frozen bottles of waters might just save your life

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One of the things that I was immediately impressed with about the prep for my Australia trip was the lack of things I had to worry about.

“What airport do you want to fly out of?”

“Ummm…Kalamazoo, if it’s possible…”

“You got it!  Your visas will be emailed to you soon.”

“Wait, I don’t have to apply for those?”

“Nope!  It’s covered.”

“What about travel insurance?”

“Covered!  Details are coming.”

“How many suitcases can I bring…?”

“Two.”

“What’s the luggage fee?”

“….It’s covered!”

“BUT I STILL HAVE CONCERNS AND QUESTIONS AND AUUUUUGH!!!” *

“We’re having a one day meeting/training here before you leave the country!”

The way this process usually works is that people interested in joining Haunt Team USA head to Ohio for a two-day “boot camp” in which candidates get into costume and practice the types of things they will have to do in Australia.  It’s a tough, intense audition.  People that end up going don’t always get selected their first time through the boot camp.  But it is, hands down, the absolute best way B&B can prepare their team, and we’re at a disadvantage because we aren’t getting the benefit of that training.  Instead, we’re having a very abbreviated ‘here’s what you need to know’ intensive workshop.

That meeting was when I first met the people I’d be living with for about a month…JS, the oldest member of our team as well as the most extreme of us (think Rob Zombie covered in gore with a heart of gold and you’ve sorta kinda got JS in your mind), W, the youngest member of the team with the most experience for this gig (this would be his 7th show in Australia!), and R, W’s girlfriend (an Aussie and a sorta-team-member).  We spent maybe 5 hours going over the gritty details of what we needed to know to be really prepared for this upcoming adventure.  B&B do an outstanding job of prepping the members of Haunt Team USA, and their notes include a suggested shopping list, as buying groceries is something you might only get one chance to do so.

B1 focuses a lot on buying groceries.  “Grab two carts.  Fill them.  Spend $100 for each person.  Have your list ready ahead of time.  Buy anything you think you might want, and then take turns cooking meals for the group.”  He makes it very clear that the best way to get through this venture is to work as a team.

He warns us that good insoles will be your best friend.  Also, frozen bottles of water might  just save your life.  Oh, and bring things you don’t mind not bringing back with you.

“Haunted houses are still new in Australia.  The audience there is not like what you find here.  They will scare differently.”

We’re given instructions on how to manage ticket collecting at the door…told to try to defuse situations at the haunt rather than be aggressive about them…told to watch out for Vietnamese gangs that might try to steal tickets from us.

And also?  Fear the daystar.

“There’s no ozone layer over Australia,” B&B warn us.

“Ummm…say what now?”

“No, really,” R chimes in.  “It’s a serious thing.”

B&B, as well as W, share stories of sunburn – “My eyelids got burned!” is one in particular that terrifies me – that make me want to run from the room screaming in terror.  I can get more surnburn in 30 minutes than most people will get over an entire summer. Finally!  Something I can for real legit worry about:  How will I ever survive nearly a month without being burned to a crisp??

In the midst of my worry, it’s suggested I go get the metric poop ton of costuming I’ve brought along with me to go over character ideas with B2 while B1 continues to talk to the rest of the team.  Part of the interview process for this gig was sending photos of myself in varied haunt costumes, and I thought I was more or less prepared costume-wise, but in my panic over sunburn and heat stroke, I’m already eliminating about half of what I’ve brought with me.  (Admittedly, part of my problem is that my focus has always been more on operations than on performing; so, although I have characters, haunt acting is secondary to me.)  B2 patiently dealt with my panicked self as I babbled my concerns at her, threw costuming all over her living room, and whittled my choices down to three.  B2 then had a photographer-friend shoot some pics of me to be considered for use for a booth display B&B were taking to TransWorld in a few weeks…

Next was dinner, and then an extended bit of chatter after everyone but me had left (extended, in part, because I friggin’ love B&B and hadn’t seen them in much too long)…which means I got home ungodly late.  But it was worth it.  Because now not only did I feel more prepared, but – as previously mentioned – I now had something to actually obsess about…sun protection!

