Saturday, March 26, 2016

Past Year's Resolutions: 2015

What did I accomplish this year?

Every year I ask myself this question and make my retrospective resolutions for the year.  Hindsight is 20/20.  And I think it is much more uplifting to reflect and think, "Wow- I did that!" than to think, "I didn't meet two of my ten goals.  I'm a failure."  Know what I'm saying?

In no particular order:

  1. Attend the Tony Awards in New York City!!!  What a dream-come-true, all thanks to my little sis.
  2. Be featured on a national network television show.  Blood and Oil.  Opposite Don Johnson. Yes, that Don Johnson
  3. Choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for Taylorsville Arts
  4. Choreograph 4 elementary school musicals for Murray City and Sandy City
  5. Be dance captain for Sandy Arts Guild's Shrek
  6. Perform as an ensemble member for my very first time in Sandy Arts Guild's Shrek
  7. Perform in Nunsense for my third time.  Sister Mary Leo and I can't seem to part ways.
  8. Meet the original Broadway cast of Jersey Boys (minus John Lloyd Young) and sit front row center for their concert - Midtown Men
  9. Increase my husband's business, Life of the Party Entertainment, 234%, since I first began working with him three years ago
  10. Continue to celebrate many special occasions and adventures with my hubs
  11. Continue to work out regularly
  12. See myself on the big screen at the movies during the Sundance Film Festival - Don Verdean 
  13. Live through rubber bands, metal springs, and braces galore
  14. Take a road trip to California with one of my dearest old roommates, Andrea, for the wedding of one of my dearest friends of the past 14 years.   I love him with all my heart, he was one of my toasts at my own wedding, and now I can love his darling wife just as much!
  15. Visit Las Vegas thrice - once for Mobile Beat, once for Las Vegas DJ Show where my little sis and her hubs met up with us, and lastly for a quick 24-hour trip to visit my older sister while she was there for a convention.  On the February trip, I survived the most violent illness I've had in a long time - even having to call a doctor to come to the room to treat me because I could not leave the room.  Awful.  Rob learned a lot about me that day and I him - he's amazing. 
  16. Take my parents to see some of Utah's/Arizona's wonders they had on their bucket lists: Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Zions' National Park and the Shakespeare Festival.
  17. Visit Disney World and Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights/Harry Potter with my husband - we've been talking about doing this since I first met him and he told me he worked there for three years.  Lindsay and Elliot were extremely generous in hosting us.  I can't wait to go back in November to help make their wedding the best day of their lives.
  18. Throw the greatest "A Christmas Story" party yet
  19. Continue helping beautiful brides plan and implement their weddings
  20. Continue helping with The Cultural Hall Show Podcast
  21. Learn how to groom/shave my cat 

Resolutions of Year's Past

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Best Snickerdoodles in the World - Recipe

If you love chewy, moist snickerdoodles, then this recipe is for you.  I originally ran across my favorite recipe here, however I quickly began making tweaks to make the recipe my version of perfection.  One of my male friends ate 8 in one sitting, then returned an hour later for 6 more, proclaiming, "These are even better than Great Harvest!"

This recipe yields about 3 dozen.

1.5 C Butter @ room temperature
1.5 C Sugar
1 C Brown Sugar
3 Eggs
3 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Almond Extract
4.5 C Flour
3 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Salt
1.5 tsp Baking Soda
.75 tsp Cream of Tartar

6 tsp Sugar & 3 tsp Cinnamon mixed together

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  • Cream Butter & Sugars
  • Blend in Eggs, Vanilla, Almond Extract
  • Blend in Cinnamon, Salt, Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar
  • Blend in Flour
  • This dough is a-mazing.  Go ahead, take a spoonful
  • Refrigerate dough for an hour.  This is not absolutely necessary, but really does make a good difference.  Aim for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.  If you don't have time, just stick the dough in the fridge while each batch is in the oven.  
  • Roll dough into slightly larger than a walnut size (2-3 tablespoons)
  • Roll dough balls into cinnamon/sugar topping mixture
  • Bake for 12 - 14 minutes.  You will know they are done because they will be slightly cracked on the top.  Do not overcook, these are best chewy.
  • Let cookies cool and chow down!  
Snickerdoodles in the middle of this display from my "A Christmas Story" Party

