under the age of eight?

Luckily we threw caution to the wind and decided to go for it.  Thankfully, after handling the logistics of a ten day trip to Germany for 16 people just a few weeks earlier, I didn't have to do any of the planning for this trip as my sister took care of all the details.  All I had to do was show up and help drive/wrangle the kids on occasion.

Quick stats:
  • 29 foot, class C Ford RV (no special license required to operate)
  • Two weeks
  • Five kids (Neale and his four cousins)
  • Three adults (me, my sister, my sister's German au pair Nina)
  • Leaving from and returning to St. Paul, Minnesota
  • States: Minnesota → Iowa → Missouri → Nebraska → Kansas → Colorado → Utah → Wyoming → South Dakota → Minnesota
  • National Parks: Great Sand Dunes, Arches, Canyonland, Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Badlands

On July 17th, Neale and I flew west to Minnesota where my sister picked us up at the airport.  We spent a few days at her place in St. Paul, then we all boarded the RV in the afternoon and started driving south to Iowa.  We parked and slept in the parking lot of a random Walmart somewhere in Iowa that night, then headed out the next day for Kansas.

My sister and I quickly became adept at driving such a large vehicle.  All we had to do was allow for extra room when making turns, and extra time when stopping or accelerating, and we were fine.  Though my sister never did take a liking to driving through the mountain passes with steep cliffs, which she let me handle.

After spending the night in Iowa, we drove through the northwestern corner of Missouri (my first time in the Show Me State), where we briefly got lost amidst the cornfields, then into the southeastern portion of Nebraska, then finally to our destination of the day: Kansas (my first time in the Sunflower State).

We spent an hour at the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center in Oakley, Kansas where the kids finally got to run free for a bit:

We then parked at our "RV campground" on the edge of a farmer's property in the middle of nowhere in Kansas.  The campground consisted of a small grassy lot with a few water and electrical hookups spaced throughout, a locked metal box to deposit money on the honor system, and that was it. 

I went running that night under the stars and almost got attacked by a dog who came barreling out of a nearby front yard, all teeth and hackles and a ferocious bark.  The owner stuck her head out of her front door and yelled at me not to run.  A steely calm came over me as I faced the dog, backing away slowly, ready to fight if needed, but once I retreated enough, the dog went back to his yard.  I was pleased to note I could keep my calm under pressure and not lose my shit, both figuratively and literally.

The next day we were all packed up and ready to trundle onward through the heartland when we ran into RV trouble.  The back "bedroom" of the RV, which slides out at night to create more space, would not retract.  We spent hours in the blazing Kansas sun trying to figure out what to do.  We eventually got ahold of a nearby RV technician who could not fix the problem either, so we eventually just used brute strength to push the part of the RV back into place, where it stayed the rest of the trip.

Onward across Kansas and into Eastern Colorado, which is just more Kansas.

In Eastern Colorado we met a man on the side of the highway who had survived brain cancer and was walking across the country just because he could.

In Southern Colorado we stopped at Bent's Old Fort which used to be on the border of Mexico.  I bought a book there - Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides - and spent the rest of the trip engrossed in the bloody history of this region of America.

We soon hit our first national park of the trip - Great Sand Dunes National Park - where we spent time playing in the sand dunes before retiring to an RV campground outside of the park.

The next few days were a whirlwhind of national parks in Southern Utah.  We hit the big five in the Beehive State: Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Capitol Reef.  At each one, we lathered the kids in sunblock, loaded the backpacks with snacks, and set off on short hikes near the visitor center or anywhere we could park a 29 foot RV (including one trailhead that was so crowded I had to parallel park the RV - clearly the defining accomplishment of my life).

Neale handled the trails about as well as I would expect from an almost-three-year-old.  He walked intermittently but mostly wanted to be carried.  I was pleased and proud to see that he seemed to take a liking to rock climbing.  Like father, like son.

From a young age I've always loved climbing anything and everything - trees, buildings, cliffs, etc. - and was in heaven with the rough red sandstone of southern Utah and its numerous natural hand holds.  There were many times when I scared the wits out of myself when I realized I had climbed higher than I intended and realized I wasn't sure how to get down.  No caffein for me, thanks, my adrenaline has already spiked enough.

I was enamored of the landscape of southern Utah.  I'd been there before, with my mother when I was 17, but I'd forgotten how simply breathtaking the landscape is.  The best view from the RV was in the driver's seat, so I found myself volunteering to drive as much as possible just so I could take it all in (and maybe also to get away from the chaos in the back for a bit).

Life inside the RV was difficult at times.  We were on the road for long stretches, and keeping five young children occupied was challenging.  Too often, when they became bored of the limited supply of books/coloring materials/toys they had brought, they resorted to annoying each other for fun.  Screams of "he's touching me!" or "she stole my Legos!" or variations thereof clanged around in the small space and tested all of our patience.  There were a lot of tears and breakdowns on this trip.

As we settled into a driving routine, so we settled into a campground routine.  My sister took care of the laundry, while I took care of monitoring our fresh/gray/black water tanks and draining/filling as needed.  Nina helped with wrangling the kids and food meal prep/clean up.

I think all but three meals during the entire trip were prepared in the RV.  We did a lot of grocery shopping, and on the few occasions when we went to a restaurant, we usually got pizza.

After hitting the national parks of southern Utah, we slowly started making our way north through the state, then veered east for the first time of the trip into Wyoming.  We barreled across the state until entering South Dakota, where we stopped at our final national park: Badlands National Park.

After spending the night there, we continued on to the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota.  Surprisingly, this was my third time in the Mt. Rushmore State, and my third time visiting the Corn Palace.  My first time was in 1997 on a service trip to an Indian Reservation, my second time was in 2007 during a cross country road trip, and now my third time in 2017.  I figure I'll head back for a fourth time in 2027.

And finally, two weeks after setting out from Minnesota, we crossed the border back into the North Star State, and shortly thereafter arrived back in St. Paul.  Neale and I stayed on for another two days, then flew back to the east coast.

Huge thanks go out to my sister for coming up with the idea for this trip and then planning every last detail.  I have no doubt this is something we'll be talking about for years to come.  Though it was tiring and stressful at times, it was a wonderful trip, and one I won't soon forget.  Neale had such a good time playing with his cousins, and loved playing with Kiera especially.

At each national park I bought a poster, and I plan to frame those posters and eventually hang them in Neale's room.  I also hope to make a Shutterfly book for Neale with all of the pictures of the trip.  I don't know how much of this trip he will remember, if any at all, but I do hope I have succeeded in planting the seeds of wanderlust deep in his soul.

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