The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

The UninvitedThe Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I THOUGHT THIS BOOK WOULD NEVER END.

I’m not a quitter. I’ve never not finished a book. So I finished this one. But I’m pretty sure it took 84 years.

The pacing was slow. So slow. Not “building the intensity” slow but ACTUALLY PAINFULLY SLOW. I don’t care if the main characters went out for margaritas. I don’t care if Mimi changed her clothes for the sixth time. I don’t care if Cramer skulked mysteriously for the millionth time in a row. Nothing was happening.

Mimi was literally the most insufferable heroine. She’s forcibly quirky, to the point that you feel like there’s a neon sign flashing in front of your eyes saying PLEASE SEE WHAT A MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL I AM. I literally felt the strain of reading any parts from Mimi’s point of view, as if someone was stretching out a long string of silly putty. And right from the beginning she’s an unrealistic character, because what girl goes on an all day road trip wearing just a sports bra (imagine the seams of your car upholstery digging into your bare skin for hours on end) and then, upon arrival, changes pants outside in the yard. (I also didn’t need the elaborate description of Mimi’s butt and thong either.) Overall, Mimi was shoved down my throat so much that when I was supposed to care about her and her plight, I didn’t care. (And it didn’t matter, because her plight was solved with a phone call.)

Jay was a useless character and Iris even more so. I honestly can’t give any information about Jay other than “plays guitar.” He was completely forgettable. His big dramatic reveal is dropped with little fanfare in like the second chapter, and not only does it not add anything interesting to the character, it cheapens the later reveal for a later character. Iris was marginally interesting to read about, but did absolutely nothing to further the plot. Just another detour in a long, painfully rambling narrative.

Cramer was the worst. He’s supposed to be mysterious and ambiguous and tortured, but I just wanted to throttle him out of annoyance. His character veered far too far into “nice guy” territory. I half expected a description of him wearing a fedora and posting online about how he’s such a nice guy and girls don’t understand him. He proved to be a weak antagonist/antihero and I hated him so much.

The rest of the cast and the plot are rounded out with forgettable, unlikable caricatures. Cramer’s mother is a plotline that I’ve seen a million times before and this didn’t offer anything new or exciting. Stooley Peters was supposed to be a red herring, but you can see right through him. I still don’t know who on earth Waylin is or why he matters- Cramer talks about it as if it’s super obvious who he is and what his relationship to the other characters is, but it’s never explained. And Mimi’s parents are literally the worst. Jay’s parents are a lot more interesting, but are relegated to one scene and a couple of half hearted mentions.

In short, this book nearly killed me. I read quickly, I read voraciously, and this book literally exhausted me to the point that I had to keep putting it down and taking breaks because I was so bored that I couldn’t keep going. I finished it, because I’m stubborn, but seriously, I would never touch it again.

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Baby’s First Cosplays

I’ll admit it- I was bit by the cosplay bug when I was still very much in my weeaboo stage. I was a sophomore in college, and I was intrigued by the idea of dressing up like characters that I liked. So I headed to the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention for a…very strange weekend.

It’s been a long time, so I’ll just say that I’m no longer friends with any of the people I attended the con with, and since hindsight is 20/20 and all that jazz, I totally understand why I had an absolutely miserable time there. It also didn’t help that I knew absolutely nothing about conventions or cosplay and I was woefully unprepared. But it makes for some hilariously terrible pictures!

I tried cosplaying as Anna Kyoyama from Shaman King for the first time. It wasn’t great. I bought an ugly black dress from Goodwill and wore it with a pair of Skechers slides that were way too big and a piece of red fabric that I don’t even think I hemmed. The bracelet and rosary were all right, and I was even able to use the rosary for the second time I tried the cosplay. But overall, not great. Especially since my idea of hair and makeup at the time was…not good.

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I also tried cosplaying as Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket, in an attempt that can only be described as “what on earth was I thinking?” I wore a navy dress (also from Goodwill) that for some reason I thought looked exactly like Tohru’s school uniform (spoiler alert: it did not) with yellow ribbons, white knee socks, and brown mary janes. I also didn’t know anything about wigs, and while there are a lot of great cosplays that allow the cosplayer to use their own hair, this was not a good choice for me. But I was excited, and that was the most important part.