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Homemade Oreo Recipe

Homemade Oreos with Cream Cheese Frosting rolled in Holiday M&Ms for an extra seasonal flare
Over the years, I've been asked for my Homemade Oreo Recipe more times than I can count.  So much so, in fact, that I have an email draft all saved and ready to go anytime someone asks.  Why not share this secret with the world?

I had my first go at these with my friend, Jon Scott, in 2008 and have been tweaking it ever since.  At my highest, I was making three batches per week for about two years. Enjoy!

For those of you who need EXACT, overly ridiculously precise instructions, this recipe provides.

1 box Betty Crocker Devil's food cake mix (has to be Betty Crocker, has to be Devil's Food)
2 eggs
Whatever amount of oil the cake mix box says
Roll into quarter-sized balls and bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes
You will be able to tell if the cookies are cooked enough because they will have cracks in the top of them and when you lift the pan up and let it drop down, the cookies will sink a little.

Cream Cheese Frosting (enough for two batches):

1 stick real salted butter
1 8 oz. block cream cheese
blend until smooth
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
blend until smooth
1.5 cups - 3 cups powdered sugar - this is the one where you have to trust your taste buds.  Some people like really cream-cheesey frosting, others like it very sweet.  I typically put in 2-2.5 cups.  It's up to you.  

Blend until smooth and refrigerate.
This keeps in the fridge in a sealed container until the expiration date of the cream cheese.  I usually have a tub of frosting in my fridge ready to go, that way I only have to worry about making the cookies and I can do that super fast.  

Let the cookies cool completely before you frost them.
Put however much or little frosting in the middle that you want.  I find that most people like more frosting.
Once I have them all frosted, I typically keep them refrigerated until ready to serve.  I also find that most people prefer these chilled.  

Each box of cake mix makes about 20 oreos.  That's why my frosting recipe is for a double batch - I almost always double up on the cookie recipe when I'm taking them somewhere.
If you roll the Oreos in M&Ms or other candies, simply dip the top half of one ball of dough in the topping, then bake.  Only the top half of each completed cookie needs dipped, which will help your garnish last longer.  
You can use any kind of cake mix and duplicate this recipe for a variety of flavors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Carrie The Musical: Utah Repertory Theater Company

I walked into Utah Repertory Theater Company's space at the Gateway for Carrie: The Musical, and was immediately submersed in a world that felt like a Haunted Gymnasium.  The sounds,the lighting, the smells, the "dead" people walking around were all on par.  I'm not a big fan of interactive casts when the production wasn't originally designed to be interactive, so I was a little leery until I realized this was not an interactive production, but an immersive one.  The "dead" students simply existed to create the atmosphere, which perfectly pulled me into the spell of Carrie: The Musical. 

Carrie: The Musical, directed by Johnny Hebda, is based off the famous Stephen King novel and subsequent film, Carrie.  The plot follows the title character as she matures in high school, as she is bullied relentlessly, as she learns to trust and distrust, as she is abused by her religious zealot of a mother, and as she discovers her powers which ultimately lead to her demise and the demise of almost all of her classmates.  

Immediately, I was impressed with the strong choral ensemble sound and great acoustics in combination with superbly-executed dance moves.  In spite of the fact that the actors are often directly in front of you or surrounding you, the blending is fantastic and, because of the intimate atmosphere, even if an actor's mic wasn't on as quickly as it should have been, you could still hear the actor.  Vocally, the strongest numbers for me were anything sung by Rachel Shull as the terrifying Margaret White, "Unsuspecting Hearts" - a duet between Natalia Noble's Carrie White and Megan Shenefelt's Miss Gardner, and "Shine"- a duet between Emilie Starr's Sue Snell and Brock Dalgleish's Tommy Ross.  I was impressed with how healthy of a belt sound the leading actors produced with an exception of a few pushed lines on the title song "Carrie."  Skye Dahlstrom's sassy, insecure bully, Chris Hargensen, on "The World According to Chris" had a strained, forced sound to her belt, but melted my heart with her crystal clear angelic, gentle sound when singing in her higher register head voice as she introspectively sings alone after the rest of the cast exits the stage. 