Back at home to repack my suitcases a few dozen more times over the next week, and then….to the airport we go!

 

* I wasn’t entirely this bad.  I think.  Probably.

…No, I was totally insanely bad.

globe-trotter haunter

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I think it was in 2012 when I first heard that my friends B&B were recruiting haunters to come and audition to work for a show in Australia. There were multiple opportunities lasting from 3 weeks to 2 months and I was so very curious…I remember taking to Bones about it, trying to figure out the logistics, and ultimately I just wasn’t sure it was practical. Or that I was fit enough. Or young enough. Or a strong enough actor.

The following year, I thought about it again, but not as seriously. Then the China gig came up, and I jumped into that experience with absolutely NO idea what I was really getting into.

I came back and told Bones, “Ok. The need to go to Australia is out of my system.”

…Which made the universe sit up, take notice, and ask, “Oh, really?”

B&B knew I’d been to China – we had discussed it very briefly, and they know J, the guy that hired me on. And of course they knew I had an interest in Australia.

– I mean, what no one has known until this moment is how many sweepstakes I’ve entered where a trip to Australia was the grand prize. When The Bloggess wrote about going there as a result of a “bucket list” contest, I looked into that. I have had a long obsession with the wildlife. I’ve been trying to get Bones to agree that what we really need to make our lives complete is a wallaby butler and a platypus to keep him company.

So you could say I’ve put a LOT of energy over a LOT of years manifesting this opportunity.

…Anyway! Earlier this year, I received an email from B&B asking if I knew anyone that might be interested in going to Australia in March. I sent a few emails to people I thought would be AMAZING candidates…and then, after talking to Bones, I took a deep breath and filed out the application myself.

After several emails about gig details, asking for a bio, and photo requests, I learned (a) I was their runner up choice for their team of three, and (b) one of their three wasn’t able to make it. What followed was a long honest discussion with B&B about the logistics of this trip..how hard it was going to be..how serious I was about going.

Here’s the deal: Most haunts operate for a few set hours a night. Yes, there’s hours of prep involved, but actual operations are not that long, and usually they’re focused on weekends. This gig? It’s a whole different animal. It’s set up/training actors/running the show for 14 days straight, 10-12 hours a day, starting at 9am/tear down/go home. It’s set up in something that’s sorta a county fair on steroids, which…I’ve worked a haunt at a county fair before. It’s probably a lot like working a haunt on the Jersey boardwalk. So you’re talking hot and sun and rain and nonstop work.

So, not a cake walk.

But.  But but but…AUSTRALIA!

Did I have any health concerns?  Well, yes. My feet.  My feet are a recurring issue for me.

Was Bones ok with me going?  Yes.

Do I have a valid passport?  Yes.

Have I ever worked with a microphone before?  Yes.  Granted, not in a haunted house, but if you can talk on headset answering visitors’ questions while working in a minizoo with a screaming parrot and a gaggle of teenage volunteers, you can probably handle being on headset at a haunt, yes?

Have I been in costume for 12 hours?  Ummm…sorta?  Does a ren faire count?

At the end of the call, I was advised to go talk to Bones some more and spend some more time thinking about everything that had been discussed in the past 30 minutes, and to let B&B know in 24 hours if I was still in or not.

…I didn’t need that much time to email them back and say, ‘Yes please!’

*cue the panic to get everything done and documented at work so that Bones will be in the best possible position for me to be gone for 3+ weeks*

AUSTRALIA!!!

 

on the issue of selfies, snapchat, and consent

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Over the next stretch of weeks, I’ll be writing about my recent trip to work a haunted attraction in Australia – yes, really! Australia! – and it’s a mixed bag of experiences, to be sure…but one of the biggest things sticking in my memory is not exactly related to haunting.

Selfies.

What I found, while being in costume at the haunt, was that everyone wants a photo of characters.  That’s not unusual, but it was…extreme in Sydney.  One of our team members literally couldn’t take a step at times without being asked to pose for a photograph. (I videotaped this because it was truly amazing how many requests he would get.)