The most important part of this whole ill-fated attempt was that I finally tried sewing for the first time. One of my roommates in college had a sewing machine; she taught me the basics and set me loose. I bought McCall’s 4948, their token Alice in Wonderland pattern, and gave it a try. Overall it wasn’t the greatest construction, but it also wasn’t terrible. The fabric especially was beautiful; I honestly wish I could find it again so I could remake the whole piece. I didn’t do a horrible job, but I never added the collar, the seams weren’t finished, and the zipper was…not the best.  I also made a petticoat dress underneath using McCall’s 5095 (a sundress pattern) that didn’t offer a lot in the way of fluff but still looked pretty cute peeking out from under the skirt.

The pinafore was a little more misshapen, but again, I made a wearable garment for the first time, zipper included. As you can see I once again didn’t wear a wig and showed off my great MySpace styled hairstyle instead, but it could have been worse. And yeah, some kids made fun of me because I was more Disney/storybook Alice than American McGee’s Alice, but I was pretty happy with how the costume turned out.

I had such a negative experience with that con that I didn’t try again until Akaicon in 2015, but it turns out I do like cons when I go with the right people! And at the end of the day, all that really matters when it comes to cosplay is that you have a great time. So if you’ve thought about trying it, go for it!

Evil Dead the Musical

It’s official!! If you watched my what’s in my audition bag video, you know that I auditioned for Evil Dead the Musical this past week, and if you follow me on Instagram or Tumblr you’ll know that I’ve been cast as Cheryl! I’m super excited. Cheryl is the younger sister who starts off as a sweet, easily spooked college girl who then gets turned into a foul mouthed demon- so a little different from what I usually play! I’m super excited (and now I have three shows to do in the next three months…yikes!!)

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

MarinaMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a ride. The writing is beautifully atmospheric and absorbing, and the draw of the plot is incredibly alluring- the idea of the gothic underworld in the sewers of Spain. However, most of the story is given through exposition rather than action, or even in a flashback, and it fell flat to hear about these great plot twists in a kind of stagnant past tense. The ending also seemed to peter out. The book built to a fantastic climax, and then, instead of ending on a high note, unraveled into an unsatisfying and prosaic conclusion. Overall, the book is beautifully written, but the plot kind of felt like eating a bad angel food cake- delicious, but leaves a weird taste in your mouth, and you realize that it wasn’t even filling in the first place.

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Carrie the Musical

This is going to be a tale. Hold onto your butts, kids.

So…starting at the beginning. Early on at Star Tours, I met a cast member who told me all about this theatre group he started and how he eventually wanted to do the musical Carrie. I was intrigued! Auditions were posted in February and I signed up. I wore one of my favorite little black dresses and sang “Dead Girl Walking” from Heathers for my uptempo and Olive’s solo from “I Love You” from Spelling Bee for my ballad. I got an email a few days later saying I was cast as the understudy for Chris. I was ecstatic. I hadn’t done theatre in four years at this point (that’s another story- comment below if you want to hear it!) and this was perfect. I would get the chance to play a lead role, since I was getting one guaranteed performance, but it would be so much less pressure than if I had been cast in the role full time. I went to the first read through and was super excited.

And that’s when everything took a turn for the worse.

Our first rehearsal was a music rehearsal. We did not have a music director. Or a keyboard. For our first rehearsal we practiced the opening number, “In,” by singing along to the cast recording. Which is okay, but no one knew what we were doing, and that is a tremendously complicated song.

Our next rehearsal was choreography. This is when I discovered that the director, while passionate, had absolutely no idea what he was doing. The choreography was stupidly complicated, but without any technique. Not even any counts. And he couldn’t remember his own steps, so they changed every time. It was an absolutely frustrating experience. The best way I can describe the dance style was “middle school girls making up a music video during a sleepover.” It was bad, y’all.

Things continued to go downhill. The director had temper tantrums that left him tomato-faced and crying. The stage manager coddled him. The cast was all trying their hardest but were given incredibly poor direction. Tommy and George dropped out and had to be replaced (George was now played by a girl who did her best to disguise herself as a boy).

My favorite incident (and the term favorite is extremely…sarcastic) was what we Carrie survivors call “the 9/11 incident.” We came in to block the big prom death sequence, and the director was hopping around telling us that he “knew exactly how he wanted the scene to go” but somehow he “couldn’t find the words to explain it,” so he was going to show us a video.