Acting-wise, Dahlstrom is a stand-out in her portrayal of Chris - she shows us the insecurities deep within that manifest into cruelty.  We watch all of the character relationships develop throughout the show, but the best relationship chemistry, surprisingly, is at the beginning of the show between "best friends" Sue (Starr) and Chris (Dahlstrom).  I also enjoyed the loving, protective relationship between Carrie (Noble) and Miss Gardner (Shenefelt).   

Natalie Noble will absolutely knock your socks off as she becomes Carrie White - from her posture to her mannerisms to her awkward glances to her unsure-come-unstoppable metamorphosis.  Margaret (Shull) was truly the most terrifying character in the show, with her religious-zealot mind frame and the way she loves and simultaneously abuses her daughter.  My notes actually said, "Shull as Margaret - YIKES!" Miss Gardner (Shenefelt) is Carrie's inspiration in a voice of love and reason.  There was a certain melody missing to her southern accent, but nothing can stop the warmth you feel emananting from her and her love for the students.  Emilie Eileen Starr's Sue is the heart of this production, covering every emotion from joyous to tearfully traumatized to love to fear to hate - and bringing the audience along with her on the ride. 

As a whole, the ensemble characters are fantastically convincing in character, never breaking even though at times they are practically on top of the audience.  They precisely and energetically execute Ashley Gardner Carlson's ambitious choreography.  One female ensemble member lacked the electricity to her character the others portrayed, while none of the male ensemble members convincingly portrayed the heterosexual males they are intended to be (one is written as being "confused).  But don't take what I'm saying the wrong way - the ensemble was absolutely at a level at which any director would be more than pleased.   To both ensemble and leads - most of the cast has rock-star physiques that the best of trainers would be proud of, so I must point out there is no need to fidget or adjust the costumes while on stage. 

Speaking of the ensemble, the staging of many of the scenes, full of chaos and running, was precisely portrayed the performance I attended.  I can see how one wrong step could lead to a collision or injury, but the cast seemed acutely aware of each other, in spite of darkness, flashing lights, and screaming.   

The lighting, by Geoffrey Gregory, with precise spots, color changes, creation of the tone for the special effects, etc, was also exactly what I would hope for in a production in this space.  The magic of the special effects shared with the audience were spot-on.  Many of the effects were implied for the audience to use our imaginations with sound and light, which absolutely worked because the imagination is often times more vivid than reality, yet because the effects we saw were so enthralling, we were left wanting more of the magic show.  

Also a huge help in creating the atmosphere was the makeup by Kelly Donahue.  Characters change from dead to alive at the beginning of the show through the flashback story-telling of Starr's Snell.  I was amazed at the quickness of that change.  Carrie is a girl who doesn't know how to take care of herself, but I don't see her as absolutely wretched, which is what her harsh makeup at the beginning of the show creates with the red tones on her eyes and flesh tone on her lips.  Her color tones were more blended by half-way through Act 1.  The aging makeup on Shull worked well, considering the very small venue and how close we were, but I wish I had been twenty feet further away so I wouldn't have noticed.  To save the best mention for last - the blood.  The Blood!  The blood looked real, created gore without being over-the-top, and smelled delicious.  Yes, I understand the creepiness of that statement.  Very well done.

The music was perfection.  I didn't realize the orchestrations were live until part-way through the show because they were precisely executed and at such a perfect balance sound-wise with the vocals.  Balance may seem a given, but in most shows there is almost always one over-powering the other.  Hats off to music director Kevin Mathie.  