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the daytime crowds were nicer about this than the people that showed up as the sun went down.  We moved from having family groups with babies to teenagers and early 20-something year olds that were more aggressive about their requests.  I realized, as the requests came in, that they weren’t requests.

They were demands.

As a woman, this was far from a comfortable situation.  It didn’t matter if I was working, if I was obviously busy, even if I was talking to someone else.  The only answer to, “Can I take a selfie with you?” is, “Yes.”

If you say no, you find a celphone-holding hand being slipped around you and a photo being snapped.  In my case, I was taking tickets in a line queue, so there was no way I could avoid having people surround me, and honestly after 12 hours of work, I didn’t have the patience I had earlier in the day to just grin and bear it.

Also?  That’s a disturbing thought right there. I can’t say no. I can’t stop this from happening. My best bet is to smile and pretend it’s ok.

That’s exactly what I found myself thinking, and in light of the growing awareness of rape culture, that’s friggin’ disturbing.

There’s no WAY this is ok. 

“But it’s just a photograph, right?  Why is that a bad thing?”

Because ANY time your right to say no to something that involves your body, your personal space, is taken away?  There’s no damn WAY that’s anything BUT a bad thing.

I’m in no way familiar with the world of selfies and Snapchat, so maybe the aggressive taking of these pics is only news to me.  But seriously?  I ever catch someone I know treating anyone the way I was treated in Australia, I will make sure that behavior stops ASAP.

And if you’re one of those people thinking you have a right to take a photo of someone just because you want to do it even though you’ve been told no?

You’re wrong.

You’re being abusive.

You need to check your privilege and re-educate yourself about what ‘no’ means.

 

banishing the bad

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t explain that correctly.”

Although the comment isn’t directed at me, I can’t help but hear the comment, note how instead of blaming the person doing the task incorrectly, our person in charge is taking responsibility as she corrects the problem.

I continue to paint the wall in front of me, but my thoughts are of another work site, where I was in the process of repainting a skull and replacing it on a facade.

“Wow.  That’s horrible,” my  boss says from below my ladder.

It wasn’t what I was used to.  At all.  If it had been said to someone else, I might have protested his words.  But it was said to me, and I wanted to do a good job, so I tried to laugh it off and figure out what about the task was wrong.

This was one of my first days working for him.  It set the tone for the next seven years – criticism, sometimes couched in ‘oh you know I’m kidding’, and praise/compliments mostly offered when there was no other audience but me.

I love having the opportunity to help create scenes, environments.  Usually that’s within the walls of a haunted house.  I’d fallen in love with this haunt and I was eager for the opportunity to work here as often as possible.  Indeed, it was this haunt that had set me on the path to becoming “Halloween Girl” more so than any other haunt project or commitment I’d taken on up to that point in my life.

Part of the appeal was that I was working for a friend.

I didn’t know at the time that I was actually working for a narcissist.

What that means, for me, is that I spent those years on a roller coaster of praise and abuse.  I could do anything; I was mostly useless. I was one of his best friends; the more I hurt, the more he wanted to hurt me.  The people that worked this haunt were a family; I wasn’t supposed to talk to them about much of anything. The stories and the rules changed depending on the audience, and while hindsight makes it all very clear, the day to day process of living with it is bewildering.

Here’s the really hard thing:  This all happened me to before the average person knew the definition of  ‘narcissistic personality disorder.’ On one hand, when I walked away from that job, I knew I would be cyberstalked, so it changed many of the ways I handle myself online (including why I am being admittedly vague, and even still I’m having a hard time hitting ‘publish’), and I grew to learn that people that were paying attention weren’t believing the smear campaign that still goes on to this day.  Which is typical for a narcissist.

More deeply rooted, and the bigger surprise, was the unexpected PTSD.  I found that had lost a lot of my confidence, my ability to trust my coworkers.  When Bones and I started our haunt and were building the show, I struggled a lot with an unexpected need for reassurance.  And when I started working at the theatre, I discovered that I was shocked to hear people treating each other with respect.  That it was ok to take a break.  That the way I used to treat my fellow crew members was actually the *norm* rather than something to be mocked.  That mistakes weren’t met with, “Wow, that’s horrible,” or other demeaning critical comments, or compliments at the moment followed by negativity muttered to other ears.