He then proceeds to show us videos of 9/11 set to the music of Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne.

Short version- the cast revolted. Half the cast was in tears and the other half was shocked into silence. Several people left the room. The director had a temper tantrum. He then gave us a non apology, saying he didn’t realize we would react like that, and then immediately started rehearsal. He kept telling our Carrie to “sing out, why aren’t you singing out?” Well, she was still crying, that’s why.

Rehearsals continued at this stellar pace until about maybe two months before the show opened, when the director realized that the understudy for Margaret hadn’t shown up for a single rehearsal since our first read through, and he asked me to take it on. Since I am a people pleaser who was also desperately eager to use her expensive theatre degree, I said yes. It was a trial by fire, but I managed to learn the part.

Flash forward two more weeks. We still don’t have our backing tracks. The director had maintained since day one that we were going to have a local rock band (unnamed) and a local recording studio (also unnamed) make our background tracks for us. Turns out he expected these resources to donate their time and talents and record this entire three hour score for free. Yeah, that was never going to happen. So in the meantime, we’d been rehearsing with illegally downloaded karaoke tracks and the original Broadway cast recording. Our Carrie asked what we were going to do instead. Our director had no idea.

Around this point, Carrie and Tommy both dropped out. I honestly can’t even blame them. Here we were, doing a show with questionable staging and even more questionable legality (let me also point out here that we never received actual librettos for this show, just PDF files) and since both of them had ties to professional theatre communities, they didn’t want to be attached to this show. The Carrie understudy stepped up to take on the role full time (and did a really nice job, I might add) and the director cast himself as Tommy (complete with varsity jacket that he bought from the girls’ section of Forever 21 and a wig that he claimed “made him look just like Zac Efron.”) Oh boy.

The music problem was finally solved by the stage manager and her husband feeding the sheet music through a program that read the music into midi files. Yes, midi files. We were singing along to a Geocities website circa 2003. It wasn’t good, but at least we finally had the full score.

Around this time, the stage manager realized she was in over her head with costumes, so I jumped in (please refer to the above paragraph: people pleaser with a theatre degree). I revamped costumes, did alterations, helped people find new pieces, and most importantly, remade the Carrie prom dress. The original costume was this horrendous monstrosity of crinkled chiffon and salmon satin that did not fit either of the Carries (and it itched too). This poor excuse for a garment was cut as a princess seam dress with no waistline and with Juliet sleeves- poofy on the shoulders, tight to the wrists. And it made both Carries look dumpy; this was no ethereal life-changing pink prom gown. (The stage manager claimed the dress was supposed to look like the book description of the gown, but if the book was written in the 1970s but the production is set in modern day it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t.) Also, the plan was to have a hero dress and a destroyed dress, and to “take in the dress with safety pins” to make it fit the Carries.

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Now that we only had one Carrie, I took one dress, took off sleeves, cut down the neck and the back, hemmed the whole thing by several inches, and finished the seams so they wouldn’t itch. I then used the Colette Crepe pattern to make two dresses of pink sheer voile, with a pink grosgrain sash and pink bias trim, to put over the old dress. One dress was the hero dress and the other was destroyed; all it took for Carrie’s quick change was to pop the magnets at the waist of the pretty dress to take it off, slide the destroyed dress on and fasten those magnets, and boom! Good to go. Carrie loved it, and the soft pink looked suitably simple and prom-y.

Also, the girl playing Helen found out she was getting a new job without the show dates guaranteed off. Guess who was now playing Helen? And guess who also volunteered to clean up the choreography for multiple dance numbers? (See again: people pleaser with a theatre degree.)

We finally moved into the theater for our May performances. I got to run a couple of scenes as Chris, a couple of scenes as Margaret, and one scene as Helen. Cool, cool, it’s fine. I also assembled my own costumes for each character, because at this point the stage manager didn’t care.

My first performance was as Margaret. That’s when I truly realized how much I loved that role. I would play Margaret again in a heartbeat. I have almost no pictures, but for my main costume I wore a peasant type blouse with navy and red embroidery, an ankle length navy skirt I made out of a sheet from Walmart, a schlumpy gray cardigan, my character shoes, and my old rectangular glasses. I also clipped in my eBay weave, gave myself a Kim Davis poof at the forehead, and braided my now long hair over my shoulder. For the finale scene, I undid the braid and left the glasses backstage, and wore a white flannel nightgown.