Director Hebda's vision for the show was original and well-executed.  Many of the props, as we experience this story through the flashbacks of Sue Snell, were left to the imagination, except vital pieces such as The Bible.  In flashbacks, we remember only integral details, not every minute object.  The missing pieces added to the atmosphere, creating a disturbing element visually.  Hebda's vision also leant itself to leaving out some of the vulgar bullying aspects at the beginning of the show that weren't necessary.  He wisely re-imagined the beginning of the show to have the characters first appear as deceased, then a close-up on the living Sue, creating the full-circle of the story. You will also notice that Sue never changes costumes, which makes sense as the audience is experiencing this story through her narration of her memories.   She flawlessly transitions from telling the story to being part of the story.

There wasn't any better place to be this past Halloween weekend than watching this production.  The talent impressed, the atmosphere transported, and the message touched hearts to the point of tears from both audience members and cast alike.  If you are intrigued by the idea of Carrie as a musical, go check it out and you will walk away with your heart more full, whether for your love of people or horror.*  Carrie is the perfect choice for entertainment to haunt you with the ghosts of your past, as every audience member will be able to connect with one of the characters as someone they knew, or were, in their youth.  

You can buy tickets for shows Wednesday at 7:30pm - Sunday, November 8 at 7:30pm.  There is a 2pm Matinee on Saturday and a 3pm matinee on Sunday.  This Wednesday is "pay as you may" day at the door (Gateway Mall, 90 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City) as long as tickets remain.  Prices are $18 for adults pre-purchased, $15 for students/seniors, and $20 for adults at the door.

*Content Advisory:  This production contains adult language, with several uses of "the F-word."  There is also physical violence, although it is purely theatrical, it is staged convincingly.    

Directed by Johnny Hebda
Musical Direction by Kevin Mathie
Choreography by Ashley Gardner Carlson
Assistant Directed by JayC Stoddard
Produced by Cylie Hall

Sound Design by James Hansen
Lighting Design by Geoffrey Gregory 
Makeup by Kelly Donahue 
CARRIE WHITE- Natalia Noble
SUE SNELL- Emilie Starr
TOMMY ROSS- Brock Dalgleish
BILLY NOLAN- Derek Gregerson
MISS GARDNER- Megan Shenefelt
NORMA- Giovanna Doty
HELEN- Kellie Rodriguez
KIM- Micki Martinez
LISA- Jenny Bauman
FRIEDA- Morgan Michel
GEORGE- Todd McRae
STOKES- Tommy Kulkus
FREDDIE- Garrett Grigg
STEVE- Dallon Thorup
RICKY- Paul Calvo

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Unfriend


I simply want to share how this strangest of all verbs has affected my life and my desire to change that.

The only thing that will cause me to "unfriend" a person on the book of faces is if someone is offending me in an extreme manner with a personal attack, cruelty, or mega stalkage.  You see, in my world, someone has to have gone so far past the tolerable zone, that I will go out of my way to hunt down the "unfriend" button and consciously make the effort to click it with a sigh of good riddance.  Most often, the unfriend is not worth my time.  I've "unfollowed" here and there when someone loves to talk about a topic not of interest to me too often, but it takes a lot to get me to truly feel someone is not worth being in my life any longer and actively make the cut. 

This, my friends, is why I hurt more than I should when I haphazardly discover someone I have loved at some point in my life (friends, old roommates,cast mates, ultimate frisbee buddies, the list goes on) has gone out of their way to unfriend me.  This usually happens when I go to send a message or type on their wall that something made me think of them.  I know there are many, many reasons someone could have chosen to unfriend, but because I know why I do, it hurts.  I think, "How sad is it that I'd still be thinking of them and they have cut me from association?"  I find myself going through stages of denial.  Then I spend way more time than I should looking over my own Facebook page trying to figure out what the heck I did that was so offensive to them that they wanted to cut me out of their lives.  If I knew, I would absolutely apologize, but I come up blank every time.  (All ex's have a get out of jail free card in the unfriend...I understand those).

