Thursday, October 27, 2011

You gotta get a gimmick...

This upcoming weekend, I am singing an aria excerpted from the new opera Lady Orchid by Dan Shore in a variety show of sorts for Boston Opera Collaborative.  Occurring over Halloween, the program is called Opera Goes to Hell: Sin, Sex and the Supernatural.  When the composer watched me sing the role of Chastity in an informal reading of his opera, he exclaimed it was perfect for me.  The punchline of this is that it is the role of a stripper.

To explain this statement further, this is not my first foray into the portrayal of the seedy, but I have also played my fair share of ingénues.  This character of Chastity is a good blend of exotic dancer by night, while by day she comes off more like a kindergarten teacher.  She is based on a real person featured in the news as part of a murder trial in Pennsylvania.   This combined with the fact that it fits me well vocally is probably the reasoning behind the casting. 

My first unsavory character was actually performed in Pennsylvania, when I was part of a chorus of prostitutes in a modern rendition of The Beggars’ Opera in undergrad.  The most remarkable part of this run for me personally, was the night my parents came to see the show.  This night also coincided with the professional photographs that were being taken after the performance.  We were told we had to greet friends and family in the audience in costume.  So, instead of heading out to the pavilion in my street clothes as was the case every other night of the run, I had to greet my parents in a see-through top, purple suede miniskirt and hooker boots.  And of course, my mother insisted on a round of photos.  My dad kept joking about how he was going to make wallet prints out of them so he could proudly show everyone photos of his daughter, the street walker.

This leads me to another story of note.  A family friend was over one time while I was home for the summer from college.  The topic of part time jobs came up.  This friend suggested that I get a job at Hooters restaurant to put myself through grad school, saying that servers there make two or three hundred dollars in tips a night.  While I myself was objecting, we turned to my dad who was deep in contemplation.  “Two or three hundred dollars a night…” he said, “That’s a lot of money...”  Now, on the list of people who should be objecting to the idea of my getting a job at Hooters, one would think that my father would be at the top.  “Of course, you’d have to be careful not to go home with anyone,” he continued.  Let’s face it, my dad the mathematician was just being wooed by numbers in his head. 

And really, since nearly half of my stage career has been made up of playing risqué roles, what was stopping me from taking a job at Hooters anyway?  I might as well have carried some chicken wings at the same time for a lot more money.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it” ~George Carlin

I have lived in the same apartment for six years but have now successfully moved on.  I am a person who is pretty adverse to personal change.  Political change, I am all about, but ask me to relocate or give up anything I have held dear and I am overwhelmed.  The dread that I felt leading up to moving day cannot be exaggerated.  I grew up in the same home my entire life and I’m sure that that contributes in some way to my inflexibility.  In actuality, the moving in with the boyfriend part of this process, once decided, was the easiest part.  It was more the leaving of fond memories and even more than that, the schlepping of the massive amount of crap in my apartment that had me full of dread and panic. I have been doing purges of my possessions all year long. 

You might have gleaned from this blog that along with the normal amount of accumulation that occurs during a six year period, I have my mother, who has contributed a small country’s worth of clothing and knick-knacks.  Going through said things has been no small task.  When friends would come over to help me purge, the most repeated sentiment of the day was usually: “Oh, my mom gave me that”.  My mother herself maintains that she is never moving again. She says the only way she is leaving that house in Connecticut is in a pine box.

Keeping my mom from adding more items to the pile during a move is also a task unto itself.  When I first moved into my last place 6 years ago, it was the same thing.  My former roommate and childhood friend Maura, recalls that while packing up in Connecticut, my mother would ask me if I needed a particular thing and I would say: “No, I’ll never use that” or “No, I have two of those already”.  Then I would walk away and Maura would watch my mother put the item into the car anyway.  I only recently discovered that she had snuck not one, but two mattress covers on my old bed, which explains why it sounded like I was sleeping on a diaper for five years. I assure you— I have not wet the bed since my potty-training years.  This second mattress cover is just the ideological equivalent to refusing another helping of potatoes from my Ukrainian great-grandmother.  “They’re good for you,” she would say as she plopped them onto your plate.  More is more, right?

Now, this time around, I did not ask my parents to come up and help.  With regards to my dad, I knew better.  The last time I moved, my dad was confounded by my mom’s idea that they needed to be there to move me in at all.  While I was indifferent, my mom insisted that they both had to come along.  Unfortunately for my dad, the move happened to fall on one of the hottest days of the summer and on a day when he also was in the throes of a nasty flu.  I remember him carrying a box up the stairwell, covered in sweat and stopping every three steps to catch his breath. That was the day he declared “Never again”.  He rallied enough later that day to regale us all with jokes about all the funny Swedish words in the Ikea instructions, but I knew that for this move I did not have to worry about my parents spontaneously descending.

That was until my mother called the morning before and said: “Now… you can say whatever you want, but I’m coming up tomorrow”.  When such pronouncements are made, it is best not to argue.  It’s like the time she came to visit me during my semester in Rome.  The second time she visited the apartment she barreled right in, fixed a dangling curtain, and then cleaned the whole kitchen.  My roommate emerged from the kitchen in shock and said: “Katrina, your mother is doing the dishes.  I tried to stop her but I couldn’t.”  Resistance is futile.  And so long as she doesn’t try to re-organize things, you will be okay in the end.

