Friday, May 10, 2013

The Most Important Day Of My Life (For The Next Two Weeks)

I'm still searching to articulate the wonder of Saturday, May 4th, the day on which The Upstart Creatures presented a concert reading of our adaptation of John Milton's PARADISE LOST (cut down to a mere 8 hours), punctuated by two meals that we made for those souls brave, daring and crazy enough to join us. 

Here's a schedule of the day's events:

10AM - First Wave

first wave arrives to begin assembling the sandwiches for tea and cutting the baked goods.  We get to the work in the sanctuary of the church, which is a gorgeous space:

The fillings had been made previously, as had the sweets, but creating 750 tea sandwiches is still a formidable feat.  The loaves of bread had been ordered and picked up by our company member, Linda Larson, and frozen the night before, to make spreading easier (our Tea Mistress, Carol Halstead, did all the research for why those little tea sandwiches taste so delicious - another trick - lots of butter).  We set up the assembly lines: Paul Bernardo (who rode his bike up from Florida the night before), Michelle Beck (who flew in  from Germany the night before), and David Scotchford, our resident choreographer/kitchen master, who cooked and cleaned and chopped his heart out along with his wife, Tomoko Minami.

Our second 10AM crew consisted of +Stephen BelD and Lindsey Gates along with this awesome young woman named Anne who recently graduated from Yale's Dramaturgy program and showed up to help.  They were our Very Berry Crew, in charge of assembling the Demon Dart Berry Picks that were our fifth dessert option for the first meal.

Noon - All Hands On Deck

the rest of the company arrives.  Until 1:30, we all assemble, slice, cut and bake.  Our stage manager, Catherine Costanza, worked in a bakery in college.  And she plays violin.  Both skills are used this day.  Maggie Lacey, along with her two beautiful men (husband Bill Heck, who's basically become a Honorary Upstart by this point, and her son Harry, who was exactly one month old the day of this event), shows up and insists on helping whenever she's not feeding her son.  She sliced up our Fruit of Knowledge Upside Down Cake, which had been baked the day before in the church.  We were all terrified it wouldn't set, but the beautiful thing solidified into a scrumptious delight by the day of our event.  Rafael even asked me to make it as the dessert for our rehearsal dinner.

Jason Bruffy, our Associate Producer, sets up the upstairs space, and performs what I consider to be the technical miracle of running an audio feed to our downstairs space so that actors can hear the reading while they're cooking.  This is amazing because:

1)  that way we all got to hear the poem
2)  actors didn't miss their entrance cues

1:30 - Thank you, thirty.

I make all the company members put down their knives and aprons and start prepping for the reading itself.

2:10 - Curtain

I welcome our audience members with joy in my heart to our (Meta)Physical Feast.  The entire company performs the prologue:

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse,
In the beginning how the heav’ns and earth
Rose out of chaos: I thence Invoke thy aid
To my advent’rous song, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

Then the actors who weren't in Books 1 or 2 ran offstage to help setting up the tea.

2:10'ish - 3:45 No Teabagging Here

This was probably the most intense period, since the Lower Hall was booked by a birthday party until 3PM.  Luckily, the uncle of the birthday boy studied Milton in college, so he was sympathetic when we bolted through their party into the kitchen, holding platters of chicken salad sandwiches.

The tea was donated by Harney & Sons, since it turns out that one of the Sons plays on my gay soccer team, the The New York Ramblers!  The tea was sensational, my favorites being Diamond Jubilee, an Earl Grey with citrus overtones, and Strawberry Kiwi herbal, and I don't even like herbal tea.  Please note: We brewed all the tea from loose tea and served it in these beautiful urns.  No tea-bagging here!

3:45 - 5  Full Tea

When our audience descend after hearing Books 1-3 of Paradise Lost, they were greeted by one of these:  our savory tea plate, which featured the following sandwiches:

Dr. Quinn’s Cucumber Delight (Vegetarian)
English cucumber dolloped with house-made wasabi cream cheese, garnished with a grape tomato.  Named in honor of Cherub and Honorary Upstart Dr. David Quinn.

Tears Such Angels Weep (Vegetarian)
Baguette covered with goat cheese ricotta punctuated with a home-made black olive tapenade. 

McDonald’s McMilton (Vegetarian)
Eggs salad tossed with a home-made mayo, accentuated with chopped roasted red peppers on white bread.  Named in honor of Cherubim and Honorary Upstart K. Ann McDonald. 

Smoking Johnny Jon
Pumpernickel, cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwich.

Coq of Paradis
Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich on seeded bread with apples and cashews.

And then, we moved into our dessert course:

Fruit of Knowledge Upside Down Cake 
Browned apples baked into a syrupy brown sugar cake.

Sin Squared
Dark chocolate cacao brownies.

Margaret's Divine Thumbprints
Assorted jam cookies, named in honor of Cherubs Margaret and Haim Bar-Akiva.  This dessert was prepared by Margaret Bar-Akiva and company member Maggie Lacey, making it even more Margaret'er!

Anonymous Morsels
Lemon & poppy seed scones, named in honor of our many generous anonymous donors.  Served with lemon curd and creme fraiche. 

Demon’s Darts
Blackberry/strawberry picks garnished with fresh mint leaves.