Maybe a picture of myself in my latest theater production that a friend tagged is too much?  Maybe my bi-monthly status updates are too much?  Maybe they can't handle my awesomeness?  *sigh*  I really don't know.  I have tried over and over to not let it bug me, but it does because I love so deeply and so permanently.  Every person I have associated with has left an imprint in my life - helping me become the person I am today.

I'll never know.  It will probably always bug me.  But that's okay.  Life is great and I can consider myself blessed to have had a friend in the first place and then even more blessed for the ones who keep me around. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ordinary Days: Utah Repertory Theater Company

I entered Sugar Space at 616 Wilmington Avenue in Salt Lake City expecting an ordinarily charming, eccentric, entertaining show from Utah Repertory Theater Company.  What I received in Ordinary Days was so much more.

We are introduced to the characters on a chaotic New York City street, which is hard to imagine with only four cast members and a piano as accompaniment, but the pandemonium was real.  Inspirational quotes are shared (both in delivery and on flyers handed to audience members) through the refreshingly, adorably optimistic Warren (Thomas Kulkus), having the audience in giggle fits from the first moment we see the expression on his face.   There is a delicate balance in the use of breaking the fourth wall in theater, which this cast utilizes with perfection.  They interact to let us know they are telling us their story, yet pull back to the art of story-telling at precisely the right moments.

For those who have been to an Off-Broadway show in New York City, they know the intimate setting and feel of only those tiny theaters where the performers are practically in your lap, the set pieces that become a wall or a car or a coffee shop so imaginatively flawlessly, and the feeling at the end of the show that you are part of something bigger than when you entered.   Sugar Space was the perfect venue to create that exact sort of feeling for Salt Lake audiences - a larger venue simply would not do. 

Audiences will have an innate knowledge that these four characters are destined to intertwine into each others' lives by the show's conclusion.  I have already mentioned Warren (Thomas Kulkus).  We have Deb (Brighton Hertford), the ever-agonizing intellectual graduate-school hipster.  Next is Jason (Matthew Wade), the sparkly-eyed man in love.  Finally, is Claire (Mandi Barrus), a charismatic woman with an initially awesomely Ingrid Michaelson-style sound, obviously trying to let go of something to make room for a man she knows loves her.

As each character shares with us bits of their ordinary days in their ordinary lives, we see how truly humorous and devastating even the smallest of daily events can be.  In each of their stories, we can clearly see our own lives - from the ever-present twinkle in Wade's eye as Jason, to the angst of a lost school assignment, to the extreme desire for human connection.    

One of the songs presents the concept that we keep things as mementos as proof that our past life was real.  My mind spiraled out of control thinking of all of the ways my past seems a distant, fictional creation that I truly might not believe if there weren't tangible evidence.  I think of my life in Ohio growing up - the barn, the My Little Ponies, the gymnastics t-shirts galore...all things that seem so far removed, yet I can open one box and an entire world is there before me of which I never want to let go. 

Just as you might feel as if you will succumb to the aching of nostalgia, Warren and Deb's interactions have us again grinning ear-to-ear.  The one exception to this is Claire's number, "I'll Be Here."  I publicly proclaim to the world that I have never cried at a movie.  Even crazier, I had never cried at a theater production, unless I was performing on stage.  Friends, I had tears rolling down my cheek (just the left one) to the point that I could not believe Barrus was able to complete her performance without breaking down.  The sniffles echoing through the audience let me know I was not alone.

About twenty minutes into Utah Rep's Ordinary Days, I quit taking notes.  Each performer had such fine-tuned nuances, such intricately enunciated lyrics, that I wanted to drink in every moment undistracted and let my mind take me away to their world in New York City.  Each performer sings their soul with such honesty and character that you almost forget there are notes written on a page instead of a tune you've somehow always known.