I am lucky in that I’ve worked with people that understand why I have PTSD.  They’ve known the players in my story. They’ve been able to  tell by the look on my face when I’ve stopped hearing them and started hearing the past.  Sometimes I feel like every job offers one more bit of healing. And sometimes it’s really hard to not just walk around hugging people that are being genuinely kind to each other on a work site.

 

 

easy ways to do good

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Over on Facebook, I keep seeing ideas shared on easy ways to help out the homeless that you pass on the street, so as we move into the winter months, I thought it might be useful to compile the ideas I’ve seen into a blog post.

  • Meal Bags – The following incredibly simple idea comes from Thomas Willeford.  (Photo credit is his.)foodThese cans of food can be purchased for about $1/each on sale, and are examples of things that can be made into self-contained easily carried-and-opened meals that don’t necessarily need to be cooked.  Add prepackaged take-out packs of forks/spoons/napkins and a bottle of water, and store them in bags in your car to be distributed as needed.  Total cost per bag is roughly under $2.
  • Fill-A-Bag  purseYou can obviously get creative with this idea.  Add in snacks, gift cards, socks, gloves, combs…the possibilities are endless.  Or if you have other types of bags, customize one for the guys.  These items can be so easily found in the trial size section of a grocery or drug store – or, if you’re staying at a hotel and you don’t use the soaps and shampoos in your room, take them with you for these packages!
  • Suspended Coffees – Being a lover of coffee, I love this idea…although it can easily extend to meal times, not just coffee.  There is a network of cafes around the world where you can prebuy a coffee (or a cup of soup, or whatever you’d like), and ask the barista to ‘suspend’ the purchase.  When someone in need comes in and asks for a suspended coffee, they get this item.  It’s truly a random act of kindness and you can do it knowing that your money is going directly to a person in need, not to someone’s salary or overhead. (You can learn more about how this idea came to be here.)
  • Restaurant Leftovers – This is a no-brainer, especially if you pass people in need on your way into the restaurant.  Should you not finish your dinner?  Depending on what’s left over, get it put into a take-out dish and give it to someone.  Does your meal come with something you’re not going to eat, like soup?  Get it and give it away. (My friends and I have gone so far as to order an extra appetizer, or sandwich, or meal – especially easy if you’re getting fast food – and give that away.)  Note:  We were all working at a museum for minimum wage, so please don’t think that this is something for wealthy people to do.  Anyone can do it.
  • The Bloggess and Her James Garfield Miracle – Once a year, Jenny Lawson puts up a post that allows people that want to help others to network with people that can use some help.  If you don’t read The Bloggess, please do click on that link and see what it looks like when a community of people come together out of a desire to help strangers have a better holiday season.  (It’s pretty amazing.  It’s also officially over for 2015, BUT the links for the wish lists are still active, so if you’d like to go buy a holiday present for a kid, go take a look.)

Obviously, there are LOTS of ways you can help people out…from saying yes at the register when someone asks you to donate a dollar or two to a cause, to chipping in on online fundraisers.  I like these ideas because they’re personal. You are in control of the focus of the help.  And most of them are so, so, EASY to do!

…Thanks for reading this.  Now go be awesome. 🙂

10 minutes of your life

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“Do you like spirits, mommy?  Even fuzzy ones?”

Many years ago, I was at a party thrown by, and attended by, varied people from a Philadelphia BBS. (This would be internet-before-the-world-wide-web, when we connected via modems and messaging systems,   when 2400 baud was still pretty common and 9600 was incredibly fast and why are you laughing?? Get off my lawn!)

Ahem.

So.  There was this party where people were bringing in videos of things most of us had never seen.  It’s where I first saw “Bambi VS Godzilla” and “Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown,” as well as several of the Warner Bros. cartoons that are too politically incorrect to be shown anymore (although you can find them easily enough on YouTube).