A slew of friends came to help move, which was wonderful.  One of them heard me refusing a set of blue and white dishes from my insistent mother.  The conversation went something like this:

“Helen was getting rid of these and I thought they were lovely— like toile”

“They’re fine, but I have three sets of dishes as it is”

“For parties?”

“Nope, I’m good.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t use them?”


“Not for a big dinner party?”


“What am I going to do with them?”
Brendan’s family also helped move that day.  Brendan’s favorite part of the move-in took place when his mother, looking at my mother’s car, asked her if we had really gotten everything out of it.  He and I know better that her backseat is always down and there is almost always random furniture and a toolbox in the back.  My mom looked at her confused and said: “Yes, why?”

It has now been over two months, and yes, I have found a plethora of redundant cleaning products that somehow got past me during move-in.  During unpacking, roughly one out of every seven boxes belonged to Brendan.  Each time I happened to open one of his, I would exclaim; “Wow!  This one is yours!” 

My Ukrainian genes seem to be kicking in as I get older because I have now said to Brendan several times: “But what if the Queen comes over?”  (In actuality, he is the neater of the two of us).  As far as domestic co-habitation is concerned, it’s treating us well, but that is perhaps another blogpost for another time.

Yesterday I bought some new picture frames and couldn’t remove the remnants of the price tag on the front.  That’s when I discovered a jar of paint thinner under the sink covered in my mom’s handwriting: “Paint thinner- good for sticky stuff, etc.”  Thanks Mom.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ramblin' On

          I had a whirlwind tour of sorts a few weeks ago. In between a wedding in Pennsylvania and a recital in the same state, I took the week in between to visit and catch up with friends and relatives that I don’t get to see very often. Being a traveler and houseguest has its own wonders and challenges.

          Sat, Sept. 10th, 2011: I no sooner opened my mouth for the "Ave Maria" at my college roommate’s outdoor wedding ceremony, than the bride Amanda’s chin started to tremble. Several times in college, I watched her unexpectedly weep in front of the television, and infamously, she would cry every time she watched “Ghost”, despite the fact that she had seen it hundreds of times. (I told her later that day that I was proud that my singing elicited the same reaction in her as a Hallmark commercial.) Fortunately, a few bars into the song, a helicopter flew directly overhead to distract us. As often happens in these situations I had to maintain composure as the caterer waved frantically at the sky in back of the crowd, pleading in vain for it to fly away. Good thing I had planned for 2 verses.

          Monday, Sept. 12th: Once Amanda’s lovely and fun wedding was over I headed to Philly for a few days to visit my friends Emma and Adam. I slept surprisingly well, probably due to a very good mattress and my own room and bathroom. The “making myself comfortable” in their home thing presented only one significant problem while they were at work. Emma received the following email from me during her workday:

Soooo, you may want to pick up eggs on your grocery run today. I know, you are thinking that you have a new carton of eggs, but it’s a long story.

          P.S. Where do you keep your extra paper towels?

         Thursday, Sept. 15th: Now, at some point after he finished a few gigs, the boyfriend was supposed to also head south for a presentation at Penn State and then come see my recital at Muhlenberg. When I’d asked him several times ahead of the trip when he was coming and if he needed a place to stay, he had said he didn’t know yet. So, when two days before he said he needed a place to crash, it became evident that the leg of my trip that he would be joining was not at Emma’s house, but at my cousins’ house in New Jersey.

          So Brendan came along on my week as a houseguest just in time to miss a private guestroom and guest bathroom and instead found himself on the pullout couch in my cousins’ basement, surrounded by half-naked Barbies. My cousin Claire’s house is not exactly a relaxing place. With 3 adorable children all under age eight, it’s more of a circus. I was mildly nervous about whether the kids would take to Brendan or not, but within minutes he was throwing them around the living room and Benjamin (5 years old), told Brendan that he could sleep on the floor next to his bed in a sleeping bag. He then told me: “Aunt Katie, you can sleep in the basement…by yourself”.

Other observations made by the children during my stay:

1. “Aunt Katie, why do you sleep so late?”— (they wanted me to play with them at 7am.)

2. It was apparently freaky that I know the names of their grandparents

          Saturday, Sept. 17th: The recital at Muhlenberg was a success! Thanks to the music department at my undergrad, I was able to spend time preparing and performing a recital of art song. The wonderful thing about this genre is that unlike opera, no one can tell you that you can’t sing a certain kind of song repertoire. It is all available for consumption if you choose to make it yours. And on my last overnight stop in Allentown I got to catch up with one of my favorite professors and his family, as well as Brendan and I having our own guestroom once again in their home.

          Sunday, Sept. 18th: Naturally, after singing an ambitious, hour long recital program, my usual inclination is to sleep in and mostly be a useless lump all day. But why would I want to do that? Because there must be something wrong with me, to round off my week of travel and work, I instead headed to New York City for a Sarasota Opera audition.

          And what was my great reward for this busy week? I reached Boston on Sunday night and had a cup of tea in my own living room and slept in my own bed. As my dad always said; “Sometimes the great part of travelling is coming home.”