I have always tried to put into words what a crazy miracle life can be.  What if I had moved to a different neighborhood?  What if I hadn't met up with a heartbroken friend one night for improv comedy?  What if a dear friend hadn't reached out to me to attend this production?  I don't have answers.  I don't want answers.  What I do know is that Adam Gwon presents us with a brief glimpse into how the lives of four people changed forever because of several "fortuitous coincidences."  Which leads me to wonder - is our life full of an endless stream of "coincidences," or "miracles," or both?

If you have a chance, any chance at all, I suggest you eliminate one "What if?" from your life and see this production.  So often I share that a show is for a particular target audience.  Ordinary Days, however, will resonate with everyone.  Everyone.  You will see yourself in its honest compilation of ordinary events that add up to create a legacy for each or our lives. 

Some performances have sold out, so you will want to make sure to get your tickets as soon as possible here.   Take a date, take a best friend, take yourself.  You can find more information on Utah Rep's website or on the Facebook Event.   The show is only 75 minutes, which is just long enough to fully develop each story, while leaving you wanting more.  The rating would be PG-13 for some language only.  Remaining available performances dates are as follows:
Saturday, July 25, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 26, 3 p.m.

Cast and Production List
Director: Chase Ramsey
Music Director:Jeanne McGuire

Claire: Mandi Barrus
Deb: Brighton Hertford
Jason: Matthew Wade
Warren: Thomas Kulkus

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Taylorsville Arts: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Every once in awhile something magical happens with a cast both on and off the stage.

In years past, I have had a rough go at teaching my choreography.  The ideas are all beautifully harmonious in my head, but due to my little voice disorder, it becomes painful to project/yell (yes, even with a microphone) for three hours at a time.  Don't worry, voice therapy and medicine mostly keep my vocal chords strong and can now last a two-hour show no problem.  Most community theater participants are performing for many reasons - one of them being social.  I love it when my casts love each other, but the anxiety that grips my heart when I realize they love talking, and loudly, is pure dread.

I love to perform as well as choreograph.  The two most often can't go hand-in-hand because I have to dedicate my voice to one or the other.  Yet, when director Wendy Dahl-Smedshammer approached me to choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I could not say no in spite of the stifling fear of facing a painful and not-as-successful-as-I-would-have-hoped experience like I've sometimes had in the past.  To cover all my bases, I found a wonderful choreographer friend in Natalie Fortie Adams for 5 of the bigger of 21 numbers who also covered some of the rehearsals I could not attend and the best dance captain a girl could hope for in Aubrielle Johnson. 

Miracle of miracles - everything fell into place to choreograph and perform all while successfully pleasing both groups.  But this is not the point of the story.

The point is, I was scared going into this experience.  I didn't know if I could do it.  I didn't want to let down my performers or myself, but could I get them to successfully bring to life the dancing visions in my mind?

YES!  The answer is a resounding, "YES!"  The 70-ish performers in Taylorsville's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat work incredibly hard.  They love each other and talk, but also respect all of the production team members when they are talking.  They remember all of the notes they are given for a better performance.  They practice.  They ask for tips on how to be better.  They help each other.  The list goes on and on.  I could not be more impressed with this group.

In fact, for the first time I have teared up watching them dance.  This is the first time I can say, "Yes, that is the vision that was in my head and there it is on stage just as I imagined!"  I tear up watching how much they have grown to love each other the past couple of months.  I tear up thinking about how there is no way we could have known when we were casting the show the first weekend in May that these performers would step up to a level they were not near two months ago.  There is no way we could have known the magic that would happen.

I love this cast.  I would work with them time and time again.  There is an air of love floating around that stage I have no doubt the audience feels.  There is laughter and joy every night.  Mingling in the crowds after the show, I see nothing but smiles.  We don't have a budget for fancy technology or sets or costumes, but we've got magic.  What more do you need?

Closing night is tonight.  I truly hope lives have changed this summer.  I also truly hope I have been a part of that.

Alder Amphitheater SLCC Campus off 4600 Redwood Road.  8:00 pm.  $7 or $5 for groups larger than 6.

All photos courtesy of Janel Williams.