5PM - 7:30PM  Enter The Pigs

One of two pigs we had roasted (and later, carved) for the feast.

Upstairs: Books 4 - 9 of Paradise Lost - In Paradise.

Downstairs:  The company, led by David and Tomoko, do the prepping for the side dishes that we're preparing for our banquet.  David has already shredded six huge boxes of brussels sprouts (we only ended up cooking half that many) and soaked the currants in the apple cider reduction.  Tomoko begins mincing onions and garlic and parsley and anything else unlucky enough to be caught in her knife's path.

The two pigs, one already carved, one not, for our event.  Our carver can't show up last minute, so Dr. David Quinn calls his gardener, a seasoned pig carver, and with his aid via telephone and a nifty google search, he's cutting up our second Wilbur like he's a pro.

I can't find the shredded coconut or the almonds, so the red quinoa has to go without.  We almost forget to heat up the vegetarian stew that we made the night before (possibly my favorite dish of the day - we ended up using Japanese sweet potatoes instead of American ones because they were on sale and the rich, nutty, subtle taste was to die for).  

But neither of these crisis holds a flame to the moment I realized, ten minutes before the audience was about to descend for dinner, that I had forgotten to assemble the salad.  This is a real "all hands on deck" moment.  Jennifer Thompson, a guest Upstart who stepped in to read the role of the Messiah last minute, leads a crew that rinses romaine, chops arugula, peels clementines and crumbles Greek feta.  Luckily, David whipped up a few cups of balsamic vinaigrette in advance.  Salad for 100 is made in ten minutes.

7:30  to 9:00 Dinner Is Served

I knew I wanted dinner to be a sit-down event.  The first time I cooked en masse was for Brian Mertes' and Melissa Keivman's inimitable Chekhov at Lake Lucille event, and Brian insisted that dinner be a formal, sit-down event.  It takes more energy, it takes more effort, but it's worth it.  We transformed the downstairs space into a banquet hall, with full tea service.  Here was our menu:


Abel’s Sacrifice (Meat)
Whole pig, roasted and carved.

Cain’s Sacrifice (Vegan)
Chickpea & sweet potato stew simmered in Morrocan spices.


Fruit of Knowledge Chutney
Medley of fresh apples w/citrus fruits reduced for maximum deliciousness.


Celestial Bounty w/Fruit of Woe (Vegan)
Fluffy quinoa tossed with fresh ginger, parsley and diced apples.


Shaved Paradise (Vegan)
Brussels Sprouts sliced and tossed with roasted chestnuts and currants, drenched in an apple cider vinegar reduction.


Angel’s Offering (Vegetarian)
Romaine and arugula, clementine slices, toasted pecans and Greek feta dressed in a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.   

Our company members served the guests French-style, which means (and anyone planning a wedding will become intimately acquainted with different styles of service and how much each costs) that they went around with platters of food, offering as much or as little as each guest wanted.  I chose this because I like the intimacy formed between the actors and audience, and also, because I hate wasting food.  I hate it.  People are starving in this world.  Some times, I 'm one of them.  So I hate wasting food.  When we had tons of leftovers at the end, I went to the Chinese restaurant up the block, bought 100 to-go containers, and plated the leftovers so audience members who sat through the last section could take whatever they wanted home.  

9PM - 11:45PM Only Three Hours To Go!

We never actually read-through the last section through its entirety, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was 45 minutes longer than I thought it would be.  

Our company finished reading and cleaning up.  Although I wasn't in the house for most of the reading, I made sure to be there for the very end:


all the eastern side beheld

Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,


Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate

With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms:


Some natural tears they dropt,


but wiped them soon;


The world was all before them,


where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:


They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,

Through Eden took their solitary way.

I'd say we had fifty people in the house at the end.  I'd say around fifteen of those people had spent the entire day with us, including my good friend and collaborator Suzanne Agins, my  the wonderful writers Jenny Levison and Josh Waletzky, the director Ethan McSweeny, who's work I've always admired, and my very own fiance, Rafael Asencio.

Most of us cried some, finished cleaning up, drank wine, and then went home, our feet aching, but proud.

Two days later, I attended a much-needed yoga class.  I had recently been asked to join the Level I/II class, a step up from the Level I class I'd been attending for the past year.  This means that instead of being the only guy in a class of middle-aged women, I'm now the only guy in a class full of middle-aged women who are much better at yoga than I am.

It was my second I/II class, and in the first class, a week earlier, I'd been introduced to the headstand pose.  I practiced all week, excited to show off how I could enter the pose and keep it for a full fifteen seconds before falling out of it, when my instructor said that we'd try the much more difficult hand-stand pose.

I was naturally disappointed, but dutifully followed her instructions, all the while thinking about how much I wanted to show off my headstand.  And then, suddenly, I was in handstand.  Although I believed I couldn't do it, I surprised myself, and for ten glorious second, stood on my hands, flush with the wall, feeling my blood recirculate.  That moment was, in many ways, the exact experience of throwing this (Meta)Physical Feast.  It seemed impossible, but I allowed myself the possibility of surprise. 
Thanks to all who came, thanks to all who supported, and I can't wait to discover where this Miltonic adventure will lead me next.


No comments:

Post a Comment