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Here’s the kicker though. I was backstage at the top of act two, running my lines for my next scene to make sure I knew them, and the director runs past in his ridiculous wig. “Hey,” he whispered loudly. “We’re not using the prom dress you made. Okay, thanks!”

What.

Turns out that despite keeping the stage manager and director in the loop and getting their approval for everything I did for the prom dresses, they decided that it didn’t “match their vision” and not only were they not going to use the costumes, they weren’t going to reimburse me. I was furious. Carrie was furious. It was a shitshow. The best part was that they decided to yell at me about it at length before I went onstage as Chris.

Oh boy. So for Chris I wanted to go for “prep school bully.” After all, it’s established that her dad is a wealthy lawyer, right? So I wore a cute little white lace dress and a navy knit blazer, and a pair of floral knockoff Doc Martens. For act two, I swapped out the blazer for a cropped denim vest.

I was truly excited about playing Chris, but the problem was I wasn’t given adequate rehearsal time. I knew my lines, I knew my blocking, but I had never gotten the chance to rehearse “The World According to Chris” in the space with the new midi file background track. As a result, I got way off from the music, which made me forget my blocking, which made my voice crack and wobble. I got offstage after the number and burst into tears. Luckily my Billy was the kindest guy and gave me a huge hug, and the rest of the cast was super understanding and supportive. But I still felt awful. I had never done anything like that in my whole history of performing. The rest of the performance went off without a hitch (other than accidentally smearing my red lipstick all over Billy’s face during our makeout scene at the beginning of “Do Me a Favor,” but that was hilarious).

By the time my performance as Helen rolled around, I did not care anymore. I wasn’t going to stress myself out for this show or bend over backwards for a production team that didn’t care. I hadn’t even had the chance to rehearse as Helen- I learned the dance for “Do Me a Favor” literally half an hour before we opened the house. My costume was a super comfortable black and tan striped tank, denim shorts, black converses (from my Tina Belcher cosplay) and my Rey cardigan from the Her Universe line. For prom I wore a black and gold ChiChi London dress from Modcloth that I wore the Oscars the previous year with my character shoes. And bless the rest of the cast, because they all helped me through the show, whether it was reminding me to take a prop off or guiding me to the correct exit. It all worked out in the end.

And then when the show closed I slept for about fourteen years because dear god, I hadn’t breathed in a month.

A few weeks after the show closed I met with the stage manager to give her some costume pieces. We had a nice chat (because after all, I didn’t like her as a stage manager, but I had nothing against her as a person) and I asked about some of the upcoming events; she promised she would let me know.

Less than twenty-four hours later I received a nasty email formally kicking me out.

So that ended my brief and exhausting career with that particular acting group. I actually met with them a few weeks later to talk things over, because I was convinced that I could help them with my theatre background. During the talk it dawned on me that it just wasn’t worth it. The director- who sulked through the entire conversation and said very little- made it very plain that he had no plans on listening to anyone who might have more training and experience than him. It was his way or the highway.

Joke’s on them, because despite the “you’ll never work in this town again!” attitude, I have indeed worked in this town. So far I’ve done six more shows in the year since they kicked me out, and they got in trouble for trying to do an unauthorized production of a Very Potter Musical. I think I’ll be just fine.

Overall, I’m glad I did Carrie. I learned a lot. I learned not to spread myself too thin, especially for people who don’t appreciate it. I learned that I have it in me to play a lead role in a musical (I’d only ever been a minor soloist before). I made a lot of friends- I’ve done shows with both our Carrie and Freddy, and the Sue understudy, Helen, and Billy are still good friends of mine. I’d still jump at the chance to perform in Carrie again, especially as Margaret. But I also learned to heed those red flags when they pop up. A lead role is not worth dealing with a questionably legal production.

Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer

Stranger Than FanfictionStranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From an objective view, I adore Chris Colfer, and I do think this was an enjoyable book. On a non-objective view, there were a lot of blips on the radar that made me raise a skeptical eyebrow.

