Room at the Inn

Dad and M&MNot only was this Father’s Day weekend, but it was also my older daughter’s birthday weekend. We decided several weeks ago to drive to Pittsburgh to see her for her birthday on June 20th, and then we would all be together to celebrate Father’s Day the next day. We know this drill well. We’ve been visiting Pittsburgh since the fall of 2008 when we moved our older daughter into her freshman dorm at Duquesne University, located in downtown Pittsburgh. She graduated on time, in four years, with a double major. Naturally we were very proud of her, and after graduation, we packed her up and moved her back home to Maryland.

Her time back home with us was short-lived, however. Over that summer, she accepted a graduate assistantship in Duquesne’s Office of Residence Life, giving her the opportunity to earn a master’s degree, tuition free, while working on campus. She knew the inner workings of ORL quite well. As a junior she had been a desk aid in her dorm, and as a senior a RA in another dorm. For the grad assistantship, she was assigned to the office itself, supporting the Director of Residence Life and her staff. Because her grad assistantship was in ORL, she also received free housing, which meant two more years living on campus in a dorm.Outside of chapel

In the spring of 2014 she graduated with her master’s degree and subsequently accepted a full-time position as a RD (resident director). And, so began her seventh year living on campus in a dorm at Duquesne, albeit this time in a one bedroom, fully furnished apartment on the ground floor of her dorm, across the hall from her office.

Her apartment has a small extra room which she has furnished as a guest room. When we travel to see her, our younger daughter always stays with her. We have always stayed at one of Pittsburgh’s three Marriott hotels, accumulating points and using the points for future visits. marriottThe nearby Courtyard is our favorite, but when there are not rooms available we will stay at one of the other two full-service Marriott locations in the downtown area.

This weekend, however, there were no rooms available. Mick Jagger was in town for a concert, and Pittsburgh was holding a jazz festival in the center of the city. Father’s Day probably contributed to the room shortage as well. Our daughter suggested we stay with her in her dorm. I thought she meant all four of us in her one-bedroom apartment, which I suppose we could have managed with someone on the sofa and someone on an air mattress. But, what she meant was really stay in her dorm, as in a dorm room upstairs. And, so, this is exactly what happened. Last night, Saturday, June 20, 2015, I slept in a dormitory room for the first time in 37 years.

SLUI lived in a dorm all four years of college at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. I loved dorm life. I’ve always been a night owl and no matter how late you stay up, you can always find someone else who is still up as well. The laundry rooms are normally free in the wee hours of the morning, and for a procrastinator like me, that meant doing your laundry while hanging out with another night owl. I wasn’t blessed with any sisters, so living in a dorm full of girls was thrilling for me.

friendship oakMy freshman year I lived with other freshmen girls in a dorm with a house-mother. There were lots of rules and a very strict curfew. My aunt and uncle, who lived in nearby Baton Rouge, gave me a ticket to an Elton John concert for my birthday in October of my freshman year. My uncle drove to Hammond to pick me up, brought me and his daughter to the concert at LSU, waited for us in the parking lot, and then drove me back to my dorm after the concert. He had to escort me in and wait for the house-mother to come and unlock the front doors of the dorm to sign me back in.

My last two years I lived in the sorority dorm. Each wing of the dorm was assigned to one of the four sororities on campus, Tri Sigma, Alpha Sigma Tau, Alpha Omicron Pi, and my own sorority, Phi Mu. The dorm was composed of suites, four double occupancy rooms per suite. I lived with the same group of girls both of those years. I have such great memories of those days, and thanks to Facebook, I am able to be in touch with some of those girls still to this day.

My daughter’s dorm, Vickroy, is an upperclassman dorm and unoccupied for this summer. VickroyIt is far nicer than the dorms of my college days. Still, it was somewhat surreal being in an absolutely empty dorm, sleeping in a dorm room with my husband. My daughter had made up the beds with her own linens, put fresh flowers and water bottles on the desk, and added a basket of toiletries and towels from her apartment for the ensuite bathroom. That combined with dorm-wide free Wi-Fi; well, it wasn’t far off from life at the Courtyard Marriott! It whelicopter stillas lovely, and we slept well.