And then someone walked in with an animated film – Japanimation, to give you an idea of how far back this story goes –  that needed a bit of explanation.  “This isn’t in English,” he said. “I have no idea what it’s really about.  But it’s awesome and you have to watch it.”

The title of this movie?  “My Neighbor Totoro.”

It was in Japanese with no subtitles, and it was…bewildering.  And amazing.

A few years later, I saw this movie for rent and told my mom we had to get it.

“What’s it about?”

“I have NO IDEA.  But you’ll love it.”

And she did, of course.  Because it’s amazing.  Really, it’s the perfect bit of anime for me, with its soot sprites and bizarre cats and nature spirits.

Based on all of this, you’d think that I’d love anime.

I don’t.

I seriously have zero interest in the genre, outside of the work of Hayao Miyazaki.

But that’s not to say I won’t give it a chance.  I think it’s one of the personality traits I find most frustrating in other people, the inability to give something new a chance, to give it 10 minutes of your life and see if it’s worth 10 minutes more.  (This is a concept my friend Gwendolyne introduced to me, and it’s brilliant.)  I’m not always good about this practice, myself; but I know that when I am, those are 10 minutes of understanding/experience/compassion that enrich my life, and so really, I can’t recommend the idea highly enough.

…And part of me still kinda wants to snuggle a totoro.

 

a class in casting

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“Have any of you done casting before?” Stacy asked our tiny group of three students.  I raised my hand, feeling a little foolish in doing so.  My answer was yes, but I couldn’t say I really understood the process.

Of course, my first experience was helping to cast a leg bone of a type specimen fossil found in Egypt…

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…That’s a leg bone from Paralititan.  The thing is nearly as tall as I am, and honestly, all I remember about the experience is that we were all learning as we went along and that it needed a mother mold to help support the dang thing.

I’d also had my face stolen…er, a cast made of my face…by my friend Lynati, but I’m not sure the experience entirely counts.  Still, both factoids helped me to feel not entirely lost as we started to learn varied applications of casting.

The main focus of the class was to create a mold and then cast a breakable bottle, as one would use on stage during a bar brawl.  The class stretched over the course of several weeks to allow the varied parts of the cast to be made, so we were also working on other projects.

For our first trick…sorry, project, Stacy handed us each a bit of blue clay and asked us to sculpt a Small Something.

I instantly panicked.  Sculpting really isn’t something I do.  But then I thought about how a friend sculpted these tiny faces to set into the high corners of her home, rather like easily-missed gargoyles, and I decided to try making something like that.  We each created a small box without a lid around our creations, mixed together two ingredients to create our mold, and poured that into the box.  (I should say, we used products from Smooth-On – a great company with great customer service that can help you choose the product that best fits your needs.  Because there’s a lot of stuff to choose from.)

Once it solidified, we could take the box apart and remove the clay sculpture, leaving a cavity in the shape of the art piece (shown in the first pic below).  Then we mixed together two other ingredients and poured that into the cavity, creating a cast.  When that had become a solid (second pic), we could remove it from the mold and…yay!  A face!

 …Not the creepy face I had  intended, but that probably says more about me than I’d like it to.

If you look a little closer at my finished face, you’ll see he has a kind of buck tooth thing going on.  This means that there’s a small pocket, probably created by air.  If I want to cast another face and I don’t want him to look derpy, I can pop a small bit of clay into that upper lip bit to I should say that when you mix your ingredients together to cast your mold, you don’t always have a lot of time to futz around with the liquid, as it wants to start solidifying pretty quickly, generally speaking.  So you move faaaaairly quickly, and you try to not waste materials if you can.  In our case, if we had mixed a little too much stuff, Stacy had us pour it into other casts to create things like mirrors, stars, and coins.  The last two items were then used in the Civic’s production of “Mary Poppins.”

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This photo shows better what our sculptures looked like pre-mold, and what the casts looked like as they solidified.

Doing all this small stuff successfully filled in the time while we waited for the bigger stuff to get done….which looked like this!

We each took an empty beer bottle, created a ‘cork’ with a bit of clay, and glued it to a small square base.  Then we centered it within a cardboard tube and repeated the steps above.