The characters feel very much like the cast of a 90s after school cartoon- one of each stereotype, so to speak. Over time, they did get some more development and some more depth, but they started out rather flat. Their introductions were also kind of flat; each character got a chapter that introduced them and it felt a little repetitive and honestly a little boring, like the climb up the first hill of a roller coaster when you’re waiting for the momentum to get you going.

The most…I guess uncomfortable is the word for it- was the transparency of Chris Colfer writing himself both into Cash Carter and Topher. You could see elements of him in both, and it made me kind of feel embarrassed. I was a fan of Glee back in the day and I’ve followed Chris’s work and been so impressed, but I felt extremely self-conscious reading the book. I kind of felt patronized, embraced, and disliked simultaneously. At the end I was asking myself “is it bad to be a fan? Is it bad to be a part of a fandom? If I ever have a conversation with Chris Colfer, will he think I’m just a roaring idiot?”

I’m still struggling with how I feel about Stranger Than Fanfiction. If I didn’t know who Chris Colfer was, I would probably enjoy it wholeheartedly. It’s a quirky, interesting plot with some well meant emotional moments and a bittersweet ending. As a fan of Chris Colfer, I now feel…well, kind of sad. I still admire him a lot and think he’s incredibly talented and I’ll still follow his work, but if I ever met him I’d probably feel super self conscious and embarrassed because of the way fans are written in this book.

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College Performances

When I was thirteen years old, I stormed downstairs and dramatically declared to my mother “I’m going to major in theatre!”

She did not look up from her coffee. She just said “yeah, I figured.”

A childhood and adolescence of performances brought me to major in theatre, although, for a myriad of reasons, I ended up attending my third choice school. (It’s a long story). All in all, the school was not a good fit for me and I should have moved on, but I slogged it out and got my degree.

My freshman year I played Mrs. Paddy in The Curious Savage. That was so much fun. It was student-directed, and the two seniors directing were both great people and great directors. They decided to set the show in the ‘80s and we all had a blast. It was a great first collegiate experience.

My sophomore year I played Marcy in Snoopy!!!. No, it is not You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and yes, the three exclamation points are necessary. Marcy isn’t necessarily in the show proper, but the director added several ensemble members and based us off actual Peanuts characters.

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I wish I could find my photos from my university’s production of The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, but unfortunately I only got the hard copies and they’re lost in a box somewhere! I played Janice Vickery, Tillie’s rival at the science fair. I only had one scene (I ran sound for the rest of the show) but it was a great long monologue that involved me carrying a cat skeleton onstage. And it was a real one; we borrowed it from the science department.

My theatre department put a lot of emphasis on children’s theatre, so I ended up performing in two children’s plays. One was a retelling of the Three Little Pigs (I played the stick pig, who was also a beauty pageant contestant) and the other was a series of short plays about St. Kevin and his animal friends. Super cute, super fun. We even ended up traveling to Wales and performing the St. Kevin play for several local primary schools.

I also did several laboratory productions during my classes, but my absolute favorite was playing Dora in Equus. Oh my god, that was an amazing experience. Equus is still one of my favorite shows and I would love the chance to play Dora again.

My senior year, though, I still hadn’t gotten a lead role in a show. I auditioned for our production of Guys and Dolls, hoping for Adelaide. I went to the callback (even made an amazing royal blue and black wiggle dress for it!) and guess what my feedback was?

“You were great, you were the funniest one there…but you’re too fat for the part.”

I was crushed. I was still cast as General Cartwright, and worked hard at the part and tried to make it a good experience, but I was so sad to not be cast as Adelaide, even as the understudy. It also clinched my role in the department- it dawned on me that I was only ever cast as small children or middle-aged-to-elderly ladies.

My biggest role, right before I graduated, was Miriam Goldman in Beau Jest, which is a super fun romantic comedy. I played the mama with the big personality, and it was honestly a lot of fun, especially since I had good friends to play opposite. It was by far the best experience I had as a college student.

Overall, my college experience wasn’t the best for a lot of reasons. The school and the department were just not good fits for me, and I should have found a different school once I realized that they had pigeonholed me. There’s more to the story (comment below if you want to hear the entire story about my college theatre experience!) but at the end of the day, I learned a lot of lessons and graduated. And now I can move on!