We slept well, however, until bright and early this morning, when we were awakened by the thunderous sound of a helicopter airlifting a HVAC unit to the rooftop of the dorm next door. My daughter had mentioned this but she assured us that we were on the other side of the building from where the work would be taking place. However, this was not the case, and I jumped out of the bed at the first sounds of the pulsing, repetitive thumping coming from outside our window. It was interesting to watch as it hovered above the neighboring dorm, towering above us, until the unit was in place before releasing it, and darting off to retrieve another unit.

Duquesne ChapelAfter the free show was over, we showeredand packed up, and headed back downstairs to my daughter’s apartment for coffee before Mass. What had initially begun as a problem of fully booked hotels, turned out to be a very economical trip to visit our daughter so that we could celebrate her birthday as well as Father’s Day. And, who can say that they had an entire dorm to themselves for the night!M&M girls and me

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The Fatal Bite

I didn’t go looking for drama; it came to me. In early 1984, I was at a very low and dark point in my personal and professional life. I went to work, came home, went to bed, got up, and repeated that process for weeks-no, months-on end. My only foray out of my apartment was to Mass on Sunday. I was not sleeping well, not eating well, and generally, not doing well. And then one Saturday in April of that year a friend came to visit. I was horrified to have an unexpected guest drop in on me and see the way I was existing. In fact, my half-decorated Christmas tree was still up (barely standing) in my living room, a carpet of pine needles surrounding it.

My friend took stock of the situation and sent me upstairs to shower and get dressed. “We are going out,” she said firmly. There was no negotiation allowed. I dragged myself upstairs and did as I had been instructed. When I came back down, my living room was spotless, dead Christmas tree dragged to the dumpster, decorations stacked neatly on my dining room table. That was when she made the announcement: “I’m on my way to audition for a part in the musical South Pacific and you are coming with me. After the auditions we are going out to lunch.”

Uh, no. No thanks. No way. Not happening. But, as friends come, this one is a real spitfire. At this juncture, we had been friends for ten years, after meeting in 1974 as freshmen during sorority rush at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

My Phi Mu sisters and me at our National Convention in 1976, Charleston

Here’s my Phi Mu sisters (including my friend) and me (standing, first on left) at our sorority’s National Convention in 1976, Charleston, South Carolina.

She was involved in theatre back then, too. She was an actress, with a great voice, and lots of what I later learned was called stage presence. She had won the lead in the school’s musical as a freshman. Yes, she was good.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I realized resistance was futile and I followed her to her car. She drove us to the campus of our alma mater and parked at the music building. We went in and she signed the clipboard for those auditioning. We then took our seats in the theatre. I have to admit that once there, it was fun sitting in the dark, cool theatre, watching the people go up on stage under the bright lights and sing a song for their audition. Sometimes, the director or the music director would speak to them or ask them to do something additional. A few were asked to dance a bit or read lines. I had never seen anything like it and I was intrigued.

Eventually my friend was called up. She did a great job (or so I thought, but what did I know, never having been in a play before). Then the most shocking thing happened. The woman with the clipboard called my name over the microphone. WHAT? I didn’t sign up for anything! I just sat there stunned. My name was called again. My friend literally raised me up by my elbow and said, “She’s here!” I blubbered something about just being there to watch but I soon found myself being “escorted” by my friend up the stairs to the stage, the music director shouting at me, “What piece are you singing?” My friend then said, “Oh, she didn’t prepare anything, she’s just going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’.”

I cowered next to the baby grand piano parked stage right, waiting for further instruction. The accompanist started playing and I just stood there, mute. The music director shouted, “Are you going to sing or what?” So, I sang “Happy Birthday”, badly and I am sure pretty off-key.