The cardboard tube was cut on one side to allow us to open it up after the mold was created. In the first group of photos above, you’ll see that there are velcro bands around the tube; this was to hold it together because of that cut.  We also hot glued around the outside of the tube where it met up with that square bit of backing so that the mold mix wouldn’t leak out too much.  (Bear in mind:  Mold making is MESSY.)

Once we had a solid mold around our bottles, we removed the bottle and then created a wax cast of the bottle by pouring hot wax into the mold, waiting a moment, and then pouring the wax back into the original heated container.  We did this four or five times, and then we poured more of the mold making material (the blue stuff) into the cavity so that we had a cast of the inside of the bottle.  This all took longer than just one class session.

The wax bottle could then be disposed of (although of course I kept mine because WOO I MADE SOMETHING!!!).

The next step was to reassemble our mold so that the thing in the middle was inside the thing to the left, as perfectly centered as we could get it.  As it turned out, this was the hardest part of the whole project.

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The above picture shows Stacy pouring very hot liquid plastic into one of our molds.  We tried the process twice.  None of us ended up with a perfect bottle. 😦

Lessons learned:

  • If you waited for the cast to be completely cool?  It breaks when you try to remove it from the mold.
  • The hot plastic will sorta settle into the mold as it cools, but if you top it off?  You will get the funky fake ‘cork’ seen in picture #2.
  • Related:  You can add a second pour.  It won’t show as layers in the finished product.
  • If you don’t have your inner mold perfectly centered?  You end up with the sort of swirly incomplete side seen in picture #3.
  • If you are insane enough to want to fix your bottle with superglue?  Sure, you can do that…but this material is meant to be easily broken, so guess what?  It will break again very easily!  This is why the clearer bottle is such a mess.

It may be that the wax bottle process needed to be a little thicker.  We were so sure we had our inner molds centered, but I think all three of us had the same thing happen seen in picture #3.

Other things we did in class…we made vases!  (These were also used for “Mary Poppins.”)

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I suck at vases.  These used a very solid ‘mother mold,’ which is a sort of cradle that supports the mold to keep your cast from getting wonky and your mold from warping.  I wasn’t quite strong enough to pop my vase half out of the mother mold easily.  It’s a very finicky process and I should have taken more photos of said process.  Alas.  The real reason for this photo was that I wanted to show the different finishes.  If the vase mold was sprayed with…I believe it was an auto body primer…you got this more paintable surface on your cast.

The other thing we worked on in this class was using a mold to fix a picture or mirror frame.  (I personally think this is the coolest thing ever.)

  1.  Look at your frame and figure out what non-broken part of it matches the broken part.  You will be making a mold of that bit.

    Good bit – broken bit – make a mold!

  2. When the putty-looking compound is dry, try to anticipate where your casting liquid is going to want to go and create dams with clay to keep it from escaping the mold.  I pretty much failed step two, but I can show you why.  See how there are all these open ends on the right side of the photo?  That’s where the liquid escaped.  It’s hard to see all of these areas when the mold is still on the frame.  Fortunately, you can add casting material in stages, so I ended up waiting for my first disastrously messy pour to harden up..then I’d add more…wait for THAT to harden up…and add a third batch.  Sigh!  But I promise, once everything’s done?  You can’t tell.20151211-154524.jpg
  3. If desired, you can dye the casting material with something like this – it works kinda like food dye.  A little goes a long way.
  4. If desired, you can also dust the inside of the mold with a powder that will help colour the cast as well.  (I apparently forgot to get photos of all of this.  Alas.  But you can see a bit of the gold powder in my mold.)
  5. Pour your casting material into your mold.  NOTE:  This will create a cast that is attached directly onto your original frame!!!  For this to go perfectly, you want to make sure your mold is really flush with your frame; otherwise, you’ll have a slight lip at the connection point.  (Again, I apparently failed to take a pic of my finished piece, which was not perfect, but for a haunt would be pretty dang ok.)

So this is a huge dang blog post, but goodness, did I love the experience!  The materials are a little pricey, although starter kits are readily available online, and I’m really looking forward to being able to finding a practical application for these lessons!  😀