You can imagine my shock and surprise a few days later when I saw my name on the cast list, under the ensemble group, Frenchwomen’s Chorus. I was even more shocked to see my friend’s name in the same ensemble group. She was so good, how could we be given the same part? By this time, I had been “convinced” that this would be good for me: I would have a place to go in the evenings, meet new people, try something different, and have the opportunity to act and sing and dance. So, I was thrilled to see my name there, even though it was a very small part, singing just one song, “Bali Ha’i”, and later in another scene, singing its reprise. My friend was not so thrilled at being cast as ensemble but we vowed to hang in there together, me the novice, she the veteran.

Along with music and/or stage rehearsals every weeknight, there were costume fittings, shopping trips to purchase stage make-up and character shoes, props to find, sets to build and paint, and of course, the requisite nightcap at a local bar after rehearsals on Friday night. My friend was right. I made a lot of new friends and had fun while doing it. TheatreBug1-copyright200And, as they say, come opening night, when those bright lights hit me in the face and I basked in the applause during the curtain call, I had been bitten by the theatre bug.

For the next five years, I was a fixture with that theatre group. I joined the group officially, ran for office, headed up committees, volunteered for anything and everything under the sun, and auditioned for each and every play that came up, even when there wasn’t a part that was really right for me.

The place where my best high school memories took place, that's me in first row left, in white drum major costume

The home place of my best high school memories, marching band. That’s me in first row left, in white drum major costume.

Dracula

Cast of the Columbia Theatre Players’ 1986 production of Dracula. First row, far left in grey suit, me as Professor Van Helsing, a male role recast as female just for me!

I parlayed my four years of high school band and two years of childhood piano lessons into being able to read music well enough to get a part in the chorus of the summer musical each year. I gave it everything I had but in return I received much more. While I never got a major singing role, I did get the female lead in two straight plays and had the opportunity to direct two plays during my time with that group. My five years of performing in front of audiences taught me self-discipline and problem-solving as well as improving my self-confidence and public speaking skills. Serving as producer for several of the large joint productions also gave me great experience at organizing a major event involving significant sums of money. Being the editor of the group’s quarterly newsletter gave me a creative outlet for burgeoning writing skills, as well as experience in marketing and public relations for a non-profit group.

My cast for the second play I directed for CTP, Beth Henleys e Miss Firecracker Contest, 1987

My cast for the second play I directed for CTP, Beth Henley’s play The Miss Firecracker Contest, 1987. That is me seated on the right, second row.

In 1988, after over twenty productions with the group, I had to say goodbye to my friends at Columbia Theatre Players. My “day job” as a paralegal had also brought me success, and eventually, a cross-country move for a job with a Fortune 500 commercial real estate development company. Soon after, I married and had children, and my long evenings in a dark theatre came to an end, paving the way for watching our daughters in school plays and encouraging their creative talents.

After twenty years in the legal field, I decided to become a teacher. Hoping to find a teaching position where I could marry my love of theatre with my love of literature, I attended a Catholic schools job fair, with a large silver brooch of the Greek comedy and tragedy masks on my suit jacket. comedy and tragedy masksI stopped at all the booths of schools showing an opening for a language arts teacher. At one booth, a woman said to me, “Is that the symbol for theatre?” After I told her yes, she said, “Stay right here. I’ll be right back.” She returned shortly with her principal and they told me that the teacher who had directed their school plays had recently retired. “Would you be interested in doing that if you were offered a teaching position?”

Cast and crew of my latest production, Disneys High School Musical J

Cast and crew of my latest production, Disney’s High School Musical Junior, April 2015. That’s me in the teal jacket.

And, so, for the last eight years, that is how I have fed and nurtured the theatre bug that bit me so many years ago. It makes for a very long day, teaching all day and then holding auditions, running rehearsals, building sets, searching for costumes and props, coaxing shy students to project and sing out. After rehearsals are over, there are still lesson plans to make, essays to grade, tests and quizzes to create, parent emails to respond to. It leaves little time for leisure with family and friends, and energy for my own creative endeavors is short-changed. TheatreBug2-copyright200But, how can I give it up when I have been given so much in return? It seems that the bite of the theatre bug is indeed fatal.